Chapter One

This conversation between Sky Hopinka and curator and filmmaker Roya Rastegar, a member of the 2020 Herb Alpert Award Film/Video panel, took place online, between March 10th and April 27th. It is, infused, as you will read, (and might expect), with the world.

– Irene Borger, editor and director, Herb Alpert Award in the Arts


Roya Rastegar, Tuesday, March 10
Dearest Sky,
I’m so excited to start a dialogue with you.
Your work moves me in ways I struggle with, as a queer immigrant in exile from my own country, as an artist who has still not found home in any single medium, as a woman driven by magic and dreams (my name means dream).
I sense many of my own preoccupations in your work. In the images that are still, and the ones that move. In your words, the ones that are still, and the ones that move.
The question I want to start with is big and likely unanswerable, but I’d rather try to carve away at it through a dialogue, than slyly build up to it:
How has your relationship to land throughout your life so far as an artist, a maker, changed your approach to language and to artistic form/medium (photography, film, written text, etc)?
Thursday, March 12,
Dear Sky, I know the world has gone a bit wonky, so I wanted to check in to be sure you got my email. Sending love, Roya
Sky Hopinka, Wednesday, March 18

Hi Roya and Irene,

I apologize for the lateness in responding, I was on the road from last Tuesday bouncing between Milwaukee, Minneapolis and finally Chicago and got to Vancouver on Sunday, and as you know everything has been getting more and more locked down. I'm still in Vancouver, BC now, trying to finish out the semester and just found out today that I'm stuck here for the time being. But with this free time I've been trying to get settled in for the long haul. I was just going through my emails today and getting caught up on everything, and have been thinking about Roya's question.

For me, how I look at the land and how I think about the landscape is passed through a number of filters. The first and most immediate is that of the homeland, of creation stories, presence, and of removal of Indigenous Peoples.  The next is through boundaries and borders, roads and infrastructure, and how those concepts – both imagined and real – locate me in the position of being traveler and a resident of those non-spaces. Next, thinking further through those non-spaces I try to recognize communities that have been created via many different diasporas, how land can be transient, it can be permanent, it can be a reflection of where we are and when we are, and how we will never be again.  Filming or photographing these places is never about "capturing" an essence of them, but rather commemorating an experience that is both linear and circular and how the scapes are always full of movement and emotion, especially when you're in them with your friends. Even when I'm in the process of shooting, I may not be thinking about those things but I know that the times I've sat with those thoughts inform the way I move through those spaces and how and where I point my camera.


RR: Monday, March 23
Dear Sky,
Thank you for your thoughtful response. I hope things are well for you in Vancouver. I read your response when it first came in, but preparing to be homebound with a young child has slowed things down.
Since I wrote, the world feels like it has shifted in a very real and permanent way. Life will hopefully return and we will be able to move about again, but our worldview will likely be forever changed. Your response came just before this very significant shift - as I re-read it now, I think about just how much movement there is in your words. I wonder: Are you being compelled to think about space and movement differently now, not even 5 days later?
I'm at a loss for questions, but I'll share some thoughts. I hope they provoke a response. I also just really want to hear how you and your communities are doing, how they are perceiving what is going on, how they are protecting themselves, how they are preparing? I've been hearing conflicting things about the impact of this virus on Native communities.
Since your response, the entire world is experiencing physical space in a different way. And our global inter-connectedness - across race, age, sexuality, national identity - has gone from being a poetic notion to a scientific fact. Graphs and charts abound daily to prove the ability for disease to pass so quickly from one person to a thousand. Hoarding masks and sanitizer have caused great danger to medical professionals and the most vulnerable populations in our society. The consequence of that is a strained medical system and more people getting sick, which then reverberates onto the hoarders and the rest of us.
It is not lost on me that indigenous knowledges and world-views feel all the more urgent to listen to and heed now. Much warmth, Roya
SH: Sunday, March 29

Hi Roya,

I am thinking of space and movement differently, as well as connectivity to people. I tend to think of all of my work being about people, in some form or another. Whether it's a single person or an entire community, or whether they're present or absent, those spaces and the movements between them are human-centric, and what gives a position to think about the land and how we move in and around it. Being confined and everyone else being confined, provides a certain unity that can't be overlooked. I feel like I've talked to more people more regularly on zoom or house party than I have before. Friends that I would go weeks between conversations or text every now and then, we now find ourselves talking everyday or every few days. That's another sort of movement, and another sort of space to occupy. With my short film on Standing Rock, Dislocation Blues, I was trying to present, or represent, the online aspect of presence and its relationship to reality. Is bearing witness a form of presence? To see what is happening a thousand miles away and hear someone’s voice and see their face on a screen and to be seen and heard by them – is that enough?

I've been thinking about a trip that I have to make across the country this summer, how is it going to happen and will it happen? Who could I see and who could I not see? I hope to see my family in Wisconsin, and in Washington State.  They seem fine and isolated. If I don't see them, then that'll be ok. Self-isolation and self-quarantine are choices. They're choices we have to make for ourselves and mostly for everyone around us. Sometimes the simplicity of that thought helps me feel a sense of agency in this lonely and chaotic moment.


RR, Wednesday, April 1
I love foregrounding the agency of self-isolation and shelter in place.
You’re totally right on about the difference form of presence that is emerging.
At first, there was this urgent need to track how the virus was spreading. Now, that is moot because it’s spread so broadly. The idea of how inter-connected we are used to be the stuff of philosophers or idealists. But everything is so concrete and grounded in our daily practice and decisions now.
Your question of if that’s enough - To see what is happening a thousand miles away and hear someone’s voice and see their face on a screen and to be seen and heard by them?
I struggle with this all the time. It’s one that people in exile and living in the diaspora have to face. Of course, to be witness and stand in solidarity across the world, is absolutely necessary, and digital technologies have enabled this.
But what IS the boundary of digital presence?
How DOES physically being absent restrict the radical potential of witness, and the work that comes after the witnessing...the protecting, rebuilding, fighting? 
The reports of people dying alone, and the extreme dangerous exposure of healthcare workers to the virus is causing a whole new wave of sorrow.
How does the Xawiska revive the fainted across digital platforms? I've been thinking about Fainting Spells a lot right now. If the smoke cannot cross over the medium, at least the text can.
How do you think about text in relation to landscape and sound - when you're making work? Do you think about one before the other? Does one inform the other when you're putting them together? And then, the motion of it - your choice to scroll it across the screen in different ways. For me, it forces the eyes to keep up, or else lose the words, just like we lose time and space. Loss maybe isn't how you were thinking about it. It is just on my mind at the moment.  I'm so grateful for what time and space we have right now. Xx Roya
SH, Saturday, April 11

In relation to my other work around death and birth and reincarnation, Fainting Spells was a video that was about the abstract realms that those ideas can occupy.  Where every faint and revival in the film is a sort of death and birth, coming around to some sort of change whether it's entirely interior or not. The scrolling text is a technique I first encountered in James Benning's American Dreams Lost and Found and immediately saw the power of its usage. The main thing being the inability to keep up, or this stress to keep up with reading what is scrolling across the screen. I know that it's stressful, and I know that it's impossible to read both bottom and top text in the second section of the film, and my hope is that there will be a relief when the attempt to keep up is abandoned.

I don't think about text in relation to landscape and sound in one distinct way, apart from the obvious horizontal aspect of words and their relationship to sound, each piece and film is an opportunity for other relationships to develop between these elements.

Hopinka When you're lost in the rain - still 1


Hopinka Anti Objects - still 2
Hopinka Anti Objects - still 1

“I tend to think of all of my work being about people, in some form or another, whether it's a single person or an entire community, whether they're present or absent…”

-Sky Hopinka


Hopinka Visions still 1
Hopinka Visions of an Island - still 3
Hopinka Kuninkaga Remembers - still 1


Hopinka Dislocation Blues - still 3
Hopinka Dislocation Blues - still 2

“Filming or photographing places is never about ‘capturing’ an essence of them, but rather commemorating an experience that is both linear and circular.”

-Sky Hopinka


Hopinka Fainting Spells - still 1
Hopinka Fainting Spells - still 2
Hopinka Fainting Spells - still 3
Hopinka Fainting Spells - still 4
Hopinka Fainting Spells (excerpt)