Public Arts Garage: Portal

Research creation project by Natalia Balska and Idun Isdrake, created for the Public Arts Garage summer course, a collaboration between Concordia University Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, Bauhaus University Weimar and Queen’s University Belfast.

In our first project for Public Arts Garage, we explored digital games to experience place and time, and to hack code, architecture and the histories and ownership of the places we worked on and with, Tiohtià:ke/Montréal and Weimar. In this next phase, happening during the Midsummer/Summer solstice, we took inspiration from the third partner university in this summer course, and its Celtic history. Mainly stone structures connected to perceptions of time and space, calendars, and portals to other realms. However, since our team has its ancestry in Sweden and Poland mainly, cultures with similar stone settings and partly, place time perspectives, we focused on the ship which is a very common symbol in Norse/Scandinavian culture. Ship structures and designs can represent journeys through time and space, they are common on stone carvings, as stone settings and ship burials. Another aspect is board games that sometimes are included in the grave language of ship burials in both Sweden and Poland. Labyrinths are possibly also game related stone structures common in Sweden, they are often circular with stones placed in a spiral shape.

From using the city as playground in a digital form in the last project, we wanted to work with physical materials this time and built a board and role game-like model, resembling the Ale ship stone setting in south of Sweden. We built two portals of glass that we wanted to place in line with the sunlight at sunset (partly inspired by the portals in the classic video games Diablo and Portal). For the model building we got support with knowledge and terrain materials from François Proulx, an expert model builder and Warhammer player. The base and stones are made with recycled materials picked up at CUCCR, Concordia University’s Center for Creative Reuse.

For the connection to Tiohtià:ke/Montréal where we are currently situated, we took walks starting at the previous focus location, Place des Arts, and ending at the top of Mount Royale, two different kinds of ‘nature’. From concrete trees, to wooden trees. Trees are sacred symbols in Norse and Celtic cultures, specifically oaks for druids, as well as birch, which is also important in Poland, and ash for Norse peoples. At the mountain we filmed the ship model placed on the land and on stones, then removed it, leaving no trace on the land. The mountain, similar to the hill where the Ale stones are placed, was and is an important landmark as well as burial ground for native people. The Wikipedia information about Mount Royale almost completely lacks information on its original history, and the huge cross that penetrates the top ground shows a similar ignorance for the local culture. We also noticed a contrast between Place des Arts, completely empty, and the mountain top, full of tourists. The branding, narratives and ownership of landmarks like this raises many questions and thoughts. As temporary visitors here it is hard for us to engage with those questions and understand the layers of complexity. In some ways the portals on our model is really a portal home, at least that is how one person on the team felt, missing their own home on the other side of the globe.

Place des Arts 360 video still

During our process of figuring out how to share this project we documented part of our walks with a 360 camera, playing with different distortions and tunnel shapes. We experimented with projection mapping and different light designs to make the model come alive and to conceptualize portals and journeys through realms and narratives of the places that inspired the project. Using several methods for documenting and representing, physical and digital, distorted, raw and edited, the audience in our final presentation of this project, are invited to choose where to direct their gaze and how to move between realms.

Light study

Artificially generated images of stone ship on mountain, using the tool Neural Blender.