Emily Johnson‘s 2012 work, Niicugni, is touring the United States early this year. Drawing from her Yup’ik roots, Niicugni is the second of a trilogy of dance performances, this one staged within a light and sound performance that focuses on listening to the Earth. An integral part of each performance space will be hand-made fish-skin lanterns, a skill handed down to Johnson and practiced by many volunteers local to her company’s residency at Vermont Performance Lab, ultimately creating 51 salmon-skin lanterns.
These lanterns are the material aspects of the performance most often noted by reviewers, perhaps because of the direct link to Johnson’s native heritage, or maybe sparked by the continuing novelty of the hand-made. The physical relationship suggested by the piece reminds one of the physical relationship, largely lost, with the arts of sewing, whether skins or fabric, clothing or objects: “Niicugni asks: can we pay attention to the ways we do and do not listen to our bodies, histories, impulses, and environments.”
I find the above video inspiring and important: I love a group of women coming together to preserve sewing and fiber arts traditions. The process is whole, from scraping the skins to the finishing stitch, and there is another video of Johnson catching salmon herself. I think of not only learning the stitch, but the silky, scaly suppleness of the skin, and the smell! Certainly a world away from machine-loomed wool, or handwoven linen, this extra sensation that commands awareness of the material’s presence.
The fish-skin lantern is not necessarily a traditional object, but the use of ancient and traditional techniques to make new and/or art objects is perhaps even more sustainable than the replication of old objects.
What work do you see being done to preserve traditions important to you? Do you think art/dance/performance are effective media for the preservation of clothing, textile, and fiber art traditions? What does dance do to reconnect us with tactile understanding? Have you seen this performance, or Johnson’s other work?
Please leave us your thoughts below!