In Sky World, twin avatars are raised in seclusion; their supernatural powers set them apart from other citizens of this ethereal city. Geological, solar, and wind powers have been fully mastered for the purpose of running the futurist metropolis ecologically. Agglomerations of orb-like, pod-like structures – the domiciles of the Sky People – shape the urban landscape of this glowing, atmospheric, rainbow-tinted land. At the heart of this floating world thrives the Celestial Tree, which has brought light and life to the Sky People for thousands of years, and which must be nourished and protected with utmost care; a man who experiences foretelling and often enigmatic visions of the future is endowed with this responsibility. As the twins reach adulthood and are integrated into society, one of them, named Ancient Flower, takes the tree keeper for a husband, and is herself impregnated with twins. When the Celestial Tree is one day deracinated and Sky World compromised, Ancient Flower takes it upon herself to plunge into the void of the cyberspace’s artificial azure and move towards earth, carrying seeds with her in the hopes of generating life in this new, unknown digital dimension. She falls for ages, her dress billowing between her legs; she prays, weeps and sleeps during her descent. A flock of migratory birds break her fall. On a lazy sea turtle’s back, she deposits her seeds into a mound of earth brought by an otter. From it, sunflowers grow, as does the land that expands into the shape of the continent we currently occupy – Turtle Island.
Skawennati, a Montreal-based Mohawk media artist, presents a new piece titled She Falls for Ages (2017) at Toronto’s Vtape video gallery and research centre. Filmed live on AbTeC Island – short for Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, which is constructed on the virtual platform Second Life, the work recounts the oldest known version of a Haudenosaunee creation tale.
Not unlike artists and writers of Afrofuturism, members of the Indigenous Futurism movement, a term coined by Indigenous Nations Studies Phd Grace Dillon, present alternative histories and projections into the future. Responding to the critical lack of representation of indigenous identities in digital media, and their essential absence from discourses on futurity – defined by Jean-Paul Martinon as that which “constitutes the present space of the future, what can be seen today as the future” (Martinon, xi) – Skawennati fabricates a place of convergence for myriad timelines in the past and future.
Skawennati complicates canonized sequences of events with She Falls for Ages. The coalescence of the soil on which we walk does not occur in a nebulous and ancient past, but in this present-future that Martinon alludes to. There is hope, there is promise. We are encouraged to reconsider Turtle Island as a site that remains “under construction” – just like AbTeC. The narrator’s opening line, “Once upon a time…”, is followed by an immediate and unexpected shift to the present tense, rather uncharacteristic of orally transmitted legends. This jarring effect emphasizes the artist’s requisition of an active voice in the retelling of her nation’s ongoing story. Equally as striking are the scenes where characters, many of which possess telepathic and telekinetic powers, experience premonitory visions in hazy black and white – a cinematic trope we typically associate with a return to the past or a distant memory. In a 1996 article titled Aboriginal Narratives in Cyberspace, Loretta Todd, a Métis Cree writer, film director and activist, mentions that the collapsing and flattening of time and space which takes place in the virtual embodies certain indigenous nations’ belief that “the past is in the future, that the future is knowable;” “Prophetic belief and skill aside,” Todd says, “there is a relationship to time and space that is not restricted to the moment at hand” (Todd, 186). More than a decade after the publication of this text, Skawennati continues to harness the potential of cyberspace and the internet as a medium used to stretch, mirror, and project the timeline of her people’s history. In other pieces, rather than simply speculating about what has yet to come within the limits of today’s technology, Skawennati throws herself into it by inhabiting AbTeC Island as an avatar, and by welcoming viewers into this thriving technological ecosystem.
The smooth digital matrix of AbTeC is the territory – quite literally – upon which envisioned indigenous futures are made real. Existing in a place somewhat safeguarded from corporations and colonialism, this simulation is described as a peaceful locale where European notions of ownership, private property and false measures of “civilization” have yet to be clearly depicted. Consequently, this virtual world is more receptive to fluid conceptions of territory, place and coexistence. Todd reminds us that even in cyberspace, the [colonial, imperial, and patriarchal] appetite could well consume ‘the native,’ and it has already begun” (Todd, 184). While it is presumptuous to assume that cyberspace won’t eventually duplicate the world as it currently stands, there is hope for AbTeC. In addition, AbTeC served multiple purposes; conceptualized as the headquarters of a resource center promoting current and future indigenous causes, AbTeC also hosts educational workshops, stores archives, and fosters an inclusive community through new digital technologies. The island is far from an unattainable utopia, for its social project is very much rooted in reality.
Loretta Todd. “Aboriginal Narratives in Cyberspace”, Immersed in Technology. MIT Press, Cambridge; 1996. 179-194.
Jean-Paul Martinon. On Futurity; Malabou, Nancy and Derrida. Palgrave MacMillan, New York; 2007.