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Talk Indian To Me #2
Âhasiw Maskêgon-Iskwêw, 1995

IN CREE LANGUAGE, Nehiyawewin, metaphor and metonymy are not simply pointers to similarity: They describe the threshold of transformation and shifting states of being. They are artifacts of the awareness of the describer, indicating the knowledge of the potential in the comparisons and the actuality present in the description. In Cree culture, language and any creative act of communication are reflections of our awareness that, despite its depth, we have a meagre, perhaps minuscule and certainly contingent understanding of the complex net of forces and beings that surround, shape and extend beyond human knowing. The very structure of the language firmly establishes the purposefully humble but proudly protective responsibilities of the People in this web.

Nehiyawewin represents the world in nouns and verb phrases that are animate and inanimate. The animate classification is present in the language among representations of both human and non-human beings, animal and non-animal beings, biological and non-biological beings. The nbeings. The non-biological beings. The concepts of time and space are also significantly different from European languages in the sense that they are also potentially animate and personalized rather than quantified and subjected to repetitious measurement. The codification system present in Nehiyawewin therefore also implicates any other form of Cree cultural and artistic representation beyond language acts themselves.

These paradigms are in direct conflict with the prevailing nihilistic, empty-set semiotics of postmodern theory that lifts language to a specio-centric pedestal where it can ultimately refer only to itself while simultaneously positing completely self-destructive self referentiality. Postmodern theory is the result of a blind headlong rush to erase and create distance from the atrocities of the European past, to deconstruct the prisons of patriarchy, racism and class hegemony in favour of nomadic pluralism. Postmodernism is also the inevitable outcome of the fragmentation and non-transformative fixity of European languages that bear the burdens of their own etymologies--definitions intimately entwined with, and often arising directly from, a garish and violently arrogant past.

The oppressive ethnocentricity of Euro-American postmodernism is also contained in the notion of European language, metaphor and metonymy, imposing them as universal and benignly transparent, parent, flowing outward to all other practices. Therefore metaphor is as empty and conflated for everyone as it is in the vacuum-world of hysterical postmodern detritus. Any act of saying, any act of representation, of constructing experience, screams out with the painful, puffing, spitting and bloody energy of birth, yet is beaten down and consumed in the relentless gut of a zero-state monstrosity. The impossibility of translation is rendered invisible through this universalizing strategy. This new solution/dissolution of postmodernism is now imposed on tribal cultures without their consent or participation (certainly with no analysis or perception of their cultural realities) as the current form of re-colonization.

Wihtikow brought you here and now uses you to live and feed. Wihtikow's tracks show themselves when you say something is like something else but you don't really mean it, when you don't care for the interpretation that you knew in the reality of your dreams, when you applied yourself to the surgical machine and abstracted that part of yourself to death. Say it like you mean it, say it when horror fills you to bursting and the explosive orgasm goes on and on in flailing, wiggling laughter that is true horror.

Saying something is like something else, or saying that something is something else, is an act of magic. Using that word "magic" with all of its English-language baggage displays right there the dangerous fatality of translation. Cree language, Nehiyawewin, works on the borders between animate and inanimate, those things that have body and meaning and those that do not. For those Nehiyawak peoples in the North who have been re-colonized by Christian fundamentalist evangelism, the other great force of Euro-America, even using their first language is an overwhelming psychic crisis because the foundational concepts of Nehiyawewin do not fit the specio-centric human-based philosophy of the re-colonizers. Even to use our own language becomes an act of self-violation. Imagine the virtual reality of that.

In Cree the representational acts of metaphor and metonymy carry with them a weight of responsibility that is anchored in a vast network in which the human is only a small and sometimes questionable part. In Nehiyawewin, when you say something is like something else you are representing an awareness, a gift that was given to you to visualize another mesh in the web, to see and to hear the transforming. The acts that result from this seeing have been called, in literature, magic realism. This is such a benign term to describe a world of images torn by lust and terror, yet linked by prayer and founded on spirits that flow through the rocks and grind up the earth in surging waves. For tribal peoples, magic realism is the predominant theory of media art, especially time-based interactive work.

Magic realism is that place where colonized cultures fight language oppression with that same set of etymologies. Tribal cultures speak and transform these definitions through their reinvention of metaphor and metonymy as history and prophesy, woven into a solid and living present, sung by many voices, most of whom are not people. You can talk Indian in many languages, but almost always through subversion, satire, irony and allusion.

My gifts are meagre and stingy little things to me--I am no Elder. I can see only two things that I am driven to give you. Both flow in magic realism, yet have found no rooting among you. In non-tribal languages, antiseptic violence pervades against an establishment of an organism and kills the wolf-spider woman.

Magic realism as a cultural force that inhabits and creates literature, visual art, and performance has, in virtual reality, a new and vital mode of expression, one that can accommodate Nehiyawewin and the expression of its visions. But the all too resilient barriers of postmodern theorists and the exclusionary nature of new media technology institutions and its practitioners seem to spring up and multiply. Cultures out of which magic realism arises are excluded from the sphere of virtual reality by its economics and its ownership by an inaccessible, industrially developed world, an academically focused hierarchy. The forces of postmodern critical discourse may be the most culpable agents in this, since they have both failed and refused to recognize the crucial relevance of magic realism theory and practice to the most obvious parameters of new media, never mind the more subtle potentialities.

The art, literature and orature of magic realism flow and intersect in a manner that stings and corrodes the monolith of re-colonization. Even on a static page or in a still image, works in this genre dig into the surging currents of the indeterminate and shifting forces of our ancestors. Regurgitate and examine the contemporary discourses of time-based, interactive media art. How are metaphor and metonymy constructed? How does time visit, how does space welcome you and what does it say?

The acts of creation and expression through metaphor and metonymy extend outward, as they do for everyone, to define and modulate all other facts of creation and expression. It is through magic realism, however, that the unique space is cleared for the performance of values that are anathema to the killing force that is relentlessly suiciding.

Spirits of the land and the living spirit of time thrive by everyone learning to talk Indian, everyone learning to feed on dream life, learning to tell stories stitched across the web of memory and a body bounded by infinity and uncertainty, not skin.

Âhasiw Maskêgon-Iskwêw (1958 - 2006) was a Cree/Métis writer, editor, performance and spoken word artist, video and visual artist, curator and teacher. A graduate of Emily Carr College of Art and Design (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design), Maskêgon-Iskwêw was a participant in the two year Equity Internship Program at the Canada Council for the Arts that included work with the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, Circle Vision Arts Corporation, and the Aboriginal Film and Video Art Alliance. He then became Program Coordinator and Assistant Editor of the Talking Stick First Nations Arts Magazine and later developed the position of Production Manager for SOIL at Neutral Ground Digital Media Production Suite. He also worked as web editor for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. His critical writing has been published in Mix and Fuse Magazine and in the anthology The Multiple and Mutable Subject: Postmodern Subjectivity and the Internet (2002), published by the St. Norbert Arts Centre. His fictional work Cannibals was presented by the Art Gallery of Calgary as part of the Storybook Story project.

In describing rooms he created for CyberPowWow, an Aboriginally Determined Territory in Cyberspace, Âhasiw said, “They form a constellation that attempts to tell one complex story. There is a desire to say things in a more complete way, to leave a legacy.” His work has left everyone who experienced his art or read his words a rich and complex legacy of their own.

A full bio can be found on the home page.