lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

Site tour

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Today I scouted potential performance and related-content sites. I recently had the excellent good fortune to be supported with a grant from the Ontario Arts Council’s Integrated Arts program to undertake the research for an as-yet untitled performance / installation I plan on producing in 2014. (I need a simpler way to name the art work than “performance / installation” but there will be both performances and installations.) The audience will be on a bus driven from site to site and at each there will be a different performance and/or installation featuring video projection, lights, spoken text, dance, music, TDB. I expect video projection to be a significant component of the work and the research grant includes consultation with Nigel Scott who will work with me on developing the projection logistics.

Although the ideas have already progressed from where they were when I prepared the funding application last March (it takes 4 months for a decision), today I toured sites based on that starting point, which was the series of plaques placed this year by the 3 Peace Churches, which were exempted from military service in the War of 1812 because of religious belief. Don Alexander was my most excellent tour guide and Don has provided me with many research materials which I have only begun to explore. Don is an Attender at Quaker meeting, a filmmaker amongst many other things and a friend.

Quaker plaque in the Peace Garden at Rennie Park, Port Dalhousie in St. Catharines
photo: Don Alexander

My interest in the 1812 War Resisters began almost a year ago when I first heard of them in the context of discussions about the Art of Peace Festival, a community festival in which I was heavily engaged from 2002-2008, mostly as Executive Director of the dearly-departed St. Catharines and Area Arts Council. I attended a meeting of the 1812 Peace Committee (see related links here and here) formed of the three historical Peace Churches –  the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Mennonites and Brethren in Christ (Tunkers).  It stunned me that I had never heard of 1812 War Resisters before, given that I was born and grew up in St. Catharines and have lived in the Niagara region for most of my life, drenched in 1812 history.  I already had community connections within the Mennonite and particularly Quaker communities and familiarity with their histories of pacifism and social justice. (The third part of my 2004 performance, Song For A Blue Moon, was richly informed by collaborations in both those communities, particularly the video footage obtained via the Christian Peacemaker Team.)

Quaker plaque at Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum as well as millstone from Zavitz Mill on Gravelly Bay, Lake Erie
photo: Don Alexander

I visited the Mennonite plaque at the First Mennonite Church in Vineland (very close to where I used to live in Jordan) last February or March in preparation for writing the grant application and invited the participation of that congregation (which is not yet resolved).  I want to work with the community of each site in ways which will necessarily be negotiated as we move along. I have no intention of making “plonk art”; work plonked down in a site used only as inspiration or backdrop. My values of art-making place a high value on making meaning and it follows that meaning must be made in dialogue with the communities where the performance/installation will take place. However, I am not engaging in a pure community art practice whereby the work is entirely co-created, either. And I have so far invited one other artist to contribute her own work – so in other words, all is floating in the mid-stream at the moment (as it should be).

I believe that the re-negotiation of the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in Canada is of the utmost importance in our times so it is important to me that the work include aboriginal perspectives. Certainly the War of 1812 presents rich material, not least of which is the strange and long history of how native and non-native communities have approached the recognition of Tecumseh (featuring grave-robbing on the white side, of course.) Last March I attended a fantastic lecture by Alan Corbiere, Indigenous Perspectives on the War of 1812,  sponsored by various groups including the Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education of Brock University and held at Niagara Artists’ Centre. He was kind enough to suggest some research materials.

At the time of my application, I knew the work was not specifically about 1812 war resisters, rather that they were an anchor for an exploration of notions of peace and conflict, community and nationhood. Recently, the notion of communities of resistance seemed to be my frame but that may change too. I am currently engaged in reading a number of War of 1812 history books focused on either the Peace Church or aboriginal communities (the latter having been written by non-native scholars) but I know I have zero interest in portraying historical events. I have never been interested in narrative theatre at any point during my many years of art-making.

Today’s trip presented at least one very clear, visual and site-based direction to me and I will soon begin the process of requesting permission to use the site and therefore engage with its community in the development of content. At this site, two remarkable old maple trees called out loudly to me! They remind me of Pelham’s Comfort Maple, where in 2003 I shot video of dance Yvonne Ng in the tree, for the work, earth’s flesh.

not related to the work at all but we passed this tree of shoes and I couldn’t help wondering about its story!
photo: Don Alexander

one of the old maple trees at a site I hope to use
photo: Don Alexander


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