Code Switching and Other New Work is a solo presentation of new and existing work from Montreal-based artist Nadia Myre, curated by the Glasgow-based curatorial duo Mother Tongue (Tiffany Boyle and Jessica Carden). Responding to the history of clay tobacco pipe production in London and Glasgow, Myre’s work poetically unearths the entanglement between the British Empire, Canada and Indigenous peoples. A by-product of the tobacco trade with the so-called New World, the pipes were one of the first ‘disposable’ items to enter the market, purchased pre-stuffed with tobacco. Myre’s new work explore processes of imprinting, documenting, weaving and excavating to ask enduring questions around colonial legacies.
European contact with the New World in the 1600s led to an upsurge in tobacco use and to the design of clay tobacco pipes in Britain, a revisal of the vessels used by indigenous peoples with a bowl and elongated stem. The clay pipe was incrementally broken off in segments as the tobacco was smoked. There were a number of production hubs for these across the UK, including Glasgow and Bristol. Scotland’s production had a special monopoly on exporting in large volume to conglomerates such as the Hudson Bay Company, which historically ruled de facto large parts of North America during early colonial settlement. Tobacco pipe shards are significant in archaeological terms, used to date sites during excavations, where they can be found in volume. Excavated shards are therefore at once special items of historical significance, yet also everyday in their number, seemingly simple appearance can carry little economic value.
Nadia Myre is a visual artist from Quebec and an Algonquin member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation. In 2015, she began research excavations along the banks of the Thames, uncovering bowls and stems of clay tobacco pipes. In this process, bone and teeth have sometimes been initially mistaken for clay pipe stems and fragments, a telling undertone surrounding the life stories of these items. Equally, the shards in their ready-made, bead like form, recall the wampum used by First Nations people historically and in Myre’s present in weaving.
Code Switching and Other Work is a pertinent body of work, through which the artist engages her audience in questioning how our shared pasts inform present understandings of one another. Initiating timely discussions regarding Indigenous rights and futures, Myre explores Indigenous and European ceramics using high-resolution scanning, photography and sculpture in a museum-style presentation format. Myre’s research and work focuses on cross-cultural experiences and mediations as a strategy towards recognizing and reclaiming the contributions of Indigenous arts and cultural practices. Equally, Code Switching and Other Work examines the language and power of museum display formats and resulting knowledge production, and features historical objects that are reclaimed through re-creation and representation. In wider terms, the artist’s practice asks important questions around the role of craft within a visual arts practice, pushing the boundaries of how craft is understood and positioned.