Sonny Assu’s 1UP is a site-specific architectonic installation newly created for the Surrey Art Gallery’s offsite projection venue, UrbanScreen. Located on the west wall of Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, UrbanScreen is situated on traditional Kwantlen territory. As a Liǥwildaʼx̱w/Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw person recently relocated to South Surrey, Assu “tags” the colonial landscape to bring attention to the hidden histories of the Indigenous people in Canada.
A colloquial term in gaming culture, “1UP” grants an extra life to a player through an achievement or item. Drawing on this term, Assu’s artwork 1UP becomes a metaphor for how the First People have risen up for rights within a system that was designed to oppress and assimilate them. 1UP merges ’80s and ’90s retro gaming iconography from his childhood with Northwest Coast formline elements.
Assu’s 1UP relates to his larger body of work, specifically his Longhouse, Chilkat, and Interventions on the Imaginary series, which investigate theories of abstracting abstraction, the recreation of language, and decolonization. Recognizing art from the Northwest Coast is a form of abstraction that inspired artists from the surrealist and cubist movements, Assu witnesses this gaze and influence by making work in response. With 1UP, Assu seeks to comment on the land, honouring and making visible the parallel narratives of Indigenous people and the histories of this place, now known as Surrey city centre.
Sonny Assu thanks Mark Mushet for adding the video elements into 1UP.