Three Sisters 2015

Three Sisters’ is an installation using fibre optics and plastic which looks towards pre-colonial native American traditions in planting to reveal stories about women and technology


Corn, beans and squash are three inseparable sisters who according to Native American legend and folklore are the sustainers of life. Eaten together they provide all vital nutritional elements to survive throughout the year. Grown together in the same mound, the three are mutually beneficial and provide a natural sustainable model of food production which honours its matrilineal roots.

Three sisters takes storytelling and song as a vehicle for exploring ideas around technology, sustainability, collaboration and matriarchy. Propelled by a desire to engage with digital from the inside-out, an entanglement of translucent plastic forms take the shape of a ceremonial shrine to the three sisters from which light emerges from the roots and travels to the new matrix of the corn cob. A song is woven around the audience which invokes both pre and post colonialism, revealing a mixture of longing, guilt and tragedy and a final plea to the powerful Thought Woman – the spider, to help tell a new story for a more sustainable future.

The song ‘Thought woman weave a web for us’ was co-created and performed by Maf’j Alvarez, Joanna Burke and Jennie Howell in a rich collaborative process involving eating, laughing and singing.

The installation uses over 600 individually routed fibre-optic strands mapped into a small LCD screen inside a mini data projector in the base of the corn plant. The corn kernels and beans are moulded from glue. Various domestic containers are used in the root stack including cake boxes, a picnic plate and air freshener lid. The plastic is largely imported from China. Run from an Sd card, the video and sound have been created using all open source software including Audacity for recording and editing sound, Inkscape for creating mapped matrices for fibres to pass and Kdenlive for video authoring.


Thought woman weave a web for us

I stood tall
was proud and vain
my cloak I held on tight
no one would see my treasured gems
until the time when I was ripe
The wind it blew with such a force
the sun it burnt my feet
I bowed my head
my body crumbled down
This husk is all I offer now

Vibrantly my power shone
my voice it carried me
my love I shared abundantly
vines and roots roamed wild and free
My fruits grew ripe upon the ground
in fear I made no sound
the darkness it enveloped me
no life
no love
no melody

Alone I strive to hold myself
endlessly I reach for you
spinning fibres of the past
Thought woman weave a web for us

My smile lit up a thousand nights
my likeness shared with all
Full of hope I gathered stars
vibrant fruits grew large and small
Illusions beckoned then they burst
now weighed down in the earth
My passion withered
then it died
stars no longer seemed to shine

Alone I strive to hold myself
endlessly I reach for you
spinning fibres of the past
Thought woman weave a web for us
Thought woman weave a web for us


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