Truth + Reconciliation, Jock MacDonald's year on Nootka Island, BC shacks, art and food, the salmon fishery, the smell of smoke and cedar.


Paƛšiʔaƛma (The Fire is Just Starting) applies 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.

Conceived to explore some of the mannerisms of living on the west coast, we’re not attempting to symbolically represent peaceful side-by-side coexistence or to find common ground. Rather, we want to facilitate interesting, weird and hopefully funny dialogue amongst diverse traditions and practices. To place this structure inside a mansion’s receiving room or a white gallery space gives rise to this aspect. In these spaces, the scent of cedar and smoked fish come to the forefront.

Influences: BC shacks, First Nations smokehouses, European-influenced backyard saunas, the tiny house movement, found cabins, the life cycle of cedar, net-zero energy, ground truth, new/odd approaches to stewardship, living off the land, living with a connection to the land, and the luxury of being warm in a cold wet climate in winter.


Materials : local cedar, local fir, steel, glass The majority of the sauna-smokehouse is 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. No glue was used. The stove was mail-ordered from Manitoba; these types of stoves are sometimes called “hippie burners.”

Stewardship: 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.

Modular Design: The Sauna/Smokehouse is modular, able to be broken down and moved. It is also very light; most walls can be lifted by two people. This design approach is part of our ongoing attempt to make work with simple, accessible, and few tools, creating very little waste and/or re-usable by-products.

Tiny House Series: This work is our second exploration in a series of tiny houses that engage Canadian art history alongside the work and ideas of our time. The intention is to be playful and continue in our study of tiny houses and their functionality, the ideas of doing more with less, and applying narrative aspects to the concept and construction of these small buildings.



Circumference / Circumstance (intervention, with Gwen MacGregor November-December 2015)

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 invited 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) works with two forces quietly present in the diary of Jock MacDonald during his year on Nootka Island, when he made the breakthrough in his work towards abstraction. The first is his wife, Barbara Niece MacDonald, whose contribution to that year and that work shouldn’t be understated. The second is the Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nation, who not only modeled how to live off the land, but, present abstracted forms and concepts in their visual language. These presences are subtly acknowledged alongside the concepts of warmth and food security that the sauna-smokehouse embodies.

Paƛšiʔaƛma (The Fire is Just Starting) (exhibition, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria January - May 2016)

Paƛšiʔaƛma was then moved to the LAB Gallery at the AGGV. For this installation in the modern part of the Gallery, we papered the walls around the room with a black and white panorama taken on Mount Arrowsmith in Port Alberni. After a couple of months installed, the smell of smoke had lessened, allowing the salmon and cedar to come forward.

Paƛqiqas // Take A Fire and Make Another (public sauna + feast, May 14, 2016 Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)

Paƛqiqas was the closing event in Victoria, in which we installed Paƛšiʔaƛma outdoors, fired it up and invited the public to take a sauna and have a snack of food smoked in the smokehouse. Bathrobes were provided by Parkside Hotel and Spa, DJ OSHOW performed, ACCE Construction helped with take-down and removal. Many thanks to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria for this event.


Paƛqiqas // Take A Fire and Make Another

July 20, 2016

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.…

Fire, still going

March 22, 2016

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…

Paƛšiʔaƛma (The Fire is Just Starting)

November 12, 2015

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…

First Bannock Lecture

August 28, 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…


April 10, 2015

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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IIl3zSYL8k I love two things that David Niven says off the cuff in the program:  “That was almost bound to happen,”…

Thinking Ahead

March 5, 2015

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,…


The inventory isn’t always hardware. It can be an idea or a paragraph, which can very well be discarded, overwritten, or revisited.