Above: Cannupa Hanska Luger, of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, and European descent, makes installations that hearken to his Plains background. Photograph by Dylan McLaughlin.

Renowned local artist and activist Cannupa Hanska Luger talks art and his installation Future Ancestral Technologies, included in SITE Santa Fe’s group show, Displaced: Contemporary Artists Confront the Global Refugee Crisis.

Update: In May, Luger was recognized as one of 10 Fellows for Socially Engaged Art by the New York–based nonprofit A Blade of Grass. Luger's proposed project, Settlement, coincides with the anniversary of the 1620 voyage of the Mayflower. Together with 27 other indigenous artists, he plans to stage a creative occupation in Plymouth, England, hosting exhibitions, performances, and installations to deepen the dialogue about intersectional indigenous identities and put decolonization into practice. 

Q: Tell us a bit about Future Ancestral Technologies; what can people expect visually?
Future Ancestral Technologies (FAT) is an indigenous science fiction. I combine unique objects, futuristic narratives, ancient myths, new paradigms, and symbiotic landscapes to articulate a future in which people harness technology to live nomadically in hyper-attunement to land and water.

People will encounter an immersive installation that depicts a small camp comprised of a large tepee structure with telescopic poles, various sets of regalia and technology, and a three-channel video that creates an environment. A utilitarian and reimagined vehicle will be at the center of the installation to suggest the repurposing of materials, which is necessary for a migratory lifestyle and a sustainable future.

The project is not complete and it may never be. Future Ancestral Technologies is an ongoing exploration into these ideas. It is much more than an installation for an exhibition; it’s a methodology, a practice, and a way of futurism that suggests a radical approach to materials and their use. Every exhibition I’ve done in this vein has informed the next one.

Q: SITE says it hopes this show will serve as a catalyst for compassion. Do you think art can serve this purpose, that it can make people feel something? Is that your goal with Futuristic Ancestral Technologies, and if so, what do you want people to feel?
I hope art makes people feel something. In relation to FAT, I don’t really have expectations other than to present a vibrant POC- and indigenous-centered future environment for all of us to visualize and see together. I think there is a self-fulfilling prophecy in relationship to science fiction. Science fiction informs the future, creating space for new consciousness to arise. Yet most of the science fiction I see today is apocalyptic. As an indigenous person, I don’t relate to these narratives, as my people have already survived an apocalypse. My hope for FAT is to create a pathway forward that isn’t catastrophic. I want to create functional possibilities.

Q: The description of your work in Displaced says that it “articulates a futuristic narrative.” Can you tell us about that narrative?
In the distant future(s), long after capitalism’s deadly sweep, our species must practice new strategies of survival. FAT repurposes the detritus of colonialism to build a nomadic culture in solidarity with the land.

Right now I’m interested in what this one camp looks like in this one place at this one time. There are ideas, there are bodies, there are consequences, there are materials, there are subjects—all sorts of things play into this futuristic narrative.

Other than that, the narrative is very open, and will continue to jump into future moments as it unfolds beyond this exhibition. As human beings, we have many decisions to make and FAT articulates a flexibility, an adaptability. I don’t want to create a story so much as I want to design objects and ideas that could help us thrive in the future. I want to make life-based solutions that promote and practice a thriving indigeneity.

Q: In the futuristic narrative behind FAT, migration is part of a survival “predicated on an understanding of indigenous perspectives.” Can you describe those perspectives?
The customary practices of the world’s indigenous people have been imprisoned in the past. When not cannibalized by Western culture, our views are considered primitive, traditional, even extinct. I am motivated to reclaim and reframe a more accurate version of indigenous culture and its ability to shape global futures. Our survival of the past can, and must, inform our ultimate thriving. Survival is indigenous.

More specifically, the characters within these narratives are part of a nomadic society and that is a huge part of what defines their indigeneity. But this system of movement and travel is not outside the scope of all humans. Our ability to adapt is our greatest strength. But over the last few hundred years, this strength has been limited by nationalism, borders, and capitalism.

Even so, we still move and travel and have agency. We can choose what cities to live in and what school districts to send our children. Part of any living creature or entity is the innate desire to move and migrate. The application of nomadic adaptability is really indigenous knowledge. I’m working with movement and migration as an indigenous technology and dreaming about time and space far into the future beyond all of the contemporary traumas, a space where we are realigned with the earth.

Q: How does having migration and displacement as part of your indigenous ancestral history inform your work for this show?
As indigenous people, we have already survived an apocalypse across centuries of genocide and systematized violence. We survived thanks to the urgent preservation of our traditions and our adaptability. I think that’s why I wanted to start working with science fiction and futurist narratives: to look past all of the trauma of forced movement and displacement and reclaim ancient practices, which will support our survival into the future.

I look into these future landscapes and see characters who aren’t removed from the land in any sort of way. I’m making a world in which these future humans aren’t carrying the traumas that I have, or that my parents have, or that my kids will probably have, and that feels important. We as humans can be a part of the land and a part of a place, even if the place changes; because in truth, we belong to the land, rather than the land belonging to us.

Q: What do you think viewers can come to understand/learn about displacement by viewing works like the ones in this show?
At a base level, I hope viewers can feel empathy toward what it is like to be displaced. Displacement, migration, boundaries, borders—these are all buzzwords infusing our current media consumption. It’s too easy to just change the channel and think you have an understanding of displacement, but displacement and migration are complex notions.

There is so much entitlement and toxic individualism in our culture. We have forgotten how to pay attention to whole systems. Many Americans may not understand the long-term impact of borders on communities whose ancestors have migrated across the continent freely for thousands and thousands of years. Our contemporary society in America has tried to erase our memories and connection to land.

I hope the work I am able to contribute to Displaced will dream of a future space where we uphold our human systems of migration for survival as critical and brilliant, and help us to remember how we can return to a future space of respect and reverence for the earth. It’s really our role as artists to bridge the gaps and help people really feel something, maybe empathy, through our work.

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Displaced is open through September 6.