Sunday, 28 June 2015

A lean art form, a robust festival-2015 Nickel Independent Film Festival

The memorable DAWG by Shelley Thompson tells
 the story of a busker who learns to deal with grief.

Was it gluttony or a sense of responsibility that compelled me to attend seven days-worth–or 44 short films– of the 2015 Nickel Independent Film Festival?  Perhaps I just got caught up in the air of jubilation around this year's events that celebrated 15 years of the little film festival that grew.  This year's offerings had a whopping 50% Newfoundland and Labrador content and also featured a healthy dose of films from mainland Canada plus a sprinkling from abroad (USA, UK, Hungary).  The Nickel also exchanges films with a sister festival in Kerry, Ireland.

Seeing so many short films in a concentrated series made me speculate about the genre's characteristics and how they are used.  The briefest films were about five minutes and the longest were a leisurely 28.  Several weighed in at around ten or 13 minutes and that's when it hits you what a lean and muscular art form the short film is.  These are in essence short stories with characters to introduce, plots to navigate, atmospheres to create and messages to deliver.  The Nickel's strength has always been showcasing emerging talent and the number of first time filmmakers who had never been to film school was striking.
And that is why programs like Picture Start, a partnership between Telefilm Canada and NIFCO, and First Time Filmmakers (NIFCO) are so important. 

This year the mentorship and collaboration of skills provided by the First Time program seemed to really pay off.  The light and funny Serenity Plow by Liam Small, based on real life events was one example.  But Catherine Adelaide by Andrew Tremblett was a real standout.  His characters had depth, the narrative had shading and Tremblett took risks with certain scenes–not to mention that it was shot during Dark NL, our infamous power outage. 
Examinations of Conscience by Andrew Harvey and James
 Harvey looks at how we rationalize our actions.

I doubt it was intended but I was really struck by the element of surprise that characterized a majority of the short films.  Whether it was Examination of Conscience with its bar booth confessional that torqued on the supposition that you could be a good Catholic but a bad person or Mr. Invisible where (spoiler alert) the mild mannered senior citizen turns out to be a hit man with explosives in his bundle buggy.  Expectations upended were the order of the festival.

This was evident in other ways too.  The dark, primal tale told in the Hungarian film Ol was an instance where you found yourself laughing and then questioning whether that was the appropriate response.  The feeling only deepens with the climax of the film.  It was like children's rhymes where the pox is cheerfully sung about or the Grimm's fairy tales.  Flankers also had the same universal feel where you are at one instant admiring the sea and being filled with dread in the next heartbeat.  Stories of feuding men and beasts are timeless and rarely end well. 

Coping with tragedy and uncertainty was a contrasting sub-theme of several of the shorts.  Humour that verged on the deliciously absurd popped up in at least two of the francophone films, while music, dance and dogs were featured in films from a variety of locations.  The point is that these films found their way to happy endings rather than more raw conclusions.  
Whether on panels or informally in corridors, talking to the filmmakers is a highlight for me at the Nickel.
(left to right)  Archaeologist turned filmmaker Latonia Hartery (Sadie), Liam Small
(Serenity Plow), and Andrew Tremblett (Catherine Adelaide) during a filmmakers panel hosted by Michael Hickey.

Monday, 22 June 2015

And Now For Something Completely Different: Arctic Char and the Hari Krishna

Mary Walsh was our master of ceremonies at the Park opening.

Yesterday I enjoyed a Father's Day like no other in my experience.  My father has long since past away and there is no other paternal figure in my life.  However, Bannerman Park was being reopened on the Sunday and I was looking forward to the celebrations.  It was a genuine feel good event that brought together all walks of St. John's life.  Generations, genders and social strata knit together seamlessly by sunshine, park designers and the hard work of fundraisers.  My favourite moment was stopping by one of the fountains and being permeated by the strains of a live harpist with the ambient sounds of falling water.  A toddler played in the spray and sunshine– doing what I call the belly button dance.  That's when you hold your skirt high above your head and twirl about, preferably within a spray of water.

Playfully high jacked by friends I wound up next at The Friendship Centre; someplace I always wanted to go but never did.  Father's Day, in addition to being the Summer Solstice, Universal Yoga Day, and St. John's Day was Aboriginal Day.  And so I participated in drum dances, played Inuit games, had the option to bead, etc and in a grand culmination of celebration was treated to an all out feast of moose stew, arctic char, seal flipper pie, blueberry jam, biscuits plus some of the more European standards at a BBQ of burgers, potato salad and chocolate treats. 

Next was a short drive in the country to be shown a friend's new digs:  horses on one side, tennis courts on the other.  I am told the apartment was advertised as "an executive loft".  Who knew St. John's had such things?  And ten minutes from the Avalon Mall no less.  But the day–now evening– was not over.

The final activity of the day would be an evening of jubilant chanting and dancing with The Walking Monk at The Lotus Centre belonging to Miranda Squires.  For me this was a blast from the past.  When I was the ripe old age of sixteen, I spent several months at the Hari Krishna Temple on Park and Pine in Montreal.  I joke that I studied Sanskrit, how to cook curry and learned everything I know about marketing.  But in all honesty that is absolutely true.  The monk came in the standard saffron robes but this swami's style was very different than the Hindu strictness I had once experienced.  He was jovial, inclusive and had a clear relish for music.  I swear I danced off every calorie I had eaten that day and discovered I remember far more Sanskrit than I would have given myself credit for.  All in all, it was an extraordinary Father's Day.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Bill Rose at the Arts and Culture Centre

Ecce Homo (Wm. S. Burroughs) 72" x 48"
oil on canvas

Pop-up exhibitions fascinate me.  I am always interested in alternatives, options.  To me they are the basis for creativity.  I know deep down in my gut that there is always more than one way to do things.  Bill Rose is a splendid example.

I have watched his art for years with rapt attention.  Rose will always be associated with the grid and the grid is the basis for a great deal in our society.  It is a primary tool for organization be it graph paper, architecture or our thoughts.  And Bill Rose is a very thoughtful man.

Last Friday I attended his pop up exhibition at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's.  It was delicious irony to see his art there at the abandoned site of our provincial art gallery.  What made this particular showing interesting was the mix of Bill Rose art.  Some of it was old, some it was new and so it gave a new twist, a refreshing perspective on the man's art.
Gotta love those big juicy roses.

Bill Rose is a saucy fellow.  I have always enjoyed the role of humor in his work.  He takes pot shots at so much:  politics, war, economy, the role of landscape in Newfoundland art.  It is gallows humor.  Let's laugh at this painful topic so we can get a little closer to it.

If I close my eyes and try and remember what I saw a few days back, this is what I see in my mind's eye.  A black velvet painting of a boy on a potty with text stenciled over it with a reference to Stephen Harper.  A gorgeous painting of king-sized roses that has been sliced up to fit into slide holders, i.e. two-inch squares.  The plastic gave it a voluptuous quality that I never expected.  I was expecting a barrier not an invitation.

Neither was I prepared for the new work.  I know Bill Rose to be an exceedingly careful painter, capable of infinite detail and small work but one who chooses to work on the large scale.  He can do big work without it looking inflated.  And that's saying something. 

So, instead of large work with a lot of control I discover big work with a whole lot of confidence and a new style.  It is looser, more relaxed and painterly.  This is exciting.  He is still playing with my mind but in a new way.  He is banking on what is in my memory.  Toying with my mind's eye.   And I like it.  A lot.
Bill on a more political note.  Text and image marry so well in his art.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Tenth Annual EVA Awards Double Prize Money

This year's People Choice Award Mike Gough.

The award season is upon us.  Fresh on the heels of the Governor General Awards are the awards hosted by Visual Arts Newfoundland and Labrador.  Now in its tenth year, the EVAs recognize excellence in the visual arts of the province–not just by artists but also supporters and writers who work in the domain of the visual arts.  (Yes, years ago I won the Critical Eye Award).  I can be rather jaundiced about awards unless they come with cash.  It pleased me no end to see that this year, and this is a real accomplishment in an economic turn down, that the prize money was actually doubled from $1,000 to $2,000 for some awards.  Yes! 

A new award was also added to this year's proceedings:  The People's Choice Award, which recognized an artist chosen through an online voting process - the artist with the most votes wins.  Mike Gough, with a winning combination of talent and charm, was the popular choice.  By the way, I have seen more Mike Gough paintings in corporate and private spaces in the past year than any other emerging artist.  Most recently I was in The Common, a nifty new work space where you can rent a membership like you would at the gym to share in the resources of boardroom, office equipment, etc –and unlimited amount of Jumping Bean coffee.  And yes, they have original, local art on the walls including a Mike Gough.
Kyle Bustin spray can at the ready.

The Kippy Goins Award so named for the small pieces of wood one throws on a fire to 'keep it going' - thanks an individual or organization whose efforts have helped to sustain and build the visual arts sector.  This year the prize went to Sharon LeRiche and the Craft Council Gallery.  I have always referred to Sharon as the Mother Teresa of the gallery world because she is so selfless and a true missionary of craft.  I also say she is a much nicer person than I am.  So, clearly I think she deserved the award, which was guess what, a Mike Gough painting!

The Long Haul Award recognized the career of Kent Jones
who work you see above.

The Long Haul Award recognizes a substantial contribution to the visual culture of Newfoundland and Labrador by a senior artist.  The 2015 Recipient is Kent Jones.  Kent has been the department head of the visual arts program at Grenfell College for 26 years.  With only one year left before retirement I was gratified to see the award go to Kent Jones.  I have also become much better acquainted with the career of this gifted print maker and painter because I have agreed to curate his 40 retrospective!  That will be my next big project.

The Emerging Artist Award went to Kyle Bustin, whose street art I particularly enjoy.  The Large Year Award celebrates a visual artist who has enjoyed an exceptional year - meaning at least one exhibition and a critical recognition.  This went to John McDonald who made us all jealous because he was represented by a video taped acceptance from Italy.  The Critical Eye Award went to my colleague Bruce Johnson who also accepted from the distance of his new home based in Nova Scotia.

Digital Beasts by Kyle Bustin at The Rooms.

Monday, 1 June 2015

From Thank You Notes to Funerary Dildos

This is a 21-gram funerary dildo in the woman's hand.
This image comes from a Metro News UK article.

I have had a very unusual week.  For one thing, I've had a difficult time writing a review of a local exhibition; for another, I got to hang out with my kid for the better part of a week; and finally, I discovered I am on You Tube. 

My standard joke is that I don't do normal very well.  If there is a gaggle of women in line at the cinema you can bet your cotton socks that I will not be going to see the same film as them.  Yes, I enjoy Helen Mirren and Withering Heights but my usual fare is more likely to be Mad Max (last week).  This week it was Kung Fury, which is a hilarious, animated send up of testosterone fuelled action movies.  Meanwhile, I will be surrounded in my daily life with big muscle-guys who cry in chick flicks.  I guess there is something called mainstream but I have given up trying to define normal.

It is a good sign that people still write thank you notes.  Hopefully, that means we are still trying to be civilized and to reach above the mandatory in life.  My favourite this past week was a simple e-message from an artist that said, "thank you for kicking me in the ass when I needed it.  And thank you for holding my hand when I needed it too."  'Nuff said. 

This is a jack series by Michael Trimpol, he is always developing new glass products.

My child is a window onto another world for me.  I get stretched in unexpected ways.  Recently that has meant that a treat to a restaurant we had been waiting to share was followed up by an unofficial tour of downtown rooftops.  Turns out my kid is an urban explorer and climber who has no fear of abandoned buildings.  They were a little disappointed when I wasn't up to jumping from rooftop to rooftop the way they do.  However, we do try and share as much as possible.  Multiply the pleasure, so to speak.

A dear friend of mine is a glassblower in Vermont– Michael Trimpol.  The new addition to his product line is the funerary urn.  I was telling my sixteen year old about that and that lead to a very unexpected twist.  The kid starts telling me about funerary dildos and coffins that are Bluetooth enabled.  No joke.  These are both new products from the Nordic countries.  It seems that the Europeans have found yet new ways of how to stay close to loved ones beyond the grave.

Trimpol's urns are based on his vases, like the one above.

Going beyond the mandatory seems to be the secret to success.  I try my best to help artists and open doors for them when possible.  But whatever I do only matters when they add on to my efforts.  A kick-ass catalogue is only good if it gets distributed.  A dynamite tour dies as soon as its finished.  Alexandra McCurdy, a recent inductee to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, gave me a pleasant surprise (or at least I assume it was her who was behind the video).  This past week I discovered two videos of us touring her retrospective exhibit on You Tube.  An on-line encyclopedia, Studio Ceramics Canada, has already picked it up.