FREQUENCIES is a digital audio & visual project based on a Deer Toe Rattle. Collected in 1902, the Rattle is made from Wood, Hide & Deer Claws, and is listed as a Dance Rattle, or Medicine Man’s Shaker. It can be traced to the collection of Dr. Oronhyateka; a Mohawk physician and scholar, from Six Nations of the Grand River. One of the first Indigenous physicians in North America, Dr. Oronhyateka established the Historical Rooms & Library (which once stood in downtown Toronto) during his tenure as the Supreme Chief Ranger of the Independent Order of Foresters. Oronhyateka’s Historical Rooms housed local Indigenous and World Artifacts.
FREQUENCIES is rooted in the initial act of “tuning in” (think adjusting a dial across radio airwaves or flipping through television stations). It explores the notion that while many indigenous artifacts lay dormant, they continue to resonate – and are perhaps still capable of transmitting information/knowledge/ideas. I see this project as an activation or call to reactivation. It is an exploration of the ways we engage with our cultural past through story, sight, motion and sound. ‘Frequencies’ examines devices of communication, knowledge, and the transmission of ideas. How DID & DOES this object function? And how would it communicate within a mechanized world?
As this project has grown, it has begun to occupy more 3 dimensional landscapes that re-imagine the rattle, its movements & transmissions.
‘Frequencies’ is about Transference. Traversing Technological Territories. Adaptation.
About Shawn Johnston
Shawn Johnston is an Indigenous Digital Media artist and recent graduate of OCAD University (Bachelor of Fine Arts in Integrated Media). Prior to his studies at OCAD University, Shawn obtained a degree in Fashion Design (in partnership with the International Academy of Merchandising & Design, and the Native Skills Centre, Toronto), where he first became interested in the exploration of art, technology, human interaction, the body and its physicality.
About the Original Artifact
Deer Claw Rattle
Rattle // hide, deer dewclaws // 32.5 x 6 cm // Oronhyatekha Collection
Gift of the Independent Order of Foresters
About the Process
Choosing the rattle: I knew that I wanted to create an audio piece, so I tried to focus on objects that produced sound. I was initially thinking of working with drums, but I found that I kept gravitating back to the rattle. I was thinking about these items stored away from sight/touch/sound etc. and
it occurred to me that perhaps things continually emit a pulse that transmits their knowledge/ideas, and it is up to us to tune into their frequencies. I feel like during my time in the ROM archives, I activated something within both the object and myself that warranted exploration.