Playing around

January 19, 2011 at 9:55 pm | In arts, authenticity, creativity, ideas, just_so | 2 Comments

Last week I put SketchBook MobileX (free app) on my iTouch. For the first time in a really long time, I had fun just doodling around, using my finger. Also for the first time, layers felt intuitively easy. Keep in mind, the screen on the iTouch is teeny-weeny, yet still it was fun to doodle around…

Ok, my images are crude enough – I haven’t made an effort to draw anything in a long long while, and boy, did I get flummoxed trying to get any kind of detail around mouths or eyes using just my finger – but the point is that I felt empowered by how easy it was to put something down via SketchBook MobileX.

Since using just my (relatively) big finger tip on the tiny iTouch screen did feel frustrating, I sprung for a Pogo Sketch stylus.

It’s less intuitive than using fingers, but on the limited real estate offered by the iTouch screen, it makes sense if you want more detail.

So, in that top sketch on the right ( –>), I first used the iTouch to take a photograph of Werner and me and imported it into SketchBook. (Don’t laugh – being able to put a photograph into an image manipulation interface was a major discovery for me; I never got the hang of the gimp, and my last foray into image editing was on a really basic/ cheap version of Photoshop half a dozen years ago…)

In this image, I used the stylus to doodle over the photograph in a second layer, just to fix the position of eyes/ noses/ mouths, etc. Once I had the outline, I continued working on that layer by adding some detail and coloring it a bit, and then I deleted the underlying photograph layer. Wow, that was fun!

(I know, I know! “How pathetic,” is what all the image manipulation nerds are thinking…)

The doodle below that is another free-from face, this time I was focusing on getting the eyes in about the right position, but mostly I was fixated on getting some architecture around the mouth. Incredibly, I used to know how to do this (hard to believe looking at the primitive scribbles here) – maybe, just maybe, this mobile-on-the-go sketching tool will get me to start re-learning this, and to look at how things (including faces) are built. And that would be amazing. I know I lost a big part of my ability to look – and to see – when I stopped drawing …when? three decades ago?

I can only imagine the pure joy of what it would feel like to draw on a bigger surface (like an iPad) – if I had that, I’d buy the upgrade (which has more features). 🙂 Yes, I could just get a big piece of paper, I know. But I’m so married to digital that paper presents a barrier. Putting a drawing directly into pixels, being able to send it via email or into my iPhoto collection – without scanner hassles – is just amazing to me.

Now, another interesting aspect is how this app lets me join several approaches to capturing an idea. The other day, while waiting for a coffee date and ruminating deeply about living in Victoria, I used the app to “write” a back-of-the-napkin thing – which is much looser than writing a “proper” text:

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I felt loose enough to throw that out – and once I had that, I was able to make it “edgy,” as a longer-worded text. I’ll spare you my conclusions as formulated in the full text I ended up writing as there’s enough text here already, but basically, I need to get outta town… 😉

I’m looking forward to doodling around a lot more these days. Maybe I can eventually draw me a ticket.

Had the Virgin Mary no girl friends?

January 10, 2011 at 10:36 am | In arts, women | 1 Comment

Visiting an exhibit of Albrecht Dürer woodcuts at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) on Sunday, I was especially struck by one image in his series The Life of the Virgin: her death.

At this most intimate and final moment of her life, she is surrounded by a phalanx of ten solicitous and grieving men (the apostles).

How very odd, I thought.

In one of the earlier woodcuts – The Birth of the Virgin – we see Anne (Mary’s mother) surrounded by women. That seems appropriate enough, right?

Yet by the time the Virgin Mary is herself ready to give birth (to Christ) – a scene that’s not represented, replaced instead by The Adoration of the Shepherds – other women are missing in action. It wouldn’t be extraordinary if Joseph had acted as midwife (it wouldn’t be the first time that the husband fills that post, for midwives do get stuck in traffic or are otherwise late in arriving), yet we never hear about that. No agency is given to Joseph – no stories of how he heroically clamped or knotted the umbilical chord or wiped the mucus from the infant’s air passages. Nope, Jesus probably delivered himself, or else had help directly from the Holy Ghost.

In the interpretations given by scholars and artists centuries after the storied events occurred, women are very much on the sidelines.

You’d think that the Virgin Mary was much loved by women, wouldn’t you? Yet her death, in this all-men’s setting that seems more appropriate to Socrates’s suicide, leads one to believe that Mary only mattered when she was interpreted and understood and venerated by just one half of humanity.

I know that the iconography for Mary’s death is established by textual authority (how she was surrounded by the Apostles, etc.). But because Dürer in every other way captures a kind of stolid, bourgeois realism – his figures practically scream “Augsburg, here we come!” – it suddenly seems shocking to see that level of realism (in how the figures look) married to such a pig-headed level of abstraction (that the Virgin would be surrounded only by men at her death).

In most other ways, his realism (which includes an often insidious view of women, whom Dürer too often shows as vain or weak or selfish) wins out: The scene of Christ Taking Leave from His Mother presents another woman in a significant position – but she’s there to support Mary, who, in a moment of motherly weakness (wanting – selfishly [sic] – to preserve her son?), has collapsed in grief. In the earlier Presentation at the Temple (in which Mary is a girl-child), women are already diminished: there’s her mother Anne (looking smug), a couple of semi-obscured women in the claque of relatives, and two devious-looking female merchants. At Mary’s marriage to Joseph, we see a few females – relatives? Mere filler. The Sojourn in Egypt vignette seems to be men-only, which is downright weird. But overall, I don’t really have any problems with most of those scenes – Dürer was in many ways simply reflecting back what he imagined everyday and ceremonial life would have been like, and that meant no particularly significant roles for women, as well as a view of women that didn’t really highlight their virtues. But how idiotic to imagine that the death of beloved woman would take place without a single other woman around.

Below, two more images I snapped in situ (perhaps against the rules?) – for better images, go to this page.

Birth of the Virgin Mary: many women in attendance (no men, but appropriate to event)

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Christ leaving home: Virgin Mary, weak, is supported by a woman, another stands and observes

Addendum: Compare Dürer’s Death of the Virgin to Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin, where several of the apostles seem almost feminine in their overt grief, a display of emotion that in no way diminishes them, and which also features – front and center, right where she belongs – Mary Magdalene.

Bad art

December 29, 2010 at 11:16 pm | In arts | Comments Off on Bad art

“It’s pretty easy to recognize bad old art,” I thought to myself as I passed two auction house windows full of the stuff: weird and watered down versions of styles that were strong and well-handled by masters of their day, done nearly to death by second- if not third- or fourth-rate epigones.

I’ll confess that it’s harder for me to be as sure with contemporary art. First, there was the whole “art [painting] is dead” issue, which led to a distrust of objects. We looked to process (but not gesture, because that would tie the process to the body, to physicality, which was disdained); we admired minimalism and the touch-free (no human touch) trace or record; we mocked notions of originality or heroism (“the avant-garde”); we fitted ourselves out in seriality and reproduceability, neither of which needed anything messy (whether paint, emotion, body-ness, or Big Ideas). In fact, we were so sure about the confident march toward abstraction and disembodiment that we derided any sort of representational mark-making as evidence of neo-fascism and an extreme willingness to collaborate with capitalism at its worst.

Off the top of my head, I wonder if design benefitted from capital-A art’s abandonment of things – so much of the most interesting work is happening in design (whether Steve Jobs or Steve McQueen, Zaha Hadid or Freeman Thomas).

Painting came back, sometimes grotesquely. For every Kiefer, there were at least two Immendorffs. Yes, there’s a lot of crap design out there, too, but design in fields other than “fine art” seems a lot more interesting than the fine arts themselves. I’m not encouraged by “exhibition[s] of artists employing formal and political concerns to develop new languages in colour theory.” Artists employing formal and political concerns to develop new languages in color theory? It sounds like the Russian Revolution all over again – except I missed the memo calling the current crap we’re in a revolution. I thought it was just crap?

Anyway… I could tell you why some of the “art” in the photos that follow is stupendously awful because I’ve got the analytical tools and the historical hindsight that let me be sure. But I’m far less certain when looking art contemporary art, particularly if, lacking body, it has clothed itself in bad ideas.

Ok, here’s the gallery of horrors:

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Ballet Victoria’s “Beauty and the Beast”

December 28, 2010 at 11:28 pm | In arts | Comments Off on Ballet Victoria’s “Beauty and the Beast”

Ballet Victoria, led by artistic director and choreographer Paul Destrooper, is currently dancing a wonderful version of the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast at Victoria’s Royal Theatre. Even though I’m more familiar with the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman Disney version (watched many times while the kids were growing up), the original – here adapted for ballet – is brilliantly satisfying.

If you’re in Victoria BC, consider supporting your local arts by attending a performance either tomorrow or Thursday evening at 7:30pm. After seeing it tonight, I was impressed by several aspects of the production. First, I’m continually amazed by how much our arts organizations create with so little. Multi-media, if it’s deployed, might consist of a sheet artfully draped – so artfully that you’re convinced you just saw a 3-D transformation (more on that in a sec). Whether it’s theater, dance, or music, you won’t find any company or troupe or ensemble or orchestra drawing on huge budgets to produce their performances, nor are there armies of dancers, performers, or musicians overwhelming audiences through sheer quantity. No, it all gets done through quality – and the quality is really very very good.

Ballet Victoria‘s Beauty and the Beast fits right into that category of excellent quality produced as if by magic on relatively tiny budgets. Of course it’s not magic at all – it’s discipline, training, excellent choreography, fantastic dancing (and acting), delightful costumes, artful sets and lighting, and resourceful, imaginative staging: hard work that comes together to look like magic so that audiences come away absolutely delighted.

Take that sheet, for example: in a dance, it’s difficult to manage the Beast’s transformation into the Prince – it’s easy to tell about it (tell the story), Disney can show it (make the movie), but how do you present it on stage with dancers? This is where, quite unexpectedly, the sheet comes in: in an earlier sequence, prior to the penultimate scene with the dying Beast (who is about to be transformed into the Prince), Belle had fallen into a slumber in which she had a surrealist reverie that anticipated the Beast’s true nature as a Prince. The audience has therefore already glimpsed the transformed Beast.

Then, as Belle’s reverie ends, the Prince exits through a curtained passageway while the Beast enters it in the same instant: they pass, brushing against one another, exactly in the middle of the passageway, completing the transformation of “imagined” Prince back into “real” Beast. As the Prince exits stage left, he’s behind a transparent scrim that looks like a mirror before which the Beast stands, watching his better self depart.

Now, fast-forward to the dying Beast scene: The Beast lies on the floor, dead. Belle discovers him and collapses by his side. The Rose Fairy and her attendants enter and surround the pair. As they dance toward the front of the stage, they pick up the front edge of a large sheet (not visible till now). As they lift up this expanse of cloth, they effectively hide the dancers (including Belle and the Beast). Colorful pastel light projected on to the cloth creates the illusion that it’s some kind of massive fog – or fairy dust! – behind which a magical transformation is occurring. The dancers deftly work the cloth: they are underneath it, and shimmy it over their bodies and heads. As it’s lifted out of the way, it reveals Belle and the Prince, exactly as he appeared in Belle’s earlier surrealistic reverie: this time, the transformation is “real.” They wake up, and …well, all’s well that ends well, right?

That’s just one example of creative staging. Ballet Victoria has worked this kind of magic throughout all of Beauty and the Beast. Oh, and did I mention that the dancing is terrific?

Choreography: Paul Destrooper

Belle: Andrea Bayne

Beast: Geoff Malcolm

Prince: Robb Beresford

Father: David Beales

Additional cast: Tao Kerr (Rose Fairy); Vimala Jeffrey-Howe & Christie Wood/ Amanda Radetzky & Brichelle Brucker (the Two Sisters – alternating cast: they also dance the part of Roses); Risa Kobayashi, Natsuki Murase (Roses); Ellen McDonald and Rieko Yamagata (Gargoyles Moyne & Zulme).

Lighting Design: Adam Wilkinson; Costume Design: Jane Wood; Set Design: Geoff Malcolm; Beast Make-up Design: Helen Kennedy Buchholz; Accessory Design: Christie Wood; Stage Manager: Jason King.

Music: recorded (Delibes, Dvorak, Gounod, Tchaikovsky)

“Moscow Stations” at Victoria’s Theatre Inconnu

December 25, 2010 at 9:49 pm | In arts | 1 Comment

Right now, Victorians have a rare chance to see the Canadian premiere of Moscow Stations, Stephen Mulrine’s adaptation and translation of Venedikt Yerofeev’s novel Moscow to Petushki. A one-man play starring Theatre Inconnu‘s Clayton Jevne, the piece takes you through the stations of the drunkard’s cross as he tries to reach salvation in the perpetually elusive Petushki.

You may never want to booze it up again after seeing Jevne’s brilliant performance. But don’t think that this play is impossibly heavy: quite the opposite, it’s incredibly funny (albeit relentlessly profound). Who knew, for example, that you could build an existentialist theory by monitoring the frequency of hiccups, irrespective of whether those hiccups were produced by an atheist or by a knowing believer? What matters is how you name your poison…

^ Graham McDonald (director) and Clayton Jevne (actor)

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Those who want to do some pre-theater homework can watch a 5-series documentary (in 10 minute increments), Moscow-Petushki, on Youtube (the link goes to the first installment). It’s not necessary to see the documentary in advance (I didn’t), although it helps to know just how rich Yerofeev’s work and his interpretation of late-sixties Soviet Russia is. That alcohol plays such a huge role isn’t exactly a surprise. What is surprising is the quality of the light that Yerofeev’s shines on the problem: it’s the light a lover would shine, someone who truly loves drinking …and drinking …and drinking, even as he shows without remorse just how debilitating and utterly destructive it is.

It’s a remarkable play, directed by Graham McDonald – and Clayton Jevne absolutely nails the performance. His interpretation has the intellectual heft the script requires, while bringing all the physical details to bear with great power: he switches from persona to persona without missing a beat, he embodies the demons that punish him, the angels that succor him.

^ Poster for Theatre Inconnu’s production by Robert Randall, who also blogs, here.

Moscow Stations plays again tomorrow night (12/26) at 8pm, and continues on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this month. In January, the show resumes from 1/2/11 through 1/8/11. There are also two Sunday matinees – tomorrow (12/26) and 1/2/11 at 2pm. On Tuesday 12/28/10, it’s “pay what you can,” otherwise it’s $14 regular or $10 for students/ seniors/ unwaged. Theatre Inconnu is located in Little Fernwood Hall at 1923 Fernwood, in the heart of Fernwood and Gladstone (what we called “Happy High,” next to Victoria High School), in extreme proximity to the Fernwood Inn and Stage Wine Bar, and other venues of comestible and cultural interest.

Kaleidoscope Theatre’s The Hobbit

December 9, 2010 at 11:20 pm | In arts, victoria | Comments Off on Kaleidoscope Theatre’s The Hobbit

Are you a huge Tolkien fan? Yeah, me neither…

That said, however, if you’re in Victoria Canada, you should see Kaleidoscope Theatre‘s production of The Hobbit, currently playing at the McPherson Theatre. The remaining three shows are this Friday – that’s tomorrow – and Saturday at 7pm, and then again on Sunday at 2pm.

Kaleidoscope’s production is a treat. Theater by and for young adults, it manages to knock a couple of adult socks off, too. With not much of a budget, it succeeds in creating huge illusions – typically, by dint of excellent performers, direction, and highly creative set designers.

Watch for how they stage the eagle’s rescue of the dwarfs and Bilbo Baggins; conjure a dragon out of lights and sound; and manage a battle scene between dwarfs, elves, and humans with just a handful of actors.

Oh, and Golem: played by Ingrid Hansen, this Golem comes across as a really scary psychopath, truly dangerous and unpredictable. I kept thinking, “Wow, Bilbo, if Golem gets you, this is going to morph into a Jeffrey Dahmer docu-drama…” Not sure if the little kids in the audience caught that whiff of psychosis in Golem, but I sure felt it… Hansen has the dancer’s superb control over how she uses her body: each movement spoke volumes about Golem’s deranged mind.

Kaleidoscope staged The Hobbit in 2002; this photo, "Dwarfs captured by Wood Elfs," is from that earlier production

Re-entry

December 6, 2010 at 3:42 pm | In arts, local_not_global, politics | Comments Off on Re-entry

The biggest problem with letting regular blogging slide is re-entry – at least, that’s my experience. For the past month, I let the posts slide …and then eventually dwindle to mere Sunday links updates. I’d like to pull up my socks and re-enter.

Here’s a peek into a small piece of what I’ve been up to…

One of the reasons for my recent hiatus from blogging was my commitment to the CRD‘s Arts Development Office, where I am fortunate to be able to volunteer on the Arts Advisory Council. Around this time of year, my fellow AAC members and I read about 30 (this year it was 34) applications for Operational Funding from local arts organizations (all the details about eligibility and criteria are on the CRD website). We have a budget for Operating Grants of just over $2million, and – in my previous four years of doing this – the budget increased annually by 2%, and even up to 3.5%. This year, the increase was 0%, and, to complicate matters, most of the arts organizations that apply for CRD funding were also hammered by cuts at the Provincial level – which meant they need more help than ever.

Long story short: the request for funding was significantly larger than what was available to distribute.

On Saturday we held our plenary meeting where we determined funding recommendations. These will be presented for approval to the political arm – the Arts Committee, consisting of politicians from the participating municipalities (not every municipality in the CRD participates in funding Arts Development). At this point now, my work is done, but this was the hardest year of five to come up with recommendations. Our organizations range from small (a $50K annual budget is a minimum criterion for applying for Operating Funding) to larger (budgets of several millions of dollars), and all of them need support. Some of the larger orgs might have access to connections and fundraising strategies that allow them to reach wealthy donors; many of the smaller ones need to crowdsource that appeal and raise cash through possible micro-installments. Either way, raising funds is a non-stop issue – as is donor-fatigue.

If everyone in the public sphere understood what the arts accomplish on relative shoe-strings (the arts are not profligate, but are instead super-efficient!) and what they manage to give back to the community (including via the economic multiplier effect), citizens would be more willing to support funding, both individually and through public grants.

Concurrently, every art organization must do what it can to get its message out, to demonstrate its vital role in cities and towns across the country.

To the Province: restore arts funding fully in British Columbia. Provincial government is collecting lots of “new” money via its recently-instituted 12% HST – event tickets are now taxed with HST, which is an additional 7% tax on ticket prices that wasn’t there when only GST (5%), but not PST (7%), applied to tickets (prior to the introduction of HST). The arts organizations aren’t readily able to pass that 7% increase on to their patrons, which means many of them are “swallowing” the tax. Come on, BC, give some of that new cash back to the arts.

Victoria's Theatre Inconnu: newest offering, "Moscow Station"

Green Design as Art

November 8, 2010 at 9:31 pm | In arts, green, victoria | 4 Comments

Last Friday, I stopped in at Exploring the Aesthetics of Sustainability | Green Design as Art, a small (but interesting!) weekend exhibit at the newly-completed Atrium Building in downtown Victoria. The developer (Victoria-based Jawl Properties) made an unfinished/ raw ground-floor retail space available to the the organizers – props to the Jawls for their civic-minded generosity.

(For some beautiful photographs of this building, especially its eoponymous interior, the atrium, see Lotus Johnson’s Atrium set on Flickr. Her photos are stunning – I particularly love the interior shots, for example, this one…)

On Picasa, I created an album of photos I took at the Green Design as Art event, which was organized by Cascadia Green Building Council’s Emerging Green Builders – Victoria. Wherever there’s a photo of an object, followed by a photo of an information sheet pasted to cardboard, the latter is the wall post that describes the object.

My favorite objects were Gary Streight’s “automans”: two stools made from recycled tires and other materials. The fluffy-topped one was cheekily feminine, yet oh-so-tough; and the elegant brown tailored number could fit into the most soigné of setting. Loved them both.

Below: photo of the show’s producers:

<—  Cascadia Green Building Council’s Emerging Green Builders organizers Dave, Tim, and Melissa pose for the cameras.

Power/ Influence

November 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm | In arts, authenticity, fashionable_life, guerilla_politics, ideas, social_critique, vancouver, victoria, women | Comments Off on Power/ Influence

A few days ago the Vancouver Sun published BC’s top 100 influential women – it’s entirely possible that I would have missed the Sun‘s report if not for Alexandra Samuel‘s extensive blog post, Vancouver Sun list of 100 influential women in BC shows influence beyond Twitter.

This evening I came across Are you an influencer? on The Next Web Shareables. There are two videos in this post – one is a short trailer, the other is a 14-minute version. The influencers are almost all – and I mean all – men. Young, too, and often pretty macho. There’s one woman who gets interviewed more extensively, and aside from her (and a brief image of Marilyn Munroe, of all people) it’s men, men, men: discursively, it’s a world where women simply don’t exist, except for exotic exceptions that serve to rub in how absent we are otherwise.

From my not-so-in-depth examination (so far) of the Vancouver Sun piece (I have some ambition to pick it apart later, but haven’t done so yet), it seemed to me that the top 100 influential women in BC are almost all from Vancouver: it’s as if anything beyond Metro Vancouver doesn’t exist.

Before seeing the Are you an influencer video tonight, I had been thinking, tangentially, about the importance of location / place in determining who gets to be counted as an influencer (and why), and about how location concentrates and drives influence and power. Specifically with the BC’s top 100 influential women piece in mind, I had been thinking about Vancouver and how it seems unlikely for that location to share power and influence with other locations in BC.

At the same time, I was recalling that 25 years ago Vancouver was for all intents and purposes a hick town, really: when my friend and fellow grad student Steve at the University of British Columbia announced to faculty that he planned to write an Art History Master’s Thesis about a Canadian art movement, one of the senior professors – an Englishman who studied Tiepolo, regularly removing himself from Vancouver as often as he could to pursue his studies in situ in Italia – warned Steve that, by limiting himself to such a provincial scope, he was burying himself “in a very shallow grave.” In other words, young man (or young woman), if you didn’t study Pollock or Picasso – or any of the other big-name brand-name all-male stars – and if instead you chose a new (but obscure!) topic that you cared about (or, gasp!, a woman artist to study), you were not going to be an influencer yourself. You could only become an influencer by attaching yourself to a Big Name.

Fact. Honest truth. The Tiepolo scholar was telling Steve that he could not, within the framework of the Academy, become an influencer if he chose to study something un-influential (sotto voce, that meant “study an important male artist, it will pay off for you – do not choose to study an insignificant movement or heaven forbid a woman artist”).

Do you see the contradiction? Sure, you might say, “well, hip influencers these days don’t want to work in the Academy,” but I’m telling you that there is no “out there,” and that instead, the academy is all around us, morphing to provide the context of power every time. Call it Academy 2.0, call it Influencer Academy: it’s still a power structure. If you’re outside that Academy, good luck flopping around in your shallow grave.

So the question with regard to the “top 100 influential women” article and its Vancouver-centrism might be, “how does a place become the sort of framework that allows certain things / people to achieve influence?” Vancouver has become that sort of place. Is it the concentration of capital and power, which in turn conveys some sort of benediction on those who do manage to achieve success within it?

As for the continued existence of the Academy, just watch the Influencers video and be amazed at how tightly it’s still controlled by men – but then realize that the video was created by two men. So, no big surprise, eh? If women don’t step up and make these kinds of documentaries, well, then, tant pis pour nous, as they say might say in Quebec. In that sense, I applaud the Sun‘s B.C.’s Top 100 Influential Women series and I’m thrilled to see every single woman on there.

The issue of place keeps nagging at me, of course. Victoria can certainly be the most shallow of graves…

I don’t know what became of Steve, who “sacrificed” becoming an influencer (aka, joining the Big Men) by instead studying obscure Canadian socialist art of the 1930s.

But how superficial would our culture be if we only studied the Big Men, amplifying a power structure that trades only within the Academy? We don’t need another hero, and we don’t need a fancier Echo Chamber either.

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