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.
It’s difficult to describe Vancouver-based cultural “badass” Amber Dawn in a single sentence–poet, editor, teacher, mentor, filmmaker, performance artist, and now award-winning writer, it might actually be easier to list all of the things she isn’t. She is the author of Sub Rosa (which received a Lambda Award in 2011), How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir (which won the Vancouver Book Award in 2013), and most recently, Where the words end and my body begins, a debut poetry collection which continues to draw outstanding reviews. One thing is certain: Amber Dawn is a literary force to be reckoned with.
SAD Mag was lucky enough to chat with Dawn about her teenage years to celebrate the upcoming launch our High School edition. Turns out, Teenage Dawn was every bit as cool as Adult Dawn, even if she didn’t know it yet.
Tell me what you were like in high school: would Teenage You get along with the person you are today?
I don’t think I’ve changed that much since high school. Back then I valued humility and kindness, and yet I was a badass who liked to kick holes in walls, still do. I coloured my hair red then, still do. I listened to Bongwater and Siouxsie and the Banshees then, still do.
Any strange high school hobbies?
Shoplifting. Food mostly, I was hungry. I became so good at stealing food, I’d steel foot-long submarine sandwiches for other poor students short on lunch money. For a while, It became a daily “thing” to see if I could nab a couple of foot-longs and a couple cans of 7 Up from the cafeteria.
What did you think you would become after graduation? Were your sights already set on becoming an (award-winning) author? Or did that come to you later?
Many kids leave the small community I’m from after high school. Most go to Toronto. But I heard that Vancouver was like Canadian San Francisco (and Toronto like New York). I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do with my life after graduation so I came to Vancouver before my 18th birthday to be a “Canadian San Franciscan queer hippy punk.”
What was your most mortifying teenage moment? If you could send Teenage You a letter (or maybe an instant message) about it from the future, what would it say?
I was bullied a lot. I could draw a great number of mortifying memories of surviving bullying. But all these years later, what truly darkens my memory are all the times I was a bystander to witnessing other kids get bullied. It took me a long time to learn about strength in numbers organizing. I wish I could have banded proudly together with all the other outcasts back then. This is what I would tell Teenage Me: build your army of misfits now. Love each other. Keep each other safe. And try smashing the system while you’re at it.
Find out more about Amber Dawn on her website. Stay tuned for more High School Q&As on sadmag.ca.
We are thick into November and the cold, dark weather has already begun to take its toll. As the temperature drops, and the urge to cozy up inside skyrockets, many of us are watching our social lives wither and die at the mercy of our Netflix accounts.
Luckily, November also happens to be European Union Film Festival month—the perfect excuse to bundle up with friends, munch on popcorn,watch phenomenal international cinema…and actually leave bed doing it. From November 27 to December 9, the Cinematheque will be showing films from every one of the EU countries, the largest and most diverse festival roster to date. For those who can’t make it to all twenty-eight showings, SAD Mag read through the entire EUFF program, binge-watched a bunch of unsubtitled foreign trailers, and selected our five favourite picks for this year’s festival:
SAD Mag's Must-Sees for EUFF2015
By Sad Mag
Love Building (Romania)
By Sad Mag
Fourteen couples, seven days, one camp designed to fix their “broken” relationships. This low-budget indie hit takes romantic mayhem to the next level.
The Sinking of the Sozopol (Bulgaria)
By Sad Mag
A dark, brooding stranger appears in the historic town of Sozopol with ten bottles of vodka, a heart full of painful memories, and the conviction his problems will be solved as soon as he finishes the liquor. Don't lie, you've been there too.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Sweden)
By Sad Mag
Sweden's submission to next year's Oscars, _A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence _is an award-winning collection of comic vignettes by renowned director Roy Andersson. But, honestly, we're just curious what they mean by that title.
By Sad Mag
The first ever entry from Malta at Vancouver EUFF: an intense and dramatic take on southern Europe's illegal migrant crisis. Inspired by true events.
The Keeper of Lost Causes (Denmark)
By Sad Mag
Detectives, police raids, a mysterious disappearance—_The Keeper of Lost Causes _is about as Nordic Noir as it gets. Special bonus: this film features work by Nikolaj Arcel, the writer who adapted _The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo _for screen.
If you’d asked me last week whether I would like to spend my Friday night in a dark theatre watching homemade pornography with a bunch of strangers, my answer would have been a simple, resounding, “Never.”
But that was before I spoke to sex columnist Dan Savage about HUMP! Dirty Film Festival, an amateur porn festival that has been bringing surprise, love and laughter to audiences since 2005. Curated by Savage himself, HUMP! encourages everyday citizens to create their own homemade five-minute dirty videos for the chance to “become temporary, weekend porn stars” and win cash prizes. This year, Savage is taking the festival on a tour of the Pacific Northwest with 18 of the hottest HUMP! films in action. As always, the lineup for this year is diverse in style, content, and tone, and showcases a variety of sexual orientations, genders, and kinks. Highlights include Beethoven’s Stiff (2013), described on the HUMP! website as “precisely what would happen if your genitals dedicated themselves to classical music,” and Porn All The Time (2013), a rap video about excessive porn intake.
Needless to say, HUMP! got me curious. To find out more about the festival, I interviewed Savage for the scoop on the good, the bad, and the dirty of amateur pornography.
SAD Mag: Why do you think that people make amateur porn?
Dan Savage: People make a porn because they want to show off, they want to share their particular things, because whatever it is that they’re interested in–whatever it is [that] turns their crank–may be underrepresented, or not represented, in commercial porn or in mainstream porn.
The porn we get at HUMP! isn’t just exhibitionist, and it isn’t just from people with a social justice point agenda. We tell people that we’re going to do our best to make sure that they’re pornstars for this weekend in this movie theatre, not pornstars for eternity on the internet. So we get a lot of films from people who wouldn’t do this if there was an online component. A lot of it is really interesting, crazy, fun films [are] being made by people who might not make porn otherwise, but want to make a really good, funny film with a nod towards porn or erotica. What you’re seeing at HUMP! is really works of art that allow for fun sex, that allow for the representation of things, acts, activities, kinks that people wouldn’t necessarily think of as erotica.
SM: But why do people want to watch amateur porn? Why come to HUMP!?
The audiences at HUMP! don’t come to sit in the theatres and masturbate; there aren’t a lot of coats in laps rising and falling. People come to watch because it’s entertaining and interesting…they want to have a laugh, they want to be shocked. They come away from HUMP! with hopefully a little bit more than that.
We watch the audience to make sure that no one’s taking photographs or videos during the screening. This is what I see: for the first eight films, the gay guys are freaking out and thrown back in their chairs because they’re watching cunnilingus; the straight guys are like, “Wow!” because they’re watching hardcore gay buttfucking; vanilla people are like, “Holy crap!” because they’re watching hardcore kink porn. [Normally] when you sit and watch porn, you click on only what you want to see; you curate it for yourself. At HUMP!, we’re clicking for you; you don’t get to click.
And then this amazing thing happens: about a third of the way through the festival, everyone starts cheering for each film. People aren’t flinching or looking away; everyone’s loving each film. For the first handful of films, all anybody can see is what’s not their thing; all anybody can see are the differences. About a third of the way, or halfway, through, everyone’s seeing what’s the same. Lust is the same, passion is the same, humour is the same, attraction is the same. Those experiences are the same. All of [what’s] underneath the incidentals–[underneath] the kinks, the genders, the orientations–all of that is exactly the same, and all of that is more important.
About halfway through, you look out and you see that same gay dude who was very elaborately freaking out the first time he saw the cunnilingus. [By] the third time he watches it, he’s…cheering and laughing and clapping with everyone else. It’s beautiful.
SM: In an interview with Vice, you refer to the HUMP! experience as “the old-fashioned way” of watching porn. What does enjoying porn publicly bring to audiences? What sets it apart from more “conventional” enjoyment?
DS: It used to be that if you wanted to see a dirty movie, you had to go to a dirty movie theatre. You were kind of outing yourself as someone with an interest in erotica or dirty movies by walking through the door. You had to own it.
Then came VHS tapes and town got its little video rental store and a little corner of it would be erotica and dirty movies. Even then you had to out yourself by walking into the dirty movie section and choosing one and taking it to the counter. People tended to be mortified.
And then along came the internet–now we can do it in secret. Porn [became] something that we do all by ourselves, all alone. We lost that communal aspect of it, we lost that having to own it, having to walk through the door and say “This is something I’m interested in. This is what I want to see.”
HUMP! brings that back. You walk through the door and you’re saying, “I have a healthy and sex-positive attitude. I want to watch these dirty movies, and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to be seen walking into this theatre to watch these dirty movies. We’re all in this together.”
SM: To my knowledge, at least, there is still no consensus within the scientific community whether porn and sexual violence are related. Can you speak to this controversy? How does HUMP! fit in here?
DS: There’s actually a really terrific article in Scientific American called “The Sunny Side of Smut” that I think demonstrates–and there’s a growing body of evidence that demonstrates–that access to access to hardcore pornography does not fuel sexual violence. In fact, I think the opposite. When you look at the stats for sex crimes and sexual violence, those rates have been falling for decades, just as rates for other violent crimes have been falling for decades. At the same time that those rates have been falling, access to hardcore pornography have skyrocketed. If viewing hardcore pornography and violent images lead people to commit sex crimes, then we would expect the opposite to have happened.
You can’t do a controlled experiment with this, you can’t lock people up all their lives and expose them to pornography and others not. But the evidence that we do have seems to indicate that what I remember people saying when I was in college in the ‘80’s–that porn is the theory, rape is the practice–just isn’t so.
I think the porn at HUMP! is often the antidote to porn that is negative, that makes people feel bad about their sexualities. The people who make films for HUMP! are making them for fun, they’re not being economically coerced, they’re not being forced. The films at HUMP! are people getting together with their friends and lovers [to] make a porno that they’re proud of and want to share with people. Not to feed their children, not to pay the rent, but to create joy.
One of the raps against porn is that it’s dehumanizing. Once a woman came up to me after watching a HUMP! screening and told me that she doesn’t really like porn. [Then she] said, “That was humanizing porn that I watched tonight, very deeply humanizing.”
SM: Do you have any advice for first time HUMP!-ers? How can they make the experience less awkward and more fun?
DS: Have a little pot, have a drink (but don’t get drunk, though!). We’ve had shows during the festival where people will go out and get drunk and then come to the show, and I don’t necessarily recommend that. We’ve had people throw up.
Just come with friends and don’t be afraid. In all those almost dozen years we’ve been doing HUMP!, we’ve only once had to ask someone to stop giving a blowjob during the screening; the genitals are going to be up on the screen.
One of the rules at HUMP! is no assholes in the seats, assholes on the screen. We have a very strictly enforced policy of no catcalling, no jokes made at the expense of the bodies, the genders, the sexual orientations, the gender expression, the kinks, the colours, the shapes, the size of the body modifications, the anythings of the people up on the screen. People will gasp and clap and react, but [there will be] no assholes in the theatre, [only] assholes on the screen.
HUMP! comes to Vancouver’s Rio Theatre on September 18 & 19. Tickets and showtimes available here.
The idea for Kiss & Tell (2015) hit filmmaker Jackie Hoffart like a whack over the head–an emotional, repeated, and unavoidable whack.
Hoffart had been going through a tough breakup at the time of the film’s inception. “There was a place where me and that person had a beautiful moment, directly at the exit of my garage,” she told SAD Mag over coffee last week.“Every time I left my house I would be whacked over the head with this memory. The memory was actually beautiful, but was in such contrast to how I was feeling–I’d have to close my eyes sometimes when I was pulling into my alley.”
What might have led to a dented bumper instead inspired Hoffart to create what she calls her first “somewhat professional” film, landing her a slot in the Vancouver Queer Film Festival’s short film showcase The Coast is Queer. Though VQFF is Hoffart’s official premiere as a filmmaker, she is a practiced storyteller. In the past, she worked as SAD Mag’s editor-in-chief and now produces, edits and co-hosts its official podcast, SADCAST. “Storytelling,” she explains, “is a kind of impulse–one that can be manifested in several modes.”
At just five minutes in length, Kiss & Tell is a compact but powerful expression of that impulse. Pairing striking shots of Vancouver street corners with poetic voice over, Hoffart crafts her own ode to the feeling she discovered in her parking garage, that feeling of “walk[ing] past a memory”. She revisits the locations of eight intimate moments, each of which she shared with a different someone. The result is a kind of cinematographic map of the city that feels both highly personal and surprisingly universal; it places viewers as witnesses–and by definition, outsiders–to Hoffart’s memories, but simultaneously invites them to revisit their own.
“What I tried to do was really whittle down what was important for me about memories that I’d had in certain, specific spaces and accept them as they were,” she says. But rather than reenacting the eight moments exactly as they occurred, Hoffart wanted to capture each intersection as it was at the time of the filming. “Those places aren’t anything like they were at the time, but those memories remain intact. You encounter them whether it’s sunny or rainy or the middle of the night–you just hit them.”
To capture the timeless nature of those places, Hoffart filmed most locations on at least two different occasions, in two different lights. Through the collaboration of her director of photography, Jon Thomas, she incorporated different frame rates at different times. “[We wanted to create] an effect of things slowing down and speeding up,” she explains. Like memories themsel, each scene is “out of place and out of time, but then also anchored to that specific place and that specific time.” Kiss & Tell stays as true to those locations as possible.
The true power of Kiss & Tell lies not in what Hoffart captures on screen, but in what it evokes off screen. Each moment she shares suggests a backstory that the audience will never hear; each memory hints at future ones that the viewer will never see. Like a first kiss, Kiss & Tell leaves you moved, curious, and hungry for more.
Kiss & Tell is not yet available for public viewing, but you can follow Jackie Hoffart on Twitter or tune in to SADCAST, now (at least) monthly at sadcast.ca, for updates on when and where it’s playing next.
The Vancouver Queer Film Fest runs until August 23. Visit the festival website for tickets and showtimes.
Faced with the pile of submissions for this year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Director of Festival ProgrammingShana Myara had her work cut out for her. “The struggle of curating the festival is really when to stop,” she told SAD Mag in a recent phone interview, “We only have ten days!”
Myara’s work has paid off, however; with over 70 films from 21 countries included in the final bill, and themes ranging from transgender athletes to gay camboys to bearded ladies, the 27th VQFF promises to wow audiences with a seriously stacked international lineup. Throw in a handful of Q&A’s with visiting filmmakers, a series of free workshops, and three special galas, and you have the creative smorgasborg that is this year’s festival. Film fans, mark your calendars: August 13 to 23 is going to be a busy–and eclectic–ten days.
It’s this eclecticism, Myara believes, that sets the festival apart. “We see so much of the samey-same out there that individuality is really quite a strength,” she explains. “That’s what Queer film festivals are all about.” Instead of selecting films by theme, Myara selects them by quality, and only later organizes them into categories.
The categories or “spotlights” that emerged this year are Canadian queer films, DIY Gender, queer youth culture and queer films from Latin America. Among the festival highlights are: a showing of Cannes-award-winning Korean filmmaker July Jung’sA Girl at My Door(and accompanying Q&A with the artist, Aug 19); a tailor-made archival program, Still Not Over It: 70 Years of Queer Canadian Film(Aug 18);and an 87 minute collection of shorts–made entirely by youth, for youth–called Bright Eyes, Queer Hearts(Aug 18).
The transformative power of film is one reason Myara likes to keep the bill so diverse. “Film really has the power to help us change our worldviews–to experience a life in another way,” she says. “At VQFF, we’re really mindful of those intersectional stories that speak to life told from the margins–stories that have the potential to make you feel more accepting, rather than close-minded–stories that don’t necessarily have all the right answers, but ask the right questions.”
VQFF takes their mission out of the cinema and into the classroom with the Out in Schools program, run through Out on Screen. The program brings age-appropriate queer films to schools, using film as a “springboard for a discussion around acceptance and understanding.” By helping to create an accepting learning environment through film, Out in Schools hopes to prevent bullying, exclusion, and violence.
In a city that’s been called the gay-bashing capital of Canada, it’s easy to see why these discussions are so important. “Unfortunately violence against the community is a very real part of our history and our present,” Myara sighs. “But I often look at violence as having a rebound effect; violence against a few creates a feeling of solidarity in a community.” And community, she continues, is what VQFF is all about. “From the beginning it’s been very open-armed; everyone who wants to come is welcome.”
“It’s a really exceptional feeling to feel welcomed when you arrive somewhere,” Myara observes, and her smile is almost audible over the phone. “The festival, first and foremost, brings people together.”
The Vancouver Queer Film Festival runs from August 13 – 23. For showtimes and locations, visit the festival website.
When I first met international Queer performance artist Coral Short at the Queer Arts Festival’s opening art party, she was wearing boxing shorts and a determined expression. Donning her gloves, she walked onto stage and began to perform her opening piece, Stop Beating Yourself Up, a literal boxing match fought entirely–and mercilessly–against herself. When I met Short a few days later for our interview, she was a radically different person. Relaxed, smiling, and as I discovered later, a little concussed, Short was nothing like the fierce fighter I remembered from a few nights ago.
As we talked performance, meditation, and travel over afternoon coffee, I realized that Short is actually both of these people: open and friendly, but also strong and, honestly, intimidating. Despite her gentle nature, Short clearly has no problem being ruthless when it comes to what really matters: creating powerful, boundary-pushing art.
SAD Mag: You first performed Stop Beating Yourself Up in 2013 at Edgy Women in Montreal. In a recent interview with Daily Xtra, you said that you chose to add some modifications to the piece for this year’s performance: decreasing the length from the original three hours to one and keeping a paramedic on hand. Why did you choose to perform the piece again, if it was so damaging the first time?
Coral Short: I actually never wanted to do this piece again, but Artistic Director SD Holman, through the General Manager, Elliott Hearte, really wanted me to do the piece and offered to fly me out here. And my little sister Amber just had a baby–the first baby in the Short family, so I said, “Okay, I’m going to do this for this nephew.”
SM: You mean, beat yourself up for her child?
CS: Basically! After [the performance] I sent my sister a text that said, “This will make a good story one day, but my head really hurts.”
SM: Did you get anything new out of repeating your performance? Has your original intention or relationship to the piece changed since 2013?
CS: I think it did. The first time I did it, I didn’t do it with full body awareness. Since that time I’ve been to three vipassanas–ten day silent retreats–and I have a daily meditation practice. Being more inside my body than I used to, [the performance] was more impactual on the cellular structure than it did originally. Each time has been a ritual, but I think this [time] was more like a closure: “I will stop doing this now–stop doing this very literal performance–stop beating myself up.” We all need to move forward from this internal struggle, myself included!
It’s also really, really hard on the audience. This performance, people are more with me than any other performance I’ve ever done. They’re horrified, but they’re with me. There’s blood spurting out of me, but people try to stay the course with me. Psychologically, it’s really hard on people. I can’t make eye contact with them, so I have to look at the wall or the cameras or the floor. I’m a channel for the audience–a visceral symbol for the struggle inside themselves.
They want to protect me–they want to stop me. But no one does. When I first did the piece in 2013, I was asked by my curator, “What if someone stops you?” And I said, “It will just become part of the piece.” But no one stopped me then, and no one stopped me now. I think the audience becomes transfixed with a hypnotic morbid fascination.
SM: Do you think that’s because it’s art, or do you think that’s just human nature?
CS: I think there’s a “This is art” thing going on. But, I think if someone would have tried to stop me, I would have stopped. I think all it would take is just one person.
I think people almost want to see it play out. If you look back across humanity, or to Game of Thrones, there’s always been a love of fighting and blood. The fighting pits, the colosseum, the beheadings –I think there’s an element of humanity that wants to see that. Blood is powerful.
SM: In addition to performing at the festival’s opening party, you also curated a film night this year called TRIGGER WARNING. How did you find the “fearless Queer video art” for that event?
CS: I travel a lot. I have about ten home bases. I move with a lot of ease in the world due to the privilege of being a triple passport holder. I have all these different communities that I have lived and worked in, so I meet so many more creators than the average person. While I’m moving, I talk to other curators, interact with other festivals, other artists, everywhere I go. I come across incredible filmmakers some of whom I have been working with for almost a decade. I’m part of a huge Queer network of cultural producers in Asia, North America and Europe who I can reach out to at any time on the internet. We are all there for each other.
SM: And how did you choose which ones to include? What qualified the videos as too triggering–or not triggering enough–for the event?
CS: It’s actually really hard to find triggering work. I cut out pieces that I found problematic in terms of race and trans issues. I didn’t want anyone to feel unwelcome in the space. In the end, I created a bill that I felt comfortable with and I felt other people would be comfortable with, but there were definitely pieces that push the limit in terms of sexuality.
SM: Were there a lot of strong reactions?
CS: Well, actually it’s funny, I feel like my bill was not triggering enough. Perhaps I have to try harder! There was blood and piss and someone kissing their parents and performance art on the verge of self harm. But it was a fine line, because I didn’t want to make anyone feel so uncomfortable that they would walk off in a bad state alone into the world.
SM: What’s been your experience as someone who works both with film and performance? Do you think people react very differently to the two art forms?
CS: I think people are wary of performance art, because they feel that it’s an unpredictable medium–which it is – that is the joy of it! A lot of my video curations make performance art more palatable in a way. And video makes it possible to get all these artists with dynamic personalities from different locations on one bill. That’s why I love video: all that talent within three minutes. It’s amazing. For example: Morgan M Page, Eduardo Resrepo, and local artist Jade Yumang.
SM: In that same Daily Xtra interview, you refer to Vancouver culture as “very PC compared to the east coast,” and in another interview with Edgy Women, you describe Montreal as “one of the few remaining metropolises that is affordable to live cheaply and create art.” Vancouver culture receives a lot of this sort of criticism–among the well known, of course, is the Economist‘srecent inclusion of Vancouver in the list of “mind-numbingly boring” cities. Do you think our attitude will ever change, or are we forever doomed to be small-minded, unaffordable and ultimately, boring?
CS: I feel like the Vancouver art community is thriving these days! There’s been a much needed show of city support: a bunch of money given to VIVO and the art organizations in that area. There seems to be some new stuff happening; there’s always some great work. I always like to find out what’s happening here–who the new upcoming artists are, like Emilio Rojas, Helen Reed and Hannah Jickling.
SM: Obviously you’re familiar with the theme of this year’s festival: drawing the line. As a performer and artist, you’ve crossed many lines: from hole-puppet protests to physical self-abuse, you don’t seem afraid to “go too far” when it comes to your craft. This might be cliche, but where (if ever) do you draw the line? And why?
CS: When I was a young artist, I used to repeat some kind of mantra that went something like this: to keep pushing through my limits to go to the other side. I really wanted that to be my work: to not be afraid of anything. Push it as far as you can go and then push it farther. That’s where it begins and where my practice has grown – when I take risks and walk my own path.
But my artistic practice has changed since I did vipassana. I’ve started to make places for people to sit down, because people want to relax; it’s a really fast-paced life. So I made a giant, portable nest. I give people rides with these brown, velvet cushions while they hold this egg, and they become very birdlike. People love to sit in it. I’ve also started making this incredible earth furniture that is opulently growing with plants on radical faerie sanctuary land in Vermont and at IDA. I’m building places for people to repose, relax and be comfortable.
Photos courtesy of Nikol Mikus
SM: Is this experience of comfort something you’re trying to communicate in your art? Is that your intention?
CS: I think it just kind of happened. I have almost 15 years of sobriety, and each year I grow into my body and cellular structure a little more. That’s coming through in my work. It’s all tied into meditation and slowing down. The Queer scene is soaked in substances and lack of self-awareness, so living inside our bodies as queers is revolutionary. Self-love is radical.
The Vancouver Queer Arts Festival runs from July 23 – August 7. Event listings are available on the festival website. For more information about Coral Short, follow her on Twitter and Facebook, or visit her website.
I’d never heard of Mungo Thomson before last Tuesday, when I stepped inside the air-conditioned lobby of the Contemporary Art Gallery for a break from Vancouver’s heatwave. In that cool recluse, I discovered Mungo Thomson: Time, People, Money, Crickets—a stunning compilation of some of the LA artist’s latest work—and now I can’t get his name, or the exhibit, out of my mind.
Time, People, Money, Crickets experiments with sound, film, print and space to create an interactive gallery experience. The exhibit features several large-scale mirror works from Thomson’s TIME series, a musical score based on the chirping of crickets (Crickets, 2012-2013), and my personal favourite: a 132-page collection of photographs of gallery visitors viewing seemingly invisible artworks (People, 2011).
Expertly curated by Nigel Prince, the exhibition cleverly inverts roles of artist and visitor; photographer and model; creator and observer. Upon entering a large, white room, I found myself surrounded by mirrors emblazoned with the iconic TIME Magazine logo. The mirrors faced each other, creating an unending string of reflections. It was hard not to be self-conscious in that space; standing amid a hundred selfies, there were so many versions of myself that I began to feel claustrophobic. The experience was also distancing; I could feel my identity, my entire concept of self, becoming fainter and fainter with each subsequent reflection. Mirrors—I realized—reflect, but they also warp and obscure.
A collection of open cardboard boxes stood, seemingly neglected, among the mirrors. Go ahead, grab one, a gallery attendant urged me. Inside was People: a magazine without words, filled with photographs of galleries without art. All that was left, of course, were the people themselves, caught in the act of observation—an act which, when the image has been removed, appears stranger and stranger with each turn of the page. Thomson did phenomenal work editing the photographs, and the effect is very striking. It was an eerie experience—observing people observing things—one that became even eerier when I realized that I, too, was being observed—not by others, but by my own, unending reflection.
I ended my visit in a small room, almost hidden from view in a nook under the stairs. There I found Untitled (Margo Leavin Gallery, 1970–) (2009), a Super-16mm stop-motion film animation that flips through all the contacts in the business card rolodexes of Los Angeles’ Margo Leavin Gallery (founded in 1970 and closed in 2012). There was something very soothing about the sound of the softly shuffling slides and the repetitive nature of the footage; something meditative about revisiting this now archaic organizational tool. But there was also something disturbing about watching the index cards fall—it was so easy to forget what these cards represent. Before me, I realized, were hundreds of people, each with their own stories, relationships, roles: artists, framers, electricians, collectors, customs agents, florists, critics, exterminators. Untitledis not just an examination of some outdated technology, but an archive of real, three dimensional human beings. Just as the TIME mirrors emphasize and obscure the identity of the person they reflect, these index cards seemed to both celebrate and overlook the individuality of the people they document.
Shaken but inspired, I left the Contemporary Art Gallery and stepped back out into the July blaze. I noticed a chill down my spine that had nothing to do with the AC.
33,900,000 videos of cats eating watermelon, falling off chairs, and having adorably miserable kitten nightmares.
Only after I’d peeled my eyes away from my third musical “sushi cat” video did I recognize the magnitude of what I’d just discovered: 33.9 million cat videos? To put this number into perspective, searching “Canada news” barely hits 4,760,000. Even searching for “Canada” can’t compete with the cat craze; at only 13,500,000 videos, our home and native land produces less than half the YouTube frenzy that our feline friends do.
How—how?—did sushi cats gain a larger media presence than our entire nation? Not sure whether to be awestruck, shocked, or disgusted, I turned to three experts—a media studies professor, a renowned cat researcher and a short-film director—for the scoop on society’s cat video obsession.
Sad Mag: In your book, The Public Sociology Debate, you reference this interesting quote by Burroway: the “privatization of everything.” You suggest that the opposite might be happening: everything is becoming public. YouTube is just one platform we use to “publicize” life. Where do you think this obsession comes from? Why are we so obsessed with publishing our own lives? And why are we so interested in the (often banal) things others publish about theirs?
Chris Schneider: We all want to feel important; we all want our individual selves to be recognized. Publishing, posting, and circulating the relatively mundane details of our lives accomplishes that task.
On the other hand, when other people are doing similar things, it really shows a relatability between ourselves and other people; it contributes to our feeling of normalcy. Watching cat videos, or other mundane details of our daily lives, is kind of boring. So it normalizes the boredom, and in some ways makes people feel less guilty about wasting their time watching cat videos.
SM: Many researchers believe this reliance on short-form media could shrink the viewer’s attention span. That we are so constantly bombarded with information, but have so little time to reflect on what’s going on that we don’t actually consume any of it. Do you think this is true?
CS: I think so, sure. It’s in some ways kind of like drinking from a fire hose: its not easy to do. That’s the metaphor for the information coming into our eyeballs and trying to process it; it becomes increasingly difficult for people to make sense of all of it—which of it’s good, which of it isn’t—to critically process all of these materials. One of the outlets, I think, is distraction: ‘I’m gonna look at this cat video’, or ‘I’m gonna tweet about eating this hamburger’ Rather that trying to really focus and concentrate and pay attention to what people are saying, and where this information is coming from. It’s a basic form of escapism. Daily life—sure its mundane, sure its boring—but it’s also difficult for a lot of people….We can unplug from the difficulties of our daily lives and plug into the relatively mundane details of cat videos or other people’s lives to forget, to relax.
SM: And how about you? Do you have a favorite cat video?
DR. DENNIS C. TURNER
Director, Institute for applied Ethology and Animal Psychology (I.E.A.P/I.E.T.)
SM: You’ve been conducting research on the cat-human relationship for over 30 years; your book, The Domestic Cat, is now recognized in the field as the “Bible for cat researchers.” Why do you think cat videos have become so popular?
DT: One of the reasons I think cats are on the increase is because of what I like to call the emancipation of men; nowadays, men can express their feelings. 20, 40, or 50 years ago it wasn’t very manly to express your feelings. Cats are very emotional animals. I think men today are allowed to say they love cats.
SM: Do you agree with Dr. Schneider that cats might be one way in which we “unplug” from stress or challenges? How do cats affect our emotions?
DT: We have many studies showing that cats are relaxing; they make people more calm, generally in a better mood; [they create] a more natural environment [in which people] lose their fears. We’ve found that cats are capable of reducing negative moods—making negative moods better—especially depression, fear, introvertedness.
SM: When you want to feel better, what do you watch? What’s your favorite cat video?
DT: Definitely the Simon the Cat series: the one where the cat tries to wake up its owner.
SM: You’ve done very well with some of your short films—winning prizes at the Screamfest, the NSI Film Exchange and British Horror Film Festivals, to name a few. What, in your opinion, do viewers like best about short films?
Nick Humphries: Short content is extremely consumable. You can experience a story in a compressed amount of time. Those viral videos you’re talking about, like 6 seconds of a dramatic hamster, get play because they are short and on a very accessible platform and are therefore consumable, re-playable and shareable through social media.
SM: So why do you think YouTubers have become so interested in short, brainless cat videos? Is there something special about cats? Or is it the “consumable” nature of the medium itself?
NH: It’s because cats are awesome.
SM: Most important question: What’s your favorite cat video?
NH: There’s one of a kitten having a nightmare and then the mamma cat gives it a big hug. All while sleeping. It’s pretty much the best thing on the Internet.
For the full article (and many more fabulous, feline-focused reads), pick up a copy of The Cat Issue (Issue 18), in stores now at participating locations. Sad Mag subscriptions and back issues are also available through our website.
I meet with Vancouver-based artist, consultant and event planner Jamie Smith at her sunny Main Street studio above Gene cafe. Glancing out her window, I count six toques, two Hershel backpacks, and one beautiful, black fixed gear. Yep, I smile, turning back to my host, we’re definitely in Mount Pleasant.
People-watching aside, I’m here to interview Smith about ROVE, the community art walk she’s planning for May 22. From 6 – 10 pm this Friday, seven local galleries will open their doors to the public. Armed with ROVE maps—complete with instructions for finding the closest breweries, of course—ROVE-ers can gallery hop to their hearts’ content, mingling with artists, curators and other artsy folk. The best part? The entire event is 100% free.
SM: So tell me about ROVE. How did you get involved in the project?
JS: I made it up! It started when I went to Portland in the fall of last year. Every first Thursday of the month, they do an art night. There’s a map, and you walk around—it’s called the Pearl District—and it’s all really close together. That’s what I liked about it; it was going to galleries, but all in one area.
Some cities have these art walks every month. I think that’s a very exciting thing, because it becomes a part of people’s month; they have something to look forward to and they see a lot of different work. I thought that would be very cool for Vancouver.
At first, I was like, “Every first Thursday: ROVE!” but it’s so much work. So I’m doing as many as I can. They keep getting easier and easier, and hopefully, at the end, it will just keep going.
SM: Can you tell me a little about the event? The venues look amazing.
JS: I’m definitely excited about the venues; they’re great. There are people in Mount Pleasant always doing openings, always doing things. But something like this—like ROVE—really brings it all together. Hopefully we get a lot of people out who normally wouldn’t come to just one art opening.
SM: How do you choose the venues?
JS: It’s kind of been developing over time. The first time I did it, I just went to people that I knew were doing things in the area and tried to find places around here. And then throughout this time, people have actually come to me, which has been really nice. I’ve started going to openings at BAF (Burrard Arts Foundation) and Field Contemporary, so I just approached them and said, “This is what I do.” This is the first time I’ll be working with some of these galleries, but I think it will go well.
SM: Is there an overarching theme to the evening?
JS: The way ROVE works is that these spaces are doing their own thing all the time, so when I say I’m going to do a ROVE, it’s what they’re displaying at that time. It’s actually kind of nice because Kafka’s and Make both have photography showing, Field and BAF are all painters, in here (Gene Studios) we’re all painters, and then there’s Lawrence Yuxweluptun and Graeme Berglund. Lawrence is one of the most famous painters in Canada—a First Nations artist—so it’s a real treat that they’re going to be around. Actually grunt is doing a show of First Nations art as well. So there’s actually some really lovely cross-overs, but that was just luck. I’m really excited about it.
SM: What are you most excited about for this upcoming ROVE?
JS: What’s really cool is this time around, is that if you’re roving around and you have your map, you can go into Brassneck or 33 Acres and get a drink special. And then there’s the after party at 10 pm at the Projection Room, above the Fox.
People just need to go on the website and pick where they want to start. I think you should start at Gene Studios (2414 Main Street), because it’s central.It is an unique experience to see artist’s studios where the work is actually made. The other locations are galleries which is a more traditional way of viewing artwork.
SM: Do you have any other advice for first-time ROVE-ers?
JS: The event is from 6-10 pm, and you can definitely do it in that time. It’s fun if you start at the beginning, because then you have the full four hours. The breweries are going to get really busy, because it’s Friday night, so I’m encouraging people to actually get out here at 6 and start at Brassneck, even. Most locations are going to have some wine that you can buy. It’s seven galleries, so you can do it all in one night, and you shouldn’t be rushed. And it’s Friday night, which is fun!
SM: Why do you ROVE?
JS: What I like about ROVE are the conversations that happen, because instead of going to one show and seeing that work in one way, you’re going from location to location. It’s really interesting to have a comparative, where you can go and see photography and think, “Why did they take these photos?” and then you can go see a painter. They’re both artists, but why do they work so differently? I’ve heard lots of different things, like, “I really didn’t like that show,” and that’s good to hear, or “That was the best.” I think it’s interesting as artists that we can hear the feedback from people attending—especially from people who don’t always come out. The art scene, especially for opening nights, is a lot of the same people. I like ROVE because it’s a totally different crowd. You get a lot of different people who aren’t necessarily here because of art, but it can often become that. I’ve had people show up to [later] openings because they were there for the first time at ROVE, which is really amazing. We just want more people to come out.
SM: Will all the artists be attending on Friday?
JS: They should be. Definitely at the studios, and then the galleries have asked the artists to come. You’ll [also] meet the gallery owners and curators.
SM: What do you look for when you view art yourself?
JS: When viewing art, I think it’s looking at it really open-mindedly and taking it for what it is. But when it’s buying art, it’s just, you see it, and then you just feel something, and that’s really exciting. And I don’t think it matters who it’s by or why it’s there. It’s just those feelings.
I think buying original art is a very important thing for humans. Especially locally, if it inspires you and it’s a special night, I always encourage people to actually—actually—buy it! Because these are the stories you tell people when they come over for dinner, not the ones about the Ikea print.
SM: So all the art will be for sale?
JS: Yeah, it will be, but ROVE is definitely a community event. The hope would be that people would have this experience and want to purchase something, do, because supporting the artists just keeps these things going. But it’s really just about coming out and enjoying. Sales definitely happen, but it’s not the focus.
SM: What would you like to see more of in Vancouver’s art scene?
JS: The galleries here are doing a great job, and they’re showing really quality work, but I’d like to see more events like this that bring people out. I’d like to see an enlivened art scene, not just for people who feel really comfortable in it and go every week. I would just hope that events like ROVE make this possible.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
ROVE takes place May 22 from 6-10 pm in Mount Pleasant. For more information, visit ROVE’s website.