This is the blog for BC Time-Slip (The Empire Never Ended), the first phase of a larger inter-disciplinary artistic research project called The Skullcracker Suite. Drawing on the mythology, dances and art of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples of British Columbia, the project’s title is a reference to Hox’hok, one of three giant cannibal birds of Kwakwaka’wakw legend. Hox’hok’s skull-cracking and brain-eating powers are imagined as a dramatic theatrical allegory for the interwoven process of colonial violence, indigenous resistance and the metaphysics of predation that bind human and non-human beings in a system of mutual, ecological and entangled co-dependency. The project is underpinned by a metaphysical world-view, drawn from Amerindian ethnology, that recognises non-human beings as persons rather than things, one in which humans have kinship with non-human beings with whom they share environmental and co-operative intelligences. From this perspective, man may be a wolf to man, but a wolf is a person to a wolf. And like Hox’hok, all beings, supernatural or otherwise, compelled to eat their other-kin, are of the cannibal kind.
Conceived as a suite of movements culminating in a multi-media arts event, The Skullcracker Suite appeals to the possibility of collectively and co-operatively imagining ‘otherwise’ modes of existence-in-common that are reconciliatory and transformative of the traumagenic effects of colonial dominion, territorial dispossession and forced assimilation to Western modes of being, behaving and thinking. Using the Brazilian anthropologist Viveiros de Castro’s concepts of ‘cannibal metaphysics’, ‘multi-species perspectivism’ and his call for the permanent decolonization of thought, the project works through the theoretical and pragmatic overlaps between models of decolonization motivated by the critical deconstruction of Euro-centric ethnography and those emerging directly from Indigenous knowledge, anti-colonial resistance and non-Western modes of living, thinking and being. Continue reading “Welcome”
The Skullcracker Suite was conceived during a visit with my friend Steve Calvert in Powell River in the summer of 2015. Steve, whom I had not seen since 2002, had been living for several years in Alert Bay, home of the ‘Namgis First Nation, documenting their potlatch ceremonies, and accompanying the Kwakwaka’wakw artist, hereditary chief, and indigenous activist Beau Dick* on his journey to the legislature of British Columbia to symbolically break a traditional copper and call The Crown by its true name, Raven.
During our few days together Steve told me many stories about his time in Alert Bay, about the genocidal policies of the Canadian government, still at work today in regions far from the metropolitan centres, and the politics of indigenous resurgence associated with Idle No More. He also told us about the vibrant culture of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples of the region, their legends, theatre, music and the incredible stage-craft of the ceremonies he had attended.
BC Time-Slip (The Empire Never Ended) began at Dynamo Arts Association in Vancouver, British Columbia in August 2016. For the duration of the one month residency I set up a special investigations bureau in the gallery, using it as the operational base for an inquiry into the story of the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s visit to Vancouver in 1972 to speak at a Science Fiction Convention, and his stay, after an attempted suicide, at the X-Kalay Foundation, a First Nations ex-con and addiction rehabilitation centre established by the inimitable raconteur, broadcaster and steadfast advocate of abstinence-based recovery, David Berner
Philip K. Dick arrived in Canada on February 16th, 1972, as guest of honour for the 2nd Vancouver Science Fiction Convention (VCON-2), an all-expenses-paid invitation, jointly sponsored by the science fiction societies of Simon Frazer University and the University of British Columbia. He was 43 years old, the author of 36 novels, and his life was in a mess. His fourth wife Nancy had recently left him, along with his second daughter Isa; his home in Santa Venetia had become a half-way house for the street kids, felons and junkies he had invited into his home; he had recently fallen in love with a street-smart “Dark Haired Girl” called Kathy; he had a serious amphetamine addiction; and four months before his trip to Canada, the safe in which he kept his most valuable papers and collections of sci-fi magazines had been mysteriously “blown up” in what seemed like a botched burglary attempt. Given the deepening dysfunction of his life in California, the invitation arrived like a message from heaven.
Spurred by his love for Kathy and the promise of respectable literary recognition at last, he dived into writing for the first time in months. To Mike Bailey, the main organiser of VCON, Phil contributed a personal profile in advance. Written in the third person, it concluded: “He is currently working day and night on his new novel simply called Kathy, named after the girl he is bringing with him to the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention. He had meant to bring with him someone representing the youth of America, but Kathy, he feels, represents more; all youth, all life to come in later time. The novel really does not exist as yet, except in his head, but Kathy does, and he hopes the people at the convention will welcome her and like her.” But Kathy had other ideas. At the last minute she traded her tickets for cash. Phil, dejected once again, took the plane to Vancouver alone, wearing an old raincoat and carrying a battered suitcase and a bible.
These are sketches for a future 4 channel video installation. They combine footage shot and audio recorded during the Dynamo Arts Association residency in August 2016, 360° photospheres baded on Philip K. Dick’s stay in Vancouver in April 1972, archive recordings of Dick’s early planetary colonization stories and interviews with the author.
How Phil ended up at X-Kalay is unclear. In an interview for Vertex magazine in 1974, Phil claimed to have been told about the centre by the councillor he spoke to over the phone during his suicide attempt. After talking for over an hour he was finally told: “Here’s what’s the matter. You have nothing to do; you have no purpose; you came up here and you gave your speeches and now you’re sitting in your apartment. You don’t need psychotherapy. You need purposeful work.”
It is likely, given the circles Phil had been moving in, that he would have heard about X-Kalay which at that time was well-known on the counter-cultural scene. Founded in 1967 by David Berner, X-Kalay had begun as a half-way house for First Nations ex-cons called The Indian Post Release Society. Within a year, inspired by the examples of therapeutic communities like Daytop in New York and Synanon in California, the organization was re-named The X-Kalay Foundation (or Unknown Path) combining the Kwak’wala word for “path” or “way” with the sign for an unknown quantity. Using an extreme form of daily psycho-dramatic group therapy known as The Game, X-Kalay began to stage 48 hour open house sessions at its club house in Mount Pleasant, where its house band would play, its live-in community growing rapidly to include families and its self-reliant business operations expanding to include a pizza restaurant, beauty parlour, stationary business and a hotel on Salt Spring Island. David Berner explains how the foundation moved from working primarily with First Nations ex-cons, to working primarily with anyone with significant substance abuse issues.
This is the first half of a lecture I gave during the Dynamo Arts Association residency explaining the relationship between the BC Time-Slip concept and Viveiros De Castro’s notion of cannibal metaphysics.
In September 2016 the Skullcracker team were invited, through Steve and Beau, to attend the potlatch ceremony of Kwakwaka’wakw Chief Alan Hunt at the Tsaxis Big House, Fort Rupert. Alan is a descendant of George Hunt, Franz Boas’s famous research assistant and co-director, with Curtis, of In the Land of the Headhunters, whose father, Robert Hunt had worked for the Hudson Bay Company. Alan, like Beau, is a master carver, dancer and singer. He is also an expert in the work of Boas and Hunt, which has been a major resource for Kwakwaka’wakw cultural resurgence since the 1950’s. Steve Calvert, Gregoire Dupond, Stephanie Moran and myself were graciously allowed to document much of the 14 hour ceremony, which included the dance of the giant cannibal birds, the initiation of Chief Hunt’s brother Jaden into the Hamatsa secret society, and the dancing of several new masks recently created by Beau and Alan. This was an incredible honour for us all, to which we offer our sincerest thanks to Alan, Beau and Steve. I am currently working on a complete edit of the ceremony which will be used for educational purposes in the Alert Bay and Fort Ruper communities.
Here are some images and a video sequence from that day. The video sequence shows the Hamsamala Dance (Dance of the Hamatsa Masks) which represents the three giant “cannibal” birds, the assistants of Baxwbakwalanuksiwé, Man-Eater-At-The-North-End-Of-The-World. They are Qoaxpoaxualanuxsiwae (Raven-of-the-North-End-of-the-World), Gelogudzayae (Crooked-Beak-of-the-Sky) and Hoxhogwaxtiwae (Hoxhok-of-the-Sky). This dance is performed at the culmination of the Hamatsa initiation ceremony.