Archer Pechawis

UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver BC 1994

"Voices" was a performance I created for the MOA, focusing on aspects of the collection. The piece was short, maybe 15 minutes, and was the opener for further performances by Margo Kane, Wayne Lavallee and Evan Adams. Text of the show follows, but requires familiarity with the MOA to make sense.

Performance text

(Performance begins with the audience gathered outside the doors of the museum)

Good evening and welcome to the UBC Museum of Anthropology! If you read the description of this performance in the promotional material you will know that you were asked to (reading the flyer) "bring your stories". If so, you probably wondered about that briefly, then filed it away. If you are a struggling writer you may have brought some samples of your work in the vague hope of a lucky break. If you did not consciously bring your stories you may be feeling a sense of unease, like maybe it's a test and you are about to fail and be publicly humiliated. How fair would that be? You came here to see a performance, not be in it. Is this going to be one of those horrible performance art events where the tables are turned on the audience and dangerous or embarrassing things happen to them?

Fear not. We have all brought our stories, but no one will be forced to share them.

This building is a repository for stories. We will be going through these doors to examine this place. When we go through these doors, what responsibilities are we assuming? Are there secrets great and terrible to know? What exactly are we getting into?

Let's find out. (doors are opened, we go through and walk down the ramp towards the Great Hall)

(point out mortuary box) This is a mortuary box, a place for the remains of respected citizens. A container for the dead. This building is a mortuary box, a mausoleum of concrete and glass filled with culture. But what is a mausoleum if the inhabitants refuse to die? A retirement home? What if the retirees refuse to stop working? The language of this building states that these beings are dead and belong to a forgotten time, a forgotten people, and this is where they will rest forever. But is that true? What if this is merely a resting place in a larger journey? What drives this culture to represent the artifacts of living cultures as dead? This museum says more about the culture that built it than the objects it contains say about the cultures that made them. Someday this place may be empty, and groups of schoolchildren will be brought here to learn about this curious phase of human development.

Let's go on. (we pass under a house post)

Stop! What have we done! Look! We have passed through this portal unawares. What does this mean? Have we made some sort of commitment? Have we committed an act of unwitting transgression? How many times in a day does this happen without our knowing it? What do we know about the land we occupy? What sort of assumptions do we make every day about our surroundings, about the land we walk upon, the land we depend upon, and what our obligations may be? Those of you who remain on the other side may want to consider your thoughts as you pass under, or perhaps reconsider. And please, say a prayer for those of us who have gone before.

We will strive to be more careful. Onward.

(we arrive at the great hall)

Ahh, the belly of the beast. The Great Hall.

What is the sound of the voices, the voices of these beings?

listen. they live.

Do they dream?

Why are they here?

Do they like this place?

Do they like each other?

Do they mind our being here?

How did they come to rest here? Magic? Catastrophe? What upheaval mighty enough to uproot these voices, to lay them here intact?

In a time past they lived in the place of their creation, and in many ways the lives of the human hands that shaped them went on much as it does now. People worked hard to secure their livelihood, fell in love, had children, fought wars. But this world on which the rain fell so dependably began to change. The changes were small at first, but accelerated in a way which the people struggled to understand. And then suddenly everything began to change at once with a mighty roaring sound. It was a storm, the like of which had never been seen before, and people ran like bandits, screaming that the end of the world was upon them. Others stayed close, drawing strength from the surety of the voices.

fear not

fear not they said

Those close to the voices cried out as the storm lifted them up, up, and away. Some stopped believing and began to fall, fall back to their shattered villages. The ground looked stony and hard below, but some fell all the way down. Others cried out, and reached toward the vanishing voices. In the act of reaching out they were kept close. They inhabit this place too.

But that was long ago.

Listen. (have quiet to hear the wind going through the building)

It's a good idea to keep an eye on your own story here. The way the wind blows through this place a hundred stories might come and go before anyone thought to close the door. At night, when the wind moans in a certain way a person's story might cleave to a dreaming voice, a voice dreaming in ways we cannot imagine. Leave here without your story and what would become of you? When I lost my story I forgot who I was and flailed like a blinded man, my eyes blank as the eyes of a camera, seeing all but feeling nothing. I had to go back to the voices.