C Magazine


Issue 136

Artefact: Architecture of the Bush
by Toby Katrine Lawrence

The teepee has been an ever-present feature of BUSH gallery; but it does not stand as the gallery. Erected two years ago, the structure has weathered, presented and housed many of the actions of BUSH gallery. At the BUSH gallery Writers Union retreat in August 2017, the structure was dismantled; the canvas too brittle to maintain its architectural function after having ripped apart in a windstorm earlier in the summer.

After travelling to BUSH gallery in Secwepemc territory from Vancouver, Tarah Hogue joined Tania Willard in dismantling the teepee, dragging its wooden poles to be stacked for future purposes. Tarah recounted a re-linking of body to land in the reverberations between body, land and wooden pole, activated through their preparatory performance of sorts and marking the beginning of the retreat.

“The teepee poles are so dry and have deep cracks that run almost to the core of the poles at certain points, so when we dragged them across the ground, the sound of their being dragged was amplified. The sound was like a small echo chamber, hollow and almost electronic.” (Hogue)

Following our Sunday afternoon convergence of friends and colleagues at the annual Kamloopa Pow-wow, Tarah, Tania, Peter Morin, Ashok Mathur and I gathered at Quaaout Lodge on Little Shuswap Lake, and then at BUSH gallery the next day. The pow-wow, as a shared point of departure, centred Indigeneity and located experience as material for making, performing and thinking together.1 At dinner, Tarah expressed her need to drag more poles – to utilize acts of labour to connect to place, to land, performance, situation. At breakfast, Peter asked us what it was we wanted to build. Though framed through colonial language, as Peter acknowledged, his question opened space for intellectual, textual, spatial and embodied restructuring of the ways in which Indigenous praxes, and more specifically Indigenous performance praxes, are approached in art writing and art galleries– and beyond.

Monday, we cut up the teepee. We laid out the teepee canvas. We intuitively assumed roles. Within this performative action, we marked the circumference of the canvas staking pink survey flags. Peter, with a blue raven rattle, and Tania, with tin can rattle, circumnavigated the canvas as Peter sang.

Just as in our performance, we ripped long lengths of canvas fabric, so did the wind enact the inevitability of this temporary structure.” (Willard)

The canvas ripped easily along its weave and we made cuts to direct the tearing; the canvas pulled by two of our bodies in order to arrive at segments large enough for specific, repurposed functions. The largest uncompromised section was kept to be suspended in the trees as a movie screen (Skinwalkers: The Navajo Mysteries. The Daughters of Dawn. Netflix search: “Native American”). Smaller segments were used to produce solar prints and their edges finished with pinking shears; the excess made into ribbons. The remaining canvas segments were gathered for future uses. Enshrouded by the dense forest-fire smoke that permeated the region and crouched within the teepee’s flag outline, we cut ribbon and produced a series of solar prints out of rope, rattles, rocks, ribbons, collective writing, laser-cut “SITE/ation” text and toys. Ashok prepared bison meatballs, shish kebobs and Chilliwack corn.

Wednesday, when I returned, the flags had been removed. The activities were now concentrated around the forested area and the trees that supported the large piece of repurposed canvas. No longer in its distinguishable form, the tee-pee remained through abstraction. The screen became the conversational “tee-pee.” The location shifted along with the referent. Now in segments, the canvas marks as it is marked. Material for objects and surface for solar prints, lunar experiments, backdrop for movies, foreground for shadow play, hunting ground for insects…

In one of my trips back and forth from Kelowna to BUSH gallery, I was charged with transporting the 12 large Mylar panels produced for Ashok’s 2009 installation of A Little Distillery in Nowgong. Together, we hung them to weather and to remain in the trees at the edge of the forest with cord coloured the same pink as the survey flags. A twofold final installation. The final action of the BUSH gallery Writers Union retreat took shape through our collective curation of Ashok’s panels and as a collaborative performance by Ashok and Peter. Backed by the layering of A Little Distillery in Nowgong and the teepee, illuminated by a work light, Ashok read aloud Loveruage: A Dance in Three Parts, accompanied by strategically timed drumming by Peter. The text from one of the Mylar panels was incidentally visible through the canvas. And we all listened.

Changed by and changing the actions of its inhabitants and guests, the architecture of the bush is reciprocal. The collective and individual actions under the auspices of BUSH gallery are the materials that form BUSH gallery. The ephemerality and the place-based conceptual space supports the fluid architecture of the teepee. As an Indigenous “sovereign display territor[y],”2 BUSH gallery functions beyond the systemized conventions of dominant culture exhibition spaces. In the Land.