Projects on the propane burner

Haven’t posted in a dog’s age, although dogs have nothing to do with it. In the video for the RAIQ on-line correspondence project I made last April, I spontaneously vowed to break the boundaries between my artistic practice and practice as a change agent, and indeed, that would appear to be more than an obvious direction and overdue. (The word, “indeed”, always makes me think of Ron Gabe but that has nothing to do with this more than dogs.) I maintain 2 websites (one art, one consultant), but no longer have 2 different email signatures. (Such are the measures of incremental change.)

Things on the boiler include: a commissioned piece for Niagara Dance Company for November on the Cultural Capital theme of “boundaries”. I have worked with the boundary between audience and performer(s) off and on since 1976 and the last time was April 23 & here. On that occasion, I used Jitter software but it cost a fortune and the audience didn’t care one bit or even notice. So I want to up the ante and use a technology in which instruction can flow both ways between performers and just a few brave audience members with cell phones.

Also on the boil is a project with YWCA Niagara, Wrap Her In Warmth: knitting communities together. This is a project that prior to my vow, I would have considered as part of my admin | change agent life, but now I am looking at as key to breaking down that bifurcation.  This was assisted by remembering Suzanne Lacy’s Crystal Quilt Performance, and thinking of her role as facilitator in the communication amongst the women participants. I am looking to work with two local young fibre artists and met with one already. I have a history with YWCA Niagara, both as partner from the early days of my tenure as Executive Director of the sadly-departed St. Catharines and Area Arts Council, and because I am a sometime poster-girl for them as homelessness advocate. (I spilled ice cubes down Margaret Trudeau’s decolletage when we delivered keynotes at the 2011 Women of Distinction dinner and she was very good about it.)

Jean Bridge and I are in a fairly long gestation of a project which I am slightly at sea about, although it is about trees, not the sea. The community part of it is unclear to me and whether or not seeking local funding with fixed parameters about community development is supportive of the project or not.

And then there is The Main Event for which I recently had the great blessing of receiving an Ontario Arts Council grant. Later.

Mid-July, I posted an on-line training tool for dance artists about interest-based negotiation – How to have those Awkward Conversations in a Small Community. I should have done it while I was Executive Director of CADA-ON and didn’t, so did it for free – an association of guilt and money I should perhaps abandon. I haven’t yet heard a peep of response but I think it is very good and very useful.

Of course there is the incomplete Microfinance for Artists Research Project report which will be completed and posted very, very soon.

As for the photo, well that’s because my daughter Nell and I just returned from our very first backcountry camping trip and we are pumped about it.


RAIQ On-line Correspondence Project

I am so happy to have just learned of my selection for the RAIQ On-line Correspondence Project. Here is my proposal.

I would like to do this project because the theme of art and environment relates to my work, I would welcome dialogue with an aboriginal artist, and because I am intrigued by the idea of a public on-line discourse.

Much of my work has been intertwined with the natural environment, exploring issues such as the dichotomy of nature and culture, a sense of place, human bodies as part of nature, and the boundaries between inner and outer landscape.

I live in the Niagara region largely because I am grounded by the landscape where I was born. Native concepts of relationship to the land have long resonated with me. I am mindful that for contemporary urban aboriginal people this relationship is complex; this also resonates for me, because the sense of belonging generated by landscape is paradoxical to my sense of being an outsider. The notion of “community” is usually defined more by social than geographical relationships.

In the early 1990s, I made Theatrum Silvaticae (performance, 1992) and Breath and the Heart, Listen (installation, 1994); they were close to the beginning of my interaction as a non-native Canadian with the critical issue of the re-negotiation and healing of the relationship between native and non-native people. Later, I spent a number of years engaged with the community around the Niagara Regional Native Centre involved in the development of an alternative justice diversion project, Three Fires Community Justice Program, as a member of a women’s drum circle which existed in tension with the centre, and as a regular participant in the sweats held on the centre grounds.

My involvement with the native community certainly influenced my fascination with the red-tailed hawk; images and the sound of the red-tailed hawk were part of Part 4 of Song For A Blue Moon (performance, 2004), Fly (2008) and two other minor works . Birds first appeared in my work in the installation Bloodbird (1998).

Fall (installation, 2008) and Distance of Their Mouths (performance, 2010), were based on imagery of waterfalls and creeks in the north Niagara watershed.  These works are the most recent to explore my sense of place, geography and landscape as composed seeing.

Also – the word, “status” might relate to this project, if not literally to the theme. We are accustomed to updating our status on social media, a practice which may or may not lead to dialogue with others. For First Nations people, the word has specific and complex meanings. My 36 years of interdisciplinary practice could qualify me for the status of elder (although this is a status to be conferred, not claimed).  I am rarely in any position of dialogue or community around my artistic practice and would welcome this opportunity.

I am curious to experience what this on-line communications project would feel like.

Brain Voyaging

October 1, 2011, I attended  The Art and Science of Brain Imaging, part of the Expedition Series presented by Subtle Technologies. It took place at the Centre for Brain and Mind, Natural Sciences Centre at the University of Western Ontario.

The 9:00 am – 6:00 program included Brain Basics and Human Brain Imaging Basics, presented by Dr. Jody Culham, Brain Networks, presented by Dr. Matt Hutchson, a 3D Brain Imaging tutorial with Dr. Tim Wilson and a series of 20 minutes workstations: Electroencephalagraphy (EEG), Anatomical MRI, Functional MRI, Brainstorming, Afterimages, Diffusion Tensor Imaging, Resting State Connectivity: Independence Components. We had an introduction to the open source software used in the field, Brain Voyager.

My interest in taking this workshop was based in some work I did in the 1990s (specifically, Nature of the Body and Breath and the Heart, Thinking) and an unrealized neurobiology project with Shared Habitat 2, a 2 week festival of  dance, visual art and biology, produced in 1993 by Bill James and Rebecca Todd. I did in fact create a work with Shared Habitat, but as no neuroscientist was to be found at the time, the work became something entirely different, Earth’s Flesh (also not yet a page on my site but will be in the fullness of time).

My interest in this subject in the 90s was driven by my early spiritual practice and the notion of mind in Buddhism, coupled with a glee in recent scientific and Buddhist support for the blowing up of the Cartesian split of body and mind. I love the idea of mind throughout the body. I love the fact that the superiority of mind over body, with all its historic gender garbage, just can’t hold anymore.

Interestingly enough, yesterday on Facebook I saw a post for an upcoming symposium in which Rebecca Todd is a presenter, along with her husband Evan Thompson. In 2002 at the Shared Habitat Symposium, Rebecca kindly provided me with an article by Evan and Francisco J. Varela, Radical emodiment: neural dynamics and consciousness. And oh, by the way, the star presenter is Joan Halifax. The program is Zen Brain: Emotions, Equanimity, and the Embodied Mind and takes  place at Upaya Institute in New Mexico next January. I would dearly love to attend although it seems highly unlikely, wish me a lottery win please.

I am unsure where a renewed interesnt in this material and imagery will go.

p.s – there are lots of links in this post, but they don’t show unless you hover your cursor.

Art, Emotion & Experience

There’s something about making art from a place of inhabiting your experience that’s like a fire, it’s that bright and clean.

The performance of The Distance of Their Mouths was one week ago. Yesterday, I took a qi-kung class that was truly mind-blowing (I felt like I was flying in one section of it), and except for food shopping, the rest of the day was spent in obsession over Puccini’s Tosca, it being the rep for the day’s  Saturday Afternoon at the Opera Met broadcast. To my surprise, as I pulled into my driveway with the car radio on, I found myself dissolved in violent tears upon hearing Tosca’s aria, Vissi d’arte. Maybe the qi-kung opened a channel.

Much of the rest of the day went to listening to the broadcast and trying to find English translations to two of the arias. I had missed hearing the Ta Deum in the broadcast but heard it in my head. I wanted to know what the singers were saying. What were the words that didn’t even matter since the emotion of the singing was so powerful?

I found the translation and it did not disappoint – Go, Tosca. Scarpia now sets loose the roaring falcon of your jealousy!….Ah, to see the flame of those imperious eyes  grow faint and languid with passion.  Tosca has been described by a contemporary critic as, “a shabby little shocker” and the dismissiveness reminded me of opinions I have had about contemporary art.

It has often seemed to me that much contemporary visual art is overly-intellectualized , severely imbalanced towards the head and excluding the body. No heart. The dysfunctional psycho disconnected from his emotion, incapable of empathy and jeering at the masses. Perhaps I overstate.

What is the position of emotion and experience in art now? Experience that is internal and personal, without the focus of the lens of social and political affairs? Is it still suspect?

The Distance of Their Mouths is intensely personal. There is a theoretical reason for the emotion to do with disrupting the subject/object view of the landscape, and although I am completely committed to the theoretical reason, it had nothing to do with the creative process. It is a lens that comes after, to don in order to see what one has done.

I am happy about my performance of the emotion I experienced and translated into words. Being a very occasional performer, my skills are limited and I did not want to sink into the horrors of disconnected, sentimental delivery. However, beyond the having the chops or not part, there is another quality, one bone-deep. It’s easy to access when you are young and raw and then it can disappear in “the hazards of life”*. I knew I had managed to get my ducks in a row in order to let it shine last Saturday. I don’t care what a cliché that phrase is, that’s just too bad, because it is a light.

Front: Rose Bolton, composer; Julie Baumgartel, violin; Back: Margaret Gay, cello; me; Alison Melville, recorder

My spiritual practice teaches me to fully experience as the middle way between getting caught up in reactive patterns or repressing; to fully experience whatever you are experiencing and be able to rest within it. Be fully in something instead of avoiding it either by being overwhelmed or pushing it away. I think contemporary art is a lot about repressing and popular culture is a lot about being caught up in reactive patterns. I want to make art that expresses my experience.

* A phrase used by Francoise Sullivan when I interviewed her and which has resonated with me since.

Queen St. West history

Here’s my input to all the Queen St. West history (some of which has felt like revisionism to me, but we all have our histories).

Peter Pan wait staff Hilary & I circa 1978

It takes nothing away from the magnificence of The Cameron to remember what everyone seems to forget when writing about the history of Queen  St. West – both The Cameron and the music scene built on what was  already established by other artists in the 70s. I lived over Jacob’s Hardware (beside The Cameron) from 1975-1988 and most of the “new  dance” community as well as the infant modern dance Dancemakers  rehearsed there in the mid-70s. General Idea’s Art  Metropole moved from Yonge St. to Richmond and Duncan in the mid-70s  and CCMC opened The Music Gallery on St. Patrick St. just north of  Queen. The Centre for Experimental Art and Communications (CEAC) was on Duncan and the independent film organization, The Funnel, was in  its basement. Lots of artists lived in the lofts along Queen St. W. around Spadina (protected by provincial rent control) including John Scott, Peter McCallum,  Randy & Bernicci and many others. Before The Cameron we drank at The Beverley and occasionally The Rex Hotel or Horseshoe (speaking personally of course).  The Cabana Room of The Spadina Hotel was the original artists’ bar of area.

The restaurants were key to the scene and provided employment for visual artists, dancers and musicians. Peter Pan opened in the fall of 1976 and was the game-changer to hipsterism. General Idea’s Jorge  Zontal and myself were amongst the first wait staff. Le Select opened  up before The Peter Pan and was a hangout for theatre people including  Montreal emigrés from Bill 101 who opened the Soho Theatre on  the second floor in the building that later became The Rivoli. Around this time, the hippie Beggar’s Banquet changed to The Parrot and its  owners and chefs were the soon-to-be-superchefs Greg Couilliard and  Andrew Milne-Allen. The Clichettes are other dancers formed most of the wait staff.

But don’t take my word for it – see The Toronto Star article, “A new village lures the creative crowd”, Saturday, June 125, 1977 by Bruce Kirkland.

Video files complete!

Lower Balls Falls on the Twenty

I have completed the video files for this Saturday’s performance of my first new performance since 2004, Distance of Their Mouths. It is so great to be making a performance.

I am live mixing 6 video files with video from a webcam. I am using an Edirol V-4 video mixer, courtesy of Marinko Jareb and Niagara Artists’ Centre. The files are a combination of video shot in fall of 2008 for the installation, Fall, with a very good camera from Charles St. Video, and web-quality video shot in October 2010 and recently. I could not open the stored files from 2008 and was rescued by my dear friend, Berenicci Hershorn (click on her name to go to the 7a*11d blog and a description of her most excellent recent performance). We drank delicious rose tea and I devoured the remains of her holiday baking while she edited 3 files for me in File Maker Pro. On my way to her, I stopped at the Apple store to buy a DVI to S-video cable. On the bus on the way home, I edited the last of the 6 files; I use the free software on my employer’s MacBook Pro, iMovie, which is dreadful but a huge step forward from nothing! Editing video is the most pleasant way to commute, that and reading the comics my mother kindly cuts out of the newspaper for me.

During the performance, I will open each file, at the right time and place one hopes, and mix live footage of the musicians playing. I have yet to finalize the places and times for this. I don’t have video for one of the sections but serenditiously it works because the text is about disappearances. I have not yet completed the very modest, gestural choreography, funny thing about that, since it is the one artistic subject I have actually taught. Text – check. Video – check. Equipment – check. Vocal delivery and choreography, not so much, still to complete with 3 days to go.

The Distance of Their Mouths – artist statement

I am on part-time unpaid artistic leave from my job this week and next and very glad to be working for artists who understand the need for this. I spent a certain amount of time flailing about raging with my life-long issues about not making art, not making the art I want to make because I can’t focus on it because of not having money, etc. etc. and fortunately was able to awaken to the fact that I am making art and have enough money to take this time to make art so shut up already.

The performance is presented by Gallery Players of Niagara on Janaury 22 @ 8:00 p.m. at Niagara Artists’ Centre in St. Catharines. Here is the artist statement to be printed in the program:

Notes on The Distance of Their Mouths: a journey from west to east

The Distance of Their Mouths charts six of the waterfalls in the numbered creek system of the North Niagara watershed. I previously worked with this imagery in the video installation, Fall, shown at Grimsby Public Art Gallery in 2008. Both of these works are rooted in my sense of place and appreciation for the power of waterfalls, which dot the north Niagara landscape.

 In this work, a deeply personal narrative is layered with this landscape. Relationships and stories in verse of grief and despair are embedded in the geology and geography. The narrative journey following the creeks from west to east leads to the great waterfall, which I have described as if viewed in a meditative state associated with a Buddhist path, Dzogchen. The epilogue enumerates the creeks opening into Lake Ontario. Empty and open are identified as states of being overcoming despair and turmoil.

 These expressions of place, emotions and spiritual states are joined to an expression of a theoretical position. Landscape in art is conventionally that viewed and consumed by us. As object to our subject, it is passive and neutral. Through embodying the landscape of my birth and residence with my personal narrative, I disrupt that convention. I support this visually by electronically overlaying the images of the musicians engaged in the live, physical act of playing their instruments. In so doing, I make my small hole in the exploitative relationship with the land and the objectification that sees us as separate to nature.

 I have not addressed the music, which I leave to the composer, Rose Bolton, and I thank her and the musicians of Gallery Players of Niagara for their generous and inspired collaboration in realizing this work.