I will always remember those nights with the burning, glowing embrace of the fireflies. In the space around my body, they floated like a thousand miniature green-yellow lanterns, blazing long enough to be seen, but gone quickly enough to escape my cupped hands. It’s embedded in me to see the fireflies as spirit beings here. I’ve never met a person who hasn’t felt their otherworldly nature. Indeed, my Indigenous ancestors referred to wild creatures as ‘men in other shirts’. For animistic peoples, our world is inhabited by spirits, which only reveal themselves in particular circumstances or places. But somehow, I think, we all feel this regardless of where we come from.
And that spot by the pond out in the summer darkness with the fireflies? That’s my quintessential thin place.
I suppose that’s why, even as I walk through a world largely shaped by religion or science, I pause when I come across a thin place. I can’t help but feel it, to be confused by it, to be transformed – ever so subtly– by it. Thin Places are sometimes full of grandeur and other times mundane. Encountering a thin place can be unpredictable, as when I’m walking across the tundra and the aurora borealis flares overhead. Many northern communities speak of communing with their ancestors in the northern lights.
The thin places are waypoints in my personal songline. I seek them out because they guide my way home, help me understand where I come from. I may be separated from my ancestral communities by history and hostile borders, but sometimes my ancestors are right there in front of me, blazing in the night.
Winter Exhibition Celebration – December 2, 2022, 5 – 9 pm
Gallery Talk – December 2, 2022, 6 pm in Gallery A
Photographer Kiliii Yuyan illuminates stories of the Arctic and human communities connected to the land and sea. Informed by ancestry that is both Nanai/Hèzhé (East Asian Indigenous) and Chinese American, he explores the human relationship to the natural world from different cultural perspectives and extreme environments, on land and underwater. Kiliii is an award-winning contributor to National Geographic, TIME and other major publications.
Survival skills, cold-water diving, and a penchant for listening have been critical for Kiliii’s projects in extreme environments and cultures outside his own. On assignment, he has fled collapsing sea ice, weathered botulism from fermented whale blood, and found kinship at the edges of the world. In addition, Kiliii builds traditional kayaks and contributes to the revitalization of Northern Indigenous/East Asian culture.
Kiliii Yuyan is a National Geographic Explorer (2021), one of PDN’s 30 Photographers (2019), a Grist 50 Fixer (2022), a member of Indigenous Photograph and Diversify Photo. His work has been exhibited worldwide and received some of photography’s top honors. His public talks inspire others about photography, Indigenous perspectives, and relationship to land. Yuyan is based out of traditional Duwamish lands (Seattle) but can be found across the circumpolar Arctic much of the year.