Have thought often of Sidibé since the start of the conflict in Northern Mali in 2012, Touareg liberation movements meeting Al Qaida in the Maghreb and inching south towards Bamako. I wrote about Sidibé in 2010, here, on the occasion of his 'discovery' by Europe and an exhibition and documentary film about his work.
Modernity, liberation movements, post-coloniality, secularism and photography: all collided in Sidibé's seemingly open and joyful Bamako. I wonder now if the joy had anything to do with such social movements, and if it is still there just in different, more constrictive clothing and religious edicts. This is just one of the many things we do not know about Africa.
Shocked to hear of Zaha Hadid's death on the RPI overnight service early this morning while trying to sleep in a motel in Revelstoke. I was shocked; just a couple of weeks ago I'd heard her on Desert Island Discs - surely one of the most interesting people they've had this past year. She was a worthy, yes, being Dame Zaha Hadid, but her music choices were brilliant, new, Drake alongside Umm Kulthum.
Kirsty Young asked her what her parents though of the young Zaha wanting to be an architect, and Zaha replied that it was expected that all the women of her generation in Iraq would be professionals: doctors, lawyers, engineers – indeed her entire high school class went on to become professionals.
How different to the expectations of my high school class, in a small west coast Canadian town. It wasn't that my parents weren't educated, my father came from a long line of university degrees, but their expectations were probably that I'd be a teacher, despite Dad saying (frequently) that all teachers were useless. The Desert Island interview was pure Zaha as I remember her at the AA: sharp, full of humour delivered deadpan, little patience with people she must have seen as polite, 'nice' but naive and self-effacing, as I was brought up to be.
It has been a hard row to hoe for any woman of my generation in architecture, even as brilliant as Zaha was – christ, if she had a hard time, think how it was for the rest of us.
Handwork as a political act: each bead is threaded and strung, attached by the hands of hundreds of volunteers who worked on this project, each page calculated and beaded. And under it, printouts of a downloadable version of the Indian Act, produced by computer and printer, infinitely replicable, which was, of course, its problem – its replicability in the minds of not just bureaucrats in Ottawa, but in every school system in the country, in every mind of every petty administrator, policeman and worthy. Did any of them actually read the text, the way the artists beading over it must have? The speed of reading, or scanning versus looking at every letter, every word, every loaded space between each word, each paragraph, choosing a red bead or a white one: this project was an intensely political process and act – truly an Indian act.
Robert Everett-Green has reviewed, briefly but succinctly in the Globe & Mail, the current McCord Museum exhibition, Wearing Our Identity curated by Guislaine Lemay. Nadia Myre, Algonquin artist in residence at the McCord, has chosen pieces from McCord’s collection plus new work by a range of aboriginal artists. Everett-Green raises the issue of appropriation in such an exhibition, referring to the amauti, above, which has a line of pewter spoons attached to the front and pennies sewn on the back, pointing out that while the term appropriation is applied to Victorian middle-class ladies doing Indian beadwork patterns from The Ladies Home Journal, it does not apply to the widow in Baffin Island sewing spoons on her amauti. It is a question of power, he posits.
Victorian middle-class women were denied much participation in an outside life but they were allowed to do crafts – watercolours, needlework, and there were magazines that gave them instructions (impossible as Myre demonstrates). Although they had more power than any aboriginal woman had, or has in the main even today, the Inuit widow had more freedom to make her own elaborations on her own parka.
One of the most salient things I learned, long ago during my postcolonial education, was in the reading of Jean Rhys’s The Wide Sargasso Sea, the back history of Jane Eyre through the lens of the other: the ones without power, the women, the fragile and the dangerous. It is Antoinette Crosby’s nurse, Christophine, who says to Mr Rochester, newly arrived to take blind possession of a wife, a plantation and all its inhabitants, you know some things, I know other things – I paraphrase wildly, but the gist is that power doesn’t know everything, it actually doesn’t know anything other than itself; while the putatively powerless know a hell of a lot about the world, their environment, their culture, relationships of power – their survival depends upon this knowledge when brute force isn’t an option.
Yes, whether something is appropriation or adoption is a matter of power: the powerful take, those with a different kind of awareness incorporate the signs and materials at hand, whether they be trade goods or baseball caps: the original meaning of such materials is subverted by a different set of codes, inaccessible to power: it is the development of a decolonising language.
DeeDee Jonroe, above, is wearing a kuspuk, a cotton cover that protects a parka. There was an originary cover made of gut or skin, replaced by cotton when trading posts were established: it is generally acknowledged that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the calico came from flour and sugar sacks, some plain unbleached cotton, later prints – trade goods brought up the Alaska coast by whaling ships. Like all traditional dress there are many regional variations, but in general they are loose hooded over-dresses that can be worn on their own in the summer. Some are straight, some have a dropped flounced skirt.
Today, kuspuks have become a garment of Alaskan identity – lots of websites discussing them, selling them – a recovery of peoplehood through clothing. In this case, in the context of the last couple of weeks of posts here, Métis material culture where often the form is European, but the surface is aboriginal (embroidered, beaded, elaborated), with the kuspuk the form is aboriginal and the surface is European.
This seems fundamentally different to how we understand Métis identity as expressed through its material culture where european forms dominate and surfaces are expressive. In the kuspuk, surface expression appears merely expeditious, later decorative, but essentially an easily and cheaply produced utility garment.
With the Métis trappers tents, the form was european, the materials were partially introduced – the canvas, partially native – the poles. The Métis tradition that has survived in everyday life today is the toque. Like the kuspuk which I’ve even seen (rarely it has to be said) on the streets in Calgary, these are contemporary garments. However, I don't think Métis when I see a toque.
For some reason I find this picture hysterically funny – the laugh for today – amid all the allegations of abuse to have the dogs tethered and running day after day. Dogs like to work, to do the things they are bred for. If you leave them just lying around being ‘natural’ they get grumpy and yappy. They make their own work projects such as sending off the mailgirl every day.
Whatever, I came across this picture while looking for this year’s very chic team all wearing hot pink boots as they tore across Alaska:
The coat for warmth and the flare, tall and tasselled, attached to the neckband of the harness along with bells for visibility perhaps. The pictures give little hint of being caught in a blizzard white-out.
Two directions from yesterday’s post about the Red River Coat: one is the embroidered hide coat of elegant ‘european’ (as described by the museums) form, the other is an early to mid-twentieth century garment (above), mostly for children in Ontario and Quebec, called the Red River coat: something like a pea jacket, lined in red and tied with a red sash that could also be used as a muffler – a manufactured version of the 20cm wide, 3m long Métis sash, an all-purpose finger-woven band used to hold blanket capotes closed; wrapped around the middle they strengthened voyageur’s backs; they were wide enough to carry things in, to use as tourniquets, towels and tumplines. (The links in this post take one to a most diverse collection of webpages, from Leonard Cohen circa 1945 to Paul Kane's painting of John Lefroy in 1845)
below: this is Robert Kennicott in 1862 visiting Portage La Loche. He was an American naturalist, clearly gone native, as they say: his coat is plain wool, the sash is magnificent, his toque striped, his trousers tied and tasselled, his moccassins no doubt beautiful.
We have this documentation because Kennicott had himself photographed in his full costume grand nord – he must have been delighted with it. The web page from Portage La Loche that this photograph comes from is dense with interesting research on the Métis sash – beautiful images from paintings to photos.
How the blanketty Red River coat became a navy wool coat for wealthy little Montreal children in the 1940s might indicate something of the transformation of complex cultural and environmental garments into something cute, something that children are allowed to wear because they are small and defenceless: they can undermine the power and cultural meanings of, for example, the peoples represented by Louis Riel, still a divisive political figure in Canada, 130 years after his death.
What looks like a rather beautiful exhibition a couple of years ago at the Textile Museum in Toronto, Farandole: Perspectives on Western Canadian Metis Culture, Sept 18-Nov 17, 2013: a collaboration between a Métis artist, Colette Balcaen, and a French fashion designer from Normandy, Pascal Jaouen. What interests me, in the midst of the ghostly nature of the human form embroidered on scrim, is this one particular suit. Métissé is a French toile that combines linen and cotton. The Métis sash appears ghostly, thin, a scrim of a belt.
It is also interesting how the cut of the coat, the trousers, faintly fin de siècle, resonates with the more traditional image of Métis historic garments, below, specifically this beautifully cut, European-styled coat, made in fine hide and embroidered in the woodland way. Again, like yesterday’s post of the Valentino-Belcourt collaboration, there is form and there is surface. It appears, so far in my very casual research here, that European form prevails and is made beautiful by indigenous surface. Both are local by circumstance, both have deep and different histories.
The difference between this and D2’s appropriation of aboriginal garments, is that Valentino asked; it was a collaboration between Belcourt, her painting Water Song, and Valentino fabric designer Francesco Bova.
It is both Métis and métissage, this collaboration of painting and fabric printing, Métis culture and Italian couture. The garments are Valentino; the surfaces are Belcourt.
Cardinal and Gaboury are both cited by David Fortin as Métis architects. Their work is characteristically expressionist: curvy, curvy, curvy, sometimes structural (Gaboury), sometimes merely shapely (Cardinal). I’m not sure either of these two practice a métis architecture of any sort of theoretical nature, given the times in which they worked – late twentieth century eccentric architecture which, however, was built securely within an establishment of clients, financing, contractors, developers, lawyers and government. Gaboury, in Préciex Sang, above, referenced both Le Corbusier and Eladio Dieste.
Their ethnicity as Métis does not mean they practice a métis architecture any more than one could say Zaha Hadid’s superlatively expressionist architecture is is métis. The identification of expressionism with métissage isn’t safe. The whole discussion must go beyond the visual.
métis, from old French, mestis, from Latin mixticius, cognate of Spanish mestizo, Portuguese mestiço: the mixing of aboriginal peoples and Europeans. In Canada métissage began with contact, centuries ago, emerging as ‘a distinctive socio-cultural heritage, a means of ethnic self-identification and a political and legal category’ (The Canadian Encyclopedia).
It is a curse of postmodernism that everything can be metaphorical: the danger in delineating a Métis architecture is that the word ‘hybridity’ is inevitable. But not here, with the capital M Métis: it is the architecture of a particular people, and yes it has hybrid characteristics, but not all hybridity in architecture is Métis.
For On Site review 34: on writing, I mentioned a new book by Mark Dorrian, Writing on the Image. Architecture, the City and the Politics of Representation. Circumstances meant I couldn’t do a proper review, however, Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker have a critical practice in Edinburgh called Metis meant to connect architectural teaching, research and practice. Their word, metis, is from the Greek, rather than the Latin: Metis was the daughter of Oceanus, first wife of Zeus and mother of Athena. The word metis combines wisdom with cunning, an Odysseus-like quality. No connection with mixing, or métissage.
Metis's mandate is on their website: They focus ‘on the city and the complex ways in which it is imagined, inhabited, and representationally encoded. They seek to produce rich, multi-layered works that resist immediate consumption and that are instead gradually unfurled over time through interaction with them. Their approach is concerned with establishing a poetic but critical approach to the city that is sensitive to its cultural memory but is also articulated in relation to its possible futures.’
In some ways this outlines what a métis architecture could be: taking the socio-cultural history of Métis building as fundamental to a Canadian architecture as cultural memory: a way of working that recognises encoded cultures through representation, and resignifies such cultures in a wise and cunning, complex and deep description of our various futures, whether urban, rural, individual or cooperative.
It is curious, this accidental coincidence of five letters, one with an accent aigule, that can begin to theorise a Métis architecture if you simply put them side by side and start to squeeze them together. It is a kind of metissage in itself, a dadaist accident, that reveals so many new paths.
aha, David Fortin has sent this link: Métis Crossing, Kalyna Country, Canada’s Largest Ecomuseum. Not built yet, but planned. It is in Smoky Lake, on the Victoria Trail which runs on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River, next to Victoria Settlement, an Alberta provincial historic site. This promises to be a living museum, so far the website shows camping, a rodeo, new zip lines, giant mushrooms by the highway, a grain elevator museum and the historic Eldorena Ukrainian church. I love this little website, it is the prairies as I know it; rather than Edmonton and Calgary, this is rural Alberta in all its cultural mix.
From its website:
Extending east and northeast from Edmonton, the Kalyna Country Ecomuseum is one of the most historic places in Alberta. Follow our rivers and roads to experience a millennia of aboriginal culture, a landscape traversed by the great explorers and fur traders, prior to the homesteading era and the coming of the railroad. Kalyna Country is Alberta’s multi-cultural capital. Kalyna Country contains Canada’s largest Ukrainian settlement; some of Alberta’s largest concentrations of French, Cree, Metis and Romanian settlement; Alberta’s only Irish settlement, plus German, Scandinavian, British and other slavic cultures. All of these groups, together have combined to give Kalyna Country a distinct flavour that sets the region apart from other rural areas of Alberta.
This is métis, not the people, but as a Canadian response to our diversity and our fundamental métissage where evolutionary indigeneity meets the shock of the newcomer, gets over the shock either militarily or resignedly, and starts to talk, to share, to borrow.
Take the discussion of the Métis trapper wall tent: the tent poles were probably the same as tipi poles, the canvas was a trade good, used for both tipis and tents: one looks like a cone – the shape derived by poles alone, tied at the top, the other like a house – structural walls and a water-shedding roof, however in the wall tent the walls are not structural, the roof is a continuous skin that becomes a wall, the structure is external: completely different logic informs the shape of the wall tent. Whatever, it is efficient, well-honed over centuries of use, and still in use today, viz. the Northern Trappers Alliance camp set up on Saskatchewan Highway 955 in a 2014 blockade of tar sands and uranium exploration companies.
The wall tent is métis architecture as the tipi is not. Métissage borrows and adapts – a form of innovation, but quicker than the slow evolution of what we consider originary building forms such as the tipi.
David Fortin is in an RAIC 2016 session, speaking about Métis architecture, his widely-funded research project at Laurentian University. He is studying Métis and their design sensibility: how they build – his webpage banner shows the curved edge of a Cardinal building. Pointing out that there is not universal agreement on who is considered Métis and there is little material architectural culture that points directly to a Métis architecture, Fortin’s project is framed as ‘a discussion about weaving together Métis history with contemporary topics linked to culture and identity’.
I’m going to do some summarising here from an essay on Fortin’s website because it is interesting how he has started this project. He sees three conditions of Metis design: ‘1) a distinct responsiveness to the landscape, 2) an emphasis on egalitarian space, and 3) an informal approach to design’. Informality refers to ‘flexibility, adaptability, and imprintability’. His process is to study what material culture there is, in the manner of Henry Glassie who read historical legacies of building details, mapping them to migration, emigration and immigration.
I first discovered Glassie in the mid-1980s with his Pattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States. I was teaching in the Eastern United States at the time; Glassie was my guide to the folklore and folk traditions of building. I amassed a huge archive of log construction that in my experience culminated with cabins built in the Smokey Mountains out of ancient poplars where a slice through the trunk might be 4’ wide: a wall took just two boards, and they were still jointed like a regular log cabin corner would be. There is method, and there is material: whatever the method and however old it is, the material bends it to fit. This is what is so exciting about vernacular building: its utterly expeditious adaptability.
At the same time, and here Glassie wasn’t a guide, I recorded the reconstructed villages of aboriginal peoples throughout the eastern States. The US is good with this sort of thing: there are reconstructions galore, pamphlets and books that range from oral histories to academic research – I mean there were then, not sure about now. Canada not so good at this sort of thing: reserves and Nations are more private, more defensive. One wonders if there is some kind of political obstruction to examining aboriginal material culture. Fortin cites Burley’s Structural Considerations of Métis Ethnicity: An Archaeological, Architectural, and Historical Study. This was published by the University of South Dakota Press in 1992: why wasn’t it published in Canada? Why isn’t it in every bookstore rather than on Google books with an unmarked cover?
There is a a lot of research on the Haida, the Coast Salish, the Glenbow museum has vast Blackfoot collections, but I’ve always found it a bit of a struggle to discover any sort of delight in walking around glass cases of the real thing, compared to walking around a reconstructed village that presents a holistic synthesis of construction, fabrics, food, pots, where the horses were, how big the fires were, how were pieces of wood joined together (pins? sinew? hide? trade nails? gravity?). I realise such things are necessarily incomplete, we don’t know much about the unrecorded, but we can start to think, to hazard, to speculate based on human nature, how things might have worked –– this is the basis of scholarly pursuit. It shouldn't however, be just the preserve of the museum and the academy.
On Site review 27: rural urbanism had a mid-nineteenth century plan for Nanaimo, most of which was built, and an aerial of it today, on the cover. The premise of the issue was that planning orthodoxy privileges cities, and small cities, such as Nanaimo, haven’t access to the urban conditions on which such orthodoxies are based and as a consequence their expansion out of their very small town core is left to market forces, local councils and real estate developers. Rural urbanism is potentially a different way to frame small town development, starting with smallness, not largeness scaled down.
With some surprise I see that this year's RAIC festival is in Nanaimo. Gone are the days when only large cities could host large conferences, by dropping down in size, clearly new, interesting venues are available. That said, Nanaimo? I look carefully at the tours and significant buildings: very few, if any, in the public domain. For someone who lives in Nanaimo it seems to be one very long highway of strung out malls and car lots, and a struggling downtown where rents are so high that a third of the storefronts are empty. And then a tragic mistake made some years ago, to take away one side of a third of Commercial Street, the crooked main street that originally followed the coastline, by building a convention centre, all smoked glass and blank street wall. I’m confused about it being considered an architectural destination worthy of an RAIC conference. Perhaps, however, architecture isn’t about architecture any more, rather it is about culture and community: get these right and then one’s heart will be in the right place to do an appropriate architecture.
I wonder if this is correct?
The conference theme is Connexions, why this strange spelling is not clear. Perhaps it is to update the idea that all will be well if we only connect, in this case, the public and the architects of Canada. Shawn Atleo is one of the speakers. First Nations have been rewarded with significant architectural attention in recent decades, something difficult to reconcile with the inability to get basic infrastructure right in the northern reserves: are community centres, schools and friendship centres meant to be seed projects for continued federal attention that might spill over into schooling, health, safety? Patrick Stewart (Tzeachten First Nation) and Alfred Waugh (West Vancouver), both First Nations architects, illustrate two generations of aboriginal architecture. Patrick Stewart, older, shows late post-modern commercial on his website, Waugh, a more recent graduate, the Peter Busby-inflected architecture of curves and exposed structure. Oh, and Peter Busby is a speaker as well.
The connections appear to be green building, first nations needs and small town planning. In theory, this might lead to the development of a vernacularism not based on historic models, but on present needs: small towns are more intimately connected with First Nations, especially in British Columbia; there is the powerful westcoast legacy of Greenpeace, David Suzuki, environmental activism and a new aboriginal veto on industrial development of pipelines, mining and logging; and there is a particular geography of separations in British Columbia – islands, valleys, coastal settlements. This is a distinctive trifecta that indeed could lead to an originary architecture, if allowed to naturalise itself.
I’m an optimistic person, I hope this is what this conference leads to.
Canadian rubber boots, not at all fashionable, red-soled, fat legs, lined with cotton knit, been around forever. Worn with grey socks with a white top and a red line. And GWGs (founded 1911 in Edmonton, closed in 2004 assailed by the fashion jean market).
So much is about war: rubber boots in the trenches, GWG supplying 25,000 pieces of clothing per week to the Commonwealth forces of WWII. Fashion aside, having to supply millions of garments for the two world wars must have ramped up production unbelievably quickly. GWG replaced men with women, doubled its work force and built a second factory. After the war GWG went back to workwear – coveralls, jeans, jackets – but also gradually tilting into the fashion market: my first pair of jeans were GWG because it was all we could get, but even then they were not as desirable as Levi’s or Lee jeans bought across the border. The Guess Who wore GWGs, which sort of summed it up.
Rubber boots with red soles are still staples in fishing and logging, The rest of us, if you want boots that do not weigh a ton, are now sold Hunter boots, the British wellingtons, originally green rubbers taller than our boots, with buckles at the side, now more often found in pvc fashion colour knock-offs, hot pink, plaid and such, but with the important white and red rectangular label glued to the front top. By such nuances are ye known.
Am I working up to some sort of thought on nativism and the new vernacular? There are stores that cater to originals in a cult of the unfashionable but authentic. Kent of Inglewood is a local example: axes, straight razors and Geo F Trumper shaving soap in wooden bowls: ‘the brush, the razor, the axe’ is their tag line. The axe. Not sure I get it but it is all about being manly I think.
God people are clever. Mackintoshes, waterproof raincoats, done originally in 1824 by dissolving rubber in naphtha to liquidise it and putting it between two layers of fabric, done evidently by the Aztecs (not the naphtha, they just used latex). It’s all very chemical, the processing of rubber so it doesn’t smell, or melt or harden. When you think that before this one relied on the natural oils in thick wool to repel water, and I suppose leather capes, the mackintosh must have felt featherweight in comparison.
I had a short cream riding mac once, like the one above with the leg straps and everything, foolishly gave it away and now find they are £420. I should have cleaned mine with a raw potato and soaked the red ballpoint mark on the sleeve out with milk.
Got a waxed jacket for living in Duncan’s Cove, south of Halifax, where waves bash the rocks and are quite drenching. Originally it was sails that were waxed, to make them more efficient against wind; fish oils, then linseed oil on lighter canvas reduced the weight of the sails in the overall tonnage of the ship, allowing it to go faster. We are speaking of the mid-nineteenth century here. Linseed oil turns yellow: fishermen’s slickers are yellow by tradition, but originally by linseed oil. In the 1920s cotton started to be impregnated with petroleum-based materials: paraffin mainly, then cupro-ammonia – the solution used to produce Bemberg and cupro rayon. Not until the 2000s was cupro-ammonia replaced by a hydrocarbon wax, which is what Barbour gives you a little can of when you buy a jacket. It looks like vaseline and when you use it to touch up the wear where the waxing has worn off gives you a horrible greasy jacket you can’t hang up next to anything else. The dark olive green of the Barbour comes from the copper in the cupro-ammonia.
It is very warm, this waxed jacket, and has that hunting and fishing look that flags a certain segment of the British class system and its wannabes. But it is very warm and quite useful in a Calgary winter. I like things that you never have to buy again because they never, ever wear out and have zero relation to the fashion industry. Well that’s not quite true, they float in and out of desirability.
It is surprising how much a cut raw potato can do, from cleaning oil paintings to your muddy mac. These ‘how to do it’ cards are wildly inventive, a combination of old remedies such as taking salt stains from brown (?) shoes with washing soda dissolved in milk – milk is very useful for a lot of problems evidently; it dissolves ink even – to mending broken china with molten alum, whatever that is. I expect this set of cards is the collected wisdom of the butler, the maid of all work and the housekeeper — it is all about fixing things with much ingenuity and common materials.
I used to take all this to heart, this kind of mending and fixing, renewing and caring. Always there were the stories of elderly blind ladies who could mend smashed teacups by feel. It was very hard. Everything I have is mended, badly. Many things that seem so simple in the drawings and the 80-90 words of masterfully concise text are terribly difficult to actually do well. Maybe if you’d done something a hundred times, and knew what it all felt like, it would work. I’m not sure we know how to do anything much, with our hands, any more.
How to clean a clock is a classic: put some cotton batten soaked in coal oil in the innards: the fumes will loosen any dust and it will fall off the mechanism. Really? How was this discovered? Thomas Barrow looks after all the clocks at Downton – I suppose he knows about this.