The Six Seasons is an operatic multimedia live video performance created and directed by Tyson Houseman that combines reactive live video projections, dynamic theatrical set pieces, and small scale object performance, with an electroacoustic musical score performed live by Devon Bate – featuring lyrics sung in nehiyawewin by baritone vocalist Jonathon Adams (Cree-Métis).

Artist Statement

I am an Indigenous nehiyaw (plains cree) interdisciplinary artist who mainly works with video, performance, installation, and puppetry. My work focuses on aspects of contemporary Indigeneity, wherein I am translating both traditional and polytemporal nehiyaw philosophies and teachings into multifaceted works of video and installation art, ranging from experimental puppet films to performative live video projection installations. Other themes that I am currently exploring in my practice include ceremony and opacity, disrupting perceptions of linear time, and the intrinsic and relational connections between bodies and land, which are integral to nehiyaw ideologies.

My performance practice utilizes the activation of live video projections in order to highlight these intrinsic connections between body, land, and time. I frequently combine and overlay pre-recorded landscape imagery with live video feeds of water refractions, analog visual effects, and overlays of hands/body silhouettes, in order to create expanded interactive video pieces that are layered and can only exist as a fully completed video work through the intra-action of the audience-performance event in its specific present moment in time. The video installation “Doorway” also reflects this concept, as the unifying factor that completes the video work is the viewer's experience of standing in front of it. A webcam captures a live feed of the viewer and overlays the silhouette of their movement (made using TouchDesigner) onto the video projection surface, incorporating and seamlessly blending the overlay of their silhouetted form into the video piece in order to create the finished work.

Within my practice, the theme of dismantling linear time is meant to explore the temporal distancing between time-based media and live video, or liveness and embodied presence as a structure for bridging temporalities across land and time. The projection installation “Smudge/Stream” explores notions of distance, opacity, and ceremony through the use of a live streamed Zoom call of a firepit that my brother was tending at our cabin in the foothills of Alberta, that was then projected onto an empty picture frame. The glass of the frame reflects the fire onto a cast-iron smudge pan that contains purposely unlit medicines (sweetgrass, sage) and next to the smudge pan is a matchbook from a local bar in Brooklyn.

In my digital prints, paintings, and ink on paper works, elements of land and landscape are overlaid and disrupted by filters and geometric forms that alter the natural landscapes into diffracted textures. In my further explorations of these digital works and also in my video work, I am currently working on reinterpreting nehiyaw syllabics into forms that are meant to reveal an Indigenous time, or more specifically, to reveal a truth rooted within both nehiyaw teachings/cosmologies and within current understandings of quantum physics: time is a relativistic construct being created through our perception of it, and through our embodied relations to land.

Thesis Project Statement

The Six Seasons is an operatic multimedia live video performance that combines projected live video feeds, dynamic theatrical set pieces, and small scale object performance, with an electroacoustic musical score performed live, featuring lyrics sung in nehiyawewin (plains cree) by baritone vocalist Jonathon Adams (Cree-Métis). This performance depicts traditional nehiyaw landscape scenes from my home territory to convey an ecological notion of non-linear, cyclical, deep time on a geologic time-scale and interpret nehiyaw cosmological teachings from my Elders about time, space, and connections to land at a critical moment of ecological crisis in human history.

The visual elements and structure of this operatic expanded video piece are inspired by Ragnar Kjartansson's performance "The Explosive Sonics of Divinity", an opera with large moving landscape set pieces but no visible performers, and also inspired by the nehiyaw concept of the six seasons, which acts as a thematic structure for the six acts, or scenes, of the piece. Each scene displays each of the six seasons described in nehiyaw teachings, which include two distinct seasons described as the “breaking up” and the “freeze up” seasons in the early spring and late fall, which were traditionally wary times to be traveling. These short season scenes are created using very slow moving landscape set pieces and slowly shifting lighting design, culminating in a final scene depicting a forest fire over the foothills of my home territory (the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada) – all created using live video projections of small scale object performance combined with found material sets and structures, and a practical (non-digital) approach to creating visual effects and lighting effects. This medium length opera includes contemporary and post-classical live ambient soundscapes inspired by the works of Luigi Nono, Jeremy Dutcher, Kite, Laura Ortman, and Raven Chacon, and is composed by my frequent collaborator and dear friend Devon Bate (who produced Jeremy Dutcher's album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa in 2018).

This 40 min event involves the creation, filming, and musical scoring of video performance that is created live in front of the audience in a large black box style space tucked away on the fifth floor of the Pfizer Building in Brooklyn. The piece incorporates multiple live camera feeds pointed at various elements such as bowls of water, reflective materials, fabrics, crumpled paper, and natural materials such as wood, mugwort, oyster mushrooms, and sweetgrass to create live visual effects through feedback loops and distortions, while the electroacoustic score is performed live along with baritone operatic singing of a text in nehiyawewin (the plains cree language) that was written by myself and my grandfather Ken Roan, who also made the translations into our language. The piece examines a traditional nehiyaw structure of a calendar year by dismantling linear time into cyclical representations of spacetime or land/time.