Coded Territories: Tracing Indigenous Pathways in New Media Art

Coded Territories: Tracing Indigenous Pathways in New Media Art

Steven Loft and Kerry Swanson, Editors

Reviewed by Rob McMahon

In this fascinating collection, seven Indigenous artists from across Canada illustrate how digital technologies and Indigenous ontologies combine to inform new media theory and practice. In different ways, the contributors demonstrate how digital technologies are not solely a colonizing force; they can also support renewal and resurgence, provided the right conditions are in place. Jason Lewis writes, “Aboriginal communities have many ways of talking about the past…What we do not do much of is talk about our future” (56). But regardless of one’s cultural background, Lewis and the other artists featured in this work provide empowering examples of how “future imaginaries of our choosing may be developed and supported” (58).

The essays in this book infuse Indigenous tradition and ceremony in the protocols and practices guiding technological development. British Columbia-born artist and educator Archer Pechawis argues for “a spiritual growth that catches up with and supersedes our technical prowess” (37), and illustrates this by combining powwow hand drumming with digital audio samples. Jackson 2bears describes how the act of crate digging for vinyl records at a Salvation Army thrift shop triggered an audiovisual remix project that re-appropriated “Ten Little Indians,” western films, and other colonial imagery into a performance of collective catharsis imbued with spiritual energy. These forms of new media production and performance reflect self-expression and critique, but also invoke the spirits, ceremonies, and relations of Indigenous epistemologies. Theorists of Indigenous resurgence point to how lived practices manifest such knowledge in myriad forms, and the artists featured in this work illustrate how the (re)shaping of new media forms such as audio college, video gaming, and augmented reality are expressions of this process.

As co-editor Steven Loft points out in the book’s introduction, Indigenous peoples have always encoded their knowledge systems in emergent media. Importantly, he notes that the ways they do this reflect a distinct “cosmological dynamic” anchored in the teachings of the four directions. Rather than the media ecology posited by Western theorists like Marshall McLuhan, Loft writes that: “for Indigenous people the ‘media landscape’ becomes just that: a landscape, replete with life and spirit, inclusive of beings, thought, prophecy and the underlying connectedness of all things” (xvi). Along with new media theory and practice, this perspective is a needed contribution to the field of Indigenous technology development and use. Researchers based in universities and in communities are documenting how Indigenous peoples are appropriating digital technologies in areas such as education, health, and economic development, but much of that inquiry begins with a technical treatment of infrastructure or applications. This book directs our attention to the ways of knowing, logics, beliefs and traditions that drive uniquely Indigenous visions for such digital resources. It offers important lessons to help us collectively navigate the evolving landscape of the network society.

Coded Territories: Tracing Indigenous Pathways in New Media Art
Steven Loft and Kerry Swanson, editors
Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2014. 232 pp. $24.95 paper

 

 

BC Studies no. 193 Spring 2017