Sunday, June 08, 2008

Betwixt and Between

Things are taking shape for the summer - not the shape I anticipated when we drove away last September but something new and different. Last summer I started a conversation with a local Mi'kmaq group about presenting a project at The House Museum that would relate to the history of the North Shore and its inhabitants. I met with a dynamic woman who was very excited about some ideas we brainstormed. An FYI - the North Shore is known as a place where many people have mixed (First Nation/European) blood. This has been a sore point for many, many years with many people, something seen as shameful, and it is only recently that people have started to feel genuine pride in their heritage. I wanted to explore this tension, as well as the way local history has conveniently left out most of the Mi'kmaq story.

Things were cooking along but somewhere around December, things quieted down. Then, as we prepared to head up in May, I dropped a note to my contact suggesting we get together shortly after my arrival. Silence. It was at this point that I started thinking about what would happen if I had no special project for THM this year. And I started to think about how, in many ways, this would be a lovely thing. The silence of my Mi'kmaq friend was no longer a frustration or mystery but a gift. (Isn't it amazing how a simple shift in your mind can re-shape the world - just a side note, that.)

The fact of the matter is that my intentions in creating THM were born of a set of circumstances that I observed in 1997 and 2001. Now, seven years later, Newfoundland is a very different place. The point of THM was to create a space that blurred boundaries between tourists and locals in hopes of creating a new way of presenting culture. I wanted to offer an opportunity for people normally overlooked in the decisions about what and how to present in the culture to be integral to the process. This need no longer seems so urgent. Indeed, many of those decisions have been made and formalized and the "tourist industry" has grown shockingly quickly in these seven seasons.

I also created THM as a way of blurring the boundaries between art and life in my own life. The house as museum, my entire life as art project, has been a much harder project than I first imagined. My experience of it has been that, by summer's end, I am wiped out from the constant sense of being on public display, or at least potentially, at any moment, being on public display. I would be lying if I said I was not a little tempted to have a summer (after a very busy winter/spring) where I could be a little more private and quiet.

So all signs point to a summer of reassessment and reflection on the purpose of this thing I have made. It is causing me to look afresh at Newfoundland, the North Shore, Gillams. While some of that re-examination has knocked the stars from my eyes, the flip side to it is that I am beginning to feel a re-kindling of what it was that originally compelled me to take up residence in this place. Somehow that interest got a little lost in all the events and brochures and visiting hours. It is reassuring and kind of exhilarating to know it is still there. It makes me feel ok about the fact that not all 30,000 residents of the Bay of Island will be directly involved in my project and it gives me permission to make my house. Still an artwork, still an expression of what it is like to be betwixt and between in the culture but just not a tourist attraction.

And then, of course, there is the yarn...

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