The distilled essence of the Arctic midnight sun is a shade of orange with the red-yellow-and-blue values of 238 179 and 57. Between June and August the sky in the northernmost part of the Northern Hemisphere is tinged in pastels—an explosion of color from a snowy white to a pulsating Tangerine. In a brilliant subversion of the current fad of color-coded gallery walls Towards Home at the Canadian Centre for Architecture envelopes visitors in such a melted sunrise. You enter through the porch of a generic home in the Arctic circle, complete with snow boots, parkas, rucksacks, assorted lanterns, pots and other small clutter you might find around the house. You can almost hear the snow crack underfoot as you approach. Inside, the exhibition’s curators, themselves members of Arctic peoples, present Inuit perspectives on their ancestral homelands across the Arctic circle but with special emphasis on Canadian and Norwegian territories.
Rather than staying in the comfort of the indoors, the works bridge the gap between the matchbox houses, which have become the norm in Northern settlements since the 1950s. Radio transmissions to relay news and gossip are one way of connecting with distant friends and family. Record keeping, drawing and photographing assures the culture is still alive. Another way is the constant movement of hunters and herders in snowmobiles and so-called gumpies—self-built moveable hideouts on skids. Less camping trailer, and more a temporary home.
A sense of interiority, whether inside or out, permeates the show. And home is less a physical place but a spiritual and cultural search. The Sámi Architectural Library exemplifies this existence on the go. It is staged in packing crates as if it were ready to be rolled up and pulled on over to the next village. In a show that could have easily fallen into a postcolonial “us-versus-them” trap, Carola Grahn and Ingemar Israelsson’s carved altar piece, the show’s most somber room with its indigo walls, reaches out with an unexpected olive branch of “we.” The artists entrusted the museum staff with refilling the carved wooden bowl with flowers as a continuous, daily offering.
Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, Quebec