Thursday, September 17, 2015

What did i do this summer? Fund-raising for the Indigenous Legal Research Unit

The summer of 2015, I spent my time thinking about the Report of the TRC (The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools).  I was particularly obsessed with its 94 Calls to Action.  I found myself thinking about #50, which argued for the creation and funding of Indigenous Law Institutes:
50. In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
, we call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. 

I know the calls does not speak directly to ordinary citizens, but it really did speak to me.  I work at a law school that has already established just such an institute (the Indigenous Law Research Unit).  The ILRU has been doing exceptional work over the past years, working with and alongside Indigenous communities, focused on the issues, processes and traditions important to those communities.  The work of the ILRU, including the work on the graphic novel Mikomosis and the Wetiko, (click here to link to the teaching guide) has been a central part of my own intellectual and political life over the past years, and so i had been thinking of a way to make the TRC call #50 'my own'.
a pile of completed pendants

So... this summer, I decided to take my usual summer vacation (making pottery necklaces to give away for my September birthday), and turn it into a project to raise funds for the work of the ILRU.  Thus, during the summer, I spent my vacation in OCD mode, making necklaces.


the view from the pottery wheel under the deck
I made the necklaces in Secwepmc Territory (Shuswap).  My family lives there, and I have spent nearly every summer of my life there, surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins.  My heart lives there.    My aunt bought a kiln and wheel several years back, and they invite us to play with clay under the deck (sheltered from the sun).  So I made these necklaces while sitting under the deck, watching beauty of the land around.

pendants drying in the sun

Depending on the batch, the clay was one of these:  CKK6, Klamath Red, Midnight Black, Dove, Polar Ice.  It is stoneware, or porcelain and was fired to Cone 6.  This summer, I also played with a number of oxides and stains, and mixed them into the clay.  I then wedged the plain and coloured clays together.  I then shaped the individual pieces (rib tools, modelling tools, carving tools, etc), played around with them at the leather hard stage, then got them dried to greenware.  

pendants after a bisque firing
At that point, I loaded them into the kiln for a first bisque firing (cone 04, aka 1060 celsius) [basically, a day to get the kiln loaded, fired, cooled and unloaded again).]

first batch coming out of a glaze-firing
At the next stage, I played around.  Here is where i glazed, used wax resist, glass and rocks!  Then, it was back into the kiln for a second firing (up to cone 6, aka 1222 celsius).

And last but not least, I took the kids to the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival, where we sat listening to music and tying chords for the necklaces.

The TRC necklaces (A photo essay about the process)


 (My Summer Project responding to the TRC Call to Action #50 to Provide Funding for Indigenous Legal Research Units)

[draft Sept 17...still a work in process]

"HISTORY RETHOUGHT - Contact of Laws"

I began with two balls of clay.  To one of them i added an oxide or a stain (a dry powder), and then wedged it in until the second ball was a different colour.  I then sliced each clay, and layered them together.  I then wedged the clay and cut and relayered it, so that they were mixed, but not blended (ie. the goal was not to fully 'assimilate' so that the entire ball was a new mixed shade, but to let the two colours move with and against each other.)  

After letting the clay firm up a bit, I tried cutting pieces apart.  It was a challenge to do so in a way that didn't blur the distinctions between the two colours.  I was struck during the process by the ways the patterns changed even from one side of the slice to the other (let alone the differences between slices separated by several pieces.  I know it is perhaps mundane, but i spent a lot of time while doing this thinking also about how the experiences of people [in the context of our shared history of colonialism] can be so vastly different, and yet still  'true'.  

From a 'technical' point of view, it was also the first time i have really used stains or oxides in this way.  I could see how much learning there is in simply figuring  out how much of which colour to use in each ball, and then what happens if have more of one colour or the other as I am mixing them together? (ie. how much 'white' is just 'too much white') [my first attempt with white and pink really did overwhelm the can see it, but you have to look really hard to do so]


After I had tried working with two colours of clay, I decided I might as well up the ante.  

Since my own politics suggests that things are rarely lived in a binary fashion (black and white; yes and no; left or right), it might be interesting to explore a more 'multi' approach to the clay.  

And so there are three different series here:

White/Black/Tan [Made 80]
White/Black/Tan/Blue) [made 58]
White/Blue/Purple/Green [made 14]


In this series, i decided to work not just with two colours of clay, but with two different formulations: clay and glass.  They are, I suppose, similar in some ways:  both contain silica, and the higher the temperature travelled by the clay, the more 'glass-like' it becomes.  Of course, i am aware of the limits of my science knowledge.  That has been one of the pleasures of playing with sand and heat.

In any event, for these pieces, i began with a clay base, and carved out some holes/trenches in the clay at the leather hard phase (if you wait too long, you break the piece as it is drying).  

My wonderful aunt Janet had taken a stained glass class as some point, and had bought a big box of coloured glass.  And so i broke off pieces (started by trying to use a glass cutter, ended by using a hammer [and safety glasses]) and then arranged them inside the grooves, hoping to figure out how much was not enough or too much.  In a previous year, i went overboard, and ended up fusing the pieces to the kiln shelf.  At the end of the day, I ended up with a number of piece that worked
  • Made 49 in polar ice white, using largely blue and green glass
  • made 14 in Buff stone clay, assorted glass
  • Made 20 "NDP" necklaces ('orange' glass)
  • Made 40 in Klamath Red clay with assorted colours
  • Made 2 with Midnight Black clay
Well... i did try to make a batch of 40 with Midnight Black Clay.  But only 2 survived.  Here is where i learned that the black clay and glass do not interact well with each other.  Too much of something similar in each of them, and the glass, instead of melting beautifully, turned into dangerous shards.  Well... those 50 necklaces returned to the earth, but i learned some stuff along the way about the ways that two beautiful things may not be beautiful if they are made to work together (I am sure there is a Dene story that carries knowledge about the challenges of two powerful brothers in too close of proximity to each other, and the care that needs to be taken to minimize risks of damage).


 [Series of 24]

For these, I carved out the pieces (like a mini sarcophagus) of clay (the same way i did for the 'glass' series. 

After the pieces were bisque fired, I put a small amount of glaze in the carved out space, and then set in small stones collected while sitting on the edge of the water at the end of the day (watching the sunset, while letting the water wash of the day's pottery dust).  

I fired these flat, so that the glaze would simply hold the rocks in place (and so i would not have to put wax resist on the bottoms)


 [Series of 16]

After rolling some clay flat, I took part of a cedar branch from one of the trees to the side of the house.  I then pressed them into the clay, and left it to dry.  During the bisque firing, the branch burned away, leaving the imprint of its having been there.  For the second firing, I painted wax resist into the shape of the cedar, and then covered the rest of the piece in glaze.  These pieces had to be hung on a bead wire for the second firing.  

BRUSH WORK - set of 7

After wax resist in the hole, I used an oxide and water, and then a paint brush to put the image down on the bisqued pieces.  Then simply a white glaze over top.  They were hung on a bead wire for the second firing (cone 6).  I wished I had done more.

The Non-Series Series

This would be ending with where I usually begin: the project of playing with clay, making necklaces to give away for my birthday.  Here are the things that I do when i am in my 'summer mode':  that is, thinking about life, teaching, theory/practice, play, and transformation.  So these necklaces are all ones that emerge as I enjoy spending time with my hands, thinking about heat and time.  Some are smooth, some are rough, some symmetrical, some not, some are opportunities to see what happens with different glazes on similar shapes, or different clays interesting with different glazes.  They are occasions for interpretation.  I am often struck (in the process of giving them away) but the things that different people 'see' in them.  Meaning exists so much more in the moment of investing the pieces with meaning than it does in the piece itself (which is in many ways little more than the combination of mud, heat, and time... but maybe that is also true for all of us?)