....Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish Citizen and artist Matt Baker

Monday, 26 April 2010

'we don't rot we shrivel'

In late 2008 I was lucky enough to travel to Alberta, Canada. I was there as part of an art team (led by Sans façon) we were on a research trip at the beginning of our commission to look at the City of Calgary through it's relationship to water. We traced the city's water supply from the Bow Glacier, through the urban area and out onto the vast prairie beyond. On the prairie we were shown the remains of homesteads

These houses were built by settlers who came from Europe in the first years of the 20th Century. For the sum of $200 you could buy 200 acres of land. People crossed the Atlantic with families and all they owned, on reaching Canada they bought a wagon and headed out into this unknown wilderness.
This is the Lunt residence,built in about 1910 -the Lunts emigrated from Liverpool

The Albertan climate is very dry, there are long cold winters and a growing season of approx 3 months in every year. The European migrants came from a climate where they were used to abundant water, where often the challenge had been to keep land drained to prevent crops, buildings and machines from rotting.

The new farming communities on the Albertan Prairie were shortlived with most people either returning to Europe or moving into the Canadian towns. But the climate means that the marks made on this landscape will endure....machinery abandoned in a Scottish field will be rusted solid in a year....yet on the prairie we saw machines that had lain for nearly a century and you could still turn a gear cog.

Wooden houses still stand, distorted only by wind and the weight of snow. Poking at a window frame I dislodged a wad of cloth, which, presumably had been positioned 90 years ago to seal a draught or a prevent a rattle.

Much of my work is concerned with highlighting the processes of weathering or erosion through their effect on the materials I use in the context of a particular place. I found the prairie utterly compelling and repelling simultaneously.......it was fascinating for me to confront a realisation that part of our cultural identity and how we see ourselves should be wrapped in in our perception of the way things age and weather down...it was very different here.

As our Canadian friend Heather said of her country
- 'we don't rot we shrivel'


FOOTNOTE
 It is odd how European culture should be considered so 'heritage heavy' ie that we are known for preserving things. On the prairie preservation is so effortless - nearby the homesteads is a First Nation 'Medicine Wheel', this is a monument contemporary with Stone Henge. The Medicine Wheel consists of a few smallish boulders and a network of walked paths, in the Scottish climate this place would have been very quickly lost under undergrowth. In Europe we have to work incredibly hard to preserve anything, I think this was part of the reason I found the prairie so troubling - I felt that every footprint and fleeting gesture made there was potentially 'lasting'.

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