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Old friend


Oil tanned atlantic salmon skins, found lamp

Photos by: Greg Ellison

Fish skin tanning is a very visceral process; your senses will tell you what it needs. Too dry - add more oil, too stiff - needs more stretching. This process creates a familiarity with the material, a closeness which can translate into a tender object.

During my research about the history of fish skin tanning on Turtle Island it became immediately apparent that fish skin objects weren't well preserved or highly valued as there aren't many surviving examples to look at - with the exception of Inuit fish skin garments. This loss of a particular piece of culture due to the perceived (low) value of the material (to settlers) is concerning, but unsurprising. Indigenous people are now able to define our own material values to our art forms and traditional materials - this fish skin object was a part of my effort to revive fish skin tanning which would have been done by any culture that fished.

The presentation of 19 fish skins as a lamp shade strongly contrasts the old found pink 90's lamp stand which the shade is perched on top of. This juxtaposition allows for a space of dissonance between traditional Indigenous culture and the existing Indigenous culture during the 90s - the period of millennium scoop and also when the last residential schools were still in existence. This object lives in an alternate space where traditional culture continued and thrived, a space where an old fish skin lamp from the 90s could now exist. A lamp which might have lived in your uncles old hunting cabin, a hand-me-down of culture.

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