Some thoughts on DesignInquiry’s Productive Counter-Production residency on Vinalhaven, Maine.

Productive Counter-Production, an idea put forth by Gabrielle Esperdy, and fostered by Gail Swanlund after Gabrielle gave a memorable lecture on the subject at CalArts, arrived in my life when the idea of productive counter-production struck as more about doing something different than doing something other than what I should be doing. Productive Counter-Production isn’t a justification or excuse to ignore the relentless list; it’s an opposing force. It is a way to see a different facet, to shed a different light, to depart [act] then return. It is a form of travel.

I taught myself to net during the DesignInquiry week on Vinalhaven.


The surprise, though, was how this counter-productive practice changed what I saw. My radio was tuned to nets and weaving. Everywhere I looked, there was a technique or form that schooled the process happening at my two netting stations. Despite the didacticness of learning to net, productive counter-production’s inherent open format encouraged creative cross-referencing.

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And although I did learn to net and completed one ghost net and one bait bag, the most satisfying outcomes of productive counter-production used the same materials, but took a different form.


May 14, 2016 : Our closing event at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria was an opportunity to further explore the work of the previous six months; we made several new pieces and opened some new collaborative doors.


Due to the Alberta fires happening concurrently we opted not to distribute the poster that Emily made for the event. The verso had a pattern; these posters were also going to be used to wrap the smoked salmon that we planned to give away. In the end, though, there wasn’t any salmon left over.


Rod designed and built a picnic table out of red cedar for people to gather around at the event. It is shown below inside the Gallery where it was put together, but was moved outside for Paƛqiqas. The table remains with the Gallery and is presently sitting out front on the grass for people to use. Sometimes it is placed in the back garden.



Since Paƛšiʔaƛma was installed outdoors, but the panoramic wallpaper remained in the Lab Gallery, Em installed two sauna/smokehouse plan drawings.



Meanwhile outside, Paƛšiʔaƛma was operating and open to the public. DJ O Show Orene Askew came on board as a collaborator and activated the project using sound, welcoming visitors with a generous and open approach, combining and representing diverse forms of music.


The calm before the storm. This photo was taken about 8 in the morning the day of the event before the Gallery opened.

We smoked wild Somass River sockeye salmon several different ways, oysters, pecans, tomatoes, salt, honey, capers, and olives, to be eaten at the end of the day together. Master chef Roger Hourston generously gifted us a secret innovation involving herbs and sumac, which we tried out and shared.


Meanwhile, visitors were invited to borrow robes donated by the Parkside Hotel & Spa and use the sauna. We did have to convince people to join in the first couple of sessions; I guess they had to warm up to the idea. Many thanks to the two brave African ladies who stumbled upon the Gallery and this event from their tourist bus. After the first few rounds, though, all the appointments were booked, and in the end, people had to be politely asked to leave so we could disassemble.



photo by Judith Sayers

photo by Nicole Stanbridge

photo by Nicole Stanbridge

At the end of the day, the Sayers family sang and danced as the food that we had smoked was presented.


Photo by Roger Hourston

We thank everyone who came out that day, and to our friends at the Gallery for giving their time, space, and resources to this project.

photo by Judith Sayers

photo by Judith Sayers


The sauna/smokehouse packed and ready to head home thanks to Al + Rona, ACCE Construction.


Paƛšiʔaƛma is installed in the LAB for spring. The imagining part of this work, initially inspired by Emily Carr’s Elephant, was happening just about one year ago. But then Jock & Barbara Niece Macdonald entered the picture, thanks to the unexpected, beautiful open prompt for Circumstance by Gwen MacGregor and Michelle Jacques.

(Meanwhile Ms. Carr’s tiny house project becomes what it should have been all along, a project so difficult and time consuming there aren’t even words yet.)

FireIsJustStarting_InstallationAGGV_smWe are now busy planning Paƛšiʔaƛma’s first public event, Paƛqiqas (Take a fire and make another). For this we will fire up the sauna/smokehouse and invite people inside. At the end there will be a small feast of the food we smoke throughout the day. I am thinking a lot about the visual aspects of this gesture.



Paƛšiʔaƛma (The Fire is Just Starting) explores two traditions common in British Columbia shacks, the European sauna and the First Nations smokehouse. Smoke, a by-product from the wood stove in the sauna portion of the structure, is captured and used to prepare food in the functional smokehouse.


The work is informed by a long tradition of living off the oceans and lands. The smokehouse was an integral part of coexisting with the oceans; that tradition is thousands of years old.


The design of the sauna addresses a simple yet effective approach to light and heat, using only a glass pane for light and a stove that can make the room very hot with just a few branches.


The pervasive smell of smoke and cedar in the gallery are meant to spark interesting, weird and hopefully funny dialogue amongst diverse traditions and practices.


The sauna-smokehouse is primarily made from rough-cut cedar and fir from two Port Alberni mills, including the historic steam-operated McLean’s Mill. This material was re-sawn, dressed and carefully placed in relation to its companions. The remaining materials were mostly scavenged but also carefully considered.


Paƛšiʔaƛma (The Fire is Just Starting) was created on the invitation to intervene in Gwen MacGregor’s exhibition, Circumference, which works with Jock MacDonald’s diary while on Nootka Island. Gwen prompted some questions about making cultural references (or not) in artworks across indigenous/non indigenous lines; and relationships to the land and its representation (also across indigenous/non indigenous lines). This started a conversation that is ongoing.


Paƛšiʔaƛma (The Fire is Just Starting)

intervention on Circumference by Gwen MacGregor

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

curated by Michelle Jacques

November 9 – 21, 2015

Earlier this summer Victoria McReynolds and Jose Villanueva came through Port as part of Victoria’s luminous light measuring project Light 110. A project to watch. They drove in a tricked out, Victoria-designed Pathfinder from Lubbock, Texas to Prince Rupert earlier in the month, and were en route to their next line of longitude, stopping at each all the way down the coast to Chile.


So begins The Bannock Lectures, a series of talks and dinners with people who are coming through town, providing an interchange of ideas and people in a place that has always been a point of intersection and trade, since time immemorial. The idea has always been to serve [Rod’s secret recipe] bannock at these gatherings, to feed people, to open up possibilities, to invite something to happen that feeds this place, rather than extracts from it.


This morning I came across this poster of Robert Opel the streaker in the 1979 Academy Awards. I was reading a bit about his life and here is the video of the fateful event.

I love two things that David Niven says off the cuff in the program:  “That was almost bound to happen,” and “The only love that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings,” It’s a punch line but there is truth to that. Opel was shot and killed later that year.

[ PS Rod says around that time there were streakers anytime anything was going on. I thought that sounded like a sign of the times. ]

Meanwhile: It seems strange to me how much attention goes towards non-problems and make-work projects. Why.

Tom Sawyer
the Amish (more)
even Habitat for Humanity.

There’s got to be something more to this.

Spring is coming, the salmon will be running soon. We are getting excited about our next miniaturized art house project based on Emily Carr’s Elephant, here are our guiding images.


Clockwise: Emily Carr’s Elephant (Carr with monkey sitting in doorway); 1900s nuu chah nulth smokehouse, wood stove in Emily Carr’s studio, salmon inside a smokehouse, Kwakwaka’wakw feast bowl on wheels.


Our images: Auntie Jessie’s Smokehouse + Mary Cahan’s Sauna

My research on late Hupacasath carver Nelson Joseph culminated in an exhibition at the Alberni Valley Museum on view from June through September, 2014. Nelson’s work has up to this point been under-recognized, but is illustrative of distinctive Nuu Chah Nulth approaches to carving in addition to having its own unique voice.


For the opening, remarks were held in an adjacent room, and the Hupacasath singers and dancers led guests into the galleries.


Nelson’s brother Stuart unveiled the exhibition.

DSC_0314 Opening night had a fantastic turnout.

DSC_0317Over 70 works were on display, more were studied and photographed. Members of the community from all over the Valley opened up their homes and collections to this research.


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The book is in process. We hope to publish it in 2015.

Last October Rod and I went to California on a mini-speaking tour; lectures at three different schools. At Cal Arts, we also did a workshop with the 4th year design students called ‘Two Tents.’ It’s based on a joke about a teepee and a wigwam, and talks about history and techniques of portable dwelling structures, then lets the students go to town designing and creating collaborative inflatable-based structures all DSC_0993DSC_0973DSC_0034in one hour. We had the best time! We’d love to do it again sometime.