Sunday, 28 December 2014

Throwing Yourself Open to Fate

This is the third Christmas I have spent on my own– without the company of family or friends.  The grim reaper has been pruning my family tree with a vengeance leaving me effectively an orphan. However, this year I decided that did not mean I had to spend Christmas day all alone.  Every week I try and do something I have never done before and this week it was participating in a communal meal with a hundred souls at St. John's Gathering Place established by the Presentation and Mercy orders of Catholic nuns. There is a free meal of turkey with all the trimmings, live music, presents and carol singing.  But perhaps most valuable of all was companionship.

I wasn't sure how to dress for this occasion, so I opted for middle of the road, which meant a grey dress and a bolero jacket.  I left my vintage fur coat at home and went with a cloth coat.  To be honest, I was dressed entirely in thrift store wardrobe.  But when I crossed the threshold of The Gathering Place they took one look at me and to my surprise slapped a volunteer sticker on me and told me I could join the society matron cluster around the coffee pots.  I was quite literally labeled as a volunteer when instead I thought of myself as being much closer to some of the "guests" who were being served.  I decided to just go with the flow.
Christmas in the dining room.  The Gathering Place was recently renovated.

As it turns out there was a surplus of volunteer ladies hovering and talking with each other.  I sought out someone in authority and said, "What do you need?"  The answer couldn't have been better as far as I was concerned.  The grey haired nun said to me, "We need someone to mingle and talk with our guests".  In short order, I was chatting about Canadian Christmas traditions with a table of Sudanese students, about the local symphony with a group of seniors, traditional Aboriginal medicine with another crowd, and on and on. Everyone welcomed my attention and were eager to chat.  It was clear they felt comfortable in this environment.  I was the new girl on the "block".  Eventually, someone lassoed me with their arms and sat me down with the words, "Now, you eat with us!"  It was a whale of a good time.

The Gathering Place is a community service centre where people can avail themselves of medical services, a hot meal, various social events and companionship.  It is the "safe place" for many in my hometown who find them disadvantaged through circumstance.

This is how the Gathering Place describes their mission:
The Gathering Place is a service centre committed to building community, promoting equality and providing nourishment. It exists to meet the needs of people whom society has failed.

The programs and services of the Gathering Place are offered primarily to people who are homeless or live in less than desirable housing conditions, people who are often unemployed and to people who do not have adequate social supports at this time in their lives.

Monday, 22 December 2014

With Eyes that Close

This image shows the installation after a snow,
which lent an atmosphere of innocence.
The mud made a hungry slurping sound as I pulled my foot out of it.  I was walking down a muddy foot path with artist Pepa Chan, we were on the way to see her installation of With Eyes that Close, which probes the missing but not yet forgotten women and girls of aboriginal descent in Newfoundland and Labrador who were victims to violent crime.  This was not the first time I had made the trek up to Signal Hill and prowled around the back loop of woods behind the Geo Centre Park.  It is filled with lovely distracting views that put you over the City of St. John's and its harbour.

Pepa Chan is an artist who uses plush animals and dolls as her raw material.  She reconfigures them.  And I like her work enough that I have bought it at a silent auction.  My own piece is composed of four legs with pantiloons and tiny white shoes.  To me it represents the dysfunctional family and in particular the odd way we have of constructing memories, stitching together parts that don't really go together or serve a function anymore.  I was curious to see how Chan was going to use the dolls and animals to support her theme.
Plush animals are comfort toys.  Pepa Chan
uses them in disturbing ways.

"We're here" Pepa announces and I shift my gaze up from the slippery rocks and into the wood and I see them.  Eighty dolls placed in the trees.  They look flung as if from some explosion and hang from the branches every which way.  We've had several days of rain and they are sodden.  My eyes first settle on a doll's figure that is upside down.  Purple wool spills out of it like entrails.  "So violent" are the first words that occur to me.  Pepa responds, "the way they died was violent".  She tells me how working on this project gave her nightmares, how she needed to take a break in order to complete it.

I am thankful for the gentle weather and for the fact that Pepa and I enjoy each other's company.  It puts a pleasant sheen on the experience.  This bitter pill needs a sugar coating to experience.  I spend an hour going through the woods, the burnt out campfire ring that was there prior to the installation.  Dolls have been scalped by nature, eyes pushed into their sockets.  This is rough stuff.  My own experience of violence and childhood resurface, which I share with Pepa.  The trees are slick with rain, mushrooms in vivid colours push their way through the bark.  I am moved to tears. This is an exhibition I need to review, I must find a publication that is appropriate.
Scissors: the duality of support and menace are evoked skillfully.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Stuck on Fast Forward

On Monday of this week I sent in my topic list for the indexers at Bloomsbury Press in the U.K.  That means we are getting very close to publication and what a hoot it was to see the book listed as upcoming in  It's real!  Apparently, I am now an "international theorist".  

This is what Amazon has about the book:
'Sloppy' art and craft addresses art and craft practice which is deliberately messy or unfinished in execution and/or appearance.

Sloppy Craft: Post-Disciplinarity and Craft brings together leading international artists, historians, theorists and educators to explore the possibilities and limitations of the idea of 'sloppy craft' within an interdisciplinary (or even postdisciplinary) context. Contributors from Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia address 'sloppiness' in contemporary art and craft practice, discuss the importance of traditional concepts of skill, and the implications of sloppiness for a new 21st century emphasis on interdisciplinarity, as well as for activist, performance, queer and Aboriginal practices.

In addition to critical essays, the book includes a 'conversation' section in which contemporary artists and practitioners discuss the practice and teaching of 'sloppy' craft.

The whole of the week was stuck on fast forward.  The "Wild" show as I affectionately call it for the Craft Gallery and the Wood Point Discovery Centre near Gros Morne is gathering steam as works are now being submitted.  I had a photo shoot for the More Than Skin Deep project, a board meeting for Eastern Edge, a book launch for St. Michael's Printshop, a curatorial proposal to submit to the City of St. John's, two concerts to cover and on and on…the Christmas parties have started.  Is it any wonder that I get so wound-up that I can't sleep?  And four more books arrived in the mail from publishers hoping that I might review them in my blog.

'Tis the season.  Time to dig out my Rachel Ryan Modern Nativity manger, which by the way I discuss in my chapter on Sloppy Craft.  I also talk about the historical precedents in Wabi Sabi or the perfection of imperfection.  Now, that's a lesson I need to learn.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The solace of books

Death is what instructs most of all, and then only when it is present.  When it is absent it is totally forgotten.  Those who can live with death can live in the truth, only this is almost unendurable.  It is not the drama of death that teaches us – when you are facing it there is no drama.

p. 348 Iris Murdock, Henry and Cato (St. Albans: Triad Panther 1977)

I have been thinking a lot about books lately.  My personal life has been overwhelming: I lost a cherished aunt who was my last relative from my childhood; my son was rushed to hospital and even the family pet of the last decade passed away.  Combine that with more mundane stresses of long work hours and travel and I was shaken off my center. 

Historically, I have lost myself in a book when I need to escape, to catch my breath before going back to the fray.  As a child my home life was turbulent and often unstable.  Books sustained me and the library was my refuge.  I never went in for the Nancy Drew novels of my girl friends.  Oddly enough, I liked to read encyclopedia and factual based writing.  Once I started writing my own fact-based work I started reading fictional work in earnest.

I missed most of my sixth year of grade school due to illness and a teacher's strike but it was the best year of my education.  That year I decided to read the reference library – or at least a whole shelf of it.  I started at Aeschylus, The Birds, from the Greek tragedies and read my way clear through to Zola.  I can still remember that B was for Baudelaire and C was for Chaucer, D for Darwin and Descartes and so on.  Did I understand it all?  Of course not.  Nor could I even pronounce some of it.  I remember being fascinated by the word hyperbole as in Shakespeare saying "he o'er shot the mark, 'tis hyperbole".  I thought it was pronounced as hyper-bowl, as if it were some new sport.

Usually, I am whimsical in what I choose to read - if it is not research.  I leave myself open to chance.  I buy books at church and charity sales or thrift shops and use open shelf distribution networks.  I like the idea of finding a book and leaving a book in exchange as in a literary version of karma.  On my last trip to England I found a lovely Margaret Atwood volume in a medieval church's book sale.  It was leather bound and had a ribbon marker.  I paid a song for it; took great delight in its sensual offerings and felt patriotic when I left it behind in my flat for the next resident.  I knew Margaret would have approved.  (When I met her as a student she was the most piss and vinegar person; I suspect she has since mellowed with age.)

I started this post with a quote from a book that I found in a free book spot outside a local café.  Little did I know that a scant month after finishing that book I would be dealing with death one more time.  Odd, isn't it?  How when I tried to lose myself I instead found what I needed.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Sad News

Regretfully, I will be not posting a blog this week as I have had a death in the family and need to take some time off.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Challenge Trans Phobia!

"Hello, my name is Gloria.  What pronoun are you?"  I am at a clothing swap in support of a student lead campaign to promote awareness of trans gender issues.  As a writer I am keenly aware of how words betray our values but I can only imagine the grief that pronouns cause those individuals struggling with a gender obsessed society.  Frankly, I welcome alternatives to the black and white, binary coding of male and female.  I am particularly fond of the term "gender fluid" which to me seems so much more accurate at describing the rich shadowing of real life.  The directness I am encouraged to use at the clothing swap is downright refreshing. It is a relief to those of us who want to show support and respect.  I find myself monitoring my own language use and cringe at the regularity of my own gender default setting.  If I'm any indication, changing society's habits, even among the well intentioned is going to be difficult.

I applaud the Trans Needs Committee at Memorial University for the clothing swap.  It was a supportive environment to score some clothing (no questioning looks from sales staff), share perspectives and in my case learn.  It was the right blend of activism and education.  It appealed to my sense of community building and politics of inclusion. The beauty of events like the clothing swap is that unlike protests and rallies, this is a relaxed happening that encourages discussion. 

Trans Pride Flag

During the week there were more politically focused events but they were not adversarial in nature.  There was a signing of a charter of rights at City Hall in St. John's and the pink, blue and white flag was flown in recognition of the annual week of celebration and education of the lives of the trans community, which occurs usually around November 20th.

The wrap up for the week was a full night of entertainment followed by a social at the Rocket Room.  Under the stage name of Ritual Frames, Daze (pronounced Daisy) Jefferies, mesmerized the audience with her particular brand of experimental, electronic music.  It was environment-rich, evocative and told her very personal story of maturing from a boy in rural Newfoundland to a transgender woman in love, loss and acceptance.  I have followed electronic music for decades and I wager Daze is a talent to watch and eagerly look forward to her forthcoming album Diaspora Tale, which will be released in 2015.

The evening also featured Dash and Noelle in their scintillating light and lasers show and the premiere of the Trans Awareness Documentary "Fighting the Cistem: Trans Narratives" produced by Memorial University's Social Work Faculty. The short film was a disarmingly unadorned series of interviews with local trans youth and leaders talking about the challenges of dealing with family, the medical system, education and workplace.  Sadly, the trans community is no stranger to discrimination and violence inside and outside the home.  We all need to keep in mind that beneath a bewildering and evolving list of labels is a beating, human heart.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Weaving Community Through Collaborative Eco-Art

Typically, there are two kinds of craft books:  coffee table books with gorgeous photographs of objects and how-to books that focus on teaching process.  There is a rare third kind of craft book that is philosophical and has an enduring influence on the craft community's motivation and inspiration.  Soetsu Yanagi's The Unknown Craftsman springs to my mind as an example of this third variety.  A new book, released this month by New Society Publishers in British Columbia successfully straddles the how-to and philosophical.

Sharon Kallis, Common Threads, Weaving Community Through Collaborative Eco-Art, provides a satisfying portion of how-to information with black and white photographs with a generous dollop of why illustrated by colour images.  Look at that subtitle!  The community aspect of craft is more important than ever.  After all, stitching, knitting, weaving, etc have all been practiced for centuries.  So, why do we need another how-to book in this genre?  Craft has struggled for contemporary relevance ever since it outgrew the back to the land movement of the 1930s and the social efforts of William Morris (1834-1896) before that.  The DIY generation gave us new hope but, like the easy access of how-to information on the Internet, challenged the professionalism of elite, studio craft. Sharon Kallis shows us in practical terms why we still need craft and what is to be gained by situating craft within a politics of inclusion.

The remarkable Sharon Kallis.

The author's tone is never lecturing but she does pepper her text with facts that are persuasive – such as, it takes 713 gallons of water to produce a cotton t-shirt– and support her views on sustainability, seed saving, knowledge and skills banks.  I enjoyed the presence of other voices, too that are provided by highlighted quotes:

Everybody has to eat and everybody has to wear clothing, so it is a very common language. The language of food and the language of textiles…suddenly people realize it is culturally important, it is historically important…it connects you more deeply to those roots…you can bring it forward and become more community spirited.  (excerpted from a quote by Karen Barnaby on page 123)

I never get tired of looking at The Ivy Boat.

The actions of Sharon Kallis speak most loudly and that is how I first came to know her.  She was harvesting invasive species - English Ivy– in Vancouver's Stanley Park, with shears and a team of community volunteers.  With patience, they dried the ivy and eventually wove objects both humble and majestic, small and large. Hand held baskets, wreaths and even life-sized canoes.  These community made crafts became public sculpture that gently bio-degraded like echoes on the wind.  I would always remember Kallis and years later it is great to see this book come off the presses.  With the generosity of New Society Publishers, I have been able to gift a few copies strategically to art and craft schools and influential makers.  Long live eco-art. 

Sunday, 9 November 2014


I am in the middle of curating two shows, writing a new book chapter, just volunteered for the Board of Directors of Eastern Edge Gallery and doing a whole bunch more.  And yes, I am sore.   Two hours worth of double reverse spins and deep back dips in Salsa classes.  Put some physical to balance the mental in my life.

Despite how busy I get, I try to set aside time each day to read and to see exhibitions.  It would be so easy to say I don't have time.  But that would be an excuse.  This Wednesday evening I marched up to The Rooms to see an Inuit art exhibit. 

My interest in aboriginal culture goes back to my little girl days when my father would take me to the Kahnawake reserve just outside of Montreal.   Years later, I would find myself on  the six nation reserve in Ontario while on assignment for the Koffler Gallery writing about the carved masks of David General.  Two short years ago, I was on Navaho territory researching the language of pattern that I found on their carpets, pottery and jewellery.  My son, boy-genius Andrew had been researching too.  And he was busy telling me about four-horned sheep.  Our guide said "my auntie has those" and a short jeep ride later we were hanging out with "Auntie" who was 100+ years and a weaver with a flock of (you guessed it) four horned sheep.

Contemporary Art from TD Bank Group’s Inuit Collection
October 4, 2014 – January 18, 2015
Guest Curators: TD Bank Group

Back to St. John's.  Go see this show at the Rooms.  It is a small show but there are some overpowering gems in it.  I was smitten with some of the extra-large coloured pencil drawings of whales and walrus by Tim Pitsiulak.   So many of us will equate the work from up North as print making.  But that has been largely supplanted by the more intimate work in coloured pencil. Annie Pootoogook remains for me to be the queen of this territory.  She has represented genuine contemporary life in Dorset, complete with porn, alcoholism, and take-out pizza.  So, the claims towards "contemporary" life in the TD banks text hardly surprise… the images even less so. 

OK, so what did I fall in love with?  Images that were nearly six foot across that depicted whales and walrus in coloured pencil.  The barnacles on the whales were represented as tiny masks of elders.  The textures on the whales were downright primal.  OK, I dare you.  Go, see this show.  Tell me what entices you.  The stone sculptures of the dude with his MP3 player perhaps?   Yes, this is a contemporary view and the work is all solid but hell, ya it has been manicured.  Tell me what you think.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Creepy, Classy and Creative

My Halloween started on Wednesday evening with a screening hosted by the Nickel Film Festival at the Rockhouse on George Street.  This is the annual Creepy Challenge where film crews get a mere 48 hours to make a short film of five minutes duration.  Twenty-five teams took up the challenge and 18 survived to enter the competition.  The evening was spent viewing those shorts and voting on things like best use of special effects and props, soundtrack, scariest movie, etc.  The rules stipulated that the film had to include a plastic bag and the line "it is not what it looks like".

That evening I joined some of my professional movie-making friends and they did the pro commentary around the table.  It was pointed out that most of the filmmakers who entered were first timers or amateurs.  Still, it was a splendid evening with a decent live band (The Tapes) who did enthusiastic covers of The Monster Mash, Season of the Witch, Thriller the Ghost Buster theme song and other Halloween-appropriate music.  We were too busy dancing while they counted the votes to argue over who should win what.  It was $5 well spent in my books.

While I was waiting for the doors of the Rockhouse to open I chatted with others in line and not a single one of them had ever been to the film festival proper.  Instead of being dismayed the little voice inside my head said, "good audience development".  Creepy Challenge reached new peeps, built profile beyond the calendar dates of the festival and raised funds. Smart.

The logo represents the mobile unit that is travelling and collecting stories.

On Thursday evening I attended The Tale of a Town at The Rocket Room above its namesake bakery.  This is a project that is roaming across Canada collecting oral histories of people's memories of their hometown and weaving them into dramatic performances.  For example, the one I participated in was about St. John's.  I say participated because it is interactive.  You are given an audio set with the sound track but you find yourself in different settings: outside store windows at Christmas time and then opening a Christmas present, in a cinema house during a Saturday matinee, etc.  You walk about, are given simple tasks that integrate you into the storyline that takes you back and forth in time. Mayor O'Keefe was one of my fellow audience members and he proudly pointed out that he was also one of the narrating voices that had contributed a memory.

The tone is personal and the production values quite high.  The mood is definitely nostalgic.  The running time is a lean 30 minutes.  The price was free –my favourite four letter word.

This photo is from the AGM awards and yes
that's the toast backdrop from the night before.

For the sake of brevity, I will skip to the weekend at the Champagne Toast event at Eastern Edge Gallery.  This was a classy but fun event to kick off 30 days of events to celebrate the gallery's 30th anniversary.  Many of us were gussied up in sequins worthy of a red carpet and there was at least one dashing sailor in costume.  Champagne is not unusual at such events, but toast?  That was inspired, what a clever pun!  The smell of toast filled the air and homemade jams completed the nibbles.  We posed for photos in front of a huge toast-shaped backdrop.  Performances by Steve Maloney and his guitar provided the entertainment.

Check out the 30 events that will unfold during the next 30 days:

Joe Fowler with his roses. What a classy and creative guy.
I rarely volunteer for boards and committees anymore, in part because I try and keep an arm's length relationship with galleries and arts organizations whose events I might write about.  But I decided to cross the line and join the board of Eastern Edge because I admire their community involvement and in particular the community building skills and values of director Mary MacDonald and chairman of the board Andrew Harvey.  They are both positive people as well, which is key for me.  So, on Sunday I found myself attending the AGM, which was mercifully short.  It wrapped up with staff member Joe Fowler giving out awards with really funny names and roses…and there was a delicious brunch as well.

I've warned them that I will walk out of a meeting at the two hour mark because I don't believe people think productively in a meeting longer than that.  Apparently, that is part of Andrew Harvey's religion as well, in which case we will get along just fine.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Wild, Pure, Aesthetic Wonder - Fibre 2015

This week was undoubtedly a fibre week.  We are preparing for a major fibre exhibition that will have two venues: the Craft Council Gallery and the Discovery Centre in Woody Point near Gros Morne National Park.  "We" in this case is Philippa Jones, my curatorial intern and myself.  She's got great curatorial instincts, a practical streak, plus a taste for both hard work and excellence.  I could not be happier.  Philippa was also successful in securing the events manager's job for the Fibre Conference that is being held in Gros Morne in October.  So, she is a one-stop wonder.  And yes, she is a kick-ass artist in her own right, who recently saw her work unveiled as part of a National Gallery exhibit drawn from their permanent collection.
Artist Philippa Jones (left) and Contemporary Curator of The Rooms, Mireille Eagan show off an epic ink drawing acquired by the National Gallery for their permanent collection.

The past week and this is an activity that will sprawl over several days, we have been doing studio visits or having artists bring in their work to discuss it with us at the Craft Council 3rd floor space.  Some of the artists have been quite apprehensive and I understand that they are eager to win our approval.  Their proposals were accepted but now the proof is in the pudding.  Have they made the right decisions? Will the art work bear out their ideas.  In many cases, they have about a month more to work before the next stage of documentation takes place.

Knitting, weaving, dyeing, etc are so labour intensive.  Add a good layer of research or experimentation and a month disappears pretty quickly.  I understand the investment that good art requires and good fibre art is a hungry monster.  I do not come from the motherly school of curating.  I am more inclined to hold an artist's feet over an open flame.  I have been called an art-nazi because I like to push artists outside of their comfort zone.   So, roast you over a pit and then feed you to the monster of process and ambition.  Hopefully, the result is a piece of work the artist had only dreamed about beforehand.

Philippa and I are encouraged by what we've seen so far.  The exhibition will enhance the experience of visitors to Gros Morne National Park but not by providing the merely picturesque.  I think viewers will come away with a greater sensitivity for the textures, sights and sounds of the park but also the fragility of the ecosystem and its biological intricacy. The spectrum of the proposed work includes soft sculpture, a "body loom" video work, an interactive carpet with sound and motion, masks that the public will be encouraged to try on, as well as more traditional use of weaving, doll making, hooking and knitting.

If you would like to know more about the conference, here's the link:

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Excuse Me, There's a Gorilla at My Door

This is a stock image from a how-to lesson.

The past few months have been a blur of festival events, speaking engagements and committee meetings.  I am looking forward to returning to some more personal projects, including my tattoo research for More Than Skin Deep.  I didn't realize how much I missed it until I heard a loud banging at my apartment door.

It was before eight in the morning and I had been up until three a.m. with the 24-Hour Art Marathon.  I was still in bed but because it was my inside door and not the front doorbell I figured this was a big man with a passkey.  Better put something on and head him off at the pass.  Rearranging my caftan I discover two XL-sized plumbers who want access to the house basement and the water mains.  I let them in and set about making coffee.
I used to find pages like this left behind in classrooms.
You realize there's a lot of people out there who can draw.

However, the ink on one of the plumber's arms distracts me and I find myself hanging upside down trying to decipher the pattern that is peeking out beneath his t-shirt sleeve.  I would have been content if he just rolled up his sleeve but before I know it he has his shirt off.  This is what goes through my head.  "Look at the fade on the back, it starts there, goes to the chest and finishes on the shoulders. Fifteen-year spread of ink by the same mature artist, confident lines, looks like John Pinsent's work judging by the tapering of the lines but the drawing isn't his.  Who is it?"  I recognized the style as being similar to work I'd seen on a naval diver and a corrections officer.  It's very macho but tasteful.  The plumber confirms that it is Pinsent's work but the drawing is his own.  This guy has a major skull fetish going on.  It is draped like a well-placed shawl on his muscular frame, a network of flaming skulls.  He explains that he started drawing skulls in high school and as soon as he was old enough, my plumber started getting his drawings translated as tattoos.  It was as simple as that.  I've learned not to complicate some things.

Do you remember back in high school there was always at least one kid in the class covering every notebook with obsessive drawing?  They didn't have to hold special meaning or messages for someone else.  Rather, they were like a favourite song inside your head or touchstone in your pocket.  Ordinary, familiar and well loved.  Personal but not private.
I googled skull drawings by teenagers and found this one.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

What a Menu! Susanna Hood + Scott Thomson, Joe Ink, and Sarah Joy Stoker

Susanna Hood at the microphone in The Muted Note.

Any one of the three performances by Susanna Hood + Scott Thomson, Joe Ink, and Sarah Joy Stoker, from last night could have carried the evening on their own.  Each was polished to perfection, had plenty to say and was visually compelling.  I believe we were seeing the tips of icebergs.

The poetry of P.K. Page stands out among Canadian poets for how often it has been brought to the stage and the poet herself would grow into a playwright and scriptwriter.  Her words seem to be a magnet for musicians, dancers, actors and filmmakers.  Last night, we got to see a slice of The Muted Note, a portion of a longer work of 11 poems/songs for which Scott Thomson has composed the music.  His performance is delicately understated but consistent.  His trombone was never pushy but always present supporting each syllable and gesture.  Susanna Hood sang, turning the words into jazz-like lyrics and giving them further life through a vocabulary of movement that was energetic, but always controlled.

Kevin Tookey woos the teacup in Left.

Next up were Joe Ink and Left.  Choreographed by Joe Laughlin and performed by Kevin Tookey.  Clearly, all the press accolades said about this Vancouver company proved to be true: "Wickedly sophisticated", "unusual" and "daring".  The Jacobean style music by Antonio Martin y Coll was pure inspiration.  It set the courtly mood of measured movement and gesture, the poised toe, the hand on hip and proffered hand.  The clever costuming of a slim brown contemporary suit with a contradictory splendid ruffed set of cuffs and collars carried this out further.  Dancer Kevin Tookey presented us with an everyman of polite manners and we would see just how far he could balance his elegant efforts to get that oh-so-controlling teacup to stay in the spotlight of his affections.  What a perfect partner: the teacup was also an embodiment of etiquette and good taste.  From courtship, to lust, to conflict, the narrative played out seamlessly.  But the audience gasped when the teacup was finally smashed to the floor.  There would be no happily ever after for our dapper pair.

The theme of destruction went a step further in the performance of Sarah Joy Stoker.  Never afraid of a difficult topic, this local talent gave us The Worth Of, which was a disturbing yet beautiful indictment of our impact on seabirds.  Her program notes quote Chris Jordan as saying, "Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirits."  This is just one sentence from three paragraphs that contextualized the graphic, wall-sized images that were projected on stage of bird carcasses, that even in death are a graceful display: the ripple of long necked verterbrae, the finery of feathers but punctuated by colourful, destructive plastic debris.  For me the most poetic image was when the organic projected images were more ambiguous, when tree roots and nerve endings those life-supporting tendrils could be so many things.  They were especially effective when projected against Sarah Joy Stoker's naked back.  The soundtrack that wrapped up every gesture and every image into a cohesive whole also had impact.
Sarah Joy Stoker seduced viewers into contemplating difficult realities.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.- Like Watching the Birth of Fire

 Opening night at the Neighbourhood Dance Works'
 Festival of New Dance in St. John's
 With a powerhouse performance, Dulcinea Langfelder and her well-oiled machine of four conquered the audience's hearts and minds.  They were impressed with her sheer energy, the scope of the program and the visual impact of the staging.  Make no mistake about it Dulcinea Langfelder is a force to reckon with.  The audience leapt to their feet with a standing ovation and buzzed during the after show reception, "when can we see her again?"

The program Dulcinea's Lament gives a memorable stage presence to the often referred to but never actualized love of Don Quixote.  The archetypical "invisible woman".  Dulcinea shares a name with the character and she probes its role as her muse.  She often uses humour as a foil, to skewer 400 year's worth of historical events, world religions and the plight of women in general.  It is encyclopedic in scope and ambitious by any stretch.  But Dulcinea manages to keep the muse and a-muse at the same time.  The staging for me, with its visual puns and metaphors, kept the production inventive.  Many of the ideas –goddess theory, universalism, the subjectivity of historical interpretation and feminism– are not new but their presentation was and it benefitted from Langfelder Jewish flavoured humour.  And ability to laugh at ourselves probably is our best route to salvation or at least survival.

When I sampled the crowd post show for reactions I was greeted with enthusiasm all round.  One man described the ravishing impact of the show as, "it was like watching fire be born".  Several of the under 35 crowd said they were still processing all the religious and historical references.  A few of the over 35s described it as "brave" in its feminism and critique of religion.  Everyone loved the choreography and the use of global rhythms and popular music.

Where the crowd, most significantly for me, diverged in opinion was in the production's inclusion of the tragedy of 911.  Some felt that was the highlight of the show; others felt that it was the weak spot.
Another segment (and all these opinions were expressed out of earshot of each other) was that it was unresolved but that was the most appropriate way to express the rawness, the "out of nowhere"ness of 911.  Either way, it was a stellar opening for what promises to be a very successful festival.
Inventive staging animated familiar goddess imagery.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Fill Your Dance Card!-Festival of New Dance this week

Normally I try and blog on either a Sunday or Monday but this week is going to be a little different.  After years of promising myself I ought to do this, I am finally attending as many as I can of the Festival of New Dance performances, presentations by choreographers, and so I hope to share some insight and excitement about those events as they unfold throughout the week.

The stellar line-up starts on Tuesday, at the LSPU Hall with Dulcinea Langfelder & Co., who is high on my "want to see" list.  I have avidly followed dance in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and London for years but I, at last, am in the same place at the same time to catch this memorable performer.

Here's a link, if you'd like to find out more for yourself:

She's called a goddess of dance for more than one reason.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Destination Marketing, an evening at The Dunes

The Dunes is noted both for its stunning gardens and
location overlooking the sand dunes of PEI.
Last night I had a memorable dinner at The Dunes with forty of my closest friends.  Ok, not literally.  We were a dinner party of forty from the Canadian Craft Federation conference but I've known most these folks since the 1980s, so there is some legitimate intimacy there.

We were touring studios on the island of red sand and then concluding our evening at The Dunes, which is a studio, gallery and restaurant operated by Peter Jansons and his partner.  I was genuinely surprised when Peter still recognized me with an exuberant, "It's Gloria Hickey!"  Arms flung wide.  That's Peter to a T.  Drama.  Flair.  Style.  I had discovered the man when he was still "Peter the potter".

The field of Canadian ceramics can be very competitive and it was going to take a lot of talent and luck to push the likes of Peter Powning off the "Peter the potter" pedestal.  Hands on his hips he exclaimed, "Where's that writer?"  I had disappeared to explore the gallery offerings.  Eclectic, multi-ethnic in flavour and some surprisingly large pieces.  I waved to him from a distance.  The place is that big.  Peter cajoles, "well you must have done something right (did I hear that correctly?) because look at me now."  Nobody would dispute that, the man is a success story.  He can afford gardeners.

 I've always thought Peter's real talent was being able to dream big and having the passion to persuade others.  I never saw him like other potters who were more about materials and process.  Clay, the wheel, or the extruder and hand building.  His work was about design and sensibility.  And his whole establishment today exudes that quality.

Take for example, the restaurant.  It started out as a cafe that was supposed to be serving sandwiches to tourists and it just kept growing and getting better.  And last night it was serving a full menu of mouth-watering meals to a crowd of 40.  Succulent maple salmon, quinoa with pomegranite, and fresh garden lettuces in rainbow hues.  And that was just my main course.
Interior view of The Dunes.

Now busloads of tourists make the pilgrimage to The Dunes.  They shop, they eat, photographs are taken and memories made.  This is the future of craft–or at least one variety of it.  It is like the flip side of craftivism.  The alternative to the do-it-yourself movement.  In some ways, this is the best of consumerism, which is different from materialism or the philosophy that defines happiness as "he (or she) who has the most stuff".

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Countdown to the Heirloom Keynote

That's me wearing my Aunt Ella's aquamarine knuckle duster in red
 and yellow gold.  It's been in the family for a long time.
Well, I've put the ancestral bling away in the bank security box. I fished it out for inspiration while working on my presentation for PEI. I can't keep the ring and its matching pendant at home safely and although I am tempted to wear them to the Heirloom conference I won't.  I've lost an antique pearl and ruby ring and earring set once in Europe and that taught me my lesson.

I have been working hammer and tongs on my presentation.  At first it was a casual gathering of anecdotal material, which I always enjoy because it pushes me outside of my own narrow scope of experience and expectation.  And frankly people love to talk about themselves, so why not give them the chance.  I've always said to my son, "talk to strangers and you will learn something.  Just don't get in the car with them."

When I work on a topic it is as if I become a magnet for information about it.  Articles, experiences all seem to drift into a pile like wind-blown autumn leaves.  Yesterday, the new issue of East Coast Living landed in my mailbox with a feature story that I had written about Teresa Kachanoski's heritage home.  Ned Pratt did the photography.  Héritage is the French translation for heirloom.  For my presentation I tried to define the essential attributes of an heirloom, what makes it different from say a souvenir or a collectible, and then to illustrate those traits with the narratives people had so generously shared with me.

This photo was snapped by Teresa, which we sent to tempt
 the editor Janice Hudson.
I was also interested in how heirlooms accumulate meanings through successive generations and how that changes.  For that I used an example from my own life: how I had inherited my grandmother's Victorian drinking glasses, which my Austrian mother then put in Russian tea glass holders and I use to serve Turkish style mint tea.  In Turkey, I was fascinated by the chai boys who would materialize out of thin air upon being summoned with a clap of a merchant's hands.  (At the time I was haggling for kilim, flat weave Turkish carpets.  Craftspeople would rework salvaged pieces into carry bags and purses.  Was I a carpet bagger?)
 To my consistent admiration, the chai boys would come running with their trays.  I used to like to watch them round corners at high speed.  Somehow, no glasses got broken and a drop was never spilled.  I sweeten the tea with sugar that I ritually collect on vacation.  It is the only time I add sugar to a beverage.  I make the tea in a special Chinese teapot.  Significantly, my teenage son has his own handmade teapot.  It makes me hopeful for the future of craft.

Monday, 15 September 2014

When I went to highschool it was never like this

To my surprise my son asked if I had posted this on my blog and I said no it was on my Facebook.  But after hearing about the Rainbow Flag destroyed by some less tolerant students recently, I thought I should go for the blog too.
GSA in our house used to stand for Gay Straight Alliance, which my son has worked on in both Brother Rice and now Holy Heart. Last year, his September project was to encourage classmates not to tick off either male or female on the school forms. This year he reported that there is no more M or F but a blank line. And that the Queer Monologues book that I brought home months ago is now a textbook on his reading list. Gay Straight A-gendered and trans is really gathering steam.

If you see a new flag flying in some schools that is pink, blue and white that is the flag to demonstrate support for the trans and a-gendered community.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Some days I should wear a muzzle

This image is by Niurka Barroso from a Cuban-American photo
show.  Here's the link if you're curious
Part of my problem is that I am very opinionated.  I try to do my homework and research so that my published opinions have some foundation but ultimately so much boils down to subjective interpretation.  Combine that with persistent insomnia and life can get real interesting.

I was in a medical clinic not that long ago.  It was a rare occasion when I did not have a book to read or a notebook to scribble in.  So, I looked at the walls, literally.  They were a deep purple and had a few questionable reproductions mounted as "decoration".  One was butted against the ceiling, which was the most interesting thing about it.  I figured it was covering a hole.  Anyhow, in walks the staff person with the clipboard and reads my name off.  And I stand up and the words just jumped out of my mouth.  "Are you aware of how truly revolting the art is in this office?" I ask.  The receptionist chirps from behind her fortress of a counter, "now Gloria why not tell them what you really think?"  And finally a third staffer walks to usher me into the inner offices.  She adds, "Oh, I'm waiting for the TV reality program based on her life."  Well, thankfully we all had a good laugh.

This is a stock image titled Beautiful Business Woman.
I wondered whose job it was to buy the art and with a little inquiry I discovered it was the maintenance man.  Granted, he was no art expert and the WalMart art gave me an indication of their budget.  It was the visual equivalent of elevator music. The man had done his best.  Frankly, no one else seemed to be troubled by the "art" but then they were there everyday and probably didn't see it anymore.

I have had the opposite experience too.  There are offices–business, and non, private and public–that have good local art or art from away that has meaning for the people who work around it.  It is rewarding to look at on a sustained basis.

Anyhow, if anyone knows of a fairytale about a princess who every time she opens her mouth a frog jumps out, I'd like to know how it ends because someday that's the way I feel.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Confessions of a Jewelry Junky: Pamela Ritchie has got the goods

Yesterday was a big day at the Craft Council Gallery.  Not only did we open The Spirit of the Caribou but Pamela Ritchie's solo show From Time and Matter.   I have followed with great interest, the work of this jewelry maestro (a?) since the mid-eighties.  I think her work in a variety of jewelry media has real authority.  She knows how to pare down without losing an ounce of content.  In fact, it ramps up the impact.  I have a weakness for high-impact art.

The show is really worth a lingering visit.  So many ideas, beautifully stated and you can wear them too!

Pam Ritchie was a pioneer when it came to using non-gems in jewelry.

I was asked to write the essay for her show both here and in Halifax where an expanded version of it will appear at the Mary Black Gallery.  Kudos go to Sharon LeRiche for bringing Pam Ritchie's work and wizardry here -right now Pam is teaching a design workshop.  Susan Lee Stephen and I had the luxury of a long evening's chat with her to feed our fetish of Canadian contemporary art jewelry.

One of the things I felt necessary to state in the brief essay was that Pamela Ritchie works in series but that those series can go on for decades.  It is the kind of thing that is obvious to me because I watch how artists work but I have become aware that there is a misconception in many people's minds about the practice of working in series.  Folks seem to think they have distinct beginnings and endings and they rarely do.  I recall saying to some one recently that there were some things that only exist in art history books.  You know the "fill-in-the-blank  period" began here and ended there.

In my limited experience, creativity rarely travels in straight lines.   History is largely a construct that serves an agenda of one kind or another.  Making sense out of art, that is writing art history, isn't any different.  But that's just my opinion.

Energy by Pamela Ritchie conveys to me her love of science.

Here's my conclusion from the exhibition essay:

Pam Ritchie feels that "communication is so important to jewelry, whether it is that of politics, romance, status or visual expression."  That communication can be direct or indirect. But regardless of that direct or indirectness Ritchie strives to tell a story and thereby "facilitate a conversation through the media of wearable objects that could amuse, provoke or empower."  Pay attention to her choice of materials, be it a postage stamp or a gem stone; think about her choice of colours with its language of emotions and reverberation.  Then you will have entered into Ritchie's thematic world of myth and science, juxtaposition and static harmony. It is a whole world you can wear on a finger or on a lapel.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Curator: Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy and Midwife all rolled into one

This show is a co-curatorial project with Sharon LeRiche as my partner in crime.
I am not sure what I like best about being a curator: the intimacy with the artists and their process, building bridges of perception to the viewing public, or, or, or…?  It really could be so many things.  If you do it well, it is a little like making dreams come true.  A combination of being Santa Claus and the toothfairy.  Most often I liken it unto being a midwife –you don't have the baby but you help it be born. This year is the first year I have ever been a co-curator. For this show I am sharing the curatorial load with Sharon LeRiche.

Group shows are a different animal from solo shows or retrospectives and each pose their own challenges.  But I will say up front that I hate shows with weak concepts, that are irrelevant to society's needs and basically what I call dog and pony shows or Noah's ark show (2 of this and 2 of that).  A show is an opportunity to say something, so think, clear your throat and don't waste the opportunity.  In my books waste is the only sin.  (Which I believe the Prophet Mohammed said or at least that's the common attribution).

The Spirit of the Caribou has been especially satisfying to work on because of the depth of the concept and the vigour with which artists responded.  It's always a good sign when the artists come to you and ask to be considered because they are busting with something to say and an itch to make something about it.  The best concepts will elicit good work and not be sterile art theory (which I loathe).  In the case of this show, I can honestly say without exaggeration that some of the best artists have produced work that I fully expect will stand the test of time.  They will look back and say, "yes, that was my best and I am proud of it."
This is Kelly Jane Bruton at work on two pieces that are in the show.
Incredible work! What I love about Kelly is that she takes her work, but not herself,
very seriously.  Work ethic, research, technical skills and humour, she has it all going on.

Here's the intro from the catalogue essay:

The Spirit of the Caribou

Less graphic than the puffin, nor as political as the seal, the caribou nevertheless rivals the cod as a cultural icon in this province.  When the Craft Council Gallery put out the call for The Spirit of the Caribou it was clear that a nerve was touched.  It had a direct resonance with craftspeople and artists of many communities and interests:  historical and military, ecological and environmental and let's not forget pure childhood fantasy. The caribou has fed our bodies, souls and imagination for generations. But First Peoples first.

This show has 15 artists in it and I was allotted only about a 1,000 words, so saying something meaningful about the work was a real challenge.  I decided to dwell on the various aspects of the theme and how I saw them manifest through the works.  That way I was commenting on the work rather than setting myself up as an expert, which I never feel comfortable doing.  My job is to make viewers look more closely and keep thinking.  Eventually, I want them to reach their own conclusions.
This is a proposal sketch by David Hayashida.
 If you come to the show you will see how much it changed in the process.

Here's a list of who's in the show:  David Hayashida, Shirley Moorhouse, Jerry Evans, Deb Kuzyk & Ray Mackie, Kumi Stoddart, Nicola Hawkins, Kelly Jane Bruton, Jennifer Morgan, Maxine and Frances Ennis, Terry Nicholls, Jane Sasonow White, Curtis Jones and Susan Furneaux.

Make sure you join us next weekend at the Craft Gallery in St. John's.  There's going to be quite a herd of us.  I believe Joan Sullivan is doing a piece about it for The Newfoundland Quarterly.  Hurray for team Caribou!