Vision and idea behind the Effigy
“La Portage” will express and share the collaborative and cooperative spirit of Montreal’s uniquely rich, multiplex cultural experience, heritage and historical genesis.
At the time of the Montreal region’s settling, portaging was a fundamental challenge that brought intrepid explorers together in a communal effort of radical self-reliance. These entrepreneurs faced the unknown together, forging new paths in a vast and unknown territory. Pressing headfirst and alone into the sweeping wild, these seekers would literally shoulder the burden of their heavy supplies, transportation and collective differences, as they passed the harsh terrain between virgin rivers and rapids.
Juxtaposed amidst an unending and unyielding landscape, La Portage creates an intimate space in the hull of the canoe, binding these indomitable kindred spirits together. The shared closeness in this sacred space crosses the barriers of communication, countries or creeds; La Portage represents the ancient and common challenge of shared survival through reciprocity. This piece also pays homage to a French-Canadian region legend, La Chasse-galerie also known as “The Bewitched Canoe” or “The Flying Canoe” is a popular French-Canadian tale of voyageurs; when French settlers arrived in Canada, they swapped stories with the Canadian First-Nations and the tale of Gallery was combined with a First-Nations legend about a flying canoe.
By representing and recreating a shared intimate experience, La Portage transcends linguistic, cultural and historical differences and tensions, to grow a common bond and foster a shared understanding about the relationship between nature, ourselves, and each other.
Physical description of the Effigy
“La Portage” will take the form of a traditional Voyageur’s canoe, inverted and held aloft by two human figures. The canoe will be roughly 20′ in length and 4′ wide. The sturdy figures holding it up will likely be simplified geometric forms (perhaps not unlike the Man), about 5′ in height. The canoe’s gunwales will be roughly at shoulder height, so the interior will be hidden from view to most participants as they approach the work. Only by ducking under the gunwales and standing up within the hollow of the canoe will the full interior be seen. illuminated by LEDs (probably kitschy-Montreal strings of Christmas lights), the interior shell of the canoe will be hung with a wide variety of small works by Montreal artists. In the acoustic isolation provided by the canoe, the participant will hear recorded voices produced by speakers hidden in the bow and stern. The participant will experience spoken word performances in the languages of Montreal — mostly English and French but likely others as well — created by artists in the regional community.
Opportunities for participants to interact with the piece
Participants will enter the intimate space in the hull of the canoe, symbolically joining La Portage themselves. Those that enter the piece will be surrounded by natural sounds of the region (birds, loons, rushing water) interspersed by occasional recorded spoken word art recitals from regional burners/artists. Each participant will see short interdependent stories present under the hull, from which they can read in phonetic French and English.
This will create the experience of shared bi-lingual understanding, regardless of either participant’s fluency in French or English. One participant will read a phonetic verse as the other reads the language/ phonetic translation.
Participants will be able to “speak English” or “speak French” without any knowledge of the language, while they communicate and appreciate a story about the region, but a story that also reflects a shared struggle in all of us. It is the hope of the artists that this will create an intimate shared experience between the participants that imparts an understanding about the voyageur history, linguistic barriers, tensions and multi-cultural diversity that has come to help define the region in its present day.