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Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Art, Emotion & Experience

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2011 at 10:31 am

There’s something about making art from a place of inhabiting your experience that’s like a fire, it’s that bright and clean.

The performance of The Distance of Their Mouths was one week ago. Yesterday, I took a qi-kung class that was truly mind-blowing (I felt like I was flying in one section of it), and except for food shopping, the rest of the day was spent in obsession over Puccini’s Tosca, it being the rep for the day’s  Saturday Afternoon at the Opera Met broadcast. To my surprise, as I pulled into my driveway with the car radio on, I found myself dissolved in violent tears upon hearing Tosca’s aria, Vissi d’arte. Maybe the qi-kung opened a channel.

Much of the rest of the day went to listening to the broadcast and trying to find English translations to two of the arias. I had missed hearing the Ta Deum in the broadcast but heard it in my head. I wanted to know what the singers were saying. What were the words that didn’t even matter since the emotion of the singing was so powerful?

I found the translation and it did not disappoint – Go, Tosca. Scarpia now sets loose the roaring falcon of your jealousy!….Ah, to see the flame of those imperious eyes  grow faint and languid with passion.  Tosca has been described by a contemporary critic as, “a shabby little shocker” and the dismissiveness reminded me of opinions I have had about contemporary art.

It has often seemed to me that much contemporary visual art is overly-intellectualized , severely imbalanced towards the head and excluding the body. No heart. The dysfunctional psycho disconnected from his emotion, incapable of empathy and jeering at the masses. Perhaps I overstate.

What is the position of emotion and experience in art now? Experience that is internal and personal, without the focus of the lens of social and political affairs? Is it still suspect?

The Distance of Their Mouths is intensely personal. There is a theoretical reason for the emotion to do with disrupting the subject/object view of the landscape, and although I am completely committed to the theoretical reason, it had nothing to do with the creative process. It is a lens that comes after, to don in order to see what one has done.

I am happy about my performance of the emotion I experienced and translated into words. Being a very occasional performer, my skills are limited and I did not want to sink into the horrors of disconnected, sentimental delivery. However, beyond the having the chops or not part, there is another quality, one bone-deep. It’s easy to access when you are young and raw and then it can disappear in “the hazards of life”*. I knew I had managed to get my ducks in a row in order to let it shine last Saturday. I don’t care what a cliché that phrase is, that’s just too bad, because it is a light.

Front: Rose Bolton, composer; Julie Baumgartel, violin; Back: Margaret Gay, cello; me; Alison Melville, recorder

My spiritual practice teaches me to fully experience as the middle way between getting caught up in reactive patterns or repressing; to fully experience whatever you are experiencing and be able to rest within it. Be fully in something instead of avoiding it either by being overwhelmed or pushing it away. I think contemporary art is a lot about repressing and popular culture is a lot about being caught up in reactive patterns. I want to make art that expresses my experience.

* A phrase used by Francoise Sullivan when I interviewed her and which has resonated with me since.


Queen St. West history

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Here’s my input to all the Queen St. West history.

Peter Pan wait staff Hilary & I circa 1978

It takes nothing away from the magnificence of The Cameron to remember what everyone seems to forget when writing about the history of Queen  St. West – both The Cameron and the music scene built on what was  already established by other artists in the 70s. I lived over Jacob’s Hardware (beside The Cameron) from 1975-1988 and most of the “new  dance” community as well as the infant modern dance Dancemakers  rehearsed there in the mid-70s. General Idea’s Art  Metropole moved from Yonge St. to Richmond and Duncan in the mid-70s  and CCMC opened The Music Gallery on St. Patrick St. just north of  Queen. The Centre for Experimental Art and Communications (CEAC) was on Duncan and the independent film organization, The Funnel, was in  its basement. Lots of artists lived in the lofts along Queen St. W. around Spadina (protected by provincial rent control) including John Scott, Peter McCallum,  Randy & Bernicci and many others. Before The Cameron we drank at The Beverley and occasionally The Rex Hotel or Horseshoe (speaking personally of course).  The Cabana Room of The Spadina Hotel was the original artists’ bar of area.

The restaurants were key to the scene and provided employment for visual artists, dancers and musicians. Peter Pan opened in the fall of 1976 and was the game-changer to hipsterism. General Idea’s Jorge  Zontal and myself were amongst the first wait staff. Le Select opened  up before The Peter Pan and was a hangout for theatre people including  Montreal emigrés from Bill 101 who opened the Soho Theatre on  the second floor in the building that later became The Rivoli. Around this time, the hippie Beggar’s Banquet changed to The Parrot and its  owners and chefs were the soon-to-be-superchefs Greg Couilliard and  Andrew Milne-Allen. The Clichettes are other dancers formed most of the wait staff.

But don’t take my word for it – see The Toronto Star article, “A new village lures the creative crowd”, Saturday, June 125, 1977 by Bruce Kirkland.

Video files complete!

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Lower Balls Falls on the Twenty

I have completed the video files for this Saturday’s performance of my first new performance since 2004, Distance of Their Mouths. It is so great to be making a performance.

I am live mixing 6 video files with video from a webcam. I am using an Edirol V-4 video mixer, courtesy of Marinko Jareb and Niagara Artists’ Centre. The files are a combination of video shot in fall of 2008 for the installation, Fall, with a very good camera from Charles St. Video, and web-quality video shot in October 2010 and recently. I could not open the stored files from 2008 and was rescued by my dear friend, Berenicci Hershorn (click on her name to go to the 7a*11d blog and a description of her most excellent recent performance). We drank delicious rose tea and I devoured the remains of her holiday baking while she edited 3 files for me in File Maker Pro. On my way to her, I stopped at the Apple store to buy a DVI to S-video cable. On the bus on the way home, I edited the last of the 6 files; I use the free software on my employer’s MacBook Pro, iMovie, which is dreadful but a huge step forward from nothing! Editing video is the most pleasant way to commute, that and reading the comics my mother kindly cuts out of the newspaper for me.

During the performance, I will open each file, at the right time and place one hopes, and mix live footage of the musicians playing. I have yet to finalize the places and times for this. I don’t have video for one of the sections but serenditiously it works because the text is about disappearances. I have not yet completed the very modest, gestural choreography, funny thing about that, since it is the one artistic subject I have actually taught. Text – check. Video – check. Equipment – check. Vocal delivery and choreography, not so much, still to complete with 3 days to go.

The Distance of Their Mouths – artist statement

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I am on part-time unpaid artistic leave from my job this week and next and very glad to be working for artists who understand the need for this. I spent a certain amount of time flailing about raging with my life-long issues about not making art, not making the art I want to make because I can’t focus on it because of not having money, etc. etc. and fortunately was able to awaken to the fact that I am making art and have enough money to take this time to make art so shut up already.

The performance is presented by Gallery Players of Niagara on Janaury 22 @ 8:00 p.m. at Niagara Artists’ Centre in St. Catharines. Here is the artist statement to be printed in the program:

Notes on The Distance of Their Mouths: a journey from west to east

The Distance of Their Mouths charts six of the waterfalls in the numbered creek system of the North Niagara watershed. I previously worked with this imagery in the video installation, Fall, shown at Grimsby Public Art Gallery in 2008. Both of these works are rooted in my sense of place and appreciation for the power of waterfalls, which dot the north Niagara landscape.

 In this work, a deeply personal narrative is layered with this landscape. Relationships and stories in verse of grief and despair are embedded in the geology and geography. The narrative journey following the creeks from west to east leads to the great waterfall, which I have described as if viewed in a meditative state associated with a Buddhist path, Dzogchen. The epilogue enumerates the creeks opening into Lake Ontario. Empty and open are identified as states of being overcoming despair and turmoil.

 These expressions of place, emotions and spiritual states are joined to an expression of a theoretical position. Landscape in art is conventionally that viewed and consumed by us. As object to our subject, it is passive and neutral. Through embodying the landscape of my birth and residence with my personal narrative, I disrupt that convention. I support this visually by electronically overlaying the images of the musicians engaged in the live, physical act of playing their instruments. In so doing, I make my small hole in the exploitative relationship with the land and the objectification that sees us as separate to nature.

 I have not addressed the music, which I leave to the composer, Rose Bolton, and I thank her and the musicians of Gallery Players of Niagara for their generous and inspired collaboration in realizing this work.