Ghostkeeper, April 21-28, 2012, was co-presented by On Main and grunt gallery at Gallery 1965 as part of grunt gallery’s yearlong project “Activating the Archives” that delved into the 25-year history of the grunt gallery. This exhibition and symposium featured Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew (1958-2006) and the responses to his work by Adrian Stimson, Archer Pechawis, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Elwood Jimmy, and Sheila Urbanoski. The invited artists responsed to two seminal works by Ahasiw: Speaking the Language of Spiders, the 1997 net-art piece, and White Shame, the 1992 performance. Complimenting this in-depth focus included the launch of the website: ghostkeeper.gruntarchive.org and White Shame ReCut, Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew,1992, edited by Brian Gotro, 2012, 34 min. Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew was among the first aboriginal artists in Canada to work in performance and net-art. His work as a curator, producer and writer laid important groundwork for Aboriginal artists in these fields. He is an important voice in the development of these media within the aboriginal communities and beyond.
The daylong symposium featured introductions by Paul Wong, curators Glenn Alteen and Malcolm Levy and presentations by artists Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Adrian Stimson, Elwood Jimmy and via Skype Archer Pechawis (Toronto) and Shelia Urbanoski (London, UK).
Description of Work and Bios
Isi-pikiskwewin Ayapihkesisak (Speaking the Language of Spiders), 1997
Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskew (1958-2006)
A powerful and deeply thoughtful work, this collaborative production explores both idealized and demonized images of First Nations people by examining the influence of First Nations history, spirituality, and language on marginalized, urban First Nations youth. Based on the nine domains in the Saulteaux cosmological cycle, this website explores a variety of digital technologies including computer graphics, animation, and manipulated photographs, weaving together a complex meta-text that locates spirituality and traditional knowledge within a landscape of prostitution, drugs, danger, and violence.
Co-producers: Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew in collaboration with Lynn Acoose, Elvina Piapot, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Joseph Naytowhow, Richard Agecoutay, Sheila Urbanoski, Russell Wallace, Sylvain Carrette, Greg Daniels, Chris Kubik, Mark Schmidt, and Anthony Dieter, (Canada), 1997
White Shame, 1992
Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskew (1958-2006)
Performed at grunt gallery in 1992, this brilliant multimodal work begins with a moving poem in both Cree and English, and then moves into a combination of slides, painting, video, and performance, all describing different narratives of suffering under colonial Canada. The performance then shifts as Ghostkeeper takes a number of traditional eagle feathers and stitches them to his chest while a constant drum beat plays in the background. Ghostkeeper then continues on, involving the audience in the conclusion of his haunting performance.
White Shame Re-visited, 2012
Performance and video
To be asked to revisit Ahasiw Muskegon-Iskew’s work has been a great honour. Having curated a show at the Mendel Art Galley in 2007, called Express: Celebrating Ahasiw, I became familiar with his work and history, his impact on the First Nation art scene in Saskatchewan and beyond, which still resonates today. As a performance artist I am struck by Ahasiw’s work, how he fused traditional knowledge with contemporary meme’s. In particular I was drawn to the performance “White Shame” .This gentle yet visceral performance struck a cord, it spoke to shame, our combined histories, the church, intergenerational pain, conflicts such as Oka, it spoke to acts of sacrifice for the greater good, the idea of transcendence, the seven generations, it was an act of revealing, regeneration and renewal.
The original performance was over an hour with many actions, for White Shame Re-visited, I have chosen a segment of that original performance to recreate. This performance is not only homage to Ahasiw, it is taking his original performance and making it my own, to rework his ideas in our time.
For this performance, I will be repeating a number of acts such as writing on the walls, cleansing with clay and ash and piercing my skin. As a Blackfoot person traditional acts of piercing relate to the Sundance, an act that is to benefit the community. My act of piecing 7 times will be to renew Ahasiw’s original performance, to honour friends suffering from disease, for missing and murdered aboriginal women, for my brother Faron who was tragically killed last summer, for our earth, for the animals and for all the shame that plague the people. It is my hope that this performance will bring us transcendence through time, to bring Ahasiw into the present, to acknowledge his presence and how he touched us all then, now and into the future.
Unspoken , 2012
mixed media installation with website http://www.unspoken2012.com/
“Unspoken is an installation inspired by White Shame, a 1992 performance by Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew performed at grunt gallery. Incorporating beading, audio, video, and community engagement, the work explores the ongoing internal and collective negotiations of racialized scapes and memory.
Over the last decade, Elwood Jimmy has worked as an arts administrator, curator, writer, community animator, volunteer, and artist. Originally from the Thunderchild First Nation in northwestern Saskatchewan, he has played a leadership role in several arts and community projects and organizations. His work as an artist and curator has been presented in venues from British Columbia to Ontario, as well as the Northwest Territories. As a writer, his work has been published in anthologies relating to arts, culture, race, and Canadian history. For 15 years, he was involved with Sâkêwêwak Artists’ Collective, where he was provided significant mentorship and support by collective members Lynn Acoose, Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, and Susan Mckenzie.
Elwood’s projects within the arts have been almost exclusively collaborative in nature, working with several artists, and/or communities in the creation and production process – spanning video, installation, text, & performance works, as well as a number of interdisciplinary projects in collaboration with diverse communities within the Plains region. While having collaborated with different cultural and geographical communities, Elwood’s work has largely been inspired by and produced for north central Regina, home to one of the country’s largest urban Indigenous populations, and the community he grew up in. Elwood currently lives and works in Toronto.
Speaking the Language of Spiders, 2012
“My association with Ahasiw began in a big house around a table with many voices and so it seems appropriate this should then be the metaphor I retain to frame my contribution of this commentary to his life and work. All of his writings references how nehiyawêwin (cree language) is built upon this notion of concepts or things regarded as representative or symbolic of something else. It is therefore fitting that like we do in the bush (where we’re both from), I’m working away with my akihcikêwikamikos (an early nêhiyawêwin term for computers was a ‘little counting shack’) virtually communing with our many mutual colleagues at the kitchen/studio/meeting table (which now resembles apps and online social networking services such as skype, twitter, pine, terminal, firefox, facebook and soundcloud) sorting out who did what and what should go where, weaving together the many layers of back-stories that helped the project to evolve.
Originally I thought I would map various of Ahasiw’s known writings, audio and performance pieces from the grunt archive to provide background and links to the many people that influenced and might have grounded his thinking. This would have included people like his long-time friend Chief Lynn Acoose, the Piapot family and others. However, as I started to formulate a plan, I realize that the collaborative web project / interactive screenplay and multi-media storyboard known as Isi-pîkiskwêwin- Ayapihkêsîsak (speaking the language of spiders) that I was one of the collaborators on, was perhaps the most illustrative points to access his eclectic body of work. It was also the project that my direct contributions were never realized or added before his untimely passing into the spirit world.
What the grunt archive offered was important audio – bits of which were my contribution back in 1996. I also was able to locate myself at the Banff Centre during parts of this reactivation of his work and was able to go back into the original studio where we’d recorded some tracks (that had not been recovered) and this is my newest contribution – the track Bang It Up (found on in the domain called Invasion on the page with the poem entitled Waking Dreamer by Lynn Acoose). I also removed a few pages that were merely index pages and created a more organic, web-like and spiraling way to navigate through the site complete with newly added navigation buttons (animated gifs of spiders and buffalos based on the originals) and completed the credits part of the site.
As with my original idea to link the voices of others to his work, I decided also to create an annotated version of Isi-pîkiskwêwin-Ayapihkêsîsak where various collaborators would comment on what was the thinking behind choices, pages and themes. Sadly, a few of the listed contributors are not to be found and our dear friend Elvina Piapot has also since gone to the spirit world. So I dedicate this site to her memory – a few of the poems and much of the graphics was Elvina’s contribution, along with the love and support her family always afforded Ahasiw – and by virtue to all of us. ”
Cheryl L’Hirondelle (aka Waynohtêw, Cheryl Koprek) is a nomadic mixed-blood multi and interdisciplinary artist, singer/songwriter and curator. Her creative practice is an investigation of the junction of a Cree worldview (nêhiyawin) in contemporary time and space.
She has also been involved in a variety of media arts initiatives including: Smartlab Associate Researcher (UK), 2005–07; Banff New Media Institute Advisory Committee, 2006; ISEA – Pacific Rim New Media Summit Working Group Member (US/NZ), 2006; Circuit4.ca – Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2004; RIXC – International Locative Media Workshop (Latvia), 2003; Drumbytes.org; 2002; Canada Council Media Arts Advisory Committee, 1997– 2001; KIDS FROM KANATA On-line Aboriginal Liaison, 1995-96, and AFVAA – Drum Beats to Drum Bytes Thinktank, 1994.
L’Hirondelle is a member of the OCAD University’s Indigenous Education Council where she has also taught in their Integrated Media Department. She lectures about Indigenous Media Art and about her interdisciplinary practice at universities and colleges and regularly presents at Media Art and related conferences and symposia nationwide and internationally.
Loving The Spider is a re-examination of the seminal net-art piece “isi-pîkiskwêwin-ayapihkêsîsak” (Speaking the Language of Spiders). The late Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew was artistic director, writer, and producer of the original work, which was subsequently exhibited at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris in the group exhibition Cyclic curated by Sara Diamond, and at the Walter Phillips Gallery in the 2003 group exhibition BACK/FLASH curated by Dana Claxton. This re-consideration by Sheila Urbanoski (webmistress of the original 10-artist creative team) and Archer Pechawis, who were friends, colleagues and collaborators of Maskegon-Iskwew, recontextualizes the original work in a testament to a departed friend and his prescient vision of an Aboriginal future, weaving a personal remembrance and narrative which allows us to consider both the original message and how it is perceived today.
Performance artist, new media artist, filmmaker, writer, curator and educator Archer Pechawis was born in Alert Bay, BC in 1963. He has been a practicing artist since 1984 with particular interest in the intersection of Plains Cree culture and digital technology, merging “traditional” objects such as hand drums with video and audio sampling. His work has been exhibited across Canada and in Paris France, and featured in publications such as Fuse Magazine and Canadian Theatre Review. Archer has been the recipient of many Canada Council, British Columbia and Ontario Arts Council awards, and won the Best New Media Award at the 2007 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival and Best Experimental Short at imagineNATIVE in 2009.
Archer also works extensively with Native youth as part of his art practice, teaching performance and digital media for various First Nations organizations and in the public school system. Of Cree and European ancestry, he is a member of Mistawasis First Nation, Saskatchewan.
Sheila Urbanoski is a performance, video and new media artist originally from Wishart,Saskatchewan. She began her career in the early 80s as a performance artist but was quickly attracted to the fast moving medium of video. Her video art works explored gender, feminism and identity and usually included her own performances.
She has been creating online art projects since the web began, and continues to create highly charged and often challenging pieces that are rarely long-lived. Thanks to her strong technical ability she is able to stretch and explore the possibilities that the medium of the web opens up around instant communication and control of information on her own (and her own terms).
Her work has been exhibited from Helsinki to Seoul to Toronto, and she has been the grateful recipient of various grants and awards. Sheila has been based in London (England) for the last 15 years where she continues to blissfully pursue both her artist practice and her secret identity as a corporate whore.
With the support of:
BC Arts Council