Sunday, 26 July 2015

Loosing Track of Normal, the growing queer umbrella

I am admiring the two-coloured lipstick on a young friend.  She is wearing a fetching combination of blue, blue overlapped with pink and then pink on her lips.  I was initially surprised to learn that it was an interpretation of the bisexuality flag but then I felt silly as I look up around me at the crowd dispersed along the walking paths and greenery of Quidi Vidi Lake.  I notice the smallest woman Mountie (RCMP) I have ever seen, a drag queen walking a German shepherd dog, and several members of my local dance society covered in sparkles.  Oh yes, and I see some of my fellow board members from an artist-run-centre. This is in effect the after-party for the PRIDE parade.

You could say these are "my people" as I am a culture-worker and family, friends and colleagues dot the crowd.  Through out the week I have stopped in at events:  Youth Day– characterized by clay crafting, Mario Cart video gaming and bowling, Queer Uncensored – where I am struck by the practice of listing trigger warnings before recitations– for things like sexual abuse. I inquired after others.  I hear rave reviews of the diverse voices at the Coming Out in Faith panel at the Rocket Room downtown, the beach bonfire and the Trans Parade.  You know I am going to be treated to at least one choral rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow before the week is out.
For the first time the Trans Parade was a separate event from
the Pride Parade.

On CBC radio one morning I listened to an activist patiently decoding the expanding alphabet soup that started out as LGBTQ.  Two-spirited has joined the acronym as 2S, reflecting the aboriginal tradition of an individual who possesses both masculine and feminine attributes in a variety of ways be they spiritual, gender based or sexual.  They don't tackle the permutations of relationships, such as polyamorous, nor is their talk of asexuality. 

While it didn't make the media, I noticed that the Trans parade's conclusion was rerouted away from the Harbourside Park to the Humus Hut because the park was declared unsafe.  The revised destination was intended to ward off a potential conflict.  Apparently, a large group of vocal gospel singers had turned up to challenge the transgender march, which was a deliberately unsanctioned event during Pride Week.  Many in the trans community feel eclipsed by the gay community, its issues and increasing acceptance by society.  Safety, medical treatment, and the need for legislative changes are among some of the issues facing the trans community.  If mainstream straight society thought same sex marriage was going to silence the culture of difference that is blossoming…they are in for a surprise.  The "queer" umbrella keeps getting broader and it ain't going away.
Strictly speaking, this is a lesbian lipstick flag.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Magic or Misery? The art of collaboration

One of my passions is throwing dinner parties.  I like all aspects of the activity: planning, shopping, cooking – and most of all, finding ways to delight my guests.  This week I brought together two artists at my dinner table because they had an interest in collaborating with each other but really didn't know each other as people.  However, they both knew me.  So, I thought it was time for me to work a little magic: create a comfort zone that both of them could inhabit.

It just so happens that the week prior I had written a book review for Cahiers m├ętiers d'art about a relatively new release from Bloomsbury/Berg publishers in the U.K. titled, Collaboration Through Craft.  To top it all off, I am also watching my son navigate the waters of collaboration through a series of musical projects in the field of electronic composing.  If I am staring through a window and thinking, you can bet it is about collaboration.

If anyone is looking for a good textbook about collaboration, I sincerely recommend Collaboration Through Craft because it is exhaustively researched and clearly written.  It manages to say profound things in simple terms and it is a great balance between theory and case studies.  It also acknowledges the importance of skill and materiality that craft can deliver to almost any field, whether it is plastic surgery or environmental management.  You put a textile artist with a background in dress making with a cosmetic surgeon and you get the best damn tucks you can imagine.  You put a furniture maker and a high tech guru together and you get kick ass "calm interface" exhibition design.  Don't you love that term, "calm interface"?  It is used to indicate technology that allows interactivity without being obvious.
Cover of my catalogue for the show
 In an Ancient Garden.  Potters Debra Kuzyk and
Ray Mackie are stellar collaborators.

Collaboration, in order to be successful, must get both parties (or several parties) to a place they could not have reached on their own.  I also firmly believe that it must be more than an exchange of skill sets.  This is not subcontracting.  It is a lot more like parenting with the work of art or product being the child. 

Collaboration or working together has an element of risk to it.  It is unpredictable and cannot be entirely controlled.  Think back to those school day exercises where you were forced to work in a group.  Do you remember that dreadful feeling of surrender?  Knowing that you could not make your partners do something but realizing that you will be graded on a collective performance is a horrible sensation.  But with the right partners the results can be stellar.  Learning how to balance hard work, cooperation, frustration and reward is a great life skill.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Music Sweeps Provincial Annual Arts Awards

Pam Hall is the inductee to the Fortis Hall of Honour.

Last Friday the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council held its 30th annual arts awards ceremony in the auditorium of The Rooms. St. John's.  This competition pits the seven disciplines of the professional arts against each other, meaning that artists and organizations in dance, theatre, film, writing, visual arts, music and multidisciplinary media vie for achievement awards.  All awards are commemorated with a specially commissioned work of art and, except for Patron of the Arts, with a $2,500 cheque.  This year is also the NLAC's 35th anniversary and tomorrow the new logo for the council will be released.

The evening held few surprises in terms of award winners if only because all of the finalists were worthy nominees.  These names were released back in June and if you'd like to know more, here's a link to the full list:

For the sake of brevity, here are the six winners:  Fortis Properties Arts Hall of Honour Award: Eastern Edge (visual/organization); Fortis Properties Arts Hall of Honour Award: Pam Hall (visual artist); CBC Emerging Artist Award: Aaron Collis & Emilia Bartellas (music); Memorial University Arts in Education Award: Grant Etchegary (music); Patron of the Arts Awards: John O'Dea; Cox & Palmer Arts Achievement Award: Jim Duff (music): BMO Bank of Montreal Artist of the Year Award: Deanne Foley (film).

Grant Etchegary is widely known in the province
for his leadership with youth orchestras in the province.

What piqued my interest was how the awards ceremony had changed from last year, especially in light of the belt-tightening we all have been feeling with the reduction of oil revenues in the province and the general atmosphere of an election looming. 

The NLAC is still rotating its awards ceremony to different regions, which makes good sense in terms of representing its constituency.  Last year it was held in Clarenville and next it will be out west.  In past years, the awards ceremony was treated to more lavish production with live music and elaborate staging.  What remained were the CBC created videos honouring each of the winners and of course comments from involved parties and winners.  It was still a feel good event but a fiscally responsible one.

Being recognized for your contribution to the cultural life of your home province is perhaps more strategic when financial times are strained.  In the life of an artist, most times are financially tight but every once in a while it is down right necessary to receive validation just in order to keep going.  Even receiving a commission to create the small sculptures this year must have been a tremendous boost to carver Elias Semiak.  In my books, he too is a winner.  If I was a recipient, I'd make sure that I was first at the NLAC offices to choose my sculpture.  All of them are different.  Early bird gets first choice.
The musical duo of Aaron Collis & Emilia Bartellas won Emerging Artist beating out
 two visual artists– Ally Baird and Audrey Hurd.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Three Days of Heaven or The St. John's Tattoo Convention, July 3-5, 2015

Crystal underneath her portrait by Ned Pratt at the St. John's
 Tattoo Convention.  Special thanks are owed to Dave Munro
 for allowing us to exhibit these portraits at his event.

I dump my purse out on the kitchen table and out falls: a Norwegian hunting knife, a pair of snippers that my friend assures me could be used to castrate an elephant and a razor blade.  My son laughs, "that's my Mom".  Yeah, you will not find eyeliner in my purse.  That day I had been installing an exhibition of sorts, a selection of large photographs by Ned Pratt.  It was an excerpt from the More Than Skin Keep project and the venue was the Bella Vista.  Like a dutiful mom I had picked up the forgotten toys of my crew and put them safely away.

The next day the disco ball over the dance floor of the Bella Vista would be shining down over a swarm of tattoo artists gathered for St. John's first tattoo convention.  Forty of them would be clustered around tables and chairs tattooing clients who had made appointments and some who had walked in and lucked out.  The air would be filled with the buzz of ink guns like cicadas on a warm summer afternoon.  And I was one happy camper.

NTV's photo captures the intense activity at St. John's first tattoo convention.

Tattooing by and large is a private event.  It takes place at a tattoo studio and it is the client, the client's ideas and the tattoo artist's skills and equipment.  I think that is one of the reasons why such close bonds often develop between the tattooist and the client. Factor in pain and trust that is implied by the physical contact and the permanency of the tattoo and you get a better idea of some of the other reasons.

By contrast, tattoo conventions are social events.  The excitement is palpable as friends stroll the aisles comparing flash art in various artists' portfolios; other friends are showing each other fresh tattoos still glistening wet; and of course you can see wall to wall bodies being tattooed.  There are posters for sale, badges, t-shirts and prints.

But make no mistake this is a far cry from the "reality TV" versions of tattooing.  Nowhere is this more apparent than the "Tattoo of the Day" competitions at the conventions.  The proud owners of the tattoos register their new art work for the competition.  They await their name to be called at the appointed hour to take to the stage and be inspected by a panel of judges.  Some of the tattoo owners are still peeling off bandages.  Others are visibly in pain as they gingerly work calves up the stairs bearing large, heavily worked tattoos.  Some apologize for the blood that is still visible.  This is real life.

During some of the more quiet times, I notice tattoo artists slipping into each other's booths to get tattooed.  Artists, whom I recognize from local studios, are also making special trips in to the convention to add to their own body art.  Gathering outside the convention centre over take out noodles and vegetables one bright-eyed young apprentice crows that his hero has just tattooed him.  Ironically, they both work in studios based in Ottawa.  But here in St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador, the young artist has secured a hand and needle tattoo – rather than one done with an ink gun– from a senior artist with more than 35-years experience.  It is a delicate sakura or Japanese cherry blossom.  

The event is clearly a success, so much so that before it is over Trouble Bound Studio's Dave Munro says "We're proud to announce the Second Annual St. John's Tattoo Convention July 1-3, 2016!" #‎stjohnstatooconvention #‎sjtc #‎stjohns