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Issue 149

“A Thread That Never Breaks” — Angel Aubichon, Joi T. Arcand, Leanna Marshall, Caroline Monnet, Jaad Kuujus (Meghann O’Brien), Olivia Whetung, The Pacific Sisters
by Camille Georgeson-Usher

In what exhibition have you been able to defy gravity and fly from artwork to artwork, or change your outfit in response to each one?

It should not come as a surprise by this point to hear how the practice of weaving, thousands of years old, influenced how computers were originally built. The algorithms of weaving, with the building of looms, eased their way to revolutionize what we now know as digital technology. But weaving itself takes its inspiration from the most advanced technology in plants, whose woven stems absorb light, expand, grow, heal broken threads, and interact with others around it. As breaks are created or form in a weaving, the fissures open up opportunities to patch, to re-create, to re-invent. I don’t think I need to reiterate how the global pandemic has caused a mass migration to digital platforms. What to me is worth continuing to revisit, however, is how we evolve practices of translation—or, in the case of the virtual exhibition “A Thread That Never Breaks,” processes of transmediation from tangible media to digital space. The artworks tie together conversations around Indigenous knowledge, cultural practices, textiles, and fashion using code and digital space.

Curated by Sage Paul and Lisa Myers, “A Thread That Never Breaks” was installed in Second Life—an online universe composed of many virtual worlds—on Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) Island, for Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto’s 2021 virtual edition. The exhibition was co-produced by AbTeC with the support of Skawennati (partnership coordinator), Nancy Townsend (producer), Maize Longboat (research associate), and research assistants Anastasia Erickson, Unna Regino, and Kahentawaks Tiewishaw. When one floats onto the island, the first thing they see is a tall white tree that sits in the middle of a large courtyard, and many building-like structures—some on the island itself, some hovering in the sky. Among this futuristic space, a long house filled with furs and sleeping bunks sits, surrounded by greenery and trees.

The ability to experience this virtual space as an avatar sets up the potential for chance encounters—something that most other digital exhibitions haven’t been able to do. I want to sit with an idea of multi-transversal translations to investigate how togetherness might be transformed through the virtual social space of AbTeC Island. Transversals are lines that cross a system of lines, whether through weaving or complex algorithms; thinking through digital space in this way allows us to practice multi-transversal translations of time, space, technology, ancestry, community, and togetherness by marking moments in time and imagining future worlds. But how do we translate togetherness? How do we translate those intimate, surprising encounters of running into someone we haven’t seen in a long time at an exhibition opening? And how might translation provide new access points for shifting perspectives for togetherness under alternate conditions?

While I sprinted, flew, and danced around “A Thread That Never Breaks,” I was reminded of the care and intimacy involved in translation; each piece is coded into this digital space, which requires delicate precision. In the centre of the gallery was Leanna Marshall’s Treaty #9 (2016), an outfit printed with thunderbirds that reverberate out into the space. According to the didactic panel, the piece honours the artist’s great-grandfather and offers visitors an experience to be immersed in the fabric. Jaad Kuujus’s (Meghann O’Brien) piece Sky Blanket (2014), a black-and-white textile work using traditional Haida design to depict three faces, speaks to sharing and connectivity across past, present, and future generations. A new extension from AbTeC Island was created to accommodate another piece by Jaad Kuujus called Everyone Says I Look Like My Mother (2020), which is in stark contrast to her other work. In it, you walk down a narrow hallway to a completely black space that seemingly never ends; within this void is a series of plain white t-shirts hung on a rolling clothing rack with one hanger empty. Next to this rack is a wall of moss with the one missing shirt suspended in front, speaking to the way that commercially made garments often disconnect us from their materiality and how they are produced.

Attendees are able to click on each of the artworks to see the accompanying didactic panels, which include storytelling by the artists. In Jaad Kuujus’s description, she writes that everyone always exclaims how she looks like her mother and adds, “She’s told me a few times that even though she never wove, my skill for weaving is something she gave me. To me this is the thread that can never be broken, those pieces of ourselves we are free to rediscover or connect with or dig deeper into to discover.” While this digital space itself does not solve our desire to meet in person, it offers the possibility for us to meet in a space other than the physical spaces we have come to know—a multi-transversal, digital universe that bridges community, history, and a futurity that allows us to imagine sovereign spaces.

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