art contemporary

June 26 Emilio Portal Islands: an installation to honor the spirit of Lekwungen

Aboriginal people have occupied this Territory (aka Victoria) for over 400 years. The Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations people are a part of the Coast Salish ethnic group; their ancestors lived in large cedar houses, in extended family groups that were self-governing. All household groups claimed specific living areas and areas where they could hunt, fish, and collect plants. They occupied the area from Albert Head to Cordova Bay to the San Juan Islands. The language spoken was a dialect known as Lekwungen.[i]

While Islands recognizes the past and the “might have been”, Islands also brings attention to the now and how things might be; with Islands Portal asks us to re-understand relationships between native and stranger, myth, history, knowledge and ceremony. The title, Islands literally refers to an isolate land yet discloses the isolate mind. Silence. Separate.

What if first contact were happening now? Between you and I?

What does it takes to direct thought from what it silently thinks and sound out new thought?

A cedar box which contained a cedar box which contained a cedar box which contained an infinite number of cedar boxes nested inside which contain all the sounds of the universe [ii]

“Cedar spirit is a greater being than I” –Emilio Portal

208 cedar studs 2x4x8 stacked flat racked restacked, Drumming & Percussion


[i] Cheryl Bryce and Brenda Sam, “Lekwungen People: The Traditional Territory of the Songhees and Esquimalt People” [pamphlet], 1997

[ii] Robert Bringhurst and Bill Reid, “Raven Steals the Light”, Douglas and McIntrye, 1996 (I remixed this to read sound instead of light)

Urbeing – in dialogue with landscape, Elyse Portal

Portal’s art practice reflects upon relationship and connection to the land, her process is both physical and spiritual.

Portal harvested cattails from Rithet’s Bog and clay from Mt. Douglas; she wove cattails into mats and liquefied clay for slurry drawings.

Portal recognizes knowledge -information, wisdom and spiritual and social development -springs from a connection/conversation with the land. In a group meditative sitting Portal asked viewers to consider their relationship to the land; she emphasized listening to the sky, air, rain, pavement, buildings, shores and ocean together with people. Portal’s perspective honors Indigenous traditions and ways of being, one that is grounded in practices that allow people to be self-sufficient by sustaining the environments that feed and nurture them.

(photo taken after the meditative sitting)

Xchanges Gallery June 23 2012

“Art is a verb”, Zoe Kreye.

The artists involved were questioning what art is and does.

The groups relied on their engagements with everyday life on campus, the experiences that connect them with each other, with the art institution and the public spaces on campus. Each of the groups chose a physical space on campus to plant text messages: encouraging bookmarks in random books in the library, a “Hey Man” greeting at the entrance to the college, a red dot exposing a mistake, friendly words at the bus stop, support for the maligned smokers, a chalk circle game promoting diversity, super-sized post-it notes lamenting lost love and a sweet statement in a secret hideaway. Projects created with guest artist Zoe Kreye.

The projects explored art as social space, as interactions and as relationships. Art historian Miwon Kwon agrees that such work “no longer seeks to be a noun/object but a verb/process.” [i]

[i] Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another: Site Specific Art and Locational Identity. (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, Paperback edition 2004), p. 24

Chaos, September 25, 2010

Performance – actions as language or visual flavors

Sinéad O’Donnell (Belfast), Sandra Johnston (Belfast), Pauline Cummins (Dublin), Poshya Kakl (Iraq)

How do you come to terms with the trauma or bliss of a place?

Where are the borders and curfews of a space?

Where is me? Where is you?

In the performance Chaos the artists rely upon evidence and actions, remembered and mimicked, to build installations in places and spaces that the audience bears witness to.

Sinéad O’Donnell agitated and caressed an unsteady stack of white china plates while a recorded voice, male and then female, repeated the word “VIOLENCE”. Forty anxious minutes later Sinéad walked away from the plates, without her compliance the stack caved.

Sandra Johnston performed in a 19th century courthouse, like a ghost the structure and muscle memory of the place slipped into her. Sandra did not recreate stories but breathed in the evidence of the room, shifting and working with the things at hand.

Pauline Cummins fried chunks of bread in an electric frying pan. The bread chunks resembled the silhouettes of little kids. The gallery smelled of rancid oil. A super 8 film of a family gathering was projected onto a wall, a live feed of the frying bread burned on another. As Pauline cooked more and more bread kids for the audience what seemed a pleasant communal feast became a propensity of consumption.

Poshya Kakl performed via Skype. She was in Iraq, at home in her bedroom. We were in Victoria in the gallery lying on the floor looking up at a data projection of her presence –slowly Poshya revealed herself by unraveling a mass of string that was wound around her head.  When we lost the live feed, everyone groaned—applauded when we reconnected.

Artist links:
Sinéad O’Donnell

Pauline Cummins –

Standing in front of a low table flickering with gleams of light from paper baskets Peter Morin acknowledged all the people who shared a story for the Memory Talking Stick project.


We were surrounded by the stories and activities; the paper baskets hold the stories in the same way that the drawings mark the wall, the stitches tighten the moccasins and the voices echo in the ear. Morin collect 114 stories from the community 114 stories of unhappiness and suffering also 114 stories of strength. Morin’s work and practice engages in a healing process with elders, survivors and youth; Morin reminded us of today’s date: June 12, the second anniversary of the Canadian government’s apology for assimilation practices in Canada’s residential schools.


The doorway into the project is through identity and home.



Morin and friends carry cedar baskets around the room – we each take turns smelling the offering. As we breathe in we cleanse our cheeks, foreheads and hair in the vapors of deerskin, cedar bark, smoke, fire. Now we all have the memory of being washed in that smell forever. “Smell is memory, it all comes home back in a rush”, says Morin.


Morin’s work and practice is about direct experience and exchange: listen to a story and a task is placed on you to respond, to share a story in return or retell a story. The method is radically effective. It holds the potential for change. Start asking both friends and chance encounters: – “Who are your people?”

Memory Talking Stick Project Peter Morin Victoria BC 2010