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Entries in signs (30)


soccer ball technology

Adidas's FIFA World Cup history, 1970-2014Thought I ought to know something about soccer ball technology, given that the hexagon ball which has held sway for decades appears to have been replaced by something much more free-form and sinuous.  

The first World Cup was held in 1930, in Uruguay. The ball had twelve panels, leather, two of which were laced to tighten the outer shell over the inner ball, originally in the 19th century an inflated animal bladder, later rubber.  The quality of the ball had much to do with the quality of the leather, and whether it came from the rump (good) or shoulder (less good).  The six panels of two strips became six panels of three strips each, making the ball smoother, then changed back again.  There were other variations: interlocking T-shapes, other geometries.  It is a parallel investigation to map-making where a round globe is represented by flat paper; here flat pieces of material are shaped and stitched together to make a globe.

Adidas's twelve panel white leather football for the 1966 World Cup1970 Adidas Telstar football, Buckminster Fuller's truncated icosahedron sphereBuckminster Fuller designed an infinitely smoother ball in 1970 of twelve pentagons and twenty hexagons composed as a truncated icosahedral sphere. Hexagons and the pentagons at their intersection were coloured black and white for television visibility and, supposedly, for the players to more easily see how the ball was spinning. Up to this point all footballs had been single colours.  The Bucky-ball, as it is known but called by Adidas Telstar, was used in FIFA World Cup matches until 2006 when a fourteen panel ball was introduced, in 2010 the eight panel Jabulani ball was developed.  

The eight panel Jabulani is made of thermally bonded moulded panels of ethylene-vinyl acetate and thermoplastic polyurethanes, textured with specific grooves designed to improve aerodynamics. Evidently players don't actually like this ball; it changes direction in mid-air and performs completely differently in different altitudes.  Curious that such a high-tech construction and aerodynamic design makes such an unpredictable ball.  One does wonder what influenced its adoption.  Adidas-sponsored players claim to like the Jabulani

From a NASA study mentioned on wikipedia: When a relatively smooth ball with seams flies through the air without much spin, the air close to the surface is affected by the seams, producing an asymmetric flow. This asymmetry creates side forces that can suddenly push the ball in one direction and cause volatile swerves and swoops and this effect is referred to as knuckling. Older designs of the ball have a knuckle speed of around 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).... the Jabulani, with its relatively smoother surface, starts to knuckle at a higher speed of 45–50 mph (72–80 km/h). This coincides with the typical speed of a ball following a free-kick around the goal area making the effect more visible.

There have been subsequent developments, the current ball being used in Brazil is called the Brazuca, eight panel, very decorative.  Smooth balls with little obvious construction or material markings offer a good surface for graphics so that the most recent balls are like small demonstrations of national identity.  Brazil's World Cup ball is all coloured ribbons, very curvy, like the pavements at Ipanema.
Here is a video comparing the official Brazuca with a replica.  The real one is covered all over with little bumps: this will be the aerodynamic stuff.  The replica is shiny as a billiard ball.

Football technology is a huge area, the images will take you to a couple of comprehensive sites with lots of information on the history of soccer balls. It's all very interesting.


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. 


Dana Claxton: Indian Candy

Dana Claxton. Contact billboards, Dundas Street West, Toronto. left, Geronimo in Pink, 2013; right Tantanka (buffalo) 2013

Dana Claxton is one of the exhibitors at Scotiabank Contact this year, and three of her works are on billboards on Calgary's 9th Avenue SE: on my corner is Sitting Bull's signature taken from a postcard handed out by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, where such troubling heroes had become exhibitions.

The billboards are owned by Pattison, and the exhibition of Contact works is part of Pattison's Art in Transit programme. May and June each year are a treat, as our same billboards always have Contact works, and then they go back to being commercials.  Would it be too much for Pattison to denote these billboards as permanent sites for photographs from the best of Canada's artists?  It gives so much to think about, these beautiful and provocative images.

Claxton's billboard images are drawn from her series Indian Candy, chromogenic prints on aluminum of the clichés of the 'wild west' indian: Tonto, Geronimo, Maria Tallchief in exotic headdress, a buffalo, writing on stone petroglyphs, Sitting Bull, a feathered war bonnet, a ledger drawing, all taken from the vast archive that is the net, pixellations and all, and then washed in bright candy-coloured chemical colours. The narrative line is the ambiguity between history and popular culture, the Wild West Show exemplifying the confusion: were the Indian Wars, the stock in trade of the western movie, history or entertainment?  After Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull crossed the border into Saskatchewan, living there for five years. Claxton's reserve is Wood Mountain First Nation and is descended from Sitting Bull's people.

It is interesting that actual location of all the original pieces she uses are in various archives – where doesn't matter as they can all be found on the web, somewhere, copied and re-assembled, manipulated, emphasised, re-arranged. The validity of the images is not in the contiguity of evidence, original piece next to original piece that traditionally makes a good archival collection. Their validity is that the images circulate in the public domain, and someone has pulled pieces together to say something. The order in which the fragments of evidence are shuffled tells particular histories: the way the US Department of the Interior arranged them both demonises and patronises Sitting Bull's resistance to colonisation; the way Claxton recontextualises the same pieces tells the aftermath.




Isle of Man coin from the mid 1700s

Something about the Acrobat™ wheel reminded me yesterday of something I'd seen before: the three armoured and spurred legs that are on the Isle of Man flag, most often seen in conjunction with the TT race.  It is the potential springiness of a bent leg that operates much like the shock absorber on the Acrobat™ wheel that made the connection, rather than any overt visual trigger. 

As a heraldic device, as it has been since the 13th century for the Isle of Man, since ancient times for Sicily, the sources for such an odd conjunction of three legs, running clockwise, armoured or bare, are vague.  Idiopathic even.  
For Sicily, its triskele is supposedly drawn from the triangular shape of the island (original name Trinacria).  

The Isle of Man is a Gaelic island just 50 km from Ireland, culturally part of the Western Isles, overwashed with Scandinavian invasions.  The triskele of three legs was the emblem for a 10th century Norse king whose territory included both Ireland and the Isle of Man, perhaps appropriating the Celtic trinity of sea/wind/fire which form a triangle around earth. Earlier than that, histories simply say it is a pagan sun symbol.  The legs should run clockwise (according to the sun theory, sunwise being another name for clockwise) but I keep seeing it printed with them running counter-clockwise.  Like the reverse swastika of the Nazis, to change direction sometimes means something sinister. Having the Isle of Man used as an internment camp by Britain during WWII can't have helped. 

The Isle of Man TT race badge


sign making

Bottom of the Cup Tea Room, New OrleansThis beautiful sign comes by way of Ginger at Deep-Fried Kudzu, a huge site of folk art, material culture, food, landscape and buildings centred on Alabama, but also on the South in general. 


sign painting

Kenji Nakayama's hand.

Kenji Nakayama, mechanical engineer, shoe designer, artist based in Boston, here.  Detailing and lettering of great exuberance. 

And below, a vimeo trailer for a well-discussed film on American sign painters.  For something so fundamental to the look of America, the painters are a near outlaw lot. Well, maybe that is the point.  Lose the signwriters and lose that nostalgic, hand-made quality that used to characterise the States, but increasingly ceases to do so.

SIGN PAINTERS (OFFICIAL TRAILER) from samuel j macon on Vimeo.



how to write a well-proportioned letter

&! Art of Signwriting, 1954

&! Art of Signwriting, 1954



the tiny ladder is a nice touch.



French Air Service WWI, Royal Air Force WWI-present, Royal Canadian Air Force 1946-67, 1967-present

Roundels are identifying insignias, usually in military use, meant for easy identification of vehicles and aircraft.  Roundel is a heraldic term: circle.  The French Air Force was the first to use this identification system in WWI: the tricolour in a 1:2:3 proportion.  The Royal Flying Corps followed, with the colours reversed.  All the Commonwealth air forces used the RAF roundel until 1946 when they were redesigned for specific countries.  
The RCAF roundel from 1946-1967 used a winsome maple leaf; after that, it became the maple leaf of the flag.

Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia, South Africa 1927-46, 1947-57The Royal Australian Air Force put a red kangaroo in the centre of its roundel; the RNZAF a kiwi.  After 1946 Rhodesia put three spears over the centre of the RAF roundel; the South African Air Force, from 1927-1947, an orange centre, from 1947-57 an orange springbok. Now the South African roundel is very complicated: an eagle over a scalloped fort shape.

The original striped roundels were clearly for wartime identification when recognition must be instant and if the markings are indistinct, lethal. Also, the Allies were all pulling together under the RAF, thus they mostly used the RAF insignia.  WW2 was the last gasp of the British Empire, after it came the waves of decolonisation, 'empire' became an unuseable term, replaced by the more anodyne Commonwealth which today is almost without meaning — even the beautiful 1962 Commonwealth Institute building in London (listed Grade II) is now occupied by the Design Museum.  Commonwealth declarations of national identity within the dark blue border of the old British empire were a slow transition to contemporary warfare where, for example, the Canadian Forces operate under NATO command, whose roundel seems, graphically speaking, very ambiguous.


CEF formation patches

3rd Canadian Division, 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade flashes, WWI. Player's Cigarette Cards, 2nd Series, No. 120.

These were the badges worn on sleeves and berets, painted on trucks and on signs identifying the units.  They had to be readable at a distance and when found on a body lying in the mud in a trench, so they couldn't be too fussy.  The Division patches of the Canadian Expeditionary Force followed a simple ordering system: the square colour block indicates the division, the brigade is the colour above it, the shape above it indicates the battalion.

3rd Division, CEF. 1914-1918

All very tidy in the diagrams, what they looked like on the uniforms is somewhat more makeshift.

85th Battalion, 4th Canadian Division, formation patch


signs of remembrance

Moina Michael, secretary to the YMCA in New York, started the wearing of the poppy in remembrance of Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Through the American and the French YMCA, poppies were sold to raise money for war widows and their families.  She started by buying silk poppies at a trimmings store: the poppies actually looked like poppies.  Today, the poppy-wearing nations, generally the Commonwealth, have distinctive poppy shapes, abstracted from the original.

In Grade 2 in the annex to Craigflower School that we had, and in love with things miniature, I remember inspecting my poppy: it had the red bit, and in the centre a black piece of felt with a serrated edge and in the centre of that a tiny bright green felt dot that the pin went through.  The petals were flocked cardboard, on the back it said the poppy had been made by veterans of Canada.  The Canadian poppy was first worn in 1922, made by disabled vets in workshops in Toronto and Montreal, sponsored by the Department of Soldiers Civil Re-establishment (later Veterans Affairs).  It provided them a small income.

The Legion eventually took over production, and poppy production is now outsourced to a private company.  Today our poppies are stamped out of flocked plastic, so light and slippery that it is impossible to keep them on your coat unless you bend the straight pin with pliers into a sharp hook. However, ours look good on TV as they are so graphic: circular, black centre. 

The British poppy has only two petals, a plastic stem and a leaf. It is made by the British Legion in their factory in London.  As late as 2008 their poppy appeared to have four petals, circular, with leaf, but somehow two petals have been lost, or there are alternative poppy producers in Britain.

A Flanders poppy, Great Britain between the wars. Modern British poppy

The ANZAC poppy in New Zealand is similar, but without the leaf, felt not paper, and has a flag attached for the Returned Servicemen League. ANZAC Day is April 25th; Remembrance Day is a more minor memorial event. ANZAC poppies were made in New Zealand from 1931 until 2010 when the contract was moved to Australia where poppies are now assembled using parts made in China.

ANZAC poppy, New ZealandThe Australian poppy (seemingly different from the ANZAC poppy, it is a bit confusing here) is a lovely thing, it actually looks like a poppy.  First sold in 1921, the poppies were imported from France where they had been made in orphanages.  The proceeds went to the RSL for its veterans' welfare work and to the orphanages.   It seems still to be made by the Returned Services League but can't find details.

Malcolm Cowe, November 12 2010, Perth, Western Australia

In Scotland, poppies have been made in Lady Haig's Poppy Factory in Edinburgh since 1926.  It still employs 40 disabled ex-servicemen who hand-make 5 million poppies, crosses and wreaths a year.  They make a range of poppies, including these long stemmed silk poppies out of silk.  

Lady Haig's Poppy Factory poppies. Sir Alastair Irwin, Edinburgh.The poppy has never become a general symbol that slips between war and peace, battle and non-violence.  It is absolutely lodged in that one event, the Armistice at the end of The Great War, the war to end all wars, but the terms of which led to the Second World War and on to the Cold War.   It is, in McCrae's poem whence it all springs, a reminder of what are now called 'boots on the ground' – the actual people who fight our wars.



Winston Churchill demonstrating a British V for victory against Nazi Germany.

V for victory is how it was used by Churchill in WWII.  We know now how very close Britain was to defeat; it was important for Churchill to show indomitable surety that victory was nigh.  
It is a combination of the hand of solidarity and the letter V.  It is also the two-fingered Cub salute: the two fingers are the ears of Akela, the wolf cub.  You remembered that didn't you?

Victory and peace.  We also know now that victory does not automatically mean peace.  Nixon used to hold both hands up in a fractal of two-fingered Vs at the end of a two-armed V – this where the V for victory in Vietnam was at odds with the V meaning Peace, man.  Throughout the late 1960s and early 70s peace meant withdrawal, not victory, an absence of victory as the battle was given up rather than waiting for defeat.  

The V hand sign has emerged again in the Arab Spring, where valour, valediction, validity and victory has been signed by every child, every woman, every student and rebel in each country as entrenched power structures were dismantled.  Tunisia and Egypt's demonstrations were non-violent resistance movements; this didn't work in Libya and isn't working in Syria.  Here V stands for a victory not of the individual who as he is rushed off on a stretcher manages to lift a hand and weakly flash two fingers, no, here the victory is for a people who will never go back, no matter what it takes, even if it takes generations.  

A young Libyan girl flashes the "V sign" with her two fingers painted with the old national flag's colours, during a demonstration against Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi outside the court house of Benghazi.Shockingly, in looking for the images here, I found recent pictures of Ahmedinijad in Iran and Saif al Qadhafi both complacently saluting their audiences with a V: here they are indicating their roots in revolutionary movements from a long, long time ago.  The green flag of Qadhafi's revolutionary movement, the target in the Libyan uprising, represented the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya: green is the traditional colour of Islam.  Green was the colour of protest in Iran in 2009, one sees on the news Palestinian coffins draped in green.  The V and Green seem to be very specific in their applications depending on which people are using them, where and at what stage are their revolutions.

There is something about all these symbols and signs that coalesce around peace, non-violence and solidarity, and revolution, war and victory.  These conditions seem to be all very closely linked and the symbols oscillate between them.


at the sign of the fist

NEHouse. painted fist, 2009

The fist of solidarity.  No letters here, just a clenched hand as a measure of intent.  Wikipedia tells us it dates from ancient Assyria as 'a symbol of resistance in the face of violence'.  It was adopted by the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, in 1917.  It was the Republican salute in the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39, and the salute of Smith and Carlos at the 1968 Olympics during the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.  It has become a symbol for human rights.

All of these symbols originate as demonstrations against violence.  The fist works two ways: one as a punching fist, the other as a stilled hand: closed, the opposite of the open hand of the nazi salute.  It is almost as if there is an implicit threat in the fist which can be a weapon but which actually comes from numbers, rather than any threat of individual action.

All the symbols this week have been against violence at the state level: civil and human rights, disenfranchisement, discriminatory policies.  And while not all are ancient symbols, none of them are new; they aren't brands thought up by a marketting agency.  Somehow these symbols carry a great dignity with them; their original intentions are so powerful that their message bypasses the intellect.  I do wonder if this bypass of the intellect is not at the root of power, and can be used for both good and ill.


The golden fist of Qahdafi crushing an American jet, 1986. Tripoli

Below is a stencilled version of the sign for Autonomism, which is allied with socialism, marxism and anarchism, influenced by the Situationists and has a number of autonomist wings in several European countries.  As the word suggests, it favours autonomous action against the structures and processes of capitalism, rather than an sort of organised mass movement.  It appears to be more guerilla-like, under the radar, with activities such as absenteeism.  But they have a sign.  

Autonome, at the Ernst-Kirchweger-Haus in Vienna, Austria



order and disorder

Russell Bassman, May 31, 2008. Evanston Illinois

More letters: the A of anarchy and the O of order.  Proudhon, who we really should know more about and who said in 1840 that property is theft, wrote in The Confessions of a Revolutionary that 'anarchy is order without power', or often quoted as 'anarchy is the mother of order', slightly different in meaning.  Proudhon and Marx correspondid and some of the basic tenets of communism, such as wealth should be transferred from capitalists to workers comes out of this relationship. 

Black is the colour of anarchy, black for absence.

The A in an O was first used by the International Workers Association in Italy in 1868, but only became a commonly seen symbol in 1968, used by the Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti.  Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists in early 20th century USA, whose conviction and execution for murder in 1920 remains controversial and unresolved.  Italian anarchist history is complex and long. At its most utopian, anarchy is an extreme socialism, and is against class, violence and materialism.  It hoped for revolution without violence, although violence seems to have characterised most of its actions.

But it is an easy cipher to mark on walls and has come to represent a general disaffection with government structures and all their systems of order.  Can there be order without power?  We should all read Orwell's Animal Farm again.


signs of revolutions betrayed

Bolshevik Revolution: hammer for the industrial proletariat bonded to the sickle for agricultural workers; red from the red banner of the Paris Commune, 1917

No letters here, just action: the hammer as the tool of industrialisation, the sickle the tool of agriculture.  They are wielded by hands, neither of them are weapons.  One could be writing in the world of synecdoche here, and perhaps that adds depth to a symbol, but one can also write about hammers and sickles, factories and ploughs literally, without losing any meaning.  

In pre-revolutionary Russia Orthodoxy, red was the colour of Easter and the resurrection: how easy it was to elide that with the resurrection of the Russian people, the peasants and serfs, over the European aristocracy that ruled Russia.  And how simple to equate Christ's blood with martyred revolutionary blood.  

The  Phrygian cap of Liberty, le bonnet rouge of the French Revolution: Phrygia – today's Anatolia in Turkey.  Paris, the cause of the Trojan War, was a Phrygian and wore what we could now describe as a soft Turkish fez.  Red as the colour of liberty dates from the Roman Empire when freed slaves wore red Phrygian caps. It is interesting how involved ancient Greece was in what we consider today to be the hotbed of the Middle East.  It is contiguous by land and shares the eastern Mediterranean.  Modern Greece's default from European values, as it is being put, is perhaps more deeply rooted than the EU can accept.  

In 1976 Andy Warhol did a series of silkscreens called Hammer & Sickle where he photographed an actual hammer and a hand scythe in various collaborations. No one will ever be able to convince me that Warhol and pop art were not political.  One can say Warhol valourised the American commercial landscape and endorsed celebrity, but this does not allow him a deep anarchic sense of irony, if that is not an oxymoron. 

In the depths of the cold war, by de-coupling the symbol from the tools, he referred to the Soviet Union as industry and agriculture, not nuclear bombs.  After the fall of the USSR when many previously inaccessible 'ordinary' people were interviewed and we were able to read literature of the era from the other side, what was revealed was a fear of the west and its weaponry, precisely what we had been taught to fear about the east.  What a waste of the twentieth century it all was.  So many died.


Andy Warhol. 
Hammer & Sickle, 1976 
 acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas (182.9 x 218.4 x 3.2 cm.)
 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh


signs of non-violence

the semaphore alphabet

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament symbol was designed by Gerald Holtom for the Aldermaston March at Easter, 1958.  It is composed of two semaphore letters, N and D, for nuclear disarmament.  

Semaphore, the signalling with flags, was used in both WWI and WWII and is still taught in the Navy.  For distances under 2 miles and in daylight it is faster, evidently, than flashing lights which can be more easily intercepted. The hand-held flags developed from the semaphore tower, an invention of Robert Hooke in 1684 to send messages through a series of such towers: 150 miles in two minutes according to The Flag Press.

Holtom had been a conscientious objector during WWII, so his experience of semaphoring was not learned in the Navy, but it was a familiar enough system of signs still that the N and the D, held in a circle for earth had currency.  The N and D diagram above clearly shows a boy scout demonstrating the alphabet.  

We know now that nuclear disarmament does not necessarily mean peace, it means ongoing dirty ground wars with increasingly high civilian collateral damage.  The symbol was used during the Civil Rights movement and came to be associated with non-violence, and then by the anti-Vietnam War movement.  Its now general linkage to peace has dropped all the particulars, and if there was ever a word that has become discredited by overuse and over-application it is the word peace.

The transportability of this symbol, literally as buttons, but also easily drawn, applicable to almost any kind of protest movement including the anti-abortion lobby, and its affiliation to unconventional life styles has rendered it near meaningless other than its core message that still semaphores non-violence.  This must be what has given it such a long life.

from designboom: the first badges were made by Eric Austin of Kensington CND, using white clay with the symbol painted black. They were distributed with a note explaining that in the event of a nuclear war, these fired pottery badges would be among the few human artifacts to survive the nuclear inferno.


the colours of protest

WSPU medal for valour, 1909.

Badges of honour, medals, ribbons, rosettes: delicate little things that carry great meaning.  The Women's Social and Political Union was founded in 1903.  Its priority was to somehow get British women the vote.  The decoration, above, was given by the WSPU to women who had been imprisoned for demonstrating, for 'occupying' the railings outside Parliament.  Once imprisoned, they would go on a hunger strike and then be force fed by very primitive means.  Their tactics were to be noticed, to be seen, to escape somehow the patronising male gaze that preferred them to be angels of the household.  

The colours, green, white and violet, stand for give, women and vote.  Other noble qualities were ascribed to these colours: hope, purity and dignity, but their earliest incarnation is as an acronym.  And it wasn't a secret society, it was to the WSPU's advantage to have this tricolour everywhere.  

At the time, in the early 1900s, violet was also the colour of half-mourning, that period after two years of full mourning in black crepe.  Green was one of the colours of the aesthetic movement, and peridots were re-discovered in 1900 when, after 2000 years, the island in the Red Sea that had peridot deposits was rediscovered.  The combination of violet and green was often seen in Liberty style dress – a combination of the aesthetic movement and art nouveau.  So the WSPU colours were very current, aesthetically, culturally and politically –  violet and green were not the robust primary colours found in military banners and flags.

The art nouveau pendant below is another version, less overtly militant than the medal on a ribbon, but no less powerful in its declaration of belief.


Suffragette jewellery: peridot, pearls and amethyst, ca 1900

In the ex-colonies of the British Empire, New Zealand's women had been givne the vote in 1893, Australia in 1902.  The UK gave it in 1918 but only to women over 30.


june loves geoff

Tiny, tiny message, pencil on brick, seemingly indelible. 

Who has been named June since 1946? Geoff spelled the English way. The J and the G as taught by the MacLean's Compendium of Penmanship.  This on the side of Sevenoaks Court, a commodious brick mansion block in east Calgary. 

Where do these impulses to speak the hidden in public come from, these declarations of selfhood?  This one so small and so easily overlooked, but so permanent. 



Spiller Road, Calgary. August 18 2011

Is this the new graffiti – small and repressed, taking over the huge bubble letters that are everywhere and completely unintelligible?


telling stories

Women at the Ndebele Cultural Village, Loopspruit, Gauteng, South Africa 1999

I was looking for a picture of handprints used as decoration around the doorway of a mud brick house somewhere in Africa, stuccoed and painted by women.  Clear in my mind, can't find the image anywhere.  

On the way, found plenty of information on Ndebele house painting. This is a case of cultural coding that describes family values and histories passed down matrilineally (as the women did the house painting) that was completely opaque to the colonists.  It is like having great billboards for resistance movements in a covert language that is, in the meantime, very decorative and so considered harmless.   Also probably considered benign as it was smiling women doing it.

So many forms of cultural expression were banned in the colonial era if there was a hint of subversion to them or if they simply were not understood: the outlawing of the Salish potlach – something threatening about power and property there, the outlawing of sati – undue sacrifice of Hindu women to their husbands, outlawing of Blackfoot initiation dances – violent and frightening.  Many of these things go underground and reappear as entertainments, living on often as performances for tourists but still speaking, under the radar, to those who understand what they really mean.