Video Installation – Kateri Tekakwitha

One of the current exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe right now is a selection of recent works created in response to the history of Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), an early Mohawk-Algonquian convert to Christianity. She is beatified by the Catholic church  and is in the process of canonization. I will be writing more about this exhibition and other work currently on exhibition at MoCNA – but time runs short! I took a brief segment of video of Marcella Ernest’s video installation work and wanted to make that available sooner, rather than later. The full video is four minutes long and is projected on a screen of pasted-together pages from a bible. I only have 30 seconds of it in the video above. It’s worth viewing in person. If you stand close to the screen, you can easily read the biblical passages. This work deals with Kateri’s physical disfigurement from smallpox scars and her exercise of physical mortification as part of her devotion to her new religion.

The works in Soul Sister examine the complexity of responses to Kateri Tekakwitha, from analytical to devotional.

To see the work in person, visit the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe.

Kade Twist – Our Land, Your Imagination

Installation view of Kade Twist's two-chanel video "Our Land, Your Imagination"

A number of the artists I follow have made versions of their video installation work available on YouTube or other video-enabled websites. I find it helpful in terms of analyzing content and theme, but I find that the online versions  don’t help me consider the aesthetics of the work. I also have to admit to sometimes finding these kinds of pieces make boring viewing when I’m online. Maybe it’s the cluttered YouTube screen and the thumbnails of other videos that promise to be the “cutest puppy video ever.” I was reminded once again that seeing video work in person is vastly different than viewing it on a computer screen when I was at the opening for the exhibition It’s Complicated – Art about Home. The exhibition features work by 9 Native American/First Nations artists on the theme of “home.” The artist I’m writing about here is Kade Twist (Cherokee). I’ve previously written about work he has done as part of the artists’ collective Postcommodity.

 Kade Twist’s two-channel video installation piece renewed my appreciation of seeing video works in person. Twist’s piece in the exhibition projects onto two walls set at 90 degrees, with the projected images meeting up in the corner. The full title of the work is Our Land, Your Imagination: The Judeo-Christian Western Scientific World View. The lefthand screen has a series of videos of women singing Carpenter’s songs (We’ve Only Just Begun, Close to You, I Need to be in Love, I Won’t Last a Day Without You, Every Sha La La La),  mostly in karaoke bars. The right hand screen has video clips of traffic, a hot air balloon making a messy landing in a suburban tract-home neighborhood, a sandstorm approaching a similar neighborhood, a walk-through of an empty, foreclosed-upon house, and a long shot of palm trees against a clear sky. It’s hard to watch the videos of the singers because they are so large and the camera is sometimes uncomfortably close. I noticed that I focused more closely on the landscape-type shots on the righthand wall. The songs are about a search for fullfillment, love, belonging. The videos featuring identical homes give an impression of loneliness and emptiness, particularly the walk-through shots inside the foreclosed house. The piece stands well on its own, but knowing a bit more about the origins of the clips adds additional layers.

Essentially, the artist curated video clips shared by YouTube posters who identified their location as Phoenix, Arizona (where the artist also lives and works). The idea is that looking at video clips posted by people who live in the same town might give us an idea about that particular community. Twist hand-picked these video clips. They aren’t random, so there is a kind of postmodern narrative about place and yearning that comes from watching the piece in its entirety. Ultimately, it is a sad story of longing, emptiness, the search for connection/community, and the loss of identity in the face of assembly-line suburban living, where everything is a translplant and nothing belongs. I think what bothers me most about the piece – in a good way – is wondering why on earth some of these clips were posted on YouTube to begin with. Why several minutes of palm trees against a clear sky? Nothing happens! The camera doesn’t move! It’s boring… and puzzling. Why, oh why, was this clip shared with the world via YouTube? Most of the karaoke singers seem so desperately sad, too, that I wonder why they really posted these songs on YouTube. Trying to get famous? Trying to send a pointed message to an ex-lover? Or did some friend post the video with the intention of really only sharing it in a small circle of people. Do any of the originators of these videos know that their postings have been incorporated into an artwork over a thousand miles away? Does that even matter?

You can see Kade Twist’s video installation Our Land, Your Imagination at The Evergreen Gallery on the Olympia, WA campus of The Evergreen State College. The Gallery is on the main floor of the Library Building and is open Mon-Thurs 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 pm. You can view Twist’s work below or on Kade Twist’s website … but it’s definitely not the same as seeing it in person.

P.S. I have a class of undergraduate students with assignments related to this exhibition. It has really affected what I feel free to say about the work here on the blog out of fear that I’ll get them quoting me instead of thinking for themselves! Some of them are working on a podcast about this piece. I will post a link to their podcast when it’s finished in two weeks!

The Digital Dome at IAIA

Installation view of the Digital Dome at IAIA, Santa Fe, NM

As I am preparing to go to campus to look at options for installing a two-channel video projection piece in our college’s gallery, I see this video posted on facebook. I am not yet able to embed video in my blog (it costs money, apparently). It’s worth it to click on this link to view the short video on youtube. I heard about the Digital Dome at IAIA while I was in Santa Fe last month, but didn’t get to go see it. I’m sure I’ll be seeing it on my next trip to Santa Fe.

The basics? Instead of creating video art that must adhere to Western culture’s preference for the rectangle and for walls set at 90 degree angles, the digital dome is just that, a complete dome form, with a fabulous computer that can crunch the data to project over the curved surface. This is a form that fits well with pre-existing, fairly widespread native significance of dome, spherical, or circular forms, as found in oral tradition in many traditional architectural forms, and forms of material culture.

Thinking about the aesthetic potential of the Digital Dome has my mind spinning (sorry for the bad pun).

Digital Dome, IAIA

“Bran Nue Dae” for Indian Art Market


I attended the Wednesday screening of the film Bran Nue Dae at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe and stayed for a Q&A session with Writer/Director Rachel Perkins and Jimmy Chi(?). First of all the film was very good. That is a huge compliment from me because I absolutely hate musicals. Musicals make me yawn and fidget. I know, it’s a terrible flaw in my personality. And yet, every once in a while somebody talks me into going to one, usually with something along the lines of “But this one will be different! You’ll love it!” But really, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy are the only musicals I can stand – and I think purists probably don’t think of those as real musicals – I think the proper term for them is “Rock Opera?” Anyhow, I will tell you “This musical is different! You’ll love it.” It might not be totally perfect, there are a few moments that seem slightly belabored, but not enough to drag. I wish that the advertising for the event had included the fact that there would be a Q&A afterward. I ducked out to go the restroom and missed the beginning of the Q&A. I figured that one of the speakers was Rachel Perkins, but never got to hear the name of the man speaking along with her. If you know who that was, please make a comment below so I can add that info! 

And now for the real point of this essay: 1) Why is this film important? and 2) Why should it be at SWAIA Indian Art Market? 

1) Bran Nue Dae is based on a play written by three Australian Aboriginal writers. The play did very well in Australia and it has taken something like ten years to transform it into a screen play and get the film made and distributed. The screenplay was written by Rachel Perkins, Jimmy Chi, and Reg Cribb. The storyline centers around a young man who is sent to boarding school to become a priest. He runs away and the bulk of the movie consists of his adventures on the lam and his return to Broome where he must confront his mother. The movie deals with the violence and racism in boarding school environments that aim to acculturate indigenous peoples. Other heavy-duty issues come up: alcoholism, homelessness, sexual misconduct by priests, incarceration of aboriginal men in neck chains for long transports on foot. My understanding from hearing the Q&A session and from discussions with acquaintances more familiar with Australia than myself, is that these issues are usually only addressed in Australia with an air of remorse, tragedy, and a heavy dose of White guilt. In the Q&A, Rachel Perkins spoke about approaching those subjects with a full dose Aboriginal humor and irony. In the audience, I kept waiting for that horrible blow that would make me angry on the character’s behalf or that would make cry in sympathy/frustration. Nope. The filmmakers used humor, irony, musical sequences, and dance choreography to resist the master narrative of the tragic and pain-filled lives of Aborigines. Watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean. A crucial sequence that sets the tone of the film occurs when Willy is standing before the priest about to get smacked with a board labelled “Thou Shall Not Steal.” After the priest uses some ethnic slurs and swings the board down for the first strike, Willy ducks out of the way and breaks into song and dance. (Lyrics: There is nothing I would rather be, than to be an Aborigine). The rest of the boys join in and the three priests are overwhelmed and outnumbered. Willy makes his escape instead of sticking around to nobly take his beating and get civilized by the church (I am using nobly and civilized ironically here, but you probably already know that). You can watch a preview of the film Here: Bran Nue Dae. 

I could write a great deal of analysis of the film, but I need to try to sneak in a siesta before I head off to the Poeh Museum for the AXIOM show…especially the fashion stuff. I learned my lesson earlier this week. I can’t do art art art all day without crashing and burning in the evening. And when can I write if that happens, eh? I will move on to question #2) Why does this film fit in with SWAIA’s Indian Art Market? To me, it seems like a no brainer that we should be building ties between international indigenous communities, including art organizations, markets, and individual artists and scholars. Our Native artists struggle financially regardless of the media we work in: jewelry, pottery, weaving, painting, photography, film, new media, literary arts. Why should we each fight individually for a place in the market, for greater understanding of our cultures and our aesthetics and the validity of our forms of knowledge. Sometimes, situations are set up that make it look like we are competing against each other. What we are really competing against is history, ignorance, and naiveté. On some occasions there is even unconcealed racism. 

Bran Nue Dae has been hugely successful in Australia, not just as an Aboriginal film, but as an Australian film. It is now beginning to have a small distribution in the US that may lead to a much wider distribution. The success of an indigenous-made film from anywhere in the world has the potential to develop a ripple effect, providing better opportunities and funding to other artists, writers, directors. Building ties – instead of competition – is crucial for us as Native peoples and as artists. 

I was having coffee (and yummy pinon pancakes) at the restaurant The Plaza this morning with artist Erica Lord and scholar Marianne Riphagen. Riphagen is from Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen and she specializes in contemporary Australian Aboriginal art. The subject of cultural protocol came up and we all a bit surprised that were no protocols happening as part of Indian Art Market. I suppose that is because of the nature and history of the Market. I teach at The Evergreen State College, where we have The Longhouse Education and Cultural Center. The Longhouse sponsors and hosts many gatherings of Native artists, including ongoing relationships with Maori artists and Hawaiian Native artists. Anytime there is a get-together, appropriate cultural protocols are devised to welcome our guests and begin our exchanges on a footing of honor and cooperation amongst all present. We come together and meet Nation-to-Nation. And then we meet individual-to-individual. These cultural protocols are a negotiated set of social ceremonies of welcoming based on the traditions of each of the groups involved. That sort of protocol probably isn’t practical for Market, but my ideas about why it is important for events like the screening of Bran Nue Day to be part of the overall programming come from my experiences of inter-tribal art events that include such welcoming protocols. Welcoming artists from other indigenous communities helps us build our networks and strengthens our communities.

The Market operates the way the Market operates,  but I will say that opening the official events to include film, video, and experimental work from all over this continent and from indigenous communities elsewhere in the world is building a foundation for cooperation, intercultural exchange, and ultimately a better presence for our Native artists globally… far beyond the weekend of SWAIA’s Indian Art Market. 

My cruddy snap of the Q&A session after viewing Bran Nue Dae. Rachel Perkins on the left and an unknown Cool Guy on the right.