On paper it’s hard to picture how artist Towustasin Stocker overlays video of moss or a sun-warmed house pit with kaleidoscoped animation, synthesizers, field recordings, and spoken-word poems.
In Solar/Lunar Rhizome, a six-minute film he posted to YouTube, a silhouetted log barge sails by Old Massett cemetery as Towustasin raps:
“Carbon dioxide, intravenous pipelines, Commonwealth landscape scraped clean with razor blades, abolished ancient knowledge for the turning of a profit.”
Before it fades to black, the video tracks an arcing sun, the music calms, and Towustasin’s lyrics turn to, “Life is for giving the rhythm of making” and “I remember the smell of fresh berries and baskets.”
This summer, the 24-year-old member of the Yahgulanaas clan won a $5,000 scholarship from the YVR Art Foundation, money he decided to put toward a mentorship with Travis Adrian Herbert, aka Heebz the Earthchild.
A Wet’suwet’en from Moricetown, Heebz is half of the hip-hop duo Mob Bounce. Towustasin met him while he was on Haida Gwaii to work with local youth.
“I saw how important it was, what he’s doing with his music,” Towustasin said.
“He’s not just making it to rip people off or perpetuate some sort of dying paradigm that’s so far offshore… like gangsta rap, underground-murder rap, those kinds of scenes that don’t really exist here, but exist psychologically.”
Besides upping his skills in the music studio, Towustasin is keeping a hand in film — he is the “thread character” in the upcoming documentary White Ravens, expected to screen early next year.
While most of his own work is solo, Towustasin is no stranger to collaboration.
He was the assistant cinematographer for Giving Back the Name, Gwaliga Hart’s recent documentary on the Haida Nation’s return of the name “Queen Charlotte Islands.” He also served as a gaffer on the set of Hadwin’s Judgement, a documentary on Grant Hadwin, who cut down the Golden Spruce.
Over coffee in Masset, Towustasin laughed when talking about his very first try at moviemaking with friends.
He was 15, and they called themselves Meditating Dog Films. It all started when he stuck on a moustache and hat, grabbed a fake gun and jumped in the bath to mimic a jacuzzi scene from Scarface.
“I was in this regular bathtub, with no water in it,” he said, laughing.
“But we took that first shot and after that everyone else was like, ‘Oh okay, I want to join in now.’”
The group made a half-dozen short films, and on his own Towustasin had already been toying for years with stick-figure animations.
In 2009, the National Film Board ran a 10-day filmmaking workshop in Old Massett that started pulling all his creative threads together.
Inspired partly by his mother, Tracey Moore, who recorded many tapes of elders speaking Haida language, Towustasin asked Chinni Stephen Brown to translate some of his poetry, recorded it in Haida language, then made visuals and background music to match.
“It was basically about how change is an unstoppable force, nothing ever stops moving, and time waits for no man,” he said, smiling.
“At the time, I thought it was a pretty profound thought, and they were into it.”
In July, Towustasin posted a four-track EP called Scattered Showers on Bandcamp — an album he wrote, performed, and recorded himself.
His website shows a series of photos he exhibited the Campbell River art gallery, plus a short piece of ambient music called “Muskeg Poltergeist.”
When he presents his next work at the YVR Art Foundation awards next spring, it’s hard to imagine Towustasin getting pinned to any one medium.
“You can express yourself in words, you can express yourself in music, you can express yourself in imagery,” he said.
“But all those things together is more holistic that doing any one of those things at a time.”