Belvedere, by Colette Urban, 2004
A Belvedere is any structure built to take advantage of a view. There are many examples of this in Barrow but strangely the vast majority of the town tends to turn its back on the water and views of its islands. This has always seemed rather incredible to me. Perhaps it is a consequence of the towns origins where water was an industrial resource; water put to the use of iron and ship production rather than amenity. Barrow Island and Ramsey Island quickly became subsumed within the massive structures of a sprawling shipyard, railway and new docks system which formalised the natural harbours between them – This area remains the economic heart of the town and one or two rather fine and enormous palaces to industry remain in use.
That said there is a rich continuing, yet modest scale, tradition of ‘belvedere’ building in Barrow. Not Italian palaces or holiday homes for the yachting fraternity but unsanctioned self-built vernacular structures in clusters which pepper the coastline: boat sheds, fisherman’s cabins and allotment ‘hidey holes’: structures which no doubt supported alternative sources of income or sustenance for large families on low incomes but which, more importantly in some sense, maintained a connection to the land and sea lost in the Industrial Revolution.
Art Gene is working to re-connect, or perhaps that should be connect Barrow to its many other outlying islands and encourage as a first principal developments of all kinds which work with nature rather than against it . This is not a selfless solely ecological stance it is one born out of the need to create homes, buildings and workplaces which improve the quality of life, through embracing a certain independence of action by individuals and communities, which foster the growth of local economies and extend the distinctiveness and particularity of place: triggering a new sustainable vernacular.
Colette Urban’s exhibition, Recalling Belvedere, created for Art Gene, reflects her ownership and interest in a particularly Canadian-take on the ‘Belvedere’ – The Salt Box House.
Stuart Bastik, 2004
Recalling Belvedere / Project description
“Place for me is the locus of desire.” – Lucy Lippard
The development of Recalling Belvedere has been guided by Canadian artist Colette Urban’s interest in exploring the landscape, heritage and culture of Newfoundland, Canada. Rooted in her response to this physical location, Recalling Belvedere reflects Urban’s interest in how memory can recall or represent an idealised notion of place.
A belvedere is a building, such as a summerhouse or roofed gallery, sited to command a fine view. Urban’s belvedere is a heritage home in Meadows located on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland. “This site,” represented in the exhibition in photographs, videos and a three-dimensional model of this home (architecturally known as a ‘salt-box house’), “haunts and holds me in a very peculiar way,” says Urban.
Central to the exhibition Recalling Belvedere is the performance Belvedere. Filmed at the Bowmanville Zoo in Bowmanville, Ontario, the performance is represented in the exhibition as a video projected on the inside walls of a portable tent-like fabric enclosure.
In Belvedere, Colette Urban rides an elephant. On her head and covering her face she wears a mask, a replica of the house in Meadows. From the mask a long textile cape flows with ornamental beadwork and multi-coloured and patterned fabrics. Draped over her shoulders and extending to the body of the elephant, the cape partially covers the howdah and the outer layer of the elephant’s caparison.
Designed to resemble costumes worn by elephants in ceremonial parades, the caparison worn by Urban’s elephant is stitched together from various textiles in such a way to resemble the rugged landscape of Newfoundland, in particular, the specific landscape surrounding the house in Meadows.
The elephant may seem like a peculiar addition to remembering the Newfoundland landscape, but for Urban this unlikely character enriches the project in many ways – its inherent and acquired characteristics illustrates her desire to understand this place and her longing for this landscape.
The performance Belvedere is “a representation of the exotic, gentle and majestic spectacle of my belvedere,” says Urban, inasmuch as it is a representation of the exotic, gentle and majestic spectacle of the elephant. In Belvedere, the elephant is used as a metaphor to represent the physical scale of the island and its particular qualities. The elephant’s large scale, like the island of Newfoundland, demands attention. Its matriarchal social structure, its extended community, and its prodigious memory serve as reminders that Newfoundland was once a proud matriarchal society before European exploration and colonisation.
The Newfoundlander, like the elephant, never forgets. They have not forgotten the last known Beothuk who died in 1829; nor have they forgotten their withdrawal from Britain and their accession into Canada in 1948. A topic still debated.
The elephant brings a wealth of symbolic and historical references. Urban exposes the diverse cultural use of this image in a collection of elephant paraphernalia that has no visible end. This ever-growing collection of books, photographs, videotapes, clothing, souvenirs, knick-knacks and stories highlights the proliferation of the elephant image in its myriad of interpretations.
There is one famous image of the elephant that is closest to Urban’s Belvedere. It is the one of Queen Elizabeth II. Dressed in blue and holding open a large umbrella, she sits in the howdah of an elephant ceremoniously dressed for the occasion of her visit.
Colleen O’Neill, 2004
Image gallery below:
Some Barrow belvederes
Mirage, by Colette Urban. DVD projection in cloth tent 2004
Still from the performance Belvedere, by Colette Urban, 2004. Photo: Elisabeth Feryn
Colette Urban is well known throughout Canada for both her performance and installation works. Since the early ‘80s, she has performed and exhibited her work in many major galleries in Canada, including the Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Calgary, Walter Phillips Gallery at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Art Gallery of Windsor, and Memorial University of Newfoundland, Grenfell College Art Gallery. Her work has also been performed and exhibited at Norwich Gallery, Norwich, UK and at Sala Uno, Rome.
Colette Urban was born in Denver, Colorado, USA in 1951. She moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in the early ’70s to study at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where she received a BFA. In 1982, she received an MFA from the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. Colette Urban became a Canadian citizen in 1993.
Urban lives in St. Mary’s, Ontario, and works as an associate professor in the Visual Arts Department at the University of Western Ontario. She spends her summers in Meadows, Newfoundland.
Colette Urban is known throughout Canada for both her performance and installation works. She has been performing and exhibiting her work both in Canada and abroad since the early ’80s. Colette Urban’s work has been featured in numerous publications, including, FUSE, Art in America, Vie des arts, and BACKFLASH.
Understanding Newfoundland – School Events
During her time at Art Gene, Colette delivered three workshops with children from three local schools, during the workshops Colette first showed a short film, about Newfoundland then slides of the local environment showing how Newfoundlanders use found and recycled materials to create something new. She spoke about simple built structures, the necessity of salvaging and using a variety of found materials for building – a Newfoundland tradition.
Colette also showed slides of the ‘Sticks and Stones’ House in Cornerbrook where the inside of the house is decorated with popsicle sticks. She spoke to the children about collecting items to make art and discussed collecting in reference to her exhibited elephant collection. The children then made 3-D models of elephants using found and recycled materials inspired by her maquette for the performance Belvedere.
Image gallery below:
Belvedere Portrait, by Colette Urban, 2004. Photo: Sonya Schoneberger
Preparatory maquette for the performance Belvedere, by Colette Urban,
Winged Desire, by Colette Urban, C print triptych, 2004
Preparatory Drawing, Colette Urban
Colette Urban, Still from the performance Belvedere, 2004. Photo: Elisabeth Feryn