After a ten-year absence, legendary dance company The Holy Body Tattoo returns with a multi-city international tour, starting at Vancouver’s own PuSh Festival. Alongside Montreal post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the company will perform monumental, its fifth and final work, on January 28 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. In anticipation of what promises to be an incredible one-night-only performance, SAD Mag spoke with renowned choreographer and Holy Body Tattoo co-founder Noam Gagnon about what to expect from monumental.
SAD Mag: What’s the story behind the name “Holy Body Tattoo”?
Noam Gagnon: It’s a play on words. Powerful experiences leave traces on the body, they become almost like tattoos. We wanted, as choreographers, to think about experiences that change—or force you to change—your point of view or to make choices.
SM: How is this idea reflected in your work?
NG: We’re thinking about the impact of some of those experiences, those moments in someone’s life that…leave traces. There’s so many things in our lives that we don’t have a choice [about], or we don’t have the opportunity to express. So we wanted to create a setting where we could speak about those things.
SM: Why is dance such an important form of expression for you?
NG: The body doesn’t lie. You can see that as we get older. You look at a child or at a woman who’s 90 years old. What is going on in someone’s life has an impact not only on their physical body but also on the markings of their face [and] your ability to perform your daily tasks. Even after plastic surgery, you look at someone’s spine, their hands, and there will always be something that will betray their history.
SM: Tell me more about monumental. What’s the piece about?
NG: The first part is based on the view of the individual being betrayed by work; it’s really this idea of the hyper-structured place where everyone has to be the same, and the strain of having to fall into the same beat at the same time. You realize at some point [that] something’s going to break. The beauty of it is realizing when it’s gone too far, picking up the pieces and realizing what we’re left with. This is part of our humanity, part of our growth.
SM: HBT is known for going almost “too far”—for pushing dancers to their limits. Can you explain the rationale behind this?
NG: The places of change and the places of growth in our lives [occur] when we push through our comfort zone, and push beyond our level of ability…The things that actually are powerful, that have the ability to create an impact in our lives are the things that require an incredible amount of effort. What I find at the end of the day is beautiful is watching people push their bodies to this extreme. The more we are challenged, the more we have a possibility of acknowledging what is really going on. And the effort to continue, to adapt in order to go on—it’s a beautiful thing. That’s what’s fascinating, because we will survive—we’ve survived everything.
SM: Is it strange to be doing monumental again, a decade after its premier?
NG: Well it’s a bit sad, because I think that as a society [today], we’re more alienated from each other, and we have less understanding of how we function within one another. History just keeps repeating itself.
[But also] I think it’s actually quite exciting that we we were able to tap into something that still has resonance. This new incarnation is infinitely better. I can’t tell you how much more powerful it is with Godspeed [You! Black Emperor]. It really is an experience of a lifetime. It’s crazy, crazy, crazy powerful—disturbingly beautiful.
SM: What do you hope to achieve with monumental?
NG: The mandate of Holy Body Tattoo is to create powerful experiences and to leave traces. We’re just leaving powerful images for people to reckon with in a setting that speaks about the world we live in.
[monumental] speaks about the best and also the worst of people. We’re not trying to make a story that it’s linear—saying people are good or people or bad—we’re trying to create a window where people can actually make their own choices.
Holy Body Tattoo performs monumental on January 28 at 8pm at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre as part of Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Tickets are available at ticketfly.com. This interview has been edited and condensed.
High School, our 20th issue, is on the way. To celebrate, we’re publishing a series of creative writing and illustration that celebrate those teenage times for what they were–glorious, hopeless, funny, moving, or just plain embarrassing.
By Megan Jones
Unlike the others,
my father loved
my first boyfriend like
a son; he
“doing” “things,” he said. He
is “productive”; he
cutting boards, “cuts”
Lately, reluctantly, poet
ically I too have asked: are fathers
No, really: I imagine them moulding
our little pink
mouths at birth, mouths
wings, loose but
tied and tethered, always,
to some rotting
estuary of words.
Do normal women love
as much as I
Do they archive
Do they sit cross-armed
Do they wrap and dispose of
that is to say: shamefully?
You must be thinking: she has
But it must be so
lonely to be a
displaced male word!
Pushed out by the woman’s
planting words like
“The green room,”
is the thrashing “barrel”
of a wave, or
“to get pitted” means slipping
beneath the wave’s
of the “break,”
is waves, curling
their white fists.
I think I would like
to write a poem
about that next.
I think I like fists now
more than I like “break.”
In winter, this boyfriend,
the one who surfs, shook
snow from his “deck.”
“Let’s get in
the green,” pulled my wet
suit down: a glimpse
of “chicken-skin” chest.
Back then I did not
“breast” or, worse,
“sex.” “Sex” was
is fragile, an unripe
banana of a word: stuck in the
My life, a girl’s life
could’ve been all white knuckles
and sexy silence. Waves of blue.
Instead it was/is the flat
pan held by one who is liked
who has become a real
“doing.” It’s “wood,” productively
A“long iron” at the driving range
is a long shaft, it was
my “athletic” boyfriend.
We liked “red” and “winner”
“gold” and “burn.”
Green fists of grass, clenched
white balls. What comes
next, over the rolling
hill? The fathers,
crouching with their daughters,
ducks with heads in the water
Get your bums right up, in the air!
known men in love
for words to flow up, ideally:
yes, all, and.
Megan Jones lives and writes poems in Vancouver. She also splits her time between working at two different publishing firms: ZG Communications, a boutique marketing agency for authors, publishers and not-for-profits; and Page Two Strategies, an innovative literary agency where writers publish in a variety of ways.
Amelia Garvin is a painter and illustrator who has exhibited her work in group shows across Vancouver. She has a BFA from Emily Carr. See more work by Amelia here and here.
Francesca Belcourt and Brittney Rand are the two women behind Mu, Vancouver’s dream pop chroniclers of youth. The duo has been gracing the city’s electronic scene with dreamy tunes for nearly three years. Their debut album, simply called Mu, explores the universal themes of growth and confusion that characterize the young adult experience. Their fresh new single, “Debauchery,” meanwhile, “addresses all that is depraved, magical, and tempestuous about the ‘in-between’ years and coming of age in an era obsessed with itself.” In anticipation of Mu’s new album, II, which will be released on Feburary 12, SAD Mag’s Meredyth Cole spoke with Belcourt and Rand about their music, their high school selves, and how emulating Drake can (sometimes) lead to success.
**Psst! Stay tuned (pun very much intended) for a special musical surprise at the end of this interview.**
SAD Mag: Tell me what you were like in high school. Did you and Brittney know each other?
Francesca Belcourt: In high school I acted pretty similarly to how I do now but in the body and mind of a hormonal teen. I found any chance I could to be making and playing music rather than doing any normal work, jumping onto any stage there was and was pretty blessed to be encouraged to do so by my peers. If creativity was not required in a class, I would generally be doing things like biking through the hallways in a liberated protest. (Generally speaking my teachers and classmates were pretty chill but I was still not a fan of authority or structure). Brittney and I didn’t know each other in school as she lived across the country. I think we would have gotten along though, she was a punk! Still is.
SM: Mu’s work seems to be rooted in the mood of adolescence and young adulthood. What is it about these ages that is so inspiring for you?
Brittney Rand: More than being rooted in adolescence and youth, I think it’s rooted in dissonance. The themes we often work within are rooted in the fragility that comes with hopefulness, and the complexity of freedom and change—which are both, of course, symptoms of youth and adolescence. We’re navigating and exploring the darkness of our own experiences, because change and growth can be very confusing. On the other hand, “learning adulthood” can be a very inspiring and enriching experience that provides us with the skills we require to find our independence and resilience. Of course, learning this almost always comes at the cost of some despair. It’s a kind of dance that I find to be mysterious and interesting to document creatively.
SM: Pop music has always been a genre of music aimed at adolescents. What did you listen to when you were in high school? Did these tastes shape your sound now?
BR: I grew up obsessed with pop culture, but so isolated! I grew up in a rural highway town in northern Ontario, with limited access to TV, etc. At that time, stations like The Box and MTV could still be listened to, but not viewed, on satellite—unless you paid for the channel. We found out that you could tape down the “cancel” button on the remote and get around that…so we’d tape music videos to VHS any chance we got. It was really exciting to feel like we were being invited into what the rest of the world was doing.
I was into everything I saw in music videos—rap, pop, soul, grunge, folk, rock, R&B. But, when I was a teenager I was heavily influenced—and shaped by—my love for punk music. I think I’ve always been in love with pop music, but at some point or another pop music always reaches a crux for me; it either speaks or doesn’t speak to me. I find it fun to take something very poppy and nostalgic, and stretch it out to see how far it can go away from its expected direction before it’s nearly not pop. I like borrowing from the mainstream, almost mocking it, and then embracing it and playing with it. It’s kind of nice that we’re in a new pop landscape [and] that we can have both our exploration and depth, but also our fun.
SM: What advice would you give to young musicians trying to break into the scene in Vancouver?
FB: I moved to Van when I was 18 with my high school sweetheart. I had no idea where to go, I just knew I wanted to play music and that I couldn’t do that on Cortes Island or in Campbell River. So I played anything, anywhere, with anyone. Folk concerts, hip hop shows, I sang with electronic producers. Experiencing as much as I could in every scene I discovered lead me to meet Brittney at the Waldorf Hotel right at the time I was starting to really know my own music. It’s a small city, it takes a bit of time, but my advice would be to run ‘round à la Drizzy. If it feels wrong where you are turn around and try a new way.
As SAD Mag puts together the finishing touches on our upcoming High School issue, who better to make a custom mixtape for our readers than Mu. Featuring an exclusive cover of “Running up that hill,” this 12-song mix is a perfect evocation of those high school nights that seem to last forever, and the youthful moments that feel so significant. School dances, make out sessions, and joyrides: the things that are silly and so profound at 16, times that take on the quality of an anthem in our memories. Enjoy.
1) Mu – Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush Cover)
2) Pumarosa – Priestess
3) Suicide – Dream Baby Dream
4) Majical Cloudz – Downtown
5) Okay Kaya – Damn, Gravity
6) Brian Eno – Deep Blue Day
7) Cindy Lee – Prayer of Baphomet
8) Cocteau Twins – Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops
9) Jenny Hval – Why This?
10) Lydia Ainsworth – Malachite
11) Miley Cyrus – Lighter
12) The Cranberries – Dreams
Look out for II, available starting February 12, 2016. For more about Mu, check out their website, SoundCloud, or Twitter.
I was immediately excited about Buy Us, For You, By Us because the image of a brown skinned girl with braids in a camel turtleneck spoke to me. I am a huge fan of the turtleneck. I’m also a huge fan of representation and seeing people who look like me depicted in creative works. So, without even knowing what Buy Us, For You, By Us was about, I had a good feeling.
What I had failed to notice was that the model had a lot of armpit hair…on the outside of her shirt. Now I was intrigued. While doing a little more digging online, I came across photos of people with more armpit hair, but also hairy nipples. Again, on the outside of their shirts. I was confused.
I was also curious. What did Buy Us, For You, By Us mean?Buy us. For you. By us. David Roth’s artist statement described this as “a locally-inspired look at urban planning and lifestyle marketing.” There was also mention of the artist being somebody who encourages to audiences to rethink how they examine worth and value. I expected also that there was going to be a powerful statement about bodies and how we groom and clothe them. Fast forward to an especially rainy Tuesday afternoon, and I am on the number 9 bus, eastbound on Broadway to see Buy Us, For You, By Us at Field Contemporary.
As I opened the door to the the gallery, I was already feeling a little intimidated by how few things and people there were in the room. Some framed pieces on the walls, three garment racks with clothes hung on them and a barber’s chair in the center of it all. I said ‘Hi’ to the two people huddled over a computer in the corner, one of them echoed my greeting and they resumed their conversation. The clothes, which were hung as they would be in a retail space, all had hair on them. Some shirts with hair on the armpits, others with hair shaped into nipples and even some with hair on the sleeves. There were also gloves with hairy knuckles strewn about. The armpit hair was realistic and varied in texture, which left me wondering if it was real.
These garments, framed or as is, were all for sale. There were also printed photographs of the garments being modelled. All the pieces were named after people, which left me thinking that the shirt titled Jamie had Jamie’s hair attached to it. Unfortunately, I didn’t leave with an understanding of why any of this mattered or should be interesting. In fact, I had to thumb through the pages of a binder that I was not quite certain was meant for visitors to even discover that detail.
My feeling is that work should speak for itself, or be explained. Clearly some statement was being made. What that statement was however, was completely lost on me. There was no artist’s statement or explanation of what the work was about, though there were people working in the space who might have initiated a conversation with me, as the only person in the space. Instead, they chatted amongst themselves and stared at their phones.
I really wanted to like this exhibit, but instead walked away confused and with wet shoes. It’s difficult to say that it’s worth making the trip, because all of the images can be seen online and I gained nothing from the experience of visiting the gallery, besides seeing with my own eyes that this was in fact hair glued to everything. I would have preferred to walk away with an understanding of why there was hair on all the garments and what David Roth hoped to achieve with this work.
This holiday season, say it with giant blocks of wood. Got a mantra? A motto? A favourite expletive? French-born Jérémie Laguette, sign maker and owner of Woodtype, is your guy. He can carve it, paint it, and outfit it with low-voltage bulbs faster than you can say “fromage.” And for my fellow anxiety-havers, not to worry: he is very cognizant of fire safety. How does he do it all? Read on as we talk woodwork, typography, and electrical wiring with the man himself.
SAD Mag: So, how does one become a sign maker?
Jérémie Laguette: I love typography and have always been a fan of old signage. The first sign I designed was for myself and read ‘CHEESE’. It was for a cheese and wine party that I was hosting. My guests seemed to really like it. Some even requested variations for their own home decor and events. This inspired me to make signs accessible to other sign-lovers like myself.
SM: Tell me a bit about your creative process. Do you have any particular rituals when you’re working?
JL: My process is simple. First we have to choose a word. Sometimes I make signs for fun because I like a certain word but most of the time, my client’s have a word in mind. Next we have to select a font. I do this collaboratively with my clients, and together we find the best match in terms of font style, shape and colour that will tie together the word and it’s meaning. Once the mock-ups are approved, it’s time to go to the workshop! I don’t have any particular rituals, though I do collect a lot of flyers and papers with typography that inspires me.
SM: What would you say is the most technically difficult aspect of sign making?
JL: Most people would think building and painting the sign is the most difficult part. Though this is time-consuming, choosing the right font is actually more challenging. There are so many things to take into consideration. Does the font suit the word, does the font size and shape work with the client’s size requirements, etc.
SM: Art and electrical wiring are two very different things. Are you more drawn to the technical or the artistic elements of your work?
JL: The lights are simply a vehicle to bring my word into the spotlight and give it a cosy and warm feeling. I am definitely more drawn to the artistic aspect of sign making, though the technical part is integral to achieving the right feeling. For me it is two different stages: first I dream about it, and then I find a way to make it.
SM: How do you prevent your signs from catching fire?
JL: All my signs are low voltage so the bulbs do not emit any heat. They are warm to the touch and that’s as hot as they get. They are very safe. We’ve had the same sign in our living room as our main source of lighting for the past two years. We haven’t even had to replace a bulb.
SM: The maximum number of words I’ve seen you use on a sign is about five. Would you say you’re drawn to simplicity?
JL: I do love simplicity! Four or five letters give a bigger impact than long words or sentences do. But overall it is more a matter of space. The longer the word is, the bigger the sign will be.
SM: What’s the strangest word anyone has ever asked you to put on a sign?
JL: Nothing too crazy, but a funny one was the word “FETCH” that I did for someone who wanted their dog to have a reminder of what it loves the most. As far as I know dogs cannot read. “DUDE” was an awesome one, as it was for a nursery for a newborn baby boy.
SM: When and how did you wind up moving to Vancouver? What do you think is distinctive about Vancouver’s creative scene?
JL: I moved to Vancouver to 3 years ago. My girlfriend wanted to be closer to the mountains and the ocean. I’ve grown to love it. People are very open and supportive in Vancouver. Everyone I’ve met, especially at my studio space with MakerLabs, has offered tips and advice on how to better my work and make more sales.
SM: Tell me something unexpected about yourself.
JL: Well, I’m a pretty traditional guy in a lot of ways. I make the bed every morning. My girlfriend thinks I’m crazy, but I cannot bear the idea of leaving the house in a mess. I’m also French, from France and have only been speaking English for a few years. I only know how to cook one meal, and that’s a tartiflette. It’s a potato casserole from France with lots of fat and calories. Perfect for a Canadian winter.
Among his many other accomplishments, Ray Hsu is a published poet and a lecturer at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. He takes the tools of capitalism to move “us” beyond its current dominant forms and to redistribute power, searching for poetic form in the entrepreneurial world. In anticipation of our upcoming issue, SAD Mag’s Katherine Chan interviewed Hsu about starving for art, hypothetical time travel, and of course, our current favorite topic: high school.
KC: So Ray,
RH: What up, Katherine?
KC: Which memory sticks out the most from your high school years?
RH: I remember once, my drama teacher pulled me aside and said, “Hey Ray, I know you find all of this, as in high school, really boring, but I just want you to know that by the time you get to university, things are gonna be a lot better.” That struck me as a really powerful acknowledgement of how boring he realized all of this was. That struck me as piercing the illusion that all of this was worth anything.
KC: Why did he say that to you?
RH: You know? I’m not sure. Maybe because he saw something in me that he recognized? I mean, I remember when another one of my drama teachers pulled me aside and asked me, “Hey Ray, I know you’re really creative, but would you be willing to starve for your art?” And I thought about it for a second, and I said, “No. No, I wouldn’t be.” He seemed really disappointed, and I got the feeling that he was looking for a certain answer. And I’m—I’m still not willing to starve for my art. I don’t think that anyone should have to starve for their art. I don’t think that anyone should have to starve.
RH: Yeah. So it was interesting, the moment when he pulled me aside.
KC: Say, one day, you time travelled back to high school. What would be the one thing that you would do that you never did?
RH: I remember one day when I was in school, looking into the mirror and thinking about how ugly I was. I remember thinking, I wonder what things will be like in the future. Looking back on it, I feel as if I could see my former self, my younger self, on the other side of that mirror, and I wish I could say to that Ray, don’t worry, everything is going to be okay.
KC: I can’t believe you felt that way. Were you going through something specifically, or it was just…
RH: It was just life. It was just the feeling that I didn’t know what my role was in the grand scheme of things.
KC: I understand that. That’s nice.
RH: There used to be this insurance or investment company, maybe they’re still around, called Freedom 55. They used to have these commercials that played on TV all the time, in which it shows some young version of a person, and then an older version of the same person, presumably 55 years old. The younger version person is all swamped with stuff, and meets the older version of them, who seems really well taken care of, financially well off, etc. The younger version asks, “What happens to us?” The older version says, “Don’t worry, everything is okay. So-and-so has happened and this person has gone and done that, and everything’s okay.” The younger version asks, “How did that happen?” And the older version says, “Well, we went with Freedom 55.” So, basically, that captured my imagination as a kid. If I could meet the older version of myself, I really wondered what the older version of myself would say. I was super obsessed with this idea of, not quite time travel, but something like this.
KC: So, if you could change one thing about the high school that you went to, or high schools in general, in any aspect, what would it be?
RH: More awesomeness.
KC: What does that mean, Ray?
RH: Well, okay. I remember one time when I was brought in, as a writer, to a high school and the English teacher convenes the class. We all meet in the library. So, imagine around the perimeter of the library room, [are] all these students and they’re all looking at me from their chairs, and I’m standing up and I’m like, “What is the awesomest thing that we could be doing right now?” They’re like, “Uh…what? What do you mean?” I’m like, “Anything. Seriously, anything.” And I can’t remember if they said something like, “In here, right now?” And I was like, “Or whatever, anywhere.” One person goes, “Well, we would be outside having ice cream.” Then everybody laughs. And I say, “Okay, why don’t we do that?” And they laugh again but are like, “What are you talking about?” I’m like, “No, seriously, what’s keeping us from doing the thing that we’d rather be doing than sitting here listening to me?” And they all look at the teacher. The teacher’s like “Uh…” and apparently there was this really good ice cream place down the street, and it was sunny outside. There was, in my mind, nothing keeping us in that room in high school, other than the fact that there was some sort of magical, conceptual electrical fence that’s surrounding the place, that it’s like, even if you took away the fence, people wouldn’t leave, because they believed that the fence was there. You know, this is the panopticon. You know, or you think you know, that there’s a guard watching, and somebody’s gonna come down on you, but the guard may not even be there.
KC: But realistically, logistically, how would you increase awesomeness? Like in that situation you just talked about? That would have to be changing something really fundamental. The reaction from the students—they have the agency to look at the teacher, and they feel like they have to abide to something, like you said exactly, an invisible fence. So to change that would be to get rid of that invisible fence. What would be even one step towards doing that in reality?
RH: I think so much of that depends on the position that one occupies relative to the institution, relative to that fence. The very idea of what counts as a student carves them off from the rest of whatever they are. So, as a teacher, I can be attentive to that. As a student, I can do all sorts of tactical things. Now, this is all Michel de Certeau kind of stuff, where it’s like, when I was a student going through high school, I would do weird ass shit all the time, because for me, so much of what I was doing was pointless and what I was being asked to do was pointless, to a point where I would put in 160% into my presentations, because that was the only way that I could infuse anything about my educational experience with meaning. It didn’t seem like a lot of people around me cared, except for maybe my friends, with whom I was working on this project. Meanwhile, there was someone that I knew, a friend of mine, when she was going through high school, during the first few years she did the barest minimum, because she didn’t see the point in what she was being asked to do, and teachers hated her. And then, she realized, Oh wait a second, in order to get to university, which is where I wanna go, at this certain grade I need to start producing high grades and all that kind of stuff. And then, she switched into high gear. She started doing all these things necessary to produce high grades, and teachers hated her for that! Because it was clear that she was just, basically, working the system. When she felt it didn’t matter, she didn’t do anything, or did the minimum. When it mattered, she started working accordingly, and that requires a level of understanding of the educational system as an economic system, in which there’s a return on investment on effort, and you invest proportionally to the kind of return that you wanna get. And when things don’t count, you don’t invest, because that would be an expenditure of resources that is simply not rational. The way she went through things was, one might say, the opposite way of how I went through things. Where I put in 160%, it was excessive. It was not rationalizable, except for the fact that I wanted meaning. For her, the system didn’t contain the possibility of meaning.
KC: Do you think that teachers have an almost demanding expectation of their students being ignorant of how the system works?
RH: I think that teachers can be delusional, insofar as they are invested in having meaning, over and above being able to examine what it is that the educational system might be. And I think that that can be parallel in students, as well. It’s kind of like if one is a teacher and one states one’s identity as a teacher, there’s so much that’s reinforcing about one’s identity as a teacher. Kind of like all the platitudes around teachers being heroes, like firefighters, you know? The people around me are perpetuating exactly that: the nobility of teaching. And that, I think, obscures or perpetuates the delusion. It’s the fact that in order to do one’s job as a teacher, one might have to identify in this illusory way. I know I’m sounding rather Marxist, like the mystification—
KC: Mystification of teachers?
RH: Sure, it’s ideological. It’s kind of like one must believe in something in order to even articulate it. Why might teachers be invested in their own nobility? It’s kind of like one might be told what one is doing is noble and therefore is extracted more labour than is compensated, financially speaking. Let’s compare this to artists, or any job in which it’s immensely desirable, because there’s this aura around it. So, wait as second, you’re a teacher, right? You love what you’re doing, right? So we can pay you less and you would still be doing it, right? You’re an artist—
KC: You would starve for your art, right?
KC: No, but you won’t.
RH: I think something can begin there, yes. For more about Ray Hsu, visit his website or follow him on Twitter. Stay tuned for more High School Q&As on sadmag.ca as we prepare to launch our next issue.
This winter, The Cinematheque is hosting Traces That Resemble Us, a screening series and art exhibition that explores art and cinema in Vancouver. SAD Mag’s Helen Wong caught up with acclaimed Canadian artist Vikky Alexander to discuss architecture, photography, and “revenge.”
SAD Mag: Why did you choose the film Playtimefor Traces That Resemble Us?
VA: My interest in Playtime comes from its satirical perspective on architecture. I like to think that is a film about architecture’s “revenge”. In the first part, the uniformity and perceived inhumanity of International Style architecture is identified in the complete confusion it causes for the protagonist, who cannot find or connect with the bureaucrat he’s looking for because of the office building’s unkind intervention. At an International Trade Fair, a group of American tourists are only allowed to peep at the historic city of Paris through reflection in portions of glass-curtain walls, which the monuments seem to literally slip off. When Hulot goes to meet a friend for an evening, he is confounded by the entrance to the apartment. He can see his friend and family from the street through the floor-to-ceiling window, but cannot figure out how to access them, and when he leaves, he cannot exit the main door. Finally, on the opening night of a chic restaurant, the room, furniture, food and costumes literally self-destruct in front of us. The more ruinous the interior, the more fun for all.
SM: How does your piece currently on display at Monte Clark Gallery use aspects of the film? What is the importance of reflection?
VA: My piece at the Monte Clark Gallery is a photograph of a shop window that I took in Istanbul a couple of years ago. The shop was one of many on a street that specialized in decorative furniture and objects for the home. I really liked how the shop window was like a pristine stage set that was untouchable because of the pane of glass in front of it. And yet the reflections on the window literally superimposed the life of the street into the virtual ‘home.’
SM: Do you often reference architecture in your works?
VA: I often reference architecture in my photographic, collage, and sculptural works. I am particularly attracted to utopian projects and have documented places like the West Edmonton Mall (Alberta), Disneyland (California), Las Vegas (Nevada), Vaux le Vicomte (France) and the Palm House in Kew Gardens (London). I see these projects as fantastic, fascinating, and flawed.
SM: What do you think of the term “environmental determinism”? Do you think that our thoughts and behaviours are influenced by the built environment?
VA: The film I chose, Playtime, makes a mockery of environmental determinism, I think. It seems to prove that regardless of architectural and environmental restrictions, human nature will triumph, and the film demonstrates that with humor.
SM: Most of your works reflect on the notion of utopia, how do you aim to situate the viewer within this space?
VA: I think all of us, either on a small (domestic) or large scale, construct and design our own utopias, and yet they are flawed because it’s human nature to want something better…better sofa, better house. And the minute you get that better sofa, guess what, you want the one that’s even better than that one.
SM: How do you work to achieve a self-reflexive nature through the recontextualization and reconstruction of appropriated images?
VA: In my early work (1980’s), I appropriated images from the editorial sections of European fashion magazines, cropped and enlarged them and reframed them. All text was eliminated. When I reframed them, I added a large black overmat, which functioned as a sort of black mirror when glass (for the frame) was placed on top. In this way the reflection of the everyday viewer was superimposed on top of the utopian fashion models. These works are similar to my more recent photographs of showrooms in Paris, Istanbul, and Tokyo. Quite often the passerby on the street is superimposed on the luxury objects in the shop windows.
SM: Vancouver has a distinct history of art and film, how do you see this reiterated in contemporary art?
VA: I’ve always seen Vancouver as having a very particular photographic history and I’ve always felt that photographers have a close relationship to the cinema, originally because of they were both film mediums, I guess. But for some reason (maybe because Vancouver is so “photogenic”) I find it difficult to photograph here. Maybe because we have so much soft light, due to the climate.
SM: What is your favourite building and why?
VA: It’s difficult to pick a favorite building, as I have so many, but one really spectacular building is the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven Connecticut designed by Gordon Bunschaft in 1963. It belongs to Yale University and the exterior walls are gridded marble panels, so that when you are inside on a sunny day and the light shines through the veins in the panels the whole building seems to be on fire. It’s amazing.
I must be a ghost. A spirit gliding over the cool tile of the train station. Spirits don’t carry cash or have access to their PayPal accounts anymore, which is probably why the glowing, abrasively positive young people volunteering to get people to volunteer money to various charities and causes never ask me if I “have a minute.” It’s almost upsetting to be ignored like this. Maybe these bastions of light and goodwill can see some sort of dark essence snaking around my aura and they’d prefer not to accept a one-time or preferably monthly donation from me because of it. There’s probably ethical and spiritual standards they have to uphold. They must know about the time I rented Evil Dead and then moved to a different province with the VHS in tow.
One of them wrapped a scarf tightly around themselves as I passed in an obvious effort to protect any exposed facial flesh from the arctic chill emanating from my phantom heart. It was a nice scarf, though. I nearly asked her where she got it but decided not to risk it in case she could see me and followed up “H&M” with “do you have a minute?” I also didn’t want to lead them on. If I made small talk with one that could open the door for others to capitalize and take advantage of my conversational, potentially charitable, minutes. And as much as I love helping others (I once googled directions to an organic market for a lost looking mother-of-three and I was nowhere near any WiFi hotspots—data ain’t cheap!), I also know that I must help myself before I can help them—a dog with no legs can’t save a drowning cat. Or however that one goes. So before I dig deep into my pockets I need to make right with myself, find my legs, and thaw the frozen gristle of my heart, preferably in the heat of online streaming services and detoxifying fruit smoothies.
For more Portraits of Brief Encounters, look out for the bimonthly feature on sadmag.ca, visit the POBEwebsite, or follow Cole Nowicki on Instagram or Twitter.
During its two week run at the Cinematheque, the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) dazzled cinema-goers with a variety of international films. There were some absolute gems in the mix and some unfortunate flops, but the festival was a success, overall.
Poland’s official submission to the festival was Gods, a feature from director Lukasz Palkowski. The film was a fictionalized version of events which took place in Poland in the 1980s, following a young cardiovascular surgeon at a time when heart transplants were considered entirely too risky and taboo to perform. Tomasz Kot plays Zbigniew Religa, the first surgeon to successfully perform a heart transplant in Poland. The film is dramatic in its delivery, and gripping in its subject matter. Tension between Religa and his staunch older colleagues is clearly at the heart of the film’s story, reflected in the cinematography and sound design. However, I found the camerawork to be distracting at times, due to its wildly changing approach. Long takes and shaky, hand-held shots were sometimes used in the same scene, which might have been a technique to reflect the film’s conflict but was mostly a disruption to my viewing experience. My other qualm with this particular flick was its climax and ending. We watch as Religa descends into a disastrous fit of professional pressure and personal disgrace, as each heart transplant fails and the public loses whatever support they had for him and his work. All of the drunken anger and self-loathing unfolds unceremoniously on screen, until finally and suddenly, a successful operation is performed. However, this transition from catastrophe to triumph is so abrupt, and is followed so quickly by the rolling credits, that I nearly missed it. It took me a moment to realize that he had achieved his lofty goal after all. Ultimately, this film was a hopeful drama with an intriguing subject, but lacked consistency and final gravitas.
The feature from Estonia was a much more subtle and skilled take on historical events. The Fencer, directed by Klaus Haro, was a delight to watch and felt authentic on all accounts. It tells the story of a former professional fencer, Endel Nelis, who, during Soviet occupation, hides away in a small Estonian town to avoid capture by Stalin’s secret police. He takes on the role of gym teacher to the town’s school children, and fosters a earnest relationship with them through the teaching of his old sport, despite the objections of the school’s rule-following principle. This film was a quiet and steady account of life during a time fraught with political suspicion. I felt a sincerity in the film’s delivery, both in the actors’ performances and in the visual vocabulary. I felt privy to the struggle of living with the burden of war and political transgression, and was very much taken by the subtleties between the children and their teacher. The cinematography was understated, conveying the intimate relationships between characters through close-up and static shots. However, during the film’s screening there was a short interruption, due to a few moments of disc trouble. One of the scenes in the last quarter of the film was skipped through and the theatre lights came on for a quick minute while the problem was addressed, but nothing of critical importance was missed and the screening carried on without error afterwards. Despite that slight snag, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and its affectionate portrayal of a very difficult period in European history. It was an intimate account of the values of patience and steady resolve during a time of oppression.
Vancouver cat and coffee shop lovers can rest easy knowing that as of Monday December 14, 2015, our city opened its first cat cafe. With a simple crowd-funding page, entrepreneur Michelle Furbacher gained enough public support to create her dream space, Catfé. The concept for the cat cafe is quite simple; it’s a place where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while a snuggly feline sits on your lap. It is a place that provides a service for those who are unable to keep pets of their own, or who are looking for a unique social experience. And if you fall in love with your snuggle buddy, you can apply to adopt them. I had a chance to sit down with cat enthusiast and Catfé owner Michelle to discuss her new pawject.
Farah Tozy: Tell meow a bit about yourself.
Michelle Furbacher: I’ve been a cat lover my whole life, from the magical moment in the first grade when I met my family’s new kitten, through my fastidious collection of Garfield books and the “Punk Cats” poster that adorned my pre-teen bedroom wall. (FYI I would never condone dressing kittens in leather jackets and ripped jeans with guitars now, but my 9-year-old self thought it was the coolest thing ever.) But only after volunteering for the West Vancouver SPCA and the North Vancouver Animal Welfare Shelter did I really start to understand the complexities of cat behaviour. After my own cat, Peanut, passed away two years ago, I started a live-in cat-sitting business so that I could spend quality time with kitties again. Business was good—so good that I barely slept at my own home last year. Through cat sitting, I got to know a lot of different cats with different kinds of personalities, and learned even more about the feline mentality.
I want to provide others with the same experience I was looking for through cat sitting—a space that offers feline companionship for those who don’t have a cat of their own, or just really like hanging out with kitties. At the same time, I have a good understanding of what cats need, and their welfare is of utmost importance to me. I will work hard to create a safe, happy space that will feel like home to the cats until they find their forever home.
FT: Would you describe yourself as a cat enthusiast?
MF: Yes definitely! Though I wouldn’t think of myself as a crazy cat lady. I really appreciate cats and think of them as little people, with their own personalities. I wouldn’t say I love every cat, because they’re all so different. They’re little furry people to me.
FT: Why did you decide to work towards opening a cat cafe?
MF: At first it was because it was a place I really wanted to go to, so I was waiting around for someone to announce they were opening one. That wasn’t happening. I’ve heard that the ones in Japan are hourly rates for you to hang out with cats, whereas the European ones are cafés with cats hanging out; you can stay as long as you want. I actually visited a couple of cat cafes in Europe and I believe that vibe is more fitting for Vancouver.
FT: How do you envision Catfé being a part of the social furrabric of Vancouver?
MF: Because a high percentage of rentals in Vancouver don’t allow pets, Catfé will be like a home away from home for cat lovers in need of some quality cat time (and) a get-away for cat lovers who have allergic partners, or for tourists and travellers who miss their cats at home or students who aren’t able to keep pets of their own. We want the kitty lounge to feel like an extension of your living room, with board games, WiFi, and a library of books. We’ll host art shows for feline-inclined artists, movie nights, readings and more. We are building Catfé for the community—a new space for animal lovers looking for a unique social experience. A place to learn about cats. A new way to facilitate adoptions. A place to spark discussion about the feline homelessness problem in the Lower Mainland, and where cat owners can learn about cat behaviour and proper cat care.
Additionally, there are therapeutic, stress-relieving benefits to spending time in the company of four-legged creatures. A purring kitty in your lap can beneficial in so many ways—(they can) lower blood pressure, improve motivation, decrease anxiety, ease loneliness and ward off depression. Some quality kitty time can improve mental health and increase compassion towards animals, and in turn, towards all creatures. Basically, Catfé will result in peace on earth!
FT: Sounds very pawsitive! What can a visitor to Catfé expect?
MF: As per discussions with Vancouver Coastal Health, we need to have food service completely separate from our kitties, and so Catfé will be almost like two businesses side by side: a cafe and retail boutique for cat lovers, and a lounge space featuring 8 to 12 resident foster cats. Customers can order food and drink from our take-out menu, and bring it with them into the kitty lounge. Access to the cat area will be free with purchase from the cafe. To make the spaces more interactive, we plan to build some window perches connecting the two spaces. I want to have a rotating artist showing their work, maybe make space every few months to put up a new cat-related artist.
FT: Unfurtunately, I don’t own a cat. What kind of atmeowosphere should I expect?
MF: Some people think cats are antisocial, but there are as many different personality types of cats as there are of people. We’ll choose cats with more outgoing and social personalities for Catfé. Being out of a cage and free to roam about (the space will be equipped with ‘cats only’ retreat areas for when cats don’t feel like basking in attention and adoration) will also allow their personalities to flourish.
We will have a cat carer on hand at all times to answer questions about cat behaviour and ensure harmony between human and cat folk. ‘Dog people’ may find themselves crossing over to the other side after a little feline companionship.
Catfe is located on the second floor of International Village Mall (southwest corner, overlooking Keefer and Abbott), and is open daily from 11 am to 9 pm, except for Thursdays, when they close to bring in new cats from the BC SPCA. For more information, or to make a reservation, visit Catfe’s website.