Re:Counting Coup – The Terrific Collision of Traditional and Technological

 

Re:Counting Coup, an exhibition at A Space in conjunction with the ImagineNative film and media arts festival, is a critical exploration of 21st century aboriginal subjecthood. Instead of an exhibition where one artist is asked to speak for all “Indianness”, Re:Counting Coup represents four artists from nations across Canada. The viewer is faced with his or her preconceptions and is engaged in a conversation about identity construction. These artists reject a singular or static identity and re-write the aboriginal subject as a media savant. Re: Counting Coup investigates the blending of material and theoretical past, present and future in contemporary aboriginal art.

KC Adams’s Cyborg Eggs (2006) is both futuristic and prehistoric (fig.1). The eggs are the hybridization of natural and technological, the past and the present, the optimistic and post-apocalyptic. The delicate grapefruit-sized objects are strewn on a bed of white sand where they emit a warm glow and a soft whirring noise. This is the scene after the hatching. The “New [Hybrid] Nation” has been born.[1] While postcolonial theorist Homi K. Bhabba says that all identity is a hybrid, Adams’s Métis identity is a hybrid by definition. For Bhabba, identities that attempt to restage the past “estrange any immediate access to an originary identity.”[2] Identity is instead constructed in “the sum of the ‘parts’ of difference.”[3] For Adams, technology adds yet another identity to the mix – that of the cyborg.


(Fig. 1) Cyborg Eggs, 2005.

Archer Pechawis reconciles tradition and technology in his “digital drum” performance, Memory V.2. In a short documentary, he asks two elders about their opinions on the role of art and the use of new media. They assure him that “traditional” is a process rather than a set of materials and techniques. Kutenai elder Bill Lightbown says, “We have a right to advance with civilization but to still retrain our own cultural being and beliefs. They aren’t in opposition to each other.”[4] Pechawis admits that creating the drum was a way to confront his fears of singing in the traditional style. The project is inspired by Pechawis’s discovery of a recording of his grandfather singing. The drum (which A Space visitors are invited to try) is composed of deer hide stretched over electronic sensors. When struck, these pads trigger a sound clip, which include samples of his grandfather’s voice, interview excerpts, and a few bars of Jimmi Hendrix. The drum is a mixing board for a seamless integration of custom and contemporary.

Canada is yet to be de-colonized. By endeavouring to take away land, culture and spirit, the Canadian government “war machine” fights by implementing a “depletion of the energies of a society.”[5] The artists in Re: Counting Coup prove that this war machine is losing ground. The exhibition breaks aboriginal arts out of a static identity and presents work that is critically engaging and multi-dimensional. Aboriginal arts are not mummified – they are alive and ever expanding.


[1] Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Re:Counting Coup (Toronto: A Space Gallery, 2010), 2.

[2] Bhabha, Homi K. “On ‘Hybridity’ and ‘Moving Beyond’” in Art in Theory 1900-2000, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 1111.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Archer Pechawis, Memory v2, 2010.

[5] Kroker, Arthur. “The Mohawk Refusal” in CRCP 4B04, 167.

Bibliography

 

Bhabha, Homi K. “On ‘hybridity’ and ‘moving beyond’.” In Art in Theory 1900-2000, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, 1110-1116. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

Kroker, Arthur. “The Mohawk Refusal.” In CRCP 4B04. 165-168.

L’Hirondelle, Cheryl. Re:Counting Coup. Toronto: A Space Gallery, 2010.

Pechawis, Archer. Memory v2, 2010.

Watson, Scott. “Shapeshifter.” In Brian Jungen, 12-23. Vancouver: Contemporary Art Gallery, 2002.

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