Sky Hopinka

SKY HOPINKA, b. 1984
Ho-Chunk/Pechanga, based in Vancouver, Canada

Jáaji Approx. is a portrait of Mike Hopinka, the artist’s Jáaji (translated as father in English), and through him, the Ho Chunk native community, based in Midwestern United States. Here the figure of the Jáaji serves as a metaphor to render the artist’s dislocated but vivid relationship with his Indigenous heritage.

In this film, Hopinka assumes the role of a cataloguer and ethnographer, as he notes the time and date of each of his conversations with his Jáaji, plays and examines old recordings of Ho Chunk ancestral songs with this ”informant”, and transcribes all the sounds discussed. As a filmmaker he nonetheless filters the ethnographic narrative conventions – which traditionally produce a nostalgic image of native culture, disconnected to the present day – by layering all these archives with discordant movements of the camera and colourful images of lands that he and his father traversed. This polyphonic and dissonant superimposition opens a fugitive path between past and present realities, and materializes Hopinka’s signature ”ethnopoetic” filmic language.

Anti-Objects, Or Space Without Path Or Boundary is an audiovisual invitation to wander through the land and language of the Chinookan people, an Indigenous group living in the Pacific Northwest in the United States. Here Hopinka combines shots of urban and natural landscapes with recorded conversations between Wilson Bobb, the last fluent native speaker of Chinuk Wawa, and the ethnographer Henry Zenk, who played an important role in revitalizing the language (and was Hopinka’s teacher’s teacher). In the intervals, the filmmaker adds quotes from the architect Kengo Kuma’s texts (one of them inspired the title), where he defines an alternative way to engage with the physical world. Following the Japanese architect’s belief that ”everything is interconnected and intertwined” the filmmaker treats the language as inseparable from its environment, a place of relations, connections and sociability. This confluence of text, sound, colour, voice, and music, creates a saturated and non-linear reverie, where the boundaries between nature/culture, past/present, space/time, object/subject feel obsolete.

In wawa, Sky Hopinka combines conversations with the American linguist Henry Zenk with scenes from a Chinuk Wawa class he attended in New York City. Here the filmmaker blurs intentionally the line between learning, teaching and socializing, showing that the knowledge and transmission of a language is based on community. The structure of the narrative which looks at first simple and amateurish turns into a complex and opaque flux of sounds, meanings and possible interpretations. Through the layering of social interactions, conversations, transcriptions and translations, the filmmaker creates a polyphonic collage about Chinuk Wawa that complicates the relationships between language and identity.

Image: Sky Hopinka, Jaaji Approx., 2015