a look into history and a look at the future by looking with Isi-pîkiskwêwin-Ayapihkêsîsak


i’m going back and forth in a triangle and then some kind of circle, flitting between tabs hoping for an opening up space for access to Isi-pîkiskwêwin-ayapihkêsîsak . access denied. this happens sometimes.

Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew produced this piece in 1996. how long ago was that? what age was the internet? remember that hilarious clip with katie couric? here is the mainstream media thinking about internet in 1994:

now i’m looking through the work of Loretta Todd. she says “the transformation that is a regular experience in native narratives is not like the experience of escapism in western narrative nor the disembodiment of cyberspace…”

escapism and disembodiment is what utopic sci-fi film The Cave, eviscerates, speaking as it does to a specific audience (not me) that has no need for tired narratives. it is aboriginal sovereign – process, collaboration, production. it is escapism disrupted since it’s escapism turning inward, towards home. but the mind trudge, the access-point searching continues.

now i am stopping over at the national film board website (how did i get here?) for a quick scan through Loretta Todd’s Hands of History, a 1994 documentary film that explores the inner lives of Doreen Jensen, Rena Point Bolton, Jane Ash Poitras and Joane Cardinal-Schubert, women who make art as a form of revival and resistance.

and then, again, i venture to wander through the portals that Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew leaves open. i know he leaves them open. for a moment, i’m caught in cold winter.

9:00 A. M. SATURDAY, "Isi-pîkiskwêwin-Ayapihkêsîsak "
9:00 A. M. SATURDAY, “Isi-pîkiskwêwin-Ayapihkêsîsak “

i’m cold and disoriented. the window is open. i pick up my notebook: 18/10/2015, i have scribbled “indigenous futurism” and exclamation-pointed “indigenous people are on the forefront of digital technology, pushing what new media is and can do.”

Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew’s work is raw. a few narrators, poetry, blinking icons. there is a circularity, not in the logical sense, but in the way you click on the buffalo and return home. as has been explained in other blogs, as well as in the artist’s statement, Isi-pîkiskwêwin-ayapihkêsîsak “concentrates on the experiences of people who have been consigned to the fringes of urban streetlife and their sources of joy, grief and intense humanity.” i see that in open and bare stanzas.

Now it don’t take much but it does take a
lot in a red light dream parade.
Cause like, some whacked out dude like,
picked her up, and her
initials are printed where she used
to walk and no one’s like, seen her

(Long Gone Walking Doll)

But they had an open box anyway,
with pink paper. And steam rose
from the ground early that morning
with brown
and newspaper swirling,
pushed by barely unseen winds
in ghettos of grass.

(A Prairie Piece)

each artist, some more than others, tells us of their love of Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew. his mentorship and vision.

Maskegon-Iskwew says, “The screenplay and storyboard are produced entirely on the World Wide Web in order to construct networks of relationships between the elements at each stage of development as a primary part of the work.”

this should be at the beginning but here it is: history converges with vision here. reaching back to 1996 when a man brought poets and visual artists and software developers together in a collaborative process to give voice to those “consigned to the fringes of urban streetlife.” those who may not ever really get on the internet in 1996 are rendered visible. the electronic form challenges Todd’s scepticism.

Todd asks:

“how do these concepts [of freedom of emotional singularity and community belonging] fit into cyberspace when cyber space has been created within societies that view creation and the universe so differently — one that creates hierarchies of being that reinforce separation and alienation with one that seeks harmony and balance with the self and the universe?”

Perhaps in the work of Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, we find possibility.


Vancouver’s Media World, Introduction
Narratives in Cyberspace, Loretta Todd

The Medium of Spiders

“Learning, the educational process, has long been associated only with the glum. We speak of the “serious” student. Our time presents a unique opportunity for learning by means of humor – a perceptive or incisive joke can be more meaningful than platitudes lying between two covers.”
– Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium Is The Massage”

It’s all child’s play, the Medium is The Massage. It’s a prank meant to undermine the serious “platitudes lying between two covers,” the big academic serious sounding words that bind people together and keep others out. The colonial words alongside them. The bodies of work that forget, erase, deny and indulge.

In 1964, in the Walter Kronkite era of mass communication, Marshall McLuhan introduces his seminal piece, Understanding Media. Total Change is upon us, he says. Gone are the days of parochialism. Not because we learned to read or do math. But because of electricity. Because of the medium itself. Because media work on us and work as environments, made by us, as extensions of our psychic and physical faculties.

And then he wrote another book. This time with pictures and some prose and some choice quotes. He called it the Medium is the Massage and here you have this entirely new thing, which is an example of the argument from his initial book and which is making a slew of observations based on that initial thesis, via language/presentation (images, conceptual graphics, abstract photography, tongue-in-cheek visual references) and about (among other things) the nature of serious work, our interpretations of cultural commentary, and our own biases against light-hearted learning.

Monochrome close-ups of toenails and then tire rims, perplexing and voyeuristic images of ceremonies and naked people and then spirals and maybe a couple of paragraphs about “ratios of sense perceptions” and the way a particular sense, when extended, influences our other senses and change us.

We were assigned to read this book for class. I couldn’t find it, so ended up using the internet and downloading a digital version. My neighbour and I shared the digital version in class. We couldn’t read the parts that required you to pick up the book and place it in front of a mirror. We performed readings out loud together and together the class watched itself perform interpretations of play and media, based on this book, which itself is play.

It’s meta. The warping of the meaning of learning and reading through this book calls us to question our assumptions of authority, of the real, of the culturally preconceived. But for me it helped frame another question: Is Indigenous new/experimental media a means through which to uncover a “new environment” for those who are out in the dark or cloistered reading those old platitude-filled books?

As we look to the poets, the artists and the sleuths in our midst, like Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, perhaps these artists, contrarians, thinkers are those who “cannot go along with currents and trends.” Perhaps they/we have the “power to see environments as they really are.” Perhaps they/we represent what McLuhan calls “This need to interface, to confront environments with a certain antisocial power.” I wonder, how might these notions of disrupted learning interface with Indegeneity as environment, as medium? How do we play in an educational medium? How do we navigate and interpret those spider languages?