In the early 90s I met the director of a new media
school in Vancouver. She wanted to know if I had a web site- in
those days I didn't even have a computer. She asked why Indians were
not on the Web and argued passionately that we should be. "Good
God," I thought, "This woman is like a missionary- the Christians
have been trying to save us for five hundred years- now the geeks
are going to do it."
fact, even then there were Indians in cyberspace,
Sainte-Marie was creating on the web and Anishnaabe teacher and
Paula Giese was building web sites about artists like
Daphne Odjig and eventually hundreds more. Buffy and Paula were
leading the way and we will start by visiting Buffy's site.
I click on Audio Clips first so I can enjoy her
music as well as her visual art. The first digital art that really
impacted me was a self-portrait by Buffy done way back when - she
has worked with computers since the seventies. She also paints and
teaches and is the only person I know with a rose named after her.
Be sure to read her
The Banff Centre has been important as a place where
many of the works we will view have been created. Most of the
artists listed here have worked in Banff. I am presenting the
artists mostly in chronological order starting with the pioneers.
Most of the sites are by visual artists but we will also be viewing
work by writers working on line and digital artists who are
streaming music and video on the web.
Edward Poitras was born in 1953 in Regina and has been active as an
artist since the early 1970s. A frequent visitor to Banff he
produced his first web site at the Centre in 1996 -
Jaw Rez manages to critique the web as it contributes to it. The
site focuses on the idea of the beginning and the end of
civilizations drawing on references from Amerindian cosmogony
and Christian sources. Within the framework of the piece, the
movement of the worlds from life to death transcends time. With
no indication of the time interval between beginning and end,
the universe constructed remains still. The Coyote/ Trickster is
at work here and has created false links. The viewer moves the
cursor to find links but when clicking, he/she remains at the
same place. This creates the impression of endlessly searching
for the right spot in the dark. It takes time to find a link
that actually opens something. The artist forces us to confront
the need for immediate change of place, which might be
engendered by the Internet. Source- Banff Centre Press Release.
In 1995 Edward was the first native artist to
represent Canada at the Venice Biennale. In the past decade, he has
become increasingly engaged with digital information, gathering and
processing it as material for art.
In-x-isle at the SOIL Digital Media Production Suite, Neutral
Ground in Regina is a good example.
Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew is a Cree Metis artist who took early
aesthetic strides forward in creating Aboriginal new media works
that made use of the capacities of the technology of the time,
Speaking the Language of Spiders engaged fourteen Aboriginal
artists and writers in the development of a time cycle that
stretches from the beginning of time to infinity and then back
to the beginning. The work speaks of the life cycle and
different ways of living through experiences- immersed,
contemplative, suffering, and filled with hope. A beautiful,
multi-layered interactive experience, it sustains its power many
years later. Source-
Speaking the Language of Spiders consists of an interactive
screenplay and multi-media storyboard. The theme is based on an
examination of the differences in worldview between cultures
structured by First Nations' languages and those structured by
English. Using poetic, fragmentary, highly visual and intuitive
modes of expression this project brings into play the ways First
Nations historic cultural paradigms, and ancestral and animistic
spiritual forces impact contemporary First Nations culture. The
work concentrates on the experiences of people consigned to the
fringes of urban street-life, their sources of joy and grief and
their intense humanity. Source-
Dunlop Art Gallery.
I find similarities in the works by Poitras and
Ahasiw but they certainly have different personalities. I have
always thought Edward to be like a monk, quiet and self-contained
and deeply into a spirituality that enables and permeates his strong
works. Edward sometimes works intensely with a technician or
photographer to make his art but mostly he works on his own. Ahasiw
on the other hand often works with a group of collaborators as he
did for the Spider Language site and as Skawennati does with Cyber
Tricia Fragnito, Mohawk/Italian, is a multidisciplinary artist
and curator. She has a [Fine Arts] degree from Concordia in Montreal
[and] is just as comfortable with a sewing machine as she is with
cameras and computers. Like Ahasiw she is a people person who works
well in a group and does solo works too.
is a virtual gallery/chat room with art and texts by new and
established artists and writers. Skawennati and the Nation to Nation
group started CyberPowWow in 1996.
Lori Blondeau, Cree/Saulteaux, based in Saskatoon, she teaches
art at the University of Saskatchewan. Her performance works have
thrilled, excited and delighted me on the few occasions I have been
privileged to experience them. Lori's got guts; posing with a pink
surfboard in her beaver-skin bikini she forces us to focus on
important issues with good humor and style. See the article
STREET WISE on her work with 7th Generation Image Makers
(7thGIM) youth art program for a good example. Lori's work was also
the subject of a feature
"Scandalous Personas, Difficult Knowledge, Restless Images" by
Lynne Bell in Canadian Art Magazine, Winter 2000.
K C Adams from
Manitoba questions the relationship between nature and technology
combining real and virtual elements in her installations and web
work. Bleach II addresses consumerism and Martha Stewart's style by
removing all colour from the environment she has created.
Jeff Thomas, Iroquois/Onondaga, is originally from Buffalo NY. A
photographer, curator, writer and cultural analyst, he now lives in
Ottawa. His son is often included in his photographs so they spend
that time together strengthening their relationship. Family is very
important to Jeff and he writes about this in his photo essay
(You will need to launch the Archives and search for Thomas). This
on-line photo-essay produced with CBC Radio 3 really grabs me. I
have watched it a lot and show it to friends and students as a model
to emulate. I also enjoy
Scouting for Indians- an interactive site that documents Jeff's
on going search for Indians and identity in an urban environment.
With a minimal use of technology he has produced a site that is
intelligent and provoking.
Adams, Metis from Alberta, is a writer and visual artist. His
photography and mixed media work has been extensively exhibited and
collected. In 1997 he moved to Vancouver Island and began to work
with digital tools. His work has been featured in several online
publications. An active member of the
writing community since 1999 he was the first writer/artist to be
Writer's Studio. Fascinated by marginal territories- real or
virtual- he admits to a certain streak of impishness.
Cree/Metis, is an artist, writer, musician, storyteller and educator
from Alberta. She is currently in Vancouver teaching First Nations
Net Art and Digital Storytelling at the Emily Carr Institute of Art
and Design. An essay she wrote while editing volume 17 of Horizon
Zero Magazine at the Banff Centre,
Aboriginal Story in Digital Media, is a good example of on-line
writing- the entire issue is worth a look and listen- lots of links
to hot sites and with music by Jackson 2bears. You will need Flash
2bears, Metis, from Toronto, has studied music and visual art
and uses both in his work. He now lives in Victoria BC. 2bears shows
his video works projected large and accompanied by music produced
with turntables and computers. His early streaming audio works echo
leading edge contemporary composers. More recent works are in hot
rock, hip-hop style with a political edge. Listen to his
"ten little indians" (remix).
Anthony Dieter, Plains Cree/Ojibwe, from Saskatchewan, specializes
in multimedia and graphic design. He studied in Texas and has worked
on projects at the Banff Centre.
Young Hawk Seven is a beautiful video with a haunting soundtrack
and clever animation that explores historical and contemporary
aspects of Amerindian conditions.
Gabriel Lopez-Shaw, Payute from the U S, Gabriel produced
Tecknomadz, Vol.1 at
Artists' Collective in Regina. This is a moving story of a young
native woman from the streets working at building a better life.
Although he is from the U S Lopez-Shaw produced this work in Canada.
Most of the work we are viewing was created in Canada.
Thanks to the Banff Centre and the Canada Council, Indigenous
artists have had more opportunities to access state of the art
equipment and produce new media works in this country. Sara Diamond
at the Banff Centre has been a leader indeed, creating many
opportunities for peoples from all over the world to access new
Jenny Fraser from Australia founded and curates
cyberTribe, an online Gallery that encourages the production and
exhibition of Indigenous Art with a focus on the digital. Recently
her own work takes iconic and everyday symbols of Australian life
and places them in a context that questions the values they
represent. With a laconic sense of humour she picks away at the
fabric of society, exposing contradictions, absurdities, and denial.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also hosts a
profile of her work.
Lisa Reihana is a Maori artist who, has played a leading role in
the development of new media in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Her work
demonstrates and communicates complex ideas about indigenous
identity and bi-cultural living. Her new work
continues to explore the concept of wharenui ('meeting house')
prevalent in her artistic practice. Reihana uses dramatic
large-format photographs to reference female mythological figures
and pay homage to the strong matriarchal influence within Maori
Tsinhnahjinnie is a Dine/Seminole/Muscogee who has been a
photographer and artist for 30 years. Hulleah creates art
specifically for an indigenous audience. Her work awakens
sensitivity to the complexities of native identity and gives
evidence of attempts by white America to codify and dehumanize with
little regard for native traditions. Always challenging, sometimes
humorous, Tsinhnahjinnie's work upends the status quo. She earned
her M.F.A. from the University of California at Irvine, California,
where she currently resides.
Sonny Assu is from
the Laich-kwi-tach nation on Vancouver Island. He lives in Vancouver
where he does web design work and currently is co-creating a comic
book. A 2002 graduate of the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design
his work is a unique blend of First Nations and Pop Art Culture. His
web designs are clever, crisp and clean and his graphic design shows
his facility with traditional Northwest Coast and Pop Art styles. He
is the only First Nations' artist I have found so far who actually
has a blog.
Mike MacDonald from Nova Scotia is of Mi'kmaq and European
ancestry. Mike is a video installation artist and garden
designer in addition to pursuing photography and new media
projects. Self-taught, he focuses on the environment,
incorporating plants and animals in his art. He finds
inspiration in both his aboriginal ancestry and Western sources,
drawing from science and literature as well as traditional
medicine and ethnobotany. In October 2000 Mike received the
first Aboriginal Achievement Award for New Media at the Toronto
imagineNATIVE Festival for his
Butterfly Garden web site and the first version of this