Montréal Joue is a festival of game culture produced by Bibliothèques de Montréal (Montreal Libraries) and is currently running for the fourth year. This year, for the first time, they have a theme: “Femmes et jeux”, or women in games. They state on their website that the theme aims to deconstruct the views people may have of women and their roles in the “video game ecosystem”. Women imagine, create, plan and play videogames (where there are occasionally even female leads!).
Along with other groups such as Pixelles and Ludia, Skawennati was invited to take part in the festival by showing work that she and AbTeC/Obx Labs have created. Research Assistants Erica Perreault and myself went with her to run the table and interact with anyone who wanted to know more about the works. TimeTraveller™ was playing on an iPad, while Ienién:te and the Peacemaker’s Wampum, a game created during the Skins 4.0 workshop was featured on the big screen. Postcards featuring commissioned art from IIF were available as cool take-aways.
TimeTraveller™ drew in a couple of fans who recognized the work and were happy to speak with Skawennati. The postcards were popular and the game had some people playing all the way to the end! A cold Montreal evening was made warmer with good company.
Three talented and driven Indigenous artists presented themselves and their work at Concordia University last week, on February 15, 18 and 19, as part of the process to decide on which of them will become Concordia’s Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Art Practice. The position will allow them to work at Concordia as a professor while also giving them more time to focus on research and creative work.
The talks all touched on the same area at their core; the idea of Indigenous storytelling. Each artist approached the subject from their own viewpoints, stemming from their interests and how they work. There seemed to be a core question being explored by each artist throughout their talk.
Maria Hupfield was the first to speak on her work. She is a member of Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario, currently based in Brooklyn, NY. She is a performance artist who also makes objects that can be used to tell stories and create conversations. Often her objects, including a bandolier bag, jingle boots, and a canoe, are made of grey industrial felt. Activating materials and creating a tactile experience where the art is used rather than only looked at seemed to be of strong interest to her.
Next up was Jackson 2Bears who came to present his work. He is a Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) from Six Nations, currently based in Lethbridge, Alberta. His presentation seemed to ask the question: how are stories told? How do Indigenous peoples in particular hang on to and share their stories? He explained that there is a linear way of storytelling; from A to Z. Then there are some stories that require the listener and storyteller to be in a certain area in order for it to be told.
The third to present was Nadia Myre, Algonquin member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation and a locally based Montreal artist. The question at the core of her work seemed to be: who can she tell stories with? Her work stood out as being community-based as she mentioned her experiences working with various groups and individuals. Her artistic works are created in relation to each other as her new works tend to be influenced by the previous, like a backstitch where the line moves forward by going back.
All of these artists are exceptional and have a focus on their culture and giving back to communities. They all showed that there is a mental, emotional and physical connection working together in any piece of art. This also ties into the way that Indigenous people embody the stories they tell and in the ways they tell them. Traditionally stories are told through dance, singing and drumming (for example). The artists also work in various mediums in a similar fashion.
It will be a tough decision choosing who will stay at Concordia and one that I’m glad I don’t have to make!
The third and last meeting for the Machinima Workshop was met with fluffy snowflakes and smiling faces. The good mood from day two had carried over as the production phase started.
The first step of the day was to ownload a program called Snapz Pro X which we use to record the scenes from Second Life. Then the participants impressed Skawennati and Erica with their prep work they had done during the week. They shared their scripts, assets, audio files and put on their director hats as everyone split into teams.
Each project had its own set of challenges. Christelle’s needed careful timing and multiple open windows to reenact a famous performance piece that of four women being tattooed. Eli’s required quiet moments in the room as the avatars spoke using sound coming from laptops. Finally Nicholas and Anna’s project called for multiple moving sets.
It was a long and careful day of shooting and re-shooting as needed, until the participants were happy with the footage they had. People wandered around and peeked in on what was happening with other groups and shared information and offers for help. The environment was friendly and creative through the whole process of running the workshop.
We are pleased to say that two of the three machinima short films were completed on the final day, with the third being very close to the end. The videos will be posted to our Vimeo account and we’ll let you know when they’re ready to be seen!
She:kon! Day two of the Machinima Workshop had everyone diving into pre-production.
Participants showed YouTube clips of scenes they would like to use as reference for their machinimas. Abstract concepts, tattoo art and Star Trek came into the mix as inspiration. Some more tools were given for participants to use. Extra avatars were assigned to projects to use for acting, along with extra team mates. 3D mice were handed out as an option for smoother camera work.
How many actors would be needed? How many outfits and props? What will be needed for the environment and set? Armed with a budget and a plan the shopping in Second Life’s marketplace began. The delicate art of shopping user-created content was explored as people wondered what assets could be shared and changed. Even animations were bought from the marketplace.
Walking through the sandbox on AbTeC island shows the three very different sets coming together. A bright and fantastic nature scene grows as a small robot and floating jellyfish build the scene. A few steps away will bring you to the tattoo artist’s wall with four chairs lined up in a row. The final stop is a glowing door leading into a Star Trek inspired sci-fi set.
Large portions of the day were spent working, French and English voices mixed with the gentle tapping and clicking of keyboard and mice. Sitting together and working towards the same goal in a creative environment kept everyone focused and having fun.
Everyone is excited to see what will be done as the third day comes, check back to see the final results!
The bridge between Kahnawake and Montreal looks like it’s on the verge of collapsing. And from what I’ve heard, this has been the case for years. Unfortunately, the bridge is one of thousands of pieces of Canada’s infrastructure in desperate need of comprehensive repair. And it appears that this will remain the case until a crisis point is reached, which is entirely consistent with the traditions of Western history.
At first glance, you can’t help but view the bridge as a metaphor for the status of Aboriginal and settler relationships, or Aboriginal and federal government relationships. But there’s obviously way more to this bridge than that.
The physical act of driving back and forth across the bridge inspires an inevitable meditation on complexity. And if you think about all the Mohawk leaders, builders, thinkers, artists and writers who have emerged from Kahnawake over the past 100 years — and continue to emerge — you begin to wonder if there is something more powerful to that bridge than metaphor. There’s something to this idea of complexity. Maybe it’s some sort of metaphysical portal between past, present and future that enables the people to remain self-determined Kahnawake, while accessing the tools, infrastructure and critical mass of Montreal?
Maybe there is something happening here very powerful that is beyond the historical narrative of the colonial feedback loop? Maybe the state of this bridge’s disrepair is part of a system of smoke and mirrors to distract the Francophones and Anglophones from the power it contains. From a Cherokee perspective, that of a distant relative, the more I think about it, the more I see the story of Hunter and Buzzard finally being hacked. Who knows?
But if I had to design a “reserve” for the future, I would include a metaphysical bridge just like this one. And maybe it would always be on the verge of collapsing, but it would continue to empower self-determination in ways that future transportation and communications technology will likely never have the capacity to facilitate.
She:kon everyone! A warmer week greets us here in Montreal as this is written.
Skawennati and IIF Research Assistant Erica Perreault gave the first of a series of three workshops on creative uses of Second Life at Eastern Bloc in Montreal this past weekend. It was an intimate environment as the group set up their laptops around a wooden table in a room lit with sunshine.
The day took off with introductions from participants and the IIF team. A look back on TimeTravellertm gave everyone a view on what Second Life looks like and is capable of. The word “machinima” is the combination of “machine” and “cinema”. Skawennati defines it as “making movies in a virtual environment”. She has also started to use the term “machinimagraph” to describe a photograph taken in a virtual environment, as we learned when she showed some stunning images from TimeTravellertm. The participants would later learn to take their own “machinimagraphs” and document their adventure.
Once the Second Life viewer was downloaded and accounts were made, people started taking their first steps in this popular on-line world. Starting to play in Second Life is much like being a newborn baby. Participants had to learn how to walk, run, fly and talk to each other. Appearances were customized for better or worse as people played with the controls.
Some confusion and fun as the group first meet in Second Life.
Skawennati and Erica made a great team as the group had to navigate the sprawling preference pages and set it up so that their experience was at the highest quality they wanted or were able to handle with their laptops.
A group outing for lunch to a nearby restaurant helped make the afternoon session more relaxed as people were more comfortable with each other. Browsing the Second Life marketplace to find user-created content was covered, along with searching through the available library for textures and items.
This led into the building process of Second Life. The participants had a lot of fun creating chaos in the private sandbox as avatars ran around with rocks for heads and random items populated the area. They were presented a mission to build a snowman that taught them the basic building tools and kept Erica on her feet as she troubleshooted for people.
A row of snowmen lined up with their creators for a group photo.
The day wound down with a viewing of some examples of machinima in other games and a showing of the first three TimeTravellertm episodes. This sparked some further inspiration in the participants as they went home to prepare for day two.
Creativity, determination and teamwork will be the keys to the creation of successful machinima shorts as we move forward with the workshop!
Hello! I’m Darian Jacobs and a new Research Assistant for AbTeC and IIF.
I’m from Kahnawake and doing my first year as an undergraduate in Concordia’s Journalism program. My love of writing and my desire to explore and learn are the driving forces behind that decision. Reporting allows me to meet different people and experience new events to keep some variety in my life.
I worked for The Eastern Door Newspaper during the summer in 2014 and still do some freelance every now and again. I have a comic strip running in The Eastern Door called Darnomia. I will be uploading strips to my personal blog weekly if you’re interested.
I first found AbTec and Obx when a friend of a friend recommended the Skins 4.0 Workshop to me in 2013. At the time I was a student in Dawson’s 3D Animation and CGI program, so it seemed like a great project to work on. The experience ended up being fantastic and has influenced me to always consider how I can include my culture in my artistic works.
I’ll be doing most of the posting on the IIF blog and social media accounts, to keep our followers up to date on what we’re doing. I’ll also be helping out in ways that I can utilize some of my skills, like writing or art, along with the bonus of learning as much as possible.
She:kon! Day two of the residency was exciting as Postcommodity and the IIF team brainstormed and explored possibilities for the Virtual Reality project.
After the first day’s work the IIF team brought forward some ideas and suggestions. One suggestion was to consider how to make the entire experience work, for the people with the headset on and those around them. Postcommodity came with some important questions, wondering what were good examples of VR experiences and what some of the clichés are to avoid. They were shown more VR games and films to get a better feel on the technology, then the group discussed the pros and cons of the various headsets. Postcommodity had both fantastic and bland experiences with the VR headsets that jumpstarted even more ideas!
Postcommodity wrapped up the day by sharing that they had a much better idea of the technology and had fresh ideas bouncing around their heads. It was a productive day of learning for everyone. Day three is the halfway point already and will have forward movement as prototypes start being created!
Check back for more updates on this exciting week.
She:kon and Happy New Year! We are hitting the ground running after the holiday break with a week-long artist residency.
On January 7 we will begin our first Artist Residency. We are very excited to welcome internationally respected artist collective Postcommodity. With our partner, the imagineNative Film and Media Festival, we have invited Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez, and Kade L. Twist to create a Virtual Reality artwork that imagines our world 150 years in the future. At Obx Labs—also known as AbTeC headquarters—our team of Computation Arts students have been sharpening their skills to take on this exciting new challenge. We have also been gearing up! We’ve ordered, received and tested several VR headsets, including the Oculus Rift and the Google cardboard. And the necessary software is downloaded.
As part of their visit, Postcommodity will give a free public talk on Friday, January 8 at 7 pm. Please join us. There will be light refreshments.
On November 27, IIF’s Partnership Coordinator, Skawennati, attended the opening of a solo exhibition of her work at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, called “Realizing the Virtual: A TimeTraveller™ Experience.” The gallery is presenting the machinima in a unique way: they have built recreations of three of the movie’s virtual sets in which people can sit and watch the episodes: Hunter’s storage locker apartment, Karahkwenhawi’s bedroom, and their shared penthouse living room!
The idea came about when Dunlop curator Jennifer Matotek told Skawennati that she would love to find a more interesting way to show the episode than in a black box or a white cube, and asked if Skawennati had any ideas for Indigenizing the space. Skawennati was hesitant at first. “I like the black box and the white cube!” she said. And she wasn’t sure what Matotek really meant by “Indigenizing the space”. After some thought however, Skawennati realized that “Indigenizing the space” is exactly what she’s been doing throughout her practice. Starting with her CyberPowWow project in 1997, she has been creating virtual places that are Aboriginally determined, and recognizable by Indigenous people as safe spaces to think, dream, create, interrogate and to be who we are and whoever we want to be.
Skawennati had also been dreaming of showing the nine episodes of TimeTraveller™ within Second Life, the virtual world in which she shot them, by inviting people (via their avatars) to enter the sets, many of which include screens, like the three sets featured in the exhibition.
From there it was a short leap to the idea of recreating the sets in real life. Next began the work of figuring out just how to do that. Skawennati chose the three sets she thought would be the most reproducible in real life. Her Research/Production Assistant, Erica Perrault, then took pictures of each of them and made a list of every item in each set. Some items, such as Hunter’s jetpack, were clearly going to be a challenge. Others, like the Blade Runner movie poster, seemed easy. (There were in for a few surprises on that front!) The list also had 3 columns: items to borrow, items to buy, and items to make. Matotek foresaw early on that they would need someone in Regina to help, and promptly created an internship for a student from the University of Regina. Danielle Corson was soon hired as Studio Assistant. Her job was to source items around Regina –to basically check as many things off the list as possible. She ended up doing so much more than sourcing, including making the curtains for Karahkwenhawi’s bedroom, a pair of tomahawks, and a fantastic replica of an ancient Aztec weapon! We were also lucky to have a great team at the Dunlop which included the preparator, Glenn Hubich, who helped enormously by making several large items that we thought we’d easily find but that were, in fact, unfindable. These included Karahkwenhawi’s desk, headboard, and dresser (which was made by attaching six pieces of wood to a large plinth and painting it brown –looked terrific!). Danielle was able to find excellent toy replicas of most of the items on the two weapons walls, but a couple were so expensive we looked into alternatives. One of these was the Hans Solo gun, for which we found 3D files that Eric Hill, also part of the Dunlop staff, was able to have printed with the Regina Public Libraries’ 3D printer!
While all this was going on in Regina, here in Montreal, Skawennati and (mostly) Erica were making the jetpack. It took several prototypes and a couple of missed deadlines, but the final product glowed with soft blue LED lights, just like the virtual one. They also searched the entire Internet for Hunter’s chair, a modern take on the classic design known as the egg chair. Finally, Skawennati realized she’d have to find someone who could make it, and through coincidence and serendipity, she found Oliver Philbin-Briscoe, a student at Concordia. Skawennati had to bring all her sewing skills to bear to design and construct the curvy upholstery. Also created on the Montreal side were the giant dreamcatcher that hangs above Karahkwenhawi’s bed, and the traditional Iroquois headdress, called a kustowah, that sits on her wardrobe. These were both made by Skawennati’s cousin, artist Kathleen Dearhouse.
Quite a few other people helped along the way, including Blair Fornwald, Margaret Bessai, and Jason Hipfner from the Dunlop –thank you for your care and good minds. A special nia:wen to Scott Benesiinaabandan for the use of his image, blood memory no.2. My biggest thanks goes to Jennifer for having the vision to make this virtuality a reality! Nia:wen’kow:a!
The final outcome is a success. The rooms, even with their slight accommodations for real life, are perfectly recognizable as the TimeTraveller™ sets. An unexpected bonus is an uncanny feeling when one is in each room. It feels like the characters were just recently there. Where did they go? Into the cyberspace? There is a feeling of fiction coming to life, or vice versa; a sense of the back-and-forth of the real becoming virtual and then back again. A simulacra of the simulacra! If you are in Regina, go and experience it for yourself.
Installation component commissioned by Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina Public Library, 2015