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On the home front: representing Canada at the Triennale di Milano, 1957 Elder, Alan Craig

Abstract

In 1957, Canada's National Industrial Design Council (NIDC) organized a display for the Triennale di Milano, an international design exhibition in Milan. This exhibit focused on the development of the "new town" of Kitimat by the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan). Along with furnishings and photographs taken of the workers' and guests' quarters were objects that had received NIDC Design Awards. This display was one of many that represented a revitalized Canadian identity to an international audience. The Second World War had thrust Canada onto the international stage as an autonomous nation. Through its development of social, economic and cultural policies, the nation sought to extricate itself from its old world heritage and differentiate itself from its continental partner. By featuring Canada's "Aluminum City," the NIDC presented Canada as a modern nation that encouraged new industry and technology. Simultaneously, the physical location of Kitimat in the northern half of British Columbia enabled the designers to utilize a traditional element of Canadian identity—the North—in new ways. The landscape was now being civilized through the use of modern design and technology, rather than conquered by force. Finally, the juxtaposition of a photograph of a male Alcan worker, at the front of the display, with domestic objects in the display allowed for a blurring of traditional gender binaries. No longer a hard-hatted, hard-headed industrial worker; he was portrayed as a sophisticated individual working in a modern technological sphere in a civilized community. His presence signalled a rethinking of the contrasts between male and female, producer and consumer, public and private. Canada's display problematized these polarities and familiar elements of national identity through its use of domestic objects and furniture. My thesis investigates the suitability of blurring these traditional classifications in order to form a visual representation of Canadian identity in the immediate postwar period.

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