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Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

Making Lucius’ Garden 3 – Homage to Chris

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm

A watering can in progress on Chris’ workbench.

This will be brief because I am procrastinating the completion of the Water Text for the Lucius’ Garden soundscape – but I’d like to pay homage to my collaboration with my old friend and lighting wizard, Chris Clifford. Chris has fabricated the lights for Lucius’ Garden, which go inside the watering cans carried by the four Gardener performers (Maja Bannerman, Alexander Franks, Angela Hines, and Elaina Jones).

Chris has worked on R. Murray Schafer’s outdoor epic operas (Princess of the Stars, 1997; The Enchanted Forest, 2005; The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix, 2006) so assured me he knew a thing or two about throwing lights in water.

I first met Chris probably in 1976 when Videocabaret presented the Patty Rehearst Story in the basement of the first A Space on St. Nicholas St. (Toronto). I believe that Chris was the first person ever to build a big pile of video monitors, which back in those days were large, chunky affairs, (although there is Ant Farm’s 1975 Media Burn to consider.) Circa 1982, we served together on the Board of Directors of Trinity Square Video, but it was not until 1990 that Chris worked as Lighting Designer with me. That was for my own epic, Lake. It was the second of two major interdisciplinary works, Moral/Passion and Lake, which consumed me during much of the 1980s. Inspired by Pina Bausch, I was seeking to combine the performance art base of my work with the expressivity of my performing arts roots. Lake was performed in the Bill Bolton Arena in Toronto and was the last work produced by my company, Cultural Desire Projects. It is still not digitized so I can’t show you any images.

Chris helped me with batteries and such things as building a battery-powered lightbox for Le Paysage et nos coeurs (1995), which was the second of the series of performance I made in the 1990s in which the audience walked though nature trails or parks. That work was part of an exchange between Chicoutimi and Grimsby Public Art Gallery. He lit Progress of the Body (1997), a performance in Trinity Bellwoods Park (Toronto) which was part of the first 7A*11d performance art festival.  I was working with what I called light projections, using theatrical gobos with images of the brain, heart and lungs laser-cut in them, and  used them in both installation and performance. You can see one in this installation shot of Nature of the Body, 1996, at Grimsby Public Art Gallery. For Progress of the Body, Chris used these gobos to throw large-scale light projections on the hillsides of the bowl of the park. I do remember we had a setback – my 10 year old daughter Nell and I were setting out bowls of water on the ground and the baseball diamond lights were our only source of lighting. During the second performance, they unexpectedly went out! (None of those works are yet digitized and up on my website.)

Chris Clifford, Falani Clifford-Thomas, Nell Chitty, Genna Clifford-Thomas. Lighting design meetings while camping at Rockpoint Provincial Park with our girls.

Chris Clifford, Falani Clifford-Thomas, Nell Chitty, Genna Clifford-Thomas. Lighting design meetings while camping at Rockpoint Provincial Park with our girls. (2004)

Chris lit Earth’s Flesh (2003) which was part of Shared Habitat Festival of Art and Science. He lit Song For A Blue Moon (2004), which was workshopped at Niagara Artists’ Centre and performed in Montreal at Tangente Danse Actuelle. That was our last time working together and it is wonderful to be doing so again!

These days, Chris is Technical Director at the School of English and Theatre Studies at University of Guelph. Lucky students!


Making Lucius Garden 2 – DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2015 at 12:10 pm

ec1_TwitPic440x220The Lucius of the performance, Lucius’ Garden, is Lucius Oille, second Mayor of St. Catharines and first Superintendent of the first waterworks in St. Catharines. He gifted to the people of St. Catharines the fountain that still stands at the corner of King and James Streets, beside the Old Courthouse. On April 2, I had the privilege of shooting video inside DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant.

The video will be used in the Waterworks Duet of Lucius’ Garden, which features a tiny, moving video projection from a performer wearing a small video projector in a harness onto a performer serving as a screen. I previously used this device in performances called short, sweet light, for Greening Niagara‘s 2014 Climate Day of Action and Brock University’s 2015 Social Justice Forum.

Filter No 12St. Catharines is the largest of 12 municipalities in the Region of Niagara. The regional level of government is responsible for water and sewer systems and the municipalities buy the treated water and sell it to residents. Culture staff at the Region of Niagara kindly provided me with an introduction to the Information and Public Outreach Coordinator, Water and Wastewater Services, Public Works, who in turn set me up with DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant staff.

Tunnel cornerI am so appreciative of the Region staff’s cooperation and support of Lucius’ Garden – I’ve been an artist 40 years this May and have often experienced wariness and a lack of respect for what artists do. Not this time! Adrian Rittner, Water Operations Manager, and Jeff Carl, Water Operations Supervisor, went beyond my most optimistic expectations. Turns out both of them are history buffs deeply committed to valuing the heritage of their workplace. Adrian Rittner is also a Media Arts graduate from Sheridan College – arts grads turn up in all sorts of places! 50s blueAlthough the infrastructure was built at different periods, much of it has now reached the end of its life. Renovations are currently underway at the Plant and they include aspects of restoration whenever possible. Anyone know of where they can find a replica chandelier for the entrance?

lamp in the old Valve House that may one day be a museum

lamp in the old Valve House that may one day be a museum

The plant stands at the site of the original reservoir and works, and the old Valve House remains. They envision it transformed into a museum; the perfect complement to the Morningstar Mill heritage site next door operated by the City of St. Catharines. The mill of course played a role in the original site selection of the 1870s.

In my last blog post I wrote about recording a reading from the first St. Catharines Waterworks Annual Report – imagine my delight when Jeff showed me in his office photocopies of all the early Annual Reports including that one which forms part of the Lucius’ Garden soundscape!

Jeff Carl, Water Operations Supervisor, Water & Wastewater Services, DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant, Region of Niagara

Jeff Carl, Water Operations Supervisor, Water & Wastewater Services, DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant, Region of Niagara

After a long conversation about my work, their Plant and shared values around water, Jeff toured me around the plant. I explained that I am not a documentarian and the purpose of the video is not explanatory, but that I was shooting from an aesthetic pov that sees the machines and water as beautiful.

The plant did not disappoint. It is a warren of sections built in different eras since 1925. The pipes and machines date from various 20th century vintages and the colour-coding (different blues for treated water, sewage water, treatment chemicals, etc.) makes for a chromatic experience. The beautiful Deco font of the signage one sees from DeCew Rd. is a familiar site to me I remember from my childhood.

Yellow Rm LL3 Roof+signCU

I have a style of shooting video that I describe as body-based. The camera is mounted on a monopod and I walk with it, shooting long, single shots on automatic focus. The plant was filled with long passageways, an arrangement that suited me well as I walked through and “looked” around with the camera. (Thank-you Vickie Fagan of Fagan Media Group for so kindly trusting me with the loan of her camera.) I used a camera mounted on my back for a video installation as long ago as 1993, Isadora Speaks, and I started using the monopod during the Niagara Shebang project in 2014.

I strive to take a “soft” approach to the didactic content in my work and I remain committed to my early interest in experimenting with how information is communicated. (That interest is evident in works like Demo Model from 1978.) Around the world and in parts of Canada, especially in First Nations communities, access to clean, safe water is a huge challenge. I give thanks that I live where we tend to take it for granted. I promise not to shove it down the audience’s throat in my work, but water bottled far away and sold by private corporations is a terrible scourge with huge costs to the environment when clean, safe water is readily available. I have a sign on my front door – This Home Runs on Tap Water. (I got it in Kingston at an exhibition following-up on the I Am Water project there.)

P.S. – I am still a ways from my fundraising goal for Lucius’ Garden, please support if you can by clicking here.

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