Contemporary Odawa artist Barry Ace works with tradition and technology, creating inter-connectivity between history, tradition, and innovation, using computer components to speak to both electronic and cultural connections specifically among the Anishinaabeg. The artists’ work incorporates the machine into the manmade; natural motifs share the artists’ space with digital materials to stimulate cultural and social connections in order to “map out a new Anishinaabeg cyber-territory”.
The works of Ace, such as “Urban Bustle” (2013), “Bandolier” (2011), “Healing Dance 2” (2013) , “Nigik Makizinan – Otter Moccasins” (2014) and “Parallel Tasking” (2000) all incorporate culturally specific designs with that of found computer parts to create cross-cultural assemblages. Through the process of traditional craft, the artist is able to bring a tangible representation of digital imagery, and a contemporary aesthetic to floral motifs normally made with glass beads, which have been replaced with circuits, transistors, capacitors and resistors.
“Parallel Tasking” is a work comprising of a fully beaded vest with computer parts and a headdress representing the Great Lakes cultures. The computer parts on the back of the vest are juxtaposed with traditional beadwork on the front creating a metaphor, as the artist states, of “electronic paths that link us as Anishinaabeg in the urban landscape”. “Bandolier” also incorporates the traditional, and sacred, with a digital aesthetic, commenting on the tenacity of the Anishinaabeg of adapting “to rapid change while maintaining a distinct and unique sensibility, aesthetic and spirituality”. The digital age in fact, does not destroy tradition and culture, but allows for a new aesthetic. The heart of the work is still there, such as in the work “Urban Bustle”. A replica of a traditional Plains dance bustle worn by powwow dancers uses found objects, natural materials, a digital screen, glass beads, and electronic components, to name a few. What is specifically significant about this piece is that the screen portrays a black and white, silent archival film from the 1920’s (from Library and Archives Canada) of a powwow from Wikiwemikong on Manitoulin Island. There is a text attached to the work which reads “an unadulterated cultural expression on borrowed colonial media” which is a direct jab at the anthropological idea that those who still uphold traditional practices are somehow “tainted…unauthentic” when using technology. On the contrary, Barry Ace’s works prove there is no cultural erasure with technology. The only erasure referenced in any of these works, is in “Nigik Makizinan – Otter Moccasins” which reference traditional otter moccasins that had trail dusters attached to the heel to wipe away the wearers footprints. The artist’s contemporary take symbolises rather, the erasure of digital identity, bringing up issues of surveillance and the cyber trail we leave behind. The traditional in this work is used as a starting point to talk about contemporary issues. Finally, the work “Healing Dance 2” presents traditional medicinal plants and flowers with strong healing qualities, alongside energy retaining capacitors, showing correlation between two cultures. “Healing Dance 2” creates a bridge between traditional cultures and the digital one.
The artist’s work allows us to see beauty in the mechanical, and also think about cultural innovations; how we do not have to sacrifice our identity in order to be contemporary and innovative. Tradition and technology can coexist together, both helping the other to flourish in today’s digital age.