I came across Matthew Buckingham’s work Muhheakantuck – Everything has a Name already several times and each time got fascinated by the silent way of intruding and questioning our understanding of the obviously manifested historic ‘truth’ our convictions are build on:
|As the American writer William Faulkner expressed, “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” Investigating archives, specific documents, urban settings, historical figures, telling anecdotes and mythic personas of the past, Buckingham finds uncommon source material for his films and installations.||
Muhheakantuck – Everything has a Name, 2003, 16mm film installation with sound, 40 minute loop
|These remnants serve as points of departure for his exploration of the past and our contemporary relationship to it. Troubled by the fable of truth in our understanding of history, Buckingham’s works reassemble and reinterpret the facts and facets of the historical record as one way to address the nature of information and the image.
In Buckingham’s own words, he describes his intention of reforming the structure of history as an alternative means of creating, writing, and learning from history.
To talk about producing and consuming history could refer to older models of history as objective, universal, producing a single flow of time leading toward progress. I would always try to disrupt that model.1
Suspicious of unquestioned tropes of memory, Buckingham’s model gives the viewer an agency to think critically about the past and the present.
Continuing to mine history, Buckingham explored the Hudson Valley Region in Muhheakantuck—Everything Has a Name (2004). For this project, Buckingham captured the striking landscape of the Hudson River from a helicopter that hugged the coastline traveling up and then down the river. The rosy dream color of the projected film creates a false sense of veracity or goodwill for Buckingham’s version of the history of New Netherlands, now New York State and parts of New Jersey.
From Buckingham, we learn that in the early 1600s, Henry Hudson was sent by the Dutch East India Company, later the Dutch West India Company, to find a waterway connecting Europe to the East. Hudson never found this imagined Northwest passage, but he did find fertile ground for beaver pelt trading. Soon after Hudson’s crew had mutinied against him and set him adrift with his oldest son in what is now Hudson Bay, the Dutch company was ready to interact and trade with the Native peoples of the region, who call themselves the Lenape, or “the people.”
“Everything has a name,” Buckingham reminds the viewers watching the film, as he explains how colonization or exploitation can be enforced and dissected by language. He explains that the Lenape called the Dutch “the salty people” or “the bitter people.” The phrase aptly describes the Lenape’s troubled interaction with Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that led to the death of 90% of the Lenape population by 1700. Buckingham also explains that we understand the world from expressing our own experiences and learning about others’ experiences from language. The omission and even the description of both jovial and tragic events in our written histories are never objective, never wholly reliable. As the film recounts tales of Dutchmen shooting Lenape or of militia attacking villages at night—burning and shooting men, women, and children—we quickly realize that these ravages are not the focus of the dominant narrative of North America. In the quiet sanctuary of the film installation, viewers are given an opportunity to rethink the facts passed down from generation to generation and the apparatus producing them……