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Issue # 5
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, 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.” 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
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.” 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” .
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
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
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.” 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
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.
KC Adams Cyborg Hybrids can be viewed on the Storm Spirits
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.
5. W.J.T. Mitchell, What do pictures want?