She:kon! The leaves are changing and Mont Royal provides a lovely view out the office window as everyone is busy at work.
The beginning of the new school year came with an Intro to Second Life workshop, delivered by Skawennati, Maize Longboat, and myself. Held in collaboration with the Concordia Student Union, the workshop had 10 students attending and was held in a computer lab at the University. Over the course of two hours, the group learned the basics of the game and created their avatars. We introduced Second Life by noting that we use it to film machinima. The workshop ended with a question and answer period where participants asked about the history of AbTeC, TimeTraveller™, and about some of the finer details of machinima creation. The group was enthusiastic and great to work with!
Autumn is going to be an exciting time for AbTeC here at Concordia University. There will be an AbTeC retrospective show called Filling in the Blank Spaces at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery running from November 4 to December 2, 2017.
The exhibition-forum will show 20-plus years of programming and production from Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF). Documentation from Skins Workshops, work from Scott Benesiinaabandan, Postcommodity and selections from IIF and other projects will all be presented in the space.
There will also be workshops held at the gallery! Skawennati will lead the workshops with the help of research assistants, including myself and Maize. Intro to Second Life will provide basic knowledge of the game and website that is used for Skawennati’s machinima projects. In the second workshop, Indigenous students will work on character design. Over the last few days, we will offer Intro to Machinima demonstrations at various times. Please stay tuned for more information on our social media.
Activating AbTeC Island has been on hold as the team is busy using the space for filming the current machinima project, but keep an eye out for when we announce the return! Have some fun looking at the rich history of AbTeC and we look forward to working with those who sign up for the workshops!
Only 7 weeks remain until the 3rd Annual Symposium on the Future Imaginary! We’re happy to introduce two more of our speakers, Tasha Spillett and Joi T. Arcand.
Tasha Spillett is a Cree and Trinidadian woman, a celebrated educator and an active member of Manitoba’s Indigenous community. She is a ceremony woman and a traditional singer, often offering her voice at community gatherings. In her work as an educator, Tasha makes every effort to infuse her cultural knowledge into her teaching philosophy and practice to support the positive cultural identities of Indigenous students and to strengthen relationships between all communities. Tasha acknowledges her unique opportunity and responsibility to create learning environments that are culturally responsive, and foster belonging for Indigenous students and families.
Tasha has recently completed her Masters degree in Land-Based Indigenous Education through the University of Saskatchewan with stellar academic standing. Presently, Tasha is a PhD candidate; her research seeks to examine the role of land-based education in supporting the wellbeings of Indigenous girls living in urban areas. One of Tasha’s most recent accomplishments was being awarded the title of Miss Congeniality and Best Essay award at the 2014 Miss Indian World in Albuquerque, NM, where she represented the Indigenous peoples of Manitoba, sharing cultural knowledge and raising awareness on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Although Tasha is just at the beginning of her bright career, she looks forward to continuing to grow as an educator and to sharing her knowledge with the intent of building learning environments that nurture and celebrate cultural diversity. Guiding Tasha’s professional and community work are the words of Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull)- “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”
Joi T. Arcand is a photo-based artist from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation currently based in Ottawa, Ontario. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 2005. Along with Felicia Gay, she co-founded the Red Shift Gallery, a contemporary Aboriginal art gallery in Saskatoon in 2006. And in 2012, she founded kimiwan ‘zine, a quarterly Indigenous arts publication. Her work has been exhibited at Gallery 101 in Ottawa, York Quay Gallery in Toronto, PAVED Arts in Saskatoon, grunt gallery in Vancouver, and published in Black Flash Magazine.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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.