Sunday, June 29, 2014

Farewell Minna!

This past Friday was PuSh Festival Founding Managing Director Minna Schendlinger's last day in the job. She departs at the top of her game, and having steered the organization, alongside AED Norman Armour, to dizzying heights.

Minna posted a moving farewell message to the PuShing It blog; you can read it here.

Immense thanks, Minna, for all you've done. We're going to miss you.


Monday, June 16, 2014


Richard and I made our way on Saturday to the Vancouver Art Gallery for the retrospective of Douglas Coupland's art. It takes up the whole of the first floor of the gallery and while it was instructive to see the breadth and scope of Coupland's practice across a range of media, I feel like, as with much of the artist's writing, the work could use some definite editing.

Many of the assemblages and installations, in particular, read to me as exercises in accumulation and excess--which, to be sure, is partly the point. But it's exhausting to look at. I much preferred the G7 series, Coupland's digitized acrylic riffs on iconic works by the Group of Seven and Emily Carr. Ditto his QR code works in the vein of Mondrian, and the last room of 9/11 dot matrix works viewable through your smartphone was quite a stunning mediated revelation.

Then there's the oversized bust of Coupland's head on the Howe Street plaza outside the gallery. I thought there'd already be more gum covering the surface, although it is quite big. Richard found a spot on Doug's chin to add his masticated wad--sugar-free, of course.


Ranking Vancouver

Last Tuesday, still jet-lagged, I gathered with about 30 other invited guests in the lobby of Vancouver Community College's Hamilton and Dunsmuir campus. We were attending a short preview excerpt of Ranking Vancouver, a site-specific work-in-progress that is a collaboration between radix theatre and the visiting Swiss theatre artist Matthias Werder.

The initial idea for the project arose from the fact that Vancouver and Zurich, where Werder is based, regularly top various urban livability indices and yet also share several pressing civic and social challenges, including affordability, street homelessness, and widespread injection drug use. As I understood from the excerpt that we saw Tuesday evening, the focus now seems to have narrowed to the role of gentrification in these issues as they have specifically affected Vancouver post-Expo 86.

To this end, the specific visual focus of the work is the iconic Del Mar Inn, the low-income hotel owned by George Riste (and now his heirs) that remains as a testament to one family's belief that, as the famous epigram on its facade boldly states, "unlimited growth increases the divide." The audience has a panoramic/bird's-eye view of the building and its immediate surroundings courtesy of a bank of windows in a fourth floor VCC classroom across the street, a venue whose spectatorial assets radix AD Andrew Laurenson had long wanted to exploit.

Indeed the viewing experience was not unlike that of attending an outdoor drive-in, as through the bank of glass windows we observed various comings and goings in front of and into the Del Mar and the adjacent Or Gallery, which was doubling as a dance club in this instance. The live action on the street (and, also, in one of the hotel windows) was courtesy the company members of O, o, o, o (Dan Borzillo, Tara Harris, Chelsea MacDonald, Sean Marshall Jr., Conor Wylie); meanwhile in the VCC classroom we heard in voice-over interviews with George Riste detailing his epic battle in resisting Hydro BC's pressure for him to sell, and once it became clear he wasn't about to do so the different tactics they used during the building of their complex on the adjacent corner to make his life and those of his residents a waking nightmare. This testimony mixes with another fictional narrative of the thoughts of one contemporary female resident of the hotel, whom we spy flopping on her bed and writing a letter at her desk. All of this loops with a sound score designed by Stefan Smulowitz and is accompanied by projections--the only part of the offering I found difficult to see.

Werder and radix are seeking additional funding to turn the project into a full-scale work. To this end, the showing on Tuesday was partly in service of creating a short video trailer to attract public and private investors. If you would like to contribute, you can do so here.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Going Immersive at LIFT

Richard and I are in the UK, and our London visit overlaps with the opening of the 2014 LIFT Festival, newly resurrected after a long hiatus by genius Artistic Director Mark Ball. Most of the shows open after we leave town, but we did manage to catch two intriguing immersive shows yesterday.

The first, in the afternoon, took place at the Royal Academy of Arts, off Piccadilly Street. Christer Lundahl and Martina Seitl are a trans-disciplinary collective based between the UK and Sweden who focus on site-specific perceptual experiences; they have adapted their show Symphony of a Missing Room: archive of the forgotten and remembered (first conceived in 2009) for the Royal Academy's annual Summer Exhibition, the world's longest running open submission art show (it debuted in 1769 and has been held every summer since). Ahead of the show's public opening next week, but with the 1,262 artworks selected for viewing already hung and installed, a band of eight LIFT patrons is invited into the main galleries, where we are initially given a chance to contemplate the canvases and photographs and video works and sculptures filling nearly every available inch of wall and floor space. However, the artwork on display is not really at the core of this piece, which mainly eschews the visual sense in favour of the acoustic and the haptic. To this end, we are provided with headphones and fitted with a pair of opaque goggles; as a guide takes us gently by the hand, the lilting voice in our ears asks us to imagine all that we cannot see--to in effect build with our mind's eye our own salon des refuses. And it is hardly a coincidence that our tour ends in a back room stacked with artworks that did not make it into the Summer Exhibition. A kind of interior version of Projet In Situ's Do You See What I Mean? (which played the 2013 PuSh Festival), this unique work offers a whole new perspective (quite literally) on a landmark London building I only thought I knew.

In the evening, our friend Cathy joined us in an abandoned parking lot on the Southbank to take in Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg's dance-theatre piece The Roof. Once again audience members are each given a pair of headphones before being ushered into a built structure resembling a pen or Roman arena. Around the perimeter a 360 degree replica skyline has been built, one that just happens to incorporate a mini proscenium stage and a radio broadcast booth. From the latter a Penelope-like figure spins discs and introduces us to our hero, Player 611, who emerges in a red jumpsuit from a hatch on the opposite side of the rooftop and invites us into his body just as he is about to make the first of several perilous circuits around the perimeter. Along the way, he battles several monsters, a series of baton-twirling sirens, successive couriers, and his mother. At several points he is also rescued from imminent danger by another player who may be his doppelganger or his romantic rival, depending on one's view of each's relationship to the mysterious female disc jockey. At several points in the hour-long performance--usually at the end of one of our hero's circuits--we are invited to direct our attention to a sequence of choreographed tableaux that unfold on the tiny proscenium stage, and that together offer a comic gloss on what we have just seen, complete with disco-dancing bunnies. A surreal and thoroughly entertaining work, The Roof combines the physical vocabulary of parkour with the symbology of video games, Homeric myth, and Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle to create a performance one is unlikley to forget--or see in the West End--anytime soon.