TRANSFORMER: NATIVE ART IN LIGHT AND SOUND

 Through video projection, innovative sound technology, interactive digital media, performance, and installation, “Transformer” presents the work of 10 artists who reflect on their place in and between traditional and dominant cultures, demonstrating the continuity of Indigenous cultures and creativity in the digital age.

 

  • The museum’s first exhibition entirely composed of works using technology-based media and experiential art
  • Co-curated by Kathleen Ash-Milby (Diné), museum associate curator, and David Garneau (Métis), associate professor of visual arts, at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada

Soundscape from Transformer

Installations

“Aosamia’jij—Too Much Too Little” (Bennett, 2017): The stories told in the installation are inspired by photographs of Joe “Amite” Jeddore, a member of the Mi’kmaq community living on Samiajij Miawpukek Reserve (Conne River), Newfoundland, in the 1930s. The images, taken by anthropologist Frederick Johnson, were selected from the museum’s collection. The soundscape includes ambient sounds of the landscape today and the voices of Jeddore family descendants and Mi’kmaq community members from the artist’s home in Bay St. George (Nujio’qoniik).

“Still Life, #3” (Chacon, 2016): The Diné creation story describes continual movement from one distinct world to another, each defined by light and color. The sound of a voice reciting the story palpably moves within this gallery, like a physical presence, as the glowing light shifts through the four sacred colors, from white (dawn) to blue (midday) to yellow (dusk) to black/red (night). This multisensory installation transforms both the space and the story into an ephemeral and otherworldly experience.

“Four Generations” (Corbett, 2015): These four digital portraits of the artist, his grandmother, father and son begin with a single pixel that is then followed by another and another in a spiral composition. Pixels are typically arranged in straight lines and grids. The portraits combine computing conventions with indigenous concepts: pixels as beads; a spiral instead of a grid. The spiral represents indigenous concepts of time and the connection between generations.

“Ga.ni.tha” (Ernest and Mashburn, 2013): This ethereal and captivating two-channel video explores the idea of chaos and disorder, or ga.ni.tha in Osage, as a source of power and purpose. This idea of duality, expressed in the destructive yet generative power of wildfire in the Oklahoma grasslands, inspired this work that transforms conventional landscapes into beautiful, disorienting patterns. It explores a holistic understanding of the universe that encompasses culture and more particularly the transfer of knowledge through ritual motions such as finger weaving.

“Raven Brings the Light” (Foster, 2011): This installation imitates shadow play an adult might perform with hands and a flashlight for a child on a camping trip. It references the Haida story of Raven who brings daylight to his dark world by transforming himself into a boy and tricking his grandfather into releasing the light. The commercial nylon tent suggests society’s dependence on technology and inability to experience the natural world directly. The store-bought materials are indigenized as a site of cultural transmission by the play of light and sound.

“Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan (We will again open this container of wisdom that has been left in our care), 1 and 2” (Galanin, 2006): This two-part video both surprises and challenges viewers to rethink their ideas about our cultural responsibility to maintain or adapt tradition. David “Elsewhere” Bernal, a non-Native contemporary dancer, improvises an eclectic, organic dance to a lone male voice singing a traditional Tlingit song. Dan Littlefield, a traditional Tlingit dancer, performs a Raven dance in Tlingit regalia to the rhythms of an electronic music soundtrack in front of an elaborately carved wooden screen.

“Father, Son, Holy Ghost” (McKenzie, 2015): The imposition and adoption of Christianity among Native people is longstanding and this work raises thorny questions about the co-existence of such different belief systems. Many struggle with those elements of tribal spirituality that are at odds with organized religions. The plastic skulls and neon lights presented in the European devotional format of a three-panel altarpiece hint that Christianity and “civilizing” efforts can remove Native people from traditional sites of spirituality.

“Our future is in the land: if we listen to it” (Nagam, 2017): This immersive installation surrounds us with the silhouettes of aspen parkland forest, ambient nature sounds and the voices of people telling stories about the animals who move among the trees. It is possible to be in nature and not register the wealth of feeling and meaning embedded there. This work attempts to give visitors a sense of the parkland from an indigenous worldview, one in which everything is interconnected, where time loops and spirals.

“The Harbinger of Catastrophe” (Nicolson, 2017): Nicolson’s glass box acts as a metaphor for a house and the land while the shadow imagery, slowly flooding and receding from the gallery walls, refers to humanity’s tenuous relationship to the environment and vulnerability to global warming and floods. The glass is shaped with the same contours of a traditional carved-and-painted bentwood box, a centuries-old design created and used by several nations in the Pacific Northwest; the pulsing movement of light projected from it invokes the performative movements found in indigenous ceremony.

Special Installation

“Manifestipi” (2016) is a multimedia installation consisting of several futuristic tipis that communicate with each other through color, sound and light. A ghostly soundscape and video projection envelop the tipi structures, evoking the ever-intangible past, present and future. It is conceived by the ITWÉ Collective, a trans-disciplinary art collective dedicated to research, creation, production and education in the field of Aboriginal digital culture, based in Winnipeg and Montréal and composed of Sébastien Aubin (Cree/Métis), Kevin Lee Burton (Swampy Cree) and Caroline Monnet (Anishnabe/French). “Manifestipi” will be on view Saturday, Feb. 2, 2018, through Sunday, March 25, 2018, in the museum’s Diker Pavilion for Native Arts and Cultures.

EXHIBITION ARTISTS

Jordan Bennett       

Bennett (b. 1986) is a Mi’kmaq multidisciplinary visual artist from Stephenville Crossing, Ktaqmkuk (the Mi’kmaq name for the island of Newfoundland, Canada). Bennett earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus. He has participated in more than 50 group and solo exhibitions nationally and internationally, including representing Newfoundland and Labrador at the 2015 Venice Biennial at Galleria Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice, Italy. Bennett’s ongoing body of work uses painting, sculpture, video, installation and sound with a particular focus on exploring the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk visual culture of Ktaqamkuk.

Raven Chacon

Chacon (b. 1977) is a Diné composer, performer and artist born in the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Chacon performs as a solo artist and with numerous ensembles and is a member of the American Indian arts collective Postcommodity. He earned a Master of Fine Arts in music from the California Institute of the Arts and a Bachelor of Arts in music from the University of New Mexico. Chacon has received awards and support from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, National Arts and Humanities Youth Program, United States Artists and Creative Capital. He is an annual composer-in-residence at the Native American Composers Apprentice Project.

Jon Corbett 

Corbett (b. 1971) is a professional computer programmer and a Canadian Métis media artist. Corbett first studied fine art in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, at MacEwan University before earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and drawing from the University of Alberta and a Master of Fine Arts in interdisciplinary media from the University of British Columbia. He is a sessional faculty member specializing in new media art at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus. Corbett’s previous work has been exhibited in Italy, Bulgaria, Croatia and Japan, as well as numerous exhibitions in Canada.

Marcella Ernest

Ernest (b. 1979) is an Ojibwe interdisciplinary video artist and documentary filmmaker. Ernest’s work combines electronic media with sound design, film and photography. Her work has been exhibited and screened at galleries and film festivals internationally, including, most recently, Venice, Italy. Ernest attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and Mills College in Oakland, Calif. She earned a Master of Arts from the University of Washington’s Native Voices Program. Ernest is completing an interdisciplinary doctorate in American studies at the University of New Mexico.

Stephen Foster

Foster (b. 1966) is a video and electronic media artist of Haida and European heritage. Foster has exhibited nationally and internationally and has lectured and published on interactive documentary, community-based research and Canadian contemporary indigenous art. He is the department head and a professor in the Department of Creative Studies, as well as the director for the Centre for Indigenous Media Arts at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.

Nicholas Galanin

Galanin (b. 1979) is a Tlingit/Unangax̂ (Aleut) multidisciplinary artist from Sitka, Alaska, who works in mixed-media, sculpture, digital media, video and metalsmithing. Galanin earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in jewelry design from London Guildhall University and a Master of Fine Arts in Indigenous visual arts from Massey University in New Zealand. His work is represented in the collections of numerous international museums, including the Anchorage Museum, National Gallery of Canada, Portland Art Museum, Peabody Essex Museum, Vancouver Art Gallery, Musée d’art contemporain de Baie Saint-Paul, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Humboldt Forum in Berlin.

Keli Mashburn

Mashburn (b. 1977) is an Osage photographer who was raised on the Osage Indian Reservation of northeastern Oklahoma. Mashburn employs various traditional and experimental techniques to produce black-and-white photographic prints from 35 mm film. She studied philosophy at the University of Tulsa and University of Oklahoma and photography at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. Mashburn has received support from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, Osage Nation Foundation, and the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition. She lives in Fairfax, Okla.

Kevin McKenzie

McKenzie (b. 1961) is a Cree Métis artist born and raised in Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, Canada. McKenzie is a descendent of the O’Soup family from the Cowessess First Nation of Saskatchewan. He has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, Saskatchewan Arts Boards and First People’s Cultural Foundation. McKenzie’s work has been exhibited internationally and is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Manitoba Hydro Corporation, First Nations University of Canada, Comox Valley Art Gallery and the Saskatchewan Arts Board.

Julie Nagam

Nagam (b. 1977) is an Anishnawbe/Métis/German/Syrian media and installation artist living in Manitoba, Canada. Nagam is an associate professor of art history at the University of Winnipeg and the chair in the history of indigenous art in North America jointly appointed by the University of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. She has received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Government of Canada, including for her project “The Transactive Memory Keepers: Indigenous Public Engagement in Digital and New Media Labs and Exhibitions.” Her most recent publications include Traveling Soles: Tracing the Footprints of Our Stolen Sisters (2017).

Marianne Nicolson

Nicolson (b. 1969) is an artist of Musgamakw Dzawada̱’enux̱w Nation (Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw) and Scottish descent. She is a published author and a painter, photographer and installation artist who has exhibited her artwork locally, nationally and internationally. Nicolson’s training encompasses both traditional Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw forms and culture and Western European-based art practice. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, as well as a Master of Fine Arts, a Master of Arts in linguistics and anthropology, and a doctorate in linguistics, anthropology and art history from the University of Victoria.


MUSEUM DIRECTOR AND CURATORS

Kevin Gover

Kevin Gover is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

Since he began as director in 2007, the museum has opened four critically acclaimed exhibitions: “Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian,” an exhibition that opened concurrently in Washington, D.C., and New York in 2008, the largest retrospective ever of the seminal 20th-century modern painter and sculptor; in October 2009, the museum opened its first solo exhibition of a living artist, “Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort,” a major exhibition of the prominent Canadian artist (Dunne-za First Nations/Swiss-Canadian); the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York opened “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian,” a permanent exhibition of 700 works in October 2010; “A Song for the Horse Nation” opened in October 2011 and featured objects presenting the epic story of the horse’s influence on America Indian tribes; and “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations,” which opened at the museum’s Washington, D.C., location in 2014.

Under Gover’s leadership, the museum’s collections search launched online to provide digital access to the museum’s objects and photographs, and the imagiNATIONS Activity Center opened in June 2012, providing a dynamic space for young visitors.

Gover served as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior from 1997 to 2000 under President Bill Clinton where he won praise for his efforts to rebuild long-neglected Indian schools and expand tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs police forces throughout the country. His tenure as Assistant Secretary is perhaps best-known for his apology to Native American people for the historical conduct of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

After leaving office in 2000, Gover practiced law at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington. In 2003, he joined the faculty at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and served on the faculty of the university’s Indian Legal Program, one of the largest such programs in the country.

Gover received his bachelor’s degree in public and international affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and his juris doctor degree from New Mexico’s College of Law University of New Mexico School of Law. He was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Princeton in 2001.

Kathleen Ash-Milby

Kathleen Ash-Milby is an associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav Heye Center and co-curator of “Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound.” She has organized numerous contemporary art exhibitions at the museum, including “Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist” (2015) with co-curator David Penney, “Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family” (2014) as curatorial liaison, “C. Maxx Stevens: House of Memory” (2012) and “Off the Map: Landscape in the Native Imagination” (2007). She was the co-curator of the “SITElines Biennial: much wider than a line,” at SITE Santa Fe (2016); “Mind (the) Gap: International Indigenous Art in Motion,” Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia (2011); and “Edgar Heap of Birds: Most Serene Republics,” a public-art installation and collateral project for the 52nd International Art Exhibition/Venice Biennale (2007).

Ash-Milby is a recipient of two Secretary of the Smithsonian’s Excellence in Research Awards for her exhibition and publication HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor (2010) in 2011 and for the publication Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist in 2016. She was a fellow in the 2015 Center for Curatorial Leadership Program in New York. Ash-Milby served on the boards of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (2007–2012), the American Indian Community House (2005–2007) and was the president of the Native American Art Studies Association (2011– 2015). She was the curator and co-director of the American Indian Community House Gallery in New York City from 2000 to 2005.

A member of the Navajo Nation, she earned her Master of Arts from the University of New Mexico in Native American art history.

David Garneau

David Garneau (Métis) is an associate professor of visual arts at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, and co-curator of “Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound.” His practice includes painting, curation and critical writing. Garneau recently co-curated (with Michelle LaVallee) “Moving Forward, Never Forgetting,” an exhibition concerning the legacies of Indian residential schools, other forms of aggressive assimilation and (re)conciliation, at the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan. He also co-curated “With Secrecy and Despatch” (with Tess Allas), an international exhibition about massacres of indigenous people, and memorialization, for the Campbelltown Art Centre, Sydney, Australia.

Garneau has given numerous talks in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and throughout Canada. He is part of “Creative Conciliation,” a five-year curatorial research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. He is also working on two public art projects in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and his paintings are in numerous public and private collections.

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