Ritual Ecologies

A New Forms Festival presentation. At the UBC Museum of Anthropology until October 16

There's a fascinating view from the Bill Reid Rotunda these days at the UBC Museum of Anthropology, and it's not what you might expect. Instead of traditional artifacts, Gallery 10 houses a series of video projections, computer animations, and high-tech installations. The celebrated venue is currently host to the exhibition Ritual Ecologies as part of this year's New Forms Festival. Loosely based on the fest's larger theme of ecology, which in this case refers to the exploration of the relationship between technology and culture in a media-saturated world, this show, organized by local curator Daina Warren, strikes a pixilated pose next to the decidedly more traditional artworks on view elsewhere in the museum.

Warren's curatorial vision brings together several First Nations artists whose work in new media touches on traditional narratives, prayers, and value systems, but brings with it contemporary subject matter and irony. The results function as a more dynamic, shifting complement to the fixed research and preservationist history that pervade the institutions's collection, and give modern dimensions to First Nations perspectives that are often-in a museum context, anyway-viewed under glass.

Doug Smarch's animated video projection Lucinations is the artist's interpretation of a legend from his community in Teslin, Yukon. The story details a man's premonition of a giant disruption for the Tlingit people-one that arrived with the construction of the Alaska Highway. The work reads like a series of stream-of-consciousness vignettes, as animated masks, longhouses, and traditional designs multiply, float, and disintegrate in the digital environments that Smarch has created. The images convey a kind of shifting reality, where the objects represent both infinite numbers and incredibly fragile existences. Smarch's animations present a world where culture is abundant and dynamic, but is constantly under threat-at risk of a premonition come to pass.

Skawennati and Jason E. Lewis's work is less abstract. Like Smarch's installation, their Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen looks to a traditional form: the ancient Iroquois Thanksgiving Address. Using Internet soft?ware, the artists reinterpret this age-old oration. On a monitor, three small windows appear; in two of them, the duo offers thanks for all manner of technological gifts, from Photoshop to IP addresses to digital editing systems. A third window depicts a traditional American Thanks?giving dinner being steadily consumed. The piece is clearly tongue-in-cheek, the artists paying an ironic tribute to the tradition of giving thanks to a natural world subsumed by technology. The appearance of the Thanks?giving dinner is a pointed reference to colonialism, and one is led to wonder if the gifts of technology bring with them a caveat: that the injustices of the past will reappear in this new, high-tech world.

Emilie Monnet's Nibii takes its name from the Algonquin word for water, and the work unfolds as a homage to this sacred and threatened element. Structurally based on the Medicine Wheel, the four-channel video installation physically engulfs the viewer. Incorporating diverse images of water, the artist shows multiple facets of human interactions with it, and sorrow, joy, transcendence, and rejuvenation all surface in her depictions. Monnet's political-spiritual approach soothes and rages. Like the other artists in this exhibit, she reveals both the joys and the threats behind our contemporary technologies.