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.