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Posts Tagged ‘peace’

Return to The Main Event – Rennie Park

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2013 at 9:52 pm

It’s been ages since I have blogged at all and since I have worked on The Main Event (fond interim name in my electronic folders for the project for which I received an OAC research grant in 2012). This is happily due to other art opportunities (such as the terrific Niagara Dance Company commission, Dissolve, and major family events. I have recently returned to The Main Event and I am sorry to say that the driver is a production grant deadline. Maybe I should not say sorry and frame grant deadlines as helpful.

I have changed direction. This is partly because I am so sick of hearing about the War of 1812 I have lost any interest in addressing war resisters to same. But more positively, it is mostly because the project has evolved to embrace my general direction, which is to dissolve boundaries between my artistic and change agent practises.  (My professional change agent practice, aka consultant business, is non-existent at present and my volunteer activities have increased significantly, beginning with Idle No More in late 2012.) While I have a long history of community work in varied capacities – serving as administrator of arts service organizations nationally, provincially and regionally, catalyzing community arts practice in St. Catharines during my years with the dearly-departed St. Catharines and Area Arts Council, and creating my own art work based in community – I have only once worked in what I consider to be a “pure” community art practice and did not consider it successful (working with RAFT, the local youth shelter in 2005). I do not consider that this work will be “pure” community art practice either, but it will be developed in partnership with community groups and issues with which I identify. The performance remains to be one in which the audience will move from site to site on a bus which will house a video projection system and I still intend that it take place over a series of Friday and Saturday summer nights in 2014. It has evolved to sites only within the municipality of the City of St. Catharines (since I am no longer tied to 1812 War Resister sites and it will lessen bus travel time) which are selected primarily on the basis of their identification with the community groups.

Never Again

Rennie Park Peace Garden

Rennie Park Peace Garden

First up in a partnership with Project Ploughshares Niagara, a tiny and very grassroots peace organization with which I worked on the Art of Peace Festival in my capacity as Executive Director of St. Catharines and Area Arts Council. I have of course worked with peace issues in my work before, with Song For A Blue Moon, a 2004 performance which took 6 years to create encompassing my 3 years of homelessness.

For many years, PPN has presented a Hiroshima and Nagasaki Lantern Service at Rennie Park in Port Dalhousie and is responsible with other organizations for the peace focus of the park (in pleasant St. Catharines coexistence with the rowing focus although I notice the City website makes no mention of the Peace Garden, only the rowing content). This event will be the starting point for the section of the performance at Rennie Park.

Here are a photos of the Lantern Service kindly provided by Project Ploughshares Niagara:


Recently, I scouted the location. The part of the park used by PPN for the Lantern Service is in the area of their Peace Garden, close to a small canal beside Martindale Pond upon which they float the lanterns. I expect to limit the performance to that part dependent on whether or not the City will allow our small bus access to the road leading into that area (because it will house the projector). I eyed an attractive mound with trees close to the parking lot as a possible location if absolutely required as a back-up, but we would need to walk into the the Peace Garden.

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