Island Park Distribution, if you haven’t heard, is a brand new apparel start-up by Ottawa natives Martin Conley-Wood and Richard Monette. The name comes from Ottawa’s own Island Park Drive in Westboro where the two friends grew up together only streets away. Their working manifesto is in the true spirit of free-range creativity, collaborative entrepreneurship, and cultural growth, focusing on creative integrity and respect.
The concept is tried and true, but they’ve done a couple things to mix it up. Firstly, there are no restrictions or guidelines for the artists, they have complete creative control (I like to call it free-range creativity). Secondly, their artists actually get paid a fair wage with no hidden contract fees or charges; fifty percent of the profit from every t-shirt sale goes directly to the corresponding artist. If you are an artist or designer who wants to get involved send them a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Currently their product line consists of t-shirts, each design by a different artist, and a multitude of 5-panel hats. Plans for product expansion include tank tops for summer, sweaters come fall, and a continuous smorgasbord of fresh designs. They may have just started but by golly they have some fun things in store.
Mark Strandquist is an artist and activist living and working in the Americas; his work is focused on themes of social justice, education, and connecting communities. Topically however his work centres around the prison system, incarceration, and those citizens behind bars we conveniently seem to forget. Recently, he travelled here from the States to bring us a manifestation of one of his many initiatives, Windows From Prison, which is an on-going project connecting inmates and students through photography and writing.
While he was in town Mark was kept extremely busy. Thursday he presented an an artists talk at the University of Ottawa and, following, a work shop at City Hall; Friday marked the opening of Windows From Prison at La Petite Mort Gallery; and between all of the preparation work were two more collaborative projects with Spins & Needles, the School of Photographic Arts, and the Ottawa School of Art! If you were smart enough to visit La Petite Mort on the opening night you would have had the opportunity to grab yourself a limited edition print (see below), which came from one of the above collaborations.
The poster itself is a map of the United States, but what makes this map so interesting, and equally as disheartening, is that it denotes every single prison, jail, and detention centre – public and private – in the country. The number of institutions is shocking for many reasons, and is only driven home harder when you realize the map is lacking any borders typically illustrating the shape of the country. There are enough prisons in the United States of America that one can clearly make out the country itself. We need to ask ourselves some serious questions and do some serious soul searching.
What kind of message is this? How and what does this reflect of Canada, and what does that mean? How many are private versus public? How many citizens have been arrested, detained, and incarcerated? Were the reasons just? Are they being treated fairly and with humanity? Do they have access to effective rehabilitation programmes, or programmes at all? I think the most important question we can ask ourselves as “free” citizens is: What can we do to reform the judicial and prison system?
Mark’s various projects take these questions and look for an answer, while offering support and creative outlets for inmates and their families on the outside. Windows From Prison, specifically, is a project in which inmates are asked, “If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?” Based on their response a group of volunteer high school or university students are sent into the field to that location to recreate it photographically. Once the image has been made the photograph is printed at standard size (4×6) and sent to the respective inmate for their personal use. The photographs are not printed any larger because of restrictions enforced by most prison facilities; it is for this reason that when the photographs are presented in an exhibition context they are not printed any larger than 4×6.
The photographs are always shown with the matching letter, and while the originals are kept somewhere safe Mark and his team have generously printed postcard reproductions of the letters for visitors to read and take-away. The postcards are placed directly beneath their photographic partner, which themselves are at eye-level creating a quiet, intimate moment between oneself and the story before you. The letters are all incredibly moving and often poetic as the writer revisits their past and gives further explanation into the significance of what we see. Currently, this project has begun with the University of Michigan and with the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.
Accompanying Windows From Prison was another on-going project called Write Home Soon. Participants are given a fully blank postcard to illustrate and describe a place (physical or mental) that they have lost access to. Once the postcard has been created they are mailed to a participating organization, or the projects own mailing address. This project has been workshopped at over 40 different locations, which include prisons, shelters, retirement homes, and mental health clinics, as well as a myriad of publicly run facilities (libraries, museums, etc.).
The show will be up until April 26th, and the gallery can be found at 306 Cumberland Street in the Byward Market.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Stephanie, our beloved editor in chief, and Greggory Clark, one of Ottawa’s prominent cultural fixtures, in regards to an experimental, participatory theatre event called subDevision. The event was set to take over the Enriched Bread Artists studio on Gladstone Avenue for three days (March 19-21), of which the opening night I was invited to. I gladly took the assignment and got down to my researching, but when I arrived at the subDevision website I hit a bit of a wall. Any information you find on subDevision is all contextualized by the past, and when it comes to a site-specific, experimental, experiential theatrical event with an ever-changing roster of participants the information you can find isn’t much help. However, this is exactly the type of mystery and anticipation the people of subDevision are trying to create.
Now, I like adventure and spontaneity just as much as the next person, but I must admit to being a little Type A, and not the biggest fan of surprises, so walking blindly into participatory live-theatre was a bit outside of my comfort zone. However, armed with my trusty camera, a stubborn sense of purpose, and more than enough pride (no one likes a failure) I set course for EBA and the strange world of subDevision.
I approached the main door of EBA a little after 8:30 having prepared myself with the mindset, and great words of Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge, “Come what may” only to find the door was locked. Immediately, thoughts of stupidity raced through my mind – Is this the wrong day? Am I actually supposed to be at EBA? What time is it? Damn it, Sandra, you WOULD get it wrong. But as I craned my neck to see through some of the old bread factory windows I caught glimpses of neon yellow and pink wigs under diffused blue light. I awkwardly tapped on the door hoping someone would hear me and allow me entrance. Luckily one of the volunteers saw my sorry self and laughed as he opened the door, “I guess we should get this unlocked, eh?”
I chuckled and said thank you as I scooted past towards the admissions table. Sitting there were two women in the neon bob-cut wigs. Miss Yellow greeted me with a large, theatrical smile, “Welcome! Are you here for subDevision?”
“Uh, yes. I am. I have a ticket on Eventbrite, uh just give me a second I’ll find it…”
Miss Pink joined in, “What’s your name dear?”
“Oh, uh, Sandra. Mannila.”
Quickly Miss Yellow scanned the list of names and promptly found mine, “Ah! Here you are. You have two tickets.”
“Oh, I didn’t think to bring anyone with me,” I said, “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry dear, may I have your wrist?” said Miss Pink holding up a green stamp.
I pulled up my coat sleeve for her and handed up my bare wrist, to which she pressed a very inky, very green stamp.
“May I take your coat?” asked Miss Yellow. Somehow I had missed her getting up and moving towards the two coat racks to my right.
I hurriedly removed my leather coat and handed it to her with a thank you, which she responded to with another large smile. At that point a tall, thin man with little hair, circular glasses, and a white, button-up shirt emerged from the doorway to the right of the admissions table beckoning me to follow him before disappearing again through the doorway. At this point I had made my commitment, had been marked, and given away my coat – my only option was to cross the threshold and join this blue lit, alternate world of subDevision. I smiled and waved goodbye to Miss Yellow and Miss Pink before following the tall, thin man.
“Hello!” said the tall man.
“And welcome to the Lost and Found! Have you lost something?” said a short, petite woman wearing a black blazer. She seemed to have come from thin air, or from the Lost and Found’s black walls themselves.
“Hah, my mind…”
“OH, well many of us here have lost that, but let me explain what we do here.” She went on to explain the workings of the strange lost and found while I looked around at the odd little room.
The walls were separated into three sections: the first was compiled of declarations of lost objects (minds, objects, people); the second a large collection of photographs of other inhabitants of subDevision presumably lost; and the third a much smaller collection (three) of the found. In the middle of the room sat a bench in front of a large white dot.
“So, may I take your photograph?”
The petite woman in the black blazer was holding a camera and looking up at me eagerly. Apparently I had failed to notice the tall, thin man leaving and what exactly she had said about being lost. I agreed and was ushered to the bench in the middle of room where a bright light blinded me from seeing anything but a faint shadow of the woman with the camera.
“I will need you to fill out a form as well of what you have lost,” she said as she snapped my photograph. Again I agreed and found myself being ushered again to a small desk where a blank form and a pen lay in wait. “You may write whatever it is you please, but be warned, if your Finder finds you you must tell them your story.”
I wasn’t sure if her words were foreboding or not, but wrote nonetheless: I have lost all my grandparents. She looked pleased as I tapped my claim to the wall and applied a sticker label to my shirt. It was official. I was LOST.
Thus was my first of many strange experiences in the alternate world of subDevision.
As the petite woman waved me goodbye I continued on my journey through the winding halls of EBA falling into many a strange and hilarious situations. I witnessed a sad yet relatable love monologue in SPLIT; had my tarot cards read by a manic “psychic” whose only card in a 100+ card deck was the Hanged Man; joined a wine-filled meeting with The Department of Collective Trauma; listened to the thrown-out voices of countless, discarded documents; and helped save a man’s life who was on trial for high treason against a cycling-obsessed king from a distant, car-free, oddly dystopian future fashioned after the teachings of Lance Armstrong (pre-drug admission).
Like any world, subDevision was home to many of all shapes, sizes, and levels of sanity. It was built on a foundation of hope and revolution, and graffitied with a healthy dose of satire.
Needless to say, the longer I stayed in this disjointed pocket of multiple realities the more I felt at ease and the less I felt like an Alice who had stumbled through a looking glass. But perhaps that is one of the dangers of walking into a hall of mirrors.
As we approach our third year in circulation, the time has come to expand our distribution to our neighbours: Toronto and Montreal. What will this mean for Herd Magazine? It will mean a wider audience, greater prospects for our writers, photographers, and staff, as well as open ourselves up to two larger markets. What will this mean for Ottawa? Herd will be distributed in some of the coolest, most dynamic, multi-use spaces in Toronto and Montreal. Herd Magazine will continue to be Ottawa-centric in print and highlight Ottawa’s flourishing culture. Putting this on display in other cities will paint a livelier picture of Ottawa in cities that are known for arts & culture. This will encourage Torontonians and Montrealers/montréalais(es) to visit Ottawa and explore our city, like Herd cultural livestock would.
The further goal is to open up the website to corresponding freelance contributors in other cities across Canada who can implement the same values we at Herd already have in place. We want our carefully curated content to span the country. Our key elements: a ‘support local’ mentality; quality assurance; and creativity. These three elements are a very important part of the Herd culture. As we recruit web contributors from Canada’s most creative and culturally rich cities we will not sway from our values, neither from the crafting of quality content or our standards in writing practices.
We would also like to take this opportunity to thank those who have supported us from the beginning, those who have joined the party a little late, and those who will join us in the future. It’s a damn beautiful thing—to be among you.
For updates on stockist locations in Toronto, Montreal, and of course, Ottawa, please tune into our Twitter feed, Facebook page, and website.