“Part of the …inspiration for the work was the The Three Little Pigs fable.” Tiffany Shaw Collinge is talking about her piece Trap Line Cabin currently on display as part of the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Tiffany wondered which of the trap line cabins she constructed was the strongest and might survive the harsh Canadian weather much like the brick house survived the huffing and puffing of the wolf in the Three Little Pigs story.
Tiffany’s three dimensional houses replicate the frame of a cabin her great grandfather Jean Paulin built on his trap line near Ft. McMurray Alberta. A trap line is a route trappers map out for themselves and use season after season. They place traps all along the route to snare fur bearing animals. Trappers move along the route repeatedly during the winter to check the traps. Since trapline routes can take several days to walk shelters need to be erected along the way for night stays. These are called trap line cabins.
Making the trap line cabins was part of Tiffany’s process of reclaiming her Metis heritage. Three of them were displayed at the 2012 Venice Biennale as part of a larger work called Migrating Landscapes created by a Canadian team of artists.
Tiffany who has studied art and architecture at universities in Edmonton, Victoria, Halifax and Los Angeles says she made two of the cabins out of mirrors and decorated them with floral patterns created by her great grandmother Maggie Paulin. Her great grandmother used the floral patterns on the mocassins she made. The crocheted cabin pays tribute to Tiffany’s mother, aunts and grandmother who taught her how to sew and knit and crochet. The deer hide used in another cabin comes from her family home in Fort McMurray Alberta and the birch bark to make another cabin came from an area near Edmonton sacred to indigenous people.
That leaves the cabin made from zip ties. Tiffany doesn’t give a definitive reason for making a cabin from zip ties except to suggest that perhaps they introduce a more modern technological element into the cabin display.
Last week I was giving a tour to a group of grade nines that included several students from indigenous backgrounds. I explained Tiffany’s reasons for choosing the other cabin materials but said I couldn’t quite understand why she had chosen zip ties for one of the trap line cabins.
“That’s easy,” said one of the boys on my tour. “Zip ties can be used for trapping animals.” He then proceeded to describe how to construct a snare from zip ties that could be used for catching small prey. Sure enough when I got home I searched online and found a survival website that suggested creating an animal snare out of zip ties and even a video of how to catch a small animal in a zip tie trap.
I don’t know whether Tiffany was thinking of zip tie snares when she made the trap line cabin out of zip ties but the idea certainly added another dimension to my understanding of the artwork. The visitors I tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery never fail to give me new ideas about the art we explore together as they share their own personal connections and insights. It is one of the things that makes it so interesting to be a tour guide.