For Engine (2009), Marie Watt draws on the powerful narrative tradition of Native American storytelling, using projections of storytellers Elaine Grinnell of the Jamestown S’Klallam and Lummi Tribes, Roger Fernandes of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and Johnny Moses of the Tulalip Tribe. Their warm and soothing voices emanate from small, apparitional projected images within an amazing cave-like structure. Approached from the outside the structure resembles an igloo of wood and felt. Winding one’s way inside, the silence of the felt is deeply sensed; the interior is dark and palpable. Felted stalactites and stalagmites and undulating felted walls are marked by silhouettes of hands felted with brilliantly dyed wool. Consciously emulating the earliest known human mark-making found in cave art, the handprints simply announce “Me—I am here,” in the context of stories that tell of the collective experience of native peoples through tales of creation and the power of nature.
Watt’s use of felt, created in partnership with the FWM, is appropriate. Felt is the oldest and simplest cloth in the world. Felt isn’t woven; wet animal hairs are agitated into matting. It is an ancient and universal fabric. Engine has deep roots in her own native tradition but touches on the wider traditions of the elemental human need for protection and identity. We are all, ultimately, natives of this world.