CD Rom: The Process behind the Creation of “Woman in the Centre”

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 1998. “CD Rom: The Process behind the Creation of “Woman in the Centre.” womenspace. Women’space: Summer. 1998. Vol. 3, No. 4. deadlink e-version: Now hosted at Herstory Accessed 2007 deadlink in 2008

“Woman in the Centre: a Study of the Symbols of Womanhood in the Work of Jessie Oonark using Interactive Multimedia as a Method of Exploration” is a CD-ROM I submitted as partial requirement for my master’s at Carleton University. It was a first in many ways. How I came to do it with my low-tech, visual art background is my story.

I completed my M.A. in Canadian Studies in 1995 while working as contract art educator at the National Gallery of Canada. It was there that I was drawn to the powerful images of Inuit artist Jessie Oonark. In the hamlet of Baker Lake, Oonark RCA, ONLINE COMMUNICATION (Order of Canada) (1906-1985) began to produce wall-hangings, drawings and prints that would single her out as one of Canada’s greatest artists. Her work reflects the oral, nonlinear tradition of the Utkuhikhalingmiut. Slides of her work when viewed in series become one continuous, dynamic thesis. My first project on Oonark was in the form of a video. I had begun a twenty-five page paper as course requirement but was frustrated by the cumbersome descriptions of the dynamic transformation of forms in Oonark’s rich imagery.

Encouraged by my supervisor Professor Marion Jackson, I began to explore the possibility of presenting my thesis in video format. Through Carole Dence, the Director of Carleton University’s Teaching and Learning Resource Centre, I was introduced to various ways interactive multimedia applications were being used in teaching, learning and research. Interactive multimedia gives us a richer access to a mode of thinking that is non-linear which parallels Oonark’s work. By November, 1993 I was convinced that this was the format for my thesis. Interactive multimedia was the ideal vehicle for expressing the multi layers of meaning, visual puns and high tolerance of ambiguity in Jessie Oonark’s imagery.

My application for a grant, which would have enabled me to visit northern communities, such as Baker Lake, and museums where Jessie Oonark’s work was housed, was rejected. Given the experimental, interdisciplinary nature of the project, I was disappointed but not surprised. I had access to unpublished transcripts of interviews through the generosity of Professor Jackson, whose doctoral dissertation had been an invaluable resource on Baker Lake art and artists. I was able to gather and digitize visual, audio and textual data from various sources including sound clips of throat singing and Jessie Oonark’s voice.

During the development of the Oonark project I learned, with many hours of hands-on practice, as well as excellent coaching from Nestor Querido of the Teaching and Learning Resource Centre, to work with a variety of software. Asymetrix ToolBook, Adobe PhotoShop, the database FoxPro, bibliography database EndNote. Over twenty-five years experience as a visual artist gave me the confidence to use technology creatively. My first computer, an Apple IIC, equipped with educational software for my son, who learned differently, awed me with its potential for teaching and learning, in spite of its tiny memory. The equipment at the Centre appeared to have limitless potential. I soon learned that projects I was undertaking filled hard drive space rapidly.

Early in the project I worked on a MacIntosh with the software Inspiration for developing concept maps. The search for the ideal concept map included the search for a metaphor for the ways data connected. Branches, brain electrodes, three-dimensional spider webs and, finally, constellations spun in my mind. ToolBook allows the author to work creatively with scripting to maximize the hypertext capacity. As I became more familiar with the scripting and ToolBook’s considerable potential, the project unfolded organically. I wanted it to be user-friendly, logical but elegant with an emphasis on combining form with content. For example, I had at first created small blackboard-like text fields, aligned using the familiar index card-file perspective. Metaphorically these had no connection to the way Oonark would have presented information. I replaced them with text fields, with text in a white Arial font, deliberately transparent, revealing a textured background, a detail scanned from one of my own paintings, that suggests the ancient and the contemporary. These fields are often hidden and layered, revealed only when certain hotwords or buttons are clicked. The reader chooses the order in which text fields are revealed. The words of art historians, curators, anthropologists and Jessie Oonark are presented in a non-hierarchical, egalitarian way. After intensive work using this medium, I found unexpected routes into understanding aspects of Oonark’s works of art. Regional versions of well-known legends greatly enhanced the reading of some images.

I became absorbed by issues such as copyright, digitization, memory, resolution and projection systems. Although they often seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, solutions were found. The Teaching and Learning Resource Centre was constantly upgrading its equipment as the Oonark project developed. At times we turned to other departments such as Engineering and Geography for technical assistance. The price of slide scanners was prohibitive at that time so some of the slides were sent to Kodak Photo CD to be digitized on CD-ROM.

By September 1994 I was working late into the evenings at the Teaching and Learning Resource Centre after their office hours. My son came to pick me up on numerous evenings when the library building closed at 11:00 pm. By January 1995 I was faced with serious problems of lack of hard drive space. There are two hundred eighty-three pages containing over one hundred thirty images including photographs, maps, models and works of art; approximately two thousand hyperlinks, including hotwords and buttons; sound and video clips, animation and over a hundred fifty text fields of varying lengths. The School of Art and Culture purchased an 800 mb external drive so I could continue working.

Towards the end it was suggested that a printed version be submitted. My explanation of the impossibility of such a print-out was accepted, given the depth of the project and the complexity of the layered text fields each one with hotwords connected to other text fields and images. The project was submitted in March on the external drive and in the form of taped back up. After the three readers had seen it, it was later burnt in a CD-ROM format. For anyone interested in seeing the project, the Teaching and Learning Resource Centre of Carleton University, Ottawa, have always had an updated version, as I have continued to perfect the application even after graduation in June 1995. I have added pop-up indexes and an improved concept map.

While in process the Oonark project was viewed by curators and Education officers from the National Gallery of Canada, the Director and staff of the Inuit Art Section of the Department of Northern Affairs. At Carleton I have presented to students and professors from various departments such as Psychology, Biology, Women’s Studies, Aboriginal Studies and Geography through Teaching Fairs, classroom visits and demonstrations at the Teaching and Learning Resource Centre. Demonstrations of my project became a catalyst for others.

Since graduation I have presented the Oonark project numerous times including “New Media and Inuit Art”, at QAGGIT held at Carleton University in 1996, organized by the Inuit Art Foundation, the 10TH Inuit Studies Conference held at Memorial University of Newfoundland, August 16, 1996, at the Art Gallery of Ontario to the Independent Inuit Art Collectors in 1997. A working model of interactive multimedia project on Jessie Oonark, work-in-progress, was available for use by viewers at the opening and the Symposium linked to Qamanittuaq, Drawings by Baker Lake Artists at Carleton University, March 8, 1997 and most recently on May 30, 1998 at the Women’s Studies, Women’s Equality and the New Communications Technology colloquium’s CyberCafé May 30, 1998 during the Annual Conference of the Canadian Women’s Studies Association at the University of Ottawa campus. I am working towards an improved, published version of the CD-ROM. I have considered an Internet format for the Oonark application. I am not convinced, however, that the frustration of slow downloads of complicated layered pages and images is near to being alleviated on the majority of computers.

Email: Maureen at:

Canadian Identity Issues [This page is no longer accessible] The final project was submitted for a doctoral seminar course in Canadian Studies.

Exhibition Reflexivité: Double Vision
Art exhibition in Ottawa and Charlottetown.