Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lurk: a preview

In July 2007, 250 years after the birth of Captain George Vancouver in King’s Lynn, England, four contemporary artists from his namesake city in Canada were featured in an exhibition called Vancouver insight, hosted by the King’s Lynn Art’s Centre.
One week before the opening of the exhibition a strange creature appeared on the quay.

The beast was rumoured to be a legendary feral human, unearthed during excavations in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, once the poorest postal code in Canada and now the sight of a controversial re-development scheme.Transported through time and space, to the shores that the explorer had set sail from, the creature was presumed to be searching for answers to Vancouver’s past or perhaps, clues to it’s future.

For a little over a week the creature was witnessed haunting the quay, loping down side streets and lurching through crowds in King’s Lynn’s busy pedestrian malls. Just as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone.

A mythical beast trying to make sense of history, place, time and being. His name was Madillah.

Lurk is a quicktime preview of the full length video that documents Madillah as he moves throughout the town and into a few unexpected places. Be on the lookout for more.

Lurk

video

Friday, April 18, 2008

Maps & Legends

You have asked me for the story or rather the legend of Madillah, I am going to tell you in my own way based from what I have been told or heard. It is as authentic as I can make it, thusly I have spoken…

In sunshine or shade I am …there are many things I cannot say due to the fact that you lose the beauty of the language…

I could close my eyes, live over these days when life was just one round of endless wandering…

This is a story that is modern in its scope as compared to the rest…

I want to tell what my so-called god did to him when I left him at the grave that night. He dug him out and then started to flay me. I died first. He died the second time. It was very hard for me, but what could I do? He was his god and I belonged to him. He skinned him and saved the skin. It is now drying, and as soon as it dries, then he will breathe into it and it will become my form...

Though some others have different version than I have, it is all about the same in substance…

I am writing again to continue our legend of the origin of Madillah, starting from the last letter it goes like this…

I hope I have made this clear for your information…

…in all this is the substance of the legend of the origin of Madillah. If it is not written or recorded, it is bound to be lost or forgotten, soon or later…

I am sorry not to tell the whole legend , but it will give you an idea anyway…

Thus was the beginning of this person who had departed this world to come back and live like one of the animals…

I do this for you...

Now here is where my knowledge is vague, this is about all I can tell I am not allowed to tell more…

Another thing, Madillah is one matter seldom ever under discussion by any person, such is the belief of his potency and restriction…

This happened to me, but I have kept it a secret, as I was afraid people would misunderstand me and call me a liar…

I trust this legend will enlighten you again to his mysterious habits and ceremonies...

Well, this is about all I can relate about this little discussed subject and I feel guilty in doing even so, but I tell you these things because you want to know him more and are sincere about all you do…

Thus was the beginning of Madillah and the end of my story…

I have spoken…

The above fragments are all that remains from a packet of letters found amongst the personal effects of “Gimpy” John Dawson, a colleague of the famous “Gassy Jack”. The letters are believed to represent a series of correspondences between Dawson and an unknown story teller of the Musqueum tribe. It is unclear who the actual author is, but it would appear to be the latter, although this has never been verified. Dawson was for a number of years Gassy Jack’s right hand man and appears to have been a close confidant. It has always been assumed that the letters related a series of Indian tales and legends and that perhaps Dawson and Jack were looking to publish a book on Indian lore. These re-tellings of Native stories were popular with visiting Europeans eager to be thrilled by an exotic and primitive culture that they assumed to be disappearing before their very eyes. It is very likely that Dawson may have indeed been engaged in preparing such a book, although no record can be found of its completion.

But for the curious name which is repeated throughout the fragments - “Madillah”, the letters might have been discarded, however, the amateur anthropologist and early Indian enthusiast William Robson Fitzpatrick wondered that it might be a reference to an unknown Musqueum mythic figure or some personage from one of the tribal secret societies. His journals mention no success in discovering any such figure and the letters were subsequently lost for many years amongst the papers and artifacts of his collection, which upon his death were bequeathed to the Vancouver Historical Society. It was not until 1985 that the fragmented letters were fully examined and catalogued and even then there was little significance attached to them. The curious name of Madillah was noted, but no attempt was made to further investigate the origins of the mysterious figure.

In the winter of 1991, a fire on the edge of Gastown gutted one of the old hotels along Hastings Street. The Fitzpatrick Building had been built in 1889 by Charles Dobson Fitzpatrick (the elder brother of William) and had served variously as a warehouse, lodging house, saloon, furriers, loggers supply store and eventually a low rent hotel. The burnt out building remained vacant and boarded up for sometime before scavengers and vagrants cleared a path inside. One such scavenger, pulling out cast iron pipe from between the walls of the basement area broke through into what appeared to be a small sealed brick chamber. Inside were boxes of papers and photographs as well as a number of old bottles and plates. While selling the bottles and plates to a local antique dealer the scavenger mentioned the remaining articles and the antique dealer thinking there might be something of historical value within the papers, paid the scavenger $5 a box to haul the rest of the chambers contents to the store. What appeared to be boxes of old junk to the scavenger turned out to be a treasure trove of historical items belonging to Vancouver’s most famous character “Gassy Jack”.

Many of the papers were receipts and bills from concerning the operation of his saloon and various businesses, but one box in particular seemed to pertain more to his personal life. The dealer contacted the historical society, who were immediately interested and agreed to purchase the complete contents of the chamber.

It was indeed the personal effects that proved to be most valuable.

Letters from jack to his relatives were found; a personal diary with many pithy observations about the town and its characters and most fascinating of all, a large tin filled with photographs. It was the task of Cecilia Brooks, a volunteer researching with the historical society to assign a number to each photo and transcribe a record of any dates or text written on the back of the picture. It was a name on the back of photograph # 8745336, that jumped out at Ms. Brooks, a name she had read somewhere before and wondered about. She turned the picture over and looked closely…

The photograph dated 1882 showed three figures, two male figures and one female. The photograph was faded and had been grainy to start with, but it was apparent that the two men pictured were none other than Gassy Jack and Gimpy John Dawson. The female figure is believed to have been Dawson’s Indian wife who was called Lily and she is holding in her arms what looks to be a Bear cub, bundled up in a blanket like a child.

It was not uncommon in those days for pioneers to try and tame the wild creatures around them and in fact Gimpy Dawson was once the part owner of a wild animal exhibition which was due to go on a tour to England and Continental Europe.
The “Fierce and Wonderful Wild Beasts of Canada Exhibition” was another scheme of Dawson’s that ended in failure. He had begun by collecting young animals from Native traders and prospectors and raising them in sheds behind the saloon of Gassy Jack. His attempts at taming the animals enough to handle and display them however, were for the most part unsuccessful and he appears to have abandoned the scheme and most of the half- wild animals to their fate, although he was known to have kept a pet crow for a number of years.

Cecilia Brooks remembered all this while looking at the photograph of Dawson and Jack and Lily and having been involved in cataloguing the estate of W.R. Fitzpatrick she also remembered where she had seen that other name, jotted down on the back of photograph #8745336. The name that apparently referred to the small bundled bear cub in Lily’s arm, the name of – Madillah.