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.
On now at The Cinematheque is Traces That Resemble Us, a screening series and art exhibition that explores art and cinema in Vancouver. The Cinematheque invited 12 prominent artists to each program a film that has been influential to their work. I had the pleasure of visiting Ian Wallace at his studio to discuss his involvement in the series as well as his thoughts on film in Vancouver.
SAD Mag: How did you get involved with Traces That Resemble Us?
Ian Wallace: Shaun Inouye from the Cinematheque called and said they had come up with this concept for an exhibition that takes a range of Vancouver artists whose work has been involved with film in one way or another. In my own work I’ve made reference to films, I’ve attempted to make films, and in the 1970s I was shooting and taking stills off my own films and using them for large scale works. Since then I have been citing and referencing well known films from the European avant-garde in the 60s.
I am interested in the theme of the male and female relationship reflecting from a gender politics point of view. I aim to express this symbolically, taking stills from well known films and cutting and separating the male and female figures on the canvas. That was my basic strategy as I’m not commenting on the film themselves insomuch as I’m using the theme and figures to make my own statements.
SM: Why did you choose Contempt for the exhibition?
IW: The film is about the breakdown of a marriage. The male character begins to question why his wife doesn’t love him anymore…why she feels contempt towards him. I’ve taken references and images from this source and converted it to my own expressive iconography.
SM: What is it about the male/female relationship that attracted you to explore this theme?
IW: It is very much my philosophical mindset. I explore the idea of difference and opposition. In my own work an opposition between abstraction and representation exists. It acts as a formal expressive sense of opposition in regard to how marks and meaning can function in different contexts. And of course in our everyday lives—in the gendered politics of our lives—there is a biological difference in contrast between male and female that is subliminal. We try to erase it but we have to recognize that we have completely different bodies and emotional senses as to how we see the ‘other.’ I am interested in and influenced by the feminist movement of the 70s and all the questions that come [with it]. We must recognize that the organic world is constructed biologically as a gendered structure, even plants have male and female structures.
SM: That’s interesting from a biological point of view, what else are you interested in?
IW: I’m interested in the fundamental image of difference and how we can understand that and absorb that into our image consciousness. How images influence how we think and…meditate on what those differences mean through the image. By cutting, splitting and often reversing the image of the male and female [my work] exaggerate[s] this difference.
SM: Does the binary between photography and painting have any relation to the male/female relationship?
IW: Yes. Painting is only a field or ground for the signifying mark which is the photographic image. The photographic image is itself full of representational material. In a photograph, it’s hard to avoid references to the world; I like this because it enriches the meditative aspect. I like thinking of paintings as fields for meditation for thinking out subject matter. I’m interested in abstract painting, how a jolt of colour occupies space in an image, how it unifies, fragments, and marks an image. Abstract painting doesn’t mean anything, there is an absence of meaning while photography is full of meaning. I have to say, though, in the end everything has some kind of meaning in the sense that it has some context. A mark on a canvas has a context of the whole history of the representation of painting.
SM: You mentioned that you were influenced by feminist artists in the 70s. Artists such as Barbara Kreuger and Mary Kelly were working with language and exploring its patriarchal roots. Do you think we can subvert this patriarchy?
IW: I try to listen and be sensitive to the female aspect. I cannot speak to the female aspect, I can only speak from the male point of view. I don’t think language is exclusively patriarchal but much of language is. The practice of women in culture today is more engaged than it has ever been historically which works to overcome the framework of language being patriarchal.
I don’t necessarily account for it except for…within the references I’ve made in my work. For instance, a woman is going to have a different feeling than a man when viewing my work, and a woman is going to have a different feeling than another woman. Someone who understands the film will have a different relationship than someone who has just seen the image for the first time. I don’t think there is any exclusive reading, I only put the general notion of the meditative object into context: an object for aesthetic contemplation.
SM: Can this apply to film?
IW: The critiques of feminism in the 70s have opened up how we read movie images and film images and [have] caused a lot of change in how they are produced as well. It addresses what kind of responsibility a director, artist, or author has in the meaning he creates.
SM: Is the use of montage represented in the way you’re using film stills?
IW: It is definitely a form of montage; I’m cutting into the body of the images. In film there are a variety of shots, reverse shots, close ups, over the shoulder etc. I’m cutting into each still from a particular angle, [and] through this a participation that occurs; I am reconstructing and recasting a film text in my own subtle way.
A feminist artist, arguably more influential than Kreuger and Kelly, is Sherry Levine. She is an artist who has appropriated male art, such as Walker Evans and Egon Schiele, and reconstructed and reconverted them in her own way. So she has in fact provided a metacritique of a feminist point of view using male-produced works.
SM: In this case, are you providing your own metacritique?
IW: I am doing something similar. I’m appropriating an image and recasting it in my own way, but I interfere with the image a lot more than she does.
SM: Vancouver has a unique history of film, ranging from the variety of films shot here to the work of important photoconceptualists such as yourself and Jeff Wall. How is this history incorporated in works today?
IW: We’ve all been experiencing film, television, and the dramatic image as we unconsciously model ourselves [after] forms of behaviour given to us by the dramatized image. As a group of artists (Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas etc) dealing with cinema and intellectual things, the study of art history moves things forward into contemporary models of thinking. None of us are critical, political, or theoretical in an obvious way, but it deeply informs our work without being clearly read as a mandate to the viewer to think a certain way. I give personal forms and expressions of a general theme that probably identifies my position in ways that I don’t even understand. People can then contemplate and open doors for themselves. Art works as stimulants for people to produce their own meaning, not just to consume other people’s meanings. I mean, that’s the function of art. I try to keep my work as simple as possible, as open as possible. There is a precise set of information I have in terms of thinking about art and history and my own expressive context, but ultimately anyone can do what I do.
SM: Then what is the role of the artist?
IW: To open the doors of perception—that’s the name of a book by Aldous Huxley. In it he explores how drugs can open up new ways of thinking: That’s what art should do.
Ian’s pick Contempt has already been screened, but you can check out films selected by other artists such as Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, and Myfanwy MacLeod every Thursday until December 17 at the Cinematheque. You can also check out the corresponding Traces That Resemble Us art exhibition at Monte Clark Gallery, on until January 30.
Talking Heads is an interview column devoted to contemporary arts and culture in Vancouver. Look out for more of Helen Wong’s interviews on sadmag.ca.
Wade Comer presents “Time Passages”, a continuing series of long-exposure photos split into two series: “Mountains” and “Cities”. Taken from the decks of passenger ferries in motion as they pass along their routes, Comer essentially paints with the camera. “Mountains” is a series compiled from over two years of travelling aboard the various BC Ferries; contrastingly, “Cities” is a series that includes images from Istanbul, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver. I caught up with Comer to discuss his photographic practise and how he was able to express the emotive quality in his works.
How did you get involved with photography?
Finding my ‘definitive’ creative outlet was a long process, and one that I don’t think I was actually looking for until my early twenties. I went to broadcasting school, and had been an announcer, copywriter, and producer at a radio station called ‘Coast 1040’ from 1990 to 1993. I spent a lot of that time working with music, making huge tape loop experiments in the production suite after hours. Somewhere in there, I realised that my preferred way of expressing myself was via photography. I never considered myself a musician – even though I spent a decade in the music industry – but from that point of recognition onward, I have always considered myself a photographer. I owe a debt of gratitude to an old friend, Steve, who upon hearing about my desire to take up photography, loaned me his dad’s Nikon ‘F’ until I could buy my own camera. Soon afterward, I purchased a Canon ‘Ftb’, and then taught myself how to process my own film, and within a couple of months I was off trying to get a gig as a photographer’s assistant. I managed to get a job working for John Douglas Kenney, a commercial and portrait photographer, who had worked with Irving Penn, in New York. Working for John I learned a lot, and had the luxury of lots of time to myself in the studio and darkroom, which was invaluable.
What inspired “Time Passages” and using long-exposure?
I had been working with the technique of long-exposure photography for about a year, trying different scenes and landscapes, even taking workshops to see if there was something more I could get out of the technique. For all of its spontaneity, photography involves a lot of planning, and I wanted to add the element of chance into the equation. Ultimately, I found my interest in the long-exposure technique waning, as I felt that there were several good photographers out there using the process, and the subject matter seemed limited (there are only so many old docks to shoot). It was on a ferry ride to Galiano Island that I realised I could use the long-exposure technique to both ‘capture time’, and insert the chance element I was looking for. By focusing on the actions of the boat – moving, changing course, speeding up and slowing down – I could capture an image of the feeling of being in these places. From then on I was a walk-on passenger on BC Ferries for over two years, Tsawwassen to Schwartz Bay, Duke Point to Tsawwassen, Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, Bowen Island, Nanaimo… then New York ‘Circle Line’ tours, and Istanbul commuter ferries, and London water taxis.
“Light and colour, like memory, are details often fuzzy”
The effects of long-exposure create a painterly feel, it is interesting how photography and painting then become mixed in your works. Was this your intention?
I wanted to create a painterly feel in the images – to use the camera as a paintbrush. I do not personally have the patience for painting, but I found I could create the simulacra of a painting using the camera and photography, but would never have to spend all that time cleaning brushes.
Thinking of a single image as film, can you expand on this concept?
Film – a movie – is a series of thousands of frames of stills, hundreds of feet and minutes long,that are then played back to give the clear impression of movement, or transition… and time. “An image as film”, is the opposite effect: a single frame that captures the movement of a thousand frames of stills. Not by superimposition, but supercompression. All that time in one frame.
In this sense, your works make time a tangible entity that the audience can see. Do you think this quality enhances the theme of loss and/or death in photography? Why?
I don’t see it as about loss or death, for me, it’s more about memory. The images in ‘Time Passages’ are literal – they are of a place, or location – but it is that feeling of being there that I think is most evocative. You don’t have to know exactly where an image was taken, but it brings you to that place in your mind… especially if you have been there before. The blurring and softening reduces the place down to its basics: Light and colour, like memory, are details often fuzzy.
What is the importance of water in your works? The majority of your works contain bodies of water, you are also travelling across bodies of water in order to document your work.
Growing up on Vancouver, water is just an integral part of the city, whether it’s the view of Burrard Inlet I had from my home in Burnaby Heights, or torrential rain. My apartment looks at Lost Lagoon, and my office looks out at Burrard Inlet and all the ships, moored and moving. I have been working on another project over the summer, photographing Vancouver’s parks, and you‘d be hard pressed not to find water nearby, or a stream, or pond. Water in Vancouver is omnipresent. Our commerce and much of our food and culture come from our relationship with the Pacific Ocean and the Fraser River. I grew up on the coast, and it has just become a part of who I am. I mean, I really love the desert too, but a desert near the ocean is even better.
What has been the your most memorable experience aboard a BC Ferry?
As dry as it sounds, I think it has been the interest people have in my camera. Using a 4×5 camera is not something most people are familiar with these days, so I get a lot of questions like, “Is that a video camera?”, or “Seen any whales?” I’ve shown people how the camera works, and described what I’m trying to do with the photos, and it has been interesting engaging with people ranging from island locals to tourists from around the world. I usually let them, or their child, look through the back of the camera to get an idea of how the camera works and how its just like your eye… except your brain does a lot of processing to turn the image back right side up. And no, I didn’t see one whale the whole time I was out there.
How does the theme of human impact on the environment and the contrast of urban existence with nature underlie the works in the series?
Many of my previous projects speak to the relationship between nature and humanity and our use of it. Projects like ‘Pyres’, where piles of flotsam from the Fraser River – remnants of BC’s logging resource industry – are piled up to await the wood chipper, represent a conversation about how we treat and interact with our world. ‘Carnage/Garages’ examines, in an abstract and literal way, our love of the car and how that has physically shaped and scarred our environment. ‘Time Passages’ is about the application of a technique, or process, and the insertion of chance. The concepts of memory and time compression came from within the work itself. If anything, “Time Passages” negates the effects we have made on our environment by blurring, or obscuring the clearcuts and highway overpasses, and by softening the hard shapes of buildings and cities. Ultimately, I have this Mark Rothko affinity, I like striations. I just wanted to create something visually appealing.
What’s your favourite “secret” spot in Vancouver?
It’s not really secret, but my living room window. I like the view. There are a couple of secret spots in Stanley Park… soon after the big wind storm in 2006, the Parks Board commissioned artists to make works out of the windfall in Stanley Park. There is a piece, now decomposed, that was off the South Creek Trail where an artist had created a ‘healing blanket’, out of medallions of a cedar tree limb, and sewed them together using cedar bark. It was placed over top of a stump of a very old tree; a beautiful piece. The other is on Squirrel Trail, where an artist has cut the fallen tree into sections, including a sphere out of cedar. The tree/void is a neat impression as you approach it from the top of the trail. On a more urban note, I like going to Iona Island and Sea Island, or roaming around Railtown and along the waterfront, underneath the Shaw tower and convention centre – lots of good urban waste and curious corners down there.
What’s next for Wade? Would you ever dabble in filmmaking? Painting?
I have several filmmaker friends and a few painter friends, and I think I’ll leave it all to them. I have dabbled, as many creative people do, but I keep coming back to photography. I have a few multimedia pieces and a large sculpture or two in my ideas book, but my next projects are kind of long-term, involving homage to Hokusai, and a series on Vancouver parks that has been a precursor to a larger project. I would also love to spend my days making money recycling beer cans I collect off the bottom of the ocean while living on a small Greek island.
In 19th century France, Paris Salons were the predominant way in which the bourgeoisie could view art. The Salons were heavily censored, as they were juried by the Academy of Fine Art. Pieces that were rejected by the Academy–pieces that didn’t uphold the standards of what constituted as ‘traditional’ art–were displayed in the Salon des Refusés. As a result, the Salon des Refusés of 1863 housed the works of many important Impressionist and Realist painters.
With this at the forefront of my mind, I had certain assumptions about what I would find at the Queer Art Festival’s Salon des Refusés, co-presented by Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium. I was surprised to discover that Little Sister’s was, in fact, a sex shop. The show itself consisted of a single line of photographs hung on a wall above some objects depicting male and female figures performing erotic and sensual acts–nothing like the Salon I had expected to visit.
When Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium was established in 1983, it sold banned magazines and books to the gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities of Vancouver. Since then, Little Sister’s has become a landmark case for the Supreme Court of Canada in the fight against censorship and discrimination; the history of the shop itself can be seen as avant-garde. Once I realized this, it became increasingly obvious that the exhibition wasn’t meant to be a literal translation of the original Salon; instead, it represents the values and intellectual freedom associated with the Salon des Refusés. Salons–whether they take place in a sex shop or not–challenge the way in which viewers engage with art by placing it into an unexpected context.
Just as Impressionist painters began to observe the world using light and colour, Salons provide visitors with an opportunity to alter their perceptions of how art ‘should’ be viewed. The viewer’s gaze shifts from a pair of handcuffs to a black and white photograph of a man in bed, then back to a 16” double dong. In this way, looking at sex objects and looking at art become parallel acts, such that ‘art’ is translated into the vernacular. In this context, art becomes widely accessible in a way that the works displayed in the traditional Paris Salons never were.
Salon des Refusés runs until August 7 at Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium. For a full listing of Queer Arts Festival events, check out the festival website.
Talking Heads is an interview column devoted to contemporary arts and culture in Vancouver. Once a month, Sad Mag‘s Helen Wong sits down with a couple of interesting, unique individuals to discuss a topic of her choosing. This month’s topic? The prevalent and renowned artist Paul Wong and the ubiquity of his mediums of choice.
Walking into Paul Wong’s studio is like walking into another, way cooler, dimension. Filled with an archive of televisions, recorders, monitors, and cameras; it’s every media artist’s dream. I got the chance to interview Paul about his latest projects for ISEA 2015 and Le Mois de la Photo in Montreal. It’s always interesting to hear the perspectives of other individuals, because although technology is something I do not have an affinity for, it’s a necessity for the expression of the self for Paul. He creates a notion of a new, cyber-connected, self-aware other that constitutes a way in which we can all participate in our world today.
Helen Wong: You primarily practice with digital media and video. How do you choose what to focus on when there are so many stimuli going off at one moment, in tandem with this being magnified by our society today?
Paul Wong: You have to make choices all the time; you are always subconsciously making a choice on what to see and focus on. You’re constantly filtering. What have I done today? Recently I’ve been playing with Generate, an app developed by Hybridity Media here in Vancouver. It allows artists to mix live and recorded visuals and sound. A significant event on social media today was the legalization of gay marriage in America. That’s a huge victory, especially at time of year, when the world celebrates Pride based on the Stonewall Riots that took place in June 1969 in NYC; the LGBT community fought back against the homophobic and discriminatory actions and raids at the Stonewall Bar. These are considered as landmark events for the gay rights movement. With this topic in mind, I took an image of the rainbow flag that MOMA posted and applied my favourite ‘swirl’ filter and mixed it with Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’. By doing this, I’m riffing on social media and it subsequently becomes today’s response to a significant moment. This also extends to my practice as I’m constantly thinking about colour, such as RGB and the colour bar. I’m working on a major public art commission, a neon that incorporates every possible colour available in hue form; every argon gas and every neon colour in direct reference to the idea of how the rainbow is a symbol for inclusion, diversity, and peace. This is how I incorporate the everyday into my work.
HW: In our society, there seems to be an incessant need to document and capture everything. Do you think this causes us to construct our own realities rather than live presently? How does this notion apply to your artistic practice?
PW: As an artist, I am conscious of the democratization of media; I’m given the tools to turn my eye/ camera away from the mainstream doctrine. Instead, I actively choose to turn the camera towards myself and my community in order to tell my own story and to share our thoughts and images. This has always been my politic. In this way, we are constructing ourselves as our own realities. It’s turned things upside down for mainstream media because we now have a multimillion-channel universe and we are no longer subjected to only 13 broadcast channels. Suddenly, whatever platform I decide to use becomes my own network to share, to take, to make, or inhale or exhale. In this regard, we’ve come a long way from Narcissus on his knees looking at his own reflection. What we see, what we get to make, and ways of looking and seeing are radically different than what it was in the past. We are no longer being fed information and images because the control on what we can or cannot see, what is true or untrue – this monopoly on cultural history – has radically shifted. It takes a lot more work but we are creating this new other.
HW: In this thread, you play on the idea of Bressai, a surrealist, who stated that the world of the real is continuously making art and that we become quiet observers. Do you view yourself shifting into this role as social media dominates?
PW: My practice is really based on observations and stories from everyday life: things that are immediately around me. What I find constantly around me includes the Internet. Looking Looping and Listening, Flash Memory, Year of GIF, and Solstice are four works that are covering shooting everyday stuff over the span of 6 years, its part of a larger body of work called the Multiverse.
HW: Video gives the notion of immediacy; do you feel hindered by how fast technology is changing? How do you continually adapt to new forms and modes?
PW: I don’t think technology is changing too fast at all, in fact I think technology is still very primitive. The fact that your phone wasn’t working the way it did an hour ago, theres no wifi in places, the wifi isn’t strong enough, you’re running out of memory, you have low battery, or the camera isn’t good enough, are evidence that it’s still primitive. Technology is not there; I’ve been waiting for the promise of technology for 40 years. The promise has been dangling in front of me for my entire life and career, to the point where it’s still a promise. The amount of time and money I spend on staff and resources, troubleshooting, rebuying, downloading, uploading, reconfiguring, upgrading, and updating on a weekly basis is insane. But on the other hand, the post photographic condition has been making the evolution from the analogue world to the promise of digital a possibility.
HW: You’re presenting work at the ISEA 2015 (International Symposium of Electronic Art, August 14 to 19) are you able to tell me a little bit about your work? Or at least provide a little spoiler?
PW: We’re debuting a project we’ve been working on for a couple of years called the MIMMiC Mobile Interactive Modular Multiscreen iPad Canvas. Patrick Daggitt and I wanted to create a work for multiscreen, to synchronize and de-synchronize 9 iPads so that they can talk to each other using gestures in order to create something very interactive. The iPad hit the market in 2010 and the iPhone hit the market in 2007, so suddenly touchscreens have become our main form of interaction. We’ve gone from flipping pages to scrubbing, stroking, and feeling a screen. I was doing an interview via Skype on my iPad with this lovely young man and I realized after 45 minutes I was cradling and holding him as I was moving around my studio; it was a very beautiful, intimate experience that made me realize the possibilities of gesture. For the MIMMiC Project we are creating a work that allows one big image, 9 images or 9 parts to be manipulated by colour, timing, and sound, so that the viewer can construct their own work within the boundaries we set up. The first work ‘Westcoast Wave Cycle’ was shot in Tofino. We will be premiering this at ISEA along with demonstrations of three artists we have commissioned: Sammy Chien, who will be doing a sound based live performance; Evann Seibens, who is developing a work using the hand gestures of herself, her mother, and daughter; and Adam Myhiil with Christine Wallace, a cinematographer and a body builder, who will explore ideas of sculptural genderbending between form and content.
HW: The post photographic condition is the theme for Le Mois de la Photo [The International Biennial of the Contemporary Image in Montreal]; what do you think this condition is? Photography always has a hint of loss and death, so post photography is seemingly an attempt to reestablish the link between history and the present.
PW: With the recent improvements to the iPhone 6, its improved video and photo quality, along with the fact that I have 128MB, it has become my primary creative tool. I shoot all my video and photographs and edit them on my phone. The post photographic condition is letting go of the fact that photos need to be shot in high resolution, or with 300dpi for editorial; letting go of the fetishization of the big format photo which was never my thing anyway. Conventional print media of magazines and books are disappearing, not entirely, but there is huge distribution on the net and other media where you only need 72dpi. The post photographic condition is letting go of all those previous expectations of the former realms of analogue photographic practices. Instagram is a great platform; more people can see what I do than ever before and I can see their stuff too and I can do all this without leaving the bathroom or the bed!
HW: As a Chinese Canadian, I often find myself between two sets of identities, almost in a constant state of dislocation. Does this idea pertain to you? How do you remedy this?
PW: In reference to the letters, I find myself literally in between two languages! That is cultural difference. In 2014 I made a neon piece titled #hashtagplus. I put the symbol of the hashtag on a metal box in the shape of a plus sign. In this way I’m taking the current use of a hashtag and its initial use as a pound sign and paired it with the plus sign, which looks like a geometric piece of art, but can also look like a Chinese character. I took a successful symbol and addressed its different applications in its form and language and presented what it was and what it has become. It’s a comment on how you can make an art object out of an ephemeral stroke on your keyboard; to amplify it’s meaning was a very successful pop art thing to do.
HW: You are known as one of the Main Street artists, how do you actively try to incorporate your Chinese heritage and Vancouver roots into your work?
PW: At the moment, I have someone who reads and writes Chinese organizing and translating 700 letters written to my mother over the last 50 years. There are over 100 writers in these letters so it becomes an interesting narrative between my mother in Vancouver and her relatives and friends in China. It’s a portrait of my mother and her generation woven around the absence of her direct voice; it’s a story of an extraordinary half century 1950-2000. I’m trying to navigate through all the interesting history, timelines and perspectives
I can’t read or write Chinese, and it gets tricky because I only understand a very specific regional dialect of Cantonese. I need a translator who can read and write to tell me what’s in these letters. The translator I have speaks Mandarin from Taiwan, and I also need a trilingual translator from Toisan. There is this concept where we communicate through common language, but the loss of language and what is further lost through translating illegible calligraphy makes it even more challenging and interesting.
I like the ambiguity.
HW: Seeing as summer solstice just occured, talk about your work Solstice in which you condense 24 hours into 24 minutes. How does the ability to manipulate time and cycles in such a way speak to the integration between technology and life?
PW: Solstice was a work based on the summer solstice a couple years ago; it was a camera recording out of the 4th floor building at Hastings and Main. It’s an observation of 24 hours. The camera took one frame every 10 seconds creating a series of still photos. I used an Aftereffects filter to fill in the missing information that happened in-between the 10 seconds. In this way, I’m using digital means to generate data to artificially fill in the gap between two real moments.
I find the human condition and the planet endlessly fascinating. We’re always trying to figure out who we are and our place in relationship to everything else. History, science, medicine, and capitalism all try to lay it out in a linear understandable fashion; however, it’s really such an abstract notion. So the fact that I can create moments of how I can look at you in another way is kind of cool. I can slow something down, I can alter the framing, I can position things in different contexts, and all these contribute to a reawakening of a whole other way of looking, listening and feeling.
In the end I am drawing with light, because that’s what I’m interested in: light.
Talking Heads is an interview column devoted to contemporary arts and culture in Vancouver. Once a month, Sad Mag’s Helen Wong sits down with a couple of interesting, unique individuals to discuss a topic of her choosing. This month’s topic? The vibrant and un-politically-minded talent of Vancouver’s own Andy Dixon.
I recently had the opportunity to interview the multitalented musician, designer, painter, and creator Andy Dixon. We discuss some of the themes in his artistic practice as well as some of his influences and past experiences. Andy’s show ‘Canadiana’ just wrapped up at Initial Gallery where he played on themes and tropes prevalent in the works of the Group of Seven. Andy’s signature style brings out a subversive take on traditional readings of cultural texts, and more of his work can be found and fawned over on his website.
Helen Wong: Tell me about yourself. How did you first get involved with the arts?
Andy Dixon: I’ve always been drawn to visual art, honestly. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing and making comics. For a large portion of my life, my interests swerved towards music, but I continued to always do a little bit of drawing and painting when I could. During my time in bands, I was often the member elected to make album covers, t-shirts, etc so that kept the flame going.
HW: Who are some of the biggest influences in your art?
AD: It’s hard to know where to begin! David Hockney, Matisse, Jonas Wood, Cy Twombly, Nolan Hendrickson, Jean Dubuffet, Manet, Caravaggio…
HW: How did your initial role in album design spiral into painting?
AD: I actually think it’s not quite true to call album design an initial role. At a certain age and era of my life many things were working in tandem with one another. While I was designing album covers, I was simultaneously showing work at places like Misanthropy Gallery and Grace Gallery. I guess, as is common with the natural flow of life, design tapered off and painting gained momentum – it’s most likely my penchant for complete creative freedom that propelled me in that direction.
HW: How do you incorporate your graphic design background in your paintings?
AD: I think my background in design helped inform my compositional skills and, maybe more importantly, my sense of colour. I think that, after an almost decade of designing, I had a strong personal pallet that I continue to use today.
HW: In an interview with Huffington Post you state your work in “Canadiana” propagates a “great conversation”. Can you expand on this notion?
AD: Yes, it’s not just the Canadiana series that I’ve mentioned The Great Conversation. It’s been a part of my work for many years prior and continues to be a strong theme today. It’s the idea that everything we do is an allusion to our predecessors whether we like it or not. I was, at one time, an arrogant punk kid that thought that what I did creatively was completely removed from historical contexts but, as I got older, and realized that culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum (I only thought it did because I hadn’t experienced enough of it yet to make certain connections), I understood the absurdity of such an idea.
Now I use fine art tropes as a vehicle for my work much like modern music producers sample recognizable bits of music (recognizable as a specific riff or melody, or merely the suggestion of something we are familiar with – a certain guitar tone, or a symphonic string swell) to simultaneously join in on the Great Conversation but also to play with the intentions of the initial artist.
HW: How do you play around with Canadian symbols and icons? Do you think you are propelling notions of nationalism?
AD: There’s definitely nothing nationalistic in the Canadiana series, but there’s nothing anti-nationalistic in there, either, just as Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life, which samples Annie, isn’t pro or anti broadway musical. The point of my work isn’t to bolster up or pull down any of the subjects. Instead, it’s to play with pop culture’s expectations using tropes as a way to draw out the viewers own beliefs and judgements.
HW: I believe a lot of the art made famous by the Group of Seven effaces issues of First Native land claims in their portrayal of untouched and barren land ready to be colonized. Do you think your work serves to subvert these issues especially with your artistic style?
AD: The subversive quality in my work is generally only in regards to the artist’s original intentions, or it’s place in pop culture, as opposed to political theories imposed on the work by others. The only political message in my work exists in the fact that there is no political message in my work.
HW: In the [same] Huffington Post interview, I like that you compared your use of house paint to a bad amplifier. Are there other ways in which music and art intersect in your work?
AD: Definitely. Everything I do has an undeniable shadow of the things I learned in the punk scene. I think the most important theme is that, in punk music, academically defined technical prowess isn’t often a goal. The punk music I made wasn’t about impressing an audience with raging guitar solos – it was about tapping into a certain energy and portraying certain emotions. Anyone can lock themselves in their room for years and learn how to play their guitar faster and tighter, but it doesn’t mean that he or she will make good music – music that can make someone feel something. I learned at an early age that technical doesn’t mean good, and I have been on a quest to define that magical thing that makes art actually good ever since.
HW: I think back to the composer Arnold Schoenberg and the influence his atonal music had for Kandinsky. In a sense, I feel that you act as your own Schoenberg and Kandinsky with your use of dissonant noises and off key notes during your time at d.b.s. and as a DJ. Do you think this idea applies to your practice?
AD: It’s possible, yes, that I have a certain penchant for dissonance which translates visually as well, but I also think that a lot of the music I’ve made in the past is actually quite melodic. I do agree with you, though, that I am both musician and artist, playing off one another, in a way.
HW: What’s next for Andy Dixon?
AD: I’ve just relocated to New York for an undetermined amount of time. I have a solo exhibit here in November and have begun working on it. Other than that, my plan is to paint every day and continue exploring the themes currently present in my work.
Talking Heads is an interview column devoted to contemporary arts and culture in Vancouver. Once a month, Sad Mag‘s Helen Wong sits down with a couple of interesting, unique individuals to discuss a topic of her choosing. This month’s topic? The sassy, fabulous and controversial world of drag.
Earlier this month I sat down with two queens, Jane Smoker and Tiffany Ann Co, to discuss their experiences and thoughts on drag. Jane Smoker is a professional drag queen. Having recently won Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar, she’s slowly taking over the Vancouver scene and it has been a delight to watch. She is everything from edgy to glamourous as she continually pushes the boundaries of drag.
Tiffany Ann Co is an up and coming drag queen in Vancouver. Hailing from Richmond, she brings her Asian heritage into the mean girl world of Vancouver. Her performances are original and captivating, to the point where I’ve found myself watching them on repeat!
Helen Wong: How did you first get involved with drag?
Jane Smoker: I first got involved with drag when I moved out for the first time to live with my boyfriend and his roommate. We all lived in a one bedroom and found ourselves attending a lot of drag shows like Apocalypstick. Through this, I met the Cobalt queens and did my first show at Apocalypstick as Lindsay Lohan. From then on, it was just something I kept doing and it eventually evolved into Jane.
Tiffany Ann Co: I first got involved with drag during Halloween. My friends and I were brainstorming ideas for a group costume and we had settled on TLC. During our night out, we ended up winning a best group costume contest, which resulted in a promoter noticing us and booking us for future shows. The name Tiffany Ann Co emerged by playing with the letter T from my real name and incorporating the world of fashion, which is something that is very important in my life.
HW: How did you create the persona of Jane Smoker and Tiffany Ann Co? Does it feel like a construction?
JS: Jane’s persona is like a mix of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, Courtney Love and Tara Reid. I’ve always been fascinated with these crazy, messy blonde celebrities. They appear to lead such chic lives with the way they dress but they are always getting arrested due to their partying and antics. Jane channels this contrast of beautiful people looking bad. Jane acts in a way that I wish I could act on a regular basis. She’s basically a hot mess. But with anyone, Jane has different sides to her and I like to play on her image, sometimes she’ll look more androgynous, and sometimes she’ll be very classy.
TAC: Tiffany kind of just takes over when I perform, but the idea of Tiffany was based off of the first performance I did on Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar. She is the lovechild of an Asian Regina George and Blair Waldorf. I feel like Tiffany is an exaggerated form of my personality. She is like the rich Asian girl of Vancouver: a party girl at heart.
HW: Does Jane Smoker or Tiffany Ann Co feel like an extension of yourself or like a completely separate entity?
JS: Initially, she definitely felt like a separate entity. When I first started out as Jane, I would always refer to her in third person. But the more I’ve been performing, the more I’ve become used to her. I’m at the point where I sometimes even refer to myself as Jane.
TAC: Tiffany feels like a character that is related to me, like a twin sister. I like to think of her as a characterized form of Tony that does things that I normally wouldn’t do. She is who I become on stage, but when I finish performing she just turns off and I go back to being myself. Tony isn’t a part of Tiffany; Tiffany is a part of me.
HW: What reactions have you received from friends and family when you first started performing?
JS: My parents were not okay with the fact that I was performing drag. They saw a picture of me dressed in drag at a Sharon Needles performance and confronted me about it. My parents are religious and believed that drag was a sign that I wanted to transition into a woman. I remember having to frantically scrub off my make up when I would meet up with them because I told them that it was a one-time thing. However, when it became impossible to hide, we had a big talk about it. Now, they see it as more of an artistic thing. I’ve always loved performing and view this as performance art.
TAC: I mainly received a lot of positive feedback and support from friends and family. I think Tiffany is a lot cooler than me, I find people want to know about Tiffany’s life more than mine! Sometimes it’s overwhelming when I have people coming up to me and recognizing me from Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar because I feel so much like myself (Tony) even when I look like Tiffany.
HW: What is it that keeps you performing?
JS: I love to do it; it’s something that I’m passionate about. Other performers always inspire me and I have a huge vault of performance ideas to the point where I’m always trying to push my own limits and try new things.
TAC: I have been performing my whole life. I love the adrenaline and feeling I get on stage. It’s a fun process and something that I like to look back on especially since the way I perform on stage is largely constructed inside my head so it’s fun to watch performances back. I become a different person on stage, I have more confidence and attitude and I like how it’s different from who I am in everyday life.
HW: Drag as a performance often uses stereotypes associated with how woman are portrayed in the media regarding how they’re supposed to look. How do you think drag reaffirms or subverts this notion?
JS: I think this depends on the queen. There are classic queens who do create the look of big hips, big ass, big eyes and lashes. But I feel like drag has evolved. Drag is whatever fantasy you want to feel; it’s all about the fantasy because there are no rules in drag. For instance, I sometimes choose not to wear any padding on my chest or I choose to wear minimal butt padding, in this way I’m still beautiful without using any of the stereotypes portrayed in the media.
TAC: For lack of a better word, Tiffany is a bit of a slut. Like I said before, she does things that I normally wouldn’t do, such as deep-throat a banana. I think that there are different forms of drag and the way that I created Tiffany doesn’t necessarily use the normative stereotypes of what an ideal woman should be. I think the main difference is that I didn’t create Tiffany for men; I created her for girls.
HW: How do you think gender construction surfaces in drag? Do these issues occur to you while performing?
JS: I feel like I’m the classic example of a drag queen. I’m a gay man dressing up as a woman. But there are so many types of drag that it’s not so simple to categorize. Sometimes I will wear a bald cap, or I’ll have short hair; I’m androgynous one day and sometimes I won’t even look human.
TAC: Aesthetically I created Tiffany to be like a normal girl, someone you wouldn’t naturally notice in a crowd. A lot of drag queens like to go all out with their costume and make up, but the character I created doesn’t do that. Tiffany’s onstage persona is largely a comedic and sexualized version of how girls behave, so when I’m on stage I’m just performing.
HW: Drag by its very nature assumes and reaffirms gender roles through the performance of wearing clothing associated with certain genders. Do you think this further reifies traditional gender norms?
JS:There’s a wild cluster of clothing that performers are wearing. You can wear whatever you feel like. I generally like to look sexy but I can’t see why you can’t wear whatever you want. If you want to wear leaves all over your body and all over your hair, then do it. Real cisgender women don’t do that. Drag isn’t about clothing rules; kings can wear bras and underpants or queens can have beards. At the end of the day, it’s all just drag.
TAC: Clothing doesn’t have gender; society puts gender on clothing. I think drag allows us to put new norms on gender roles because clothing is a form of expression that doesn’t define who you are or dictate gender.
HW: How do you like being identified?
JS: I identify as a male, but, really, why put a label on gender these days? There’s such a broad rainbow spectrum of gender and I believe most people are gender neutral. We all have masculine and feminine sides within us.
TAC: I identify as male, but for some reason I like using the pronoun ‘she’ for everyone. Boy, girl, straight, gay—whatever. I don’t do this in a negative or conscious way; I find it’s just how I speak.
HW: What advice would you give to up and coming queens and kings?
JS: Be patient and don’t do it for anybody else but yourself. Do what makes you happy and don’t follow the rules. The beauty of drag is that it’s so punk you can make it anything you want it to be. I think you should find something that makes you unique. But also, have a mix of self-confidence and delusion.
TAC: My main advice would be to do whatever you want. Don’t let other people tell you how to act because a large part of your growth comes from experience. You should determine your own ‘right’ way, because who is to say if your art is right or wrong? Rules are meant to be broken. At the end of the day, you just have to be happy with yourself.
Want to see them in action? Jane Smoker and Tiffany Ann Co host Back It Up Thursdays at Celebrity Night Club. Jane is performing at Edmonton Pride and has weekly and monthly shows coming up, so stay tuned! Tiffany also has an event called Sorority House at Celebrities on July 16th.
This month, the annual Capture Photography Festival in Vancouver welcomed exhibitions to galleries across the city. The festival focuses on celebrating local and international photography and lens-based art, making it a great way to get acquainted with Vancouver-based art galleries and artists.
On Friday, I attended the opening reception at Access Gallery for their exhibition Field Studies: Exercises in a Living Landscape. Walking into the gallery space, I was immediately confronted with a dozen maps of Hadden Park, a local park at the north end of Kitsilano Beach. The series of unconventional maps were produced by specialized practitioners and community members as part of the Hadden Park Map Exchange, a project orchestrated by local artists Rebecca Bayer and Laura Kozak. In this “field study,” each practitioner used the same template to organize the park according to his or her own background. Each map highlighted different aspects of the park, ranging from an exploration of the sensory experience of walking through it to a tally of electrosmog emissions in the area. By using identical templates for each map, the artists called attention to the subjectivity of individual interpretation. The collection successfully documented the inventive ways in which our everyday landscape can be experienced and imagined.
The next wall housed a video installation by Eden Veaudry, a multi-disciplinary artist based in Vancouver. I watched as the artist’s hands wove together still photographs and tapestries on screen. Next to Veaudry’s work were beautiful weather kites by Emiliano Sepulveda, another Vancouver-based artist originally hailing from Mexico City. His works emphasized the way in which photography operates, documenting everyday landscapes through the interplay of light and colour. Both Veaudry and Sepulveda effectively used the gallery space to create a landscape of their own, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in their own perceptions of the works. Much like the Hadden Park maps, the installations encouraged viewers to develop unique interpretations and perspectives. The eye, these artists remind us, is just another lens with which to “capture” the environment.
Field Studies: Exercises in a Living Landscape takes place at the Access Gallery until May 23rd. The related Hadden Park Open Field Mapping event will take place on May 9th, followed by and an artist talk on May 23rd.
Capture Photography Festival runs until April 29th. For upcoming events and current exhibitions, visit the festival website.
Vivek Shraya is a musician, writer, artist, and performer based in Toronto. His books and music have influenced the queer community and continue to provide an accessible outlet for youth around the country. Sad Mag’s Helen Wong interviewed Shraya about his music, writing and creative process.
Helen Wong: How do you transition between songwriting and writing for literature? Do you see these as entirely separate media or as extensions of one another?
Vivek Shraya: I tend to view them as separate formats. Songwriting has many limitations that writing for literature doesn’t have. In a pop song format, for instance, there is generally only three to four minutes to convey a feeling or idea. Writing involves an empty screen where anything and everything is possible. This is intimidating. However, they align in how they both involve hunting for the right words to express a specific sentiment.
HW: There is a certain poetry and lyricism present in your prose. Do you treat your books like songs?
VS: One of my editors for God Loves Hair told me that the first draft lacked the musicality inherent in my songwriting. This feedback has stayed with me and since then, (and without contradicting my last answer) I try to pull from my entire writing toolkit, including songwriting techniques, in any kind of writing.
When I wrote She of the Mountains, I would often hum out phrases, which would help me construct sentences or ideas.
HW: In an interview that you did with Scott Dagostino, he stated that ‘if you don’t see the book you need, write it!’ Does this carry weight for you?
VS: Absolutely. All three of my books have been ultimately motivated by wanting to write the kinds of books that would have made a difference and made me feel less alone in my youth.
HW: Is it hard to be self-reflexive? How has Leslie Feinberg’s books influenced you and your choice to write semi-autobiographical novels?
VS: During the creative process, being self-reflexive is what comes naturally to me. I pull from my own experiences. Where self-reflexivity becomes challenging is when the art itself is released, when people know (or think they know) aspects of yourself that I didn’t directly communicate to them. I also worry that self-reflexivity has become a bit of a crutch for me, because I am so comfortable with it. This is why I am excited about pushing outside this comfort zone and exploring fiction further.
Stone Butch Blues was the first LGBT book I read and it impressed upon me the power of personal narrative. I connected to so many of the experiences in the book and simultaneously thought about the differences between my experiences and that of the protagonist. What could a book that detailed those differences—having immigrant parents and growing up in a Hindu household—look like? The only way I could answer this question was to write God Loves Hair.
HW: There is a theme of “queering,” of creating strange normative ways of being, that I find present in She of the Mountains, especially in the sentence structure, formation of sentences, the fusion of language and image and the placement of words within the pages. All these aspects serve to deconstruct normative perceptions and patterns of what a book should be. Does your book act as a microcosm for a larger platform? How do these ideas relate to your work on a larger scale?
VS: Earlier in my career, I always played by the rules. I didn’t call myself a musician because I didn’t play instruments. I often heard I over-sang, and so I explored restraint in my songwriting. As I have grown, it’s been upsetting to realize how many of these rules are racialized.
Who has defined this idea that a real musician is someone who plays instruments, versus someone who makes music? Was I truly over-singing or was it that my style didn’t conform to Western expectations? Many of the reviews of She of the Mountains have referred to it as “experimental.” Who defines what a traditional novel should look like?
While I wouldn’t say the book is a microcosm for a larger platform (outside of wanting to challenge biphobia), I am in a place in my art practice where I am committed to exploring what feels instinctual to me instead of conforming to what has been prescribed.
HW: In a book review by Quill and Quire, they state that ‘what [Vivek] achieves with She of the Mountains is so new, we don’t have the proper words to articulate its success’. How do you express an idea or emotion that exists outside the construct of language? What do you do to carve out your own place within these systems?
VS: The truth is, I was terrified that no one would connect to She of the Mountains, especially after receiving feedback that the book was alienating. Also, when you observe what is popular or what connects, the message is seldom that difference is valued.
Thankfully, the response has been very positive and this has been a crucial reminder to not underestimate readers and to always stay true. The latter hasn’t always translated to success for me, but it has meant that I always have the knowledge that I was honest.
Carving space is a work in progress. My immigrant parents have been often told to make nice, be grateful, don’t push and be quiet. These ideas were then imposed upon me but the hope is that with each piece of art I produce, I am pushing back.
HW: In an interview with Mote Magazine you state that you conceive your music starting with a visual idea or abstracted image. How do you make these abstracted visual images concrete? Do you feel constricted by language?
VS: Writing is an abstract process that I would describe as churning out formless ideas into the physical realm. For example when I was working on She of the Mountains, I thought I had finished the mythology section, but I kept imagining Ganesh in a forest. I even heard the words: “Go into the forest.” All I can do as a writer is listen. I ended up writing a section that begins with Ganesh being haunted by an image of the forest, as a way to realize the idea, and in the end, this section became a significant part of the story.
Language, particularly English, does feel constrictive. I grew up singing Hindu prayers where each word invoked so much emotion. This is likely part of why I am an interdisciplinary artist, to have room to express myself outside just words.
HW: How do you link all your practices in media from music, film, literature, and art? How do you propel this interdisciplinary dialogue?
VS: The desire to link practices comes from wanting to challenge myself and to see how an idea can be further developed outside the central medium I have chosen for it. I also have a short attention span and am often trying to think about how to capture an audience. So, in book readings, I incorporate projected images, movement and song, and for a recent installation, Your Cloud, I released a cover of the Tori Amos song the project was named after.
I also propel this interdisciplinary dialogue by collaborating with other artists, to see how they too might be able to develop an idea. The illustrations that Juliana Neufeld (God Loves Hair) and Raymond Biesinger (She of the Mountains) came up with not only enhance the text, but also provide alternate perspectives and entry points for the reader.
HW: I like the idea of recontextualizing tradition, it is present in your novels and music. How do you manage to merge your background with the various art practices you partake in? Does it influence your sound?
My background is present at all times. I can’t separate it and I’m not actively working to separate. Earlier in my career I attempted to separate my background—my Indianness, my queerness, my femmeness—from my work, especially in my music. But this process was exhausting and ultimately dishonest. I am who I am at all times, and perhaps even more so when I am creating. Art is constantly pushing me to be my truest self, and this often means me pushing against traditional formats, to see what else might be possible.