Memetic Drive: The Video Work of Scott Benesiinaabandan

Curated by Cecilia Araneda
For the 2014 WNDX Festival – opening Wed Sept 24, 2014 at Urban Shaman Gallery

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term meme in his book The Selfish Gene (1976), as a unit of human cultural transmission that holds similarities to the gene in that both are functional replicators. Dawkins created the term from the ancient Greek word mimeme, or that which replicates. With complex science and philosophy streams connecting both in and out of Dawkins’ proposal, the core idea behind the concept of meme is that it is something that can replicate and spread itself without active consciousness involved.

Established science states that everything that makes humans distinct from other animals, and everything that makes one culture unique from another, is the result of the emergence of certain traits that provided a survival advantage within a specific geographic context. The traits that enabled the survival of genes were then, in turn, replicated by those genes through a process known as natural selection.

More recently in the 2000’s, however, memeticist Susan Blackmore has explained that this does not provide the whole picture. While genes are one replicator humanity uses, several million years ago our ancestors began imitating in a complex manner, and this eventually became a second global replicator, paving the way for language capacity and ultimately culture. Within this definition, culture is a meme, given that it is comprised of elements that can be replicated with variations over time, such as language, stories and design, among other evolving components. Therefore, our capacity to imitate has affected our own human evolution in turn, driving the evolution of larger brains within a context where the survival of our genes should actually seek the smallest and most economical brains possible.

Blackmore refers to this process as memetic drive, where meme evolution drives the evolution of genes that are ultimately better at copying memes. The inevitable extension of the notion of memetic drive is that the culture of our ancestors has had a biological effect on our evolution, imprinting a lasting memory within it. This notion folds into itself further, as culture imprints on genes and genes, in turn, imprint back onto their geography, making culture an intrinsic component of our physical world.

Among the key concerns that Scott Benesiinaabandan (Anishinaabe) examines through his art practice are subconscious ways of knowing. He uses technology not only as a means of unearthing the latent memory of biology and geography, but also increasingly to both interpret and re-interpret it. Working principally in photography and media art, Benesiinaabandan’s investigation is rooted in the potential of unearthing memory as a mechanism of decolonization.

The video work included in Memetic Drive has been achieved through various computer programming techniques, including slit scanning, processing-based programming, sensors and arduinos, among others. Through his work, Benesiinaabandan frequently uses found landscapes as the source for uncovering the collective unconscious.

– Cecilia Araneda


 Urban Shaman: AND (Artist New Dimension) Gallery 

Time Scan Mount Royal – 3:00 mins, HD, 2014
An investigation of Montreal’s Mount Royal (Hochelaga) achieved over time using slit scan animation, seeking to awaken quiescence.

Psychic History (Black and White Rotating) – 2:34 mins, HD, 2013
Created through a new media residency at OBx, this process-based work examines the idea of the collective unconscious, evocative of the use of hypnosis as a mechanism to re-program consciousness.

A Psychic History / Blood Memory of Home – 2:51 mins, HD, 2013
An examination of the inter-relativity of collective consciousness, history and the future, using scan technologies to bridge the distance between photography and video.

Intransit – 7:29 mins, HD, 2013
A rainy summer prairie landscape, in movement and in transit


Urban Shaman: Exterior Wall, McDermot Ave 

Blood Memories (Winnipeg) – Outdoor Loop, HD, 2014
Benesiinaabandan’s Blood Memory works are generative video studies of specific geographies that seek to reveal the collective unconscious of a space. Blood Memories (Winnipeg) has been created in advance on the screening site, to project a conceptual memory back onto itself over the course of hours.