Radio Healer is a Native American and Xicano led artist collective in Phoenix, Arizona. The collective is Edgar Cardenas, Randy Kemp, Ashya Flint, Mere Martinez, Rykelle Kemp, Cristóbal Martínez, Melissa S. Rex, Devin Armstrong-Best, and Raven Kemp. As a group, these hacker-artists create indigenous electronic tools, which they use with traditional indigenous tools to perform indigenous reimagined ceremony. Through their immersive environments, comprised of moving images, tools, regalia, performance, and sound, the collective bends media to position visual and sonic metaphors that make the familiar strange.
Radio Healer is particularly interested in the seemingly ordinary semiotic systems that, when observed, become irrational, inefficient, deceptive, and contradictory. These systems encode assumptions, ideologies in discourses, and dilemmas that concretize the cultural systems that shape notions of reality. Radio Healer’s goals are to disrupt these notions by creating environments that provide audiences with opportunities to engage in a heightened sense of criticality about the systems we create, maintain, and adapt. The collective strives to mediate complexity capable of catalyzing public discourse, and to demonstrate indigenous self-determination through an indigenous knowledge systems approach to design, and uses of hacked tools for hacking semiotic systems. Through these goals, Radio Healer performs inclusive re-imagined ceremonies during which the public is invited to reflect on human exigencies and dilemmas tied to obsolescence, acceleration, warfare, borders, hyper-surveillance, land use, cybernetics, market systems, historical amnesia, hi-velocity global multi-nodal networks, and the trans-mediated market valorization of human bodies.
Radio Healer performs indigenous re-imagined ceremony with electronic and acoustic instruments. To prepare for ceremony, the collective produces software and aesthetically symbolic electronic ceremonial tools that are designed to mediate the collective’s live performances of moving images, sound and dance. The collective applies indigenous intercultural knowledge systems such as Xicana/o rasquache, Lowrider chop shop, and Native American adaptive reuse traditions for the design, construction, and practice of ceremonial tools. These traditions demonstrate appropriations and adaptations of foreign cultural artifacts and materials, as well as the use of local materials to innovate functional and aesthetic musical instrument technologies that encode Radio Healer’s indigenous worldview. The following examples were constructed through hacking via circuit-bending, appropriation, salvaging, coding, recycling, adaptive reuse, and improvisation. As they mediate visual, sonic, and discursive complexity, these implements operationalize the collective’s indigenous sovereignty—they are the Radio Healer’s self-determined adaptations of materials and tools.
Photos by Edgar Cardenas, Courtesy of Radio Healer.