Asinnajaq

Asinnajaq, Three Thousand, 2017, produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

Courtesy of the Artist and National Film Board of Canada.

Three Thousand (2017) combines historical footage of Inuit sourced from the archives of the National Film Board of Canada with contemporary animations offering glimpses of Inuit life a thousand years from now. Harvested from newsreels, propaganda films, ethnographic documentaries, and work by Indigenous filmmakers, the collection of images has been carefully curated by Asinnajaq to show moments of cultural change balanced with Inuit ingenuity. An atmospheric score allows viewers tore focus on these snapshots of Inuit life free from superimposed narratives.

 

The work opens with the artist’s voice speaking in Inuktitut and English over amorphous fluid forms: “It seems inconceivable, as I live now, that I will die, and there will be a world where I don’t exist.” This opening acts as a provocation, gesturing toward the future while also communicating the difficulty of this task. Turning to the archives to guide her speculation, Asinnajaq reveals a people who have already undergone great changes, yet still retain their unique culture and ways of life.

The idea of a shimmering horizon is legible in this work both as the literal shimmering of futuristic igloos at night under the dancing Northern Lights, and also in the statement of Inuit presence, still occupying their lands a thousand years into the future. Three Thousand charts a different course for the Inuit than the one prescribed by colonial narratives of “development” and assimilation. In the context of mainstream science fiction, writer Lou Cornum observes how Indigenous Peoples have often been negatively anchored to a specific spatial and temporal location: “For many the image of the Indian in space is jarring not just because of the settler perception of indigeneity as antithetical to high tech modernity, but because Indian identity is tied so directly to specific earthly territories.” [1] In Asinnajaq’s work, while the spatial location of the futuristic Inuit community remains the same, the temporal location is new. Projecting her community a thousand years into the future is a statement of resilience and endurance, and provides a template for a glimmering future in which technology is adapted to support Inuit culture rather than to erase it.

Asinnajaq Artist Video Transcript My name is Asinnajaq, I'm from Inukjuak, Nunavik. My parents are Carol Rowan and Jobie Weetaluktuk. I work in the arts doing things like making my own art as well as curating and writing. I'm really inspired and interested in my Inuit heritage and making work that's relevant to my Inuk peers, thinking about how we can move forward in a positive way. As well as always having dialogues and conversations and helping keep ourselves informed in our history, both having to do with us and also colonialism. I’m really just inspired by what we're capable of and I think one of my main goals is to make sure that we're always reminded that we are very powerful and that we can do anything. With Three Thousand I wanted to make a piece that was with archives that dealt with history, as a way for myself to get to look through the archives and learn from them. Listening to the archives, actually the subject is never the colonizer, it's always Inuit. And even when there are images with sailors, RCMP, whoever's there, teaches even, those are kind of peripheral figures. So, it's clearly not the focus of the archive. And probably a lot because of who the images are made of, which is another thing you totally feel — completely, 100% — when you look at an image in the archives — at least I can — feel why was this image made, who made it; you can feel all those things because of the gaze, the intention behind it. I think it's something you can feel so strongly.

I saw a hole of information and I wanted to fill that gap. Sometimes when we read textbooks and read things, or hear information, we understand it but it's vague and maybe feels less real. I really wanted to make something that would feel more concrete: that's visual and can really give an idea — a strong idea and feeling — of what happened. For example, when life changed over especially the past hundred years, with people's housing changing, even where people lived, because of forces like the RCMP and the Canadian government. From my grandma to my dad to me, it's like different worlds completely. And my grandma, my annanatsiaq, she's actually in the film too, so she's this older woman who's making a basket. That's my annanatsiaq, my father's mother. We used her scene and presence in the film as the transition and entrance into the sky and the Northern Lights. So, in the animation, my annanatsiaq had just passed away a couple of years, maybe two or three years before we were doing that scene, and I thought, if this spirit came out of her mouth when she exhaled, it's kind of like I get to send her into the Northern Lights, which is where you go when you die. And that was really, really special, to be able to do that. At the beginning of Three Thousand it's the lichen first and then it turns into water, and from the water it's the memories. And the lichen is just a symbol for life starting. And then the water is the symbol for what sustains us, and also where we can keep our memories and our history. So, the kind of watery substance also appears at major transition points, which happened to be when the archives turned to color, and then when the archives end and it becomes animation.

When you think about the future, usually you see dystopian futures. Like, almost 100% of the time! But I want to think about, What would I want? What do I think — in my wildest dreams — how could the future be? And I talked to my cousins and my family and I just asked them, Right now in this moment, if you could live any way you wanted, how would you choose to live? My cousins mostly said that what they want is they’re living in Inukjuak, my hometown. And what they want is to be able to live in camps like we used to live (or we never have actually, our generation, but we know that our ancestors did live that way). And most of my family loves going out camping and fishing and spending lots of time outside in the summertime. So, I thought, that's amazing and I think that's something that we can definitely do for ourselves: change the way that our system works for where we live, how much we can move around. And so, in the future, that's the biggest thing that I try to implement or dream about. And the other thing I thought about is, What could we live in? From what I understand, we always like to use technology smartly to help our lives improve, so I tried to imagine, How could we use green energy to use the tools that are maybe electronic that we want? I actually designed a whole house system with food growing in the middle— yeah, I have drawings of it! And that's the house that [Patrick] Defasten made for the last scene with people in it in the film. That's my imagination: where would I want to live. Yeah, it harnesses rainwater and all kinds of things!

Even though some of my actions or decisions won't impact on my life, they will impact on other lives, and all of my ancestors before me have had to think the same way to give me the best life that I can have. So, I do think it's always important to say... like, okay, I tend to be a nihilistic so it is very important to remind myself that life my life does matter and my little act ions do matter, even if I don't always feel it! And even if sometimes things feel hopeless or pointless, there is legacy that really changes the way the world works. So, it’s kind of like a grounding and thinking about how my life matters so much, but it also doesn't matter that much because I'm just being connected to all these people. That's what the opening is about in one way and that's also what the ending animation is about. As we back away in the animation from the world, and the world just becomes a twinkling star in the cosmos, it's saying the same thing: “Look at all of this story. Look at all these lives that happened on this little speck over there!”