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Buffalo Bone China
installation,woman artist,performance,video,buffalo,First Nation, inter-disciplinary, political,British Colonial, prairies, reservation, culture, bone china,historical connection, stampede, found objects, photography,imperialism, westrn development,devastation, survival, First Nation traditions, , video, mixed media installation, installation, buffalo bones, bone china, survival, devastation, buffalo, colonialism,

Buffalo Many young artists are using modern technologies such as film, video, and photography in their artistic practice.  In this work, Dana Claxton uses performance,  foundAn image, material, or object, not originally intended as a work of art, that is obtained, selected, and exhibited by an artist, often without being altered in any way. The cubists, dadaists, and surrealists originated the use of found images / materials / objects. Although it can be either a natural or manufactured image / material / object, the term readymade refers only to those which were manufactured. Also known in the French, objet trouvé. (Artlex.com)  objects and video to strongly state her message. The work refers to British colonial policies that resulted in the decimation of the buffalo, and devastating effects upon  First NationsFirst Nations is a contemporary term referring to the Indian peoples of Canada, both status and non-status (definition from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada). To find out more about Canada’s First Nations, go to: Assembly of First Nations: http://www.afn.ca/ Village of First Nations: http://www.firstnations.com/ Canada’s First Nations: http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/firstnations/ Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Nations   people who relied heavily on the buffalo for their survival. Buffalo bones were gathered into huge piles on the prairie and crushed bones were exported to England to be used in the production of fine bone china.

Curator Tania Willard states about the performance and  installationAn art work specially designed to fit in or to make use of a specific type of space. It usually consists of more than one element and relates to the space in which it is displayed.  of Claxton‘s politically charged Buffalo Bone China, that “[a] more visceral sense of the political act in Dana's work is seen in her 1997 performance and installation, Buffalo Bone China. In the performance Dana smashes pieces of china and later makes four bundles and places them in a sanctified circle while an experimental video of buffalo plays. Feeling the loss of the buffalo, the backbone of Plains spirituality and sustenance, the artist uses a rubber mallet to destroy plates and bowls. The breaking of the china refers to the use of buffalo bones in the making of bone china during the period of exploitation and decimation of the buffalo.” (Willard, 2007)

start quoteI think that's where the multi-layering comes in because I've had a very multi-layered life. And it's all those experiences that go in to the work.end quote-- Dana Claxton

In an interview between the artist and Willard, Dana states, "[o]nce an angry Indian always an angry Indian!", followed by a hearty laugh shared between the artist and interviewer. Willard goes on to state, “[o]ur laughter, our cultures, and our spirituality are our survival and this survival becomes another layer, another part of the journey in Dana's work. Her practice chronicles these histories - the personal and the political - in a way no textbook can ever retell these stories. She tells these stories with heart and spirit, bringing these histories to life, relating them to her own family and journey.” (Willard, 2007)


additional resources Excerpts from Buffalo Bone China
On Dana Claxton
Duration: 2:49 min
Size: 11753kb
Things to Think About
  • On the wall of her installation, Claxton projects historic film footage of buffalo stampeding as they are being hunted and killed. These images then switch to images of a man speaking to welcome the buffalo spirit back from the bones. At one point he appears to be panic stricken but later he shows determination. The final image is of a buffalo returning the viewer’s gaze. The sound track references the sound of a heartbeat and builds to clashing cymbals and back to the heartbeat again. What messages has she symbolically suggested in this video?
  • 2004 marked the return of the first herds of wild buffalo to the prairies. Why is this release of buffalo important in Saskatchewan history?
  • Discuss imperialism, western development and Saskatchewan history. Who really owns the land? Are these works political or merely about human rights and freedoms?
Studio Activity
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Opposing viewpoints

  • Find out more about an issue within your school or community, one which divides people into two groups with differing viewpoints.
  • Divide into two groups and discuss the pros and cons of each perspective.
  • View old silent movies and determine how the messages were communicated nonverbally.
  • Make a videotape to nonverbally support each group’s perspective.
  • Develop a sound track to support the video image.


Make a difference

In 1998, in Buffalo Bone China, Dana Claxton gave a  performanceAn art form in which the actions of a person or group in a particular place at a particular time constitute the artwork; all works of performance art therefore incorporate time, space, the performer’s body, and the relationship between performer and viewer.  where she smashed the china. In 2004 the first buffalo were returned to their natural habitat.

  • Can speaking out and making your opinions known affect change in your community?
  • Look through your school or community archives to find people who have, through their efforts, made a difference in their community.
  • What qualities do these people have?

Garneau, David.  ‘Dana Claxton’s Patient Storm.’  Conundrum, October, 2006.  Retrieved from the Internet on August 9, 2008 from:  http://www.conundrumonline.org/Issue_4/Dana_Claxtons_The_Patient_Storm.htm

Willard, Tanis.  2007.  Starting From Home: An online  retrospectiveAn exhibition of work by a senior artist representing all the stages of the artist’s career.  of Dana Claxton.  Online exhibition catalogue.  Retrieved from the Internet on March 25, 2009 from:  http://www.danaclaxton.com


Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning