Conjoined Cultures on the Cascadian Coast

Here’s a glimpse into the nature of ritual, a favourite human way of dressing the naked world in the stuff of the mind. Here’s the world, on Discovery Passage, on the East Coast of Vancouver Island. Note that it’s a horizontal human figure staring at the sky. This is ancient knowledge.
Now, compare the latest knowledge in the culture of the island: two richly decorated welcoming figures displaying family ancestry and cultural wealth from Kwakwaka’wakw culture, greeting visitors from the sea. Perhaps the stone heads above are an early incarnation of these figures, or perhaps they are a late one. Either way, the giant stone heads of Easter Island are similar, as they should be, given that the cultural similarities between Polynesian and Kwakwaka’wakw culture exceed 90%. 

It would be wrong to see a simple colonial story here. Look how the carvers have incorporated some good boat-building aluminum into their sculptures, to keep them out of the rot, and how the colonial culture in behind, has created symbolic structures of its own: a modern view rancher on the ridge to the left, an older faux-tutor one in the centre, and down at road level, a contemporary urban loft-and-garage style house: all, like the figures in the foreground, looking out to sea, all richly-decorated and even tattooed, and all laying claims to power. These are both cultures of display. Oh, and the view? Well, water, waves, gravel, driftwood and wind: the colonial verities, read by island culture as “the natural world of First Nations culture.”

I dunno. Some of those rocks are richly decorated, too.

There are older stories here, in which water is not water, stone is not stone, and display is not meant for the eyes alone. Look more closely. Old and new mixed together, really!

The modern colonial view is no less a ritual incantation. Look at this combination of industrial wreckage and mourning that has recreated this beach, with the same sense of a ritualized body looking out to sea.

And the same thing at the coffee shop a kilometre to the north. While the sea just keeps coming in, with waves cast off by passing barges on their way to Alaska. In which the people still wade.

Note the exquisite detail of colonial tattooing in this place, from the mouldering plaster of the Tudor house in the back, and its half-timbered, military cladding, to the shrink-wrapped, plastic cladding of the new loft-house, with its old growth pillars replacing the industrial driftwood of the shore, and its simultaneous display and privacy.

White culture here might desire to represent continuity with New York and London, and it does, kind of…

… but it has more in common with this:

Colonial and pre-colonial worlds are still speaking with each other. Bodies are still re-creating themselves as ritual objects in the world and are still facing the sea, and that sea, still, speaks back.

This relationship is not reducible, but we can live in it, together.

Green is the Wrong Colour for a UFO

And now for the backstage view of the Okanagan, that artwork installed in the channel between the basalt seas of the Northeast Pacific Shore.

Colonialism 101

The thing about an alien invasion is that you’d think that blending in with local colour patterns would be the way to pull it off, but that would be so wrong. Just be alien, and celebrate it. Force the locals to adapt, that’s the way.

Open and Closed Air in Indigenous Switzerland

In Zurich, this is nature. A sobering thought.

Or, rather, it is a school sports field. Note the tree. It is placed where there is room. Note as well the aesthetic, architectural arrangement of elements. There is a human world in which nature is an architectural element. What the earth is, well, that’s another matter.

Kelowna: The Inhuman City

At a certain point, when physical and social urban space is continually built out of practical considerations, usually the manipulation of people for purposes of efficiency and budgetary accountability, the city becomes an anti-human space. Witness this image from downtown Kelowna…P1150381

Anyone Waiting for a Public Bus Has to Stare at … Garbage. 

(And walk past it to board the vehicle.)

… the city that defines itself as “The Okanagan,” i.e. the city that defines this …

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(Okanagan, Not Kelowna)

… as itself. We can’t keep making excuses. The city attempts to humanize the space just around the corner from its insulting bus stop with this pretty image:P1150383

Notice how the landscape is portrayed as clothing on a youthful goddess figure, presumably Mother Earth, with apples (pine cones?) for breasts and a waterfall for a vagina, and a sacred rose spilling out of her fingers. Presumably, this …

red

… is viewed in this depersonalized view of Earth-Human relations in the Okanagan as clothing on Mother Earth. This city has a problem. Clothing is a human social affair. Dressing the earth in it is as much as manipulating people. I think it’s the city …

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… that needs to be manipulated. Not this:

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Creating parks is not the answer. It is only an opening proposition in an ethical conversation, and wealth held in reserve until the city can unify with the earth. We need to have that conversation. We can’t keep making excuses.

Alien Architecture in the Okanagan

Here’s a trail in the grasslands. Note the old house to the right of the trail. Ya, the round brown hillock. You got it!IMG_3260-2 copyHere’s who lives there.

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Weaver ants! Thatch, in the earth, that’s the way. The door is on the roof.anthill-1That’s the traditional house style of these grassland valleys for humans, too. You let the earth keep you warm. The doorway in front is the woman’s entrance.

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Men entered from the sky. You can see this all better by clicking here. Contemporary Okanagan architecture looks like the stuff in the image below. Click on the image to see it up close and personal. Best to wear sunglasses, though, I think. Those colours are looking way too bright.

architecture

These “houses” look like they were dropped here from outer space.

Landscape, Colonialism and the Unused Two-Car Garage

A landscape is a stretch of land that has been improved by rational planning, sculpting of the land, and the addition of shrubberies, lanes, paths, buildings and other aesthetic features designed for contemplation. It is the way by which the training of a prince in the art of poetry is transferred to the administration of his princedom. In the post-aristocratic world, it is a romantic view-scape, in which individual identity-selves look out independently over an expanse of nature (everything that is not the individual identity), which is contemplated as a sense of space and freedom. This sense of landscape is largely 19th century. With its roots in art practice, it is largely visual. One looks out, after all. In this respect, the houses below are extensions of individual human selves and are constructed like those selves and serve as comfortable seats for them. They are kind of like full body shoes.P1980945

At the origin of the history of the self (17th century England and 18th century Germany) the concept was cut free from the old aristocratic and religious world, which saw human identity as a function of the surrounding space. This sense of separation between humans and the earth remains an integral part of landscape today. In fact, it creates the idea of Nature. According to the game, the landscape below is called, surprisingly enough, Nature.P1980947This divide between humans and nature, and this severing of individual identity from the physical world, is one of the ways in which colonialism is aggressively furthered. It is also largely a construct of power and display. The uniformity of the houses below is countered by the degree to which their views are impeded by others, as well as the degree to which they impede the view of others — not other houses but other selves, looking for access to the natural world, denied them by the power displays of others.P1980949

 

As with all art forms, this live-in landscape model, this corporatization of landscape with 3,000 and 4,000 square foot pseudo-humans comes with an intricate set of rules. Simply living in nature would be outside of the art genre, and earns the term of “homeless”. “Homeless” people, those who do not participate in this hierarchal art-making, are not considered true citizens of the view state, as, of course, they are not. Many social problems follow from this forced removal of many citizens from actual citizenship. The task of setting this imbalance to rights is not to dispense with houses, of course, as in this climate shelter is mighty important, but a lessening of the negative environmental and social costs of this kind of art would be most welcome. Notice the row of loungers in the back yard below. Maybe it will even improve architecture. After all, why does the house below have a garage?

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The Lesson of the 17th Century

The 1600s gave us two powerful technologies. The first was a refinement of book technology, which replaced the human body with a manufactured and portable form. We’re all, I think, rather familiar with that. The other was this:
cherub

Ceiling, Strahov Monastery Library, Prague

In terms of book culture, this ceiling is decorative and symbolic. In terms of its time, however, it represents the highest achievement of the same power that led to book production but which became manifest within a completely different language. It too is the book of the world and the book of God’s Creation, and reveals, as did the new technologies of science, the hidden world and its forces, expressed through a language of poetry, not as a textual artifact but as a means of being in the world and reading it. What we are left with are textual interpretations of such readings, but not exclusively. This knowledge can still be regained.

A Visit to the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus

University Health Sciences Building.
p10507411University Health Sciences Building Garden

P1050825University Health Sciences Building Parking Lot Garden

P1050829Natural Late January Wild Rock Garden (Off Campus.)

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University Health Sciences Building Art

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University Health Sciences Building Artist’s Title

ross

Not like this you can’t. (University Health Sciences Building Tree, Half a Continent Out of Place.)

P1050826Try this.

P1050877 Or this.

P1060024It’s spring!

Realism, Folktale or Magic Realism

It’s your choice. They’re all fantasies. So, which will the future of the Okanagan be? I know these aren’t pictures from the West beyond the West, but the distance might make things clear.

Realism?

 

reyReykjavik, A Crisp Nordic Novel

Folk Tale?

alf

Elf House and Human Apartments

One group looks a little warmer, perhaps.

Or magic realism?house2

One Man Stares Down the Glut of Icelandic Crime Novels all on His Own

So, there you have it: three variations of houses imitating elf houses, or, in other words, the shape of the imagination, but only one looks happy. Only one looks like a home for the heart.