Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada—Monday, 7 March, 2022:
On 10 March, The MacKenzie Art Gallery is opening a brand-new exhibition examining ancestral knowledge in a contemporary context—through artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Curated by Executive Director & CEO John G. Hampton with guest Curator Lillian O’Brien Davis, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? will debut as the first major art installation by Stephanie Comilang since receiving the 2019 Sobey Art Award alongside long-time collaborator Simon Speiser.

This exhibition was conceived as a continuation of the artists’ past work—drawing on interviews with the artists’ families and broader communities including Elders, and knowledge keepers from the Philippines and Ecuador. Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? consists of a 28-minute video projection, a 15-minute VR (virtual reality) installation, and a series of 3D prints on piña (pineapple) paper. The installation ponders the traditions of knowledge transmission that have existed long before the fractures and erasures resulting from global colonialism.

Utilizing this video and VR installation, Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser explore an artificial intelligence assistant that has gained consciousness through an upload of customary Filipina and Ecuadorian world views. The film features matriarchs from Filippinx and Ecuadorian communities. The Babaylan, a matriarchal figure in Cebuano cultures—is recognized as a knowledge holder possessing shaman-like capabilities. Using VR, Comilang and Speiser present an intersection of futures and traditions, where audiences are welcome to embody Babaylan and upload this ancestral knowledge.

Acting as an allegory for teachings that are passed on through bodies that are connected to the land—this exhibition seeks to reconnect and rebuild those knowledges through speculative technologies. Taking cues from pre-colonial matriarchal lineages, the artists evoke links between ancestral knowledge beyond the scope of verbal storytelling into an imagined AI for future generations.

“Speiser and Comilang’s work is a beautiful, poetic, and moving articulation of how we connect to the knowledge of our ancestors,” states Executive Director & CEO John G. Hampton. “It speaks to their own experience and communities while holding relevance to Indigenous communities around the world and evoking a sense of hope and wonder for anyone who has sought connection with the cultural legacies they have inherited.”

Debuting at the MacKenzie before touring to the Julia Stoschek Foundation in Berlin then Gallery TPW in Toronto, this installation will be on display in the RHW, Hill & Rawlinson Galleries at the MacKenzie until 7 July 2022.

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