Guerilla Magazine Ottawa, Talking Portraits

Talking Portraits reviewed by Tony Martins of Guerilla Magazine Ottawa, 2008.


The Talking Portraits Series was review by the Guerilla Magazine of Ottawa Canada in an article entitled Portraiture by Intuition by Tony Martins in issue #8 in June 2008.

Portraiture by Intuition by Tony Martins

Do we create images of who we are on our own or through unseen collaboration with others? The “Talking Portraits” installations of wife and husband Sherry Tompalski and Graham Thompson use technology to capture a “co-creation” that is mostly invisible, highly intuitive, and quintessentially human.


Rarely have I seen such compelling evidence of human intuition as I did on the morning I arrived at Sherry Tompalski’s studio to serve as subject for one of her portraits. I had met with the Tompalski and her husband Graham Thompson (both are Ottawa-based artists) a few weeks earlier over coffee to discuss possible treatments of their new multi-media collaboration in Guerilla. When Tompalski suggested that I could obtain a first-hand view of things by sitting for a portrait, I readily agreed and we began to make arrangements.


The Talking Portraits series documents the creation of Tompalski’s oil-on-canvas portraits using three integrated components: the finished portrait; a time-lapse video of the portrait in the making; and an audio recording of whatever Tompalski’s subjects verbalize while beneath the gaze of the portraitist. As you may see in the three talking portraits we present here, the sum total is an almost spooky emergence of a distinct personality through shape, colour, image, and sound. Tompalski is a practicing psychiatrist. For her, the series serves as visual confirmation that “90% of what goes on between two people is unconscious”—an idea she credits to Daniel Stern, a professor of psychiatry and psychology and a noted expert in mother-infant relationship.


In a slightly different sense, the Talking Portraits are an instance of co-construction, “the theory that there is a mutual reciprocal bi-directional interaction between two people that is unconscious,” explains Tompalski.

Which is sort of like a fancy way of saying intuition—which brings me back to that morning in Tompalski’s studio.

The smiling portraitist greeted me at the door and ushered me upstairs, where Thompson was attending to his video and audio set up. A 3×3-foot canvas was already positioned on an easel. It was nearly covered with large square swaths of purple paint.


“This is the colour that reflects my impression of you after our first meeting,” explained Tompalski.

“Actually, purple is my favorite colour,” I replied.

“Well, there you go,” said Tompalski.

There was laughter and then knowing smiles all around. Simply by conversing over a cup of coffee, Tompalski and I had already begun to “co-create” my portrait. She had intuited the colour that best represents my conception of self and confidently used it as the foundation for the portrait.

Although Tompalski and Thompson have been married for 25 years, Talking Portraits is their first formal artistic collaboration. The idea began to take shape late last year, when the couple returned from an Asian tour where Thompson presented his digital artwork through a variety of new media installations.


“Graham decided to document the series of large faces I was painting, as he was interested in capturing my intuitive approach to portraiture. We viewed the videos together, saw the possibilities, and began experimenting with voice tracks, music and time-lapse photography.”

On Friday, May 26, the Talking Portraits made a one-night appearance at Ottawa’s La Petite Mort Gallery. Previously, the Talking Portraits have appeared at the Red Salon Artists in Ottawa, the Bridge Street Gallery in Carleton Place, the Steam Whistle Gallery in Toronto (where the portrait “Sam” is in the permanent collection), and at the Ontario Psychiatric Association annual meeting in Toronto.

After the LPM show, the series was slated to appear at Ottawa’s Cumberland Gallery and Cube Gallery. The first international solo show of the Talking Portraits takes place at the ARC Gallery in Chicago in November and early December.


Tompalski says the next phase in the Talking Portraits evolution will include a 90-minute ambient video version.

“The project will be shot in high definition video and the portraits will develop very slowly, in a hypnotic soothing way, and will be shown on a large screen,” Tompalski explained.

Recalling how I had yammered on about myself while sitting for my portrait, I wondered how other Talking Portraits subjects had behaved.

“I have no expectation that the person must talk, and as a result, there is a great deal of variety,” said Tompalski.

“For example, one woman sat for four hours and made only one comment. However that comment was extremely poignant and meaningful.”

Ottawa Carleton District School Board Metis Murals

Ottawa Carleton District School Board invites Metis Murals Project into their classrooms for Metis story telling, computer graphics and painted hardboards.


In 2008 the Ottawa Carleton District School Board invited the Metis Murals Project into their classrooms. The multimedia project included Metis story telling and the creating of murals using archival images, drawings, collage, computer graphics and painted hardboard.

Have the Metis Mural Project at Your School

Large Scale Murals – Available for All Grades – Your students can design and develop a large scale mural based on the history of Canada – featuring stories of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Scottish Fur Traders, the Métis, the Cree, the Orkney Islands, York Factory, Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont and Chief Poundmaker.

Project Requirements – 5 Day Program – Each project must be a minimum of 5 days (25 hours). Each day is defined as 5 hours of artist-to-student work time. The 25 hours of artist-to-student time can be split up and extended over more than 5 days as long as the time is spent working with the same group of learners.



  • photocopy 10 ARCHIVAL IMAGES per student
  • 1 scissors for each student
  • 3 – 17×11 construction paper for each student
  • glue sticks for each student
  • 500 sheets of  8.5X11 white paper
  • pencils for each student
  • 4’X8’ hardboard
  • gesso to prime the surface of each hardboard
  • 5 TUBS of non toxic acrylic paint (yellow, blue, red, white, green
  • 10 carpenters pencils for students (sturdy graphite pencils to mark design onto primered hardboard
  • 20 paints brushes that vary in size to paint hardboard.
  • 1 mercator projector


Day 1 – Research + Design Workshops (5 hour)

First Period. Hand-out photocopies. talk to student about the 5 day mural project. Give a 50 minute PowerPoint presentation The following topics are included in the presentation: The importance, in 17th century Europe, of the beaver hat The arrival of Scottish fur traders on the western edge of Hudson’s Bay. York Factory, as a fur trading center. The role of Aboriginal Women in their marriage to the newly arrived fur traders. The Métis as children of the fur trade. The Métis as middlemen in the fur trade The importance of pemmican in the new economy The Métis invention of the York Boat and the Red River Cart  The development of the Métis buffalo hunt. The development of Métis Clothing. The development of Métis Spirituality. The expansion of Canada into the northwest in 1869. The expansion of the transcontinental railway system westward. The movement of new Canadians into traditional Métis settlements. The battle of Duck Lake Saskatchewan, the site of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. The trial of Louis Riel.

Period 2 + 3 The students break into groups to create collages from the ARCHIVAL IMAGES of Canada (First Nations, Metis, Fur Traders) ACTIVITY – develop collage art made from photocopies of archival images of Aboriginal people. Students will cut out archival images and glue them onto the construction paper in order to make a collage.

Period 4 + 5  ACTIVITY Develop drawings based on collage artworks. AS well student will opportunity to view videos, and create cartoons if they so desire. Students will at end of session present work infront of the class and group will vote as to who’s work gets made into a mural. Gesso the hardboard in preparation for the painting of the mural.

Day 2 – Mural Layout Workshop (5 hour)

ACTIVITY ( 5 Hours) Beak students onto groups, assigned to trace the selected design onto the hardboard. Project selected artwork onto 4X8 sheet of hardboard, and draw projected image onto hard board with pencils. Check work from a distance. Get feedback on the look of the image Make adjustments as required

Day 3 + 4 – Mural Painting Workshop (5 hours/day)

ACTIVITY ( 5 Hours/day) Move hardboard onto the floor and paint mural with acrylic paints onto hardboard. Clean up with water.

Day 5 – Mural Painting Workshop (5 hours/day)

ACTIVITY ( 5 Hours)  Finish painting murals on hardboards.  Review finished work and wrap-up project. Clean up with water.


Professional Development – “A valuable professional development opportunity that enabled me to develop new skills and approaches.”

Engages Students – “Graham was able to engage students who are not normally engaged, especially those with autism and developmental delays – Graham was highly successful in fine tuning his activities to the needs of the students in his approach to teaching visual arts. He also interacted with staff and students in a professional and caring manner. Graham’s interest in the youth and the topics he covered provided a rich artistic learning experience for our students.”

A Fresh Approach to History and Art – “I saw new tactics in the classroom, I saw what my kids were capable of – Graham did an excellent job directing and supporting the students. Thank you so much, this program was amazing!”

Aboriginal Peoples and the Fur Trade – “ The students were motivated by Graham’s media presentation on the historic Canadian fur trade and his approach to designing images from this period through the use of collage, hand drawings and paintings, he supported me to meet specific learning outcomes outlined in the arts curriculum, knowledge of elements, creative work and critical thinking, he created an additional opportunity for learners to collaborate, cooperate and celebrate their talents and each other – extremely effective, a huge sense of accomplishment for students and staff. I love the long term results!”

Regensburg Short Film Week, Bavaria Germany

Regensburg Short Film Week of Bavaria features Annick & Tony – A Talking Portrait Story in their 2007 Short Film Market.


The Short Film Market of the Regensburg Short Film Week of Bavaria Germany featured the  Annick & Tony – A Talking Portrait Story video in 2007.

Annick & Tony – A Talking Portrait Story

Annick & Tony – A Talking Portrait Story is part of the Talking Portrait Series. The series was featured on CTV’s Tech Now program 6/11/2006. CTV’s coverage ran as follows: An art show is a chance to escape the multi-media world we live in and quietly view artwork– not anymore. Innovative Ottawa artists are adding audio and video as part of their art, called “Talking Portraits” Sherry Tompalski is stepping into new territory with the help of her husband Graham Thompson… Both are artists learning to deal with a new medium, wiring an art gallery for video and sound… this exhibit is about more than the finished portraits. While hanging the art is still an important step the canvas only tells part of the story… each work will be shown with video of the portrait sitting and audio clips of the conversation between subject and artist… Graham Thompson shot and edited the video AND he`s also created a sound track for each portrait with individual cd-players… the sound track is the artist and the portrait subject talking about the work while the painting was taking place. The next step is taking this beyond the walls of the gallery to a wider audience, and that`s the plan with Serry Tompalski`s website, you can watch the talking portraits… A recent showing in Ottawa was one night only, but the show goes international this fall with an exhibit in Chicago and it`s streaming live 24-7 on the web.

Regensburg Short Film Week of Bavaria Germany

There’s no such thing as THE short film. Yet the short film is there. It manifests itself in most wonderful multiplicity and vitality. It is a many splendoured thing, touching on all genres and techniques. It plays with abstract forms, tells stories, gives testimony and dares to experiment. It needs a shorter or longer time. It is made in kitchens, in studios, with analogue equipment or on the computer only. It is brought to life all over the world by film students who revel in their medium for the first time, by well-known film giants, and obsessive doers of handicrafts. It promises a lot and seldom lets us down; however, it is barely visible.


Our competition selection

Each year we receive round about 6.500 entries in total and it is our responsibility to select the best of them as the International Short Film Week Regensburg aims to present an adequate and representative selection of the enormous diversity of the worldwide short film making in the international competition. For German films there is the German Competition and regional productions can be seen in the “Window To Bavaria” and “Window To The Region”. All competition claim to be up to date: the shown films are not older than two years.


The special programs

Beside our competitions we curate special programmes and provide a platform for guest curators and specfic projects. Well known for several years are Cinema mi Vida, a retrospective on a short film artist, and Cinema mi Amor wich shows the influence of other short films on the curator’s work. Since our cooperation with the Goethe-Institut our special focus on a country has become much more political weight.

The Short Film Week Regensburg was founded in 1994 by the Arbeitskreis Film e.V. and takes place since then in an annual cycle. In the first year it was just a small experiment with one festival cinema. Today with up to four festival cinemas the International Short Film Week Regensburg is not just a firm institution in the cultural life of Regensburg but has become an inconceivable part of the international short film circuit.

Int’l Film Fest Santiago de Compostela Spain

Annick & Tony: A Talking Portrait Story video featured in 2007 Short Film Market of the  International Short Film Festival Santiago de Compostela, Spain.


The Annick & Tony: A Talking Portrait Story video was featured in the 2007 Short Film Market of the  International Short Film Festival Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

International Film Festival in Santiago de Compostela

Curtocircuíto – International Film Festival in Santiago de Compostela, started in 2003 and was an initiative created by the City Council, with the intention of promoting filmmaking in the field of short film. Twelve years later, and led by an external team independent from the City Hall, Curtocircuíto  has reached a high national standing, working in direct contact with other European festivals. Short films from around the world compete within the Official Competition, and the Parallel Programmes provide a wide variety of lengths and formats, keeping the contemporary and the risk as references. This is a festival committed to its time, which supports creators, training and integration of citizenship within it. More than being a film festival, with its parallel activities and concerts, Curtocircuíto wants to become a point of entertainment and cultural meeting.


The Camino de Santiago, also known by the English names Way of St. James, St. James’s Way, St. James’s Path, St. James’s Trail, Route of Santiago de Compostela, and Road to Santiago, is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes, known as pilgrim ways, to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. It is also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts as well as organized tours.

The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, together with those to Rome and Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned; other major pilgrimage routes include the Via Francigena to Rome and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. (The name Santiago is the local Galician evolution of Vulgar Latin Sancti Iacobi, “Saint James”.)

The Way can take one of dozens of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However, a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly travelled. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. Later, the route attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. In October 1987, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

One Minute Film Festival Aarau Switzerland

The Carol: A Talking Portrait exhibited at the 2007 One Minute Film Festival of Aarau Switzerland.


The Carol: A Talking Portrait video was exhibited at the One Minute Film Festival of Aarau Switzerland  in August 17-19, 2007.

One Minute Film & Video Festival Aarau

The Festival continues to put a strict focus on one minute films. Ihe international one-minute film festival challenges filmmakers, writers, animators, artists, designers, and creative producers to develop and submit the world’s best one-minute films.


Aarau Switzerland

Aarau is the capital of the northern Swiss canton of Aargau. The town is also the capital of the district of Aarau. It is German-speaking and predominantly Protestant. Aarau is situated on the Swiss plateau, in the valley of the Aare, on the river’s right bank, and at the southern foot of the Jura mountains, and is west of Zürich, and 65 kilometres (40 mi) northeast of Bern. The municipality borders directly on the canton of Solothurn to the west. It is the second-largest town in Aargau after Wettingen. At the beginning of 2010 Rohr became a suburb of Aarau. The official language of Aarau is German, but the main spoken language is the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect.


Aarau Switzerland‘s Notable residents

Albert Einstein (1879–1955), scientist. In 1895, at the age of 16, Einstein sat the entrance examinations for the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zürich. He failed to reach the required standard in the general part of the examination, but obtained exceptional grades in physics and mathematics. On the advice of the principal of the Polytechnic, he attended the Argovian cantonal school in Aarau, Switzerland, in 1895–96 to complete his secondary schooling. While lodging with the family of professor Jost Winteler, he fell in love with Winteler’s daughter, Marie. In January 1896, with his father’s approval, Einstein renounced his citizenship in the German Kingdom of Württemberg to avoid military service. In September 1896, he passed the Swiss Matura with mostly good grades, including a top grade of 6 in physics and mathematical subjects, on a scale of 1–6. Though only 17, he enrolled in the four-year mathematics and physics teaching diploma program at the Zürich Polytechnic. Marie Winteler moved to Olsberg, Switzerland, for a teaching post.


Carol: A Talking Portrait


Carol: A Talking Portrait

Steam Whistle Gallery Toronto, Talking Portraits

Talking Portraits Installation exhibited at Steam Whistle Gallery, Toronto Canada in 2006.


Sherry Tompalski’s and Graham Thompson’s Talking Portraits Installation was exhibited at The Steam Whistle Gallery, Toronto Canada in 2006.

Sherry Tompalski’s Talking Portait Installation Debuted in Toronto at the Steam Whistle Gallery. Curated by Simon Hermant, the show opened October 26th at 6pm and continued until November 22nd at The Roundhouse 255 Bremner Blvd. in Toronto, close to the CN Tower.


The Talking Portrait Installation covered an entire wall of the Steam Whistle gallery with 144 square feet of boldly painted close-up portraits. This matrix of 16 paintings immerses the viewer in a field of faces that act as a metaphor for our distilled experiences with other people.


The installation also includes audio samples and time-lapse photography from the actual portrait sitting which illustrates the concept of co-construction – the reciprocal, mutual influence between an artist and a model that is interactive, bi-directional, and largely unconscious. Thus the finished portraits are a visual coalescence of this process.


Tompalski’s style is best described as psychological realism, an attempt to capture the psychological experience of another person in paint on canvas. In the Talking Portrait installation Tompalski often utilizes “ironic colour” which was used by Michealangelo in his paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Ironic color is color that is in opposition to the manifest expression of the model, and this adds a complexity to the meaning of the portrait. This ambiguity seems appropriate as people often have complex experiences and mixed feelings. Ironic color captures this beautifully.

La Petite Mort Gallery Ottawa, Talking Portraits

Tompalski’s Talking Portraits were exhibited at La Petite Mort Gallery May 26th, 2006.


Sherry Tompalski’s Talking Portaits Installation was at La Petite Mort Gallery, curated by Guy Berube,  May 26th 7 – 10 PM at 306 Cumberland St. Ottawa Canada.  The  Exhibition provided 3 ways to experience the portrait – through large oil paintings, 8 audio sound tracks, and 8 videos of time-lapse photography that record the creation of the portraits.


PORTRAITS: The east wall will be covered with 135 square feet of boldly painted faces painted in her style of Psycholoogical Realism, where Tompalski captures the psychological experience of Ottawa’s leading psychotherapists and artists in paint on canvas. Her work is emphasizes intuition, interpretation, and co-construction (the unconscious dialogue of the portrait sitting.)


Portraiture & New Media

SOUND TRACKS: The sound tracks, were developed by splicing together unscripted comments with original computer music and sounds of birds, trains, roller coasters, steel bands and bagpipes. This dialogue allows for a momentary glimpse into the process of co-construction through the model’s verbal dialogue and the painter’s visual expression.


TIME-LAPSE VIDEOS: The time-lapse photography displays the development of the portrait. The hypnotic effect helps the audience take the time to look and become engaged with the painted portrait. To understand ourselves we look at others for clues as to what we are experiencing. The human face conveys a rich complexity of personal history, which we feel in an inexplicable way as an impression or an intuition. Paintings and Installation by Sherry Tompalski and Supporting Audio and Video tracks by Graham Thompson.


Artist’s Statement

The Talking Portrait Installation, with its matrix of boldly painted faces, its use of time-lapse photography and edited voice tracks, invites the audience into the intimate moment of the portrait sitting. Rather than hang the portraits of the Talking Portrait Installation individually, Tompalski typically presents groups 9 to 15 large faces per gallery wall, covering as much as 135 square feet at a time. Consequently, art audiences are confronted by an expressive collection of personalities that for Tompalski represents “our life experience with others – those people who live inside of us, who shape the way we are from moment to moment.”


As well, The Talking Portrait Installation offers audience the opportunity to listen on portable audio players, individual sounds tracks for each portrait (produced by Thompson), where the models unsolicited comments are accompanied by supporting sound effects and programmed music that set the mood of each encounter. In effect, the sound tracks help the audience understand what each model is feeling, as part of an ongoing effort to capture the psychological experience of each model. The painted portraits are also supported by the time-lapse record of their creation (produced by Thompson), giving audiences, a quick overview of the development of each face through multiple layers of paint. The hypnotic effect of the compressed video helps the audience take a moment to look, to become engaged with the matrix of portraits. Consequently, the overall effect of the installation is a deepening of the moment, the moment mediated by the right hemisphere of the brain.


Right Brain Communication

The Talking Portrait installation is primarily concerned about right brain communication, as it takes place between the artist and the model, as the right brain is responsible for processing nonverbal facial expression, body language, and voice in terms of rhythm, tone and force. Research (Wexler et al 1992) demonstrates that the right hemisphere is specialized for both the receptive processing and expressive communication of facial information (primarily from the eyes and from around the mouth) between people in spontaneous social interaction.


This occurs very quickly in 3 milliseconds and is unconscious. For Tompalski, a practicing psychiatrist, the Talking Portrait series serves as visual confirmation that “90% of what goes on between people is unconscious”-an idea she credits to Daniel Stern, a professor of psychology at the University of Geneva and a noted expert in the mother-infant relationship.


Tompalski describes her portrait making process as follows, “To understand ourselves we look at others for clues as to what we are experiencing. The human face conveys a rich complexity of personal history, which I feel in an inexplicable way as an impression or an intuition. Consequently, I value painting from a live model. Most importantly, this allows for a mutual influence that is interactive and largely unconscious.”

CTV’s Tech Now features the Talking Portraits

CTV’s Tech Now Program, hosted by Colin Trethewey, features Talking Portrait Installation 2006.


CTV’s Tech Now Program of Ottawa Canada,  hosted by Colin Trethewey, featured the Talking Portrait Installation, June 11 2006.

The CTV’s coverage of the Talking Portraits installation ran as follows: An art show is a chance to escape the multi-media world we live in and quietly view artwork– not anymore. Innovative Ottawa artists are adding audio and video as part of their art, called “Talking Portraits” Sherry Tompalski is stepping into new territory with the help of her husband Graham Thompson…


Both are artists learning to deal with a new medium, wiring an art gallery for video and sound… this exhibit is about more than the finished portraits. While hanging the art is still an important step the canvas only tells part of the story… each work will be shown with video of the portrait sitting and audio clips of the conversation between subject and artist…


Graham Thompson shot and edited the video AND he`s also created a sound track for each portrait with individual cd-players… the sound track is the artist and the portrait subject talking about the work while the painting was taking place.


CTV Host Colin Tretheway’s Portrait by Tompalski

The next step is taking this beyond the walls of the gallery to a wider audience, and that`s the plan with Serry Tompalski`s website, on you can watch the talking portraits… A recent showing in Ottawa was one night only, but the show goes international this fall with an exhibit in Chicago and it`s streaming live 24-7 on the web.


CTV Host Colin Thetheway sitting for his own Talking Portrait

CTV’s TechNow Program Backgrounder

In Paul Brent’s own words, the producer of TechNow program – “What a decade from 2001 to 2011. Consider the technology that we have come to take for granted, and so much of this has come about in the last ten years. It’s an unprecedented pace of change, and really shows few signs of slowing down. Covering all of it has been Tech Now, as we mark our tenth anniversary this year.  From iPhones to the iPod, from Google to Twitter, Facebook, Digital cameras, flat screen TV’s, Kindles and YouTube, they have all arrived in the last decade. It amazes me to see what happens.”

Le Centre int’l d’art contemporain de Montréal

North-South-East-West reviewed by Xavier Marbeil of the Magazine électronique du CIAC – The Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal


Graham Thompson’s North-South-East-West guide to the Annishinabe Medicine was reviewed by Xavier Marbeil in issue #25, Summer 2006 Theme : Paysages (Landscapes) of the Magazine électronique du CIAC – The Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal


It is not surprising that the creative process at the origin of many contemporary artworks takes place, in whole or in part, on the Net : interaction, collaboration, collage, remix… The Net constitutes for these modes of creation a natural habitat, in which the limits of space, time and matter are abolished. The works of netart, designed for, on and with the web, have gone one step further in taking the network itself as an object of their art. These works refer to the initial ideals of the Net, cooperation, free-trade, emphasis on the collective rather than the individual, but also underline the fact that navigation creates a visual trace which becomes an information, itself immediately transformed into a spectacle. Check out North-South-East-West Online.

North-South-East-West by Xavier Mabreil (Screen Captures)







North-South-East-West by Xavier Mabreil (Google Translation)

North-South-East-West, of Graham Thomson (Canada), 2003 COSMOGONY ALGONKINE CACHÉE/MONTRÉE? About the well-known work of Graham Thompson, North-South-East-West, we will recall his operating mode first of all, like its organization. With the opening of the URL an interface of reception informs us of the format of the work, carried out under Flash.


If the hyperlector chooses not to have any action, it will discover a sequence of four distinct sequences:

  1. a very fast succession of images lets to us guess a plan of country, or city. It is necessary to make use of several captures of screens, then to increase them, to realize that the plan in question is that of the Contracting State of Minnesota (or of the state), the USA. Area bordering, should it be pointed out, of the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario, ancestral grounds of Algonkins;

  2. an anthropomorphic figure, that one will be able to associate a totemic representation, becomes animated on a bottom of horizontal screens. A cube drawn in three D also rolls on the space representation which this screen constitutes;

  3. in tone bluish, dark, a heavenly object occupies the bottom of a scene which seems left an space-opera. A hinged jib (Canadian technology?) approaches a unit which could be a space base;

  4. finally, of the parabolas, fixed on pylons, roofs, seem to receive waves coming from the sky. Once the hyperlector will have shelled dissolve-connected these four sequences, it will have to click on one or the other of the bonds hypertexts to discover a new interface – which will give him access to the contents of work itself.


In a very simple way, and as many works born on the Web could show it to us, the interface of work is appeared as a space metaphor. In top north, bellow the south, on the left the west and is on the right.

Under each of the four cardinal points, a list from five to eight names proposes to us, thanks to the hypertext link, to discover an animated sequence. Before returning on their contents, we stop a few moments on another element of the interface, which will be always present at the screen, méta-bars it navigation. The choices suggested by this méta-bar are as follows, rather similar to those which one can find on considerable sites: exit, home, contact, information.

The subparagraph “information” will teach us that work is inspired by the symbolic system of the cardinal points traditional of the people algonkin. One will not be thus surprised to have discovered only the plan which ravelled at any speed in introduction was that of a state in the past (and also in a contemporary way) populated algonkins.

All work then, can be included/understood starting from this aspect of the introduction. The history of the American settlement being supposed known of all, one could only be sensitive to the fact that the people algonkin, like all the indigenous people of two Americas, have a report/ratio with the eminently problematic territory, conflict, even painful.

This territory, that the Amerindian people had by force to divide with Europeans, it is represented here in extreme cases of the visible one. So much so that one is forced to fix the image by capture of screen, to discover that it was about a plan of Minnesota.

The territory, literally, is hidden, virtual. It is in addition the territory of the other, since the place names are for the majority resulting from the Anglo-Saxon space representation: Cambridge, Turkey Not, Normandale, etc… It is a case emblematic of the use of information technologies and communication – where the appearance and disappearance as well as the tape speed of the images make direction.

This territory hidden, evoked perhaps by this totemic dance of the introduction, then moved in the space, and finally reinvested on ground through the waves received by parabolas, the body of work then proposes to us to discover it.

It while clicking on different the items is contained under the headings North South – East – West that we will be able to open the sequences having for name: winter, snow, elder, courage, ice, endurance (North), summer, spirit, quest, secrets, bloom, vision, adolescence, youth (South), birth, dawn, spring, flower, sun (East), autumn, adult, thunder, sunset, renewal, (West).

With the choice, one will stop on the sequence “Vision”, in the North heading, to hear the message whereby “Vision C not reveal”; or one will hear, in “Dawn” this thought animist “All that belongs to the earth belongs to me”. But there is not the essence of our reading: the quality of animations, of the spoken or sung sequences, all that is left with the appreciation of each visitor, according to his sensitivity. It will be noticed only that none the many rewards received by this work is usurped.

What must hold our attention, it is connect it simplicity of the device, behind which semiotics questions differently more complex hide.

The list of the items reproduced above informs us indeed that certain sequences are called in reference to the season (winter…) and in connection with such or such cardinal point; other sequences indicate natural phenomena (snow, ice, flower, sun, thunder); others milked in the human condition (elder, adolescence, youth, birth, adult); others still refer to human or animal qualities (courage, endurance…); and others finally with phenomena of calendarity (dawn, sunset, renewal).

What it is necessary to point of the finger, it is the extreme diversity of the items and the extremely different registers which they indicate: natural seasons (long calendarity), phenomena, age group, human and/or animal quality, short calendarity.

Consequently, the action to click on one or the other of these items, and the surprise to each time discover a different sequence by its setting in image, the absence or the presence of a said text, etc… puts the hyperlector in a situation of imbalance with the project openly announced by the work – which is, let us recall it, inspired of the symbolic system of the cardinal points of the nation algonkine. How indeed to build a knowledge of this cosmogony if no methodology is proposed by the author – and whereas we are in a new mode of expression?

Moreover, one will notice the readily enigmatic character of certain sequences – which seem to function according to a logic well more oneiric rational.

In short, none known in the past cognitive maps seems respected here: we find the linearity of the written text and its paratextuelle organization, neither the syntax of the cinematographic writing (fictional or documentary), nor the methodology of the museographic modes of exposure, etc…

It however remains that the work of Graham Thomson transmits a message well to us, and more still that a message the feeling to have shared a significant experiment.

The logic which seems to prevail is well more that of the dream – a dream directly connected to psyché of Amerindian people – a logic which one will be able to say transverse, for want of anything better for the moment.

It is perhaps the greatest quality of this work, which all at the same time enchants us in the most naive way, and reserves questions differently more difficult to us, having milked with semiotics, and the development of a specific critical language.

Xavier Malbreil


The Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal Backgrounder

1983 The CIAC is founded. 1984 Claude Gosselin, founder of the CIAC, curates the visual arts, photography, video and cinema section for Québec ‘84, an event marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec City. 1985 The exhibition Aurora Borealis opens the first edition of Les Cent jours d’art contemporain de Montréal, curated by René Blouin, Claude Gosselin and Normand Thériault. 1986 Traces, an exhibition of drawings by Canadian artists, is curated for the Department of External Affairs of Canada to be toured internationally. 1996 The final edition of Les Cent jours d’art contemporain de Montréal is held. 1997 The first bilingual on-line electronic arts magazine in Canada, the Magazine électronique, is launched. It is devoted to promoting electronic art and to the discussion of new technologies in visual art. 1998 The first edition of La Biennale de Montréal (BNL MTL), an international biennal. Subsequent editions have been held in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007,2009. 2009 The CIAC celebrates 25 years of active involvement on the cultural scene. The CIAC has thrice won the Grand Prix of the Conseil des arts de Montréal. The prize in the visual arts category was awarded to it in 1985, 1992 and 2000.

Noirlac Abbey France, Medicine Wheel

North-South-East-West exhibited at 2006 Les Futurs de l’écrit Art Biennial at Abbey of Noirlac in Orléans France.


The North-South-East-West DVD was exhibited at the 2006 Les Futurs de l’écrit Art Biennial at the Abbey of Noirlac in Orléans France.  The Future of Writing ( Les Futurs de l’écrit) is a biennial event that exhibits literature, theater, music, sound, image, visual arts and dance within a beautifully restored Cistercian abbey.


Abbey of Noirlac in Orléans France

The construction of the Abbey of Noirlac was started in 1150 by a small group of monks who came from Clairvaux. The abbey expressed the monastic asceticism of the Cistercian order founded by Saint Robert and Saint Bernard.


From the XVth century to the French Revolution, the few monks in residence dedicated their time to the management of the community estate as well as to the spiritual life. Visit the Abbey de Norlac with 360 degree views.


North-South-East-West Overview

The North-South-East-West was inspired by the  ancient Medicine Wheel belief system of the Annishinabe Peoples of North America. The presentation has an introduction that illustrates Ontario’s past, its present day mass media culture, and its technological future.


The main section of NSEW begins in the east where the earth gives birth to a new day, to a new life and to the feeling of deep peace and belongingness. As well the east represents the first challenge in life – the test of survival. The animation celebrates the tiny frail flowers that live another day and open to greet the sun.

Birth, Sunrise, Spring and the Challenge of Survival

The eastern section is followed by illustrations of the earth’s southern personality. The south brings the heat of the summer, the bloom of adolescence and the quest for a vision. The south represents the time we are given to discover our meaning and the ability to hold the power of this vision as our secret.


The southern section is followed by meditations on the west. The west represents adulthood, autumn and the path of the vision discovered in our youth. In autumn the cool winds of the west signal the end of summer and a time of preparation – an adult time. In this direction or season of life, we learn that the path of our vision is not easy. The difficulties come like thunder clouds, yet they bring rains that “wash away yesterday” and allow us to renew ourselves and continue our work as in adulthood we realize that the sun will set before our path is complete.


The piece completes the cycle of directions, seasons and stages of life in the north. The north represents winter, old age and the wisdom of the path of the vision. It is at this stage that our view of life is simple and uncomplicated, like a landscape where blankets of snow hide the complexities of the terrain. This is the time to have courage to live and embrace the changes of the final stage of life.


The North South East West new media series can be summarized by mapping the geographic and climatic themes onto a matrix as shown below




Old Age

















Hope, Optimism and Belonging

Bloom and Identity

Westerly Winds Bring Clouds

Life Review Like a Snow Covered Forest