By: Kim Regala, Peak Associate
Lisa Jackson, an Anishinaabe artist and filmmaker, received much praise (and many awards) when she released her virtual reality film Biidaaban: First Light (2018). Exploring themes of Indigenous futurism, the film immerses viewers into a new experience of seeing our urban landscape through the lenses of the natural landscape and Indigenous language. Now, she returns to offer us a similarly praise-deserving experience with TRANSMISSIONS. The 6,000 square foot installation is a stunning three-part structure that yet again explores these futuristic perceptions of reality. Each part welcomes us to reflect upon the ways we have come to gain knowledge and understand our relationship with the world around us.
Welcoming us into Jackson’s curated space is a tunnel-like pathway encapsulated by wall-to-ceiling projections. These projections show two distinct places in alternating succession: a particular street in Downtown Vancouver followed by forest scenery with tall trees that reach the sky. These contrasting landscapes — one representing the urban and the other representing the natural — are a fitting introduction to Jackson’s intent for her installation. They allow us to recognize our presence within the real-life counterparts of the projected landscapes and how they have come to shape our view of the world. As each individual may have different ways of constructing meaning from their surroundings, the experience felt within TRANSMISSIONS will likewise be different for everybody. In this way, Jackson is able to contrast various knowledge systems while simultaneously merging them into one space.
The next part of the installation pays homage to Biidaaban: First Light as the theme of Indigenous futurism is explored further. A projection fills the entire wall, closely resembling a scene from Jackson’s film wherein a woman is sitting on the ground digging into the soil. This imagery is paired with the tall shadows of rectangular prisms refracted onto the other walls, resembling the high-rise buildings and skyscrapers of a cityscape. The prisms that sit at the center of the room are themselves visually striking, but the shadows they create heighten this feeling of immersion. While all we see are silhouette-like figures of the urban landscape, the shadows replicate the same feeling as when you are situated in the center of a busy street, looking up at the tall buildings that tower over you.
Fully stimulating our senses, from sight and hearing to smell and touch, the final part of TRANSMISSIONS transports us into a whole new world that Jackson has created — one that feels intimate and familiar, yet still distant and foreign to us. Immediately, a sweet, earthy scent welcomes you upon walking into the space. At the centre lie two connected domes — otherwise known as wigwams — which are semi-permanent shelters used by some First Nations. They are surrounded by darkness, with the exception of cherry blossom-like trees illuminated to resemble the stars in the sky. Inside the domes, sitting logs are placed at its perimeter so that viewers may further immerse themselves by listening to Musqueam Elder Larry Grant relay his thoughts on how language and knowledge itself are created. His insightful perspective, experienced within this simulated environment, brings the piece to a harmonious conclusion that allows us to continue reflecting upon our relationship with the world.
TRANSMISSIONS is open until September 28 in the Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Free public tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday — reservations are available from 1–3 p.m. and walk-ins are accepted outside of these hours.