Ghost Days conjures the haunts of Canada’s past
If indigenous and colonial ghosts still wander around in the still hours of the night, Alberta’s got a lot of them. The Battle of the Belly River was here. So was the Frog Lake Massacre. Even Fort Whoop-Up down in Lethbridge could fairly be said to have taken men from either side, albeit by the fluid ounce.
With so many deceased and so much history left unknown, it takes a little imagination to fill in the gaps.
Ghost Days, an experimental, multimedia, indigenous arts performance is designed to summon the spirits of Canada’s past and fill that imaginative gap.
“I treat it like a band, so it’s kind of like these rotating kind of musicians coming in and performing Ghost Days,” says Calgary-based artist Terrance Houle. “Which is basically the idea that we’re creating art and music and whatever we kind of can, and use it as a conjuring to conjure colonial and non-colonial ghosts, indigenous spirits, non-indigenous spirits, and perform for them as an audience along with the living.”
The project sees Houle collaborating with Métis artists like Cobra Jo Collins and Halie Finney.
Ghost Days is a steadily accumulating work, and one that Houle has been officially adding to and refining for the last year. He uses video, music, and photos during his performance to induce a sort of audience seance. Sometimes that means poetry, and other times it means hypnotizing them with a looped theremin.
“When I first started this project, I was asked to do some music,” says Houle. “I was asked to do a project in Markham, Ontario. When I did that, I asked about music. I was asking about hauntings, and murders, and all these things in the area that’s this sort of colonial park. So anyway, I ended up making work that was just sort of folk rock kind of music that spoke to this sort of colonial deaths and colonial things that were there, and I realized I was playing to this sort of colonial spirit.”
Houle graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2003, and has been an artist of some note ever since. In 2004, his work was awarded Best Experimental Film at the Toronto ImagineNative Film Festival and in 2006, he received the Enbridge Emerging Artist Award.
Descended from the Blackfoot and Sota Ojibway, much of Houle’s art deals with the sordid history and legacy of colonial Canada.
Most recently, Houle’s art has become a slightly more family focused affair. With help from his father and mother, Houle recently premiered the feature film of Ghost Days in Calgary. The film shows Houle taking a sledgehammer to bricks from the I-XL factory in Medicine Hat, and returning the dust to the clay hills they originally came from. Houle says the bricks are the same that built his junior high, and his mother’s residential school.
“What I’m actually doing is a ritual to focus that live in the performance,” says Houle. “I try not to do too much beforehand beyond maybe getting dirt, some earth and things like that, and just kind of warming up my body to kind of use these radio waves. The performance is the ritual in a sense. It’s nice for the audience to be there and kind of experience something like that.”
Ghost Days isn’t exactly about ghosts. It might sound like semantics, but Houle is quick to specify what he wants to get out of his audience.
“Spirits,” says Houle. “I want to evoke the spirits in people. I want to invoke the spirits of the land and of our own histories and our own lives and have people think about those things. I don’t really want to say it’s a religious moment, but it’s a spiritual moment.”
Sat., Sept. 30 (8 pm)
Mile Zero Dance
Donations given to Creating Hope Society Alberta