AGYU’s new, thought-provoking exhibit launches Jan. 15 with a public reception

The Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) launches its winter season with a new exhibition that brings together a selection of artist and filmmaker Sky Hopinka’s recent films with related artworks. The exhibit, titled Sky Hopinka: Around the Edge of Encircling Lake, launches Jan. 15 with a free public reception that takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. in the AGYU, Accolade East Building, Keele Campus. All are welcome.

The exhibition includes a film program titled What Was Always Yours and Never Lost. Curated by Hopinka, What Was Always Yours and Never Lost explores Indigenous experimental filmmaking. Both the exhibit and film program address the thematic framework for the gallery’s winter program “Archives of Futurities.”

A film still from Sky Hopinka’s 2019 film Cloudless Blue Egress of Summer

Hopinka’s work centres around personal investigations of Indigenous homeland and landscape, designs of language as containers of culture, and the play between the known and the unknowable. The title of the exhibition is also the title of a recent collection of writings, essays and calligrams titled Around the Edge of Encircling Lake, recently created by Hopinka. It takes up the concept of movement through the Encircling Lake, a Ho-Chunk way of describing the boundaries of the Earth.

Hopinka’s works are “ethnopoetic,” an approach involving reclamation, which counters the ethnographic gaze of historic depictions of Indigenous cultures. His approach draws on poetry to explore identity and representation, both historical and contemporary. Weaving together documentary and experimental practices, Hopinka’s films explore diverse yet interconnected topics, such as taking up land (and landscape), language, music and memory.

An still image from Sky Hopinka’s film Lore (2019)

Hopinka started making videos around the time that he first began learning (and later teaching) Chinuk Wawa, a language rooted in the Lower Columbia River Basin and prevalent in Oregon, Washington, B.C. and Alaska. In both spheres, language and video, Hopinka is interested in notions of fluency, proficiency and experimentation, and the moments when things fall apart.

The AGYU’s overarching winter theme, “Archives of Futurities,” involves enmeshed research, reflection and transformation. Existing within a continuum that negotiates histories of the past and their relevance for the future. In some of Hopinka’s works, this dialogue takes the form of experimental intersections between fragments of text and landscape (Lore, 2019). Elsewhere, it offers reflections on recent movements such as Standing Rock (Dislocation Blues, 2017). The film Cloudless Blue Egress of Summer (2019) revisits complex histories of sites such as Fort Marion/Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, FL – a prison that was an early model of forced assimilation through education for many institutions – including Canada’s residential school system. Poetry is a thread throughout the exhibition, most heightened in a prismatic elegy to poet Diane Burns that reflects on being and mortality (I’ll Remember You as You Were, not as What You’ll Become, 2016). Hopinka’s works draw on archives, but more importantly the films create a new archive, through layered artworks that triangulate across linguistics, space, and temporalities, offering vivid new possibilities.

A still image from the film Dislocation Blues (2017)

Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga) was born and raised in Ferndale, WA, and spent several years in Palm Springs and Riverside, CA, Portland, OR, and is currently based out of Vancouver, B.C., and Milwaukee, WI. He received his BA from Portland State University in liberal arts and his MFA in film, video, animation, and new genres from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His work has been featured at numerous festivals including ImagineNATIVE Media + Arts Festival, Images, Wavelengths, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Sundance, Antimatter, Chicago Underground Film Festival, FLEXfest, and Projections. His work was a part of the 2016 Wisconsin Triennial and the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and he was a guest curator for the film program of the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Hopinka was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and Sundance Art of Nonfiction Fellow for 2019. Hopinka recently joined the faculty of The School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, as assistant professor in film production.

Sky Hopinka: Around the Edge of Encircling Lake is curated by AGYU Assistant Curator Clara Halpern.

In the curated film program, What Was Always Yours and Never Lost, Hopinka shines the spotlight on works by other artists and filmmakers. The program includes films by Caroline Monnet, Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, Thirza Cuthand, Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil, Jackson Polys and James Luna. The program is the third iteration in a series, following screenings at Yale Union (Portland, OR) and The Whitney Biennial (New York).

“Here you have a number of films from a number of makers that come from different backgrounds, different countries, different homelands, and different nations,” says Hopinka, “each making works that traverse a wide range of topics dealing directly and indirectly with Indigeneity – assertions of identity and presence in the face of and regardless of colonial history and outdated traditions of anthropology and ethnography. They make space for poetry, for beauty, for movement between cosmological and visceral worlds, sometimes blurring the lines between both. They claim what was always theirs and celebrate what was never lost.”

For more information on public programming presented this season, visit The AGYU is in the Accolade East Building on the Keele Campus. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m. The gallery is closed on Saturday. The AGYU promotes 2SLGBTQIAP positive spaces and experiences and is barrier free. Admission is always free.