Erin Genia (SMACT ’19): Acoustic Tipi and Other Projects

Erin Genia, Acoustic Tipi, Drum making process, 2018

Final Review, Spring 2018
Erin Genia

Acoustic Tipi
The tipi sound amplifier is a drum interface which invites people to create audible vibrations that will reverberate through space.

The traditional tipi is a portable Dakota home structure for an extended family. It is a shape of strength. In this piece, the tipi contours have been stylized to enable sound transmitting, and it is home to four sacred drums. Each drum plays a different tone. The drums reside within the structure via tension support cords which enable the sound to be amplified and harmonized, projecting upwards and outwards. The drums are painted with white, yellow, black and red morningstars, colors of the four directions. The morningstar is the symbol of Dakota cosmology and in this context, represents our people and our ways of life that are indigenous to the land. The tipi structure resonates with the pure sound of the drum, directing it down into the ground, each beat a communication to the earth.

The acoustic tipi references unktehi—a supernatural water serpent of Dakota legend, who is responsible for flooding and peril in the water and wakinyan—thunderbeings who bring atmospheric catastrophe, warning of impending flooding, sea-level rise, and the increased intensity of planetary storms due to climate and environmental change.

Through the sound of the drum, Acoustic Tipi provides an encounter, a moment of reflection, upon the interconnectedness of life on earth and throughout the universe. The piece allows up to four people to play at once, creating a collaboration which reduces the distance between the art and viewer, as well as each other. Made from wood which can be easily taken apart and reassembled, its location can change in order to activate different spaces within a built environment and other sites.

Through the power of rhythm, vibrations will reach outward forever into infinity like a synesthetic prayer, creating the possibility of an organic communal experience. The piece is a call for unity to address issues of ecological decline, which, according to Dakota perspectives, is the responsibility of all people.


When worn as a shawl, InVisible provides a symbolic skin of protection against pervasive cultural supremacy. The morningstar form is an expression of cultural power which is used here to transform.

Is white cultural supremacy, which expropriates and erases other cultures, a translucent veil so permeating it’s nearly invisible to those living under it?

As a Dakota person, I experience cultural supremacy as a tool of the dominant culture that sets itself as the standard, forces assimilation, and constantly perpetuates itself to reinforce structures and institutions which maintain a limited picture of reality.


Interference Patterns
Through the meticulous technique of beading, I ponder the relationship of the negative space between bodies. What happens to negative space when bodies combine? What is left when elements are removed? Investigating the imprints of two overlaid morning stars, the piece explores how the space in between them can be built upon to create new relationships.


August 21, 2017 was the day of the solar eclipse. It was also the day I left Olympia, Washington and drove over 3,000 miles in four days with my three children to Medford, Massachusetts to settle in and begin my studies at MIT. Before we departed on our journey that day, we observed and reflected upon the awe-some event. Inspired by images of the eclipse corona, I created this piece using the Morningstar form. Layered surfaces, painted with the colors of the four direc-tions, render the unique play of light that occurs when heavenly bodies align.