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.