One of the best examples of collaboration and synergy across a project I’ve been part of is the “Origin Story of the Inka,” an interactive book produced for the exhibition The Great Inka Road : Engineering an Empire.This simple touch-screen experience allows visitors to page through a digital book and see and hear the Inka creation story brought to life through brilliant images, with audio for every page in English or Spanish. People can read it online by scrolling down in the Ancestors section of the Inka Road website, and a printed version is for sale in the museum shop.
According to the Inka myth of origin, Inti, the sun, sent two of his children—Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo—to bring order and civilization to humankind. The pair emerged from Lake Titicaca and headed north to found a city. The city was Cusco. Their path was the first Inka Road.
Sample screens, in English and Spanish, from "The Inka Creation Story." Design by Juanita Wrenn/WrennWorks, illustrations by Alejandra Egaña.
The museum’s production team worked together to shorten the story into a form that would work well for visitors in the gallery. Illustrations by Alejandra Egaña, an artist based in Chile, bring the story to life. Using reference visuals of museum objects and other Inka material culture, Alejandra produced images based on Inka iconography and colors. Her delightful compositions fit within the scholarly context of the exhibition and, we hope, will excite the imagination of younger visitors. These illustrations so inspired the exhibition team that we reached out to her to create drawings used to visualize aspects of Inka engineering elsewhere in the exhibition.
Juanita Wrenn of WrennWorks designed and programmed a simple, intuitive interactive experience accessible to even early readers. Juanita, who is based in North Carolina, surprised the team by offering to bring an early prototype to the museum, to make sure that what she was producing would work on the gallery touch-screen monitors. Her visit reflects her passion and her dedication to getting all the details right.
Theinteractive book's narrator and her proud mother.
For bilingual audio and sound design we relied on the expertise of the museum’s staff. Veronica Quiguango (Quechua), a collections specialist at the museum’s Cultural Resources Center, offered the talents of her six-year-old daughter. We set up a recording session engineered by NMAI Media Group senior producer Gussie Lehman, and our narrator amazed us by enthusiastically recording the stroy, in English and Spanish, in a single session. She has so much energy we had to take a couple breaks to let her get up and run around the studio a little bit. We felt lucky to capture a wonderfully unique performance that shows off this young person’s fantastic personality. We may eventually add narration in Quechua, since her mother is fluent and she is working on that language as well!
With a wonderful narration in hand, we turned to NMAI Media group producer Mark Christal to add a bit of ambience and sound design. Mark recorded sounds of water, footsteps on a gravel road, and electronic effects combined with music from NMAI Cultural interpreter José Montaño (Qulla [Aymara]) to provide audio details to match the colorful illustrations and the power of the myth.
This project has surpassed our expectations with brilliant contributions from international artists, technicians, staff, and certainly the youngest narrator we have ever worked with. We know that it is an important part of the Inka Road exhibition, helping visitors of all ages access the story of the origin of the Inka Empire and understand the importance of the city of Cusco. Collaborative projects like these are especially exciting, since each contribution complements the others and we end up with something that no single person here could have imagined.
On July 22, I finished a final version of the exhibition video for “Why Treaties Matter: The Dakota and Ojibwe Nations in Minnesota.” The production of the traveling panel exhibit was a collaboration between the Minnesota Humanities Center and the National Museum of the American Indian which began about a year ago. I was brought in to develop the media piece concept in February of this year.The production of this video was on a very tight timetable. I needed to finish the video in time for the exhibition opening in August and decided I couldn’t really begin the production until June when I could capture a green landscape.
There wasn’t a clear idea for the media piece initially, just that it would emphasize how treaties were important to the tribes today. We decided that it was important that the media piece would show how treaties provide the foundation for the sovereignty of Minnesota tribal nations today and reveal how sovereignty affects the lives and outlook of contemporary tribal members.
The narrative structure of the video was to be “a day in the life of the Minnesota tribal nations.” I wanted to avoid the standard talking head interviews where the subject is seated and instead find situations where I could have tribal people talk about how treaties informed and influenced their life as they moved through their day. I really wanted to include all of Minnesota’s eleven tribal nations but due to budget and time constraints we chose six tribes to be part of the piece.
Jim Jones and friend
The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council was an integral part of the planning and execution of the production plan. Jim Jones, the Cultural Resource Director, and Tom Ross, a tribal elder from the Upper Sioux community accompanied Christopher Turner and myself on a pre-production visit in early May to meet with the tribes so that we could explain what we wanted to accomplish with the video. Whenever I can visit a community or meet a potential interview subject without the crew and the unblinking eye of the camera staring at them, it's valuable and we were fortunate that we were able to make this trip. We covered 1200 miles in three days and met with five tribal nations.
In speaking with the tribal leaders, we were able to identify many of the people and things that we thought would tell the story of treaties in Minnesota today. Keeping the day in the life concept in mind, I decided that we would try to get out on the fishing boats at daybreak on Red Lake, which owns and operates its own fishery, and that we would capture footage at sundown at the White Earth powwow. At the very least I thought if I have a start and an end to the video, I’ll figure out where everything else goes during during the edit!
Before we began our two week production in Minnesota in early June, I worked to develop a schedule so that we had interviews set up and to confirm with the tribes when we would plan to be in their community. We basically had only a few days in each location.
I also composed and recorded some music for the video before the shoot. Music really helps to move the story forward so I also asked the tribes if they could provide a local musician who could contribute music. I was put in touch with Keith Secola (Bois Forte Band of Chippewa) and was able to collaborate with him on the opening and closing track “Red Lake Sunrise” by sending tracks back and forth electronically. I wrote and recorded the keyboard, bass and drums and Keith added the flute and slide guitar. Keith also contributed his track “Homeland” that plays during the Bois Forte section of the video. The rest of the music, I put together right here at my desk in the museum.
Robbie Wood, Pete Palma, John Plummer and Tom Ross
I worked with Jim Jones and Pete Palma from the Indian Affairs Council during the main production. They did all the driving and Jim provided amazing logistical and cultural support throughout the trip. Jim gave me an education about the tribal history in the state and a lot of background for the video. We got to know each other pretty well after two weeks on the road and I owe him a great deal for what he put into this project. I was really happy that we were able to videotape Jim fishing on the Leech lake reservation and include it in the final cut. Pete Palma drove the production van and kept the crew entertained with his stories. The other members of the team were Kevin Cartwright who was the digital tech, second camera and voice of reason, John Plummer, our cameraman and Robbie Wood, our soundman. This team really gelled and went above and beyond day after day.
We began our production in St. Paul. Our first day of production was pretty typical: we interviewed Tom Ross in the morning, then interviewed Kevin Leecy at the state capital and were able to get footage of him meeting with the governor of Minnesota then recorded Annamarie Hill, Executive Director of the Indian Affairs Council who provided the narration you hear at the beginning and the end of the video. After that we got our van and car loaded and we drove the five hours from St Paul to Bois Forte!
The next day we were in beautiful northeastern Minnesota on Lake Vermillion. Helen Wilkie who works with the Bois Forte band helped to set up interviews with the tribal chairman, the tribe’s museum director, business leaders, the tribe’s radio station manager, the director of their language program and even got us in a prop plane so we could get aerial footage. If only we could have brought her on the entire production trip throughout the state! She provided lots and lots of opportunities for the video and unfortunately I was unable to keep all the footage in the final cut. Here’s the section of Kevin Leecy at the State capital that I would have loved to been able to include but didn’t make the final cut:
After Bois Forte, we visited the Red Lake Nation and were able to get footage of the Red Lake Fishery workers setting nets at the end of the day and pulling the nets at the beginning of the next day. Kevin Cartwright and I tried to get a time lapse sunrise shot and Kevin nearly got picked up and carried away by the ravenous mosquitoes who populated the shoreline at dawn. I stayed in the car and directed him from there! Red Lake provided some amazing scenery. We got footage of a bald eagle, a pelican, lots of birds,beautiful landscapes and even a fleeting glimpse of a bear.
We made sure that we visited White Earth next in time to get footage of the 143rd annual powwow that they host every year. The powwow commemorates their arrival to the reservation created by the 1867 treaty between the United States and the Mississippi Band of Chippewa Indians. The White Earth Nation has created a gorgeous site for their powwow and Kevin and I were able to climb to the top of a nearby building at sunset to get our shot of the powwow at the end of the day.
Kevin Cartwright on the roof
We traveled to the Leech lake community next and Jim Jones took us out on Cass Lake to pull nets and showed us how in detail to filet the fish and prepare them. We ate the fish you see on camera and it was delicious. My ambition was to find interview subjects doing things and avoid the standard talking head interview convention but in the end this interview with Jim was one of the only interviews that I conducted that was in motion. I have a lot of ideas about what I want to get when planning a production but one of the main things I have learned about producing a documentary is to stay flexible. I think the idea of getting interview subjects going about their daily life might work if we had a lot more time.
We visited the Upper Sioux Community next and hit our only day of bad weather. I was able to interview the eloquent chairman of the Sioux Community, Kevin Jensvold, in the morning but it began to rain pretty hard after that. I spoke with Dallas Ross about rescheduling because of the weather and he said, “Why? We have weather every day!” We lucked out since the next day the sky was filled with fast-moving clouds that created some amazing imagery that now populates the video.
Our final stop was at the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community, where I was able to interview their long-standing tribal chairman, Stanley Crooks. As we set up in his office, I mentioned that he was probably used to all the cameras and lights and he told he that he had only granted three interviews during his nearly twenty-year tenure. I was honored to be able to speak with him on camera.
I am very proud of what we were able to achieve with this short video and I am happy to be able to share it with you as part of this blog. The traveling exhibition will be at various locations throughout the great state of Minnesota. You can find out more information about the exhibition through the Minnesota Humanities website:
From Always Becoming's ever-growing Internet portfolio of portraits by amateur and professional photographers: By the Flickr contributor who calls herself catface3. We can't improve on the photographer's caption: "Modern sculpture of natural materials outside the National Museum of the American Indian. They are designed to gradually wear down under weathering and change over time. Hence the title." Flickr 1806666548
If you’ve been to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, or even just searched for images of NMAI up on Flickr, you already know the family of sculptures created by Nora Naranjo–Morse in the meadow between the building and Independence Avenue. After the museum’s architecture, Always Becoming surely has the distinction of being the single work of art most likely to be photographed by visitors to this corner of the National Mall.
This weekend offers an unusual opportunity for museum-goers to understand Naranjo-Morse’s artistic thinking, both in creating Always Becoming and in making Stories Upon Stories, a cast-aluminum sculpture inspired in part by Pueblo carved pottery. Stories Upon Stories is one of 31 remarkable works on view through Sunday in the exhibition Vantage Point: The Contemprary Native Art Collection. (Having Nora Narajo-Morse on hand to talk with last-minute visitors to the exhibition represents one of those rare moments of generosity when the universe actually rewards procrastination.)
This evening, as part of the series Dinner & a Movie, the museum is presenting the new documentary Always Becoming, directed by the artist and produced in collaboration with the museum. (The museum's Mitsitam Cafe will serve dinner until 6:30 PM; the movie begins at 7.) Discussion with Nora Naranjo-Morse and and NMAI Video Program Manager Melissa Bisagni follows the screening.
In the film, a work of art in its own right, Naranjo-Morse thinks aloud about the communal process of building her sculptures; the ideas of family, land, and culture they represent; their relationship to the museum and their counterpoint to the symbolic permanence of Washington’s political architecture; and their role as ambassadors of Native ideas and values: “Cultural knowledge has weathered an incredible amount of acculturation. And yet there are simple and truly profound examples of this passed-on knowledge that has informed generations and remains vital to our survival even today.”
The film also captures the combination of humor, humility, and serious thought that visitors respond to in Naranjo-Morse’s work: “People have asked . . . as we work outside every day, ‘Is this a stovepipe from below the institution?’ ‘Is it a refrigerator?’ ‘Is it a wedding cake?’ ‘Is it a whale?’ ‘Is it an oven?’ ‘Is it a restroom?’ And in that, it’s been very interesting, because that’s really pushed me out of my comfort zone as well. How do I look at those questions that probably a lot of people have in terms of what we make as Native people and what we’re doing as Native people?”
The film will also be shown—alas, without the du=iscussion afterward—Saturday, August 6, and Sunday, August 7, at 12:30 pm (with open captions in English) and 3:30 pm (with open captions in Spanish).
Stories upon Stories, 2005. Nora Naranjo-Morse (Santa Clara Pueblo), b. 1953. Cast aluminum, ed. 1/4. Museum purchase with funds donated by David and Sara Lieberman, Larry Goldstone, and the Masterpool Foundation Trust, 2007 (26/5837)
On Sunday afternoon, from 1:30 to 2:30, Naranjo-Morse will present a kind of walking gallery talk. She will begin in the Vantage Point gallery on the museum’s 3rd level with discussion about Stories Upon Stories and continue outside with more thoughts on Always Becoming.
If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet, don’t miss the opportunity to see some of the smart, moving, and challenging work being done by Native contemporary artists. And if you’re unable to come in person (or even if you have), be sure to check out the exhibition’s website, optimized for smartphones and other mobile devices, which is filled with resources for learning more about the featured artists and their work.
In recently added video interviews, photographer Rosalie Favell (Cree Métis) talks about her 2006 self portrait If only you could love me . . . and her interest in telling stories about her life; performance and installation artist James Luna (Puyukitchum [Luiseño]) discusses his piece Chapel for Pablo Tac, first created for the 2005 Venice Biennale; and painter Mario Martinez (Pascua Yaqui) reflects on abstraction and the cultural and art historical contexts for his work.
Interviews with Truman Lowe (Ho-Chunk) and Marie Watt (Seneca), posted earlier in the exhibition’s run, are available as well. Also featured are artist talks by Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee) on the evolution of her painting over her 45-year career, and Margarete Bagshaw (Santa Clara Pueblo) on three generations of strong women artists in her family.
Elsewhere on the website, you can download the exhibition brochure and an educational guide for families and children, find instructions for listening to the artists’ statements recorded for the exhibition’s cell phone tour, read bios of the artists and follow links to their websites, and learn about the programs scheduled for the exhibition’s closing weekend. The exhibition is nearing its end, but the content-filled website will continue to be a significant resource.
Uncaptioned photo above: Nora Naranjo-Morse during the creation of Always Becoming. NMAI.
I hopped out of our rental car. The sounds of the Amazon rainforest filled my ears, and as I looked down, next to my sandals huge red ants were streaming by. My Brazilian cameraman said, “I wouldn’t let those ants get too close. They’ll leave a mark.” I was back in the car, scrambling for something to cover my feet. We were on a dusty dirt road on the way to visit the Ka’apor tribe in the state of Maranhão in Brazil. Our team had been stuck in Belem for three days, trying to secure two trucks to take us on the pothole-filled roads that we would have to follow to reach their village. We had finally made the best of it with a couple of VW Gol economy cars. Now we were in the rainforest, and the road ahead was submerged under a few feet of water. Luckily we were a short hike away from our destination.
It was an incredible privilege to visit the Ka’apor’s village and to interview many of the tribal members and include part of their story in the museum’s inaugural exhibition Our Peoples. Although there was no English spoken outside of our team, I was warmly welcomed by the community. I slept in a hammock outside under the trees, and it lightly rained every morning around 4am. During the day, we trekked with the Ka’apor into the heart of largest rainforest in the world to see where poachers had illegally removed valuable trees from the Ka’apor’s land. Loggers have been invading the land occupied by Amazon Natives since the 1990s, looking for highly valued wood such as mahogany, which is illegal to harvest in Brazil. Although the tribe did not wish to speak about it on camera for fear of retaliation, tribal members protesting increased mandates to log their forests have been shot and killed.
This video was produced in 2004, but the Ka’apor still have to struggle to protect the forest within their designated reserve. The English voice in this video is that of anthropologist Dr. William Balée, who traveled with the team and provided a wealth of knowledge about ethnobotany, the tribe’s lifeways, and the historical ecology of the area. Vincent Carelli, a documentary film director and editor and the founder and co-director of Vídeo nas Aldeias/Video in the Villages, was the cameraman for this project and I remain indebted to his skill in bringing this story to life.
What I mean by ‘not for kids’ is that when I began thinking about what we were calling a Children’s Guide to the Infinity of Nations exhibition in New York, I didn’t fundamentally change my approach to creating content. The tools we use and the goals are universal in that we want to engage the visitor and provide a hook so they can find a way in. Of course in directing this towards kids, we focus on simpler concepts than what we might do for an older audience.
The exhibition, Infinity of Nations opened in our New York museum last year and it’s a more or less a permanent exhibition – it will be in place for at least a decade. We launched the ION app, the first app for this museum and the Smithsonian’s first English/Spanish bilingual app at the same time. You can download it for free at the iTunes store and we are distributing free players to deliver the content at our New York museum. Here is the direct link to the app store:
The Hand, The Eye and The Compass, A Family Guide was designed for families with children 8-12 years of age. We targeted that age group because we felt that the aptitude for visitors younger than age 8 is extremely variable and that teens could use the adult guide. The content for this guide is original and was produced for this project.
Each of the highlighted objects in the family guide can be seen from one of three points of view, an artist (represented by a hand icon), a reporter (represented by an eye icon) or a traveler (represented by the compass icon). This allows kids to decide what they want to do and where they want to go. Choices give users the very clear message that there is always more than one way to look at objects and that’s an important message for all our visitors but especially for our younger audience.
We felt that part of the fun will be for kids to find the object that we will be talking about in each of the cases. Here the user can click on “WHERE IS IT?” If they want a hint:
And the hint gives kids an idea of where to look in the case. Clicking on the “OK I FOUND IT” button plays the stop.
The design of the app is sophisticated but many of the on screen activities were created without expensive or complex interactive programming. The stop below works and feels like an interactive but it’s a simple slide show.
This is also a way to encourage family interaction - instead of isolating users, it gives them an activity to do together.
Sound is more important than visuals in creating content. To my mind that is one of the golden rules. My feeling is that sound really carries the content. The sound design of this guide was developed as another character to engage kids and help set the tone. Having Buffy Sainte-Marie as our narrator greatly benefited our project as well. This stop below shows how we use sound to enter the world of this object, a Conibo jar from the Amazon.
We created a couple of stops that we call “Kids Talk Back”. We got together a group of kids in the gallery and asked them about specific objects so we could get recordings of kids responding to the objects on view. This gives the kids permission to have their own ideas and opinions about the artwork and it was a really fun to record.
The Hand, The Eye and The Compass, A Family Guide was just added to the exisiting iPhone app this week and I hope that I’ve piqued your curiosity about this project and you’ll consider downloading the app at the iTunes store or better yet visit us in lower Manhattan and check out the guide in the gallery.