Sky Hopinka: Around the Edge of Encircling Lake

15 January – 15 March 2020
Opening Reception: Wednesday, Janaury 15, 6 – 9 pm

Artist and filmmaker Sky 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. This exhibition brings together a selection of Hopinka’s recent films and related artworks, as well as a film program curated by Hopinka (What Was Always Yours and Never Lost). The title of the exhibition is also the title of a recent collection of writings, essays, and calligrams by Hopinka that take up movement through the Encircling Lake, a Ho-Chunk way of describing the boundaries of the earth.

Hopinka describes his works as “ethnopoetic.” This approach is a reclamation, countering the ethnographic gaze of historic depictions of Indigenous cultures, drawing on poetry to explore identity and representation, both historical and contemporary. Weaving together documentary and experimental practices, these films explore diverse yet interconnected topics, taking up land (and landscape), language, music, and memory.

Currently based between Vancouver, BC, and Milwaukee, WI, 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, British Columbia, 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.

In an interview with Hopinka for Third Rail Quarterly, Brooklyn-based artist and filmmaker Adam Khalil remarked: “What I find powerful in your work is this line between what you give to the audience, and what you don’t give. It reminds me of Indigenous information ecology, where the idea is that information is for all, but knowledge is for some.” Later in the same interview, Khalil observes: “There’s something in your work about the experience of spending time with people, listening to people, letting things unfurl, not quite knowing where things are going.” It should be noted that Khalil’s observations are informed by the two artists’ ongoing dialogue (Khalil’s work in collaboration with Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys is featured in Hopinka’s curated film program).

This year, the AGYU is exploring the thematic “archives of futurities,” which entails enmeshed research, reflection, and transformation. Existing within a continuum that negotiates histories of the past and their relevance for the future, the films in this exhibition are both rigorous and expansive. In some of Hopinka’s works, this dialogue takes the form of experimental intersections between fragments of text and landscape (Lore, 2019). Elsewhere, they offer reflections on recent movements such as Standing Rock (Dislocation Blues, 2017) and revisit complex histories of sites such as Fort Marion/Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, FL, the prison that was an early model of forced assimilation through education for many institutions, including Canada’s residential school system (Cloudless Blue Egress of Summer, 2019). 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 have certainly drawn on archives, but more importantly they create a new archive, through layered artworks that triangulate across linguistics, space, and temporalities, offering vivid new possibilities.

Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga) was born and raised in Ferndale, WA, and spent a number of years in Palm Springs and Riverside, CA, Portland, OR, and is currently based out of Vancouver, BC, 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.

What Was Always Yours and Never Lost
Curated by Sky Hopinka

This screening program of works of other artists and filmmakers curated by Sky Hopinka inside his exhibition includes films by Caroline Monnet; Colectivo Los Ingrávidos; Thirza Cuthand; Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil, and 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). Hopinka describes it: “Here you have a number of films from a number of makers that come from different backgrounds, different countries, different homelands, and different nations. 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.”

See also

What Was Always Yours and Never Lost

What Was Always Yours and Never Lost

on-site exhibition
15 Jan – 15 Mar 2020


Sky Hopinka floorplan 15 Jan – 15 Mar 2020
Sky Hopinka

Sky Hopinka

Winter 2020


Monday to Friday 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Wednesday 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Saturday closed
Sunday noon – 5:00 PM

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Art Gallery of York University
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