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Entries in métissage (10)

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.  

Wednesday
Mar162016

The Red River Coat

Red River Coat, Markette Inc. 1940-1950, 20th century. Wool. © McCord Museum M2000.49.1Two 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.

Robert Kennicott, visiting card, 1872We 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. 


Tuesday
Mar152016

Métis garments

Colette Balcaen and Pascal Jaouen. Farandole: Perspectives on Western Canadian Métis Culture. The Textile Museum, Toronto, 2013.


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.

Red River coat, made of animal hide, adopted from a Cree design. The coats had a European cut, beadwork, floral designs, quillwork, and embroidery. n.d.

Monday
Mar142016

Métis couture: Belcourt and Valentino

Valentino Resort 2016

Christi Belcourt, Water Song, 2011. acrylic on canvas 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. 

Thursday
Mar102016

Canadian expressionist architecture

Gaboury, Lussier, Sigurdson Architects. Église du Précieux Sang, 1968. WinnipegCardinal 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. 

Tuesday
Mar082016

métissage

Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker. Metis, On the Surface, Arkitektskolen Aarhus, Denmark, 2015

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.

Friday
Mar042016

Métis trappers' tents

Métis Crossing campground: trappers' wall tents

From Assiniboine tipis website: Wall tents are rugged four-sided shelters, much like a small cabin, with a peaked roof that slopes down to four canvas walls. The military began using wall tents as early as the 18th century. Then again, during the civil war, wall tents were used extensively. They were popular as army hospitals. Two large wall tents, fourteen feet squared, would be stacked end to end to form a medical ward for wounded. Later, tents continued to be used by hunters, trappers and gold prospectors throughout the eighteen and nineteen hundreds. Even today, the wall tent is in high demand. The tents are used for shelter by the US Army in Iraq. They are popular for use in refuge camps. Nomadic peoples have also taken advantage of the rugged construction and comfort of the modern wall tent.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. 

Thursday
Mar032016

Métis architecture

Métis Farmstead Buildings – See Burley, David, Gayel A. Horsfall, and John D. Brandon. 1992. Structural considerations of Métis ethnicity: an archaeological, architectural, and historical study. Vermillion: University of South Dakota Press. Used with permission by David Burley.

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.