Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Assimilate This

I have to confess that I'm not a big fan of video art. That's not meant as a criticism of the medium. It just doesn't usually speak to me. But over the Thanksgiving weekend, while visiting Ottawa, I stumbled upon Bear Witness' mesmerizing two-channel video projection at The Ottawa Art Gallery called Assimilate This. Bear Witness is an Ottawa based dj and video artist, who also happens to be aboriginal (he records wonderful dance/native tribal music mash-ups with the collective A Tribe Called Red). His video installation was included in the exhibit Decolonize Me.

As I have already confessed to, I am not a big fan of video art but within moments of entering the large darkened room which held the Assimilate This projection, I was rendered spell-bound. The first thing you notice is the music; native chanting underpinned with a pounding dance-floor beat. Projected into a corner was the familiar countenance of Gary Farmer from Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, Brad Pitt from the Coen Brother's Inglorious Basterds and multiple images of a native dancer, all in bright acidic colours, layered, inverted, flashing rhythmically.

This was no pedantic critique of white man's vision of the "red man" but a pop culture reclamation and re-contextualization of aboriginal imagery. Ironically, much of the power within the imagery is generated by the quality of the filmed imagery. We're talking big budget film-making with professional actors and professional art direction here. I wonder if the imagery would have had the same effect if drawn from low budget films with anonymous actors?

I've provided a link to Bear Witness' videos on Vimeo. If you're interested in native/dance music mash ups, check out A Tribe Called Red.