A Chatroom
is Worth
a Thousand Words




The artists showed up with zip disks, burnt CDs, DAT cassettes, hard drives, laptops, adaptors, manuals and a game of Quake –pretty much ready for anything. The ten of us were about to spend the next two weeks crammed together into two mid-sized rooms making a brand new wing for the CyberPowWow Palace.

CyberPowWow started off as a virtual exhibition and chat space that would dispel the myth that Native artists didn't (or couldn't!?) use technology in their work. In addition to that, we wanted to claim for ourselves a little corner of cyberspace that we could nurture and grow in the way we wanted. After two iterations of CyberPowWow, the question of whether Native artists could be digital artists was answered: of course we can.

Now that we have marked out our territory, built a Palace and furnished it, it is time to invite in our neighbours: digital aritsts in the non-Native world. These friends, collaborators, and kindred spirits can talk about the very topic that we are engendering: Aboriginal meets non-Aboriginal.

"The Palace" is the name of the chat software used by CyberPowWow since its inception in 1997. With its allusions to royalty, colonialism and hierarchy, it can sometimes be a problematic name to a bunch of Indians who are trying to stake a claim in the territory of cyberspace. Notwithstanding the fact that the software was named by a corporate entity with objectives very different from ours, the word is an apt metaphor for a multifunctional site that can continually expand (or abruptly contract) according to the artist’s desire. Chatrooms (also just called "rooms") can be added or deleted easily, can be connected to one another or remain separate entities. But the Palace was not chosen because of its name; it was chosen for two much better reasons: its user-friendliness and its customizability. Most CyberPowWow newbies can figure out how to communicate with other users in mere minutes. The irresisibly unglamourous cartoon speech balloons and happy-face default avatars seem to set people at ease. Yet, without building our own software, we could greatly affect the look and feel of this Palace by putting our own artwork in the rooms and then inviting people to talk about it, or to talk in it.

What resulted is a range of intense and intimate stories, told in rooms and pages and movies. Many similar elements recurred in the artwork: maps, flags, text, archival photos, personal snapshots, found images. Bits of the artist’s own self show up in almost all the work, too. There is Sheila Urbanoski’s ultra close-up forehead, Jason Lewis’s eye, Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew’s tattoo, Trevor van Weeren’s silhouette, Michelle Nahanee’s bodiless face, Rea’s faceless body, and Travis Neel’s complete unabashed self. These reoccurrences are a function of the theme, and make for a wonderfully cohesive exhibition.

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Marilyn Burgess

Jason Lewis

Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew

Michelle Nahanee

Travis Neel


Sheila Urbanoski

Trevor Van Weeren