Terrance Houle is a contemporary aboriginal artist of Blackfoot and Ojibway descent whose interdisciplinary techniques call attention to the traditional cultures of his heritage in an informative, intelligent and in many instances, humorous way. A superbly talented artist in his own right, Terrance just saw the end of Givn’r, a five year retrospective at the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg, Canada which showcased over 70 of his pieces.
As there are already quite a few great articles about him, which I loathe to regurgitate here (like this one for example in Canadian Art or this one in Absolute arts), I thought a nice, informal Bookface chat would be more appropriate… which in itself would be a way to further draw out the juxtaposition of opening a dialogue with an artist whose work centers on age-old traditions, but finds it necessary to utilize the verymost modern technical devices to do so. So, without further ado, my Bookface chat with Terrance Houle.
Clear Chat History
hey Terrance, you got ten minutes for an interview?
hey Travis I do have 15 minutes
what’s been happening since the last time we spoke?
that was about four months ago now, im ashamed to say
mm well I went to Thunder Bay for my Givn’r show and did 7 artist talks/tours
just been getting back in the saddle with work starting new series’
currently have work up in fort Simpson NWT at the OPEN SKY Gallery
what new ideas are you working on?
well I have a video series I am working on right now that Involves Video Portraits of
ALL FOR YOU: Fall Cycle (still)
the ages are from about 50+
so its a feature length video work that I am in the process of right now.
as well I am starting the national Indian Leg Wrestling League
I have an upcoming show with Rebecca Belmore at the OR Gallery in Vancouver opens end of April
so… not much going on then…
no not really
ha! tell me about leg wrestling and this upcoming exhibition
both sound pretty exciting
The show with Rebecca is a two person show curated by Darrin Martin from Vancouver
The works are still kind of in Development for that show
The National Indian Leg Wrestling League is a series of Photo/performance/installation and film works based on Wrestling and Leg Wrestling
I’ve asked several First Nations Artists to create their Leg Wrestling Identity and I will be creating wrestling costumes
then do portraits of them in classic wrestling Posters of the 50s, 60s, 70s
that sounds incredible
we’ve got to get you over to Liverpool
yea man its pretty amazing stuff
ive been basing them off old wrestlers like
I was wanting to write a piece on your previous exploits, anything your particularly proud of?
mmm yea I created a work for my show Givn’r which is about my Father and my Kookum (Grandmother in Ojibway)
it is an installation were I recreated my Kookum’s sitting area in her house with doilies, picture of the queen and Jesus and religious articles
There is a clock radio on the table next to a rocking chair and you can hear static and then my father’s voice reciting his letters he wrote to his mother from age 13 the time he was taken away to residential school
until he retired
so basically you hear him calling out to his mother. as he never grew up with any parents because of residential school
how accurate is the recreation?
is it like sitting back in her room for you?
mm pretty close that my great uncle and aunt and uncles came to see the work in Winnipeg
and they cried and told me it was like she was sitting there
yea but kind of like she was a ghost
like you didn’t know if she ever really listened to my father
or if he knew anyone one listened or cared
but in the end its the audience who listens to his story of his life in the army and being a native alienation
sorry his feeling of alone and alienated
because of the government policy of residential school
I always got the impression that you liked to use a lot humor in your work, but that piece sounds pretty far removed from that
I guess its kind of a yin yang thing
humour vs seriousness
The Givn’r show was full of all my humorous satire pictures and right in the middle of the gallery is this work
I guess what I have realized is I like to deal with emotion in my work
my life seems humorous but when I tackle my other family it seems more serious and deep
which seems to be a balance
what did you give talks on?
basically about the last 5 years of my work
about humor and how it impacted my earlier works
is it retrospective time already?
man o man
the show is a mini retro of the last 5 years of work
since i graduated
about 70 works in the show
that’s… a lot
you cover installation, photography, video, performance…
Pray for me Terrance Houle
lol i know shit I didn’t even realize
audio and music
you’re in the groove
I kind of had my head down in my work and then the Plug in Gallery asked me to do a solo show and show my work and next thing Anthony Kiendl asked for everything
I guess I just committed to art
is it just that? or is there, looking back on the last five years, a bigger overarching theme/message to all the pieces?
I know the overt subject matter, but is there an underlying position that you want to take?
well I guess it would be this kind of Identity around Contemporary First Nations perceptive
like who’s perspective is the First Nations Identity coming from
like history from a colonial view point or a first nations view point or the view point of First Nations people who have been impacted by colonialism
do you think it would be fair for anyone other than a First National to tackle the issue?
like are we as first nations falling into the perception people have of us I think it would be fair if they did
first nations not first national….sorry just a correction
sorry about that
no its ok
look at the German Indians in Eastern Europe
they have taken on the identity of the Indian or Native American
I think its hilarious
even though that identity is not accurate to them as a people?
why would they do that?
they must be in an identity crisis themselves
the sympathy for the noble savage
the pure man
what do you think about spaghetti westerns?
oh and Karl may
I love em
I think that those films of the old west created another part of First Nations identity
something that is a perception
and even till this day there are people (native Americans) that still give into that stereotype
its such a strange concept
yea I know
here is a kicker in some movies
like John Wayne ones
the actors were British or African American
the directors would have real apache or Navajo people just off camera
throwing lines to the main Indian characters
but the words were all dirty and such
that seems utterly pointless and wasteful… to have someone on set who is actually living the role others are pretending to be
I guess for me that would be a good explanation of my humor and what I like
that’s probably the whole concept of Native people in Canada
always having others speak for them
I’m glad you can find the humor in it, it makes the impact of it so much more memorable
I think Im going to end the interview on your last statement