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Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

My Dad

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Charles Chitty

My dear father died on August 19 about 7:30 a.m. after entering the hospital the evening of August 11. This is an art blog and this writing will be filtered through that lens, although boundaries are only something I have achieved in later life after much effort, my inclination being to not see them or knock them down. But at a certain point I understood they were necessary for mental health and to make a living. So, through that lens, here is the story of my father’s death.

I took Yvonne Rainer’s Feelings Are Facts with me to Hamilton General Hospital and read it at times, especially when he passed the point where he was no longer “there” to talk to or touch. The book continues to feel very close to my life. I’m at the point where she breaks up with Bob Morris. It was with some relief I read of her unpleasant experiences while on international art performances! There are no parallels in our lives regarding our relationships with our fathers.

I have not yet recorded that soon after the opening of The Wheels on the Bus, I realized the garden was infested with a population of wood bugs of stunning proportions. I am very glad I have outgrown the skin-crawling feeling that once would have accompanied the very sight of them. I have crushed thousands and thousands of bugs with my gloved hands and sprayed and poured insecticidal soap on them. I had previously believed these insects to be benign and plodding creatures, however, they have consumed all foliage from the morning glories which now stand no chance of blooming and all that remains of the rudbeckia are stems and stamens. I attribute their presence to the mulch the City put down (I have never liked mulch!).

They have seriously upped the ante on required garden maintenance. I do my work around 7:30 a.m. each morning and I missed going for at least two mornings when my father was moved to Hamilton General Hospital. (The medical services and facilities in Niagara are appalling because the health dollars go to the close and larger Hamilton region. There is not one vascular surgeon in Niagara.) On August 16, I pulled a mattress into his room and slept on the floor beside him so I could touch his hand or speak to him when he cried out. August 16 was the last day he was himself, however, he was experiencing some hallucinations, probably from the morphine. On August 17, he had been moved into a semi-private with no other patient so that our family could use the extra bed and my sister stayed that night. August 18 I decided to not stay as my father had been in a coma for 2 days, his systems shutting down one by one but his heart and breathing still going strong. The 10 cm aneurysm in his lower abdomen they found August 12 never did rupture and he just suddenly stopped breathing on the morning of August 19. At that moment I was in the garden cursing and crushing wood bugs. This morning I returned to do the same; this time my father’s body was resting only a few hundred feet away at Passfield Mortuary Service. He will be cremated tomorrow.

When I was an adolescent and young woman, it pained me to think of my father in his factory job which he seemed to hate although he was highly conscientious and dedicated. He always had so many interests and passions and it seemed tragic to my baby boomer sensibility that he had to suffer the fires of the General Motor foundry. He retired in late 1979. When I performed History, Colour T.V. & You at a performance art festival in Lyon, France in 1981, my father announced he was coming too. It was slightly odd, having one’s father at an international performance art festival, but we were very close still in those years and we both enjoyed the trip together. At the time, René Blouin was a good friend, and we met up with him, then with Kate Craig and Hank Bull in Paris. I was working Kate’s job at the Western Front during this period of time, while she and Hank toured the world on Canada Council grants (back when you could do such things!). Carolee Schneemann was kind enough to seek me out after my performance but I was too weirded out and insecure to barely say a word to her. I remember that Gilbert & George were at the Pompidou Centre. My father and I ate Cœur à la crème for the first time in Lyon. (I made it for his 90th birthday in June.) I bought a Swiss Army Knife in Grenoble which I later lost while working at the Mendel Art Gallery.

Over the years, my parents have regarded my work with a combination of bafflement, disdain and pride. I have long thought that my father thought I was a bit daft to be engaged in such activities as I was always very bright at school and the first member of our family to get a university education. I can see that his perspective would be of someone who escaped the strangulation and limitations of the British class system to come to Canada for a better life for himself and his family, only for one of them to choose a life of hardship and financial incompetence because of a preoccupation with art he didn’t understand and which didn’t provide a living or have much of an audience. He had a great appreciation for classical music and literature and the arts filled his life. He was a wonderful wood carver and turner. His failing eyesight forced him to give up carving long ago but he went into his shop to turn wood and “mess about” until the end.

I am very grateful that I had the exhibitions at Grimsby Public Art Gallery late last year and that my father was able to see them and attend the opening of Fall and artist’s talk at which I thanked him for instilling in me the love of nature that influenced the work.

 The last “normal” day of my father’s life was Sunday, August 9 and on that day I took him for a drive out to Niagara Nurseries where I bought more alyssum for The Wheels on the Bus. We drove past the new building at Ball’s Falls and around the countryside. He hugely enjoyed the trip. I had said I would show him the garden, then forgot and headed to his home. “I thought we were going to your garden?”, he asked. “Next time Poppa”, I had replied.

P.S. on Sept. 27 – This past week Rodman Hall distributed their marketing for upcoming exhibitions and projects including an artist working in the garden and niche. I wept from disappointment and frustration. I’ve wanted to work in their garden since the 90s and started a project when Terry Graff was there which has not come to completion because of lack of interest in my work from anyone there since. Last year I submitted a proposal for the niche based on that garden work. It suddenly hit me how for so many years I had wanted my father to see an exhibition of my work at Rodman Hall. (I wish the artist well, don’t get me wrong on that.)


Want – 2

In Uncategorized on August 9, 2009 at 9:35 pm

The second instalment of Want, a community-based interactive installation/performance took place on St. Paul St. in St. Catharines as part of Art City on August 7 from 6:00 – 9:00. I will post text later and here are some photos. For more information, see Want – 1.DSC00293DSC00297DSC00306

SCAAC intern Alana Leprich exits from recording her want.

SCAAC intern Alana Leprich exits from recording her want.

The Wheels on the Bus – Opening

In Uncategorized on August 9, 2009 at 9:17 pm
Mayor Brian McMullen supports Artists' Gardens!

Mayor Brian McMullan supports Artists' Gardens!

Thanks to those who attended the opening of my Artists’ Gardens in the Garden City project, The Wheels on the Bus. The weather was perfect.

MC SCAAC Past-Presiden Sharilyn J. Ingram

MC SCAAC Past-President Sharilyn J. Ingram


Here are a few photos by my sister Alison Chitty.

SCAAC staffer and Essential Collective Theatre Co-Artistic Director Jason Cadieux digs a hole for the sign. He's probably wishing he was writing one of his excellent plays instead!

SCAAC staffer and Essential Collective Theatre Co-Artistic Director Jason Cadieux digs a hole for the sign. He's probably wishing he was writing one of his excellent plays instead!


The Wheels on the Bus – Mila

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2009 at 9:26 pm

I was planting feverishly in a mild panic that the garden was underplanted and not good enough when she came upon me and dropped down on her knees. She liked it very much. Her name is Mila and she came to Canada from Russia fourteen years ago. She talked of how she is between the two places. She asked me why some seeds and plants don’t grow and when I said that it is often from not watering enough, she corrected me that, no, the reason was not enough love. She talked about having roots damaged and her words swerved between speaking of plants and herself. She kissed my hand which was caked was soil and asked me if she could embrace me, “human to human”, which she did twice. Although she reached her arms passionately towards me, she never stepped over the boundary of the garden’s curb, staying on the sidewalk, recognizing the garden as sacred space or the curb as the divide between stage and audience. Of course she was very drunk. She was beautiful. When she left I wept as I dug in the last morning glory. Is this not the only reason there is to make art – to move someone? to make the experience of walking down the street vivid?

Wheels on the Bus – 3

In Uncategorized on August 3, 2009 at 8:46 pm

watering canIf you know St. Catharines, you know there is a peculiar corner at Lake, Welland and James. How to describe the sound of water ebbing from an old 1 1/2 gallon galvanized steel watering can as I turn the corner from Lake to James? I have had that can many years and think I bought it at the old and dearly departed Stokes Seeds building on James St., beside where the St. Catharines and Area Arts Council is today.

Four trips to the garden today. I am in a bit of a panic because it is underplanted and the annuals have not had time to bush out after the very late start. Went to 2 nurseries but it’s too late in the season for annuals. Cannabilized my own garden and explained to the nasturitiums and morning glory as I untangled them that they were off to serve the public good.

Feelings are Facts – 1

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Last month I finally purchased Yvonne Rainer’s auto-biography, Feelings Are Facts: a life, part of the MIT Writing Art Press series and published in 2006, having been reminded to do so by its reference in the essay Irene Loughlin wrote about my work for the exhibition I had in March at Hamilton Artists’ Inc.  (if you open the link, scroll down).

Studies of Yvonne Rainer and the Judson Dance Theatre of New York were the single most influential part of my university education, which took place at York University in the very early days of the Dance Major program there, which was the first in Canada. (The fact that it was the last art form to be embraced by academia reflects the status of the art form; while my relationship with it has waxed and waned over the years, its underdog status has always been a selling point for me, which I understand as our culture’s fear of our bodies within the context of the Cartesian mind/body split.) A young Selma Odom was my prof – she very recently retired and I regretted not getting to her farewell dinner.

I have read precious little for many years with the exception of Buddhist books. It is an activity that I have allowed to fall away in the choices one makes while cramming as much as possible into too little time. I have always been cranky about the degree to which critical theory overtook the practice of art, however, I read theory during the three years it took to write the essay, Asserting Our Bodies, for Caught in the Act: an anthology of performance art by Canadian women, published in 2004.

 I read a little of the Yvonne Rainer book while visiting my Sis, Margaret, in Finn Slough  after performing in the 30th anniversary of Walter Phillips Gallery at Banff Centre August 2008.  I am only in Chapter 5 at the moment, still in her adolescence. So far, I feel vaguely depressed each time I read, as it reminds me of my own adolescence. Not that the details match by any means, but the general sense of not belonging, that is the experience of many artists. I remember Margaret talking about it when we were young as “being from Mars”.

Yvonne Rainer suffered greatly as a child but came from a family that might appear “interesting” inasmuch as its Italian anarchist politics were not mainstream. I just read with enjoyment her description of the movie theatre her father took her to as a child in the basement of San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor, where she saw Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc at the age of nine. I enjoyed, and benefited greatly, from my own parents’ love of the arts and I have learned to understand that it is not necessarily usual that a working class family made the arts so much a part of life.

Here are some of my own childhood and adolescent memories: a nascent National Ballet of Canada at The Palace Theatre on St. Paul St. in St. Catharines. We regularly went to The O’Keefe Centre in Toronto and back then you could whip up in an hour and ten minutes on a barely-travelled QEW. Highlights there at the time were Béjart’s Sacre du Printemps and Peter Brooks Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here in St. Catharines, in the early days of the Brock theatre program, I was transfixed by Anouilh’s Antigone and I still have my hand-written copy of her monologue, “I spit on your happiness! I spit on your idea of life – that life that must go on, come what may. You are all like dogs that lick everything they smell. You with your promise of a humdrum happiness – provided a person doesn’t ask too much of life. I want everything of life, I do; and I want it now!”. Ah, yes, youth. At Brock I remember also Toronto Dance Theatre’s performance of David Earle’s Atlantis (and Susan Macpherson’s naked breasts if I remember rightly.) We went to Stratford every summer but nothing stands out in my mind. Another O’Keefe memory is of my father wangling us into a reception honouring Margot Fonteyn and being introduced to her along with my best friend at the time, Janice Alton (Kate Alton’s mother). It was not my father’s habit to crash receptions and it was a very loving act. Janice was beside herself with joy and I wasn’t far behind.

Regardless of having regaled the reader with memories, I cannot imagine going through the work that Yvonne Rainer did to write her autobiography.