A. McKay, 2011. Wooden ‘viewing station’ platform with cedar logs and muskets, gun trigger lock with red ribbon and sealing wax, tree branches, British Ordnance Broad Arrow floor markings, Ordnance bags with hand-made muskets balls, three tripod-mounted hand-made Claude mirrors (an 18th century, pre-photographic optical instrument used for viewing, framing and drawing landscapes), combined with a high resolution security camera streaming the reflected view online. And monitor in lower lobby.

Acknowledgements, QDmac for the loan of a monitor, IQeye for the loan of high resolution IP webcam, ON Site for IT support, and Electrozad for the loan of tools


At the close of the French Indian War, in the same year that George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognised native sovereignty and defined territories held by First Nations, Pontiac laid siege to British-held Fort Detroit. Pontiac failed to capture the fort outright, but his rebellion inspired one of the earliest Canadian novels, Wacousta by John Richardson. In Wacousta, a mad Scot ‘goes native’ and wreaks havoc amongst the British and Americans. Richardson’s narrative of boundary and identity – Canada’s answer to Last of the Mohicans - is set on the shores before you. In 1812 Tecumseh, in hopes of getting a fairer shake for his people, threw his lot in with the British, playing a pivotal role in the surrender of Fort Detroit by the American General Hull. Through a kind of smoke-and-mirrors trick, Tecumseh made Hull believe that his army of a few hundred was in fact several thousand strong. These days there is talk of surrendering vast stretches of abandoned sections of Detroit, fencing them off as ‘urban wildernesses’, enclosed and inaccessible nature reserves.

Accurate drawing was a necessary skill of the 18th century military surveyor, and a Claude mirror was often part of his kit. Claude mirrors were also used by Romantic poets, artists and tourists in search of an ideal or picturesque vision of landscape. Compared to the more difficult to use and costly camera obscura, the Claude mirror was the ‘Kodak’ of the
period. I was attracted initially by its absurdity, for to use a Claude mirror one turns one’s back to the desired view and looks at it in reflection, miniaturized, simplified and framed, tonal values compressed, colour saturation and ideology altered. As the politicians say, optics matter.

Tecumseh and the British were not the last armies to march through Detroit. Two forces met in ’67. I have vague childhood memories of the city burning. Detroit was again declared a front (perhaps ridiculously) in the War on Drugs and is now another guarded front in the War on Terror. The city’s motto translates as: ‘We hope for Better Things; It shall rise from the Ashes.’ Appearance has always been critical to the history of this place. The Capture of Fort Detroit references three centuries of surveillance, conflict and image-making along the river.

Twenty years ago I envisioned a river front stockade: a building of vertical pointed logs. This absurd fortress of narrative would house a series of revised history paintings that demanded, at metaphoric musket point, a declaration of allegiance.

Instead my viewpoint is from the prow of this frigate of art (the ship shaped Art Gallery of Windsor) pointed to America. I am on a lower gun deck rather than upper forecastle –  the second rather than uppermost floor, for the upper is the domain of ceremony and commerce, hired out for weddings and galas. I take aim at the opposite shore with both Claude mirror and high resolution security camera, putting the landscape and the corporate New Fort Detroit under scrutiny.


McKay, a dual national, was born in Detroit to Canadian parents, moving to Windsor when he was two. He apprenticed as a cabinet maker in NYC (1981-85) completed his BFA at the University of Windsor School of Visual Arts in 1990 and his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1992.

He has an ongoing interest in landscape and place, empire and identity, often from a post colonial perspective. His recent work includes the exhibition of Treaty Canoe at the Canadian Canoe Museum - now at the Curve Lake Reserve, and a collaborative performance (Claude mirror tour) with Ellen Harvey at the SMAK Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent, Belgium. This present work, The Capture of Fort Detroit (Claude mirror webcam installation #5) is part of a series of ongoing webcam/mirror/Claude mirror installations McKay has undertaken, including a temporary installation on Lake Nipissing for Camera Frontera in 2005, a series of ongoing installations at, Tintern Abbey, Wales, UK, another at the School of Visual Arts, University of Windsor in collaboration with Noel Harding and Rod Strickland under the auspices of their Green Corridor Project, and a fourth at the national historic site Cedar Grove (Thomas Cole’s home and studio) in Catskill, NY.


The Capture of Fort Detroit (Claude mirror webcam installation #5)

full size stream

Installation shots and webcam captures at bottom of page