She:kon! My name is Maize Longboat and I have joined Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) through the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF) as a research assistant supervised by Jason Edward Lewis. I arrived at Concordia this fall to start my MA in Communications with a Research-Creation thesis on the topic of Indigenous new media, specifically looking at how Indigenous communities are engaging with video games.
I was born in Toronto, Ontario and raised on unceded Squamish territory near Vancouver, British Columbia. My Mohawk ancestry on my father’s side hails from Six Nations of the Grand River in southeastern Ontario, while my mother is French-Canadian from Montreal. It feels great to be living close to my Kanien’kehá:ka family again!
I completed my Bachelor of Arts at the University of British Columbia with a double major in First Nations and Indigenous Studies and History. Some of my upper-level research projects examined Indigenous art and artists, drawing connections between Indigenous identity and creative practice, both individual and collaborative. Additionally, I observed and reflected upon how Indigenous communities are utilizing video games for purposes of self-representation and cultural revival.
My primary research interests while at IIF will jump off of my previous work as I begin to explore research-creation theory and practice in relationship with Indigenous peoples. IIF and AbTeC is the perfect place for me to be a contributor to some of the fantastic work that is being done in programs like the award-winning Skins Workshop series, as well as the Indigenous presence in cyberspace found on AbTeC Island in Second Life. Being able to combine my work and studies is an awesome opportunity that not all students get to have!
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.
Suzanne Kite is an Oglala Lakota performance artist, visual artist, and composer from Los Angeles, with a BFA from CalArts in music composition, an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School, and is a PhD candidate at Concordia University. Recently, Kite has been developing a body interface for movement performances, carbon fiber sculptures, immersive video & sound installations, and has recently launched the experimental electronic imprint, Unheard Records.
We’ve included examples of Suzanne’s work below. You can read more about her here and see more of her work 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!
Work at the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF) falls into four main categories: workshops, residencies, archive, and symposia. Zoning in on the last item on that list, IIF has held two annual symposia on the Future Imaginary to date. The first symposium was held in 2015 during the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Festival in Toronto. The second symposium was held during the O’k’inadas // complicated reconciliations_ artists residency at UBC-Okanagan. This year, the symposium will be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on the lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation. The three-day event has the subtitle “Radically Shifting Our Indigenous Futures Through Art, Scholarship, and Technology.”
The third iteration of the symposium will be the largest yet, with the most expansive range of speakers and the first to be fully open to the public! These events create a platform for multidisciplinary conversations about where Indigenous communities see themselves generations from now – and how to develop strategies to get them there. Artists, community activists, curators, and academics will be coming together from Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Norway during November 30 to December 2 for an engaging weekend of Indigenous art and media, scholarship, and cultural innovation at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and University of Winnipeg.
Themes for panel discussions include: “Dreaming of Our Future Seven Generations Ahead,” “IndigeFem and the Future,” “Games as Resurgence and Presence,” “Land-based Knowledge and Creative Intervention,” “Technology as (De)Colonial Tools,” and “Arctic Futurisms.” If those topics weren’t exciting enough, the last day of the symposium will also feature a makerspace activity and an Indigenous-developed video game and VR arcade, showcasing the IIF Skins workshops, games from Elizabeth LaPensée, Never Alone, the 2167 VR projects, the Art Alive VR experience from Pinnguaq, and more!
Want to attend? You can register for the 3rd Annual Symposium on the Future Imaginary on our Eventbrite page. Questions and concerns can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
She:kon! We’ve had some beautiful and warm days here in Montreal as summer comes closer.
Skawennati and her team have been hard at work preparing AbTeC Island for the next machinima project. AbTeC Island is the space in Second Life that we use to create sets and characters for machinima projects. AbTeC Island is an Aboriginally-determined cyber-space, made by and for Indigenous people. The word “machinima” is the combination of “machine” and “cinema”. Skawennati defines it as “making movies in a virtual environment”.
Machinimas are made in a similar way to how a film movie would be made. A script is written, storyboards are drawn, sketches and plans are brainstormed. For each project we have an asset list and it’s very important. As the story and an idea of how it will be filmed are decided upon, the asset list is filled carefully. What sets are needed? What is in those sets? How many characters are there and what clothing and props do they need? All of this information is contained in that one list. By using a game like Second Life a lot of real world restrictions are lifted. We can buy, build –or use a combination of both– to recreate places like Alcatraz or create an imagined place like a glowing city in the sky.
AbTeC Island visiting hours will still take place every Friday from 12:00 PM until 2:00 PM EDT while work on the new machinima project moves forward. There is only so much space that we can fill with objects and the more complicated the object the more space it takes so we have to be attentive. All of the sets are built with care and look great so it’s sad to have to pack them away, however we must if we want space for new ones. To help deal with this problem, we now have an area of the island that is designated for visitors. In it you will find: a set from She Falls For Ages, which we call “The Residence”; the dream apartment from TimeTraveller™ and the childhood home from She Falls For Ages. There is also the future Musée des Beaux-Arts and the TimeTraveller™ Boutique. All of these places are now high up in the sky away from where we are filming. There aren’t any teleportation stations set up yet, so for now a friendly Abbi avatar will help you fly to the space to explore.
Not only are buildings and people built but the land itself can be transformed. We are able to change how the land, sky and water look to various degrees. For example, the current project requires an Iroquois village. Skawennati envisioned a river next to the village, following what history suggests. Through terraforming, we are able to change and shape the ground with tools in Second Life to create the river and mountains. These tools can be tricky to use but a skilled hand can create some great things! Sadly, you will not be able to visit this part of the island until we’ve finished filming our current machinima.
We hope you enjoyed this little peek behind the curtain and that we’ll see you at AbTeC Island soon! You can join us every Friday between 12:00 PM and 2:00 PM EDT (9:00 AM to 11:00 AM PST).
That’s a rhetorical question. Of course you have, it’s a given. Perhaps you’ve even googled it, and come across the wikiHow page. Disappointed by the fact that travelling at the speed of light or getting ahold of a wormhole seem just out of reach, maybe you’ve settled for, say, watching a movie about time travel, or reading a book… Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve checked out a blog post like this one, which discusses a workshop aptly titled “On Time Travel” that took place in Toronto this past weekend.
Let this post take you back to two weeks ago, when Skawennati was invited to speak at a participatory workshop as part of “A New Hope” project by the Shattered Moon Alliance. To the dismay of all involved, she was already scheduled to go to Vancouver that weekend for another talk (to everyone’s further dismay, she also contracted laryngitis and wasn’t able to speak for a month!). When Skawennati asked (well, typed out) if I wanted to go present on behalf of her and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF), I could not say yes fast enough.
*Cue wheezing, whirring TARDIS time travel sound effect*
The morning of Saturday, May 27th, I woke up at 6:00 AM to jet off to Toronto from Montreal. I landed safely, got on the subway, and promptly got off the subway when it shut down two stops later (thanks, TTC). I eventually made it to the YYZ Artists’ Outlet, and formally met Christina Battle and Serena Lee, the creators of the Shattered Moon Alliance and “A New Hope” project, a series of workshops born from the impetus of wanting to explore science fiction worldbuilding as women of colour.
The structure of “On Time Travel” was part presentation, part discussion, and part workshop. We were joined by about ten other participants. The group began the day by conceptualizing time travel within popular culture, ranging from Back to the Future, Star Trek: TNG, Doctor Who and Groundhog Day to Arrival and Rick and Morty. We immediately started to identify some of the pervasive patterns underlying these stories. We noted in particular how time travel was almost always modelled as a physical experience facilitated by technology and mechanical engineering, and how it was often supported by a “frontier” logic of access to unexplored places and a linear understanding of time that tended to dichotomize the past and the future in a way that suggests a linear progression of modernity. The tone of this introduction was clear: we were there to dig deeper into these tropes, and to shed light on more nuanced and marginalized perspectives in order to think beyond these constructions.
I was joined by Rayna Slobodian from York University for the presentation segment. She has been published for her research on the ethics of space colonization, specifically on Mars, as well as her ethnographic work on “star parties” and gatherings of amateur astronomers. Her presentation helped us unpack the loaded discourse embedded in the legacy of the Space Race, and recognize exactly whose values and desires are determining these visions of future space travel.
Rayna’s presentation was a tough act to follow, but showcasing Skawennati’s machinimas contributed significantly to the discussion by grounding the theoretical questions that had been brought up. I presented clips from Words Before All Else Part 1, which features Skawennati’s avatar, xox, reciting the first verse of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address; TimeTraveller™, the nine episode journey of Hunter, a Mohawk man from the 22nd century who engages in different points of Indigenous resistance using special virtual reality glasses; and She Falls for Ages, which revisits the Haudenosaunee creation story and re-imagines Sky World.
Skawennati’s engaging storytelling became a catalyst for discussions about the lack of representation when it comes to Indigenous worldviews about time, space, and worldbuilding, driving home the importance of facilitating platforms for Indigenous peoples to respond to the perpetuation of colonial and assimilatory ideals within popular sci-fi. We started by unpacking linear assumptions about time by drawing from Loretta Todd’s citation of Leroy Little Bear, who offers an image of time as a river that does not flow, but one in which we can travel freely up and downstream. We also thought about why the Western worldview of time is so linear when the clocks that are predominately used are round… Even digital clocks represent a relatively cyclical pattern of time, as they run through the same numbers each day.
We then discussed literature like Jason Lewis’ “Terra Nullius, Terra Incognito” to think about the proposal of indiscriminate access to cyberspace, and touched on Gerald Vizenor’s ideas about Indigenous survivance, or “thrivance” as Skawennati had suggested, as pathways to recognizing Indigenous resilience. We acknowledged the irony in the fact that Settlers would have never survived in the first place – would never have had a future – without Indigenous knowledge. With everything that has happened since, there was a collective agreement in the group that there needs to be more support for work like that coming out of IIF and AbTeC, work that makes space for Indigenous “wants” instead of solely focusing on “needs” when it comes to ideals for the future. It is safe to say that Skawennati, IIF and AbTeC amassed a roomful of new fans that day.
In the workshop portion of the event, the group continued into a deeper “model making” discussion about time travel as informed by the presentations. The conversation, as you can imagine, ranged from the practical to the speculative, with participants bringing in anecdotes and plenty of other obscure references to various fandoms. We talked at length about understanding time travel beyond simple physical displacement, and into mental, and even spiritual forms of travel. We talked about the ability of one’s senses to allow us to travel back in time, through distinct sights, smells, sounds, tastes, or touches. We discussed sleep as time travel, music as time travel, and time travel in the form of any tool we use to escape “reality,” including emerging virtual reality technology. We talked about memory and time travel, both at an individual level, and at the collective level through things like intergenerational storytelling or institutions like religion. We talked, too, about what our attempts to separate religion and science mean when so many of the dominant depictions of time travel draw from or are influenced by classic religious themes and assumptions about time and space. We talked about anti-aging creams and immortality, and the possibility of uploading our consciousness into computers. We talked about how there can still be so much disconnection in an increasingly technologically connected world, and what it means for us to envision the future and the logistics of time travel as so technologically charged when the majority of the human population consumes technology instead of understanding and creating it. We considered what this means for access, equity, and justice for different subsets of our society.
As you can see, the workshop truly succeeded in gathering a group of predominantly non-male, non-white sci-fi enthusiasts who were eager to discuss the philosophical underpinnings of time travel. The workshop was a mental workout, but an exercise with very real ethical and political significance. It is vitally important to diversify the perspectives and encourage interdisciplinary approaches when it comes to time travel. Science-fiction, while technically stories that we tell about our future, also discloses a lot about our past and present. Recognizing the interconnectedness of time – and challenging its linear conceptualizations – will be key to creating a future that draws from the wisdom of the past in order to create adaptive cycles instead of the repetition of mistakes. Skawennati’s work, and the work of IIF and AbTeC, was incredibly relevant and important for “On Time Travel,” and I am so honoured to have been given the opportunity to ensure that they were heard.
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.
She:kon! With a new Skins workshop just around the corner it seemed like the perfect time to take a look back on the history of the workshop.
The Skins workshops bring Indigenous storytelling to experimental digital media. During the course, a group is taught skills such as game design, art direction, 3D modeling and animation, sound, and computer programming. In a deeper sense, students learn about the relationship between their contemporary culture, media and cultural productions, and technology. The students then work together to make a video game. The goal is to empower our youth to be producers of digital media, not just consumers.
Skins 1.0 started all the way back in 2008! It’s almost the ten year anniversary of the Skins workshops. The first one took place at Kahnawake Survival School, the high school on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, from September 2008 to June 2009. Owisokon Lahache is an artist, teacher and a source of cultural knowledge that greatly benefits the Skins Workshops as she helps to guide participants. Her art class created Otsì:! Rise of the Kanien’kehá:ka Legends over the school year. The game is based around local stories that the students knew and wanted to work with.
The path from brainstorming to a game starts with sharing stories. Participants also discuss what could be transformed into a fun game and what some realistic expectations are. Once a story is chosen the planning for the game begins! Making a paper prototype helps to visualize the setting and layout of the game. What do we need? Who will work on what? All the answers to those questions are found in something called an asset list. Through the process participants work with a team that helps them learn how to create what they have hiding in their heads. A lot of planning, learning and hard work get poured into each game.
Otsì:! is a mod (modification, for you non-gamers) on the Unreal first-person-shooter engine. The game starts with the player as a warrior in the woods. A narrator tells the story of a village that divided into two and the monstrous Flying Head that came from this event and terrorizes the people. The Skins 1.0 team envisioned multiple levels where you would face various creatures from our legends, like the Hoof Lady, and the Monkey Dog. In the end, they created what is known in the game industry as a “vertical slice” –basically a taste test of the game. In one level, we fight the zombie-like tree people. Very creepy! In another, we confront the terrifying Flying Head with the knowledge given to us through the narrator. It was a great start for Skins as Otsi:! won the Best New Media Award at the 2010 imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival.
Skins 2.0 brought the students and the workshop to Concordia University, allowing the students to get a feel for the university environment. This workshop took place over 14 days in July 2011 and brought together game-industry professionals, Indigenous artists and mentors, and a team of Concordia Computation Arts undergrads.
In this game, the player controls an Iroquois youth named Skahion:hati who is a bit of a braggart. When the legendary Stone Giant threatens his home, his elders call his bluff and send Skahion:hati to face him. The player begins by longhouses and a river; if you don’t feel sure about where to go follow the flow and take a leap of faith. Gifted with resistance to falling, Skahion:hati can make great leaps in his fight –however beware water as he isn’t much of a swimmer! Navigate the battlefield to scoop up the Stone Giant’s spit to use against him and keep your village safe.
Skins 3.0 responded to the desire of participants from Skins 1.0 and 2.0 to complete their games. Every two weeks from March until July participants met at Concordia University to work on combining their games to make one finished product. There were also two full-day intensives held. The result of all this hard work was Skahiòn:hati: Rise of the Kanien’keha:ka Legends which won the Best New Media Award at the 2013 imagineNATIVE Festival.
The game opens with a cut-scene that explains the dire situation the village is in. A man and his brother have seen a Stone Giant! The brother died so that this man could warn the village to flee but the elder is determined that they need to take a stand. The player controls Skahiòn:hati as a youth, who is given the mission of fighting the Stone Giant after boldly declaring the he is ready. There are pieces of history and info bits woven through the longhouse that the player can read as they prepare for their fight. A short journey requires keen hearing and bravery to find the Stone Giant. Once it is defeated the game jumps forward and Skahiòn:hati is a seasoned hunter who has been working to fight strange and terrifying creatures to protect his village. There is a fire in the distance and zombie-like tree people stand in the way. At the village, history is shared on the fate of this village and Skahiòn:hati’s and he receives a warning. Skahiòn:hati will need to use fire to defeat the Flying Head but flaming arrows are not enough! It’s up to the player to return to his village and defeat the monster once and for all.
Skins 4.0 was a three-week intensive workshop that took place from May until June 2013 at Concordia University. Participants from Kahnawake and Akwesasne came with varying levels of knowledge that benefited the game-industry roles they took on. (For you game nerds: this time we used Construct 2 rather than Unreal). I’m biased as a Skins 4.0 participant but I think this is the best game so far 😉
Ienién:te and the Peacemaker’s Wampum featured a female lead and a story inspired by Indiana Jones. Ienién:te returns home to her reserve from university to find that someone has stolen a sacred artifact to use for evil. It’s up to the player to find her tools, sneak, solve puzzles and fight the final boss –a strange old man that turns out to be (SPOILER ALERT!) her archaeology professor!
My experience with Skins was fantastic! I was able to practice new skills and ones that I’m proud of and see what I’m capable of under a tight schedule. I worked on cut-scenes, poster art, character design, modeling and animation. The main story point I wanted to push was having a female lead and the team was more than happy with the idea. I was able to test my social awkwardness and explore Concordia University where I now study. The main thing that I took away from the experience was the knowledge that creating something that has an infusion of my culture doesn’t mean it has to be boring, obvious or preachy as I believed. It can be just as natural, fun and focused as any other culture I had experienced in games and art before. I just had to open my eyes to that first.
We are excited to bring the video game workshop to an Indigenous community far away and to see what our new friends in Skins 5.0 will create!
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.