In this film, which serves as a tribute to the Native poet Diane Burns, markers of time and place bleed together to form a vivid meditation on mortality and reincarnation. Burns is seen performing at the American Indian Community House in New York in 1996. This archival footage is punctuated with powwow dancers, filmed by Sky Hopinka and partially obscured by folds of shimmering color created through digital editing. The rhythmic sound of Sacred Harp singing, traditional to the rural American South, makes up the film’s soundtrack.
A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Hopinka often studies language as a conduit for culture and incorporates text into his work. Over the course of the film, lines from Burns’s poems alternate with an ethnographic text on Ho-Chunk concepts of rebirth and the afterlife and other sources. Some of these excerpts are recast in geometric arrangements of text called calligrams, an example of which is installed here. Shaped after Ho-Chunk effigy mounds, these nonlinear texts, like the film, ask what forms the spirit can take.
Gallery label from 2021