Sunday, 29 March 2015

Puffy Dresses be Damned!

I don't know about you but I am not trying it on.

The text message read, "I fear for our puffy dresses".  It was from my son who has spent much of this last week in an orchestra pit with a production of Cinderella.  Apparently the roof had sprung a leak and was threatening the costume bank.  Throughout the week he had entertained me with messages about the various creative meltdowns, score revisions and the unplanned, like what to do when you get confetti from the cannons in your instrument.  But the dress note stuck with me.

When I dutifully attended the matinee I was greeted with wall-to-wall puffy dresses.  Yes, there were scores of them onstage with eye-dazzling ballroom scenes, complete with special effects, flying fairy godmothers, acrobats and a singing chorus.  But it wasn't the sequins onstage that left the lingering impression.  It was the princess dresses in the audience.  The auditorium was literally writhing with swarms of little girls:  tiaras, waving wands and sparkling shoes.  They were in full flight.  And they scared the daylight out of me. 

Emily McKim as Cinderella with the trademark blonde wig.

To me there was something deeply upsetting about the sight and high-pitched energy of the little girls and their doting mothers.  It was eerily consistent with the fantasy narrative in the musical where the prince and the elevated cinder-girl find true happiness.  As is often the case in my life, there seemed to be some odd resonance.  The night before I had attended my first formal Latin Ballroom event.  It was like our own version of Cinderella.  The ladies were all undressed in lace, swishing skirts and cleavage.  The men were sporting bowties, ruffles and crisp dress trousers.  It was all very gendered and accented by the ideal roles.  There was bowing and smiles.  It was not as saccharine as the little girl afternoon version and I suspect there was less hope in the room.  A little dose of the twenty-twenty hindsight perhaps.

To cap it all off, I should now be thinking of what to wear to the Governor General of Arts Awards in Ottawa.  The invitation informs me that a "long dress" is required.  This is another one of those ceremonial occasions where the seen and unseen merge.  Goals, hopes and dreams are joined with status, etiquette and…what else I wonder?  I guess, I learn that on the evening of April 8th– God, airlines, Mother Nature and fill-in-the-blank willing; "To be continued" as the story goes.  At least I shouldn't have to worry about the roof leaking at Rideau Hall.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Transfixed by Louise Moyes

Louise Moyes in her one-woman show Taking in Strangers

Louise Moyes could recite the alphabet and stroke her arms through the air like a swimmer and I would watch transfixed.  She is simply that engaging as a performer.

What Louise does is called docudance.  It is a hybrid form of storytelling and movement.  It is usually rhythmic but rarely involves music.  And she is a master (oh dear is that the patriarchy showing?) at it.

Last night I had the distinct and memorable pleasure of attending Moyes' opening of Taking in Strangers.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that I am a native Montrealer who has lived in St. John's since 1994.  Louise Moyes' narrative involved the similarity between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador culture.  So, as far I as concerned, she was preaching to the converted. 

When I first moved here the cod moratorium was still relatively fresh.  There was much talk of the relationship between this province and the country.  Should we have joined?  What did we get?  Was it worth it?  For someone who had come of age during the FLQ crisis and Quebec sovereignty this had an oddly familiar ring.  I understood intimately the talk about independence.  I knew that culturally speaking I was in a sister state. 

Louise Moyes touches on these topics in her production, in which she traces her personal travels between Montreal and St. John's over a period of 15 years.  The personality of Marilyn is the touchstone.  She is a woman with platform boots, and never a root problem (reference to hair colour).  Louise and Marilyn mirror each other.  They both travel between the provinces exploring and experiencing in their own particular way.  Many of us in St. John's will remember Marilyn as a real life character, who passed away recently.  And we miss her unmistakable style.

But there are many characters in Taking in Strangers–not so much people (although there are several)- but audibles like the ingressive breath and the aspirant h.  For the ingressive think "any mummers 'lowed in".  And for the aspirant h think how you might spell Harry: H, Ha, Hr, Hr, Y.  Things put in and things left out.  That's part of what Louise explores.  How people talk and what it says about them.  She brings it all to life with a potent combination of staging, plot and large doses of herself.

So, think lots of Newfoundland outport colour and character.  And a certain amount of Montreal, as in Leonard Cohen.  Sprinkle in a bit of Labrador.  By the way, growing up in Montreal, I thought Labrador was a part of Quebec.  The Inuit played cards with my dad on trips into town.  And they never told me otherwise.  But wait, that could be because Labrador belonged to them…anyhow, for fun and profit go see Louise Moyes in Taking in Strangers.  You won't be disappointed. 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Being a mother of an activist

When I was in the seventh grade a boy in another seventh grade set fire to my hair.  It was supposed to be our solemn communion at St. Monica's parish church in Montreal.  I promptly punched him between the eyes and put out the fire.  He went down in the centre aisle before the assembled congregation.  I was lucky because he did not come after me to retaliate. 

That isn't always the case.  I once made the mistake of dating a co-worker.  After the inevitable breakup, he started pulling my hair in the workplace.  Every time he passed my desk he'd reach out and pull my blonde hair.   One time I was trying to close a lucrative deal.   I was working for the The St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.  So, I had this yoyo pulling my hair while I was trying to persuade a benefactor to part with some major cash.  I was on edge.   I admit to stopping my co-worker.  Maybe I should not say what I did in print.  It involved the telephone and a desk.  Thankfully no one was seriously hurt.  And I did close the deal.  But I also learned a valuable lesson.  It never ends where you want it.

Jilted boyfriend with a wounded pride times two waits for me in the parking lot after work.  Luckily, I always seem to have some very big friends who want to walk me home.  But the take away lesson for me was that the problem with violence is that it always seems to escalate.  You know, you punch me; I punch you.  An eye for an eye.  And it just seems to spiral upwards (or perhaps more appropriately downwards).  I learned:  this is how war starts.

These thoughts came rushing back to me when my kid was bullied at school.  My child had the curse of being half the size of his classmates but often twice as smart (or so the School Board told me).  To my amazement, he took a pacificst approach.  I remember sitting in one principal's office and being asked if I wanted to press charges.  I looked at my kid and he says at age seven, "They have anger mangagement issues but I still want to be their friend."  I guess it showed that his heroes were Ghandi and Luther King Jr..  But it made protecting him almost impossible.

He has gone on to be a social activist in his own right –the kind of kid who will sit down in front of car to stop it from moving.  Mount digital petitions to thwart school cutbacks.  Engage politicians and work the system when I would have been too jaundiced to try.  Recently, when a trans-friend of his got stabbed in a school washroom my child decides to wear a dress to school in defiance.  Of course, I have my heart in my mouth.

But that was also the day I went to a craft fair in my neighbourhood and bought a handmade card from Rosalyn Ford that said, "I am so fucking proud of you."   God keep you safe.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Introducing Joe Fowler

My current favourite artist is Joe Fowler.  He seems to be genuinely creative and I really like the way he works across media.  Joe does video, paints, sculpts and builds a pretty mean crate.  I am in line to buy one of his paintings but nobody has told me how much the one I want costs…yet.

Joe's most recent exhibition is called Object Says.  When I asked him about the title Fowler explained that is what a pun on "Simon says" – the kids' game.  It is on now in the Annex Gallery at Eastern Edge Gallery and it's worth a peek.  The show consists of three sculptural objects: a kind of piano, a wall installation and a smoke detector. The game Fowler appears to be playing with the viewer is:  the artist makes object and the viewer supplies the story.  

The sculptures all have functional references with a domestic theme.  My only real reservation about the success of Fowler's show was around this domesticity that I don't think gets expressed sufficiently.  On his website Fowler says this is a show in evolution so in the future I look forward to seeing how he resolves this weakness.

If I could buy something from this show it would be the piano piece.  Joe told me that he grew up in a house with "too many pianos".  I like his reference to the major and minor keys in black and white and how he replaced the ivory keys with light switches in the appropriate colours.  I tried to play a simple melody on the sculptural keyboard and was delighted to find out it really worked.  And thank you Joe for not killing any elephants in the process of making art.

I own a piece of jewelry made out of elephant tusk.  I nearly donated it to an art auction but when I showed the piece to an appraiser he simply said "they aren't going to get what it's worth.  Just keep it Gloria."  So I did.  The pendant is of a Buddha.  Ironically, when Joe and I were talking he mentioned ivory Buddha's and what they could possibly mean in different cultural contexts.  That reminds me, when I asked Joe about the influences on his art he mentioned Daniel Miller, the anthropologist.  I thought this was very insightful.  Personally, I have found anthropology very useful in understanding art and I discuss that in my chapter in The Culture of Craft. 

One last thing: the role of mystery in Joe's show.  I have been observing object makers in St. John's and they seem to come down to two schools.  Those who reveal and those who conceal.  Take a sculptor like Michael Waterman; he's from the reveal school.  Joe Fowler comes from the conceal school.  Waterman likes to show you the guts of his objects, their inner workings and Joe likes to hide them and make you wonder. 

Joe Fowler might turn out to be one of this province's best sculptors/painters/video guys.  I will watch his career with interest.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Too many ideas! Not enough time

Kailey Bryan's piece in my upcoming exhibition is one I am very excited about.
My mind is a very crowded place:  too many ideas, projects and even languages.  I knew I was quickly becoming toast this week when I found myself writing in, of all things, Latin.  When I get very tired the languages in my brain all run together and I lose track of them.  This entertains my son to no end.  I start a sentence in one and end up in another.  This week has been a good week for languages.  I dusted off my Arabic, which I haven't spoken in decades.  I have some new friends from the Middle East.

OK.   This week I have been stopped on the street and asked about the changing tone of my blog.  Yes, thank you for noticing.  What has happened is that when I started the blog it was just a place for me to vent and have a digital presence.  As time has gone on, I have gotten more and more readers.  With that comes responsibility.  I understand that words have impact and I try and be an ethical person.  So, that means acknowledging what I do has consequences.  Consider it the literary version of recycling, if you will.  The tone reflects whatever intent I have when I write.  I have done just about everything you can do with words– from advertising to speech writing, to art criticism so tone is like vocabulary to me –or changing socks.

Any old who, what has been on my mind this week is philanthropy in the arts. My professional life has been spent in the arts and that has left me cash poor but usually happy.  From time to time I ask myself if I should do something more profitable so that I could spend money in support of the arts.  Clearly, I am still in the arts sector.  But I have very strong opinions on how we should support the arts.  What I choose to do is to donate in, a what I hope, is a conscious fashion.  I give a piece of jewelry every year to a silent auction for example.  And one year I gave five.  It depends on what I have and who is asking.  My kid for example has always used his birthday party as a fundraiser for a charity of his choice.  When we travel I also give him a budget to spend on art because I think that ingrains the idea that art is no more a luxury than candy or books.

It has always rankled me that artists get hit on to donate to fundraising auctions. I do like the practice that has evolved of artists getting a minimum bid and the balance going to charity.  That makes sense.  

This week I attended two musical events with an allusion to fundraising (and yes I paid for my tickets).  One was in support of the REAL program, which funds sports, dance, music, etc in the City of St. John's and it really helps out families who can't afford musical instruments, sport equipment, lessons, etc.  It makes a huge difference to the quality of life for families and helps them immeasurably.  It is my understanding that 95 organizations city-wide cooperate to make that happen along with our municipal government.  Good for you City of St. John's.  Sometimes you get it right.

The other event was at the Memorial University School of Music.  It was a gala that showcased the talents of staff, students and alumni and the philanthropist in question is Edwin Procunier, who while alive made a bequest to the university.  Procunier was an all round arts supporter (music, visual arts, literature, etc).  If I've got this right, this year four full scholarships in the School of Music where made possible through the bequest.  And there is a show up at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery currently that is made possible with the generosity of Procunier estate.

So, I'll end with this question: what do you support?