Canoe Dreamings - Texts
Sally Thurlow: Canoe Dreamings (download PDF)
Introduction and Acknowledgments/David Aurandt
Drift: an essay of Sally Thurlow’s Canoe Dreamings/Jonathan Bordo
The Mythology of Canoe Dreamings/Linda Jansma
I call these boats “canoes” even though they are objects of my imagination, and go beyond the watercraft that recall my childhood, and summer camp in the wilderness.
Whether kayak, dinghy (or even rocket-ship!) they were deeply seated in my subconscious, pushing for fabrication. At the same time, my exploration and transformation of the canoe form has become a vehicle for consideration of Canadian and global cultural concerns.
For example, the first boat, called Learning Canoe, recalls new life, full of imagination, eager to explore unknown routes to wisdom; as an aesthetic object, it is lightweight, delicate and flexible, my response to the physical material recalling my background as a clothing designer as I stitched channels for ribbing like corsetry. The lines of mother of pearl buttons attaching ribs along the gunnels evoke dress fronts... Viking shields. Part of Pauline Johnson’s poem “The Song My Paddle Sings” is written on the ribs in tailor’s chalk... speaking of the “reckless waves you must plunge into” – commenting on strained relations between the First Nations People and the settlers - mainly European immigrants. Along with the influence of the political climate of the time of making – Mike Harris’s cuts to education-spending while demanding more from educators… The Learning Canoe has a limp paddle, flaccid, unable to provide direction.
While working on Learning Canoe, a gathering weight of imagery emerged, indicating the canoe’s symbolic depth as a Canadian icon … especially as an initial connection to, and gift from, the First Nations People. I began exploring this gift in a broader sense, on a metaphorical journey through Canadian cultural practice.
The symbol of the canoe gives comfort to Canadians who still dream of it as their connection to the wilderness – a gateway
to the past often beginning with the prospectors’ vessel of wilderness exploration and exploitation, but I have tried to look back further to the canoe’s ancestral heritage, to reflect on its meaning in contemporary society, and in our possible future.
Just as the Aboriginals, and then European immigrants adapted the canoe for various uses, dependent on the availability of indigenous materials, so I am interpreting it with unconventional construction methods, exploiting its poetic properties, and allowing the viewer to experience modern “wilderness” frontiers. These canoe-forms have a dream-like semi-familiarity, giving the viewer a false sense of ease, while inviting them to enter the diverse wilderness environments, sometimes urban, often hostile, that we have created.
~ Sally Thurlow, 2006