Arts & Culture
November 6th 2012
Local writer’s multimedia art project explores the question, ‘What is home?’
In the past 11 years, local writer Michelle Elrick has lived in 16 different postal zones in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario, and she’s travelled through the East Coast as well as all over Europe. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that her latest project is an exploration of a question she says has plagued her since childhood: What is home?
Notes from the Fort is a series of performance installations where Elrick creates “intimate places in unfamiliar environments through the play act of fort building.”
“Using only existing structures and a suitcase full of hand-crafted materials, each fort is constructed, inhabited, noted and dismantled in a live poetic document of sense of place and the origins of home,” Elrick explains in a news release.
This past summer, Elrick worked with the project in Reykjavik, Iceland. While there, she completed six fort installations and she has since produced two additional forts in Manitoba. Although the installations were all temporary - usually one to three days in duration - Elrick documented each one through poetic “notes,” photography and film.
This Friday, Nov. 9, Elrick will host the Winnipeg launch of Notes from the Fort at Ace Art. The event will include a reading of some of the writer’s new work, a short film screening (see video above), a fort installation and music by Jenny Berkel, David Simard and Brie Neilson.
Elrick, who published a collection of poetry in 2010 called To Speak, and who was the 2011 recipient of the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer, began working on the project roughly a year ago.
She began by reading about home and then exploring the factors in her own life that make her feel at home, including family ancestry, travelling and the creative process.
Elrick then created blankets that each represent these different elements.
“I thought if I could make visual representations or blankets that each feed into my sense of belonging, and then build and rebuild forts with them, I could play with the idea of home, the creation of it and sort of make a venue or a new way into writing some poetry on this topic,” Elrick, 28, tells The Uniter.
“What I ended up realizing about mid-way through … is that in building forts - these temporary homes that are built of images of my past or sense of belonging - what I’m doing is performing the same process that occurs when one sits down to write a poem.
“Poems are usually built as images that house an idea or sentiment (that is) contained inside. Once I realized there was such an obvious connection between the fort-building and poetry, it became more meaningful and really started to come to life for me.”
While travelling through Europe to research her family’s ancestry as part of the project, Elrick met a writer from Reykjavik who offered her a place to stay and work for five weeks this past summer.
Elrick liked the idea of doing the project in a new place she had never visited before, and she was also intrigued because Iceland itself is a relatively new place.
“It’s one of the youngest landforms in the world - it’s a small, volcanic island that’s only been around for a short time, geologically speaking,” she says. “The landscape is in flux, and I thought that was exciting and could add to what I was doing - what I was trying to explore and talk about.”
Once each fort was built, Elrick would sit inside and write poetry. The poetry writing wasn’t an effort to describe the forts, but rather, to capture a moment in time and reflect on the theme of home.
One of the aspects of the project Elrick didn’t anticipate was the way people interacted with her forts, since they were all built in public spaces. She recalls one fort she erected on the balcony of a grain elevator in Clearwater, Man. during the Harvest Moon Festival this past September.
A balcony that ordinarily could have been inhabited by anyone became “her” space through the act of building the fort.
“Around 25 people came over the course of several hours … and it was interesting because people would ask to enter the fort before they came in,” Elrick says. “I was hosting a party and the only reason I was the host is because I had built this fort, sat in it for an hour and opened my eyes about how we perceive other people’s claims to space.”
Elrick has documented all of the forts at NotesFromTheFort.com and says the project is ongoing. There is a possibility she will travel to Paris, France in the spring for a weekend fort installation and exhibition.
She also hopes to collect her poetic notes from the fort and add them to a new manuscript of poetry she is working on.
“The whole purpose of this project was to come at writing poetry in a new way,” Elrick says. “The focus in my mind going into this had always been to push myself to create a new document about sense of place and home, and each fort was built in order to house poetry.”
This article appeared in Volume 67, Number 10 of The Uniter, published November 7th 2012.