When I speak of the process involved in my art, I often quote Cree Elder Willie Ermine, who speaks of the concept of creation/making as being similar to the processes utilized in ceremony. Ermine calls this concept Mamatowisowin, which is "the capacity to access the creative force of the inner space with the use of all our faculties that constitute our being.” Mamatowisiwn articulates the methodology used in a quest for vision/knowledge, where the seeker / artist begins to explore his/her own existence subjectively. “Mamatowisiwin is the process of exercising inwardness" (Ermine, 1994).
When I think of the meaning of existence, I also think of the teachings passed onto me by my Elders who have said, “If one wishes to understand the workings of self, the universe/the outer realms, then we must first go inside ourselves to learn” and that this particular quest for inner/outer knowledge, is most often guided through ceremonial process and/or (as Ermine suggests) the processes of Mamatowisiwin.
When I look back at the genesis of my own artistic process, I am able to discern how this particular concept of Mamatowisiwin, has, in fact, been utilized in the creation of my work. For example, when I became a Mother, I sought a better understanding of my own Mother, her Mother, and all the Mothers before. I sought a reconnection with them. I sought new knowledge of them by creating artworks that centered upon their lives. In the process of these creations, I became aware that I was letting go (as Douglas Cardinal had suggested) “to let go of as much mind awareness as possible, in order to allow the subconscious mind to work” in doing so, I discovered new knowledge about my Mothers that was previously unknown to me; stories began to reveal themselves and unfolded subconsciously through the processes of my creations.
My engagement in the creative process/Mamatowisiwin has been a vital participatory form of research that has brought forth an immense wealth of cultural/historical knowledge. I engage in the process of creation/of art making, both as a quest for seeking knowledge and also as a mechanism for carrying this knowledge forward.
This subconscious acquisition of knowledge was further utilized in 2006, while attending to my last year in the Masters of Visual Studies program at the University of Toronto. At this time, my 96 year old Grandmother was diagnosed with ahlzeimers.I had no way of attending to her, as she lived in Alberta and I hadn’t the funds to travel so I decided to focus on her as the subject for my Thesis. For two weeks, I stayed by her side and filmed our exchange. When I returned home, I “wrote” My Grandmothers oral histories into a 4 channel video installation, projected onto (6x8ft) aluminized Mylar screens that were installed to reflect/mirror, the Medicine Wheel of her life. The title of this work is “Not Forgotten !”
“Not forgotten!” was a visual and oratorical form of resistance against “cognitive imperialism” as both the artwork and the writing served as testimony against the colonial structures that enforced the “forgetting” of my Grandmothers localized histories. The installation allowed the audience a chance to witness the decoding of colonial memory, taking place within my Grandmothers mind, ironically as a result of her living with Alzheimer’s. For the first time at 96 years of age, my grandmother started speaking Cree to me.
In writing my thesis, I refused to use punctuation or capitalization. I attempted to deconstruct / decolonize the structures of an English literacy by utilizing an anti-colonial “first-voice” Indigenous perspective recognizing that “language carries culture and the language of the colonizer became the means by which the mental universe of the colonized was dominated.” ( Ngugi wa Thiong’o)
(Excerpt from thesis below)
this performative style of writing
is also parallel
to the circular nature of the narrative
in “Not forgotten!
as my intent in creating this piece
was to represent
the decoding of colonial memory
I could not write of it
a colonial voice
“I lack imagination you say
No. I lack language
The language to clarify
my resistance to the literate…”
Looking back, I realize now that my emerging art practice was a continual act of resistance, because I was also utilizing my earlier works as a means of healing. I am now (thankfully) in a position where I no longer feel the need to “always” resist. In fact, the concepts of the work that I am now focused on have nothing to do with colonization and decolonization. That said I suspect that as long as we live in a world built upon colonial structures, my work will periodically return to the task of dismantling the racialized dogmas that affect our existence.
For the past ten years, I have been working (on and off) on a variety of projects that seek to somewhat universalize (and differentiate) our indigenous cosmological positionings as “the Earths descendants”. In 2007 I was awarded a grant to conduct research on the properties of static and other electromagnetic energies (EME). The impetus for my research in EME was born out of an accident during the production of a video project, I questioned the reason for the electrical feedback encountered. The investigation into “static electricity” led me to the discovery that the “static/feedback” (on my TV) was actually residual radiation from the Big Bang that had taken over 14 billion years to appear! The revelation / discovery of this “ancient media” inspired me to produce multiple visual and auditory sensory video projects, installations that utilize electromagnetic energy as the main medium of creation, in order to articulate my own cultural, cosmological understanding of Creation/Genesis.
After having shown the above research and visual production (an audio and video I produced by using EME) to fellow artist and friend, Master Dancer and Choreographer Troy Emery Twigg, we began to collaborate on a project to address his ideas concerning the Blackfoot Nations Creation Story. One such exhibition, involving my concept of “STATIC,” was further developed in collaboration with the esteemed (though recently passed) visual artist Joane Cardinal Schubert. This project was exhibited as the opening piece for the Alberta Ballet and Calgary symphony orchestra in 2009.
I have received a grant from The Ontario Arts Council to further this research, as a six channel video installation. The title of this new work is “A creation//osihchikewin.” The project relays a Cree cosmological understanding of the concept of Creation, natural law / the structure of the universe, and the “characteristics of space, time, causality, and the quest for freedom.” In creating this project I seek to visually alter our “normative” perspective of space, through uses of technical illusion. In creating this work, it is my intent to share an Indigenous, ecologically based consciousness, as a means of addressing current environmental and social crises. With this new work, I intend to relay the relationship between human inner space, the natural world, and the mysterious life force that permeates creation. This practice of Cree metaphysics provides insight into the origin and nature of knowledge, with the result that there is a deeper understanding of the natural order; this spiritual understanding and connectedness is the foundational principle of the Cree ethos.
FUTURE ART PRACTICE
I will continue to research, create projects that are centered upon an Indigenous cosmological understanding of the working order/natural laws of the universe. While also investigating the properties of a variety of electromagnetic energies, by exploring multiple ways of documenting its behaviour/reaction to various environmental conditions, e.g; by projecting electromagnetic waveforms onto water/mist in order to document the ways in which the light is refracted, or by using full spectrum cameras, (capable of producing multiple surreal effects, also used in the science of forensics, to make visible the invisible), ultraviolet and infrared cameras also produce innovative effect. After having documented the unseen, I wish to gain access to a full dome video projection environment (such as the digital dome at IAIA) so that I can immerse the audience toward better understanding of the indigenous ethos,/cosmological worldview.
While I have a keen interest in utilizing new technologies, new media, I am also currently researching the historical connections of Science, Spirituality and Art. My research thus far has led me toward a 1584 text by Giambattista Della Porta in his work titled Magia Naturalis (Natural Magic), which provides instruction on the early science of alchemy and how to manipulate the properties of the elements (earth, water, air, and fire). My intent here is to articulate an Indigenous scientific/metaphysical understanding both in contrast and relation to “other” cosmologies/ways of knowing. I do this to seek a deeper understanding of the universe by engaging the processes of Mamatowisiwin, and utilizing both new and old sciences and to become more sensitive to and knowledgeable of my surroundings. “This sensitivity (may) open (my psyche) to the Grand mysteries and to the possibility of a mystical experience, which was considered the only way to grasp certain intangible laws of the universe. (Peggy Beck and Anna Walters)