Last week we unboxed a beautiful pink, pregnant mannequin! It was the latest installment of a project that began with the 2017 machinima, She Falls For Ages.
Throughout 2018, Skawennati worked with a team of AbTeC/IIF Research Assistants to create a cosplay version of Otsitsakaion—also known as Sky Woman—from She Falls for Ages. The 2017 machinima is a sci-fi retelling of the Haudenosaunee Creation Story, in which Sky Woman falls from Sky World and creates our world. In her recent work, Skawennati explores material practice in relation to its virtual counterparts—what does it mean to create physical objects that exist in digital worlds?
To delve into this research, she enlisted the help of Producer Nancy Elizabeth Townsend, and Research Assistants Suzanne Kite, Kahentawaks Tiewishaw, and Valerie Bourdon. At the Milieux Institute in the Textiles and Materiality Research Cluster‘s space, the team worked together weekly creating and modifying patterns, programming digital embroidery on the amazing Tajima machine, and developing hair and make-up. After months of prototyping and construction, Otsitsakaion’s dress was successfully transformed from the digital form into real life!
Undergraduate Research Assistant Kahentawaks Tiewishaw was the first to don the costume when she premiered it at the 2018 Indigenous Comic Con in Albuquerque, New Mexico!
Since then, Skawennati has engaged IIF Artist-in-Residence Dayna Danger to photograph her wearing the Otsitsakaion costume for a project not unlike the 2015 Dancing With Herself, which first appeared in The Rebel Yellsexhibition at the FOFA and later in Tomorrow People at OBORO.
The new mannequin was custom-ordered and took 14 weeks to get here—half of the time it takes a baby! Watch Skawennati and Nancy unbox it in this video.
My name is Dion Smith-Dokkie and I’m AbTeC/IIF’s social media coordinator!
For nearly a year, our team has been collaborating with the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KORLCC). Together, KORLCC and AbTeC/IIF are creating an animated version of the Rotinonhsión:ni (Haudenosaunee/Iroquois) Creation Story in Kanien’kéha (the Mohawk way, i.e. language). The section we are currently working on is expected to be a fully-animated 30 minutes in length and will be the shortest of three sections—in other words, this project is huge!
After months of curious listening and brief updates, I had the chance to sit in on one of our monthly meetings—I was absolutely thrilled! First, some context.
The Initiative for Indigenous Futures has institutional and community-based partners throughout Canada, whom we collaborate with on many great projects. One of our local community partners is the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KORLCC). Based in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory, which is on the south side of the Kaniatarowanénhne (St. Lawrence River) across from Montreal, KORLCC works to preserve and promote the language and culture of the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke. We were positively thrilled when KORLCC accepted our invitation to collaborate with them!
We joined the project at the end of the writing phase. KORLCC Curriculum Resource Director Trina Stacey oversees the creation of Kanien’kéha language learning materials, which range from books to audiovisual materials to real-world activities. This animated version of the Tsi Tiotonhontsatáhsawe (the Creation Story, “when the earth began”) in Kanien’kéha will be used as a multimedia language-learning tool!
Trina and KORLCC Graphic Artist and Cultural Liaison, Teiowí:sonte Thomas Deer have spent over a decade developing the script and art for this project. By the time we joined forces, Trina had meticulously combined and adapted a number of oral and written versions of the Tsi Tiotonhontsatáhsawe into a three-part script. Simultaneously, Teiowí:sonte worked with Trina to create concept art for the characters, settings, and scenes described in the script.
Enter AbTeC/IIF! We’re very proud of our team whose expertise, experimentation, and dedication are making for an electric and exciting process. In her role as IIF Partnership Coordinator and as an artist who has directed her own machinima, Skawennati connects us with KORLCC and, as the project develops, provides advice and feedback. Nancy Elizabeth Townsend is mentoring and assisting Waylon with project management, deadlines and workflow optimization.
Last summer, Research Assistant Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush worked with AbTeC/IIF to create an initial version of the animatic—a motion storyboard—for the first installment of the Creation Story. She currently works with Teiowí:sonte to make edits, compile assets, fill in gaps in the original animatic, and prepares the environment of each scene.
Graduate Research Assistant Waylon Wilson is the lead project manager, handling the organizational aspects of the project; he also turns the motion storyboard into an animatic by layering each scene’s image-files, determines camera movements and angles—this way of working is known as 2.5D animation since a number of flat, unique images (assets) create a dynamic, deep space where components can move individually. At this point, the 2.5D animation is ready to get moving! Undergraduate Research Assistant Ray Tqogweg Caplin is the main animator. One of Ray’s most demanding tasks is the creation of character puppets. Ray takes the character artwork and segments the bodies based on where joints are and the range of movement required by each character.
While 2.5D animation is not new, we’re proud to have developed an innovative workflow adapted to the needs of this project. By using Duik 16 (Bassel), a free open-source After Effects plugin, After Effects’s capacity to support puppets has drastically improved. This reduces the number of platforms required to produce the animation and creates reusable, interchangeable character puppets. .
By making space in the workflow for character modification and the reuse of character puppets and animations, our process is streamlined! But let’s not forget about environments and camera movements. The many layers that form each scene are constructed to move in relation to the camera, which creates depth of field (perspective) in the animation. The joint AbTeC/IIF-KORLCC team reviews each final-draft scene together in which they approve the draft or return it for further adjustment.
My head was spinning at our most recent meeting. Above all, I was totally absorbed in seeing how the team works together. These meetings create an exciting space where we make the visual elements and Kanien’kéha storytelling resonate with one another.
Scenes must reflect the deeper symbolic meaning of the script. For instance, determining the layout of the village in Karonhià:ke (Sky World) aligns with the responsibility described in the name of Rarón:tote, the Guardian of the Standing Tree.
Our meetings are opportunities to identify inaccuracies. One assumption was that, like on Earth, the sky in Karonhià:ke would also appear blue. This is not true in the context of the Creation Story since the sky, as we know it, appears much later in the narrative. Together, we decided to use a half-twilight, half-galaxy sky to be more faithful to the story.
The team also worked through technical uncertainties. For example, how could we, with our restriction to 2.5D animation, establish 3-point geometric perspective inside of a longhouse? We wanted to avoid the need to re-draw the interior each time we moved the camera. Instead, Ray proposed that we create a 3D rectangular prism in which we could insert existing concept art of the longhouse interior (imagine wallpapering the inside of a virtual box). The scene’s layers, such as the puppets, could then be placed on top of this environment and the camera movements would then create the illusion of dynamic space!
Getting to see the thought process behind certain creative choices was fascinating. The collaboration ensures that deeper meanings and connotations are embedded in the visual elements. With this in mind, it was energizing to think about how the Creation Story shapes and is reflected in the lives of people today.
At one point, Trina Stacey explained the deeper meaning of a scene in the story. Rate’seróntie’s (The Uncle) has received a premonition of Iottsi’tsíson (Sky Woman) descending into our world. The premonition is jarring because it shows the Uncle a thought that has never existed before. The Uncle’s dream initiates a sequence of events that will create Turtle Island!
As someone looking in from the outside, I felt a beautiful resonance between this idea in the Creation Story—the idea of how momentous a new way of thinking can be—and the process and purpose of the Tsi Tiotonhontsatáhsawe project: to facilitate Kanien’kéha language learning so that students can see the world in a new way, through the lens of their language.
I would like to thank Skawennati, Nancy Elizabeth Townsend, Sara England, Trina Stacey, and Waylon Wilson for their help in preparing this introduction.
Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace sends you our warmest wishes this holiday season. Both in the studio and out in the world, 2018 was a phenomenal year for us! We wanted to take a moment to share some of our accomplishments and activities with you.
The new year began with AbTeC co-founder Jason Edward Lewis offering a brand new course, a graduate seminar on the Future Imaginary, in which students thought about what Indigenous life would look like in the future and the implications of this question. Students produced research papers and creative projects to articulate their own future imaginaries. Undergraduate research assistant Dion Smith-Dokkie’s contribution to our Illustrating the Future Imaginary series, Figure 4. Exclusion Zone Radioactivity, developed from this course.
AbTeC and IIF hosted a number of other workshops this year too! In April, Maize and Skawennati, this time with Producer Nancy Townsend, went to Saskatchewan to give a machinima workshop at the Regina Public Library in partnership with the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Over the course of the week, participants created a short machinima based on a Nehiyȃw (Cree) story: How the Loon Got Its Walk. Find Maize’s account of the workshop here.
From March to May, AbTeC and IIF collaborated with the Kahnawake Survival School to offer an in-depth version of our 7th Generation Character Design Workshop. In this five-week workshop, our team worked with high school students to help them imagine a descendant or community member at least seven generations in the future. Working with paper and pen, participants sketched their designs under the guidance of Jason Edward Lewis and Skawennati. Following this, undergraduate RAs Raymond Tqoqweg Caplin and Kahentawaks Tiewishaw gave lessons in 3D modelling, UV unwrapping and skin creation. Participants then created their own characters. Our lessons were punctuated by a visit from industry professionals Dominick Meissner and Vivian Herzog of Behaviour Interactive. We concluded the workshop with an in-community exhibition of 3D printed versions of the participants’ digital models! In one of our prototype Seventh Generation Character Design Workshops, graduate RA Suzanne Kite (aka Kite) developed the concept for her performance artwork Listener. An image from this piece, entitled L-Sys (Lakȟóta System), was added to the Illustrating the Future Imaginary series.
The studio was abuzz with anticipation for the 19th edition of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Ontario! AbTeC and our affiliates submitted four works. For our part, AbTeC and the Skins 5.0 cohort, Nā ‘Anae Mahiki, submitted He Ao Hou, the video game made during the Skins 5.0 Workshop, our first in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Skawennati submitted her sci-fi machinima retelling of the Haudenosaunee confederation story, The Peacemaker Returns. Our research assistants were in on the action too! RA Waylon Wilson, along with his collaborator Mia McKie, exhibited their game, Nu:ya! Nu:ya! A Tuscarora Exploratory Game. And, RA Travis Mercredi’s virtual-reality walking sim, ~2700, was also featured in this year’s festival!
In November, a bunch of us attended the Indigenous Comic Con—we had a blast! Jason Edward Lewis, Nancy Townsend, Suzanne Kite, Maize Longboat, Ray Tqoqweg Caplin, Valerie Bourdon and Kahentawaks Tiewishaw all flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the three-day event. We connected with fellow Indigi-nerds and met cool artists! We even took part in the Cosplay Contest. An AbTeC team put together a beautiful costume which Kahentawaks wore, playing Otsitsakaion from Skawennati’s She Falls For Ages!
All year long, at our virtual headquarters, AbTeC Island, we have been researching what it means to create Indigenously determined cyberspaces—and what it means to be Indigenous online. A number of guests have come to our weekly visiting hours to explore and talk about Indigeneity, virtual worlds and the future. In October, we hosted a Halloween party, and just last week, a Winter Solstice Wonderland party to bring virtual and real-world guests into our little slice of virtual paradise. The project has appeared on platforms like Canadaland’s The IMPOSTER and CBC Unreserved with Rosanna Deerchild.
The studio has been bustling with residents and special guests over the past 12 months! Artist-in-residence Scott Benesiinaabandan has been working on a variety of projects over the year; his virtual-reality artwork, Blueberry Pie Under a Martian Sky, toured Canada with the 2167 project. We have also welcomed a host of guests for briefer stays. Lenape-Kiowa artist and IIF artist-in-residence Nathan Young collaborated with Suzanne Kite on a site-specific digital listening artwork. He also gave an artist’s talk, and was interviewed for our Future Imaginary Dialogues series. Filmmaker Adam Khalil and MIT Arts, Culture and Technology Masters student Erin Genia also visited us in studio! During the summer, Achimostawinan Games joined us to create a prototype version of their forthcoming, Indigenous Cybernoir video game, PURITY & decay. Meagan Byrne, Tara Miller, Travis Mercredi, Colin Lloyd and Gabriela Kim Passos were in the studio in various capacities in May and June, pushing the project forward with the support of our team. Finally, Anishinaabe comedian, writer, media maker and community activator Ryan McMahon gave an Indigenous Futures Cluster Presents public talk where he shared experiences gained through his podcast, Red Man Laughing.
As you can see, 2018 was a magical and hectic year! Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace looks forward to some regenerative rest and to a fruitful 2019. We thank you for your continuing support and interest in our mission and wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and a wonderful New Year!
First, we are delighted to have received an Honourable Mention in the Digital Communities category of the Prix Ars Electronica 2018! By creating links between Indigenous people, communities and organizations; bringing together Indigenous storytelling and cultural knowledge with new media; and supporting dialogues on Indigeneity, technology, and the future, we will help to build creative and caring communities. We thank the Prix Ars Electronica for this recognition.
KITE (aka Suzanne Kite) is a Graduate Research Assistant, who is pursuing an Individualized PhD at Concordia. As part of the Hexagram Network’s Campus Ars Electronica group show, “Taking Care”, Suzanne will give three performances of her iterative, multimedia art work, Listener. Developed from our Skins Seventh Generation Character Design Workshops, KITE thinks through embodied connection to technology and the land and Lakota ways of knowing.
Finally, Undergraduate Research Assistant Sam Bourgault collaborated with artist and Design and Computation Arts Masters student Augustina Isidori to create SOLA, which explores the tensions in walking at night in the context gender-based violence. Sam collaborated as the project’s Unity Developer.
Here are some pictures from the post-production phase of He Au Hou 2 / Skins 6.0.
Right now, workshop participants and our team of Research Assistants are playtesting and iterating ‘Wao Kanaka, I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope’, the game made by Ka Lei Milikaʻa, during our workshop at Hālau ‘Īnana in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi.
This means we are looking for and correcting glitches and bugs; fine-tuning animations and transitions; putting the final touches on visual and written content; and ensuring that the final game meets up with the vision of Ka Lei Milikaʻa, this year’s He Au Hou 2 cohort.
Check back for more news on the final version of the game in a few weeks!
Things are back in full swing at AbTeC! After a bustling fall semester, we wanted to take a moment to tell you about our plans for the next few months.
We have a new lab coordinator! Sara England, who managed AbTeC’s recent retrospective, Owerà:ke Non Aié:nahne / Filling in the Blank Spaces, is now our Lab Coordinator! She replaces Lianne Maritzer, who has left Montreal to pursue further studies in animation and 3D modelling. In addition to arranging travel, scanning documents, and making sure the lab runs smoothly, Sara will also work with Jason, Skawennati, and Graduate Research Assistant Mikhel Proulx to develop an archive of AbTeC’s outputs.
Graduate Research Assistants Suzanne Kite and Maize Longboat are busy bees! They recently spoke at Travelling Against the Current: Reflections on Indigenous Experiences in Academia. The second panel in a series of three, the January 18th event focused on graduate students at Concordia University. Suzanne’s latest project, Listener, “is a modular performance artwork … [that] engages with Lakota epistemologies through computational media, Machine Learning algorithms, and narrative.” You can see it in Ottawa in March and at Concordia University in April. As for Maize, he is helping to plan and co-facilitate two Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design with Skawennati and Nancy.
The first workshop, which will take place in Maple Ridge in Stó:lō territory, is an “Intro to Second Life” workshop that will be given to a group of Indigenous youth during the Good Heart, Good Mind Conference. The second, which takes place in Regina on Treaty 4 territory, is a five-day machinima workshop in which Indigenous high school students will create their own “machine cinema” project from start to finish. Skawennati, Maize, and Nancy will deliver this version.
Skawennati, AbTeC Co-Director and IIF Partnership Coordinator, is leading the preparation and delivery of the two Skins workshops. In early February, she will visit Tiger Strikes Asteroid, an artist-run space in New York City to talk about her machinima series, TimeTraveller™. Come May, she will give a keynote speech at the 2018 Association of Art Museum Curators Annual Conference and Meeting!
Jason Edward Lewis, AbTeC Co-Director and Concordia University Research Chair in Computational Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary, will speak as part of First Voices Week on Monday, January 29; he will describe IIF’s recent projects and take questions from attendees. He’s also teaching a new graduate-level course; entitled The Future Imaginary, it fosters the creation of shared language to theorize about Indigenous futures. Students contribute to advanced discussions and will create projects that reflect their personal definitions and understandings of the future.
Stay tuned for Jason’s appearance at the Travelling Against the Current panel series in late March; and the 2018 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, where he will be joined by Drs. Noelani Arista, Rilla Khaled, Pippin Barr, and AbTeC Producer Nancy Townsend.
Through the Initiative for Indigenous Futures, we were very fortunate to have hosted so many outstanding thinkers and artists last semester, including Dr. June Scudeler (Métis) of Simon Fraser University; Kanaka Maoli scholars Dr. Noelani Arista and Kauwila Mahi from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; Cherokee sound artist Elisa Harkins and a performance of Graduate Research Assistant Suzanne Kite’s Everything I Say Is True. We’re pleased to announce that Kristina Baudemann, who also visited us last November, will return as an IIF Visiting Scholar. Additionally, we are preparing to welcome several more residents this year. More on this soon…
In February, we’re excited to host students from the OCAD University Indigenous Visual Culture program who are doing a field trip to Montreal during their reading week. Fifteen students will visit our studio, where we will tell them about AbTeC/IIF and show them some of the projects that we’ve produced, including a machinima demo! We look forward to the connections that will be created between these individuals as well as the programmes of these two institutions.
Later on that month, to coincide with the Concordia Faculty of Fine Arts Portfolio Review Day, AbTeC will host an open studio for potential students. Participating in this way allows to possibly reach a wide audience of students with information about AbTeC and to identify students who may wish to work with AbTeC in some capacity.
Finally, AbTeC projects continue to be exhibited. Two games from AbTeC’s SkinsWorkshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design are part of INTERPLAY: The History of Electronic Entertainment. Presented at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ontario and including the Milieux Institute’s Technoculture, Art and Games Research Centre (TAG), this second wave of the exhibition investigates how video games are used by researchers and universities. Be sure to check out AbTeC’s games, Ienién:te and the Peacemaker’s Wampum (Skins 4.0) and He Au Hou (Skins 5.0)!
2167 will continue to tour in 2018! The project brings together five artists: IIF Artist-in-residence Scott Benesiinaabandan, the Postcommodity collective, who collaborated with AbTeC/IIF to create their work, as well as Kent Monkman and Danis Goulet.
Thanks for catching up with us. We hope the rest of the winter treats you well!
Hello everyone! As you may know, the Third Annual Symposium on the Future Imaginary is taking place in Winnipeg from November 29 to December 2. We’re so excited for the connections, sharing, and learning that we will share with the artists, scholars, technologists and community in attendance. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing our speakers.
This week, we’re introducing Jolene Rickard and Scott Benesiinaabandan.
Jolene Rickard, Ph.D. is a visual historian, artist and curator interested in Indigeneity within a global context. Her projects include IIF, Initiative for Indigenous Futures (Concordia University) 2016, The Creative Time Summit: The Curriculum, inAugust 2015 in conjunction with the 56th International la Biennale di Venezia; the Te Tihi Gathering in New Zealand in 2010 and co-curating the inaugural exhibition of Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2004. She is a citizen of the Tuscarora Nation, director of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program and Associate Professor in the History of Art and Art Departments at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
Scott Benesiinaabandan is an Anishinabe intermedia artist that works primarily in photography, video, audio and printmaking. Scott has completed an international residencies at Parramatta Artist Studios in Australia, Context Gallery in Derry, North of Ireland, and University Lethbridge/Royal Institute of Technology iAIR residency, along with international collaborative projects in both the U.K and Ireland. Scott is currently based in Montreal, where he completing a year-long Canada Council New Media Production grant through Obx Labs/AbTeC and Initiative for Indigenous Futures. Scott is currently investigating Virtual Reality as a medium and has recently completed an NFB-Ford Foundation intensive residency around VR.
In the past years, Benesiinaabandan has been awarded multiple grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, Manitoba Arts Council, Winnipeg Arts Council and Conseil des arts des lettres du Québec. His work can be found in a number of provincial and national collections.
You can find more information on the Third Annual Symposium on the Future Imaginary here.
The lab is back in full swing! After an extreme summer preparing for and delivering the Skins 5.0 workshop in Honolulu, Hawai’i (check out the blog posts here) we’re excited for an equally jam-packed school year.
Skawennati is busy working on two solo exhibitions as well as a project with Jason Edward Lewis! Skawennati: for the ages, a survey of her work from the year 2000 until present day, opens on Septmeber 21 at Vtape in Toronto. Teiakwanahstahsontéhrha | We Extend the Rafters, opens at VOX on October 28 in Montreal. The show includes her brand-new machinima, The Peacemaker Returns, a sci-fi retelling of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) confederation story as well as a “museum of the future.” Additionally, Skawennati’s “The Celestial Tree,” is still on view as part of The Path of Resilience. You can find it at the corner of Avenue des Pins and Rue McTavish until December.
On November 4, Filling in the Blank Spacesopens at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery. This show brings together over twenty years of programming and production by Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace and affiliated artists and creators! The month-long show will feature screenings of TimeTraveller™, a CyberPowWow reboot, weekly workshops, and much more! More on this in the coming weeks.
We’re also excited for the Third Annual Symposium on the Future Imaginary! From November 30 to December 2 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, we will be welcoming artists, scholars, technologists, and community members to explore themes and topics in Indigenous futurisms with us. Want to attend? You can register for the 3rd Annual Symposium on the Future Imaginary on our Eventbrite page. If you have questions, send an email to email@example.com.
Finally, we’ve also welcomed two new graduate research assistants. We’re always excited to welcome new members to our community, please stay tuned for their introductory blog posts!
Currently showing at Ellephant is Skawennati’s show, Machinimagraphique!, as part of Montreal’s Printemps numérique. Printemps numérique brings together creators of digital and new media work in order to foster this community within Montreal.
The show features fourteen machinimagraphs, one big piece that is in conversation with the work of Mariko Mori and a real-life re-creation of a prop seen in She Falls For Ages. Using Second Life, an online, virtual reality, Skawennati creates different characters, scenes, events and worlds, which then become the stage for her machinimagraphs and machinima. “Machinima” is a portmanteau of the words “machine” and cinema,” and refers to a movie made in a virtual environment. It is logical, therefore, to call a still image taken there a “machinimagraph”. Many of the machinimagraphs come from three of Skawennati’s machinimas.
TimeTraveller™, Skawennati’s first machinima, was produced between 2008 and 2013. The nine-episode series centres on Hunter, a young Mohawk man living in the 23rd century. Hunter has TimeTraveller™ glasses, which allow him to revisit and participate in scenes from history, such as the Oka Crisis of the 1990s, the passing of Kateri Tekakwitha, and the Manito Ahbee Powwow 2112. At the forefront is the theme of time. Technologically-enhanced sight awakens the main characters to their multiple, reticulate embodiments; these (blood) memories, inheritances, and belongings coalesce into a manifesto. The glasses bring into view the link between Indigenous survival and thrivance, love, and technology. Through them, we glimpse a territory that is an extension of our world while also a world that creates itself. Seen through the lens of Indigenous ways of knowing, the glasses, as a metaphor, promise radical new manifestations of Indigenous humanity.
She Falls For Ages re/presents the story of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) creation story. In it, Sky Woman jumps from Sky World through a hole created by uprooting the Celestial Tree. She jumps so that she can both save her unborn child and be “the seed of a new world.” A flock of geese catch her after she fell for what seemed like an eternity and set her on the back of a turtle. An otter brings her a handful of dirt, which she places under her feet. She then dances on the turtle’s back, spreading out the earth and forming Turtle Island.
In her childhood, both Sky Woman and her brother are known to have gifts – telepathy and telekinesis, respectively. Sky Woman sees her future in her partner’s clairvoyant dream. Being gifted, she must take on the responsibility of saving Sky World and makes the choice to sacrifice herself so that others can be safe. The message I took from She Falls For Ages was this, that we must use our gifts to sustain and create our community and world. Thinking of this in terms of how time is used in the piece, it is clear that Indigenous worlds have a place in both the past and the future.
In Words Before All Else Part 1, Skawennati’s own avatar, xox, recites the first verse of the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen – the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address – in Kanien’kéha, English, and French. The piece creates a narrative about Indigenous virtuosity and decolonial, reconciliatory digital spaces.
Skawennati recently exhibited She Falls for Ages and Words Before All Else Part 1 at OBORO in Montreal, and also the Vancouver Indigenous Media Arts Festival. TimeTraveller™ is currently being exhibited a part of LaboNT2’s contribution to the Venice Biennale’s HyperPavillion. The Ellephant show acts as a reflection on her work over the past decade, while placing her current projects into context both aesthetically and processually.
In addition to the printed, framed machinimagraphs, the show includes a monitor with the range of Skawennati’s machinimagraphs flickering across the screen. The monitor reintroduces an element of Skawennati’s creative process–the computer and its screen–into the show. Many visitors at the vernissage spent time sitting in front of it, illuminating the appropriateness of this reference.
Skawennati : Machinimagraphique! is on at Ellephant (1201 Rue Saint-Dominique) until June 24, 2017.
I recently attended Tehatikonhsatatie : For the Faces That Are Yet to Come, at the Maison de la Culture Frontenac in Montreal, Quebec. The Kahnawá:ke-based artists, Carla and Babe Hemlock, have exhibited extensively in the United States, notably at the Santa Fe Indian Market and the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian as part of Native Fashion Now, organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. The show also features two collaborations with their son, Raohserahawi Hemlock, a filmmaker.
Hannah Claus, the exhibition’s curator, gave a guided tour in the presence of the two artists. Claus is a multidisciplinary artist and member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. The exhibition features numerous diverse works, demonstrating the artists’ interdisciplinary and collaborative practice. Upon entering, I saw the gallery text was written in French, English, and Kanien’ké:ha (Mohawk). This was the first time I had seen the language written in a public space in Montreal (then again, I’ve only been here 9 months…) though it nonetheless set the tone for the evening.
Claus introduced the show by way of discussing Carla Hemlock’s textile works. We started with Skywoman’s Descent (2009), whose centre is a turtle with a multi-coloured, spiral shell. Claus shared the story of Skywoman, who fell from Sky World through a hole made from roots that had fallen away from the ground as she gathered plants. A passing flock of geese broke her fall and she eventually landed on the back of a large turtle. She was given some dirt by a muskrat or otter (a point debated at the show), which she then placed under her feet and danced on the turtle’s back, spreading out the earth and thus forming Turtle Island. Looking closer at the quilts, one can see that Hemlock’s beadwork is impeccable; many quilts feature perfectly executed ropework, a technique of Iroquois beadwork that creates long spirals of beadwork.
The turtle motif returns throughout the show, in other quilts, paintings, and a digital video-montage by Raohserahawi Hemlock, in collaboration with Babe Hemlock. The piece features multiple video loops of humans, animals, and the environment shaped so as to resemble a turtle’s shell; the abundance of visual material is meant to reference the many forms of life from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) creation story. Raohserahawi Hemlock’s collaborative piece with Carla Hemlock sits on the opposite side of the room. A large tableau stands in front of a projected video. There is a female mannequin wearing a long jacket handmade by Hemlock as well as a old-fashioned hat. Hemlock created these garments to reference Cornelius Krieghoff paintings of women from Kahnawake at the turn of the last century as a way to witness the resilience of the women of her community. Flowing from the bottom of the jacket is a holographic material, referencing water, that trickles into a bed of roses. At the feet of the figure lies a gas mask. Projected behind the tableau is video of footage from the Rise With Standing Rock Native Nations March in Washington, D.C. this past March. This footage blends with video of children from the Kahnawake kindergarten doing the Stomp Dance.
Babe Hemlock’s interest in human intervention and manipulation of the environment is present throughout his works. The subject matter progresses from earlier paintings in the 1990s depicting Mohawk ironworkers, or Skywalkers, to recent works that engage in – might I be so bold as to say – Indigenous futurist environmental commentary. Images of gas masks, ruined and industrial landscapes, children holding their elders’ hands are present throughout the paintings. The exhibition presents four cradleboards for consideration as well. Traditionally, various Indigenous peoples used cradleboards as a way to carry children while ensuring their safety, comfort, and connection to a community. Animals like turtles and bears are present on the cradleboards as well; two of the cradleboards were produced in a traditional style and the other two in a contemporary mode. By using his paintings at different places in the exhibition, the curator creates a physical metaphor that illuminates connections between environmental health, the health of the environment, children as a reality and trope, and the future.
The show continues further on into explicitly political territory. For example, one piece features a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) passport, a document that is not recognized by Canada. Another piece brings the viewer into an interaction with the Treaty of Canandaigua, signed November 11, 1794, allowing for the continuation of early-colonial American expansion. The piece memorializes the histories held in common by the community. Second, it highlights the political nature of being Indigenous. One could read into the exhibition a call to action, the presentation of current material conditions and histories.
One Dish, One Spoon features a beaded vase resting on a large, wooden spoon. According to Skawennati, beaded vases like this one were once commonly produced in Kahnawake for sale to tourists. What she noted with the Hemlocks’ piece, however, was the formal experimentation in the work. From one angle, the piece resembled a vase; from another, it resembled the female form; and from again another angle, it took on abstract qualities. The piece is wonderfully strange in the context of its history and stood out for this reason.
Tehatokonhsatatie: For the Faces That Are Yet to Come documents underscores humanity’s basis in environment. This was the artists’ first show in Montreal, which brings to view changes around Indigenous art and artists in the Montreal art scene and the larger issue of Montreal’s neo-colonial, liberal cosmopolitanism. The exhibition’s title comes from one of the quilts. In the work, multiple waveforms emanate from its centre. Interspersed in the waves are embroidered faces, representing future generations. Starting as small pearls and gradually growing, the faces move outwards in the wave structure. Surrounding this element are six birds, representing humanity. The viewer is reminded of their responsibility to contribute to an ethical, healthy world, in that the reverberations of one’s actions go far beyond oneself. In this way, Tehatokonhsatatie… brings forward larger discussions around environmentalism, sovereignty and stewardship, futurity, and the possibilities manifest in future generations.
Tehatokonhsatatie: For the Faces That Are Yet to Come, by Carla and Babe Hemlock, with Raohserahawi Hemlock, is currently showing at the Maison de la Culture Frontenac in Montreal (Studio 1, 2550 Ontario Street, Montreal). The nearest metro station is Frontenac. The show goes until June 16, 2017.