Gallery Portage 4: Peterborough

map of portage

A = Kitchener, B=Owen Sound, C=Haliburon, D=Algonquin, E=Peterborough

Canoe installations in the winter? Driving a rented 16-foot truck from Kitchener to Algonquin Park in February is not well advised. Snow squalls and bad tires have become an integral part of this adventure. No matter. This portage went very well.

We snuck the installation out on a Sunday afternoon, spent Superbowl night in Huntsville (no dog-sledding, unfortunately), and headed to the Canoe Museum in Peterborough. I mentioned in a previous post that the Algonquin Visitor Center is “ample.” Well, the Canadian Canoe Museum is more than ample — it’s capacious.

canadian canoe museum interior

Inside the Canadian Canoe Museum – Capacious

We were very fortunate to have a tour of the the “archives,” guided by Museum Director, Jeremy Ward. He told us that the warehouse was once described to him as a cathedral, and I think this is very apt.


canoe museum warehouse

“The Cathedral”

The warehouse is home to hundreds of canoes in varying states of repair. There is a sense of reverence in this space, and I am grateful to Jeremy for sharing it with us.

Jeremy Ward and Marcel O'Gorman in Canoe Museum Warehouse

Jeremy Ward and I inside
“The Cathedral”

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Installing at Algonquin

Once again, Pouya and I hit the road, ready to put our trusty canoe-stringing implement to work once again. This time we made chose a 25lb weight of string, rather than 30lb, which makes for faster wrapping but interrupts functionality of the touch screens because it’s so heavy.

We noted that the crack in the gunnel of the canoe, which we discovered in Haliburton, hand gotten worse. The string applies a great deal of pressure on the entire vessel, making it creak and moan as we wrap it. We added some buttresses between the walls of the canoe, which made the beast more sturdy.

Wrapping went very well, and the screens all interacted in a lively way. Three new laptops are now dedicated to this project only, which makes for uniform delivery of the interface. Very anxious to see how it holds up.

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Gallery Portage 3: Algonquin Park

map of southern ontario

A = Kitchener, B=Owen Sound, C=Haliburon, D=Algonquin Visitor Centre

The fourth installation of Myth of the Steersman takes us back to the site of its “baptism.” This trip, from Haliburton to Algonquin, was an adventure in steersmanship as it involved navigating through snow sqalls, hoisting the installation over a railing on an icy walkway at Rails End Gallery, and loading the beast into the truck en route for Algonquin. Fortunately, I had my trusty assistant and sturdy advisor with me — the one who also excels at dogsledding.

The project was supposed to be installed at the Algonquin Art Centre, but it was simply too large to fit into their space. Fortunately, Justin Peter at at the Visitor Centre, which on Highway 60 near the East Gate, was kind enough to offer his ample space for the installation. The Visitor Centre is ample indeed, boasting a number of interactive exhibits (including one of old Tom himself), a theatre, taxidermy, and a very impressive lookout that spans out over the park. Myth of the Steersman was docked right on the main floor, in an alcove that seemed designed for the installation.

I am told the installation can expect to be viewed by thousands of visitors. This makes me a little nervous, since it is becoming increasingly fragile as time goes on. We will see how it holds up.

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Judge a book’s cover?

Joe Nolan's book cover.

Nice canoe, Joe.

In July, I was asked by writer Joseph Nolan if he could use an image from this blog to put on the cover of his forthcoming novel, The Wellspring Immortal. The book is now available here: .

Congratulations, Joe. I am looking forward to reading it.

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Gallery Portage 2: Haliburton

portage map

A = Kitchener, B=Owen Sound, C=Haliburon

If you were a landscape painter in the early 1900’s, the Haliburton Highlands would have been a necessary destination. The seasonal changes, wooded hills, wildlife, and lakes would provide endless subject matter. Best of all, the Victoria Railway would take you  right into Haliburton, and from there you could hike your way up to Algonquin Park. Unfortunately, passenger service to Haliburton ended in 1972. And besides, a train wouldn’t do much good for an artist whose current medium includes a 16-foot canoe. The vehicle of choice for the portage to Haliburton was a 14-foot UHaul truck.

Pouya and I picked up the truck in Kitchener on Sunday, December 4, and after a couple stops to purchase fishing line, we arrived at the Tom Thomson Gallery in Owen Sound at about 4:00 in the afternoon.  With the help of gallery assistant Trevor Pfeiffer, we managed to angle the canoe into the truck. Barely. Then we headed for Haliburton, stopping two more times on the way for more fishing line.

Pouya in the UHaul.

Pouya surveying the landscape of Simcoe County.

By the time we arrived in the Haliburton Highlands, it was very dark outside and raining hard. This was by far the most grueling leg of the portage since it involved winding our way through tight, rugged, hilly backroads in a UHaul with bad brakes loaded with a precious and precariously loaded cargo. We arrived safely at about 8:00 pm and crashed at a hotel for the night.

The next morning we drove into downtown Haliburton and saw the Rails End Gallery for the first time. It is quite an impressive sight. Still looks like a train station, complete with a rail car out front that is currently used for storage.

Getting the canoe into the gallery was no easy task. We had to haul it up two flights of stairs and through a very narrow doorway. But with the help of Courtney Bryant, we were in and installing in no time. The first step, of course, was the string-cutting ceremony.

Cutting canoe strings.

Here we go again.

This seems to get easier all the time. But always tragic in some way.

Laurie Jones pulls some strings.

Gallery Director Laurie Jones pulling off the fishing line.

It took about 8 hours to restring the canoe, making use of our handy canoe-stringing-implement described in a previous post. We discovered that our muscular stringing technique is actually putting undue stress on the structure of the canoe. For the next installation, we may have to install supports to keep the poor vessel from buckling under the tight wrapping of the fishing line.

In the end, the project looked great in this fantastic space.

Canoe installed in gallery

Installed and ready to go at Rails End

Many thanks to Laurie for her assistance with the installation, and most of all for her hospitality.

Laurie in front of the gallery.

Laurie in front of the gallery.

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Talking up the Myth

On July 13 I gave a talk at the Tom Thomson Gallery entitled “How to Build a Ghost Canoe.” The talk was fairly well attended, and I am especially grateful to Marty, Brooke, Sophia, and Blake for filling out the audience. And for taking impressionist photos of the speaker. The photographer has obviously mastered the speed settings on the camera.

Lecture at Tom Thomson Gallery

Preparing for a lecture at the Tom Thomson Gallery.

I should also thank Rachel Monckton-Joffre for providing us with a place to stay when I went to tweak the project and prepare for the lecture. Cheers to Blue Moon Studio.

Gazebo at Blue Moon Studio

Perfecting the craft of rock painting at Blue Moon Studio.

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Gallery Portage 1: Owen Sound

cutting the strings on the canoe

A painful sting-cutting ceremony.

After months of interaction at THEMUSEUM, the fishing line on the canoe had been under a great deal of stress. This was anticipated — this is art that is meant to be touched, and touching means wear and tear. The canoe is meant to be alive and to take on different shapes as it moves between galleries. Ultimately, this is a portage project in which the canoe undergoes several transformations en route back to Algonquin Park, where it was first christened in 2009 at the outset of the project.

All philosophising aside, it was very painful to take scissors to the strings of the canoe that had been visibly stretched beyond repair. In a matter of seconds I had undone dozens of hours of work, the contributions of several volunteers. Fortunately, it wasn’t necessary to cut all of the strings since some were still in good shape. Robert Alton at the Tom Thomson Gallery in Owen Sound assured me that the canoe could be shipped the 200 kilometres to the gallery without suffering any damage. Indeed, this was the case.

I traveled to Owen Sound with my star canoe-wrapping team, Adam Bradley and Cameron Stott. I shouldn’t call these guys gluttons for punishment — they had already wrapped about 7 or 8 kms of fishing line around the canoe for the first installation. On the other hand, Cameron’s tendency to turn canoe wrapping into an intense body-building exercise is cause for questioning the team’s “artistic intentions.”

To spare the backs, quads, and minds of the wrapping team, I decided to build an apparatus designed specifically for wrapping fishing line around a canoe. It took no more than a piece of threaded rebar, some wingnuts (no jokes please), and piece of metal strapping with holes. The result is pictured below:

Canoe wrapping device.

A fishing-line-canoe-wrapping-mechanism.

The device provides canoe-wrappers with a 100% increase in efficiency while improving the quality of the wrapping. Of course, the wrappers, being well-schooled in Karl Marx, Frederick Taylor, and the industrial revolution were not pleased with my under-ambitious design, and they decided to attempt yet another 100% increase in efficiency. Their efforts succeeded, and we ended up with a 4-spool mechanism that cut down the wrapping time to under 6 hours.

Adam and Cameron with the new, improved canoe wrapping gadget.

Cameron (squatting) and Adam with the new, improved canoe stringing apparatus.

Obviously, these students were trained in the Critical Media Lab. My thanks goes out to them once again, and also to Robert Alton and Virginia Eichhorn at the Tom Thomson Gallery. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Myth of the Steersman in Tom Thomson Gallery

Myth of the Steersman installed in the Tom Thomson Gallery.

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Final Product

Here is a shot of canoe, fully wrapped and ready for action. Well, not water action. Cyber action. The green objects hanging out are the controls for the monitors. Those got tucked in once the project “went live.”

Myth of the Steersman after fishing line is complete.

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String Theory

The lone artist, toiling away on his Herculean task -- not quite.

No, I’m not going to wax philosophical about theoretical physics — although I would like to think that the canoe project might inspire such musings. I’m referring to a photo that appeared in a Record article about the Thomson exhibition.

TheRecord – Remembering Tom Thomson

I was laughing about this photo with journalist Robert Reid, because it paints a very different theory of artistic practice than the one exhibited by this project. It was no problem for me to wrap the fishing line around the end of the canoe, as pictured above. But I would have needed 8-foot arms to complete the task alone. Thank you once again to the helpers.

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14 kilometres of string

Helpers wrapping fishing line around canoe.

"No, we're not done yet."

I would like to thank all the volunteers who helped wrap the canoe with 20 and 30 lb test fishing line. This is one of the most tedious tasks I have ever endured, and it paid less than my stint punching holes into V8 oil pans at a Windsor assembly plant.

An interesting development came out of this collective effort. I first envisioned the fishing line as a an imperfect assemblage of string, criss-crossing the hull of the canoe. But the almost mechanical precision of some of my helpers (yes, I mean you, Adam and Cameron) created a very tidy, linear field of line over one of the screens. This tidiness also mans that the touch-screen works very well. The other two screens have some loose strings hanging down that affect the functionality of the infra-red sensors controlling the interface. What this means is that each screen works differently.

The most interesting part of this effect is that through the web interface, which I will describe in a later post, all three screens are perfectly functional. You can make the screens work perfectly and predictably, as long you use the web interface and don’t touch them directly. As always, physical presence, the touching of material bodies is messy, unpredictable. But the network and database never fail. They are clean, reliable, antiseptic.

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