UPDATE Jan/2019: will be adding some of the art echoes (see subpage to right) to installation - will use prints as opposed to the originals . . . insurance company rule apparently . . .

Gallery 2019 a




 DEB w words

the Silhouette Project

Artist Statement

The ‘illumination stage’ for this art installment project crystalized in the late spring of 2018. “the Silhouette Project” is an artistic response to my taking part in filming stories for a group in Edmonton, Alberta, which was created to serve - with a phrase that is a bit odious - ‘young adults who have aged out of government foster child care’.

And interestingly enough, the ‘adult leaders’ of this group are also people who have ‘aged out of care.’ And looking at these young adults through the lens – and through the pejorative branding of kids in care, in their stories there was no ‘woe-is-me’, nor easy surrender to despair, or capitulation to the stereotypes, labels which are oftimes brimming with low expectations placed on ‘kids in care.’ They were impressive, generally kind and respectful folks who were realistic and most optimistic. Most were in post-secondary education or more, building lives, moving past the canard of ‘troubled kids’ in care making troubled adults. That being said, even more and more of our Indigenous kids are in care, notwithstanding, years, decades of ‘words’.

I have also been moved/inspired by community members, especially a number of parents and grandparents, many in long and arduous fights for their kids who were taken into care, away from their family, culture, and homes. Endless stone walls and ‘nice words about the best interests of the child’ is all most get, yet they continue, head down pushing against the harsh winds of indifferent government bureaucracy, they like many are not dissuaded nor abandoning their grandchildren.

The reality we are wrapped is seemingly ceaseless lofty, but infertile, pronouncements from multiple levels of government, including of note, Indigenous Leadership. A poor replacement for our kids is this gluttony of black and white promises to ‘do better’ for our youth that we are supposed to feast on.

In the car home after the initial filming, back to the bush, team member and Métis Elder Mabel Howse, said ‘you know, we aren’t responsible for those people who abused any of these kids, but you know, I think we, like the rest of us we, we failed these kids in not being able to figure out, like adults, to create a world where all kids are safe and cared for, especially our Métis and Indian kids, but lots of talk, mileage and per diems, and conferences’. I think she is, as always, wise and correct.

I worked as an emergency paramedic for a number of years, and now am in my 6th decade, so I have seen much raw pain and suffering, much death and disorder. I have told many fellow citizens that their loved one, parent, spouse, sibling, child or baby, are dead. Emergency services is a cornucopia of lives changed, or forever mutilated in a moment, often unjust and unmerited. Such is the way of things. All of which has caused me to be disinclined to first world complaints of ‘suffering’, and ‘misadventure’. Yet, here I did not encounter what society is now calling ‘snow flakes’ – or which my Auntie would call ‘crybabies and weenies’.

In speaking to the group leaders and some of the youth about a conference presentation they are working on, and a possible documentary, I very seriously suggested they title both “WHY I AM NOT AN AXE MURDERER” – sadly the consensus is that the government would likely not think this a good title idea. I suggested this title in response to the stories heard about what ‘did not work’ and what ‘did work’ – the key to both usually an individual in power doing either, what is good, or remiss. In any event, given the life narrative of these folks, it is worth while asking, ‘so why aren’t you an axe murderer?’

True, these ‘aged out youth’ (hopefully one of these days we will not have a need for this phrase) and their stories contain chapters, which would justify anyone to become disheartened or awash in discouragement. Listening to some of their tales of lost hopes and dreams, abounding with letdowns and angst, at the end of the day were chronicles of agency, not ‘problem-saturated’ accounts and lamentations of victimhood, but rather stories of resilience, ‘small acts of living’ depicting exploits of agency against constraints that could legitimize any forfeit of self ownership (or axe murdering, just saying).

Like the rest of us, to a one, they are imperfect noble beings living a life. So who would not have an artistic response to same?

We have endless ‘nice words’, lots of nice talking, but little effective walking. What our communities and we Indigenous people don’t have is a large number of our children. ‘the Silhouette Project’ seeks to distinguish from all the nice words, the reality of Indigenous children and people in Canada where more Aboriginal children are in the care and control of government child welfare agencies, than all of the children who went to the residential schools historically. This installation entitled ‘the Silhouette Project’ is a response to an incubation of frustration and hope for a better future for all our children, for us.

the Silhouette Project’ seeks to open dialogue inspired by the display which serves also as a place to gather people together to talk and engage in knowledge exchange about the unfolding legacy of colonization, historically and presently and to forge a path forward, recognizing that we are all treaty people.

As always, nothing comes out of the wind.

In addition to the group who grounded the inspiration for this project -- connected by Dr. Jean LaFrance, PhD and driven further by Dr. Dorothy Badry, PhD (both of the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work) the depth of the installation is surely enhanced by my accomplice and partner Mabel M Howse, and the Elders and youth who took part in this endeavour. Terry H, my red seal carpenter guy, a ‘real carpenter’, who listens to what I want to create and tells me what is possible and best, sometimes with a blunt cudgel of "I am a carpenter, I know you think that is a good idea, it is not." Paul A, our local Home Hardware guy whose store seems to have a million things anyone would need, has been able to come up with a hardware solution or knowledge that grounds most of the physical part of this project. And still, I continue to work with the Marshall Conspiracy, a group of skilled artisans who continue to take part in many of my artistic musings. Additionally, and as always, Kim Fjordbotten, a well-known artist and owner of the Paint Spot in Edmonton (https://www.paintspot.ca), has, as always, been supportive and a wealth of knowledge and encouragement in this project.  There are many great advocates for all the artist voices out there -- who are like about once a week WTF? am I doing this, I should just go get a desk job?