From Shore to Store
So Terence Houle and his buddy Trevor Freeman are sitting around one day, drinking beer and playing the "we should" game. They thought they should portage a canoe around Calgary, traveling from fountain to fountain. They agree it would be really cool to stage and subvert the typical illustration of the concept of portaging one finds in a vintage grade school classroom textbook. Houle explains that it's usually a staged photograph with the stern-faced native hoisting the canoe his friend the Métis voyageur. Both art-school graduates; Terence Houle (Alberta College of Art) is a member of the Blood Tribe and Trevor Freeman is a member of the Métis Nation (University of Lethbridge). Next thing you know, someone from Mountain Standard Time has heard about the idea and wants them to open the festival. In the end, the artists decide not to actually get in the water by the fountains. That would mean getting the canoe wet and besides the piece didn't need it. They performed within a very specific area in downtown Calgary and got into trouble for portaging through a pedway (the enclosed bridge over a river of traffic). Now they've had calls from all across Canada and beyond to perform the piece.
The canoe was in a corner of the gallery with television monitor perched inside the hull. All the clothes the artists had worn were lain out to dry inside the boat, including both pairs of Houle's moccasins. We watched ten minutes of the footage as the pair walked through Gastown to the Hudson's Bay, Harbor Center, and The Sea Bus Terminal, where they stopped for a photo op.
What I liked about the piece was the way Terrence chose activities along the way that emphasized his urbanity and challenged the one dimensional text-book illustration. The fact that his costume meant his chest and legs were bare meant he was vulnerable to the cold, wet weather they set out in. His beautiful beaded red breech cloth was made for him for performing in powwows when he was a boy. I don't know who made the matching spandex shorts he wore underneath. At one point he stopped at "The Chop Shop" on Granville to get his hair cut. Glenn Alteen bought the artists beef jerky at the Hudson's Bay which they tried to barter for chocolate at a "free samples" booth. Houle's moccasins got soaking wet in the rain so he went into a store that sold moccasins (and running shoes) in Gastown. He decided to by the ones made in China because they had a plastic sole. (Very practical for the sidewalks and streets of Vancouver). Houle's favorite comment of the day was: "Hey dude, this is like my grade 10 social class." He said that after a while the city just becomes another landscape and the people are like trees. The response he thinks is classic is when people see the canoe coming and they keep their eyes averted and pretend that they don't see that particular part of the urban landscape. Glenn Alteen says there was a difference between the way people reacted based on where they were from. Tourists were puzzled. Canadians laughed because they "got" it.
Houle & Freeman // Portage '007: CRAB Park to Telus World of Science
I asked if they had some kind of ritual they started the journey out with. Houle said they didn't, but the default ritual seems to be some sort of conversation with authority. A shore patrol officer asked if they had a permit to put the canoe in the water. (You also need lifejackets, paddles, and a bailing bucket.) No, they assured him they were drylanders here to portage across the beautiful city of Vancouver. Someone in the audience at the gallery asked how they men had trained for the event. Houle pointed to his beer. "That's how we trained," he said. Ouch. Those guys are going to be so sore today. After hoofing it around downtown and then to Science World they changed back into street clothes and carried the boat up the hill to the Grunt. "Once we changed clothing, it was completely different," they said. "We were just two guys carrying a canoe."
LIVE5 Photos: Portage '007 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Finale Photo Sets