HASTAC2019 Roundtable: Wrapped in the Cloud

Conrad Sly, Hannah Turner, Kate Hennessy and Jaimie Isaac. Meghann O’Brien skyped in and Beth Carter couldn’t attend in person.

We had an excellent roundtable session at HASTAC2019 in Vancouver, on the unceded ancestral territory of the Musqueam people. Thank you to the organizers for a wonderful conference!

Wrapped in the Cloud: Exhibition, Return, and Digital Representations of Meghann O’Brien’s Sky Blanket
A 60-minute Roundtable of Talks by Beth Carter (Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art), Jaimie Isaac (Winnipeg Art Gallery), Meghann O’Brien (Artist), Conrad Sly (Artist), Hannah Turner (U of Leicester), and Kate Hennessy (Simon Fraser U); Chaired by Hannah Turner (U of Leicester), and Kate Hennessy (Simon Fraser U)

Meghann O’Brien’s woven artwork Sky Blanket has been an integral part of the traveling exhibition Boarder X, curated by Jaimie Isaac, since its launch at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2017. However, in the summer of 2018, Meghann was looking for ways to bring Sky Blanket out of exhibition and home to be danced and used in ceremony. In order to preserve the presence of the blanket in the exhibition, Jaimie and Meghann decided to explore possibilities for scanning and 3D printing the blanket to replace the original blanket in Boarder X. After inquiring with curator Karen Duffek at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Meghann and Jaimie were connected with Kate Hennessy, Hannah Turner and Conrad Sly, who were working to experiment with new technologies to digitize belongings in museums, to aid in preservation, education, and to facilitate requests for repatriations. Over four months in the summer of 2018, we worked together to 3D Scan, complete photogrammetry (with the help of PhD Student Reese Muntean) and experiment with the digital manifestation of Meghann’s original piece.

In this round table presentation, this group will describe the ways in which we came together to envision a new project: making a digital representation of Meghann’s blanket. This collaboration resulted in a media installation: Wrapped in the Cloud that was exhibited in lieu of the original weaving in Boarder X at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, with plans to travel to the other galleries in Canada over the next two years. The digital animation Wrapped in the Cloud leads viewers through different rendering passes of the blanket that emerged in the course of the production of the digital model. It draws attention to the dynamics of digital image production and potentials for new technologies to support the return of belongings, while provoking discussion about the ethics and creative potential in new imaging technologies.

In the course of our work together we engaged in wide ranging conversations such as the materiality of goats’ wool in relation to the digital materiality of 3D modelling software programs; we have questioned how to bring a history of weaving into a history of technology; and we have wondered about the connection between the environmental risks to mountain goats and the exploitative natures of cloud computing services. In conversation with Beth Carter, the curator of Meghann’s recent show Interface: The woven artwork of Jaad Kuujus at the Bill Reid Gallery (September 18, 2018 – Jan. 9, 2019), we will display Wrapped in the Cloud and reflect on the origins of the project while questioning what is at stake when using new technologies in collaborative projects.