Fogo Island Arts Corporation’s Workshop #1


This blog is devoted to the project BREEZING MEDICAL OUTFITS the first of three events curated and produced in 2009 by the newly established Fogo Island Arts Corporation on Fogo Island and Change Islands.

The Fogo Island Arts Corporation is a contemporary art venue that specializes in residencies for international artists and the production of art projects and workshops engaging both local and international participants. The Fogo Island Arts Corporation is supported by Shorefast Foundation, a Canadian-registered charity that is using entrepreneurial methods to help secure prosperity for the region of Fogo Island and Change Islands.

BREEZING MEDICAL OUTFITS is a locally rooted art project, an experimental workshop intended to explore and reinvent medical costumes, create prototypes, document the process and present in a blog and a publication. The workshop is done in collaboration with Seabreeze Sewing Solutions on Change Islands.

Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir, arts director (Fogo Island Arts Corp)
Bjørn-Kowalski Hansen, artist/entrepreneur (Germany/Norway)
Martin Braathen, architect/critic (Norway)
Eglė Saladžiūtė, designer (Ireland/Lithuania)
Nancy Penton, artist (Newfoundland)

Using the blog: All posts below are arranged chronologically; the newest ones will be appearing at the top, the oldest at the bottom. The Fogo Island Arts Corporation invites everyone, especially residents of Fogo Island and Change Islands, to comment on our work and observations. To comment, press the title of the blog-post, and a commentary option will appear below the text.
The Crew! (L-R )
Nancy Penton, Fogo Island.
Egle Saladziute, Lithuania.
Martin Brathen, Norway.
Bjorn Kowalski, Gerany, Norway.

Breezing Medical Outfits

Project Logo, Fogo Island and Change Islands. Design: Bjørn-K Hansen

The brief for this experimental workshop seemed quite innocent at first glance: Exploring the topic of medical outfits in collaboration with Fogo Island Health Centre and a local sewing studio on Change Islands. Our research would soon prove us wrong, revealing that the histories of both the Health Centre on Fogo Island and the sewing studio on Change Islands were tied to rather dramatic incidents.

We found that the new hospital on Fogo Island has its background in the efforts made to establish a "neutral zone" on the island. Started with the building of the Fogo Island Motel in the 1960's, there has been several attempts of creating shared meeting places for the Island’s 10 different communities. Until the opening of the motel, exchange between the communities was very limited, due to a limited shared infrastructure and road network, in addition to internal cultural and religious differences. When the new hospital was opened 40 years later, relocated from the Town of Fogo to the site of the former motel in Fogo Island Central, the disagreements over its location had contributed to splitting communities, friends and families over the entire island.

Still from "Memo from Fogo Island", DVD

Fogo Island Health Center

The local company Seebreeze Sewing Solutions on Change Islands, has its background in one of the biggest disappointments in the islands’ recent history, the rise and fall of Mediwear Inc.
Created on the initiative of the Town of Change Islands, Mediwear was a clothing factory originally established for making medical uniforms. Training and employing up to 17 local workers, using high end sewing equipment, the company was hoped to be the beginning of a new, sustainable industry to complement the fisheries. Through its two turbulent years of operation, the company unfortunately met challenges with both management and marketing. The end result was disappointment, unemployment and disagreements between the former employees, a local church group, the town council and external consultants.

Images from the former premises of Mediwear at Change Islands

Despite their rather burdensome pasts, we found that both of these sites and institutions contain a fair amount of optimism and hope. The hospital today employs individuals from almost all communities, and the former feud is said to be over. Being a cornerstone in the neutral zone of Fogo Island Central, with its shared educational, sports and medical institutions, the hospital contains the source of future communion between the communities. Seabreeze Sewing Solutions, on the other hand, aims to reestablish medical clothing production, based on the equipment and expertise from the former Mediwear company. With a realistic business plan and locally based management, it has the potential to become a prospering business in the coming years.

Taking inspiration from these stories, our workshop has developed into several different project parts:

  • Based on a very inspiring meeting with more than a dozen of the hospital’s employees, where we talked about their clothing in relationship to their specific work place, ergonomics and symbolism, Egle will develop a set of new uniforms with the assistance of Heather White of Seebreeze Sewing Solutions.
  • Nancy will be exploring the new uniforms through photoshoots in several distinct sites, chosen through her local knowledge of the islands’ most characteristic spots.
  • Martin is researching the history of Mediwear and the establishment of the hospital, to write an essay connecting the workshop’s topic to its two sites.
  • Bjørn will develop a series of patterns for uniforms and t-shirts, based on the islands’ history and stories, culture and rich tradition of signage.
The end product of the workshop will be a publication to be released in the autumn 2009.

Egle`s scrub sketchbookOuttakes from Nancy`s photoshoot

Bjørn-K Hansen`s sketches and designs inspired by local culture and findings.
And Martin's English-Norwegian notes from an interview.

Party at the end of the world

Brimstone Head as seen from the car at 8pm.

The Flat Earth Society heard our prayers, and last night, they kindly admitted us to celebrate our last get-together at Fogo Island on top of the Brimstone Head. A clear blue sky, sparkling wine, a guitar, a telescope and a portable stereo created the perfect framework for the most spectacular two-hour sunset we have ever experienced. We were happy to be joined for our last night by our new friends Linda and Winston Osmond, as well as Elisabet's sons Einar and Jon.

Egle spying at the guests at the Burgundy Squid Cafe at Change Islands

Einar and Jon posing for the camera, while Bjørn experiences pure sublimity.

From left: Bjørn, Einar (behind), Winston, Linda (writing in the Flat Society's hidden guestbook) and Elisabet.

The sun disappearing at the end of the flat earth.

I was myself very happy to be able to put together a playlist for such an epic moment, and highlights included:
Isley Brothers: Summer Breeze
Al Green: Sha-La-La (Make me Happy)
Impressions: Stay Close to Me
Beach Boys: Let's Go Away For a While
Impressions: I'm Still Waiting
Beach Boys: Long Promised Road
You Took Me From a World Outside: Holland/Dozier/Holland
Johnny Pate: El Jardia
Animal Collective: My Girls
Curtis Mayfield: Keep on Trippin'
Joe Jackson: Steppin' Out

Last night's DJ.

John Cawsway and the Fogo Island "Ferry Blues" 1991

Click the image to enlarge ( all copyrights G.Freake, D. Quinton & L. Penton )

In Change Islands they are funny, lucky and friendly. Not just because they have a cafe named The Burgundy Squid, or icebergs big as Lichtenstein ankering up on people`s porch in the middle of summer, but they also have a convenience store for every seventyfive man, woman and pony living there. With infastructure like that, it seems just plain irrelevant to mention that there are FOUR of these skyscraping consumer havens nicely distributed over the islands.

Anyway, as Martin and myself were treasure hunting for a piece of lemon one day, in an attempt to complete A Norwegian shrimp sandwich, we unearthed an artifact from a time long gone, well hidden in one these locally flavoured Walmartian power-structures´ top shelves ;

The year was 1991 people, Ferry logistics from Fogo Island and Change Islands to the Mainland was as reliable and made as much sense as a made in Hong Kong clock showing Puerto Rico time in Gaelic handwriting. For the everyday Islander, it was just another day in paradise, but for others it was time to take it to the mountain - And that is exactly what Gerald Freake, Dave Quinton and Leo Penton did. Armed with pencils made out of lobster toes and paper from stretched cod-skin, they went on to create the funniest cartoon of all times. Well, at least the funniest North of Dildo at that time nevertheless. Better than a pointed stick in the eye.
"Ferry Blues" is a ten page bomb packed with over the top and brim tales of John Cawsway and his mudder, Mrs E. Cawsway time-consuming and hysterically absurd endeavours with the Fogo Island Ferry System.
Limited Edition was invented in Fogo Island people, so this baby wont show up on Ebay anytime soon, even if it`s as tight as a bull`s arse in fly time. It is therefore my pleasure to offer you a little taste of this amazing piece of Fogo Island and Change Islands history for the first time in the history blogs and electronic highways, outside Newfoundland and Labrador.

Click the image to enlarge ( all copyrights G.Freake, D. Quinton & L. Penton )

Click the image to enlarge ( all copyrights G.Freake, D. Quinton & L. Penton )

Click the image to enlarge ( all copyrights G.Freake, D. Quinton & L. Penton )

The Gang!

The Crew! (L-R )

Nancy Penton, Fogo Island.
Egle Saladziute, Lithuania.
Martin Brathen, Norway.
Bjorn Kowalski, Gerany, Norway.

Vinland flag at Change Islands

Walking around the island the other day, I could not help noticing a flag that reminded me of a Scandinavian flag, but with the colors in green, white and black. I asked Winston at one of the local shops, and he was not really sure either, but thought it had something to do with the owners grandparents Scandinavian heritage.
Later that day, Martin went over to ask the couple who was living there how it came about that they were flying that particular flag - "It`s Finland" she says. "No it`s Vinland - The flag of the vikings !" her spouse argues. Apparently they had found it in the sea, wrapped in plastic, and decided to fly it.
Intrigued by this, I started looking for the flag on the internet, and Wikipedia had this to say about the matter :

The Vinland flag is a contemporary flag first used by the musical group Type O Negative to encompass a variety of front man Peter Steele's interests and political beliefs, including his own Icelandic heritage. The flag appears on various Compact Disc covers by the group, sometimes with the slogan "made in the People's Technocratic Republic of Vinland", and adorns various pieces of Type O Negative merchandise.

Subsequently, the symbol has gained use as an ethnic flag by various groups in North America, including numerous vendors, some Germanic neopagan groups and political groups who identify the name of the 11th Century Norse colony at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, called Vinland in the sagas, with predominantly Anglo-American areas of the modern nations of Canada and the United States. Vinland flags are also sold by, a neo-Nazi website.

How a photograph could fool the untrained eye

Right north-west of the Town of Fogo, you'll find the Brimstone Head - a rocky-hill-cliff-point with an amazing view of the ocean. A wooden path and some thousand steps takes you up to a platform that may very well be the best place for whale-spotting and crab-eating in the world. While being struck by the bigness of the surroundings, we started playing with the thought of throwing a big party up here, with Bjørn playing some breezing soul-music, serving cocktails and having a barbecue.
To make our dream come true, we we have written an application to the Flat Earth Society, which has a special connection to this place. They regard the Brimstone Head as one of the worlds four corners (along with the island of Hydra, the Bermuda Triangle, and Papua New Guinea), and Town of Fogo modestly regard themselves as the capital of Flat Earth.

As a quick reminder, the Flat Earth Society works for common understanding of the fact that the world is not a sphere - it's flat. From up at Brimstone Head, where you are able to see at least half way over to Africa, anyone could tell they're completely right. To repeat Flat Earth Society's answer to the possible threat to their theory posed by satellite photos: "It's easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye".

Fogo Island - 11 islands in one

Map by Bjørn-K Hansen

Introducing the first site of our project:

Fogo Island. On the north-eastern outskirts of Newfoundland, 25 by 14 kilometers in area, surrounded by icebergs, snow crabs and whales. According to a popular advertisement "about as far away from Disneyland as you can get". For years sustained by fishing, until the cod-depletion struck in 1990s. From a peak of 5000 inhabitants, the number is today down to 2700. The people are separated in 11 communities, each with an identity so strong that they regard themselves close to 11 different islands. They each have their own town council, town hall, fire department, harbor, post office, cemeteries and churches.
Formerly each community even had its own school (sometimes even two schools, to serve both the catholic and protestant inhabitants).
In the middle of these communities, in a crossroad linking all the communities, a neutral zone has recently been established: Fogo Island Central. After years of unrest, a common school was established here in 1972 – the first in the whole Newfoundland to unite catholic and protestant pupils. After more struggle between the different communities, a new hospital was agreed on, relocated from the town of Fogo to the neutral zone in the center of the island. The hospital is the daily workplace of women from all of the Island’s communities, as well as three doctors from Libya, some of the very few immigrants on the island. While being a symbol of the difficult relationships between the different communities on Fogo Island, the neutral zone on the other hand may contain the beginning of the much needed unity and collaboration between the communities to sustain and develop Fogo Island in the future.

Come by chance, passing Dildo

DAY TWO introduced the third member of the group, Egle Saladziute (furniture and fashion designer from Lithuania). After a stroll in the Chapel Hills of St. Johns and a quick stop at Fred´s, to pick up some local rock and roll history, the six hour drive north towards the Change and Fogo Islands, our main destination, began. Passing through a roadside flea market featuring a major closing sale of garden gnomes (“By your ornaments now. Going out of business”), we unfortunately missed the exit to the communities of Dildo and South Dildo. A slight comfort was given when we passed through Come by Chance some minutes later.

As houses started turning into sheds, sheds turned into forests, wooden mooses started appearing along the road and - most frightening - our cell phones stopped working, we realized we were entering a new world.
After a brown and greasy supper at the Country Kitchen in Gander, the ferry from Farewell took us over to Manowar Cove, Fogo Island. It was late evening when we arrived, but Elisabet decided to stop by local agricultural wizard and Jack-of-all-trades, Winston Osmond of Shoal Bay, to pick up some greens. As fresh greens for a long time has been hard to get here, and importing bio-local-fair-trade-this-and-that from Guatemala or thereabouts just sounds irrational, Winston works as a consultant helping to establish small-scale farming co-ops.

As the car comes to a halt at the Yellow House of Barr’d Islands, our HQ during our stay on Fogo Island, our last and fourth member of the group arrives: Nancy Penton, local artist and photographer from Joe Batt´s Arm. The team is finally complete. (M&B)

Rule One: Never talk about Fogo

DAY 1: Arrival in St. Johns. Bjørn K-Hansen (artist and entrepreneur) and Martin B. (architect and curator) arrived from a 15 hours flight to a warm and sunny St. Johns, met by Elisabet Gunnarsdottir (director of Fogo Island Arts Corporation and resident of Joe Batt’s Arm) at the airport and taken into town in Elisabet’s rig. After a nap on the most spectacular roof terrace in town and some strawberry martinis at sushi temple Bashi, we went to meet with the crowd at the centre point of St. John’s art world, A1C Gallery. The gallery, run by local artists, was hosting a nice show by artist Lee Henderson. After a presentation of the newly established Fogo Island Arts Corporation, our hosts here, by its director Elisabet and an artist talk by Bjørn, we went out to check out some of the filthiest dive bars in town and hang out with locals artists and entrepreneurs. As the locals of St.Johns started talking about “Fogo”, and Elisabet as a Fogo Island resident started to get grumpy, we realized quickly that Fogo Island should never be referred to as Fogo, but as Fogo Island – a quite touchy topic which we were to learn more about later. (M&B)

A1C gallery view: (from left: Martin, Dave Hopley, Rosalind McPhail, A1C affiliate)

After the talk, Bjørn was invited by local entrepreneur Dave Hopley to swap t-shirts at one of his outlets, the Living Planet in Water Street.