Hi everyone, my name is Kahentawaks Tiewishaw! I recently became a research assistant at Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, but you might say my journey here has been years in the making. Years ago when I was in my final year of high school, I participated in Skins 1.0. This workshop was instrumental in my creative development, as it introduced me to the world of digital art and 3D modelling.
After graduating from communications studies at Dawson College, I worked for almost four years at Mega Bloks. This job gave me the unique opportunity to create large scale block sculptures for shows and events like Comic-Con and Pax. My time there as a model designer gave me both valuable professional experience, as well as an extensive sculpture portfolio. In fact it was working with sculptures in the physical realm that reminded me of my past aspirations to do 3D sculpture.
Fast forward to present day and I am now studying Computation Arts at Concordia University, while working as an RA for AbTeC. My responsibilities here involve everything to do with 3D modelling! I’m Mohawk and a member of Kanehsatà:ke.
Location: MacKenzie Art Gallery / Regina Public Library, Regina, SK
Date: April 2nd – 6th, 2018
Duration: 5 days
Instructors: Skawennati, Nancy Elizabeth Townsend, Maize Longboat
Overview: In partnership with the MacKenzie Art Gallery, a team of four Regina youth participants created a post-apocalyptic trickster machinima that told the Nehiyaw (Cree) story of how the Loon got its walk. Over 5 days, participants learned how to use a virtual environment to create character costumes, build a set, and shoot scenes. They also edited their footage to bring what they filmed to life, added sound effects, and premiered their project with the public in the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s Shumiatcher Theatre.
How the Loon Got Its Walk (Skins Machinima). 2018.
Miles McCallum, Jonnie Deneyou, Nahiyan Islam & Minh Cao
Tansi and She:kon, from Treaty 4 territory! As part of our partnership with the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace was in Regina, Saskatchewan, from April 2nd-6th to deliver a Skins Machinima workshop for local youth. Our fantastic young participants, all high school students, learned the ins and outs of machinima production. From storytelling and creating a storyboard, to character design and building sets in a virtual world, to shooting and editing their footage, the youth put together a wonderful project from start to finish–and in just one week to boot! Let’s dive into the details from each day…
On April 2nd, Skawennati and Maize Longboat met youth participants, Miles, Jonnie, Nahiyan, and Minh, at the MacKenzie Art Gallery for the first time. We began with a presentation on what machinima was, watching classics like Red vs. Blue and TimeTraveller™. We then got right into the storytelling portion of the workshop. What kind of stories did they want to remediate using machinima? Were there any stories that all of them knew about? Once we finished it was clear that the legend of “How the Loon Got Its Walk” was the clear favorite, as all of the youth knew the story by heart. The day concluded with a lesson on storyboarding and together we sketched the story into scenes to guide our machinima production. We also started assembling a shared master asset list that would list all of the props, sets, characters, and sounds that we would need for the production. That evening, AbTeC Producer Nancy Townsend flew in from Montreal to add her considerable talents to the team.
On April 3rd, we changed locations. Everyone met at the Regional Public Library Central Branch in their well-equipped Digital Media Studio to begin training in Second Life, the virtual world where they’d build sets and shoot footage for their machinima. The participants learned how to navigate in virtual space, utilize the camera controls, and customize their avatars and environments. They especially loved purchasing free items from the online Marketplace and decking out their avatars in glowing accessories!
Near the end of the day everyone chipped in to complete the storyboard. We were then ready to start full-fledged pre-production on the machinima project.
On the morning of April 4th everyone met at the Digital Media Studio at RPL ready to get started on building the sets and creating the characters for our machinima. Each participant was given a specific task for pre-production: Minh was in charge of building the set, Nahiyan shopped for costumes of our trickster protagonist, Wīsahkēcāhk, Jonnie did the same for Mac the Loon, and Miles made the costumes for the two supporting Duck characters: Jerry and Suzy. Everyone was enjoying their work so much, we skipped our morning and afternoon breaks! All of the youth also took turns in the professional audio recording booth in the Digital Media Studio reading lines of dialogue that would be added in post-production. As the day drew to a close all the characters’ costumes were made and the finishing touches were put on the set.
Production day! We kicked off April 5th at RPL by training everyone in OBS Studio, a free open-source software used to stream and record videogames. OBS is great for anyone who is just starting their own machinima projects because of its accessibility. The youth quickly got the hang of the software and we dove right into shooting our scenes following our handy-dandy storyboard that we had finished earlier in the week. The participants took turns directing the machinima: For each turn, they would sit at our powerful laptop which was connected to a large monitor that everyone could see. They would then set up the shots using a 3D mouse, directing the operators of actor avatars where to stand or when to move, and yelling out “action!” and “cut!” for each take. Again, everyone was enjoying the work so much we forwent our breaks in the morning and afternoon! Even as we went overtime, everyone wanted to stay late to finish up shooting. We wrapped up our production phase with over 100 takes!
On April 6th we met at the RPL Digital Media Studio bright and early as usual to begin the post-production for our machinima, only today we had a deadline to meet. Our machinima was set to premiere at the MacKenzie Art Gallery at 2:30 PM and there was a lot of work to get done before we showed it to the public. We also had to get everyone trained up on our free, open-source editing software of choice: OpenShot! Getting all of our raw footage edited together, audio added, and titles and credits drafted proved to be a challenge. We had several technical hiccups along the way, but we successfully rendered the final version just in time! Several members of the Gallery staff, friends, and family attended the premiere. The CBC even sent a film crew!
We wrapped up the week with a debrief between the participants and facilitators. The youth told us they loved the workshop and just wished it could be two weeks long. And they couldn’t wait to show the world the polished machinima online. Watch it above!
Niawenko:wa from the AbTeC team to our youth participants for their presence, dedication, and care for this project. You were awesome! We also want to extend our warmest thanks to all the folks at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, especially: Anthony Kiendl, Janine Windolph, Rania AlHarthi, and Arul Ross. Special thanks to Candy Fox, our local videographer, Nick Andrews, and the entire Regina Public Library Central Branch staff who were so generous with their space and resources.
Out of all the conferences I go to every year ICFA is my favourite.
The International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts is one of the largest academic conferences for the fantastic, with hundreds of international scholars and over a hundred attending authors and artists. It is held annually in Orlando, Florida, in March—this was my third time attending.
ICFA is an amazing place to explore new ideas and get inspired. With the first half of this post I would like to give a short glimpse at my experience of this year’s conference; in the second half, I’ll give an example of such a moment of inspiration.
This year’s theme was “200 Years of the Fantastic: Celebrating Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.” In 1818, Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein, or: The Modern Prometheus was first published. Her story of the young scientist Victor Frankenstein and his tortured, monstrous creation is commonly considered one of the first science-fiction novels and has not only spawned a multitude of film adaptations, but also a multitude of different readings. Throughout the past decades, scholars have interpreted Shelley’s work as a classic tale of human hubris, or of the dangers of science and technology: Victor Frankenstein plays God when he gives life to a creature he made in his science lab. Others have focused on Shelley’s careful nesting of plots and sub-plots, the novel’s many references to other texts, or on the presence and absence of women (in the book, the monster does not get his bride!). And some have read the monster in a colonial context—as the Other that serves as a projection screen for colonial nightmares.
Needless to say, this year’s ICFA was full of literary monsters.
I encountered them in every session. Monstrosity was discussed in all of ICFA’s sections—science-fiction, fantasy, horror, film & television, children’s and young adult literature, visual and performing arts, fairy tale and folk narratives, and the international fantastic. I heard interesting and well-researched talks on the monstrous across many disciplines; some dealt with monstrous representations, others read monsters against the grain or looked at different aspects within the works of monster and horror fiction. A few examples include the design of monsters in video games (by Concordia University/TAG’s Sylvain Payen), the lack of a female POV in popular horror fiction where ‘woman’ still seems to be one of the most monstrous things imaginable (speculative fiction writer Elsa M. Carruthers & African American horror writer Rhonda Jackson Joseph), and mathematician Sean Nixon’s fascinating talk on Riemann surfaces in Stranger Things. This year’s theory round-table discussed Donna Haraway’s 2016 work on monstrous kin, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. The paper sessions and panel discussions include such intriguing topics as ‘Franken-Fashion,’ ‘A Song of Liberation and Fire,’ ‘Decolonizing Fantastic Storytelling,’ ‘Gendered Horror,’ ‘Curating Frankenstein’ and ‘Horror without Borders.’
Conference highlights—next to the excellent talks and invigorating discussions—included the screening of the 1931 horror film classic Frankenstein, the short plays written and performed by IAFA’s scholars and authors (International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts) at the Friday night ICFA Flash Play Festival, and the banquet held traditionally on the last night of the conference that is continued outside by the pool.
ICFA is not only a great place to connect with peers—the other PhD students grappling with the monster that is their dissertation; it also provides the frame to address international specialists of the fantastic and interact with writers and artists. This year’s ICFA attendees include, for instance, Nisi Shawl (Everfair), Andrea Hairston (Mindscape), John Rieder (Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural Genre System), Sherryl Vint (Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal), Brian Attebery (Decoding Gender in Science Fiction), and Paweł Frelik (Digital Science Fiction; ed. with Rob Latham). Other regular attendees who have contributed to ICFA’s “magical, other-worldly, annual meetings” (“History,” fantastic-arts.org) in the past include Nalo Hopkinson (Midnight Robber), Farah Mendlesohn (Rhetorics of Fantasy), Isiah Lavender III (Race and Science Fiction), and Grace Dillon (Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction). This year’s guests of honor were authors Nike Sulway and John Kessel, and science fiction scholar Fred Botting.
My own paper for this year’s conference drew on Fred Botting’s scholarship, as well as on the writings of postcolonial, Afrofuturist and Indigenous futurist scholars, such as Lisa Yaszek, Isiah Lavender, Grace Dillon, Roger Luckhurst and Sara Juliet Lauro. In my talk entitled “‘Being a werewolf isn’t just teeth and claws’: Indigenous Futurisms and the Monstrous” I fused readings of the monstrous in Frankenstein with Indigenous futurisms—Indigenous speculative fictions that foreground a future-theme.
My dissertation on what Jason Lewis calls the “future imaginary” (“Brief” 37) in Indigenous literatures, arts and new media already had had me thinking about the role of monsters in Indigenous futurisms. Sure, the literatures of Indigenous North American people are full of monsters, but these are not fictional. The colonial monsters in the works of Gerald Vizenor, Tomson Highway, Louise Erdrich and Leslie Silko are real—terribly so.
However, for my talk I was not interested in these monstrous characters. I was wondering about the literal monsters, the werewolves and zombies, and their meaning. Are they colonial? Are they terrifying, grotesque, cathartic? Or, do they, somehow, represent a form of empowerment? And they really encode colonial events—then why tell colonial history as a speculative horror story? Doesn’t the monster trope always run the risk of transforming very real horrors into cinematic clichés?
To find answers to my questions I presented my analyses of two fantastic works to my audience: Stephen Graham Jones’s postindian werewolf novel Mongrels and Jeff Barnaby’s Indigenous zombie horror film Rhymes for Young Ghouls. Joining me on the panel on ‘Indigenous Futures’ was Stina Attebery with her fantastic talk on Elizabeth LaPensée’s game Thunderbird Strike. Together with our audience we discussed monsters, textual, filmic, digital and real, werewolves, zombies and monstrous pipeline snakes, and the importance of Indigenous art, writing and games for the future—all our futures.
These monsters and the questions they begged stayed with me throughout that day. Interestingly, my thoughts finally came full circle in the late afternoon during a panel discussion on the 1990s hit TV show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. The discussion turned toward how Buffy famously literalizes the tagline ‘High school is hell!’ One of the panellists, Justin Cosner (University of Iowa) argued that this portrayal of a high school filled with actual monsters was necessary because in the 1990s US-American high schools simply did not provide the structures necessary to reflect on what was wrong with them.
The key phrase that suddenly made things fall into place was ‘lack of necessary structure.’ This might refer to a structure of people or information channels. But it could also, in more abstract terms, refer to a structure that produces meaning. Indeed, when the ideological structure that is in place works to produce a narrative according to which certain events, certain people or certain horrors simply cannot exist, these horrors manifest themselves in other ways. In strictly literary terms, the overwhelming fact of their existence might break through as monstrous aberration of the neat and seemingly flawless system. To summarize: in literature and film the monstrosity of certain characters can be understood as an outward sign of an error in the code—a mutation of the smoothly running signifying system that is the Western literary and cinematic tradition. In other words: something is wrong with “the stories empire tells itself” (Byrd xiii).
I suddenly felt that that is precisely what Jones’s and Barnaby’s works did. Their monsters are many things and allow many readings, and one of those readings involves considering them as dysfunctional signifiers: the werewolves and zombies with their fangs and rotting flesh foreground the interaction between the colonial system and narratives that clash with it. Indigenous authors and artists are not satisfied with signifying horror within the neat confines of the plot, as literary descriptions or fictional characters that vanish when the film is over, and the book is finished. To show how deep these horrors run they are manifested on a metafictional level, too—this is the level that points back toward the text itself and draws readers’ and viewers’ awareness to its production.
The werewolves and zombies literalize the discrepancy between the gruesome and traumatic historical material and the structures provided in Western cinema and literature to discuss this material. Indeed, they are also a reflection on the structures language itself provides to mediate the reality of colonial horror. The dysfunctional aspect of language and text manifests itself in monstrous characters c h a r a c t e r s: werewolves and zombies that will not vanish when the film is over, and the book is finished—precisely because they point back toward a traumatic reality beyond fiction that cannot be articulated, but that will not be silenced either. With a look at the future these textual and cinematic monsters work to dissolve the structures that cannot integrate them: Jones’s werewolves shift out of their expected textual shape; Barnaby’s zombies threaten a resurgence of ‘Other’ meaning believed to be dead and gone—the (hi)stories of the colonized. These monsters signify the impending doom of the oppressive colonial system and they mean a monstrous future for the colonizer—the future is a “monstrosity” (Derrida 5) in Barnaby’s and Jones’s Indigenous futurisms because its creation means a dissolution of present colonial and imperial metanarratives that claim to encompass all of reality. In Jones’s novel and Barnaby’s film, the future demise of these allegedly universal systems is already casting its long, monstrous shadows on the present.
These were some of the ideas inspired by the Buffy panel and different ICFA talks on monsters and the monstrous and developed further in discussions with other conference attendees. Hopefully, I will be able to present old and new thoughts and I am eager to hear my fellow scholars’ fresh perspectives at next year’s ICFA, the 40th anniversary year.
The theme is ‘Politics and Conflict’—I can’t wait!
Byrd, Jodi. The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism. U of Manitoba P, 2011.
Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, John Hopkins UP, 1997.
Lewis, Jason. “A Brief Media History of the Indigenous Future.” Indigenous Art: New Media and the Digital. Public: Art, Culture, Ideas 54, winter 2016, p. 36-49.
Instructors: Skawennati, Maize Longboat, Mia McKie, Waylon Wilson
Overview: Two groups of Indigenous youth aged 18-25 participated in this machinima workshop as part of the annual Good Heart Good Mind Conference organized by Indigenous Youth Wellness. Participants reviewed and discussed Skawennati’s machinima and learned the basics of Second Life as a tool for creating films in virtual environments. Skawennati and Maize Longboat lead the workshop alongside visiting Instructors Mia McKie and Waylon Wilson.
On February 21st, three of us visited unceded Katzie/Kwantlen territory and climbed up a mountain to visit Loon Lake Lodge in Maple Ridge, BC. We were invited by Indigenous Youth Wellness to the second annual Good Heart Good Mind Conference to give one of our Skins workshops on Indigenous Storytelling and Digital Media.
The Skins workshops aim to encourage Indigenous youth to envision themselves in the future, while maintaining connections to their heritage by teaching how to use digital media to tell our stories. Our Skins workshops come in several streams: Video Game, Machinima, and 7th Generation Character Design. This was one of our Machinima workshops that introduced the basics of using virtual worlds to tell Indigenous stories.
A total of over 30 Indigenous youth between the ages of 18-25 participated in the morning and afternoon workshop sessions. Participants were first introduced to the ways in which Indigenous stories could be told using digital tools through a viewing and discussion of Skawennati’s TimeTraveller™. After that, the youth then entered the massive multiplayer online world of Second Life to visit our virtual headquarters, AbTeC Island, and experience an Aboriginally-determined location in cyberspace for themselves. Having to deliver such a tech-heavy workshop in a lodge by a lake nestled on top of a mountain proved to be challenging, but fixes were quickly made to get everyone logged in and moving around the virtual world.
Both Skawennati and Maize Longboat facilitated the workshops in partnership with visiting Tuscarora facilitators Mia Mckie and Waylon Wilson. Mia came all the way from Syracuse, NY to meet up with the IIF team and Waylon was present digitally in Second Life by logging on and interacting with everyone in real-time from his home in New York state.
Workshop participants either created their own avatars or borrowed some of AbTeC’s “Abbi” avatars and got used to navigating through virtual space and environments. They also learned how to fly, how to socialize using the in-world private and public chat features, and how to customize their avatars’ appearances. We also taught them how to build by asking them to put together a snowman using basic 3D shapes like spheres and cones. The youth particularly liked conversing with Waylon’s dog-with-wings avatar and ended up building gargantuan sculptures with eye-catching textures!
Many of the youth participants vocalized how the experience of using Second Life was incredibly fun and engaging. Several of them also expressed that they intend to visit us on AbTeC Island in the future! All are welcome at any time. (Click here for directions)
Nia:wen to the youth for being wonderful participants and to the conference organizers for hosting us with with such good food and conversation in a beautiful location. We hope to see you again in the future!
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!
Sara Nicole England is an MA candidate in Art History at Concordia University and Research Assistant at Obx Labs/AbTeC/IIF. Her thesis research examines public displays of labour in turn-of-the-twentieth-century industrial tourism in the United States. Sara is part of KAPSULA Magazine, a digital publication and online platform for critical and experimental writing. She has a BFA in Criticism and Curatorial Practice from OCAD University in Toronto, Ontario.
I joined AbTeC last June to assist with the coordination of Filling in the Blank Spaces, the first-ever retrospective of the research and creative work of AbTeC held at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery from November 4th to December 2nd, 2017. I came to this project with an interest in AbTeC’s collaborative approaches and the ways technologies and media were being remixed, modified and, sometimes, created from the ground up to strengthen and complement Indigenous cultures and communities. Taking part in Indigenous-led projects is an important part of situating my research and myself as an academic and settler on unceded Indigenous lands; I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of the amazing work of AbTeC.
Mounting an exhibition of over twenty years of media production was no small feat! I started the project with what any art historian would do: I referred to Concordia’s library and online databases to research examples and methods of curating new media and digital art. Texts by Sarah Cook, Christiane Paul, Beryl Graham, and Sara Diamond, and projects like CRUMB (Curating Resource for Upstart Media Bliss) laid out the landscape of cyber culture and digital art curating in the 1990s and early 2000s, and offered a theoretical framework for thinking through modes of participation in media art exhibitions.
I quickly learned that the history of new media production moves fast—really fast—and I wasn’t going to find an exhibition model or guidebook that provided all the answers or accounted for the breadth of AbTeC’s experimentation with media; even within the short span of a decade, curatorial models for digital art were often outdated by the time they were published. Relatedly, the term “new media” has stayed the same but the practices that it defines are continuously expanding and evolving; indeed, what we group under the umbrella of new media, and the curatorial strategies for its display, is ever expanding too. Continuous experimentation may be the connecting thread.
The research and creative work featured in Filling in the Blank Spaces maps out a history of new media in and of itself, with Indigenous artists, academics, technologists and others, at the forefront. For example, the pioneering project CyberPowWow (1997-2004) was one of the first ever online art galleries, combined with a chat room, and incorporating live events that later would be termed “mixed-reality” events. Jason Edward Lewis and Skawennati’s Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Technological World (2002)was made with Flash, a nearly defunct application. Listening to it today, the artists remarked on how bad sound compression was at the turn of the millenium. “I sound like I have a lisp!” said Skawennati. The exhibition presents AbTeC’s present-day work, too: Activating AbTeC Island (an open invitation to visit AbTeC’s virtual land in Second Life) (2008-2017) expands some of the ideas first explored in CyberPowWow while computer games produced in the Skins Workshops use new media techniques like modding to bring Indigenous storytelling and representation to game culture; Virtual Reality works by Scott Benesiinaabandan and Postcommodity created in AbTeC’s artist residencies and Illustrating the Future Imaginary (a series of postcards with artwork by Indigenous artists) imagine our world seven generations into the future. AbTeC’s dedication to thinking about the future means that AbTeC is not only part of a history of media history, but also defining and creating its future.
So, we made up the rules as we developed the show. To be sure, there are guiding questions that emerge with any exhibition, especially an interactive and largely virtual one: how will visitors move through the space? How do we get visitors to interact and engage critically and with curiosity? And more specific to the nature of this exhibition: how do we get visitors to recognize the layers of intervention, production, and collaboration when their interactions are mostly at the level of the interface? How do we invite—and empower—visitors to become “users,” “players,” and, in certain instances, “decision makers?”
One of the aspects of Filling in the Blank Spaces that I found interesting is how it acknowledged a material history of technology. In New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, Jon Ippolito writes, “… new media art can survive only by multiplying and mutating.” In some instances, mutation and multiplication were built into the works. Poetry for Excitable [Mobile] Media (P.o.E.M.M.) (2007-2014), a series of interactive and digital poems by Lewis, was an experiment in how digital texts perform across multiple screens and how these interactions between text and device dictate different modes of readership and bodily engagement. In other cases, the artwork had outlived its media and thus required new hosts. CyberPowWow ran as a “canned version,” meaning it operates offline, and was displayed on a virtualized Windows XP program, which ran off a globular iMac G4. The layers of intervention, here, mark a history of technological changes and reveal relations between new and old media in order to contextualize the technological milieu in which CyberPowWow was created.
Imagining Indians in the 25th Century (2001), a website that imagines a character who visits significant moments in Indigenous history—created by Skawennati before the age of tablets and touchscreens—was displayed on an iPad in the exhibition. Most of the works in the exhibition behaved independently from their media or means of display. I think this is a valuable curatorial strategy—working without consistency across old and new media—as a way to get people to think beyond the interface and develop a media awareness that attends to both the material and immaterial components of media art. As a form of media literacy, the strategy is not apart from the aims of AbTeC.
For much of the exhibition I also acted as a docent in the gallery, introducing visitors to the work, assisting them with questions, and, most importantly, encouraging them to interact with the various components. This experience was gratifying because I was able to witness and take part in people’s experiences with and responses to the retrospective. I learned that many visitors often needed an invitation to touch the works and to participate fully in the experience. Despite the relative ubiquity of the technology used in the show, this further demonstrated the uniqueness of the exhibition.
The exhibition asked visitors to think about their expectations of a gallery and how artwork should perform. It required active engagement rather than passive viewership (though I’m inclined to think all artwork asks for active participation) and people had to do the work.
Many did! It was amazing to see visitors, who had never played a computer game before, defeat the evil archaeologist in Ienién:te and the Peacemaker’s Wampum or express wonder when they discovered that their avatar could fly in Activating AbTeC Island, the gallery installation of AbTeC’s virtual land in Second Life. Creating the circumstances for discovery and surprise, for me, is the main goal of exhibition production, and I think we pulled it off!
Jason and Skawennati engaged with me as a collaborator, encouraging creative input and providing ample time and significant resources for me to ask questions, learn about their practices, and flesh out ideas. During this time I was also able to learn how to use the computer-modeling program SketchUp to plot exhibition layouts. Some of the images you can see here.
Like all of AbTeC’s projects, many people contributed to the making of the exhibition: among many other contributors, Mikhel Proulx added an archival and historical component to the exhibition by organizing an archive section and writing an exhibition essay; Sabine Rosenberg made the technical magic possible; Valerie Bourdon designed the beautiful exhibition title and vinyl game instructions; Roxanne Sirios and Nancy Townsend designed a visitor-friendly environment within the virtual land AbTeC Island and even created AbTeC avatars for visitors to inhabit; and a team of research assistants activated the exhibition as gallery docents and led the workshop series. Filling in the Blank Spaces is the result of years of dedicated artistic production, research, and collaboration. The making of the exhibition reflects that process, and was made possible by the contributions of an enthusiastic and imaginative team at AbTeC. I can’t wait for what’s next!
1.Jon Ippolito, “Death by Wall Label,” ed. by Stephanie Fay and Christiane Paul in New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, ed. by Christiane Paul (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2008), 106.
KC Adams is a Winnipeg-based artist who graduated from Concordia University with a B.F.A in studio arts. She has had several solo exhibitions, group exhibitions and was included in the PHOTOQUAI: Biennale des images du monde in Paris, France. She has participated in residencies at the Banff Centre, the Confederation Art Centre in Charlottetown, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Parramatta Arts Gallery in Australia. Adams has received several grants and awards from Winnipeg Arts Council, Manitoba Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts. Her work is in many permanent collections Nationally and Internationally. Twenty pieces from the Cyborg Hybrid series are in the permanent collection of the National Art Gallery in Ottawa and from her installation BirchBarkLtd, four trees are in the collection of the Canadian Consulate of Australia, NSW. Recently, she was the set designer for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation. She completed a public art sculpture for the United Way of Winnipeg called Community. She has an ongoing public art campaign called Perception that was on display all over Winnipeg, MB and Lethbridge, AB. She recently won the Winnipeg Arts Council’s Making A Mark Award and Aboriginal Circle of Educator’s Trailblazing Award.
Dr. Stephen Borys is the Director & CEO of the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), Canada’s oldest civic art gallery and one of the country’s largest. Under his leadership over the last nine years, the WAG has expanded and strengthened its role and profile in the community, as well as in the cultural and museum landscape in Canada and abroad. Dr. Borys has enabled significant growth in the Gallery’s overall operations, permanent collections, international exhibitions and partnership programs, capital and endowment development, and member and visitor engagement. At the core of his directorship is the goal of advancing a meaningful dialogue with the public, creating in both physical and virtual spaces, a welcoming forum where art and artmaking is at the forefront with audiences and stakeholders.
Siku Allooloo is an Inuit/Haitian Taino writer, activist, and community builder from Denendeh (Northwest Territories). She has a BA in Anthropology and Indigenous Studies from the University of Victoria, and a diverse background in Indigenous land-based education, youth work, solidarity building, and community-based research. Most recently she has been a program coordinator, facilitator and co-instructor at Dechinta Center for Research and Learning, working closely with elders and educators to deliver land-based skills and build strength in community. Her advocacy work through writing and speaking centers on issues of climate change, environmental protection, ending gender violence and decolonial politics. Siku is also an emerging creative nonfiction writer and poet, and she recently had a brief stint as a performance artist at Nuit Blanche in Toronto, 2017. Her work has been featured in The New Quarterly, The Malahat Review, Briarpatch, The Guardian, and Truthout, among others.
Joar Nango is an architect with a degree from NTNU in Norway, and a practicing artist. He works with place-specific installations and self-made publications, which explore the boundary between architecture, design and visual art. Thematically speaking, his work relates to questions of indigenous identity, often through investigating the oppositions and contradictions in contemporary architecture. Recently, he has worked on the theme The Modern Sámi Space through, amongst other things, a self-published zine series entitled Sámi Huksendáidda: the Fanzine, design project Sámi Shelters and the mixtape/clothing project Land & Language. He is also a founding member of the architecture collective FFB, which works with temporary installations in public space. Currently, he lives and works in Tromsø, Norway. Nango’s work has also been exhibited internationally in Ukraine, The US, Canada Finland, China, Russia, Colombia and Bolivia amongst other places. In 2017 he exhibited in Documenta14, Kassel and Athens.
Dr. Carla Taunton an Associate Professor in the Division of Art History and Critical Studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University (NSCAD) and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the department of Cultural Studies at Queen’s University as well as in the Graduate Studies Department at Dalhousie University. Taunton’s areas of expertise include Indigenous arts and methodologies, Indigenous history of performance, contemporary Canadian art, museum and curatorial studies, as well as theories of decolonization, anti-colonialism and settler responsibility. Through this work she investigates current approaches towards the writing of Indigenous-specific art histories, recent Indigenous and settler research/arts collaborations, and strategies of creative-based interventions that challenge colonial narratives, national/ist institutions and settler imagination. Her recent collaborative research projects include: The Kanata Indigenous Performance, New and Digital Media Art Project (2013-16); Arts East (2014-5); This is What I Wish You Knew: Urban Aboriginal Artists (2015-ongoing) and Theories and Methodologies for Indigenous Arts in North America (2014-ongoing).
Megan has specialist interests in the work of the post war (1945) first generation Māori artists, Mana wahine; Māori women artists of the 1970s and 1980s, the ‘Māori Internationals’; the artists who developed with the advent of biculturalism, a postmodern construct peculiar to New Zealand and global Indigenous art with particular focus on modern and contemporary Indigenous art in Australia, Canada and the United States. Iwi affiliation: Te Ātiawa, Ngāi Tahu
Serena Keshavjee’s work focusses on the intersection of art and science in visual culture. She is especially interested in religiosity that presents itself as scientifically based, including Spiritualism, Theosophy and Transformism, popular in the early 20th century. In 2009 she edited a special issue of Canadian Art Review (RACAR) on Science, Symbolism and Fin-de-Siècle Visual Culture. She is the recipient of Social Sciences and Humanities Council Grant to study evolutionary theory and art. In 2015 Keshavee co edited, with Fae Brauer, Picturing Evolution and Extinction: Regeneration and Degeneration in Modern Visual Culture with Cambridge Scholars Press.
Keith Munro is Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Australia. He is a descendent of the Kamilaroi (Gomeroi/ Gamilaroi/Gamilaraay) people of north-western New South Wales and south-western Queensland, Australia. A selection of his curatorial projects include Ripple Effect: Boomalli Founding Members(2012), Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative 25th anniversary exhibition, and for the MCA Being Tiwi, (2015– 2017, co-curated with Senior Curator Natasha Bullock), the international touring Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land(2008–2010), Bardayal ‘Lofty’ Nadjamerrek AO (2010) and In the Balance: Art for a Changing World (2010).
France Trépanier is a visual artist, curator and researcher of Kanien’kéha:ka and French ancestry. Her practice is informed by strategies of collaboration. Her artistic and curatorial work has been presented in many venues in Canada and in Europe. France is co-leading Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires, a 3-year initiative which seeks to place Indigenous art practices at the centre of the Canadian art system. She is the Aboriginal Curator at Open Space Arts Society in Victoria BC, where she is co-curating, with Michelle Jacques and Doug Jarvis, the exhibition Deconstructing Comfort. France was the co-recipient of the 2012 Audain Aboriginal Curatorial Fellowship by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. France co-authored with Chris Creighton-Kelly Understanding Aboriginal Art in Canada Today: a Knowledge and Literature Review for the Canada Council for the Arts. Her essays and articles have been published in numerous journals and magazines.
Sébastien Aubin is currently working as the Indigenous Designer in Residence, at the School of Art, at the University of Manitoba. Through this program, he is producing a body of creative work and research that extends our understanding of design and graphic form. He has worked for some of the most prestigious graphic design studios in Canada and maintains a career as a freelance graphic artist. Sébastien has designed publications for numerous artists, organizations, and art galleries in Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba, including the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, Terrance Houle, KC Adams, the Carleton University Art Gallery, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba. He is a founding members of the ITWÉ Collective, which is dedicated to researching, creating, producing, and educating audiences about Indigenous digital culture. He is also part of the AM Collective, which creates works that revolve around the imagination, sparking dialogue on subjects that relate to everyday life and emotions. Sébastien Aubin is a proud member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba.
Representatives of Red Rising Magazine. Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is currently employed as an Associate Producer for CBC Indigenous. Kevin Settee has facilitated community development programs at the University of Winnipeg and Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning centre.
Duke Redbird is a visionary, intellectual, poet, spoken word performer, painter, broadcaster, filmmaker and orator, Redbird brought his breadth of culture knowledge, political activism and artistic practice and beyond, bringing an Indigenous approach to art education that was rooted in his pioneering work with Tom Peltier at the Manitou Arts Foundation in Northern Ontario in 1973.
He began his career as an actor and poet at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and quickly became socially active on behalf of Aboriginal and Métis human rights. He served as Vice-President of the Native Council of Canada from 1974 to 1976, and President of the Ontario Métis and Non-status Indian Association from 1980 to 1983. In addition to his public service, Redbird works as a multifaceted artist, practising across a number of disciplines including literature, painting, theatre, cinema and most recently rap poetry. A well-known broadcaster and television personality, he is in demand as a public speaker in university, community college and elementary school settings.
Redbird received his Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from York University in 1978, and he is a PhD candidate in Sociology at York University. His Master’s thesis “We are Métis” was published in 1978 and continues to be a seminal text on the history and political aspirations of the Métis to this day. As a poet, essayist and screenwriter, Redbird has published and performed poetry readings, theatrical productions, video and film, both locally and internationally. His poem I am a Canadian was the inspiration for a multimedia musical production of his poetic work at a performance before Queen Elizabeth II. In 1985, Redbird represented Canada at the Valmiki World Poetry Festival in India, reading the opening address. He has written and directed many dramatic films and documentaries. In 1993, Redbird was presented the Silver Hugo Award at the Chicago Film Festival for a drama he produced for TVOntario. For 15 years, from 1994 to 2009, he was the familiar face of Aboriginal Toronto as the Arts & Entertainment reporter for CityTV. In the summer of 2012, Redbird moved to his property on Bark Lake, near Madawaska, Ontario, to begin work on the development of a “food forest” and a Centre for Compassionate Living. His interests in sustainable, just and conscientious human evolution continue to inspire and guide students and faculty at Universities, public schools and beyond.
Mary Courchene is a residential school survivor. Born and raised on the Sagkeeng First Nation and moved away in 1971 attaining degrees in Arts and Education from the University of Brandon and the University of Manitoba. Mary’s career journey is extensive, including teaching in elementary and high schools, working as a school counselor and later as a school administrator. She was also an Assistant Superintendent within the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC). During her years as the first Principal of Children of The Earth High School (the first urban Aboriginal high school), she was active in serving the urban community on various boards. She also was a founding member of Manitoba First Nation Education Resource Centre (MFNERC).
In 2000 Mary Courchene accepted the position of Dean of Aboriginal Education at Red River College which she held until retirement. The Aboriginal Circle of Educators recently awarded her with the Innovator Trailblazer Educators Award. Mary received a YMCA/YWCA Woman of the Year award and was the Aboriginal Community Educator of the Year in 2001. As well, Mary has been nominated twice for the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. She is an honored grandmother of the Keep the Fires Burning, and was awarded with a sacred shawl with community recognition in 2008. Most recently, Mary received the Canadian Teachers’ Federation 2014 Outstanding Aboriginal Educator Award. For the past 8 years, Mary has held the position of Elder in Residence for the Seven Oaks School Division. Mary’s gift is her ability to share her vast experience of over 40 years in the field of public education and working with numerous First Nations communities. She is a visionary and amazing elder who inspires all people she crosses paths with.
Niki Little | Wabiska Maengun is a mother, softball coach, artist/observer, arts administrator and a founding member of The Ephemerals (random order). She is of Cree/English descent from Kistiganwacheeng, Garden Hill FN. Her interests lay in artistic and curatorial strategies that investigate cultural consumerism, gender politics, Indigeneity, cultural Diaspora with slightest hint of ambivalence. Little is a Committee member of the Public Arts Committee, Winnipeg Arts Council and a member of the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School Inc. Board of Directors. Currently, she is the Director of the National Indigenous Media Arts Alliance (national). From August 2015 to January 2016, Little was the Indigenous Curator in Residence, a partnership between by aceartinc and the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, launching the group exhibition enendaman | anminigook (intention | worth).
Candice is a curator, writer, and researcher who predominantly explores areas of history, art, and indigeneity, and their intersections. Hopkins is a curator for documenta 14 and has held curatorial positions at prestigious institutions including the Walter Phillips Gallery, Western Front Society, the National Gallery of Canada, and The Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.