Thursday, January 10, 2002 to Saturday, February 23, 2002

    • Friday, January 11, 2002
    We all feel a sense of comfort in our home, whether it is an apartment, a loft, a house or a duplex. Still, we continue to dream of renovations, finished basements, walk-in closets and gardens. Popular magazines like House and Home, Better Homes and Gardens, and Wallpaper influence our material needs and help us fulfil those dreams by allowing us a glimpse of what it's like inside (and outside) a trendy, ultra-swank abode. This Old House and other specialized television and cable programming demonstrate for us the basic “how-to’s” to achieve feng shui, rustic or minimalist styles we must have. For a price, the Swedish import, IKEA, will let us get closer to living out that fantasy. But in reality, the surface is not really where the home is. Our foundations, whether they are built from concrete or not, are not the structures that contain the essence of “home”. It is our traditions, our culture and our family affairs that make up the framework that, as the popular song goes, allows us to “turn this house into a home.” Housing can be representative of culture and class as well. Ghettos and “the projects,” filled with families, fill minds with fear. Indian reserves, also occupied by many generations of family, also fill minds with fear and jealousy. The framework for these class structures was built by power. Power to control where the unwanted, the welfare recipients, the minorities and “other” races can live. Government-funded housing is offered on Indian reserves (not all) but it does not allow one to build a dream home, or to build a home to fit seven kids, grandparents as well as parents. First Nations housing programs do offer standardized homes that include the basics: a roof, a foundation, insulation, bathroom and electricity. Yet it is estimated that half of all Indian housing outside of major centres lack the facilities of proper insulation, plumbing and electricity. The funding and the number of units built per year are limited, as they are for low-income housing in the suburbs and cities. In his work, "Small Villages", Frank Shebageget examines concepts of community, home and urban/rural planning. His work addresses housing development on reserves and allows us to visit this community built by western concepts and modelled for a “typical nuclear family.” Is it Indian? Is it isolated? — these are questions we ask. Knowing that Shebageget is Anishnabe, we assume these houses are government built. In any case, his village is a generic model for community. It could be his home, his neighbourhood, or it could be yours. In blueprints for suburban villages or new developments, we find that duplication rejects diversity for comfort, for corporate identity and equality. The intention of these architectural designs is to prevent us from having to worry about keeping up with the Joneses or the Buckskins because they probably live in the same or similar house as us. The only differences are evident through class and money. In "Indian Housing", Shebageget celebrates the diversity and genius found amongst Indian architecture. His study of thirteen indigenous types of housing reflects the old cliché: home is where the heart is. It is about origins and culture. The homes were beautiful, multi-functional structures that not only adapted well to the environment, they adapted well to the requirements of diverse societies. Some habitats were collapsable and portable, permitting movement from place to place, while others were strong, durable and sometimes referred to as castles by newcomers. No matter what materials and foundations these dwellings were built with, their strength lay with the people living inside. The Haudenosaunee refer to the natural elements as their building materials: the earth is the floor, the east is the eastern door, the west is the western door, and the sky is the roof. This is to remind everyone that they are always in the Creator’s house. In this installation, Shebageget’s choice of material, the black tar paper, references poverty, but also emphasizes a common necessity applied within the layers of building materials found in the make-up of our modern homes. The rafters hold the paper like an altarpiece, paying homage and citing the past. The embossed words faintly represent those thirteen habitats that once were common and plentiful, while the blueprints exemplify colonial attributes of what is now identified as the modern “Indian” house. In our homes, the structural components of walls, roofs and floors provide shelter, while the manipulated natural elements provide heat, electricity and nourishment. This aside, Shebageget’s work evokes the importance of community as structure. Isolated or urban, communities mold a person into who they are. The black and white photograph of his father’s house brings Shebageget back to a place of origin. Whether he remains attached to this house or not, he will always consider it home. Home becomes a place, a territory as well as a landscape that answers the question; where are you from? These places we call home belong to our parents, grandparents, friends, lovers and nations. They are located in urban, rural and or isolated spaces. They hold good memories and bad memories, good smells or loud creaks. They provide shelter, love, light and laughter. Whether the homes we choose to build remain tar-papered or finished in stone, their value and importance are measured by the spirit and feelings found within. Come inside and listen to the walls. Ryan Rice