Shawn Hunt is a successful Vancouver-based artist who – like many people in British Columbia – is of mixed descent, combining Scottish, French and indigenous Heiltsuk heritage. Rather than seeing that conflict of identities as a problem, however, Hunt has always leveraged it as a part of his art:
“I have never felt like I really belonged to any one particular movement, culture, category, or clique. As an artist this has given me an incredible amount of freedom. I don’t feel that my work is conceptual, traditional, artefact or craft. It is neither ancient nor modern. Instead, I feel as though my work has elements of all of these categories. This is a freedom that allows me to distort, subvert, hijack and remix these categories in order to offer new points of view. I want to challenge the viewers’ preconceptions. I like the idea of art being like a catalyst, or a flash point. I think art is most powerful when it poses questions, not when it gives the viewer the answers. My goal is to make the viewer think.”
So it made perfect sense for him to take this subversion and remixing to the next step by incorporating cutting-edge technologies in his work. That led him to accept Microsoft’s invitation to essentially come and play with all the shiny toys in their impressive Vancouver HQ. Hunt and his team of artists then collaborated with a host of designers and engineers to explore how Robotics, 3D-Printing and Mixed Reality could help tell traditional stories in a new and powerful way.
The raven in Heiltsuk mythology is seen as the “ultimate trickster” and that fluid identity seemed like a perfect idea to explore using those tools. The interactive installation they came up with features a bird mask in a traditional indigenous design which gradually morphs into a cyborg through a mixture of physical robotics mechanisms and virtual Mixed Reality elements. As the experience unfolds, the mask appropriates the traditional aspects of metamorphosis with the transformation from bird mask to human, yet in this adaptation the human mask has been altered, upgraded, and merged with the machine. Incorporating aspects of technology, sound and space, each part of the work reflects Hunt’s interest in how we understand and identify with the term indigenous.
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