Noxious Sector Projects
312 S. Washington St.
Seattle WA 98104

Jackson 2bears

This is not an Indian

What would it mean to become a tourist of one's own identity, to be forced into a position where the very culture from which one comes has also become a plaything for others? To walk into a photo studio only to find one's own image waiting as a costume to be worn? Such is the project of Mohawk artist Jackson 2bears - a recuperation of his image from the annals of cultural simulation.

The cultural theorist Lisa Nakamura calls it "identity tourism," a social fascination with adopting the cultures of others. There are other names for it too - cultural imperialism, image colonialism or even Hallowe'en. In each case what the terminologies imply is not only that we're perpetually seduced by difference, but that the only real way we understand the cultures of others is through the virtual simulation of the image.

But this is not a new story. In 1929 the French artist René Magritte wrote the provocative words ceci n'est pas un pipe (this is not a pipe) beneath a painting of a pipe - a simple observation on the complex relationship between reality and representation. The title of the painting - The Treachery of Images - is revealing. This was not only a comment on the nuances of the image, but a formula for treachery, and one that our society has embraced all too well. The destiny of the image is to replace the reality it represents. Pure treachery.

In our world, Magritte's words have become a prophecy fulfilled - a world philosophers have called one of spectacle, simulation or even technological possession. And make no mistake, we are all implicated in this treachery - willfully or otherwise. For in the 21st century we are a culture of images - from Facebook simulations of individuality to officialized data identities of regulated digital living. If you believe you are still in control of your image, try to cross the border without a passport, go to school without a student ID, buy a car without a driver's license. What you'll find is that you're nothing without your image - no passage, no access, no status. You will find that you are not yourself until your image verifies your place in the world.

The destiny of the image is to become real. Pure treachery come back to haunt us by the very methods we use to simulate ourselves and others. The treachery of the image is that now we can only simulate ourselves. The treachery of the image is to make us all tourists of our own identities. And for Jackson 2bears, the first step in speaking back to this treachery is to wear it proudly as the simulated skin of social authenticity.