The Resistance Tour: Saffron A’s Priceless Advice

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Saffron A, portrait. Photo by Kadee McFarlane. 2019.

By Adi Berardini

CW: Sexual assault

In the sadly saturated rape culture that we live in and the rise of the #MeToo movement, Saffron A’s music is more than timely. In her song “Priceless Advice,” victim-blaming statements are combined in a high energy pop-folk song. Through the strumming of strong chords, the song comments on the absurdity of shaming sexual assault survivors instead of holding rapists responsible.  Saffron A sings them with an ironic joy, and through that, asks her audience to join her on a journey exploring and challenging toxic masculinity and rape culture. In this song, she reclaims her power over the narrative that the behaviour of those affected by sexual assault is the root cause of their trauma.

Her lyrics mention a cop that blames what the victim is wearing for an assault, insisting that the perpetrator is simply “over-friendly.” It’s a narrative that many of us know all too well—not being taken seriously in our experience of pain and sexual assault. These words are difficult to write as I know it well myself. Too often, the responsibility is burdened on the survivor for what was ultimately a violation of trust and abuse of power. It takes a lot of healing after being sexually assaulted, and it can feel like the wound is still open at times. Saffron A uses her own experience to heal and also bring these problematic narratives to light.

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Saffron A, portrait. Photo by Kadee McFarlane.

Additionally, the lyrics of “Priceless Advice” state, “wear boots so you can run away” and “don’t hang out on that side of town, maybe you should just stay inside.” The haunting statements of “don’t be so enticing, don’t be so inviting,” ring through the speaker. It’s the censorship of women’s behaviour instead of accountability that grinds away at me in hearing these statements. The culture of victim-blaming is the fuel that perpetuates these narratives and breeds shame that should not exist.

The song also has a more hopeful outlook when Saffron sings in the chorus that she will “wear what she likes” and that she’s “not going to hide anymore.” It reclaims the bodily autonomy that feels so lost in the aftermath of a sexual assault. Saffron looks toward the possibility to move past these toxic assumptions and the disbelief of survivors in recounting their own experiences. Saffron contests being objectified in a public space, because, like the rest of us, she is tired of it.

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Saffron A, Consent Pants. Photo by Kadee McFarlane. 2019.

On the Resistance tour, Saffron A has brought along with her a pair of “consent pants,” which are jeans she asks the audience to write on them with markers about what consent means to them. “What began as a collaboration with Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent (ASCC), quickly became a community art project,” Saffron A explains. “I co-hosted two concerts at the beginning of my Resilience Tour with ASCC, and they wanted to have an artistic element at the events. I suggested we ask folks to write/draw/express what consent means to them on a pair of jeans.”

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Saffron A, Consent Pants. Photo by Kadee McFarlane. 2019.

The consent pants travelled from Brantford to Montreal, all the way up to Sudbury and beyond. I wrote on the jeans myself at the live show here at the Brown and Dickson Bookstore in London, saying that consent, to me, was “mutual respect.” Writing on these jeans evoked a lot of emotions, mainly since I had to think about what consent personally meant to me. The dictionary defines consent as “permission” or “agreement.” The pants say phrases such as “communication is key,” and “no consent on stolen land,” bringing up what consent looks like when Canadians occupy the land of Indigenous peoples outside of a mutual agreement. Both the consent pants and Saffron A’s music spark an essential conversation—when we don’t discuss consent, it masquerades its meaning, making it easier to become a grey area. The lack of understanding of consent only creates the potential to hurt others. Consent is something rooted in genuine care, and it’s an agreement that is so closely tied to power and trust.

Saffron A taps into her own vulnerability through her music and uses it as a tool for healing—she reclaims her own power and autonomy. Her music echoes so strongly in a society that perpetuates shame for rape survivors. Challenging toxic assumptions and how survivors are not taken seriously, she approaches the subject in an open and engaging way. As she sings, “I’d laugh if I wasn’t terrified, I wouldn’t have to sing this song if this behaviour wasn’t going on.” Saffron A initiates the conversation about rape culture and sexual assault and asks us to collectively do better.

You can find Saffron A’s music on Bandcamp. Follow her on Instagram at @saffrockmusic.

 

Chris Strickler’s BIRD MILK

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Chris Strickler. Bird Milk still. 2018.

Questions by Adi Berardini

Chris Strickler is an animator, installation artist, and live visual performer (VJ). He works with abstraction and interaction to create immersive and experimental animations. His experimental film, BIRD MILK, will be screened on October 19th at 7pm as part of Antimatter Media Art in Victoria, BC at Deluge Contemporary Art.

Your film is very influenced by electronic music, which was made by Gil Goletski. What was the process of collaboration like for you on your film Bird Milk?

Our collaboration was an interesting one, I think. To start, I gave Gil an energy chart, mapping out the mood of the song. Then part by part, they made each segment of the song and I would share my feedback. I don’t know how helpful my feedback was because I have no clue how to talk about music, but eventually, we ended with an amazing 7 and a half-minute song. Now, if you have the chance to see my film, you may notice that it is a sweet 4 minutes and 44 seconds. We ended up cutting it down and changing a section because there was no chance I was going to finish 7 minutes of animation in [9 months]. But if you ever want to listen to Gil’s full song, it’s out there, waiting for you.

How did you come about finding the particular textures and effects that you use throughout your experimental animation?

Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care was my kick in the pants to make something like BIRD MILK. It was messy, colourful, erratic, [and] chaotic. It spoke to me on a level an art piece had never reached before. McLaren used ink, so I used ink. McLaren scratched, so I scratched. But that was only the start. I dropped ink into water and alcohol to make delicious splashes of colour.

I did some parts of my film in Autodesk Maya, a 3D animation program. To integrate the 3D footage with the rest of my messy, experimental film, I printed out the frames onto transparent sheets at the size of postage stamps. The effect of close-up ink dots and the fact that these sheets would gather dust and scratches imbued what was previously a lifeless 3D animation with a tactile, textured feeling.

I did the same with some rotoscoped footage of birds and different animals I found, except instead of printing the frames, I laser-cut them. I had a grand time creating different method mark-making and then looking at everything under a macro lens, a lens meant for bug and flower photography. The macro lens is what made everything so juicy and crunchy, magnifying minuscule textures into giant pieces of art. Then once everything starts flashing at 24 frames per second (which may not be so fun if you are photosensitive), that’s when the magic starts happening.

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Chris Strickler. Bird Milk still. 2018.
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Chris Strickler. Bird Milk still. 2018.

How did you move from more representational to abstract/experimental animation and film? Do you move back and forth between them?

Back to Norman McLaren, it was his film that I mentioned before that opened my eyes to abstract animation. Up until that point, I was just going through the 2D character animation pathway because I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. Then in 3rd year when I saw Begone Dull Care for the first time, it was a revelation moment. I didn’t have to do character animation, it was okay! Since then I have been doing almost exclusively abstract and non-representation animation. Maybe one day I will delve back into representational work, but today is not that day.

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Chris Strickler. Bird Milk still. 2018.

Who are some artists and animators that inspire your work?

If it wasn’t already obvious, Norman McLaren is a big inspiration of mine. He was a pioneer of experimental filmmaking and is a pillar of film and animation history. I’m not one to idolize anyone, but I idolize McLaren. Not only his work do I adore, but his work ethic is something I aspire to. If he tried something new and it didn’t work out the way he wanted, he would file it away not as a failure, but as something he could use in the future. No effort went to waste, no such thing as a wasted opportunity. I’m also a big fan of Andrew Benson, Ryder Thomas White, Sara Goodman, and Nadya Bokk. These are all people I follow on Instagram or Twitter. Except [for] McLaren, he’s quite dead.

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Chris Strickler. Bird Milk still. 2018.

Do you have any other projects you are working on that are coming up?

I have a music video with queer pop icon Devours that’s on the back burner until we both have the bandwidth to tackle it. Additionally, Flavourcel, the animation collective I’m a part of, has a couple irons in the fire that we are working on. One is a project for the Emily Carr University writing program, and another is a gallery show and workshop with the Surrey Art Gallery. Both of those will happen sometime in the spring. I’m also always up for VJ gigs that come my way, I love doing visuals for the local bands of Vancouver.

Follow Chris on Instagram at @doktorgrafiks.

Chris Strickler’s screening of BIRD MILK as part of the Antimatter Media Art Festival is happening on October 19th at 7pm at The Deluge Contemporary Art Gallery in Victoria, BC. 

 

So, You’re Going to an Art Event

By Sara Peters & Dave Karrel

So, you’re going to an art event. Don’t just stand there, get R E A D Y! Oh, it’s weeks away? Perfect, you’ll need the time to prepare. Maybe you’re thinking, but I already know how to go to art shows. Ha! You couldn’t be more wrong. But worry not, this handy guide to the art of art is 2000% certified by Marina Abramovic™ herself.

Preparing for the Event  

Don’t trust the Facebook event. All the people who say they’re going are not going. Anyone who marks themselves as ‘interested’ never gave it a thought.

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Illustration by Sara Peters.

Your friends can’t make it. Sorry to tell you, but it’s best you hear it from me now. One will get sick, one will be tired from a ‘brutal work day’, one will never text you at all.

If you do happen to spot someone you know, they will go missing within minutes. You will think, how is this possible in a 10×10 room? This is the art world, baby. Rules don’t apply.

Ah, the outfit. The cornerstone of any good disguise. Be sure to wear an unintuitive, semi-pre-mostly-post-modern combination of garments. Use this classic example as inspiration: Second-cousin’s work pants with a mesh top. Vintage back-issue of Life Magazine folded into a boat hat. Babybel cheese wax earrings.

To be truly unforgettable, wear a genuine mink shawl and insist it’s actually made of Beyond Meat™.

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Illustration by Sara Peters.

Entering the Event

The gallery’s entrance may come in the form of a garage door, nondescript archway, parting in the bushes, or subtle parody of an existing fast-food chain, eg: McDonTalds.

Enter the event as though you expected to walk into a restaurant but, upon discovering your mistake, have decided to satisfy your bottomless appetite for contemporary arts and culture.

The Event

 You’ve arrived. Your need for high art is matched only by your growing thirst. In the back, you’ll find two near-identical near-angels selling tall cans from a makeshift booth.

Keep your head down. Approach slowly. Do not bare your teeth. When offered wine, take as many glasses as you can hold (the world record is 51) and consume immediately. Do not hesitate. If you hesitate, they will, in perfect synchronicity, read from their half-finished dissertations and lay a curse that renders you a permanent installation of the gallery.

Establish intellectual dominance from the outset: Take a hurried first lap. This will prove you consume art faster than anyone else in the room.

There will be a dimly lit back patio/parking lot/semi-outdoor area where people squat on tree stumps and take long wistful drags of hand-rolled cigarettes. You can find good conversation here, just don’t bring up the art.

If the artist is your friend, congratulate them before you’ve seen the work. Grasp them by the fingertips, fingerprint to fingerprint, gaze deep into their soul, whisper, Brave. So, so brave with your eyes fully closed.

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Illustration by Sara Peters.

Talk over the video that is playing on loop. You’re not actually here to see the art, you’re here to be seen with the art.

There WILL be someone whose backpack is twice the size of a Foodora delivery bag. WHAT IS IN THERE????! you will wonder but never ask.

If you run into the gallery owner, say How much? When they ask which piece you’re referring to, laugh and shake your head as you float away.

Learning the Language

Dipping into a new culture requires learning enough of the language to get around. For instance, when someone asks, what do you do? what they’re really asking is, what can you do for me? Look around. Is everyone looking at you? Good. Stand on tiptoe and mention that you know a little Japanese. If you’re looking to make an ally for the night, say you moonlight as a grant writer.

If someone tells you they used to know the artist before they ‘blew up’, it means they once shared a kiln while studying trans-epoch Trotskian pottery at OCAD and have since heavily lurked their social media.

Practice reading didactic panels before you go. The most important part is holding your face perfectly still so as to mask your inevitable confusion as you try to decipher seemingly incomprehensible sentences such as:

FAR images-panel
Illustration by Sara Peters.

If you happen to find an error in a didactic panel, be sure to chuckle to yourself—bounce at the shoulders, shake your head. Make sure someone notices, to unwittingly confirm your superior intelligence.

If there is a Q & A, be prepared for an extended speech that betrays the asker’s prolific art-making history and (eventually) yields into a bumbling reference to one of the work’s materials and a half-hearted request for the artist to explain where they got the idea.

Leaving the Event

In order to leave, you’ll need to plan an escape route. Take into consideration the following likely obstacles:

  • The door is actually part of the exhibit
  • The group of intimidating art teens by the front door (How’d they get in here? How are they so cool? Are they real?)
  • The man by the bar who wishes to tell you about the recent ‘urban farm’ he is building in his “friend Todd’s parents’” backyard
  • Actually, where is the door though? This is frickin’ spooky
  • Spotting the artist, and in so doing, feeling obligated to ask about their process
  • Spotting the curator and having them tack you against the wall for 1-6 hours so they can tell you about their process
  • Uneven flooring
  • Literally no idea what’s happening with this door situation. Will I die here??

An older couple will wander in. The realization that this is not their destination will slowly drain the expectant joy from their faces until the woman grasps her husband gently at the elbow and whispers, “Ted, we need to go.” For an easy out, pretend they’re visiting you from out of town and follow their lead.

There—you made it. You’re now an Art World Veteran. Get yourself home, crawl into bed with your takeout, and post a couple Insta pics so everyone knows what a great night you had.

Profiles on Practice: Yen-Chao Lin

 

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Yen-Chao Lin. The Eroding Garden. Copper, glass enamel, stainless steel. 200cm x 49cm. 2019.

By Nadia Kurd

Dowsing is known as the process of finding water using divination rods. This old technique of sourcing water can be found in various cultures across the globe. For modern-day dowsers, in addition to sourcing water, “they frequently can report its volume, depth, flow direction and potability.”[1]

For Taiwan-born, Montréal-based multidisciplinary artist Yen-Chao Lin, this practice has been a significant inspiration to art. Many of Lin’s works begin organically and can be sparked by the items she collects, hears or senses. The combination of spirituality, folklore, and DIY practices—as found in dowsing— has foregrounded much of Lin’s film, installation, and textile-based works. Moreover, as a child, she was exposed to a variety of religious philosophies, as her mother would take her to places such as Buddhist temples, Sunday mass, and Mormon gatherings.[2]

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Yen-Chao Lin, portrait. Photograph by Ashutoshk Gupta. Courtesy of the artist.
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Yen-Chao Lin. The Eroding Garden. Copper, glass enamel, stainless steel. 200cm x 49cm. 2019.

Lin’s long-term research into dowsing which included conducting interviews and attending monthly meetings with the Ottawa Dowser’s, led to the creation of her installation Eroding Garden (2019). As a result, Lin created a three-part installation that combines 2000 glass enamelled Canadian pennies, a porcelain bowl with an erected chopstick, and several suspended, casted hands holding dowsing sticks, both in real and imaginary ways. As Lin writes, the work also incorporates her own family history. This history is symbolically reflected, as Lin notes;

The porcelain bowl with the chopstick is drawn from my family oral history, where my grandmother made a chopstick stand in water and communicated with the spirit of a deceased relative who was causing illness to my mother. In many East Asian cultures, chopsticks should not be left vertically stuck into a bowl of rice because it resembles the ritual of incense-burning that symbolizes feeding the dead.[3]

While the work evokes a more intuitive approach to connecting with land and water, dowsing also has an insidious, political history as well. As Lin points out, “dowsing is also used by the petroleum industry to locate oil wells, mining companies for ore, as well as the US army in Korea and Vietnam,  to find tunnels and food caches.”[4]

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Yen-Chao Lin. The Eroding Garden, 2019. Porcelain, hand-forged steel, 22k gold leaf. 12cm x 12cm x 25cm.

In another installation Perchance (2018), 23 booklets, silk tapestries, and several divination sticks are arranged in a way that creates a space whereself-administered divination is offered.”[5] For this project, Lin “visited fortune tellers in Hong Kong and Taiwan, observed different collective and individual divination practices, studied the ancient tradition of I Ching and explored the materiality of silk.”[6] The work melds the sensibilities of traditional East Asian aesthetics and religious practices to forge a contemporary ‘system for divination.’ Here, visitors are permitted to interact with the I-Ching bundle (placed in the centre of the silk banners) and interpret their own numerically based fortune from reading the 23 booklets on the wall. This process ultimately melds chance and instruction and asks visitors to reflect on “socially determined networks of information distribution.”[7]

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Yen-Chao Lin, Perchance, 2018. Photography by Paul Litherland, courtesy of SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art.

Her most recent project, The Spirit Keepers of Makut’ay (2019) also follows a highly intuitive process. This short, experimental film was shot on the rural coast of Taiwan in collaboration with the local Amis Indigenous community. Largely abstract in nature, the film poetically “unravels mixed-faith expressions from Daoist ritual possession to a Presbyterian funeral” to reveal the past Amis healers. For Lin, this work brings together the past and present to show how “nature, colonization and population migration” comes together in Taiwan’s unique spiritual landscape.[8] The Spirit Keepers of Makut’ay will have its Canadian premiere the Vancouver International Film Festival this October.

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Yen-Chao Lin. The Spirit Keepers of Makuta’ay Still. 10:57. 2019.

Since migrating to Canada at the age of thirteen to pursue an education, Lin recalls that she had, “this overwhelming strong pulsation darting out from my heart, telling me I must leave in order to pursue what I want out of this life. I wanted to leave since I was 11, it took two years to convince my parents and it was not easy.”[9] This determination led her to pursue an arts education. After earning a Cégep (Studio Arts) diploma and a BFA (Film Production) from Concordia University (Montréal) in 2008, Lin has gone on to participate in numerous residencies, exhibitions, and performances in Canada and abroad.

With an understanding of how she may be perceived as an immigrant woman of colour, a large part of Lin’s work has also involved working with arts organizations to develop equity policies and practices. In 2019, she was the Equity Officer for La Centrale Gallerie Powerhouse, a feminist artist-run centre in Montréal. This experience made her realize “how important and challenging it is to make space for equity-seeking folks within institutions, and how education, leadership development, and solidarity can contribute to change.”[10]

Combined with an intuitive sensibility, Lin’s practice, on the whole, is rooted in examining equity and justice. “I believe in self-empowerment, the accessibility of arts, and the possibility of change through art,” reflects Lin, “I’m a critical person and I will always question the dominant structure of power, either through my work as an artist or as a cultural worker.”[11]

To see more of Yen-Chao Lin’s art and upcoming projects, visit her website: yenchaolin.com

Nadia Kurd (she/her) is an art historian and curator based in Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton, Alberta). She tweets @nadia_kurd and her work can be found on nadiakurd.com.

[1] Canadian Dowsers Association. https://canadiandowsers.org/introduction-to-dowsing/ (accessed September 10, 2019).

[2] Yen-Chao Lin, interview by author, Edmonton, AB, September 6, 2019.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Yen-Chao Lin, Artist Website: yenchaolin.com, (accessed September 7, 2019).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. Note: I Ching can be described as “philosophical taxonomy of the universe, a guide to an ethical life, a manual for rulers, and an oracle of one’s personal future.” For more information, see: http://www.chinafile.com/library/nyrb-china-archive/what-i-ching

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Interview by author.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

Profiles on Practice: Christina Battle

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Christina Battle. BAD STARS, Installation documentation, Trinity Square Video, 2018, Photo by Jocelyn Reynolds. Courtesy of the artist.

By Nadia Kurd

“The weather,” writes scholar Christina Sharpe, “necessitates changeability and improvisation; it is the atmospheric condition of time and place; it produces new ecologies.” For Sharpe, ‘the weather’ represents the social and political climate that shapes and produces anti-Blackness. The weather is contextual and ongoing. It is both the condition and the resulting effect on Black life in the aftermath of slavery.[i]

It is within the complexity of ‘the weather’ that Edmonton-based, media artist Christina Battle wants to articulate her interests in disasters and imagine how we cope and respond to change. The concept of disasters —be they social, political, ecological fallouts or otherwise —are the focus of Battle’s art practice. The interconnected nature of past events, history and ideas can manifest in contemporary disasters and as a result, continually create new circumstances and a need to address survival. In her work, Battle also looks at how these ideas and actions are circulated and communicated through social media.

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Christina Battle. Portrait courtesy of the artist.

Her process begins broadly by reading and gathering information and images online. As Battle moves through her research, she also quickly makes gifs and other digital images “as a way to reflect on our larger visual sphere.”[ii] Her work brings together digital images and text to animate them in a variety of ways. Sometimes spontaneous, many of these pieces are either reworked or further developed into larger projects. For Battle, “different strategies are taken up depending on the issue at hand. If I’m thinking about satellite mapping and issues related to how we engage with tools that are continually tracking us…the work pulls from aesthetics reminiscent of those technologies.”[iii]

What drives Battle’s practice is her interest in how people use varying modes of communication with one another. “We don’t seem to be doing a very good job,” reflects Battle, “of even recognizing, let alone admitting the problems we face and that drives a certain sense of urgency for me.”[iv]

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Christina Battle. Notes to Self, video still (2014-ongoing). Courtesy of the artist.

Her ongoing video-based work Notes to Self (2014-present), addresses this sense of urgency.  In the videos, Battle records the burning of paper, which features short phrases and words. Often lasting a few seconds, the notes mimic the visual and sound bites of social media. However, as Battle writes, this work is also unlike social media as “the fate of these updates is controlled and finite, existing only for a few seconds before being completely destroyed.”[v]

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Christina Battle. BAD STARS, Installation documentation, Trinity Square Video, 2018, Photo by Jocelyn Reynolds. Courtesy of the artist.

In the multi-video installation work, Bad Stars (2018) Battle examines the theme of disaster from an astronomical perspective. Primarily a multi-screen and image installation, the exhibition of this work also brought together a collaborative group of individuals who “to help forward the discussion, beginning with the invitation to contribute to a wall of photographic imagery included in the exhibition.”[vi]  The parallel multidisciplinary discussions and presentations that occurred at Trinity Square Video in 2018, allowed for,

… room for those from various disciplines to come together for shared conversation and experience, programming invites those actively researching and working to tackle issues of disaster into the space of the gallery.[vii]

The participatory aspect of this installation allows for the images and videos in the installation to be grounded in tangible realities. Though not similarly interactive, the billboard project the view from here (2019) immerses images into the built environment. Mirroring the impact of advertising, the large-scale collage billboard merges satellite images (from where the works are located) and the texts to evoke self-reflection on situational environmental themes such as “How to Sense What You Cannot See” and “Locate Yourself”. In presenting these large-scale digital images, curator Jayne Wilkinson notes that the work, “asks viewers and passers-by to consider how the digital infrastructure and global networks are obscured by the surfaces of the sea.”[viii]

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Christina Battle. the view from here, Capture Photography Festival, 2019. Documentation by roaming-the-planet.

A large part of her creative work has included curating exhibitions. In 2020, Battle will be organizing a group exhibition titled Grasping at the Roots at the Mitchell Art Gallery (Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton). While still in development, this upcoming exhibition will feature both regional and national Canadian artists who work closely with communities through critical sustained engagement.

With a background in Environmental Biology, film studies and fine arts, Battle is currently completing a Ph.D. in Art & Visual Culture at the University of Western Ontario. As she researches and explores the changing nature of online communications, her work will no doubt shift in order to respond to the complexity of our world. “I am trying to make images as a way of starting conversations with people I don’t know,” writes Battle, “I consider how others might engage with the images and how through images we might come together and form some kind of collective understanding.”[ix]

 

To see more of Christina Battle’s art, visit her website or to see her work with seeds and plants visit @c_I_battle on Instagram.

Nadia Kurd (she/her) is an art historian and curator based in Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton, Alberta). She tweets @nadia_kurd and more of her work can be found on nadiakurd.com.

 

[i] Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 104.

[ii] Christina Battle, interview by author, Edmonton, AB, August 4, 2019.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Christina Battle, Artist Website: http://cbattle.com/, (accessed August 4, 2019).

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii]  Capture Photofest. “Signals in the Sea”, https://capturephotofest.com/public-installations/signals-in-the-sea/ (accessed August 4, 2019).

[ix] Artist interview with Author.

The Art of Fugue: In Conversation with Emilie Crewe

The Art of Fugue – 6 Minute Excerpt from Emilie Crewe on Vimeo.

Questions by Adi Berardini

Emilie Crewe’s The Art of Fugue is a multi-channel video installation featuring five women working in trade industries. The Art of Fugue is edited using the traditional musical structure of a fugue, which is a compositional technique using multiple voices built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning. Each screen acts as a singular voice, interweaving together and contributing to the artwork as a whole. Highlighting women in trades is both an aesthetic decision and a symbolic choice. The piece captures the strength and resilience found in a performer whose work is in a typically male-dominated field.

Emilie Crewe is an interdisciplinary artist based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Her artwork often takes the form of video installation, single-channel video, multi-channel video, and sketch-work (drawings, collections & archives). She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. Her work is exhibited internationally in galleries, museums, artist-run centres, experimental film/video festivals, and as public art.

In the Art of Fugue, you combine the actions of women working in trades that are viewed as male-dominated and masculine to the musical composition of a fugue. How did you first arrive at the idea of featuring women in trades and paralleling the film to ideas of music and composition?

The concept began with research that I was doing at the time, which was centered on the neuroscience of music.  I wanted to make an artwork that embodied musical properties and structure but did not incorporate literal music.  My intentions were for viewers to sense rhythm, cadence, and tone within their bodies.

The subject matter [focusing on] women in trades came after the decision to create a video using fugue structure (For reference, The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of a fugue is, a polyphonic composition in which a short melodic theme, the subject, is introduced by one part or voice, and successively taken up by the others and developed by their interweaving).

Trade industries and labour jobs have always been of interest to me as an artist since I relate to the act of using your hands to create something. There is a direct connection between the brain and the hands that has always fascinated me. I appreciate the process, investigative aspects and problem-solving within these specific jobs, and find that there is a distinct creative component to trade-work that I admire. There is beauty in functionality and repetition. I chose to work with women working in trade industries because of an [inclination] I have to feature characters that are somewhat “unseen”.

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Emilie Crewe. The Art of Fugue: A Polyphonic Instrumental Video Featuring Five Women in Trades still. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Can you explain more about your process organizing the sounds, footage, and editing?

I went into this project knowing that the editing would be a challenge.  I had never worked with five channels of video before, and I don’t think I really understood how complicated it would be until I began to sort through the footage.  After the shoots, I had over forty hours of footage to catalogue.  I narrowed the content down to about twenty hours of usable footage and then spent several days sitting at my desk feeling confused as to where to start.

At this point, I knew that I had to step away from the computer, and begin editing “by hand.” Using a system of colour-coded sticky notes, I began making connections between the different trades and the physical movements of the five performers.  For example, I would write down a note that would say, “Meg looks up,” and would pair this with another note that said, “Kate looks up,” After arranging these notes on the wall, I transferred the components that I liked into a notebook to work with at my desk.

The artwork was edited in Adobe Premiere Pro in one timeline that was divided into five channels, each colour-coded to represent a different performer in the video.  All of the editing was done using a metronome set to four beats per measure and eighty beats per minute.  This is a very typical time signature used in musical compositions, and it helped me to keep time and work using a structured rhythm.  The sound was the last component that I worked on, utilizing a mixture of live audio from the shoots, as well as my own Foley sounds that I recorded at home using audio equipment from VIVO Media Arts Centre in Vancouver.

Editing Notebook
Emilie Crewe. Artist’s process book. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

In researching this project and filming in the women’s workspaces, what were some of the things you discovered about women working in trades? Did they share their struggles and/or successes in their careers?

I think a lot of people are fairly open-minded these days, especially here on the West Coast, but I do have an understanding that entering into a typically male-dominated job force as a woman comes with some stigma and possible [hesitation] from prospective employers.

With the nature of the work that I was creating, I talked with each performer about barriers that they had come across, from customers making inappropriate comments to contending for jobs amongst male competitors.  It was interesting hearing about the experiences of the performers that I was working with, and I learned a great deal about what it’s like to work in their respective industries.

The machinist, for example, was working in a large factory in Delta, of which she was the only female employee.  There was great sociability between her coworkers that she was very much a part of, so that was nice to see.

Three of the five of the women that I worked with are small business owners.  The plumber, Mary-Anne, employs an all-women crew, which is great for women seeking apprenticeships in the industry.  The most notable takeaway I think has been the realization of having to prove your worth simply because of your gender.  These things come up in a lot of different industries, including the art world, but within the trades, it seems important to show physical assertiveness.

If there are any readers that are interested in these types of barriers within trade work, I highly recommend the book, Journeywoman: Swinging a Hammer in a Man’s World, by Kate Braid. It’s a fascinating look at the experience of a Canadian woman working as a carpenter.  She mentions several situations where contractors would look her up and down, and then basically say, “no way,” all based on the simple fact that she was a woman.

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Emilie Crewe. The Art of Fugue: A Polyphonic Instrumental Video Featuring Five Women in Trades still. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Has your view transformed as to how gender comes into play for women and the workplace after creating this film?

I’m not sure if my view has transformed or changed, rather it has been expanded.  With many scenarios, the more information that we take in, the better our understanding is.  Being a woman myself, I have always had an awareness of how gender comes into play in the workplace.  Creating The Art of Fugue has certainly broadened my perspective.  Documenting these women at work served as a great inspiration as well, and I often came away from shoots feeling a sense of encouragement, optimism, and admiration.

Who are some artists/filmmakers that influence you as an artist?

Two meaningful influences for me have been Pipilotti Rist and Eija-Liisa Ahtila, both video installation artists [who are women].  [I have also been influenced] by the sound and video work of Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller.  Artists that work in ways that envelop viewers, especially in terms of creating an immersive installation, always spark that creative drive in me.

When it comes to filmmakers, I love the work of Jesper Just, 
György Pálfi
 and Roy Andersson; all people working with moving images in strange, visceral ways.  Really, I’m drawn to work that makes my senses stir, literally and metaphorically.

Editing Timeline
Emilie Crewe. Artist’s editing process. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Do you have any other projects planned in the future that you would like to share?

Currently, I’m working out the logistics for a new multi-channel video featuring a female musician. I’ve secured some grant funding from the Canada Council to head to Winnipeg and shoot with Julia McIntyre, a prominent Canadian bass trombonist.  I will be working with the theme of a musical toccata, which is a quick, virtuosic musical interlude that shows off a performer’s “touch”.

This will be the first time that I have experimented with using a musician as a performer in my work, so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of this project.  A lot of my creative process happens in post-production.  I go into a video shoot quite intuitively, usually ending up with a wealth of footage to sort through, as I did with The Art of Fugue.  So, I can’t really say how this will turn out, although I have some images in my head that I’m playing with.

I’ve always wondered how a classical composer can write a symphony with so many components and instruments and know how it is going to sound.  I guess the answer is that you really can’t know until you have an orchestra in front of you to play the music.   You can test the melodies and harmonies out all you want on a piano, but it will only exist as an imaginary sound in your mind until you have people to play it for you.  Video is in some ways like this.  I can imagine an artwork, but until I am actually shooting with a subject and then “composing” the timeline in the editing phase, I really have no idea what I’m going to come away with.

You can find out more about Emilie Crewe’s The Art of Fugue on the project website and on her Instagram @emiliecrewe.

Tear of Nature: Ajuan Song at Manhattan Graphics Center

August 1-11th

Manhattan Graphics Center

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Tear of Nature, 2018. Manhattan Graphics Center. Installation Shot. Image courtesy of the artist.

By Chiara Mannarino

Although she is known for her stunning, abstract work with alternative photographic processes, Ajuan Song’s most recent series, Tear of Nature, reflects an entirely new venture for the artist, one that Song notes has signaled a moment of artistic growth and coming into her own.

Unlike Song’s previous work, Tear of Nature is a deeply personal series that has allowed the artist to explore her own identity as a woman born in China during the years of government-enforced population control along with her relationship to and understanding of femininity. As a second-born child, Song witnessed her mother lose her job by choosing to keep her daughter alive. She grew up in a society where women weren’t permitted to do certain things merely because of their gender. Consequently, she felt so stifled by the societal expectations imposed upon her that she often wished she were a boy instead. Song sees these new photographs as a way for her to softly speak about the issues she has witnessed and experienced firsthand.

Although softness usually carries a negative connotation, Song believes that “soft” does not mean “weak.” While reflecting upon her upbringing in a society where women are expected to be docile and humble, she asked me to consider how water is capable of slowly eroding a stone over time, a testament to the power of gentle, slow work in the face of stubborn persistence.

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Tear of Nature, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist.

As I walked around the Manhattan Graphics Center, I felt Song’s past, present, and dreams for the future coalesce in each photograph. All of the images contain the silhouette of a female figure composed of delicate tree branches, which intersect to create spindly webs that resemble human veins. The female figure is Song herself—each self-portrait is shot with film on the artist’s Rolleiflex camera and then digitally abstracted to include only the body’s outline. The tree branches that live within the figure’s form entirely fill the body and provide it with all it needs to survive, becoming its life force and infusing it with energy and vitality. These fine and bare wooden limbs were captured in photographs taken in parks across New York City mostly in the wintertime and later superimposed with Song’s outline through Photoshop layering. This digital manipulation allows Song to produce composite images that are entirely harmonious, from their serene gray background to their flawless union of images. Her melding of analog and digital technologies yields results that could not be achieved by choosing between the two. This artistic decision demonstrates her belief in the power of union and balance to create otherwise unattainable outcomes.

Every detail in these intricate images is significant for Song, and her choice to include her own body in the work reflects the personal nature of this series. Though natural, her poses are strategic, intending to embody the Chinese belief that one must be humble in front of nature, which holds divine wisdom. By artistically conceiving a harmonious accord between humanity and nature, Song envisions a reality in which all entities sharing this earth are equal, a condition that often seems inaccessible within the context of our current moment.

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Tear of Nature, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist.

In today’s world, the once-ambiguous term “global warming” has become all too tangible, and, in New York, hectic inhabitants often fail to appreciate the few and precious patches of green that exist in the bustling hub of concrete high-rises and construction. Through this series, Song shares her belief that these realities could all be prevented if humans and nature coexisted respectfully and harmoniously with one another. However, she acknowledges the precariousness of this notion in her series title, which references the delicate line that lies between division and unity. Song revealed that she is currently in the process of creating the second part of this series, which will focus on the same motifs but now from a discordant rather than peaceful perspective. Through Tear of Nature, Ajuan Song is claiming ownership of her heritage, exploring the relationships that can exist between dualities, and sharing her vision of what our world has the potential to look like—and what a beautiful world it could be.
Ajuan Song’s Tear of Nature is on view at the Manhattan Graphics Center until Sunday, August 11th.

 

 

In Conversation with Rae Spoon: Mental Health

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Rae Spoon portrait by Dave Todon. Courtesy of the artist.

Questions by Adi Berardini

Rae Spoon is an award-winning, non-binary musician and author whose music bridges indie pop, rock, folk-punk and electronic. Spoon owns and runs an indie record label called Coax Records that has released fifteen albums by Canadian and international artists. They have also been nominated for two Polaris Prizes, a Lambda Literary Award and a Western Canadian Music Award. A strong songwriter and performer who has toured for over 20 years, Spoon’s music is often connected to social activism/change, especially within the LGBTQ2+ community.

Rae Spoon’s latest album Mental Health addresses their own experience with mental health and the issues that arise in LGBTQ2+ communities while navigating the stigma around both mental health and queerness. Spoon describes that “I often think of albums in themes and that will often guide my writing. I try to tie in the songs in terms of that so there’s some continuity between them.” Spoon is well known for their insightful and introspective lyrics, and their new album is initiating the conversation that we need to be having about mental health.

I noticed that water is a particular theme in your music. I was wondering if you could talk about this inspiration and what water symbolizes to you?

I moved to Lekwungen speaking people’s territories in Songhees, Esquimalt and W̱SÁNEĆ territory, otherwise known as Victoria, BC. I have lived on the west coast before, but it has been a while since I lived in Victoria. I live where the pipeline would be, intersecting with the ocean. We all know it’s a big deal in terms of politics right now. There’s a great deal of activism with Indigenous people not wanting the pipeline to be built and the government pushing back, the federal government especially. I feel even more tied to this issue especially being from Alberta originally. [As a result,] I feel especially connected to the water around. That’s how the water theme started and why there’s often landscapes and waterscapes in my songs.

Your book Gender Failure is a collection of autobiographical essays, lyrics, and images documenting co-author Ivan E. Coyote’s and your personal journey from “gender failure to gender enlightenment,” based on your live tour. I was wondering if you could talk more about this tour and the inspiration behind the book?

We started the stage show for Gender failure in about 2013, and it premiered in an off-Broadway theatre in New York. It was the first multi-media narrative show I was doing so I was very nervous.

It was interesting since we were connecting with local audiences in New York about all of these Canadian stories of growing up. It was pretty cool, we could see it was something that was really connecting people despite that since we were talking about the strict gender binary and the rules of the patriarchy or sexism. You would always end up at some point in your life when you’re like “I don’t wanna do that.” Even the people who are benefitting from it [are affected by] how toxic the masculinity is.

We were going to make a show about being transgender and/or non-binary and we realized we made the show about how the gender binary is failing everybody, connecting a lot of people when I look back. We made it into a big show, we did two sets and toured with it for a couple years and we did some in London I think and across North America and Canada. In that process, we figured out some of the book and we added more pieces to create it. Our friend Clyde Petersen who is in Seattle did the live visuals for the show and made the illustrations and visuals for the book.

I saw you in London at the brewery on top of the Root Cellar. I remember that it was really creative and intimate, it was really special. I was wondering what your favourite part of touring smaller communities and maybe difficulties with that as well?

It’s really nice to go to small communities often since the LGBTQ2+ scene is really supportive. Although I’ve also had the same things happen to me in downtown Toronto as I’ve had in small communities. I’ve had issues getting yelled at—it can happen anywhere that the people can be oppressive or violent. However, I don’t usually stick to large cities, I like how supportive it is being there in small communities.

Before I learned to drive it was a challenge to tour on the Greyhound and tour in Western Canada, but now that I can drive it’s a lot easier. It’s great, I can also make my own hours. Often a lot of different people have to hang out since it’s not big enough to separate people into groups. The [different] scenes and the sort of queer scenes will often be connected which I like, with different ages and different backgrounds.

I see that you have started an indie label, Coax, which supports LGBTQ2+ and under-represented artists through community building. Do you have any advice for gender non-conforming/non-binary musicians who are just starting out in the music industry?

I am really all about community building. I think one of the best ways to meet other musicians is to support the music community, so when you’re starting out going to other shows and you then meet the musicians who are playing or supporting college radio, volunteering at festivals, you can meet a lot of people there who like music. The easiest way to try and build a following is to meet a lot of people who like music.

To be able to tour as a new act helps that, you can meet people from other towns, and you trade having people at the shows so that they know who you are. The best way to start out, in the beginning, is to help out other people and it can help you as well. It’s great to build more live scenes and music opportunities.

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Rae Spoon, Mental Health. The album will be out on August 16, 2019.

You have an album coming out in August called Mental Health. I was wondering if you could talk about the inspiration behind the album?

The beginning of the inspiration behind [the album] is the communities I am in, and also my own mental health stuff that I face. I think music can sometimes make space for that. I wrote songs about my own journey with mental health and the different perspectives [I’ve had] during my life.

I think there’s still a lot of stigma about mental health and stigma around queerness and [being] LGBTQ+. It’s important to make space for marginalized communities. Often, we lack services, or you can’t go to the hospital since they’re not going to get your pronoun right. Trauma issues aren’t going to go away but there are ways to find different tools. I was thinking a lot about that and also that it’s not something that needs to be cured. Like getting out of ‘caring’ culture [which doesn’t address mental health as an ongoing struggle], and instead, talking about the everyday journeys of survival.

Check out Rae Spoon’s latest album Mental Health which comes out on August 16th, 2019.

The album launch for Rae Spoon’s Mental Health and celebration of the long-list Polaris nominations for Kimmortal’s X Marks the Swirl and LAL’s Dark Beings is happening on August 14 at Fox Cabaret in Vancouver, BC.

Early Riser: A Perspective on Marclay’s The Clock

The Polygon Gallery

July 5- September 15, 2019

Admission by donation

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Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010, single-channel video installation, duration: 24 hours, © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ben Westoby)

By EA Douglas

It is just after 5:30 a.m. as I descend my front steps, the sun is rising but the sky is a cool ceiling of gray. I am on my way to The Polygon Gallery’s inaugural overnight viewing of The Clock by Christian Marclay.

I first learned of this piece reading Sarah Thornton’s 33 Artists In 3 Acts in the bathtub back in 2017 when as a form of self-care, I took to submerging myself in hot water as well as the contemporary art world. The Clock is essentially a twenty-four-hour film montage about time. It’s composed of thousands of clips taken from years of T.V. and movies and is synced to the local time of where it is playing. As each minute of the film progresses, the audience watches the people on the screen check their clocks in one continuous loop. Although I’m not a cinema buff, an audio-visual collage of this size is fascinating to me. Seemingly, others feel the same way too, as The Clock has been well received in the art world, being described as “one of the first masterpieces of the 21st Century,”[1]  Unfortunately, in this age of online streaming, there are only 6 copies of the film available for viewing. Fortunately for me, the National Gallery of Canada and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts acquired a copy in 2011 and it is playing at The Polygon Gallery all summer long.

As I enter the glass underbelly of the building on North Vancouver’s waterfront, the employee behind the desk throws up his hands and welcomes, “Go on up!” There are a few pieces of trampled popcorn on the stairs from the previous evening’s art party. I am not one for the crowds that go along with show openings, especially now that social media has made viewing art so trendy. Although you’re not allowed to take pictures or record while watching the film, you can still scroll #theclock. Since the viewing is going all night, I am skirting the masses by getting up early on a Saturday morning. It has paid off, as I get into the exhibition-space-turned-cinema there are only a handful of others lounging on the low IKEA couches.

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Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010, single-channel video installation, duration: 24 hours, © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ben Westoby)

Quietly settling in, the atmosphere feels akin to that of an airport waiting area, but on the screen above me, Kirsten Dunst awakes in a field. The time is now 6:06 a.m. and the film portrays an early morning. The scenes flicker by, actors I do and do not recognize open their eyes, pull up the blinds, put on their slippers and their robes. Some lay awake through ominous ticking, the familiar wide eye of those who long for sleep. In most shots, I can pick out a clock or a watch, either on the wall, the desk, an arm— it becomes a game of eye-spy for the recurring object linking everything together. But at times it is more subtle, the golden glow of early dawn illuminates the aftermath of a wild night, with characters clearly out of sync of the circadian rhythm. As the minutes pile on, I am amused by the abundance of travel alarm clocks, as in my life they’ve been replaced by cellphones, although cells themselves, do not make much of an appearance.

I also begin to notice the women in these scenes; the roles they play and the patterns that emerge. There are those who are awoken in some dramatic way and those who sleep on, completely unaware that they were being watched. Or, the ones who can’t sleep, but instead stare blankly into the air above them as a man in their arms snoozes on oblivious. There are the women who jump up suddenly, leaving a man coiled in sheets, or the women who enter rooms peacefully, to wake a man or small children.

In all circumstances, there are similarities in how women are represented. Perfectly coiffed hair, with not a bang out of place. Dressed in sateen, satin and lace nightgowns, with the floral detailed embroidery or wide flowing sleeves. Their necks, wrists, and ears adorned in jewelry, finely-manicured fingers rocking rings of significant size. Even the ugly sleepers, the women in curlers snoring loudly, are spotless. There is no drool, no rheum (the technical term for eye gunk). It is a picture-perfect depiction.

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Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010, single-channel video installation, duration: 24 hours, © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ben Westoby)

Then there are the women in the background, the domestic workers, the servants. They are the ones cooking, cleaning, or making beds. These women are not characters, they are only props in other people’s stories. This feeling is best summarized in one quick scene of a business-type fellow passed out in a bar’s booth, the viewer sees the body of a headless cleaning lady, her chunky, ergonomic shoes behind the vacuum, an apron protecting her dress, as she moves into frame. Even as she collects the dirty glass from his hand, there’s no glimpse of her face.

These portrayals of women are not unexpected, but they leave me downhearted. Looking past the stereotypes and unrealistic beauty standards, there is a severe lack of the LGBTQ+ community, a shortage of people of colour, an absence in the scenes to make them look like real life. Here’s what’s described as one of the first masterpieces the 21st Century and I don’t see myself in it, but Sir Michael Caine is there thrice.

The completist in me wants to see the whole thing before I form an opinion, wants to judge based on the entirety of the work. Due to the nature of this piece that’s impossible, even when I am distracted by the person waking up on the couch directly in front of me—they were there the whole time, asleep out of my sightline —I miss part of the action. While the representation does feel insufficient in the single hour of The Clock that I see, I must also acknowledge the limitations of the materials Marclay is working with. It’s only quite recently that there has been a push for more diverse characters on our TV sets and in our movie theatres.

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Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010, single-channel video installation, duration: 24 hours, © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ben Westoby)

Letting go of my awareness, I am pleasantly surprised to notice myself becoming immersed in the work. I realize I am introducing a narrative overtop of the scenes. As I watch, the protagonist and antagonist metamorphize. Their faces age and change shape, their bodies evolve through gender, clothing, posture. It continues as the clips switch from colour to black and white, English to foreign language. The ability to do this, to make me construct an inner storyline, is the art of the piece. It allows me to forget any physical manifestation of character and see only human interactions. This must be chalked up to Marclay’s editing, which he focused on for the majority of the three years it took to make this film, hiring out the video watching to assistants. Prior to the viewing, when I considered a montage of film clips I expected something similar to a Vine compilation video, however, this is so not the case. It is thoroughly enjoyable to watch and not a moment of what I see is choppy. The flow is subtle but astounding. 

As 7 a.m. rolls around, the audience is cajoled by a chorus of coo-coo clocks and I feel ready to restart my day. For the rest of the morning, I am hyper-aware of the time. As I observe someone wearing a watch on the bus home, I think to myself with a laugh that The Clock may not be this summer’s biggest blockbuster, but it is still a marvel to behold.

[1] Luke, Ben. The Art Newspaper Podcast: “Van Gogh in the Asylum. Plus Christian Marclay on The Clock.” Produced by Julia Michalska, David Clack and Aimee Dawson. Aired September 13, 2018, 48 min. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/podcast/van-gogh-in-the-asylum-plus-christian-marclay-on-the-clock

 

 

Profiles on Practice: Meera Sethi

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Meera Sethi headshot. Courtesy of the artist.

By Nadia Kurd

“I came to making art through a circuitous route,” says Canadian artist Meera Sethi. As a self-taught graphic designer, Sethi felt that her transition to a full-time visual artist was a gradual one. Despite earning a BFA (1998) and MA in Interdisciplinary Studies at York University (2001), it was only after graduation that Sethi began experimenting with acrylic paints and became more confident working directly with various materials in her studio. As Sethi reflects, “I sometimes wonder if it was because there were no clearly defined role models for me to follow as an emerging visual artist.”[1]

Her experimentations with paint eventually led to figurative paintings that explored her interests in South Asian identities and place. Painting series such as Firangi Rang Barangi (Colourful Stranger, 2009-2012), Foreign Returned (2013) and Upping the Aunty (2016) combine her graphic design and painterly sensibilities. These vivid and highly graphic paintings and drawings examine the hybridity and evolution of South Asian clothing, gendered norms and societal expectations. Most often portraits, these works emphasize the individuality of her subjects and provide insights [into] the diversity of South Asian culture.

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Meera Sethi. Pinky Aunty (Upping the Aunty series),  2016, acrylic, fabric and crystal on canvas, 36 in. x 60 in. Private Collection. Courtesy of the artist.

For example, in her three-part series Upping the Aunty, Sethi presents portraits of middle-aged South Asian women who are informally referred to as ‘aunties’. Though not always a biological relation, these women are part of the larger South Asian community, who Sethi points out, are “neither our mothers nor part of our peer group, aunties may be trusted confidantes or gatekeepers of social decorum.”[2] Along with these painted portraits, Sethi includes street-style photography and a colouring book. The playfulness and broad appeal of these illustrative works humorously highlight at the misconceptions about the personal lives of South Asian women.[3]

Moreover, the work of established artists such as Mona Hatoum, Doris Salcedo, and Louise Bourgeois have been important to Sethi for understanding how to foreground the feminist body and the ways in which these artists have linked personal histories to larger social and political events. However, it is ultimately the stories and histories of communities that she is connected to such as queer people of colour and her family relations that she is most invested in. For Sethi, it is the stories from these communities, particularly histories of migration, the global flow of capital and colonization that exposes the current, complex lived experiences of people today.

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Meera Sethi. Outerwhere Series, detail. Courtesy of the artist.

Sethi develops her work organically as her process involves preliminary drawings, reading, and written reflection. More recently, Sethi has shifted from working in a stationary, graphic design manner to one that is much more mindful and body-focused in nature. “When I work in a studio environment, I spend a lot of time sourcing material and understanding its visual and material language” observes Sethi, “I sit with objects and give them time to speak to me, trying not to force an outcome, if during the process I feel stuck, I get up and move.”[4]

In her current textile-based works, Outerwhere (2019), Sethi stitches together second-hand winter coats and various embellishments such as food wrappers, plastic flowers, fabric ribbons, and mirrors. As it develops, this project seeks to study “the binaries of inside/outside, personal/public, past/present as they relate to material culture and the migratory experiences of South Asian-Canadians.”[5] More importantly, the work reveals the intersections of textile, lived experiences, and objects through an everyday, protective garment.

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Meera Sethi. Outerwhere Series, mixed media textile, 2019-ongoing. Courtesy of the artist.

As she continues to evolve her work, Sethi has moved away from her past design practice to a more experimental, and time-sensitive approach—one that utilizes her history and memories in a more personal way. On this change in her artwork, she notes that “I find myself curious about new mediums such as durational sculpture, textile, and performance and I am also interested in exploring moments of transition and being in-between places, identities, and locations in a way that opens up questions rather than provide answers.”[6]

In 2018, the Melissa Levin Emerging Artist Award through the Textile Museum of Canada recognized Sethi’s work (alongside Indigenous artist Catherine Blackburn). For her, the move from her graphic design to a more visual arts practice has allowed her to move towards a deeper reflection on the world around her. “My work is about the undoing of myself,” says Sethi, “through working with the materials I know best and my own life, I am able to draw connections that make world-making possible.”[7]

To see more of Meera Sethi’s artwork, visit her website, meerasethi.com or follow her on Instagram @meerasethi

Nadia Kurd (she/her) is an art historian and curator based in Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton, Alberta). She tweets @nadia_kurd and more of her work can be found on nadiakurd.com.

 

[1] Meera Sethi, interview by author, Edmonton, AB, June 12, 2019.

[2] Meera Sethi, www.meerasethi.com, (accessed July 4, 2019).

[3] For more information on Sethi’s Upping the Aunty project, click here.

[4] Meera Sethi, interview by author.

[5] Artist website.

[6] Meera Sethi, interview by author.

[7] Ibid.