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!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sweet Indulgences, Carnival Cravings

Indulgence was certainly the character of this year's sprawling extravaganza of happy art mayhem.  For a spectacular five days we could all we feel we had the Royal Jelly.  Eastern Edge staff Joe Fowler said it best when, brandishing a copy of the publication Sweet Tooth, he announced to the crowd of boisterous artists "you are the gooey goodness at the centre of all this."

It was hard not to believe, that except for the carnival theme, that this year's artists project were not a curated event.  There was a curious reciprocity between the projects of the invited artists that went far beyond superficial similarity.  It seemed that each project's performance played with our sensory perceptions and value systems– creating new shared spaces in old familiar places.

Michael Waterman's Sound Labyrinth plunged us into a pitch-black, tent-like interior at Christina Parker's Gallery.  The darkness forced us to attend carefully and puzzle over Waterman's sound installation.  Normally, I get caught up in the wonder of his mechanical inventions: the whirring, chiming, eccentric devices that make sound visible.  But denied this sensory data, the auditory events triggered by motion sensors took on a less predictable nature.  Waterman, who is exceedingly affable, referred to this installation as a kind of sonic house of horrors.  Smitten, I was only horrified at the one-night duration of the event and when one of the fiendishly clever machines accidentally caught on fire!

Donald Lawrence also cloaked us in darkness with his floating camera obscura at the Quidi Vidi Gut.  Inverted images, the reflective properties of water and Lawrence's skillful manipulations complicated the simple technologies to delicious effect.  A swell of interest at the dock meant that I did not get into a kayak to enter the installation but that gave me time to talk with others about their direct experiences.  There was appreciation for the opportunity to experience Lawrence's trademark fusion of urban and wilderness practice, its hybridity, which my brain turned into hyper-practice.  Another comment I cherished was that the kayak was like prosthesis for the body.

The body in motion, whether triggering Waterman's audio intervention, or being guided in a kayak would become a common denominator throughout the Carnival.  Andreas Buchwaldt's Accordion Exoskeleton was by his own description a full body prosthetic.  Its vents which curved around his joints and swallowed his face turned his physical movements into sound.  A man with a musical exoskeleton would be a welcome addition to any carnival sideshow, as were the dramatic fire-jugglers and surprisingly vaudevillesque bellydancers.

The sacred and the profane space created with artful body movement was also at play whether in the Weiner Sugar Dance Tent in the Eastern Edge parking lot, where Sara Tilley and her attendants Kyle Bustin and Elling Lien communed with riotous spirits and offered us sacramental candy.  You had to supply your own hallucinations.  Mind you, I think some of the motorists and tourists along the way between the EE headquarters and the LSPU Hall certainly thought they were seeing things.  A float with taxidermist bears with horns, a moose, biblically clad acolytes (plus baseball caps), bells, whistles and general revelry added to their confusion.  This was Charmaine Wheatley's downtown parade.  Her artist statement "literature" was rich with misogynistic biblical quotes urging us to burn seductive, freewheeling women.  That troubled me until I surrendered to the parade.  Then it became clear that Charmaine was a woman-artist-in-charge and concerned about younger women, who had not been part of my older generation's feminist fight or its necessity.  At that point, the parade for me became a Mardi Gras-esque opportunity to cavort with demons.  No whips, only ribbons.

Rachael Shannon's inflatible workshop gave us new skills.
What more soothing remedy could we have had to this outburst of Charmaine Wheatley's than Breastival Vestibule by Rachael Shannon? Rant and response.  Exhale and inhale. The Breastival was an inflatable architecture that temporarily took over the Craft Council parking lot.  It was a sanctuary of quiet conversation where visitors were asked to remove their footwear and enter its carpeted interior.  Shaped by feminist and queer politics it welcomed us like a huge breast.  Unbeknownst to Rachael Shannon, this parking lot has been a disputed area between sex workers, their clients and the downtown community.  Shannon's art was a powerful healing. 

These were some of the events of this year's Carnival for a more complete list of what happened please consult the Eastern Edge Art Gallery website. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Free does not mean cheap

Tomorrow will be the final concert of the Tuckamore Chamber Music Festival - Sunday: Festival Finale.

So, in closing I must give a shout-out to the emerging artists.  The Tuckamore brings us two streams of talent: world-class recognized talents and our musical future of emerging artists.  When the press and masters of ceremony tell you about super star status and list off a string of awards, well, that's what you expect.  Anything less than great and the audience is disappointed.

But when there is no admission cost and the talent is fresh…
Jenasha Iwaasa came to the
Tuckamore from Washington.
Etienne Pemberton is originally from Montreal.
He now parks his violin and viola in St. John's.

Nothing beats the hunger of a young artist eager to perform.  And although they may be young, if they are the kind of animal called a musician, chances are they already have decade+ experience of practice and performance behind them.

 This year I was really impressed with the choices of music performed.  I heard more pieces that I was unfamiliar with and my notions of repertoire were blown apart.

Special thanks to Etienne Pemberton for his wonderfully expressive playing, to Jenaesha Iwaasa for her ability to inhabit music and take the audience along and finally to Josiah Baarbé for absolutely creating a sanctuary of sound for us.

Josiah Baarbé,violist
to be remembered.
Each of the twenty-one Young Artists of the Tuckamore deserved to be in the roster and I hope they felt the sincerity of the applause they were offered.  We'll be watching for you…

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

From Mellow to Majestic, The Tuckamore rolls out the goods

“Midsummer Majesty” with Dov Scheindlin, Aaron Berofsky, and Tuckamore faculty

I like precision.  A good sharp knife, a punctual Swiss train and a very good musician.  They really are precise instruments with a well-honed purpose.  The Tuckamore Festival brings with it such an exuberance of concerts and opportunities to get inside the heads of musicians.  When I heard Jon Kinmura Parker say to his charge at the keyboard, "could you try putting more weight on the third finger of your left hand please", I knew we were seeing into their world.  I started watching for the relationship between the hands next.  And with day after day of concerts I had the opportunity.

Patrick Boyle and his trusty trumpet.

At first when I noticed the addition of Late Night Jazz to the Tuckamore line-up I thought it was simply inspired programming that would broaden the demographic for both the genres of classical music and jazz.  After attending the session on creativity and improvisation led by Patrick Boyle and Bill Brennan I think there was something going on that was bigger than transplanting the musical interests of the audience.  Yes, it was improv but it had limits, like compose five songs in thirty seconds.  It was every bit as precise as the classical drills.  And it was all energy being passed around the room.  The audience was learning to listen.

Bill Brennan at the keyboards.

At the lunchtime concert the following day, I spied one white haired woman whom I'd seen playing Boyle's circle games with the young artists.  I asked her what her impression was and she said, "I didn't expect the level of music would be so high".  Bill Brennan and Pat Boyle said the same thing to me immediately after the session.

Back to the Late Night Jazz at The Rocket Room, by the way, it was great to hear the mellow duo play their own compositions.  The last time I had heard Brennan play it was with a Salsa band and in Boyle's case he was groovin' with an African group.  So, it was a welcome opportunity to hear the boys play their comfortable if at times wistful jazz.  This week it really felt like the genre walls were coming down.

 From mellow to majesty, Midsummer Majesty…a chock-a-block offering specially assembled for the occasion: Duo Concertante Nancy Dahn, violin, Timothy Steeves, piano, Aaron Berofsky, violin, Dov Scheindlin, viola, Kathryn Votapek, viola and Vernon Regehr, cello.  That is a staggering amount of talent on one stage!  It is hard to have too much Beethoven or Brahms in your life but the Schnittke String Trio was the stand-out of the evening.  Complex textures, discordant emotions, lots of structure but no shortcuts.  Simply, haunting music.

And the Tuckamore is not finished yet!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Tuckamore Festival Starts Off With a Bang

The Kirk in St. John's is the venue for the free lunch-time concerts of the Tuckamore.

How is it that when the CBC does its round up of music festivals in the province they miss the Tuckamore Festival?  It has to be one of the best deals in town delivering both quality and quantity.  The Tuckamore is nothing less than a feast of superb music by outstanding musicians.  And it is delivered up with the convenience of a guided excursion. 

But I prefer the food metaphor, the sumptuous repast.  I love music but I am the first to admit that I have no specialized knowledge of the field.  This year my feast began with an appetizer in the form of a lunchtime prelude concert by an outstanding yourng pianist, Timothy Brennan.  For one blissful hour he made us forget the heat that followed us even into the venue of the Kirk.  It was easy to see why chairperson Donna Ball commented that Brennan was being included on the English Harbour leg of the Tuckamore.  He is worth showing off, nor was I surprised when one of the greatest pianists today - Jon Kimura Parker- pronounced him excellent in the master class a few days later.  We all wanted an extra serving of his playing.

Jon Kimura Parker, an infectious smile and a stage presence to match.

If the young Brennan was the appetizer, Peter-Anthony Togni was our inspired sommelier.  During his Concert Chat and Coffee, he regaled us with personal anecdotes about the  "Jackie" Kimura Parker from their shared school days –imagine long hair and lumberjack shirts!  Togni would stand for up to an hour outside Kimura Parker's rehearsal studio at UBC to listen undetected.  His comments about the Rachmaninoff Preludes (and the composer's big paws that spanned a twelfth) and the riots that the Stravinsky Rite of Spring sparked brought the upcoming evening's program alive.  In much the same way that musicians do not play notes, they play music, Togni's comments reminded us that composers are people, often with rich characters that match their creativity.  (My fifteen-year-old was intrigued enough by Togni's analysis that he vowed to get up early on a summer vacation day to be a fly on the wall during Togni's master class in composition.)  It was warmly (no pun intended) engaging to listen to Togni as he fused the insights of both friend, musician and composer into one voice.  Easy listening, easy learning–it doesn't get much better…

Except if you have Jon Kimura Parker on the menu as the main course.  Heck, he was the dessert too!  He took to the stage like a racehorse bursting out of the gate.  And even if you didn't care a fig for Russian composers, I guarantee that you would have been smitten by the time the opening bars of Rachmaninoff faded.  The playing and stage presence of this piano great is a rare combination of robust physicality and subtle refinement. 

It was also a treat to hear his arrangement of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  A popular piece, Parker was inspired by its 100th anniversary to tackle the daunting task of weaving in the orchestral parts into the single instrument of the piano.  The audience members beside me whispered incredulously.  It was an unbelievable performance worthy of its own riot.

Now the Tuckamore Festival continues to August 17.  What other treats are in store for us?

Friday, 1 August 2014

Tors Cove Talent Celebrates Halley's Day

This is a design by Sheila Coultas that will be painted on the wall outside Five Island Gallery for August 2.
This Saturday I allowed myself to be whisked away to Tors Cove, where I was expecting to enjoy a relaxing day "around the bay".  No such chance!   It proved to be a day of intense conversation and discovery as I bounced between gallery and studios.  The fish plant may be closed but the cultural industries in Tors Cove are going full tilt.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year is Five Island Art Gallery.  Knowing that Frances Ennis and Bill Coultas were involved, I expected to see some hooked mats and photography but I was not prepared for an entire schoolhouse full of paintings!  It seemed "all the familiar suspects" were there, plus many names I did not recognize even after twenty years of looking at art in this province.  The bulk of the painting was representational and colourful but the full gamut of price range was covered from modestly priced watercolours to large works that would represent a significant investment in anyone's budget.

A sampling of McCausland's treasures on sale: character-rich dolls, jewellery and felted goodies.

Catherine McCausland has opened her home studio, BalleyCatter Crafts, to the public this summer.  I think of her as a textile artist extraordinare, someone I can count on to create small whimsies that I can wear on my wrist or decorate a Christmas tree with as well as create installation-sized work when the theme merits.  My big surprise was that she was unveiling the product of five years of intense experimentation with felting.  McCausland has created felted pieces for the wall that evoke the watery worlds of Monet.  However, where Monet portrayed Giverny, Catherine studies the Barrens and the rolling hills and sparkling ocean of her home cove.

Completing the day for me was a visit with Marnie Parsons at Running The Goat Printshop.  I recognized the drawers of typeface that I love and the familiar sight of the sturdy letterpress that I had originally fallen in love with in her "townie" location but her spanking new set up includes an impressive Heidelberg–The Prince of the Presses.  I confess I feared for Marnie's long flowing skirt when I saw those vacuum suckers and wind mill blade in action. 

These three venues are collaboratively hosting a special day of  craft, poetry and family fun on August 2nd to mark the 314th anniversary of the arrival of Sir Edmond Halley (the astronomer and geophysicist for whom Halley’s comet was named) in Tors Cove. At the end of a prolonged scientific voyage, Halley came to Tors Cove looking for fresh water and wood, and was greeted with gunfire. Apparently, local fishermen mistook his vessel for a pirate ship. A rude welcome, whatever way it was.

A study of the comet by Sheila Coultas

Schedule for the day:

Five Island Art Gallery: Halley’s Comet Flying Over Tors Cove
10 am – 6 pm
·      Help artist Sheila Coultas paint her version of Halley’s Comet flying over Tors Cove on the concrete wall by the old schoolhouse.
·      Try your hand at rug hooking with Frances Ennis as she begins hooking another version of Halley’s Comet over Tors Cove.
·      Or, chat with artist Dave Hoddinott as he creates a new painting.

BallyCatter Crafts: Halley's Approach to Tors Cove and Islands
10 am – 6 pm
·      Discuss map-making with artist Catherine McCausland and cartographer Pierre Garigue.
·      Observe Catherine as she works on a handmade felt map inspired by modern data and ancient charts.
·      Add compass readings and map-detailing to sample maps.

Running the Goat Printshop: Edmond Halley in Toad’s Cove
11 am – 6 pm
·      See the letterpress-printed broadside featuring new poem by Des Walsh, commissioned for the day
·      Make star paper crafts

Collaborative Activities
7 – 8:30 pm
·      Light-poem installations
·      readings by David Benson
·      sparklers, and
·      revelry.

All Welcome!