Sites of devastation and terror often become places of memorial and pilgrimage. In “Future Ancestral Technologies: nágshibi,” Cannupa Hanska Luger’s mournful science-fiction installation at Emerson College’s Media Art Gallery, people grieve, reckon, and ask forgiveness at sites where natural resources have been plundered.
Luger, who is based in New Mexico, grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and describes his lineage as “Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, and Norwegian.” His speculative fiction imagines a future in which indigenous people once again live in harmony with the land. “Nágshibi” is the Hidatsa word for “to be past, to be after.” Luger takes us to a time after capitalism and colonialism.
He spells out the story in “We Live,” a short, incantatory video projection that amounts to a creation myth. “The colonizer has left,” the narrator says as two figures dressed in ceremonial costume appear in a stark landscape. Imagine — oppressors whose culture has co-opted your own, who have slaughtered, resettled, and belittled you for centuries, suddenly gone. In Luger’s tale, they have “mined massive chunks of our planet” to fuel ships to abandon the earth.
Those left behind travel to pillaged sites and engage in rituals of apology. The sites, the narrator says, “need to feel as though we recognize our folly.”
The installation revolves around this extended moment of consecration, an expression of humanity’s responsibility, and of grief. A percussive hieroglyphic wall drawing echoes the narrative. Luger made and performed in scrappy ceremonial regalia crafted from packing blankets, sports equipment, colorful yarn, and more. He fills a 21-foot-tall canvas tipi with crisscrossing strands of yarn and an eerie light, turning a portable home into a mystical site.
Other videos portray rituals or simple engagement with the land. In one, a man and a boy walk through tall grass past a deserted pickup truck. There is no more gas. There are no more electronics. The future ancestral technologies are the old ones. They make minimal demands on the earth. They foster a less comfortable life than we’re used to, but a far gentler ethos.
FUTURE ANCESTRAL TECHNOLOGIES: nágshibi
At Media Art Gallery, Emerson College, 25 Avery St., through Dec. 15. 617-824-8667, www2.emerson.edu/urban-arts/media-art-gallery