Seven Generations Assemble! Skins Future Character Design Workshop with KSS

  • Location: Kahnawake Survival School, Kahnawake QC
  • Date: April – May 2018
  • Duration: 5 sessions of 2 hours
  • Facilitators: Skawennati, Jason Edward Lewis, Nancy Elizabeth Townsend, Dominick Meissner (Behaviour Interactive), Vivian Herzog (Behaviour Interactive), Kahentawaks Tiewishaw, Raymond Caplin, Maize Longboat

Overview: In five lessons over two months, nine students from the Kahnawake Survival School were asked to imagine their future descendants and design a character with paper and pencil to be printed as a 3D model. They were taught the basics of 3D modelling, UV maps and texturing 3D objects, and how to rig and pose their 3D characters. The workshop concluded with a showcase of their printed characters.

 

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The Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF) and Kahnawake Survival School (KSS) just wrapped up a two-month long Skins Seventh Generation Character Design workshop with nine highschool youth from Kahnawake. This edition of the workshop was particularly special, as participants were not only able to conceptualize their seventh generation descendant using paper and pencil, but they also produced a digital model of their characters that was 3D printed into figurines that they could take home.

The workshops were organized by Owisokon Lahache, a teacher at KSS as well a long-time AbTeC collaborator and IIF partner. The workshop itself took place over three months (March-May 2018) at KSS with lessons held semi-weekly. Many IIF staff and research assistants were involved in organizing and instructing the workshop, including newcomers Kahentawaks Tiewishaw (3D Modelling/Posing) and Raymond Caplin (Texture/UV Maps). Ray and Kahentawaks were instrumental in writing and teaching the technical software to the participants.

Day 1 – Character Design for Videogames

The workshop kicked off in late March with presentations from Lead Creative Director Dominick Meissner and Lead Character Artist Vivian Herzog of the Montreal-based videogame company (and IIF partner) Behaviour Interactive. Dominick spoke about the iteration process that videogame characters regularly go through and showed character prototype designs for an upcoming Assassins Creed mobile game. Vivian showed her artist portfolio that contained gorgeous character portraits and spoke about her role as a character artist working at a videogame company. The workshop participants asked questions about what skills were needed to be a game developer and left the first day with an idea of what it would take for their character to transform from an idea to a printed figurine.

Day 2 – Seventh Generation Character Design

Our second meeting was when the work of imagining began! IIF Partnership Coordinator Skawennati and research assistant Maize Longboat lead a presentation about what the Seventh Generation Character Design workshop aims to achieve: to envision our descendants seven generations into the future and to make space for Indigenous presence in sci-fi. Participants were shown past character designs from the first edition of the workshop at Dechinta Bush University, as well as IIF research assistant Suzanne Kite’s sketches that informed the conceptualization of her multimedia performance art piece Listener. After the presentation participants got to work on their own characters and discussions of the future ensued. By the end of the drawing and sharing session everyone had an idea of who their character was, how they lived, what languages they spoke, and what their worlds looked like.

Day 3 – Intro to 3D Modelling and Blender

On the third day of the workshop participants finally got to work on their characters using Blender, a free open-source 3D modelling software. Kahentawaks spent the week in-between workshops creating a generic character model as a template for everyone to work from. First they learned the basics of how to manipulate vertices, edges, and faces to make unique shapes in Blender. They then practiced their skills by editing the proportions of the template character model and add one-of-a-kind features that they wanted their future characters to have.

Day 4 – Intro to UV Maps, Textures, and Photoshop

Ray took the unique character models that were created during the 3D modelling lesson from the previous lesson and layed their surfaces out flat to create UV maps for each character in the time leading up to day four of the workshop. UV maps are used during the texturing phase of character creation to turn a colourless character into one with detail and personality. The lesson began with an introduction to Photoshop and how its tools can be used to add surface detail to character models by painting and blending colours. Participants were given their character’s unique UV maps and began the work of colouring them in. As the day came to a close, Ray and Kahentawaks demonstrated how to take the UV map file and lay it over the model in Blender. Only one more step to go: posing!

Day 5 – Pose for Printing

Up until this point everyone’s characters were standing in a t-pose with their arms outstretched to the side and legs straight. Kahentawaks and Ray’s final lesson was dedicated to changing this by having the participants manipulate the virtual bones of the 3D character models in Blender. Posing can be particularly tricky to do when the characters’ limbs need to be in realistic positions while also being unique enough to show their personality. They also needed to fit on a circular figurine base to make sure that they would be able to stand without falling over.

And with that the working part of the workshop was over! The participants parted ways with digital versions of their characters and would see them again in their physical, 3D-printed forms very soon.

Showcase!

Two weeks later the characters born and nine perfectly shaped, coloured, and posed character figurines from seven generations in the future arrived in the mail from the 3D printing company! KSS organized a public showcase of the characters to celebrate the hard work of the participants and instructors. After folks mingled and viewed the characters, Owisokon welcomed everyone to the event and explained her motivation for initiating this workshop. Skawennati and IIF Primary Investigator Jason Edward Lewis then introduced themselves and the team involved in making sure the workshop was delivered successfully. The participants then introduced themselves and offered reflections on their creation process from start to finish, noting the value of doing the work of imagining their future Indigenous descendants.

It is important to note that Kahentawaks was a student in the very first Skins Workshop, which ran from September 2008 – to May 2009 at KSS. We are very excited that, ten years later, she has become an instructor for the newest generation of Indigenous artists and designers.

A big niawen:kowa to Owisokon Lahache and Kahnawake Survival School for your work in organizing and hosting this edition of the Skins Seventh Generation Character Design workshop.

Seven Generations assemble!

Introducing Our Skins 6.0 Team, Part 1: The Spring Chickens

With Skins 6.0 / He Au Hou 2 just around the corner, we wanted to introduce new members of our Skins family 🙂 These five, wily Research Assistants are coming to Hawaiʻi as instructors and as students. We’re so excited for you all to meet!

You can check out some of their work on our previous post, where they talk about “Call of Duty Free,” the Skins 6.0 test game!


Sam Bourgault

Hi, I am Sam. I will take care of the programming section of Skins 6.0 workshop, which includes lessons on Unity Game Engine and on coding using C# within that engine. I have taught Math and Physics classes before, but I always wanted to teach programming because you can do so much with it! I am looking forward to meeting the participants and learning about them and Hawaiian culture. I am also excited to spend more time with the great team AbTeC put together. Having visited Hawaiʻi for vacation two years ago, I will definitely go back to some unforgettable spots (the waves of Sandy Beach and Marukame Udon, a Japanese eatery on Kuhio avenue, are not to be missed!!) but I will also work on personal projects. I am sure the experience will be intense and challenging but also fun and mind-blowing. See you there soon (:

Ray Caplin

Greetings! My name is Ray Caplin, I am an independent animator and filmmaker, also an illustrator.  I am Mi’gmaq from Listuguj, located in Gaspésie and northern New Brunswick. My role in Skins 6.0 will be teaching the animated cinematic portions of the workshop, as well as anything having to do with 2D or 2.5D animation. Alongside that, I’ll support general illustration with Photoshop. I am excited to spark enthusiasm for the consumption and love for animation, to show how such a powerful storytelling tool can implemented into nearly any form of digital media. I hope to learn to become a better teacher, but alongside the students, learn about the many aspects of game development. Outside of the workshop, I look forward submerging myself in the rich culture, sample many foods and sights!

Victor Ivanov

Hello! My name’s Victor, and I’m a multidisciplinary designer and developer. My role during Skins 6.0 is focused around game design, level design, and audio production, with some involvement in the programming side of things.

This workshop has attracted me for a long time because games——especially games that tell stories–—have been at the forefront of my studies. I’m very excited about projects like this because they offer awesome opportunities for everyone, both participants and instructors, to learn and master technical skills.

And it goes without saying that the diverse set of perspectives we share will make for an incredibly enriching experience, both technically and culturally!

When it comes to matters outside the workshop, I’m super eager to try out the food. You haven’t really travelled if you haven’t tasted the food. Oh, and snorkelling! Not one after the other, though.

Maize Longboat

My name is Maize Longboat! I’m Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario. I’m an Assistant Producer and also a participant in Skins 6.0. Over the course of the workshop, I’m excited to learn about how narratives can be translated into game mechanics and I hope to learn about how Indigenous peoples express their Indigeneity through the creation of a videogame. When not in the workshop, I’m going to learn how to surf! Finally, I’d like to give my thanks for having the opportunity to participate in this workshop; it will be a great way to develop my Master’s research project.

Kahentawaks Tiewishaw

Hi! I’m Kahentawaks, a Mohawk and member of Kanehsatà:ke, and my role in Skins 6.0 will be teaching participants all things to do with 3D! I’ve had the opportunity to be an instructor in one other Skins workshop prior to this, and I am eager to build upon that experience. I was also a participant in the very first videogame workshop, Skins 1.0. The thing I am most looking forward to is meeting people from a culture that seems both similar and strikingly different to that of my own. I grew up in a very Mohawk traditionalist context, so I have heard MANY retellings of our culture’s stories. That being said, I am excited to hear some new ones, and to discover what we might learn from one another. Additionally, I plan to spend as much time as humanly possible outdoors, while also trying some local foods.


 

Call of Duty Free: The Skins 6.0 Test Game!

Skins 6.0 – He Au Hou 2 is almost here! Our Skins Video Game Workshop is returning to Hawaiʻi through our continued collaboration with Kanaeokana and Kamehameha Schools. Anticipation and excitement abound!

One way we prepare for the workshop is through the creation of a test game. This allows our team of technical instructors to acclimatize to one another and develop a group bond and to provide participants with a working Unity template to use as a learning tool. This year, our four Technical Instructors–Undergraduate Research Assistants Sam Bourgault, Ray Caplin, Victor Ivanov and Kahentawaks Tiewishaw–created a charming, foxy test game about an IIF RA’s journey to catch their plane, entitled “Call of Duty Free”!

Below you will find the RAs describing their role in developing the test game. 


Victor Ivanov:

The test game was, as the name suggests, a way for us to get acquainted with both one another and the tools we’d use during the workshop. My fellow Instructors and I had two weeks, part-time, to make it. From concept to production, I’d say we did a great job, given the time frame!

The game is about a Research Assistant rushing to catch their plane at the airport. It’s obvious that this game externalized some of our anxieties, and we’ll hopefully master the suitcase-jumping techniques by July, just in (suit)case.

I designed elements of the levels such as progression, narrative and scenes, along with the sidescroller mechanics. I conceptualized and designed the environments, composition and lighting, and produced some of the accompanying audio. I helped out with some of the programming by making the User Interface, tweaking movement mechanics, and creating level objects, like conveyor belts, suitcases—all the dynamic elements of each level.

What was cool about this game was that it uses two very different playstyles: point-and-click and side-scroller. We wanted to see which style we use in the workshop, and ended up with a sort of experimental game that taught us a lot about each playstyle’s strengths and weaknesses. Combining different forms of gameplay has inspired me in my own work to apply a variety of gameplay styles, in one single game, for narrative purposes.

Kahentawaks Tiewishaw:

I contributed to the design and 3D modelling of the main player character, as well as the non-player characters to the test game. I had never before created anything that was going to be implemented in a game, so for me this was really an opportunity to bring a few characters to life.

 

Ray Caplin: 

I contributed all the short 2D cinematics found between each level in the game. All of the animations were created in After Effects, using its basic puppet animation tools, which I feel added some charm to the game, and provided lively transitions between levels. Aside from this, I designed several characters, such as the Clerk, and illustrated the User Interface icons found in the the mini games.

Sam Bourgault:

I focused on creating the game managers—systems that coordinate the inner workings of the game—so that the scenes would follow each other in a smooth, persistent way. I also developed the code that controls player behaviors in both the side-scroller and the point-and-click mechanics. The most complex part was synchronizing the specific animations with the player’s corresponding motion state. I did some basic modelling in Unity for the point-and-click scenes, and programmed the behavior of the line when the player reached the security. Lastly, I helped with composition and level design.

We worked very well together, which allowed us to make the game in two weeks, part time. We agreed on a similar aesthetic and we trusted each other during the whole process! This is really promising for Hawaiʻi!


Finally, we invite you to watch through the playtest video at the top of the page. You can download “Call of Duty Free” for Mac and Windows!

Much love,

Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures

Introducing Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush, AbTeC/IIF Undergraduate Research Assistant!

Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush is a Kanien’kehá/French-Canadian illustrator and visual artist from Montreal, Quebec. Currently, she is completing her BFA in Indigenous Visual Culture at OCAD University and has previously obtained DECs in Fine Arts and Illustration & Design at Dawson College. Her personal artwork deals with sexuality, violence, identity, and politics. While professionally, she loves collaborating with clients who seek to enrich Indigenous communities and empower Indigenous youth. Since 2012, Kaia’tanó:ron has worked with the Encore! Sistema after school and summer camp programs based out of Karonhianonhnha School in Kahnawake, QC. as a music and visual arts educator teaching students from grades two to six. Her freelance work has allowed her to work with a variation of organizations from Montreal, to Toronto, and in-between such as Jumblies Theatre Company, Onsite Gallery, and The Red Dress Project. In 2017, she participated in Toronto’s Nuit Blanche in collaboration with Deanna Bowen and Syrus Marcus Ware of Black Lives Matter, in Won’t Back Down – one of NOW Toronto’s top 10 must-see shows at Nuit Blanche 2017. This summer, she celebrates the publication of her first graphic novel and trilingual (Kanien’kehá, French, and English) picture dictionary – Hé:, Ahsennénhkha! (Bravo, le Milieu! -Yay, Middle!) published by Kawennakátste’ Mohawk Language Arts.

Her artistic practice is diverse, including but not limited to illustration, graphic design, painting, sculpture, and curation. As the co-president of the Indigenous Student Association at OCAD University, she has also undertaken multiple curatorial projects in order to provide Indigenous students with the opportunity to experience exhibiting their work in a gallery setting. Since 2015, she has co-curated five exhibitions, Inheritance (Dawson College), Primitive, Tewá:ko-Dagoshin-Otiacicoh-Takoshin-Bagamaawaniidiwag (Arrive), Terra Incognita (Daniels Spectrum), and most recently, Flux Refusal.

You can look through Kaia’tanó:ron’s work here. Her Instagram handle is @owlerfish and you can send her an email at kaiatanorondumoulin@gmail.com.

Introducing Ray Caplin, AbTeC/IIF Undergraduate Research Assistant

Hello! My name is Ray Caplin and I’m an independent animator and filmmaker based in Montreal. Currently majoring in Film and Animation at Concordia, I have made several animated short films that have been screened at various film festivals, such as the Musée du Quai Branly, REDCAT International Children’s Film Festival, and Ciné Tapis Rouge à la Cinémathèque de Helsinki. I’ve received several awards, including the 2012 Award for Best Animation at the Arlington Film Festival and the First Prize for the 2013 “T’as juste une vie” contest.

I specialize in digital 2D animation, After Effects motion graphics, and puppet animation. On the side, I tinker with game development tools such as Unity and GameMaker Studio 2, in hopes of someday entering the Indie game scene and producing my own game. I am Mi’gmaq from Listuguj, located in Gaspésie and northern New Brunswick.

Here are some links to my portfolio, Vimeo, and Wapikoni profile.

Introducing Kahentawaks Tiewishaw, AbTeC/IIF Undergraduate Research Assistant!

Hi everyone, my name is Kahentawaks Tiewishaw! I recently became a research assistant at Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, but you might say my journey here has been years in the making. Years ago when I was in my final year of high school, I participated in Skins 1.0. This workshop was instrumental in my creative development, as it introduced me to the world of digital art and 3D modelling.

After graduating from communications studies at Dawson College, I worked for almost four years at Mega Bloks. This job gave me the unique opportunity to create large scale block sculptures for shows and events like Comic-Con and Pax. My time there as a model designer gave me both valuable professional experience, as well as an extensive sculpture portfolio. In fact it was working with sculptures in the physical realm that reminded me of my past aspirations to do 3D sculpture.

Fast forward to present day and I am now studying Computation Arts at Concordia University, while working as an RA for AbTeC. My responsibilities here involve everything to do with 3D modelling! I’m Mohawk and a member of Kanehsatà:ke.

Here’s a link to my portfolio!

How We Made A Post-Apocalyptic Trickster Machinima in Regina

  • Location: MacKenzie Art Gallery / Regina Public Library, Regina SK
  • Date: April 1st – 6th, 2018
  • Duration: 5 days
  • Facilitators: Skawennati, Nancy Elizabeth Townsend, Maize Longboat

Overview: In partnership with the MacKenzie Art Gallery, a team of four Regina youth participants created a post-apocalyptic trickster machinima that told the Nehiyaw (Cree) story of how the Loon got its walk. Over 5 days, participants learned how to use a virtual environment to create character costumes, build a set, and shoot scenes. They also edited their footage to bring what they filmed to life, added sound effects, and premiered their project with the public in the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s Shumiatcher Theatre.

 

How the Loon Got Its Walk (Skins Machinima). 2018.

Miles McCallum, Jonnie Deneyou, Nahiyan Islam & Minh Cao

 


Tansi and She:kon, from Treaty 4 territory! As part of our partnership with the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace was in Regina, Saskatchewan, from April 1st-6th to deliver a Skins Machinima workshop for local youth. Our fantastic young participants, all high school students, learned the ins and outs of machinima production. From storytelling and creating a storyboard, to character design and building sets in a virtual world, to shooting and editing their footage, the youth put together a wonderful project from start to finish–and in just one week to boot! Let’s dive into the details from each day…

 

Day 1

On April 2nd, Skawennati and Maize Longboat met youth participants, Miles, Jonnie, Nahiyan, and Minh, at the MacKenzie Art Gallery for the first time. We began with a presentation on what machinima was, watching classics like Red vs. Blue and TimeTraveller. We then got right into the storytelling portion of the workshop. What kind of stories did they want to remediate using machinima? Were there any stories that all of them knew about? Once we finished it was clear that the legend of “How the Loon Got Its Walk” was the clear favorite, as all of the youth knew the story by heart. The day concluded with a lesson on storyboarding and together we sketched the story into scenes to guide our machinima production. We also started assembling a shared master asset list that would list all of the props, sets, characters, and sounds that we would need for the production. That evening, AbTeC Producer Nancy Townsend flew in from Montreal to add her considerable talents to the team.

After a morning of watching and talking about how machinima can be used to tell Indigenous stories, participants began sketching characters and scenes to create a storyboard.

 

Day 2

On April 3rd, we changed locations. Everyone met at the Regional Public Library Central Branch in their well-equipped Digital Media Studio to begin training in Second Life, the virtual world where they’d build sets and shoot footage for their machinima. The participants learned how to navigate in virtual space, utilize the camera controls, and customize their avatars and environments. They especially loved purchasing free items from the online Marketplace and decking out their avatars in glowing accessories!

Near the end of the day everyone chipped in to complete the storyboard. We were then ready to start full-fledged pre-production on the machinima project.

Participants learned how to create and edit their avatar’s appearance in Second Life (left). They also finished their storyboard (right).

 

Day 3

On the morning of April 4th everyone met at the Digital Media Studio at RPL ready to get started on building the sets and creating the characters for our machinima. Each participant was given a specific task for pre-production: Minh was in charge of building the set, Nahiyan shopped for costumes of our trickster protagonist, Wīsahkēcāhk, Jonnie did the same for Mac the Loon, and Miles made the costumes for the two supporting Duck characters: Jerry and Suzy. Everyone was enjoying their work so much, we skipped our morning and afternoon breaks! All of the youth also took turns in the professional audio recording booth in the Digital Media Studio reading lines of dialogue that would be added in post-production. As the day drew to a close all the characters’ costumes were made and the finishing touches were put on the set.

Machinima sets (top) and character designs (bottom).

 

Day 4

Production day! We kicked off April 5th at RPL by training everyone in OBS Studio, a free open-source software used to stream and record videogames. OBS is great for anyone who is just starting their own machinima projects because of its accessibility. The youth quickly got the hang of the software and we dove right into shooting our scenes following our handy-dandy storyboard that we had finished earlier in the week. The participants took turns directing the machinima: For each turn, they would sit at our powerful laptop which was connected to a large monitor that everyone could see. They would then set up the shots using a 3D mouse, directing the operators of actor avatars where to stand or when to move, and yelling out “action!” and “cut!” for each take. Again, everyone was enjoying the work so much we forwent our breaks in the morning and afternoon! Even as we went overtime, everyone wanted to stay late to finish up shooting. We wrapped up our production phase with over 100 takes!

Production! The participants worked as a team to act and shoot the scenes in real-time (top). Still images taken during production (bottom).

 

Day 5

On April 6th we met at the RPL Digital Media Studio bright and early as usual to begin the post-production for our machinima, only today we had a deadline to meet. Our machinima was set to premiere at the MacKenzie Art Gallery at 2:30 PM and there was a lot of work to get done before we showed it to the public. We also had to get everyone trained up on our free, open-source editing software of choice: OpenShot! Getting all of our raw footage edited together, audio added, and titles and credits drafted proved to be a challenge. We had several technical hiccups along the way, but we successfully rendered the final version just in time! Several members of the Gallery staff, friends, and family attended the premiere. The CBC even sent a film crew!

Workshop participants (left) and workshop facilitators (right) wrapped up the week with a screening of their machinima in the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s Shumiatcher Theatre.

 

We wrapped up the week with a debrief between the participants and facilitators. The youth told us they loved the workshop and just wished it could be two weeks long. And they couldn’t wait to show the world the polished machinima online. Watch it above!

Niawenko:wa from the AbTeC team to our youth participants for their presence, dedication, and care for this project. You were awesome! We also want to extend our warmest thanks to all the folks at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, especially: Anthony Kiendl, Janine Windolph, Rania AlHarthi, and Arul Ross. Special thanks to Candy Fox, our local videographer, Nick Andrews, and the entire Regina Public Library Central Branch staff who were so generous with their space and resources.

 

Press:

CBC Indigenous: https://www.facebook.com/CBC.caIndigenous/videos/10155250226911782/

ICFA, Indigenous Futurisms–and Monsters

Out of all the conferences I go to every year ICFA is my favourite.

The International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts is one of the largest academic conferences for the fantastic, with hundreds of international scholars and over a hundred attending authors and artists. It is held annually in Orlando, Florida, in March—this was my third time attending.

ICFA is an amazing place to explore new ideas and get inspired. With the first half of this post I would like to give a short glimpse at my experience of this year’s conference; in the second half, I’ll give an example of such a moment of inspiration.

This year’s theme was “200 Years of the Fantastic: Celebrating Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.” In 1818, Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein, or: The Modern Prometheus was first published. Her story of the young scientist Victor Frankenstein and his tortured, monstrous creation is commonly considered one of the first science-fiction novels and has not only spawned a multitude of film adaptations, but also a multitude of different readings. Throughout the past decades, scholars have interpreted Shelley’s work as a classic tale of human hubris, or of the dangers of science and technology: Victor Frankenstein plays God when he gives life to a creature he made in his science lab. Others have focused on Shelley’s careful nesting of plots and sub-plots, the novel’s many references to other texts, or on the presence and absence of women (in the book, the monster does not get his bride!). And some have read the monster in a colonial context—as the Other that serves as a projection screen for colonial nightmares.

Needless to say, this year’s ICFA was full of literary monsters.

ICFA39 conference program, cover design by Lewis Lain

I encountered them in every session. Monstrosity was discussed in all of ICFA’s sections—science-fiction, fantasy, horror, film & television, children’s and young adult literature, visual and performing arts, fairy tale and folk narratives, and the international fantastic. I heard interesting and well-researched talks on the monstrous across many disciplines; some dealt with monstrous representations, others read monsters against the grain or looked at different aspects within the works of monster and horror fiction. A few examples include the design of monsters in video games (by Concordia University/TAG’s Sylvain Payen), the lack of a female POV in popular horror fiction where ‘woman’ still seems to be one of the most monstrous things imaginable (speculative fiction writer Elsa M. Carruthers & African American horror writer Rhonda Jackson Joseph), and mathematician Sean Nixon’s fascinating talk on Riemann surfaces in Stranger Things. This year’s theory round-table discussed Donna Haraway’s 2016 work on monstrous kin, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. The paper sessions and panel discussions include such intriguing topics as ‘Franken-Fashion,’ ‘A Song of Liberation and Fire,’ ‘Decolonizing Fantastic Storytelling,’ ‘Gendered Horror,’ ‘Curating Frankenstein’ and ‘Horror without Borders.’

Conference highlights—next to the excellent talks and invigorating discussions—included the screening of the 1931 horror film classic Frankenstein, the short plays written and performed by IAFA’s scholars and authors (International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts) at the Friday night ICFA Flash Play Festival, and the banquet held traditionally on the last night of the conference that is continued outside by the pool.

ICFA is not only a great place to connect with peers—the other PhD students grappling with the monster that is their dissertation; it also provides the frame to address international specialists of the fantastic and interact with writers and artists. This year’s ICFA attendees include, for instance, Nisi Shawl (Everfair), Andrea Hairston (Mindscape), John Rieder (Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural Genre System), Sherryl Vint (Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal), Brian Attebery (Decoding Gender in Science Fiction), and Paweł Frelik (Digital Science Fiction; ed. with Rob Latham). Other regular attendees who have contributed to ICFA’s “magical, other-worldly, annual meetings” (“History,” fantastic-arts.org) in the past include Nalo Hopkinson (Midnight Robber), Farah Mendlesohn (Rhetorics of Fantasy), Isiah Lavender III (Race and Science Fiction), and Grace Dillon (Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction). This year’s guests of honor were authors Nike Sulway and John Kessel, and science fiction scholar Fred Botting.

My own paper for this year’s conference drew on Fred Botting’s scholarship, as well as on the writings of postcolonial, Afrofuturist and Indigenous futurist scholars, such as Lisa Yaszek, Isiah Lavender, Grace Dillon, Roger Luckhurst and Sara Juliet Lauro. In my talk entitled “‘Being a werewolf isn’t just teeth and claws’: Indigenous Futurisms and the Monstrous” I fused readings of the monstrous in Frankenstein with Indigenous futurisms—Indigenous speculative fictions that foreground a future-theme.
My dissertation on what Jason Lewis calls the “future imaginary” (“Brief” 37) in Indigenous literatures, arts and new media already had had me thinking about the role of monsters in Indigenous futurisms. Sure, the literatures of Indigenous North American people are full of monsters, but these are not fictional. The colonial monsters in the works of Gerald Vizenor, Tomson Highway, Louise Erdrich and Leslie Silko are real—terribly so.

However, for my talk I was not interested in these monstrous characters. I was wondering about the literal monsters, the werewolves and zombies, and their meaning. Are they colonial? Are they terrifying, grotesque, cathartic? Or, do they, somehow, represent a form of empowerment? And they really encode colonial events—then why tell colonial history as a speculative horror story? Doesn’t the monster trope always run the risk of transforming very real horrors into cinematic clichés?

To find answers to my questions I presented my analyses of two fantastic works to my audience: Stephen Graham Jones’s postindian werewolf novel Mongrels and Jeff Barnaby’s Indigenous zombie horror film Rhymes for Young Ghouls. Joining me on the panel on ‘Indigenous Futures’ was Stina Attebery with her fantastic talk on Elizabeth LaPensée’s game Thunderbird Strike. Together with our audience we discussed monsters, textual, filmic, digital and real, werewolves, zombies and monstrous pipeline snakes, and the importance of Indigenous art, writing and games for the future—all our futures.

These monsters and the questions they begged stayed with me throughout that day. Interestingly, my thoughts finally came full circle in the late afternoon during a panel discussion on the 1990s hit TV show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. The discussion turned toward how Buffy famously literalizes the tagline ‘High school is hell!’ One of the panellists, Justin Cosner (University of Iowa) argued that this portrayal of a high school filled with actual monsters was necessary because in the 1990s US-American high schools simply did not provide the structures necessary to reflect on what was wrong with them.

The key phrase that suddenly made things fall into place was ‘lack of necessary structure.’ This might refer to a structure of people or information channels. But it could also, in more abstract terms, refer to a structure that produces meaning. Indeed, when the ideological structure that is in place works to produce a narrative according to which certain events, certain people or certain horrors simply cannot exist, these horrors manifest themselves in other ways. In strictly literary terms, the overwhelming fact of their existence might break through as monstrous aberration of the neat and seemingly flawless system. To summarize: in literature and film the monstrosity of certain characters can be understood as an outward sign of an error in the code—a mutation of the smoothly running signifying system that is the Western literary and cinematic tradition. In other words: something is wrong with “the stories empire tells itself” (Byrd xiii).

I suddenly felt that that is precisely what Jones’s and Barnaby’s works did. Their monsters are many things and allow many readings, and one of those readings involves considering them as dysfunctional signifiers: the werewolves and zombies with their fangs and rotting flesh foreground the interaction between the colonial system and narratives that clash with it. Indigenous authors and artists are not satisfied with signifying horror within the neat confines of the plot, as literary descriptions or fictional characters that vanish when the film is over, and the book is finished. To show how deep these horrors run they are manifested on a metafictional level, too—this is the level that points back toward the text itself and draws readers’ and viewers’ awareness to its production.

The werewolves and zombies literalize the discrepancy between the gruesome and traumatic historical material and the structures provided in Western cinema and literature to discuss this material. Indeed, they are also a reflection on the structures language itself provides to mediate the reality of colonial horror. The dysfunctional aspect of language and text manifests itself in monstrous characters c h a r a c t e r s: werewolves and zombies that will not vanish when the film is over, and the book is finished—precisely because they point back toward a traumatic reality beyond fiction that cannot be articulated, but that will not be silenced either. With a look at the future these textual and cinematic monsters work to dissolve the structures that cannot integrate them: Jones’s werewolves shift out of their expected textual shape; Barnaby’s zombies threaten a resurgence of ‘Other’ meaning believed to be dead and gone—the (hi)stories of the colonized. These monsters signify the impending doom of the oppressive colonial system and they mean a monstrous future for the colonizer—the future is a “monstrosity” (Derrida 5) in Barnaby’s and Jones’s Indigenous futurisms because its creation means a dissolution of present colonial and imperial metanarratives that claim to encompass all of reality. In Jones’s novel and Barnaby’s film, the future demise of these allegedly universal systems is already casting its long, monstrous shadows on the present.

These were some of the ideas inspired by the Buffy panel and different ICFA talks on monsters and the monstrous and developed further in discussions with other conference attendees. Hopefully, I will be able to present old and new thoughts and I am eager to hear my fellow scholars’ fresh perspectives at next year’s ICFA, the 40th anniversary year.

The theme is ‘Politics and Conflict’—I can’t wait!

 

Works Cited
Byrd, Jodi. The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism. U of Manitoba P, 2011.
Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, John Hopkins UP, 1997.
Lewis, Jason. “A Brief Media History of the Indigenous Future.” Indigenous Art: New Media and the Digital. Public: Art, Culture, Ideas 54, winter 2016, p. 36-49.

Using Virtual Worlds to Tell Indigenous Stories… On Top of a Mountain!

  • Location: Loon Lake Lodge, Maple Ridge BC
  • Date: February 21st, 2018
  • Duration: 2 sessions of 2 hours
  • Instructors: Skawennati, Maize Longboat, Mia McKie, Waylon Wilson

Overview: Two groups of Indigenous youth aged 18-25 participated in this machinima workshop as part of the annual Good Heart Good Mind Conference organized by Indigenous Youth Wellness. Participants reviewed and discussed Skawennati’s machinima and learned the basics of Second Life as a tool for creating films in virtual environments. Skawennati and Maize Longboat lead the workshop alongside visiting Instructors Mia McKie and Waylon Wilson.


On February 21st, three of us visited unceded Katzie/Kwantlen territory and climbed up a mountain to visit Loon Lake Lodge in Maple Ridge, BC. We were invited by Indigenous Youth Wellness to the second annual Good Heart Good Mind Conference to give one of our Skins workshops on Indigenous Storytelling and Digital Media.

The Skins workshops aim to encourage Indigenous youth to envision themselves in the future, while maintaining connections to their heritage by teaching how to use digital media to tell our stories. Our Skins workshops come in several streams: Video Game, Machinima, and 7th Generation Character Design. This was one of our Machinima workshops that introduced the basics of using virtual worlds to tell Indigenous stories.

A total of over 30 Indigenous youth between the ages of 18-25 participated in the morning and afternoon workshop sessions. Participants were first introduced to the ways in which Indigenous stories could be told using digital tools through a viewing and discussion of Skawennati’s TimeTraveller™. After that, the youth then entered the massive multiplayer online world of Second Life to visit our virtual headquarters, AbTeC Island, and experience an Aboriginally-determined location in cyberspace for themselves. Having to deliver such a tech-heavy workshop in a lodge by a lake nestled on top of a mountain proved to be challenging, but fixes were quickly made to get everyone logged in and moving around the virtual world.

It was a snowy weekend at Loon Lake, Maple Ridge, BC. (Photo: Maize Longboat)

Both Skawennati and Maize Longboat facilitated the workshops in partnership with visiting Tuscarora facilitators Mia Mckie and Waylon Wilson. Mia came all the way from Syracuse, NY to meet up with the IIF team and Waylon was present digitally in Second Life by logging on and interacting with everyone in real-time from his home in New York state.

Workshop facilitators Maize (Left) and Skawennati (Right) introduce AbTeC Island to participants. (Photo: Melody Charlie)

Workshop participants either created their own avatars or borrowed some of AbTeC’s “Abbi” avatars and got used to navigating through virtual space and environments. They also learned how to fly, how to socialize using the in-world private and public chat features, and how to customize their avatars’ appearances. We also taught them how to build by asking them to put together a snowman using basic 3D shapes like spheres and cones. The youth particularly liked conversing with Waylon’s dog-with-wings avatar and ended up building gargantuan sculptures with eye-catching textures!

We forgot to bring photo consent forms and so can’t show the participants’ real-world faces, but here are their virtual-world avatars instead! (Machinimagraphs: Skawennati)

Many of the youth participants vocalized how the experience of using Second Life was incredibly fun and engaging. Several of them also expressed that they intend to visit us on AbTeC Island in the future! All are welcome at any time. (Click here for directions)

Nia:wen to the youth for being wonderful participants and to the conference organizers for hosting us with with such good food and conversation in a beautiful location. We hope to see you again in the future!

AbTeC/IIF Check In

Things are back in full swing at AbTeC! After a bustling fall semester, we wanted to take a moment to tell you about our plans for the next few months.

We have a new lab coordinator! Sara England, who managed AbTeC’s recent retrospective, Owerà:ke Non Aié:nahne / Filling in the Blank Spaces, is now our Lab Coordinator! She replaces Lianne Maritzer, who has left Montreal to pursue further studies in animation and 3D modelling. In addition to arranging travel, scanning documents, and making sure the lab runs smoothly, Sara will also work with Jason, Skawennati, and Graduate Research Assistant Mikhel Proulx to develop an archive of AbTeC’s outputs.

Graduate Research Assistants Suzanne Kite and Maize Longboat are busy bees! They recently spoke at Travelling Against the Current: Reflections on Indigenous Experiences in Academia. The second panel in a series of three, the January 18th event focused on graduate students at Concordia University. Suzanne’s latest project, Listener, “is a modular performance artwork … [that] engages with Lakota epistemologies through computational media, Machine Learning algorithms, and narrative.” You can see it in Ottawa in March and at Concordia University in April. As for Maize, he is helping to plan and co-facilitate two Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design with Skawennati and Nancy.

The first workshop, which will take place in Maple Ridge in Stó:lō territory, is an “Intro to Second Life” workshop that will be given to a group of Indigenous youth during the Good Heart, Good Mind Conference. The second, which takes place in Regina on Treaty 4 territory, is a five-day machinima workshop in which Indigenous high school students will create their own “machine cinema” project from start to finish. Skawennati, Maize, and Nancy will deliver this version.

Skawennati, AbTeC Co-Director and IIF Partnership Coordinator, is leading the preparation and delivery of the two Skins workshops. In early February, she will visit Tiger Strikes Asteroid, an artist-run space in New York City to talk about her machinima series, TimeTraveller™. Come May, she will give a keynote speech at the 2018 Association of Art Museum Curators Annual Conference and Meeting!

Jason Edward Lewis, AbTeC Co-Director and Concordia University Research Chair in Computational Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary, will speak as part of First Voices Week on Monday, January 29; he will describe IIF’s recent projects and take questions from attendees. He’s also teaching a new graduate-level course; entitled The Future Imaginary, it fosters the creation of shared language to theorize about Indigenous futures. Students contribute to advanced discussions and will create projects that reflect their personal definitions and understandings of the future.

Stay tuned for Jason’s appearance at the Travelling Against the Current panel series in late March; and the 2018 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, where he will be joined by Drs. Noelani Arista, Rilla Khaled, Pippin Barr, and AbTeC Producer Nancy Townsend.

Through the Initiative for Indigenous Futures, we were very fortunate to have hosted so many outstanding thinkers and artists last semester, including Dr. June Scudeler (Métis) of Simon Fraser University; Kanaka Maoli scholars Dr. Noelani Arista and Kauwila Mahi from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; Cherokee sound artist Elisa Harkins and a performance of Graduate Research Assistant Suzanne Kite’s Everything I Say Is True. We’re pleased to announce that Kristina Baudemann, who also visited us last November, will return as an IIF Visiting Scholar. Additionally, we are preparing to welcome several more residents this year. More on this soon…

In February, we’re excited to host students from the OCAD University Indigenous Visual Culture program who are doing a field trip to Montreal during their reading week. Fifteen students will visit our studio, where we will tell them about AbTeC/IIF and show them some of the projects that we’ve produced, including a machinima demo! We look forward to the connections that will be created between these individuals as well as the programmes of these two institutions.

Later on that month, to coincide with the Concordia Faculty of Fine Arts Portfolio Review Day, AbTeC will host an open studio for potential students. Participating in this way allows to possibly reach a wide audience of students with information about AbTeC and to identify students who may wish to work with AbTeC in some capacity.

Finally, AbTeC projects continue to be exhibited. Two games from AbTeC’s Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design are part of INTERPLAY: The History of Electronic Entertainment. Presented at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ontario and including the Milieux Institute’s Technoculture, Art and Games Research Centre (TAG), this second wave of the exhibition investigates how video games are used by researchers and universities. Be sure to check out AbTeC’s games, Ienién:te and the Peacemaker’s Wampum (Skins 4.0) and He Au Hou (Skins 5.0)!

2167 will continue to tour in 2018! The project brings together five artists: IIF Artist-in-residence Scott Benesiinaabandan, the Postcommodity collective, who collaborated with AbTeC/IIF to create their work, as well as Kent Monkman and Danis Goulet.

Thanks for catching up with us. We hope the rest of the winter treats you well!