Waawaashkesh Dodem (Deer Clan) Automata Bandolier
glass beads, capacitors, light-emitting diodes, resistors, vintage circuit boards on handmade paper
on verso signed, titled and dated 2020
37 3/4 x 12 1/4 in 96 x 31 cm
Collection of the Artist
As with Barry Ace’s Transformation Bandolier, paper is used for the form of the “deconstructed” bandolier bag in this 2020 work, Waawaaskesh Dodem (Deer Clan) Automata. A profound piece, this may be one of Ace’s deepest dives into the consideration of Anishinaabe cosmology and the shape it takes in the contemporary world. Here again he uses electronic resistors, capacitors and diodes to convey a 21st century reworking of the Woodland-style floral motifs popular on the gashkibidaagan (bandolier bag) from the mid-1800s onward. The component becomes a substitute for the bead, a word that when translated from the Anishinaabemowin, manidoominens, means spirit energy berry, holding within the capacity for healing energy. For Ace, they “share an uncanny simile with electronic components that also store and release energy to perform their function.”
The components, with their intrinsic power, lie latent until they are connected on a circuit board. A schema design maps out the pathways between. A conductive material, like copper, transmits the energy along the path from one to another. Once connected, the components perform as an automaton - a device set into motion by a defined set of protocols that allow it to function with its correct intent. Any obstruction or break in the connectivity halts the course of energy, resulting in a system malfunction.
A simple example of an automaton would be an antique mechanical toy that performs a dance when a crank is turned; more complex examples would be digital data processors like a vending or bank machine. Ace draws a connection between the objective of an automaton to that of mythology. Following a “predetermined set of instructions'' results in the correct programmed output. With regards to myth and legend, the objective is to provide a set of prescribed rules that guide a culture on the correct course to achieve a desired outcome. These directives for human conduct also pertain to established protocols when dealing with mythological and spiritual entities. An example is the mishibizhiw, the underwater panther whose domain, in Anishinaabe mythology, is below the surface of the water where it “programs” the movement of currents and waves. Ace states, “By not following the coded protocols of respect of the water, as recounted in the stories, a predetermined adverse response will be triggered by the mishibizhiw”. The cultural stories also provide instructions on how to course correct when a system, spiritual or biological, is severed and dysfunction occurs.
The Automata paperwork series illustrates the interrelatedness between mythology and the concept of the automaton by revealing “abstracted animal forms” in the “schematics printed on vintage circuit-boards,” as Ace describes. Here, inside the white square of the board on the pocket panel, Ace perceives the form of a deer (waawaaskesh), one of the 7 main clans (dodem) of the Anishinaabeg, in the outline of the copper tracking. The copper, an element that holds sacred power for the Anishinaabeg, transforms the abstracted form into a conduit for energy, providing the power to animate it to perform its prescribed function. Ace creates work for his community, first and foremost, embedding signifiers that, without explanation, may not be discernible to those outside it. For Ace, “the hardware that drives the electronic age, as in complex circuit-board schematics, are ladened with abstracted pictographic imagery that present a unique opportunity to rework these ephemera sourced images into culturally specific code.”
Ace articulates his combination of myth and electronics through the creation of a new portemanteau - the mythotronic. Continuing the motif of historical and contemporary convergence, Ace’s (re)presentations of Anishinaabe cosmology “demonstrate evidence of the presence of automata-like Anishinaabe symbology encoded into our digital age.”
We thank Leah Snyder, digital designer and writer, The L. Project, for contributing the above essay. Snyder writes about culture, technology and contemporary art, and is a regular contributor to the National Gallery of Canada's Gallery magazine and other Canadian art publications.
All quotes attributed to the artist unless otherwise noted.
Please note: This work is accompanied by a letter of authenticity and provenance signed by the artist.
Available for viewing at: Heffel Montreal
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