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Issue # 5

Issue # 5

Article Listing

Flatter the Land, Bigger the Ruckus
by Urban Shaman Gallery

Negotiating Stereotypes, Hybridity, and Community – The Work of KC Adams
by Cathy Mattes

Follow the Bunny
A responsive essay by Marlene Milne to:
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
by Marlene Milne

Nêhiyawin (Cree Worldview)
by Daina Warren

Negotiating Stereotypes, Hybridity, and Community – The Work of KC Adams

Negotiating Stereotypes, Hybridity, and Community – The Work of KC Adams

by Cathy Mattes

  • In the exhibition Transcendence –cyborg hibrida genitalis humanitas, artist KC Adams effectively locates her cultural self. By sourcing biocybernetics[1], family and other artists, she challenges stereotypical views towards mixed race categorization, examines the relationship between nature and technology, and explores concepts of hybridity. Her work reflects upon organic and non-organic community, and reveals the complexities of human interaction with contemporary visual imagery, and cross-cultural visual effects.

    The main focus in KC Adams’ work has been investigating the relationship between nature (the living) and technology (progress). It is through the cyborg, a concept referenced in Donna Haraway’s socialist-feminist driven Cyborg Manifesto that Adams explores this theme. According to Haraway, a cyborg is “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality [lived social relations] as well as a creature of fiction.[2]” Adams fuses organic and non-organic elements to create cyborgs, such as clay and moss with electrical wires and computer parts. She also creates cybernetic living spaces - interactive/kinetic living rooms or offices that reflect upon the human struggle to control our environment. In Transcendence Adams presents the cyborg in a new and evolved state that aids in exploring personal cultural struggles.

    As an artist of Scottish and Oji-Cree ancestry, Adams has endured both the assumptions that she is an authority on Aboriginal issues, as well as the pressure placed on her to create artwork with Aboriginal content. These expectations led Adams to be hesitant to create work that overtly reflected her Aboriginality in the early stages of her practice. However, in the last few years, Adams has chosen to explore her cultural identity with art on her own terms. She does so by attempting to locate community and face stereotypes head on with the Cyborg Hybrid Series and Kokum Mamama, the works featured in Transcendence.

    Stereotypes play a large role in cross cultural interaction and are internalized by those who experience them. According to cultural critic W.J.T. Mitchell, “stereotypes are not special or exceptional figures but invisible (or semi-invisible) and ordinary, insinuating themselves into everyday life and constituting the social screens that make encounters with other people possible – and, in a very real sense, impossible.”[3] Despite the perception that they are static, sterile, and not living, stereotypes take on a life of their own – and as Mitchell suggests, “a deadly, dangerous life at that – in the rituals of the racist (or sexist) encounter”[4] .

    Eradicating stereotypes is therefore no easy task. Banning and replacing them with more politically correct images just adds more life and power into the stereotype. Examining the stages of stereotype creation and facing them head on is a more complicated process, but one that benefits those doing the stereotyping, and those subjected to them. It involves recognizing them as living images and as powerful entities.

    Adams looks to other artists of mixed ancestry to do so. She locates artists of Aboriginal and European ancestry with similar experiences and concerns from around Canada, including Brandon, Winnipeg, Banff, and Charlottetown, P.E.I. Like Adams, these artists are forward thinkers and plugged in with technology. Regardless of nation, artistic practice, or location, they have all felt the sting of typecasting, and can relate to being techno-savvy artists and cultural hybrids.

    In a post-colonial theoretical realm, the concept of hybridity refers to the mingling of cultural signs and practices from both colonized and colonizing cultures. This cross-fertilization of cultures can be both enriching and oppressive. Hybridity also effectively challenges perceptions that colonized or colonizing cultures are monolithic. The layers and dichotomies of hybridity are exposed in Adams’ series through visual markers that reflect the subjects’ lived social realities.

    Adams presents the artists in digitally altered photographs wearing white chokers and beaded slogans on white t-shirts illustrating common Aboriginal stereotypes, such as “Authority on all Aboriginal Issues”, or “Dirty Little Indian.” The photos are air-brushed glamour shots, reflecting contemporary fashion magazines, while simultaneously mocking 19th and early 20th photography of Aboriginal people. The models are futuristic and almost androgynous looking, a visual interpretation of Haraways’ cyborgs, who exist in a technological world free of traditional western stereotypes towards race and gender. The artists hold defiant or proud expressions on their faces, daring viewers to culturally locate them as anything other than cyborg hybrids. These artists do not allow the slogans on their t-shirts to define them, and their captured strength exposes the absurdity of common stereotypes.

    Although stereotypes are alive and hold power, they are weakened by the subjects in Cyborg Hybrids. W.J.T. Mitchell suggests that “images are like living organisms; living organisms are best described as things that have desires.”[5] The cyborg hybrids desire to eradicate stereotypes, and to shed their impact. Together, they become a community that succeeds in overcoming typecasting when molded into cyborg hybrids by Adams. They provide a glimpse of a possible future without typecasting, and hint at what is required to fully eradicate stereotypes.

    In Transcendence – cyborg hibrida genitalis humanitas, the convoluted concept of community is explored. In particular, the differences between organic and non-organic communities are exposed. I would argue that Cyborg Hybrids is a non-organic community; because the participants were specifically chosen based upon required traits. All participants are younger artists of mixed ancestry, who are techno-savvy, concerned about stereotypes, hold strength and a similar sense of humour. The values and experiences acknowledged and focused on with the series are similar, regardless of actual differing concerns, nations, and cultural practices amongst the subjects. In an organic community the exchange of values and priorities are not always collaborative and dialogical. Roles and priorities differ, and at times may even be conflictual. However, organic communities feed our beings, and despite existing dichotomies within, are a place of inherent comfort and even acceptance.

    In Kokum Mamama, one of Adams organic communities is referenced. The floor installation combines natural and technological elements as clusters of lit, translucent sculptural pieces surrounded by sage are laid out in the formation of a family tree. Adam’s family and relations are her most vital sources of spiritual energy, and here they are honoured. The installation welcomes viewers to reflect upon their spiritual needs, and to tap into their own energy sources. Kokum Mamama also feeds Cyborg Hybrids by providing the spiritual source for their creator, and affirming that even cyborgs require an organic foundation. In the future, we will continue to need spiritual sources and organic community, even as cyborg hybrids living in a cybernetic, post-colonial world.

    Together, Cyborg Hybrids and Kokum Mamama expose some of our wants and desires. They ponder the potential, by celebrating artists, the front runners if you will, of many Aboriginal communities. Adams suggests her work represents a possible Utopian future, “in which the powerful, creative people…are the role models that will lead the next generation.” This utopia may not be too far off in the distant future, as Adams continues to use the concept of cyborgs to explore community, eradicate stereotypes, and locate her cultural self.

    Cathy Mattes
    Guest Curator

  • KC Adams Cyborg Hybrids can be viewed on the Storm Spirits Website here.

  •  1. Biocybernetics refers to the combination of computer technology and biological science. See W.J.T. Mitchell, What do pictures want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 312.
    2. Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”, in Simians, Cyborg and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 149.
    3. W.J.T. Mitchell, What do pictures want: The Lives and Loves of Images, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 296.
    4. Ibid.
  • 5. W.J.T. Mitchell, What do pictures want? (2005), 11.
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