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On Site review: other ways to talk about architecture and urbanismContains things you will never find anywhere else.

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34: on writing

33: on land

32: weak systems

31: mapping | photography

30: ethics and publics

29: geology

28: sound online

28:sound links site

 

27: rural urbanism

27:rural urbanism online

 

on site 26: DIRT onlineonsite 25: identity online

onsite 24: migration onlineonsite 23: small things online

read onsite 22: WAR online

On Site 22: WAR has sold out in the print version, but you can read it online

read onsite 21: weather online

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onsite 20:museums and archives has sold out in the print version, but you can read it online

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read onsite 18: culture onlineonsite 18 individually archived articles

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Wednesday
Mar222017

David Hockney. Pearblossom Highway, 11 - 18th April 1986

David Hockney. Pearblossom Highway, 11th-18th April 1986, photographic collage, 77x112 1/2 in. © 1986 David Hockney

Another desert landscape made familiar by cowboy movies and Paris, Texas; this though, the Pearblossom Highway in California, north of the San Gabriel Mountains which you can see on the horizon, otherwise known as State Route 138. 

The Getty quotes Hockney on this piece:   'Pearblossom Highway' shows a crossroads in a very wide open space, which you only get a sense of in the western United States. . . . [The] picture was not just about a crossroads, but about us driving around. I'd had three days of driving and being the passenger.  The driver and the passenger see the road in different ways. When you drive you read all the road signs, but when you're the passenger, you don't, you can decide to look where you want.  And the picture dealt with that: on the right-hand side of the road it's as if you're the driver, reading traffic signs to tell you what to do and so on, and on the left-hand side it's as if you're a passenger going along the road more slowly, looking all around. So the picture is about driving without the car being in it.

Well, that makes sense if you are in a right-hand drive car, as one is in England, but not in California.  Is driving one of those automatic things that has cut channels in the brain that insist that although sitting on the left hand driver seat, one is spatially seeing the world from the passenger seat because that is how you learned to see in a car in England?

For a North American, this photocollage tells me the passenger is worried about where he is, and the driver is the one noticing the details, as one does, at the side of the road.  On long haul drives, peripheral vision is very alert. This allows you to read a book on the steering wheel while driving the I-25 through Wyoming, one large beige halfpipe.  Well, when I was younger.

The mid-1980s was the heyday of the photo-collage for architects: how to show a site, not with the single Renaissance eye focussed on the far horizon, but more the sense of a place full of details that a single 35mm shot simply cannot include.  I remember taping together 180° site pans in the 1970s and, photoshop aside, we were still being sent photo collages in the mid-2000s: e.g. Rufina Wu's underground Beijing rooms in On Site review 22:WAR, 2008.

Hockney is a painter, not an architect documenting a site, but both used the documentary truth of the raw photograph, without the limitations of the camera, to make a different reality based on perception rather than fact. 

This is a pre-digital conversation.  

Hockney's Pearblossom Highway does record the throbbing relentless desert sky with headachey accuracy.

Thursday
Mar162017

Richard Long: Avon River Mud, 2011

Richard Long. A Line Made By Walking, 1967

Maybe all art is slow art, which is why it is art and not graphic design.  1967, Richard Long, then a student: A Line Made By Walking — the smallest gesture in a drawing where there is only artist and surface; no paintbrushes, paint, equipment, frame.  The surface is complex — grass and other little plants easily crushed, changing the nap of the field where Long walked back and forth until his path registered.  Cognisant of Smithson and the American land artists of the 1960s, he, perhaps because British, a student and probably cash-strapped, made equivalent gestures in the landscape without all the heavy lifting of cranes, excavators and dump trucks.  The restriction becomes the modus operandi for the rest of his career. 

Here, a video: Making River Avon Mud Circle, M-Shed, Bristol 2011

Richard Long. Video: Making Avon River Mud Circle, 2011

Wednesday
Mar152017

Paul Peter Piech: political posters from 1968-1996

Paul Peter Piech, Racism Is a Poison, Remember Soweto. Linocut from the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection

If we are meant to be remembering Soweto, we are somewhere in the late 1970s, nearing the end of the handmade political poster: one could also be remembering Vietnam, remembering Nixon, remembering so many things that brought people out onto the streets in their hundreds of thousands: vigils in front of the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square that continued for decades, Greenham Common, a massive 1980s women's encampment protesting the placing of Cruise missiles in the UK by the USA.  Far from being some sort of golden, simpler era where men were men and women were cross and the Cold War was frozen in an impasse, the 1960-80s era, ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the impending release of Mandela, was hot and full of social movement and where those who are considered the elites now, the educated, the left-leaning, the experts and the professionals, had a serious voice.

But that's a long time ago now; one looks at the political posters of Paul Peter Piech to measure just how emasculated the alleged elites are now.  This is why we look at the past, not through rose-tinted John Lennon glasses, but to measure where we are today and how we got here.  One thing we no longer have is the political poster: we have political tweets — 140 characters with all the economy of the linocut and two colours of ink. Both can be devastatingly direct and inciting. The poster is not a long form essay; rather it puts out visual memes coded with references: above, identity and stigmata, violence and gun barrels held by hands, pointed at other hands, letters laboriously carved out of linoleum by hand, run off a press by hand, hands bleeding. The hand as synecdoche for a long form message.  

Piech was an American posted to England during the war, married there and stayed.  Some of his work was recently shown at the Peoples History Museum in Manchester.  The exhibition was called Dedicated to all Defenders of Human Freedoms: The Art of Paul Peter Piech.  I feel as if I am in a time warp: evidently this sort of thing still goes on, this valorisation of the alternative voice, not here, but at least somewhere, such as Manchester. 

Piech's work is, by the by, quite beautiful.  He was working up to his death in 1996.  The 1995 poster below, The History of Jazz, still uses his laboriously-carved hand lettering.  The sheer amount of time it takes to cut a letter, to fit the word to the space, to make a capital C hold a smaller letter – the process itself allows time to think.  At the same time, to do a portrait as face and hands, the way that Sargent did a century before, cuts to the chase. The processes might be slow, but the message is quick and focussed. If there was ever a time that we needed fewer words dashed off hot-headedly on a phone by people who don't write particularly well, it is now.  In the incoherent and very confusing cloud of words that surround us, perhaps the processes by which alternative voices will emerge will be like the political poster of the 1970s: deliberate and slow.

Paul Peter Piech The history of jazz. Linocut 1995. From the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection

Saturday
Mar112017

Annie Oakley

A wistful Buffalo Bill Cody, circa 1890, a couple of years after he had gone to England to visit Queen Victoria.

This has been a week or so, here, of the physical and cultural landscapes of the American southwest, long before malls and freeways, snowbirds, wetbacks and ICE.  The West was a powerful image, for those of us in the west who didn't entirely see it as those in the East might have – fenceless, lawless, full of saguaro cactus and mesas.  Rather those of us in the west north saw it as something our grandparents and parents did.  They knew the flowers, the grasses, the winters, the colourful characters.  Allegedly my great-grandmother had an affair with Robert Service; one grandfather, an executive with Imperial Tobacco in Edmonton, had joined a travelling circus at 13, the other grandfather lived briefly near Olds in a chicken coop, with his school tie, violin and dancing pumps as an apprentice gentleman farmer: these were real, not myth.  

At the same time we were awash with the mythology of the American West as it came through popular culture and that increased to a tsunami after WWII.  For example, there was a tv program for kids about Annie Oakley who had worked for Buffalo Bill, Civil War veteran, Indian hunter, showman, huckster.  In Grade One I got  an Annie Oakley lunch kit.  My brother three years later got a Roy Rogers lunch kit which he promptly lost, for which I don't blame him, it had Dale Evans on it, who was such a drip. 

Annie Oakley, sharpshooter, a little proto-feminist.  In the tv program her sidekick was Tagg, a kid, a boy; her horse was beautiful.  We all drew horses as little girls, before we moved onto ballerinas, leaving the wild west behind.  However, Annie Oakley was a far more exotic model for very little girls than, say, Anne of Green Gables, a book which I could not read at all.  For Annie Oakley there were no rules; for Anne Shirley it was all about fighting the rules that cramped her style.  It made no sense to me.

The west is different from the east; it is another country.

Aladdin Industries Annie Oakley lunch kit, 1955. This one was on Ebay and sold for $350. The cream edges were pressed like leather, and the sides had a belt of bullets running around them.

Friday
Mar102017

e e cummings, 1920: Buffalo Bill's defunct 

Buffalo Bill's
defunct
        who used to
        ride a watersmooth-silver
                                  stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
                                                  Jesus

he was a handsome man
                      and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

 

This must be on a whack of English 101 reading lists as there are dozens of webpages analysing it.  The most beautiful, the most dense with reference, every word so threaded through by poetry, art, the politics of capitalist America, is this by Louis J Budd, written in 1953:

The poem's attitude is epitomized in the word "defunct." Buffalo Bill has not undergone a tragic crisis, he has not passed through a spiritual ordeal; he simply has ceased operating, liquidated like a bank or a poorly-placed filling station. The reader primarily realizes that William F. Cody will no longer prance through metropolitan hippodromes as the chief asset of a gaudy commercial venture. More broadly, the reader should recognize that the westering dream and nostalgic enjoyment of that dream are ended, the dream ripped by realities or stultified by vulgar misuse and the nostalgia deflated by post-Versailles cynicism. Buffalo Bill and his cohorts, galloping through this world in a blinding shroud of physical exertions divorced from meaningful reality, never were alive to tulips or the small white hands of the rain and can be scarcely said to have died.
— from Louis J. Budd, "Cummings' BUFFALO BILL'S DEFUNCT." Explicator 11 (June 1953): Item 55.

I would like to have written this.

Tuesday
Mar072017

oh give me land

click on the image to go to Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters. Don´t Fence Me In (Decca 23364, 1944) Of all the versions, including the near-manic David Byrne version of 1999, Bing Crosby's is the one with a horse's walking gait, much like all the old cowboy songs. The Roy Rogers version is very tumpty-tump: he was no singer.

from Wikipedia: 'Originally written in 1934 for Adios, Argentina, an unproduced 20th Century Fox musical, 'Don't Fence Me In' was based on text by a poet and engineer with the Department of Highways in Helena, Montana, Robert Fletcher.' Cole Porter bought the poem, reworked it and set it to music.

Roy Rogers sang it in 1945 in a film of the same name which I must have seen many times throughout my childhood as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and David Niven movies interspersed with the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and Loony Toons reran on an endless loop after school on channel 11 from Bellingham.  As my parents had grown up in Calgary during the 1930s and early 40s and had romantic (to me) stories of trail rides and/or setting off on their bikes to ride way out into the foothills, this song was about a lost elysium, something that mooning about on the beach on Vancouver Island just didn't match up to.

One might say that I moved to Calgary because of the spirit and the landscapes of this song:

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in

Monday
Mar062017

George Herriman: ways of seeing, ways of being

George Herriman, 1937, for King Features Syndicate.

George Herriman (b.1880 in New Orleans) published his little abstract landscapes every day from 1913 to 1944 when he died.  Under the eye of Offisa Pup, Krazy Kat's unrequited love affair with Ignatz played out in a sunbaked, empty Arizona desert: roads are two lines, mesas are geometric blocks sitting on a tabletop horizon.  Somewhere is a little scribble of action and a running text. 

This was in the childhood of so many American artists of Diebenkorn's generation: Twombly, Rauschenberg, Thiebaud, Dine.  I've written about Thiebaud's city drawings before, but I can also see the flattened space of Herriman in Diebenkorn, especially in the sketchbook drawings such as the one below.  These are ways of seeing, not in the Berger sense that the subjects of art are the objects of society, but rather a way of seeing small human dramas played out on the immense American canvas that was the early twentieth-century West.  Too, there is something about growing up without the eastern seaboard weight of European art history, that Henry James view of America, rather than the light-footedness of e e cummings

Wednesday
Mar012017

Richard Diebenkorn: Notebooks, 1943-93

Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” from Sketchbook #2, pages 33-4 (1943–93), gouache, watercolor, crayon with graphite and cut and pasted paper on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)

Alison Meier describes Diebenkorn's 29 sketchbooks as 'a sort of nomadic studio', an apt concept: the emergency kit for ideas, the travelling bank of lifesaving notes.  They must have been everywhere as they are all listed as 1943-93, always in play, just grab a notebook handy and add a page or two.  Nothing here indicates the notebook as chronological recording of one's development; there appears to be little reflection on one's art as continuum, nicely dated.  No, these are simply files, unfiled, but like going through a box of unsorted slides: with each one the time, the heat, the place, all come rushing back.  

It also says something, this disinterest in chronology, that all the work, the thoughts, the ideas, are on an equal footing.  Early drawings, done with uncertain youth, are still around simply because they are in the notebook with the green cover, or the black spiral, or the one with the red paint on the outside; vaguely interesting, occupying a slim bit of notebook real estate next door to a vivid crayon thing done forty years later.  Plus they might have an idea in them.  

Painting is not like writing.  The physical act of placing one word after another, and another, page after page itself is linear, sequential.  Even the white space of concrete poetry contributes to the order of the poem, even erasures, crossings out and the reworking of writing disappear in print, usually its ultimate destination.  Painting itself is a constant reworking of surface, three-dimensional, un-linear, a storm of marks that are never actually finished, rather they are abandoned.  Famously De Kooning continually reworked his canvases, they were never finished, they are dated by duration.  This quote, source unknown but found here, 'I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it - drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space.'  Have to trust what might be a dubious source, however, it says something about using the canvas as a notebook that keeps getting added to.  Willem's notes on women.

Diebenkorn's notes on land. places. people.  They have been given to Stanford by Phyllis Diebenkorn, a rather wonderful bequest that one can see here in an interactive display.  museum.stanford.edu/diebenkornsketchbooks/

Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” from Sketchbook #16, (1943–93) (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)

Saturday
Feb252017

the exercise of wealth

The Critic, photograph by Weegee, 1943. Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1943, above: Mrs George Washington Kavanaugh and Elizabeth Lehr Decies arriving at the last Vanderbilt Ball at 640 Fifth Avenue in New York just before it was demolished.  1,800 guests attended, in full fig clearly.  A set up: Weegee, the photographer, positioned the dishevelled person on the sidewalk where guests were arriving.  Not a particularly subtle piece of social criticism.

George Washington Kavanaugh was the son of Luke Kavanaugh, a knitting machine manufacturer and the inventor of a knitting burr. Mrs CGW was sent into posterity by Weegee; he snapped her several times on this particular night. This was a mink-coated bejewelled waistless woman in her 70s with a limitless American textile and manufacturing fortune. Her expression never changes, no matter who the photographer: face forward, sweet smile, full makeup, hair, tiara, she's like an American Queen Mum.

Do I care about any of this?  Am I in thrall to wealth?  Hardly, but I am interested in the ability of some photographers to be subversive, others to be sycophants: each is creating a narrative no matter how documentary they feel they are being.

Robert Doisneau wasn't taking a cheap shot when he photographed the matrons of Palm Springs below; he didn't set them up, at least any more than they were doing themselves.  Slim Aarons genuinely felt he was part of the rich and famous, and serious about it.  He wouldn't have seen any reason to set them up.  These positions are difficult for us to take seriously in this overly ironized post-irony age— Doisneau's humanism, Aarons's affection, even Weegee's blunt social commentary.  And then there is Marina Garnier's curious social eye below, photographing wealthy women in New York at le Cirque for lunch: specimens to be pinned down like beautiful beetles. 

Marina Garnier, photographer. Eva Gabor and Ivana Trump leaving le Cirque, 1990Had I not been taken by the moonlit image of a small house in Palm Springs with a T-bird in front of it, I would not have arrived here.  But it has led me to think about how one can try to understand worlds we are not part of and how to use art to comment, resist and oppose: not to bludgeon, but to put into context.  The rich are not like us; they are always with us.

Wednesday
Feb222017

Palm Springs 1960: desert oasis

Slim Aarons, photographer: Poolside Gossip, 1970

Palm Springs, la vie en blanche, playground in the desert for Hollywood; every little modern house with its swimming pool and palm tree oasis.  Richard Neutra's Kaufman House was early, 1947. This picture, above, is by Slim Aarons who was both celebrity and celebrity  photographer.  These are the beautiful people of 1970 where architecture is an important signifier but also a non-competitive backdrop.  The contemporary architectural photos of the Kaufman House are unpeopled, still, pure:

Richard Neutra, Kaufman Desert House, Palm Springs, 1947. Julius Shulman, photographer

In 1960 Robert Doisneau, well known for his Paris street photography in black and white, was commissioned by Fortune Magazine to do Palm Springs; 23 reputedly banal images were published, and then in 2010 Flammarion published the whole archive in a book, Robert Doisneau: Palm Springs 1960
It includes images such as this one:

Robert Doisneau, photographer: Palm Springs, 1960the other people of Palm Springs, not celebrities from film but in wealth.  Clearly the town acted as a resort and a protected, beautiful club.  Today one can get maps of the famous houses and drive by them: not famous for their architecture but because Barry Manilow lived here (Kaufman House) or Frank Sinatra lived there (Twin Palms, now owned by Jimmy Pattison), which must be perfectly wretched for the people now living in these precise horizontal machines for easy living.  Or not. As in the beginning they are guarded/shuttered/defensive on the street side. It is an interesting split between defence at the front and openness at the back that failed to make it to mainstream houses of that era with their picture windows, open carports, declamatory front doors.  These things don't appear in Palm Springs architecture which is part of the enduring subtlety of this kind of modernism.  It is complex, socially-informed, ultimately protective of the lives within it.

Monday
Feb202017

Hal Leavitt: Morse Residence, Palm Springs 1961

Tom Blachford, photographer. Morse House, Palm Springs, from Midnight Modern: Palm Springs Under the Full Moon. Brooklyn: Powerhouse Books, 2016

What I like about this particular Hal Levitt house (Theodore & Claire Morse Residence) is how horizontal it is, as is the 1957 Thunderbird: one could cast a level on the body and have it precisely parallel to the road.  This was the kind of house that even on Vancouver Island in the 1960s, signified Architecture, rather than the cottagey English-y steep-roofed 1930s houses we were all living in. For most at the time, this kind of modernism, prosetylised by Sunset Magazine could only be exercised in the yard: breeze block walls proliferated, front doors and garage doors, previously windowed, became blank.  Picket fences disappeared, as did gardens, rockeries and perennials, replaced by green landscapes and lawn that stretched flat to the street.

Blachford's photographs were taken by moonlight, giving them a curious source of light that picks up pale colours and sinks darks such as asphalt into deep shade.  It is not clear in the publisher's blurb whether or not the cars are stage design or the owner's allegiance to the era.  Le Corbusier put a contemporary car, all wood, canvas and spoke wheels in front of the 1927 Weissenhof-Siedlung Houses 14 and 15 to show how architecture should be as streamlined and as instrumental as automobile technology. It was a long time, as Will Wiles points out, before there was any sort of stylistic alignment between houses and cars.  It might have come close in the 1960s.  

All of this cool flat minimalism promised great freedom from convention, busybody neighbours, maintenance: wealth could buy this level of abstraction. Under the theory of the 60-year nadir – that things in their sixth decade of existence are unloved, scorned and often demolished, both this house and this car qualify.  Again, only wealth could buy such preservation.  For the less wealthy most things 60 years old come under the heading of mid-century modernism which is eminently collectible as here (unloved, etc. and not in LA or Palm Springs) it is quite cheap.  

The Morse house (not at all cheap) has a Class 1 Historic Site designation and is described thus:
One of the most interesting modernist homes in the prestigious Vista Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs, the Theodore & Claire Morse Residence (1960) started life as an Alexander tract home designed by the firm of Palmer & Krisel. In 1961, the Morses commissioned renowned Los Angeles architect Harold "Hal" Levitt to glamorize and expand the home turning it into a Hollywood-style "entertainment residence." The Morse Residence is considered by many to have the best pool and bar entertainment combo in Palm Springs.

Well, there we go.

Wednesday
Feb152017

Richard Hughes, RCGrimewave, 2011

Richard Hughes, RCGrimewave, 2011

Found this image while looking at something else, as is the way it goes.  It isn't a new piece, but hands have been a lot in the news the past few days, mostly shaking agressively, controllingly, powerfully.

This Hughes piece, a giant pressed cardboard fist propped up against a clean gallery wall, is part of a series in this journal, of hands used as political expression.

The hand is the last thing one can speak with after the voice has gone, after its writing has been banned; a fist can still be formed, until it too is cut off.
Resistance — how the closed fist held up, palm out, is a withholding of the hand and its ability to work.  It is passive, sullen, unyeilding: it isn't a horizontal punch, it is a flag held up in a massive objection to whatever circus it finds itself in.  

It surprises me, this, thinking of other signs of hand protest, especially the V — palm out, first two fingers open, the third lightly held by the thumb.  This is a flag that is so open, so optimistic that openness will prevail — the future is coming and it is full of light.  Churchill when he knew he was winning the war, Vietnam protesters who knew they could change government through sheer numbers, but it was never the flag of the Civil Rights Movement: that was the closed fist, with its obdurance and its passive weight.

-------------

But, this is art, not propaganda. Richard Hughes finds things in his own territory on the basis of how they 'have reached this state of uselessness, and how well they can be used now to deliver a narrative or depict something'.  This is from a long and absorbing conversation with Martin Clarke about his work.  Having found bottles, bits of plumbing pipe, cardboard, old sheds: things of little value but spied by Hughes at a moment of their descent into detritus, he chooses them, rearranges them a bit, makes a rubber mould of them, casts them in resin, sometimes bronze, and then paints the cast to look like the original.  There are two narratives here: the decay of things, and the arrest of decay by transformation into some other medium. The cardboard fist 'looks like' a cardboard fist, but is actually a sculpture of a cardboard fist.  

At art school in the 90s and with an MA from Goldsmiths in 2002, there is more than a little punk sensibility to Hughes' work.  The found objects, often unlovely; the unsentimental process by which they are made gallery-worthy, this after a generation of the ripping of art off the gallery wall and shoving it out in the street or turning it into performance, he finds boring. He'd pay someone to do it, but he 'can make a mould properly' so why not just get on with it.  It's his job.

He uses bronze for little things, like a collection of spitballs, but uses resin, a particularly inexpensive, blank and characterless material, for most of his pieces.  The unpainted cast is sheer form, the painted surface is a thin skin of narrative that contains all the romance of the processes of attrition, all the tragedy of waste, all the poetics of things without function that persist in littering our landscapes.  The original objects carry some sort of charge for Hughes – it's how he chooses him.  They are transformed by industrial and mechanical processes that deliver that charge into a gallery space.  The objects are legitimised by their simulacra.   I could be wrong, I haven't seen the work, I wasn't in Glasgow in 2012 when the fist was shown at Tramway 2, I only know the image, above, but I sense that this is a hard critique of how we value things only when they have been given the gloss of permanence.

One can critique a system (the Gallery, the Museum, the Art Market) with completely subversive works.  The half-rotted running shoe sprouting grass: cast it in resin, paint it to look like the original which deems it a sculpture because of the methods of its manufacture – a process that seemingly bypasses the existential narrative of the running shoe itself.  And what of that narrative – it is neither unimportant, nor irrelevant.  The 'charge' that Hughes talks about is still there, now primed to go off in that most rarified air of the white-walled gallery. 

Tuesday
Nov152016

Leonard Cohen: The Partisan, 1969

Oh the wind, the wind is blowing. Through the graves the wind is blowing.  Freedom soon will come.  And then we'll come from the shadows.

Friday
Apr152016

Malick Sidibé: Mali, 1936-2016 

Malick Sidibé, Bamako, 2001

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.

Tuesday
Apr122016

before photoshop, there was art

Shuffling: Keith Arnatt’s Invisible Hole Revealed by the Shadow of the Artist (1968). Photograph: © Keith Arnatt Estate

Friday
Apr012016

Zaha Hadid: 2016, some sort of rest at last 

Zaha Hadid Architects, The Peak Leisure Club, Hong Kong, 1983, drawing. One cannot overestimate how influential this project was: it changed by life, stuck in Calgary doing crappy post-modern dormers and classical columns. I hadn't been educated in any of that, The Peak was how I thought. And she had drawn it.

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. 

Tuesday
Mar222016

Nadia Myre: owning the Indian Act

From Art Mûr: Indian Act speaks of the realities of colonisation – the effects of contact, and its often-broken and untranslated contracts. The piece consists of all 56 pages of the Federal Government’s Indian Act mounted on stroud cloth and sewn over with red and white glass beads. Each word is replaced with white beads sewn into the document; the red beads replace the negative space.

Nadia Myre, Indian Act, 1999-2002. Glass beads, stroud cloth, thread and downloaded copies of the text of the Indian Act (chapters 1 to 5, comprising 56 pages) amended in 1985.

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. 

Nadia Myre, Algonquin, intensely beautiful and significant work.

Monday
Mar212016

Wearing Our Identity; measured in spoons

Widow's amauti. Eastern Arctic, Inuit: Nunatsiarmiut, 1890-1897. Sealskin, seal fur, glass beads, silver?, lead, brass, pewter?, spoons, coins, wool braid, linen? thread. © McCord Museum M5836 This is a widow's amauti. It has a small, flat baby pouch just below the hood in the back, indicating the widow's former role as a child-bearer (from birth until about two years of age, Inuit babies are carried in an amaut under the mother's hood). In the early 1800s, non-Aboriginal explorers, whalers and traders began providing the Inuit with an array of trade goods, including dyed cloth, coins, metal utensils and glass beads.

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.

Friday
Mar182016

the Yup'ik Qaspeq

DeeDee Jonrowe at the Huslia checkpoint during the 2015 Iditarod. Photo: Katie Orlinsky

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.

 

Yup'ik ice fishing, n.d.

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.

Kuspuks today.

Thursday
Mar172016

Métis dog coats

Miep von Sydow: IditarodFor 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:

DeeDee Jonrowe leaves the Huslia checkpoint during the 2015 Iditarod. Jonrowe, a 62-year-old cancer survivor, is a legend of the sport. She has run the Iditarod 35 times, with 16 top-ten finishes. Photo: Katie OrlinskyDogs, dressed for the weather, have a long history.

This was painted by Peter Rindisbacher  in the 1820's in the Red River area. The three dogs pulling the sleigh are covered in small beaded red blankets with yellow accents. They have sets of bells around their necks and additional bells sticking out above their collars in a colourful display. Again, this image is from the brilliant Portage La Loche website. Click on the image to go to the page about Métis dog blankets.These coats are very beautiful:

Dog blanket, Western Subarctic. Aboriginal: Dene, Slavey 1900-1915. Velvet, canvas cloth, cotton bias tape, wool yarn, glass beads, metal beads, sinew, cotton cloth, cotton ribbon, hide, 51 x 55 cm. © McCord Museum ME966X.111.3

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.