Interview by Ida Galash
When I saw my first Terrance Houle video I knew instantly that he was an artist unique in his field. As I watched the images unfold on the screen I wanted to know what was behind Houle’s work. It had such an open and engaging feel to it, sincerity and a sense of urgency to tell a story. I was intrigued; his work left me thinking. It was an easy decision for me to select Terrance Houle as the Contemporary North American Indigenous Artist that I wished to work with for this blog project and I was delighted when Mr. Houle agreed to participate. The more I researched his work, the more I sensed his pride in his heritage and his desire to share and preserve his connections to his People and their history.
Ida M Galash: I read in one interview that in high school you were into skateboarding, punk music and art (and not the subjects and the system presented in the school.) Did you have an art teacher or mentor who influenced you or did you find your path on your own at that young age?
Terrance Houle: In public high school and most schools growing up, my sibling and I were often the only ones that were Aboriginal. In Canada we have Social studies and English classes where we study Canadian History via the School system. In many of the classes I was often faced with having to look at history of First Nations Peoples in Canada as kind of one sided colonial stance, meaning the school curriculum dictated that history did not start until the White settlers came to this area. Growing up Powwow dancing and going to a lot of Ceremonies, I knew this to be only half a story. Early on in age I would speak out about this but was often stifled and disciplined. So when I was in Jr. High and High school, I got really into Punk, Metal and Skateboarding, to me these represented a means to speak out and to be different which was something I always had been faced with by simply being Blackfoot /Ojibway living inner city as an Army brat. I found my own way with the help of friends who played in local bands and others who were into punk art like Winston Smith: http://www.winstonsmith.com/. I really loved the social Political aspects of music, bands, and the artists making work for all these bands, very DIY. I remember plastering my room with Gig Posters, Albums and listening to Butthole Surfers while drawing and such. I think my parents thought I was a Satanist or something back then, as my mom would leave pamphlets on my bed all the time.
IMG: You have indicated that, initially, the art work you made was a response to “being called down” for who you are, instead of punching someone. That’s a powerful decision to have made. Did that approach come easily or was it a struggle to arrive at? What are some of the works that you made that you think are examples of that impulse?
TH: Well don’t get me wrong, I certainly wasn’t a saint and people would often just come right up to me to prove something to me or exhibit their dominance over me because I was Native. I would get into a lot of physical confrontations. I guess in my teens I would just think of these situations and try to emulate the complexity and ridiculousness of why people have such racism, stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination towards the “other”. Identity is such a huge thing at this age and identity is a massive issue with Native peoples in North America; we are born political and numbered.
I am always intrigued by this, the social political ongoing of the west vs. the other. I remember an earlier work I did in High school where I created this sculpture of a clown laughing at a TV with George Bush Sr.’s image on the screen. I thought it was hilarious that a clown would find humor in politics; it seemed kind of dark. I was listening to a lot of Bad Religion at the time. So anyways I think that’s what I always kind of think of in many of my works. The view “Something just doesn’t seem right here?” what can it be?
IMG: It is noted in Things of Desire that the birth of your daughter inspired you to create art that addressed the issues you had experienced growing up as an aboriginal. How do you think this has impacted your daughter’s childhood experiences?
TH: Well, I guess I want her to go to school and be aware of her people’s history as a First Nation Person. I was fortunate enough to be raised and instilled with the knowledge of where I come from. I can walk outside my door and think to myself my grandfathers have all walked right here in my backyard and so am I and my daughter. It still amazes me that I am able to make the work that I can. That I can actually get away with showing in Galleries and to give artist talks about my experiences. My Daughter Neko will have a strong identity and connection to her heritages of Blackfoot/ Ojibway, Chinese and Romanian. She already goes to school and talks about going to pow wows and ceremonies and it’s nice that everyone there is interested, which is a contrast to my own experiences. The world seems just that much more hopeful…ha.
When I became a father, my own pops who never said to much to me just looked at me and gave me the advice “Three things!: Listen to your Elders, Listen to your Children and take care of your shit.”
IMG: It seems like you have a lot of fun creating your art. Can you single out a project that was particularly enjoyable to work on and describe why?
TH: Yikes, I really have to say most of the works are always pretty fun to work on. I think each work has its own story and why it was super fun. From being stopped by the police for either being in a dark alley wearing my regalia to being kicked off the Canadian Parliament lawn by the RCMP for portaging a Canoe in my breach cloth have all been fun. I have countless stories but I think it’s retelling these stories while I am showing the work which is the funnest. If I had to pick, I guess the “Pitchin’ Tipis” series was pretty fun at least the shoot with Adrian Stimson. I was with my Band in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada and we played a gig/performance/video installation for TRIBE inc. performance festival. I was working on this series of Native Men in breach cloths with “Erections” under their loin cloths. Adrian was modeling for me and the day after, we got up pretty hung over, went for breakfast, and decided to do the photo shoot that early afternoon, plus Adrian has this wicked awesome hot tub so we could chill after. It was a really funny shoot as my band was sitting off to the side, Adrian was trying to get a hard on and his partner was taking the dogs for a walk and he said “you guys have fun, ok?” I can go into details but it just gets worse from there. I guess it always seems like a rock and roll career, doing all sorts of fun stuff and making work out of it, it’s the only way to do it.
IMG: I find myself particularly drawn to the Urban Indian project. Can you tell me about your motivations for making it?
TH: Well I had been working with my photographer Jarusha Brown for about two years by then and we had a really awesome working relationship. The photos were kind of born out of working together and became a collaboration between the two of us. We both kind of worked it out in our own way and brought it together in two days of shooting. The works became a performance for me and Jarusha, who does documentary, was a natural at shooting these environments we both decided on. The series was born out of our relationship creating the earlier works. Jarusha wanted to shoot some Documentary type stuff with me in regalia which was a spin on what I was creating in my photos. It’s a great series because we both just went out and shot these amazing works that feel very performative and guerilla art.
IMG: Portage was shot in a crowded downtown. Some people seemed to not even notice you, others definitely did. What was the experience of making Portage like for you?
TH: Portage was a funny work. It was born out of bullshitting with my Metis friend, Trevor Freeman, at his Youth Community centre work. We were talking about growing up in the public school system and how we hated the social studies class time where we had to look at Canadian history. We cringed at the idea of how First Nations are portrayed in the text books as being rough mean looking people. The Metis were always in the background with the Native peoples. I thought “wouldn’t that be hilarious if we actually portrayed ourselves as these Metis Voyageur & Native men traversing through urban centres? ” So we got asked by a Calgary performance festival M:ST to actually do it in Calgary and finally, it just spread to Vancouver, Toronto then Ottawa our nation Capital. We got kicked off Parliament hill by the RCMP for portaging up to the House of Commons. The funny thing is people tended to shout out to us about recognizing it from their social studies class, which was our intention, to make our presence known that most cities in Canada were founded on First Nations peoples backs. We were here with our own commerce and economics before the White Man Came.
IMG: I understand that you consider your body to be the most significant tool of your art. Can you explain what you mean by that?
TH: Well, I grew up Powwow Dancing and doing ceremonies. The body is never separated from our mind and we are one when we do many aspects of our culture. I grew up using my body in dance and in these ceremonies and that it was always this way of telling a story whether it’s doing a grass dance, crow hop, duck and dive, or just traditional. You’re portraying something or gesturing, maybe a story or whatever. I always like to think that my Art History started at these points. Something most people can relate to is the Body. The male body is something I am intrigued with, especially the Native Male body. Its portrayal is complex from Hollywood movies to icons, to powwow dance and even social and health issues.
I always get intrigued by the Hollywood Indian which is something that still exists. I guess my interest is in the dichotomy of the Native Identity and all its complexities. Our relation to our (First Nations/ Native American) and the History of mainstream/ Hollywood/ or even colonial history. Who buys into these aspects and how does it affect the people and perceptions?
IMG: Who are some aboriginal artists that have influenced your work and in what ways have they affected you?
TH: Mmm…well, I would say Aboriginal Artist who influenced me would be my parents and grandparents. My family were all pow wow dancers or created pow wow regalia and ceremonial objects. I would have to say that my influences come from that aspect being raised with it always around me, textiles and such. The environment was always a place for community and conversation, humour, storytelling and just plain ol’ day to day conversation around a table of family and artists making traditional objects.
I guess in the art realm I was really influenced by James Luna and Faye Heavyshields- James for his use of his body and Faye for her use of minimalism and beauty. In Art school, I was heavily reading and trying to figure out the things behind both artists’ works and applying them to my idea of Aboriginal Art in relationship to what I knew growing up.
IMG: Can you tell me the story behind the Landscape Series of photos?
TH: The series is actually larger than just the Photographs as it includes a performance and a video/film all based on landscapes and myself. The work came out of this idea: a friend said to me “Canada was made off the backs of Native People”. This made me think about this idea of history and representation by the colonized. I live in Calgary, Alberta, which is a city located in what is now treaty 7. The area has been home to Blackfoot people for a long time. I became a father in 2003 and thought so much about what my daughter would think of when she grows up. How would her history be explained to her? I grew up in public school and would always think to myself “why is Native People’s history not being told?” How come there is such a lack of truth and reality to the things I am learning?” I spent my youth going to ceremony and powwow dancing and traveling all over Canada and the States. How can the general public be so ignorant of who Native people are in this land?
I wanted to present this Idea of the land holding knowledge or at least a sleeping knowledge, that there were people here in this land of North America prior to colonization, or “settlers.” I also wanted to address that sometimes our own people have forgotten these ideas. I wanted to have myself in these landscape photos being subverted, sleeping almost, and face down hiding in the landscape.
IMG: In a number of items I have come across, particularly the interview with Native American Indigenous Cinema and Arts, you mentioned layers of discrimination. Can you tell me your thoughts on that concept?
TH: Yes, I guess in that interview I was speaking to the idea of discrimination as an Artist and Aboriginal Artist - the concept of being discriminated against by region or Aboriginal background, by other Aboriginals and curators. This idea that as Native people we discriminate against other Native people along with the general discrimination, which seems really messed up. I guess one of my run ins with this is this idea “just because I didn’t grow up on a reservation I am told I don’t understand Native people.” I have been told that many times, which I find kind of absurd to think. Anyways that is just one example.
IMG: In a number of your video works you have employed techniques to create a very archival quality, making it difficult to assign a time frame to the piece. What are your reasons for doing that?
TH: I want my work to seem kind of archival in some instances like in my early short film “The Wagon Burner” I wanted it to look like old films found by someone of kids burning a wagon. The other works I wanted to look like they could be from anytime or place. I like Indian concepts of time and time based works. My grandmother still uses the term “long time ago” which could be used as describing literally a long time ago or just last week, Indian Time.
IMG: What is your next project and where do you go from here?
TH: Yikes, I have so many projects right now in the works. I am working on some new pinhole photos based on Indian Sign Language and signals as well as video performances based on these signs. They are for a show with Rebecca Belmore in Vancouver, OR Gallery.
I have also started the National Indian leg Wrestling League of North America, which will open at the Burnaby Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia in 2012. This is an exhibit of Indian Leg Wrestlers from the past couple of decades which is a full on exhibit, so pay close attention out there.
IMG: Do you think of yourself as a “Contemporary North American Indigenous
Artists?” Do you think terms like that one are useful or not? Do you feel like there is a separation between contemporary indigenous artists and the rest of the art world as represented by mainstream art magazines, biennials, art fairs, etc.?
TH: Well I am Aboriginal and I am an artist and I have been making artwork all my life. Our art forms have been in North America for hundreds of years if not thousands. I am pretty sure we have an Art history in this country…so I am not opposed to any of those terms. We have been in this country making Art for a long time.
IMG: Can you recommend another artist that we should interview for this blog in the future?
TH: I would say Adrian Stimson.
IMG: Is there an aspect of your work or your life as an artist that you would like to talk about that I have not already asked about?
TH: My Blackfoot name is Iiniiwakiimah (buffalo herder) and I like Indian Taco’s, so if anyone out there in cyber land knows that I am coming to their town please let me know where the best Indian Taco is.
Biography: Terrance Houle
Terrance Houle is an internationally recognized interdisciplinary media artist and a member of the Blood Tribe. Involved with Aboriginal communities all his life, he has traveled to reservations throughout North America participating in Powwow dancing along with his native ceremonies. Houle utilizes at his discretion performance, photography, video/film, music and painting. Likewise Houle’s practice includes tools of mass dissemination such as billboards and vinyl bus signage.
A graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design, Terrance Houle received his B.F.A in 2003. His groundbreaking art quickly garnered him significant accolades and opportunities, including the 2003 invitation to participate in the Thematic Residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in. This Residency focused on 34 international indigenous people exploring issues of colonization and communion. Houle received the 2006 Enbridge Emerging Artist Award presented at the Mayors Luncheon for the Arts, City Of Calgary. After receiving many screenings of his short video/film work at the Toronto 2004 ImagineNATIVE Film Festival, Houle was awarded winner of Best Experimental Film. His work has been exhibited across Canada, Parts of the United States, Australia, Europe and England.
Terrance Houle lives and maintains his art practice and Aboriginal Youth Mentorship in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Terrance James Houle
2000-2003 (BFA) Alberta College of Art & Design CalgaryFibre Department
2010 GIVN’R, Art Gallery of York University, Ont.2009 GIVN’R, Art Gallery of Thunderbay, Ont.GIVN’R, Plug-In Gallery Winnipeg, ManitobaThings May Appear Larger, Red Shift Gallery, Saskatoon, Sask.2008 85.11.16, SKEW Gallery, Calgary, Alberta2005 Remember In Grade … The New Gallery +15 Window, Calgary, Alberta2003 Kipi-Dapi-Pook-Aki, Taking Back Control, Glenbow Museum, Calgary,2002 A Little Western, +15 Window Project, Truck Gallery, Calgary
Selected Group Exhibitions
2010 SKIN, National Museum of the American Indian, NYC, NY, USA.Friend or Foe, OR Gallery, Vancouver, BCREZIDENTS, Open Sky Gallery Fort Simpson, NWT2009 REZIDENTS, Neutral Ground, Regina, Sask.Alternation, Harbourfront centre, Toronto, ONT.The World Upside Down, Art Gallery of Victoria, BC“What Moves Us”, The Western Front, Vancouver, BC2008 Through the Looking Glass, Glenbow Museum, CalgaryThe Dewdney Avenue Project, Common Weal, Regina, Sask. (Bus Shelters)Face The Nation, Art Gallery of Alberta, EdmontonHonouring Traditions, Glenbow Museum,Tracing Histories, Glenbow Museum, Calgary,Photo LA 2008, SKEW Gallery, Los Angeles, California, USA2007 Photo Miami 2007, SKEW Gallery, Miami, Florida, USAThe World Upside Down. Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, ONT.Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art: Living Utopia and Disaster, Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton2006 Red Eye, Carlton University Art Gallery, Ontario,The World Upside Down, (Billboard), Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff,Wagon Burn This! Princess Moonrider that! , Aspace Gallery, Toronto,The Bodies That Were Not Ours, Linden St. Kilda Centre for the Contemporary Arts, Melbourne, Australia“Paper bag Indian Princess”, Grunt Gallery Vancouver, BC2005 Electrofringe Festival, This is Not Art Festival, Field Contemporary Art Space Newcastle, New South Wales, AustraliaThe American West, Compton Verny Gallery, Warwickshire, England2004 Remember in Grade… “First Nations Now”, Burnaby Art Gallery, BC…Red Handed. “Out of the Dark” WISEart Gallery, Brisbane, AustraliaIndian! “Indian. Unquote”, Roundhouse Community Centre, Vancouver, BC2003 Turtle Island, Other Gallery, Banff Centre, ABCulmination, Artspace, Calgary
2010 Metrosexual Indian, SKIN EXHIBIT, NMAI Smithsonian, NYC, NY USA2009 Landscape, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NBLandscape, Owens Calgary, Mount Allison, NB2008 Casting Call, HOW exhibit, Trinity Square Video, TorontoLulla, Alberta Arts Day, Jubilee Auditorium, CalgaryThe Metrosexual Indian, Sapatq’ayn Cinema, University of Idaho, USAThe Wagon Burner, Rencontres Internationales 2008, Madrid, Spain
2007 Metrosexual, Wagon Burner, Cows, REDEYE, Art Gallery of Calgary, ABThe Metrosexual Indian, Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, New MexicoThe Wagon Burner, Arte Nuevo Interactiva ‘O7, Yucatan, Merida, MexicoThe Wagon Burner, The dreaming Festival, Melbourne, AustraliaThe Metrosexual Indian, REDz on screen2, En’owkin Centre, Pentincton, BC2006 The Wagon Burner, Native American Film/Video Fest, New York, USAThe Metrosexual Indian, IMAGeNAtion Film Festival, Vancouver, BC2005 The Wagon Burner, “Considering Human Security, Berlin, GermanyThe Metrosexual Indian, ImagineNATIVE Film Festival Toronto, Ont.The Wagon Burner, Off-Court Film Festival, Trouville, FranceCows, The Calgary International Film Festival, ABCows & Wagon Burner, Winnipeg Film Group, Urban shaman, Winnipeg, Man.Cows & Wagon Burner First Peoples Film Festival, Montreal, QC, Canada2004 Cows, Ontario association of Art Galleries, Toronto, OTWagon Burn & Cows. ImageNATIVE Film Festival, Toronto(Wagon Burner- Winner of Best Experimental Film Award)Cows, Calgary International Film FestivalWagon Burner, ImageNation, Vancouver, BC (2nd Prize Redwire Youth Showcase)2003 Immerging Native Artist, Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers, AB
2010 Don Coyote 2, High Performance Rodeo, OYR, Calgary. AB2009 “PORTAGE2009, Magnetic North Festival, Ottawa, ON.2008 “Cigar Store Indian” Sienfeld, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC, USACasting Call, HOW! Trinity Square Video/ImagineNATIVE Film Festival, TorontoDon Coyote, Nuit Blanche, TorontoDon Coyote, Sled Island/ ACAD/ Glenbow Museum, (Collab. W/ Matt Masters)I Will See You…, May Works/AGA, Edmonton, ABI Will See You…, Tribe Inc./ Paved Arts, Saskatoon, SKPortage 2008/Hey! Who Won?, Free fall Festival, Theatre Centre, Toronto2007 Portage 007, Grunt Gallery/ LIVE Biennial of Performance Art, VancouverLandscape, Art Nomade, La Lob, Chicoutimi, QuebecLandscape, Peterborough Art Umbrella, OntarioLandscape, Storytellers festival, Sakewewak, Regina, Sask.Casting Call, World Upside Down, Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff2006 A Doowop Thing!, Aspace/ ImagineNATIVE Film Festival , TorontoPaper bag Indian Tribal Suit, TRUCK CAMPER Tattoo Fest, CalgaryDiplomatic Immunities, Alberta Theatre Projects, Playrites Festival. Calgary,Paper Bag Indian/ Buckskin Mounting, Talking Stick Festival, Vancouver2005 Hey! Who Won? CAMPER, The Truck Gallery, CalgaryPortage. MST: 3, Brilliant City Festival EPCOR centre, Calgary2004 How to Make a Paperbag Indian, Burnaby Art Gallery, BC2003 The Final Frontier, Banff Centre for the ArtsAfter, ACAD. Stanford Perron Theatre, AB2002 10-minute movie, 11-minute Soundtrack, ACAD Variety Show, Night Gallery Cabaret, Calgary2001 Reserve Performance- Trunk 75, ACAD/ Jubilee Parkade, Calgary
2010 The Oxygen Art Centre, Nelson BC.2008 Good Medicine Project, ACAD, Banff Centre, Banff, AlbertaDewdney Avenue Project, Common Weal Community Arts. Regina, Sask.2004 Gulf Island Film & Television School- Aboriginal Intensive Media2003 Indigenous Media & Visual Arts Residency: Communion and other Conversations: The Banff Centre For the Arts, Alberta
Urban Indian Series, The Glenbow Museum, Calgary, AlbertaUrban Indian series, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, EdmontonThe Wagon Burner. The National Archives Of Canada. Ottawa, Ont.
Awards & Nominations
2008 Sobery Art Award, (long list nomination) Toronto, Canada2006 Winner Enbridge Emerging Artist Award, City of Calgary Arts Awards, Mayors Luncheon 2006, Calgary, AB2005 Enbridge Emerging Artist Award, City of Calgary Arts Awards (Nomination)2004 Best Experimental Film Prize- 2004 ImagineNATIVE Film Festival, Toronto,2nd Prize Red Wire Showcase- 2004 ImageNation Film Festival, Vancouver, BC
2008 Digital Heritage Symposium, CHIN/Glenbow Museum, Beijing, China2007 Indigenous Perspectives, Performance Creation Canada Panel, HPR Fest Calgary2006 Contemporary Aboriginal Art & Issues, Ontario College of Art Design, TorontoREDEYE, Carlton University Art Gallery, OttawaWorld Upside Down, Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff2005 Art & Design Now Speaker series, Alberta College of Art & Design, Calgary
Gay, Felicia, “North Central Intervention: Terrance Houle leaves bits of history on Dewdney Avenue”, BlackFlash: Photography and New media in Art, Winter Issue 2010, pg.38
Light, Whitney, Terrance Houle GIVN’R Exhibition Review, Canadian Art, Tornto, Ontario, Canada, Fall issue 2007, pg. 162Nunez-Fernandez, Lupe, “How The West Was Spun”, Art Review International Edition, London, England, July/ August 2005, pg. 29Hill, Richard, “The American West,” Compton Verney Gallery, Warwickshire, England, 2005, pg 106-107.Kiendl, Anthony, “The Aesthetics of Noise”, Making a Noise! Banff International Curatorial Institute, Banff, Alberta 2003, pg. 10Elodie Caron. “Renegade But Not Like That TV Show,” New Tribe, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Vol. 3 No.10, pg. 8, 2005Ngahiraka Mason. “Experiencing Place,” Artlink Magazine, Queensland, Australia. Vol. 24 No. 4, pg. 87, 2004