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Wednesday
Jun042014

Indian Candy 2

Dana Claxton. Contact billboard, 9th Avenue SE, Calgary. right: Tantanka (buffalo) 2013. Indian Candy in the process of disappearing. Real billboard images are clear, art is ambiguous; advertising is immediate, art prints itself on the mind and sits there the rest of the day as one tries to make sense of it.

Artefacts exist, but it is not necessary to 'see' them.  Claxton is interested in the image, not the artefact, and how the image has a life much more insidious and invasive that the material thing.  It makes one rethink the value of archives (all the originals) and their digitisation, free to use in a way the originals will never be.

Claxton's images in Indian Candy belong to an era before even my time, more like the 1920s-40s, the era of the Hollywood western.  We used to see them at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday mornings when I was a kid, and on Fun-o-Rama, a kid's late afternoon TV program from Seattle in the 1950s: endless reruns of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Three Stooges, lots of David Niven as a swashbuckler.  But even then the white hat/black hat/Indian chief thing was remote, disconnected to all the kids from the Esquimalt Reserve that went to our elementary school.  It never occurred to me that Donny Albany was an 'Indian'; it was something I learned much later, that he was the son of the Esquimalt band Chief. (old terminology, I know, but it was the 50s, sorry)

The power of Claxton's images is that they pinpoint an era and a process whereby the stereotypes were formed and then embedded in the American psyche via popular culture: the midway, movies, toys, games, TV.  During the long era of residential schools in both the US and Canada which were gutting the structures of North America's indigenous peoples, they were portrayed as dangerous, fearsome and inscrutable – a portrayal that was, and still is used on any group resisting assimilation.

Dana Claxton. Contact billboard, 9th Avenue SE, Calgary. Sitting Bull's signature, 2013Forgetting that this was our Contact billboard, I first thought it was something to do with the Stampede which starts its advertising about now.  However, violet is not a Stampede colour, nor is the dangerous allusion to difficult histories.  Clearly, if this is Sitting Bull's signature, he was taught to write in commercial script.  Is it shaky because someone else wrote it for the Wild West Show postcard and it seemed appropriate?  Another act of embedded 'weakness'? 

I don't think it is his signature.  You cannot trust documents. 

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