after the icon
My understanding of self seemed to shift when I moved away from Canada to study. I became aware that there was something unique about my identity - something I knew about myself that non-Canadians did not understand. I was unsure what that ‘something’ might be, but found myself drawn to visual representations of the Canadian identity. As an expatriate, wearing a Maple Leaf or a Hudson’s Bay jacket seemed to be important – at least more important than when I lived in Canada. As an artist I reflected on symbols of my identity and became intrigued with investigating the colour, texture and even the proportions of the iconographic Hudson’s Bay stripes. HBC blankets had once defined Canada as a colony. Could their stripes represent that elusive ‘something more’ that escaped my knowing?
After the Icon is a collection of works, each exploring the iconography of the Hudson’s Bay stripes. Some of the imagery in the collection evokes cultural and political identities. The Tea Jacket Series for example uses embroidered tea bags as a symbol of colonialism. The white jacket form suggests comfort, warmth and protection, but the shape of the darker jacket is masculine and paternal. Colonial Tea Jacket I is pure and unsullied in contrast to the worn texture of Colonial Tea Jacket II – steeped in the stain of its own tea. A Series of Lines That Intersect is a more individual consideration of identity. Each HBC band of colour has been deconstructed to reveal single lines that trace points of intersection between a thread and a surface. Considering the HBC stripes as abstract representations, these embroidered pieces worked on fragile gampi paper suggest our identity is comprised of a series of events that punctuate the present but remain as a vestige of a path we once explored. Each line of individual identity then contributes to the formation of the larger band of colour – as we are each one of a larger collective. This concept of individual identity is applied to the most personal in the work Sanctuary. Hand woven with wool I spun, Sanctuary depicts a surface that exceeds the normal proportions and felted weave of a typical Hudson’s Bay blanket. The weave is highly textured; there are noticeable areas in the weave that are not perfect, while the colours of the stripes are intense. In each colour band are strips of gampi tissue upon which I have recorded my own personal narrative written in a freeform stream of consciousness. This narrative is woven into the vast façade of the blanket. Submerged, emerging … the warp or the weft of intersecting threads. Sanctuary is presented with its companion work Alter Ego. Again, a hand woven blanket created this time out of the unconventional material of monofilament, Alter Ego is Sanctuary’s shadow. The cultural, collective, and personal collide here as the historical identity of the Hudson’s Bay Blanket itself is somewhat murky.* There are dark secrets that shimmer in this weave - rumors of British troops infecting blankets with small pox before trading with the First Nations allied with France. I wonder … perhaps it is the edges of these dark shadows that define any identity.
*Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82. Elizabeth A. Fenn. xiv + 370 pp. Hill and Wang, 2001 and Letter from Lord Jeffrey Amherst to Colonel Henry Bouquet during the Pontiac Rebellion, dated July 16, 1763 referenced in the Canadian Design Resource Nov 25, 2001.