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.
Francesca Belcourt and Brittney Rand are the two women behind Mu, Vancouver’s dream pop chroniclers of youth. The duo has been gracing the city’s electronic scene with dreamy tunes for nearly three years. Their debut album, simply called Mu, explores the universal themes of growth and confusion that characterize the young adult experience. Their fresh new single, “Debauchery,” meanwhile, “addresses all that is depraved, magical, and tempestuous about the ‘in-between’ years and coming of age in an era obsessed with itself.” In anticipation of Mu’s new album, II, which will be released on Feburary 12, SAD Mag’s Meredyth Cole spoke with Belcourt and Rand about their music, their high school selves, and how emulating Drake can (sometimes) lead to success.
**Psst! Stay tuned (pun very much intended) for a special musical surprise at the end of this interview.**
SAD Mag: Tell me what you were like in high school. Did you and Brittney know each other?
Francesca Belcourt: In high school I acted pretty similarly to how I do now but in the body and mind of a hormonal teen. I found any chance I could to be making and playing music rather than doing any normal work, jumping onto any stage there was and was pretty blessed to be encouraged to do so by my peers. If creativity was not required in a class, I would generally be doing things like biking through the hallways in a liberated protest. (Generally speaking my teachers and classmates were pretty chill but I was still not a fan of authority or structure). Brittney and I didn’t know each other in school as she lived across the country. I think we would have gotten along though, she was a punk! Still is.
SM: Mu’s work seems to be rooted in the mood of adolescence and young adulthood. What is it about these ages that is so inspiring for you?
Brittney Rand: More than being rooted in adolescence and youth, I think it’s rooted in dissonance. The themes we often work within are rooted in the fragility that comes with hopefulness, and the complexity of freedom and change—which are both, of course, symptoms of youth and adolescence. We’re navigating and exploring the darkness of our own experiences, because change and growth can be very confusing. On the other hand, “learning adulthood” can be a very inspiring and enriching experience that provides us with the skills we require to find our independence and resilience. Of course, learning this almost always comes at the cost of some despair. It’s a kind of dance that I find to be mysterious and interesting to document creatively.
SM: Pop music has always been a genre of music aimed at adolescents. What did you listen to when you were in high school? Did these tastes shape your sound now?
BR: I grew up obsessed with pop culture, but so isolated! I grew up in a rural highway town in northern Ontario, with limited access to TV, etc. At that time, stations like The Box and MTV could still be listened to, but not viewed, on satellite—unless you paid for the channel. We found out that you could tape down the “cancel” button on the remote and get around that…so we’d tape music videos to VHS any chance we got. It was really exciting to feel like we were being invited into what the rest of the world was doing.
I was into everything I saw in music videos—rap, pop, soul, grunge, folk, rock, R&B. But, when I was a teenager I was heavily influenced—and shaped by—my love for punk music. I think I’ve always been in love with pop music, but at some point or another pop music always reaches a crux for me; it either speaks or doesn’t speak to me. I find it fun to take something very poppy and nostalgic, and stretch it out to see how far it can go away from its expected direction before it’s nearly not pop. I like borrowing from the mainstream, almost mocking it, and then embracing it and playing with it. It’s kind of nice that we’re in a new pop landscape [and] that we can have both our exploration and depth, but also our fun.
SM: What advice would you give to young musicians trying to break into the scene in Vancouver?
FB: I moved to Van when I was 18 with my high school sweetheart. I had no idea where to go, I just knew I wanted to play music and that I couldn’t do that on Cortes Island or in Campbell River. So I played anything, anywhere, with anyone. Folk concerts, hip hop shows, I sang with electronic producers. Experiencing as much as I could in every scene I discovered lead me to meet Brittney at the Waldorf Hotel right at the time I was starting to really know my own music. It’s a small city, it takes a bit of time, but my advice would be to run ‘round à la Drizzy. If it feels wrong where you are turn around and try a new way.
As SAD Mag puts together the finishing touches on our upcoming High School issue, who better to make a custom mixtape for our readers than Mu. Featuring an exclusive cover of “Running up that hill,” this 12-song mix is a perfect evocation of those high school nights that seem to last forever, and the youthful moments that feel so significant. School dances, make out sessions, and joyrides: the things that are silly and so profound at 16, times that take on the quality of an anthem in our memories. Enjoy.
1) Mu – Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush Cover)
2) Pumarosa – Priestess
3) Suicide – Dream Baby Dream
4) Majical Cloudz – Downtown
5) Okay Kaya – Damn, Gravity
6) Brian Eno – Deep Blue Day
7) Cindy Lee – Prayer of Baphomet
8) Cocteau Twins – Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops
9) Jenny Hval – Why This?
10) Lydia Ainsworth – Malachite
11) Miley Cyrus – Lighter
12) The Cranberries – Dreams
Look out for II, available starting February 12, 2016. For more about Mu, check out their website, SoundCloud, or Twitter.
This holiday season, say it with giant blocks of wood. Got a mantra? A motto? A favourite expletive? French-born Jérémie Laguette, sign maker and owner of Woodtype, is your guy. He can carve it, paint it, and outfit it with low-voltage bulbs faster than you can say “fromage.” And for my fellow anxiety-havers, not to worry: he is very cognizant of fire safety. How does he do it all? Read on as we talk woodwork, typography, and electrical wiring with the man himself.
SAD Mag: So, how does one become a sign maker?
Jérémie Laguette: I love typography and have always been a fan of old signage. The first sign I designed was for myself and read ‘CHEESE’. It was for a cheese and wine party that I was hosting. My guests seemed to really like it. Some even requested variations for their own home decor and events. This inspired me to make signs accessible to other sign-lovers like myself.
SM: Tell me a bit about your creative process. Do you have any particular rituals when you’re working?
JL: My process is simple. First we have to choose a word. Sometimes I make signs for fun because I like a certain word but most of the time, my client’s have a word in mind. Next we have to select a font. I do this collaboratively with my clients, and together we find the best match in terms of font style, shape and colour that will tie together the word and it’s meaning. Once the mock-ups are approved, it’s time to go to the workshop! I don’t have any particular rituals, though I do collect a lot of flyers and papers with typography that inspires me.
SM: What would you say is the most technically difficult aspect of sign making?
JL: Most people would think building and painting the sign is the most difficult part. Though this is time-consuming, choosing the right font is actually more challenging. There are so many things to take into consideration. Does the font suit the word, does the font size and shape work with the client’s size requirements, etc.
SM: Art and electrical wiring are two very different things. Are you more drawn to the technical or the artistic elements of your work?
JL: The lights are simply a vehicle to bring my word into the spotlight and give it a cosy and warm feeling. I am definitely more drawn to the artistic aspect of sign making, though the technical part is integral to achieving the right feeling. For me it is two different stages: first I dream about it, and then I find a way to make it.
SM: How do you prevent your signs from catching fire?
JL: All my signs are low voltage so the bulbs do not emit any heat. They are warm to the touch and that’s as hot as they get. They are very safe. We’ve had the same sign in our living room as our main source of lighting for the past two years. We haven’t even had to replace a bulb.
SM: The maximum number of words I’ve seen you use on a sign is about five. Would you say you’re drawn to simplicity?
JL: I do love simplicity! Four or five letters give a bigger impact than long words or sentences do. But overall it is more a matter of space. The longer the word is, the bigger the sign will be.
SM: What’s the strangest word anyone has ever asked you to put on a sign?
JL: Nothing too crazy, but a funny one was the word “FETCH” that I did for someone who wanted their dog to have a reminder of what it loves the most. As far as I know dogs cannot read. “DUDE” was an awesome one, as it was for a nursery for a newborn baby boy.
SM: When and how did you wind up moving to Vancouver? What do you think is distinctive about Vancouver’s creative scene?
JL: I moved to Vancouver to 3 years ago. My girlfriend wanted to be closer to the mountains and the ocean. I’ve grown to love it. People are very open and supportive in Vancouver. Everyone I’ve met, especially at my studio space with MakerLabs, has offered tips and advice on how to better my work and make more sales.
SM: Tell me something unexpected about yourself.
JL: Well, I’m a pretty traditional guy in a lot of ways. I make the bed every morning. My girlfriend thinks I’m crazy, but I cannot bear the idea of leaving the house in a mess. I’m also French, from France and have only been speaking English for a few years. I only know how to cook one meal, and that’s a tartiflette. It’s a potato casserole from France with lots of fat and calories. Perfect for a Canadian winter.
Among his many other accomplishments, Ray Hsu is a published poet and a lecturer at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. He takes the tools of capitalism to move “us” beyond its current dominant forms and to redistribute power, searching for poetic form in the entrepreneurial world. In anticipation of our upcoming issue, SAD Mag’s Katherine Chan interviewed Hsu about starving for art, hypothetical time travel, and of course, our current favorite topic: high school.
KC: So Ray,
RH: What up, Katherine?
KC: Which memory sticks out the most from your high school years?
RH: I remember once, my drama teacher pulled me aside and said, “Hey Ray, I know you find all of this, as in high school, really boring, but I just want you to know that by the time you get to university, things are gonna be a lot better.” That struck me as a really powerful acknowledgement of how boring he realized all of this was. That struck me as piercing the illusion that all of this was worth anything.
KC: Why did he say that to you?
RH: You know? I’m not sure. Maybe because he saw something in me that he recognized? I mean, I remember when another one of my drama teachers pulled me aside and asked me, “Hey Ray, I know you’re really creative, but would you be willing to starve for your art?” And I thought about it for a second, and I said, “No. No, I wouldn’t be.” He seemed really disappointed, and I got the feeling that he was looking for a certain answer. And I’m—I’m still not willing to starve for my art. I don’t think that anyone should have to starve for their art. I don’t think that anyone should have to starve.
RH: Yeah. So it was interesting, the moment when he pulled me aside.
KC: Say, one day, you time travelled back to high school. What would be the one thing that you would do that you never did?
RH: I remember one day when I was in school, looking into the mirror and thinking about how ugly I was. I remember thinking, I wonder what things will be like in the future. Looking back on it, I feel as if I could see my former self, my younger self, on the other side of that mirror, and I wish I could say to that Ray, don’t worry, everything is going to be okay.
KC: I can’t believe you felt that way. Were you going through something specifically, or it was just…
RH: It was just life. It was just the feeling that I didn’t know what my role was in the grand scheme of things.
KC: I understand that. That’s nice.
RH: There used to be this insurance or investment company, maybe they’re still around, called Freedom 55. They used to have these commercials that played on TV all the time, in which it shows some young version of a person, and then an older version of the same person, presumably 55 years old. The younger version person is all swamped with stuff, and meets the older version of them, who seems really well taken care of, financially well off, etc. The younger version asks, “What happens to us?” The older version says, “Don’t worry, everything is okay. So-and-so has happened and this person has gone and done that, and everything’s okay.” The younger version asks, “How did that happen?” And the older version says, “Well, we went with Freedom 55.” So, basically, that captured my imagination as a kid. If I could meet the older version of myself, I really wondered what the older version of myself would say. I was super obsessed with this idea of, not quite time travel, but something like this.
KC: So, if you could change one thing about the high school that you went to, or high schools in general, in any aspect, what would it be?
RH: More awesomeness.
KC: What does that mean, Ray?
RH: Well, okay. I remember one time when I was brought in, as a writer, to a high school and the English teacher convenes the class. We all meet in the library. So, imagine around the perimeter of the library room, [are] all these students and they’re all looking at me from their chairs, and I’m standing up and I’m like, “What is the awesomest thing that we could be doing right now?” They’re like, “Uh…what? What do you mean?” I’m like, “Anything. Seriously, anything.” And I can’t remember if they said something like, “In here, right now?” And I was like, “Or whatever, anywhere.” One person goes, “Well, we would be outside having ice cream.” Then everybody laughs. And I say, “Okay, why don’t we do that?” And they laugh again but are like, “What are you talking about?” I’m like, “No, seriously, what’s keeping us from doing the thing that we’d rather be doing than sitting here listening to me?” And they all look at the teacher. The teacher’s like “Uh…” and apparently there was this really good ice cream place down the street, and it was sunny outside. There was, in my mind, nothing keeping us in that room in high school, other than the fact that there was some sort of magical, conceptual electrical fence that’s surrounding the place, that it’s like, even if you took away the fence, people wouldn’t leave, because they believed that the fence was there. You know, this is the panopticon. You know, or you think you know, that there’s a guard watching, and somebody’s gonna come down on you, but the guard may not even be there.
KC: But realistically, logistically, how would you increase awesomeness? Like in that situation you just talked about? That would have to be changing something really fundamental. The reaction from the students—they have the agency to look at the teacher, and they feel like they have to abide to something, like you said exactly, an invisible fence. So to change that would be to get rid of that invisible fence. What would be even one step towards doing that in reality?
RH: I think so much of that depends on the position that one occupies relative to the institution, relative to that fence. The very idea of what counts as a student carves them off from the rest of whatever they are. So, as a teacher, I can be attentive to that. As a student, I can do all sorts of tactical things. Now, this is all Michel de Certeau kind of stuff, where it’s like, when I was a student going through high school, I would do weird ass shit all the time, because for me, so much of what I was doing was pointless and what I was being asked to do was pointless, to a point where I would put in 160% into my presentations, because that was the only way that I could infuse anything about my educational experience with meaning. It didn’t seem like a lot of people around me cared, except for maybe my friends, with whom I was working on this project. Meanwhile, there was someone that I knew, a friend of mine, when she was going through high school, during the first few years she did the barest minimum, because she didn’t see the point in what she was being asked to do, and teachers hated her. And then, she realized, Oh wait a second, in order to get to university, which is where I wanna go, at this certain grade I need to start producing high grades and all that kind of stuff. And then, she switched into high gear. She started doing all these things necessary to produce high grades, and teachers hated her for that! Because it was clear that she was just, basically, working the system. When she felt it didn’t matter, she didn’t do anything, or did the minimum. When it mattered, she started working accordingly, and that requires a level of understanding of the educational system as an economic system, in which there’s a return on investment on effort, and you invest proportionally to the kind of return that you wanna get. And when things don’t count, you don’t invest, because that would be an expenditure of resources that is simply not rational. The way she went through things was, one might say, the opposite way of how I went through things. Where I put in 160%, it was excessive. It was not rationalizable, except for the fact that I wanted meaning. For her, the system didn’t contain the possibility of meaning.
KC: Do you think that teachers have an almost demanding expectation of their students being ignorant of how the system works?
RH: I think that teachers can be delusional, insofar as they are invested in having meaning, over and above being able to examine what it is that the educational system might be. And I think that that can be parallel in students, as well. It’s kind of like if one is a teacher and one states one’s identity as a teacher, there’s so much that’s reinforcing about one’s identity as a teacher. Kind of like all the platitudes around teachers being heroes, like firefighters, you know? The people around me are perpetuating exactly that: the nobility of teaching. And that, I think, obscures or perpetuates the delusion. It’s the fact that in order to do one’s job as a teacher, one might have to identify in this illusory way. I know I’m sounding rather Marxist, like the mystification—
KC: Mystification of teachers?
RH: Sure, it’s ideological. It’s kind of like one must believe in something in order to even articulate it. Why might teachers be invested in their own nobility? It’s kind of like one might be told what one is doing is noble and therefore is extracted more labour than is compensated, financially speaking. Let’s compare this to artists, or any job in which it’s immensely desirable, because there’s this aura around it. So, wait as second, you’re a teacher, right? You love what you’re doing, right? So we can pay you less and you would still be doing it, right? You’re an artist—
KC: You would starve for your art, right?
KC: No, but you won’t.
RH: I think something can begin there, yes. For more about Ray Hsu, visit his website or follow him on Twitter. Stay tuned for more High School Q&As on sadmag.ca as we prepare to launch our next issue.
This winter, The Cinematheque is hosting Traces That Resemble Us, a screening series and art exhibition that explores art and cinema in Vancouver. SAD Mag’s Helen Wong caught up with acclaimed Canadian artist Vikky Alexander to discuss architecture, photography, and “revenge.”
SAD Mag: Why did you choose the film Playtimefor Traces That Resemble Us?
VA: My interest in Playtime comes from its satirical perspective on architecture. I like to think that is a film about architecture’s “revenge”. In the first part, the uniformity and perceived inhumanity of International Style architecture is identified in the complete confusion it causes for the protagonist, who cannot find or connect with the bureaucrat he’s looking for because of the office building’s unkind intervention. At an International Trade Fair, a group of American tourists are only allowed to peep at the historic city of Paris through reflection in portions of glass-curtain walls, which the monuments seem to literally slip off. When Hulot goes to meet a friend for an evening, he is confounded by the entrance to the apartment. He can see his friend and family from the street through the floor-to-ceiling window, but cannot figure out how to access them, and when he leaves, he cannot exit the main door. Finally, on the opening night of a chic restaurant, the room, furniture, food and costumes literally self-destruct in front of us. The more ruinous the interior, the more fun for all.
SM: How does your piece currently on display at Monte Clark Gallery use aspects of the film? What is the importance of reflection?
VA: My piece at the Monte Clark Gallery is a photograph of a shop window that I took in Istanbul a couple of years ago. The shop was one of many on a street that specialized in decorative furniture and objects for the home. I really liked how the shop window was like a pristine stage set that was untouchable because of the pane of glass in front of it. And yet the reflections on the window literally superimposed the life of the street into the virtual ‘home.’
SM: Do you often reference architecture in your works?
VA: I often reference architecture in my photographic, collage, and sculptural works. I am particularly attracted to utopian projects and have documented places like the West Edmonton Mall (Alberta), Disneyland (California), Las Vegas (Nevada), Vaux le Vicomte (France) and the Palm House in Kew Gardens (London). I see these projects as fantastic, fascinating, and flawed.
SM: What do you think of the term “environmental determinism”? Do you think that our thoughts and behaviours are influenced by the built environment?
VA: The film I chose, Playtime, makes a mockery of environmental determinism, I think. It seems to prove that regardless of architectural and environmental restrictions, human nature will triumph, and the film demonstrates that with humor.
SM: Most of your works reflect on the notion of utopia, how do you aim to situate the viewer within this space?
VA: I think all of us, either on a small (domestic) or large scale, construct and design our own utopias, and yet they are flawed because it’s human nature to want something better…better sofa, better house. And the minute you get that better sofa, guess what, you want the one that’s even better than that one.
SM: How do you work to achieve a self-reflexive nature through the recontextualization and reconstruction of appropriated images?
VA: In my early work (1980’s), I appropriated images from the editorial sections of European fashion magazines, cropped and enlarged them and reframed them. All text was eliminated. When I reframed them, I added a large black overmat, which functioned as a sort of black mirror when glass (for the frame) was placed on top. In this way the reflection of the everyday viewer was superimposed on top of the utopian fashion models. These works are similar to my more recent photographs of showrooms in Paris, Istanbul, and Tokyo. Quite often the passerby on the street is superimposed on the luxury objects in the shop windows.
SM: Vancouver has a distinct history of art and film, how do you see this reiterated in contemporary art?
VA: I’ve always seen Vancouver as having a very particular photographic history and I’ve always felt that photographers have a close relationship to the cinema, originally because of they were both film mediums, I guess. But for some reason (maybe because Vancouver is so “photogenic”) I find it difficult to photograph here. Maybe because we have so much soft light, due to the climate.
SM: What is your favourite building and why?
VA: It’s difficult to pick a favorite building, as I have so many, but one really spectacular building is the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven Connecticut designed by Gordon Bunschaft in 1963. It belongs to Yale University and the exterior walls are gridded marble panels, so that when you are inside on a sunny day and the light shines through the veins in the panels the whole building seems to be on fire. It’s amazing.
Vancouver cat and coffee shop lovers can rest easy knowing that as of Monday December 14, 2015, our city opened its first cat cafe. With a simple crowd-funding page, entrepreneur Michelle Furbacher gained enough public support to create her dream space, Catfé. The concept for the cat cafe is quite simple; it’s a place where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while a snuggly feline sits on your lap. It is a place that provides a service for those who are unable to keep pets of their own, or who are looking for a unique social experience. And if you fall in love with your snuggle buddy, you can apply to adopt them. I had a chance to sit down with cat enthusiast and Catfé owner Michelle to discuss her new pawject.
Farah Tozy: Tell meow a bit about yourself.
Michelle Furbacher: I’ve been a cat lover my whole life, from the magical moment in the first grade when I met my family’s new kitten, through my fastidious collection of Garfield books and the “Punk Cats” poster that adorned my pre-teen bedroom wall. (FYI I would never condone dressing kittens in leather jackets and ripped jeans with guitars now, but my 9-year-old self thought it was the coolest thing ever.) But only after volunteering for the West Vancouver SPCA and the North Vancouver Animal Welfare Shelter did I really start to understand the complexities of cat behaviour. After my own cat, Peanut, passed away two years ago, I started a live-in cat-sitting business so that I could spend quality time with kitties again. Business was good—so good that I barely slept at my own home last year. Through cat sitting, I got to know a lot of different cats with different kinds of personalities, and learned even more about the feline mentality.
I want to provide others with the same experience I was looking for through cat sitting—a space that offers feline companionship for those who don’t have a cat of their own, or just really like hanging out with kitties. At the same time, I have a good understanding of what cats need, and their welfare is of utmost importance to me. I will work hard to create a safe, happy space that will feel like home to the cats until they find their forever home.
FT: Would you describe yourself as a cat enthusiast?
MF: Yes definitely! Though I wouldn’t think of myself as a crazy cat lady. I really appreciate cats and think of them as little people, with their own personalities. I wouldn’t say I love every cat, because they’re all so different. They’re little furry people to me.
FT: Why did you decide to work towards opening a cat cafe?
MF: At first it was because it was a place I really wanted to go to, so I was waiting around for someone to announce they were opening one. That wasn’t happening. I’ve heard that the ones in Japan are hourly rates for you to hang out with cats, whereas the European ones are cafés with cats hanging out; you can stay as long as you want. I actually visited a couple of cat cafes in Europe and I believe that vibe is more fitting for Vancouver.
FT: How do you envision Catfé being a part of the social furrabric of Vancouver?
MF: Because a high percentage of rentals in Vancouver don’t allow pets, Catfé will be like a home away from home for cat lovers in need of some quality cat time (and) a get-away for cat lovers who have allergic partners, or for tourists and travellers who miss their cats at home or students who aren’t able to keep pets of their own. We want the kitty lounge to feel like an extension of your living room, with board games, WiFi, and a library of books. We’ll host art shows for feline-inclined artists, movie nights, readings and more. We are building Catfé for the community—a new space for animal lovers looking for a unique social experience. A place to learn about cats. A new way to facilitate adoptions. A place to spark discussion about the feline homelessness problem in the Lower Mainland, and where cat owners can learn about cat behaviour and proper cat care.
Additionally, there are therapeutic, stress-relieving benefits to spending time in the company of four-legged creatures. A purring kitty in your lap can beneficial in so many ways—(they can) lower blood pressure, improve motivation, decrease anxiety, ease loneliness and ward off depression. Some quality kitty time can improve mental health and increase compassion towards animals, and in turn, towards all creatures. Basically, Catfé will result in peace on earth!
FT: Sounds very pawsitive! What can a visitor to Catfé expect?
MF: As per discussions with Vancouver Coastal Health, we need to have food service completely separate from our kitties, and so Catfé will be almost like two businesses side by side: a cafe and retail boutique for cat lovers, and a lounge space featuring 8 to 12 resident foster cats. Customers can order food and drink from our take-out menu, and bring it with them into the kitty lounge. Access to the cat area will be free with purchase from the cafe. To make the spaces more interactive, we plan to build some window perches connecting the two spaces. I want to have a rotating artist showing their work, maybe make space every few months to put up a new cat-related artist.
FT: Unfurtunately, I don’t own a cat. What kind of atmeowosphere should I expect?
MF: Some people think cats are antisocial, but there are as many different personality types of cats as there are of people. We’ll choose cats with more outgoing and social personalities for Catfé. Being out of a cage and free to roam about (the space will be equipped with ‘cats only’ retreat areas for when cats don’t feel like basking in attention and adoration) will also allow their personalities to flourish.
We will have a cat carer on hand at all times to answer questions about cat behaviour and ensure harmony between human and cat folk. ‘Dog people’ may find themselves crossing over to the other side after a little feline companionship.
Catfe is located on the second floor of International Village Mall (southwest corner, overlooking Keefer and Abbott), and is open daily from 11 am to 9 pm, except for Thursdays, when they close to bring in new cats from the BC SPCA. For more information, or to make a reservation, visit Catfe’s website.
CATCHING UP WITH ANGELA GROSSMANN AND DREW SHAFFER – SEPTEMBER 2015
An artist interview by Sunshine Frère
It is a stunning September afternoon at the Thierry Cafe on Alberni Street in Vancouver. The melancholy music that Yan Tiersen created for the French film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulin is wistfully resonating throughout the sunny patio where I have just sat down with artist Angela Grossmann. Her longtime friend and fellow artist, Drew Shaffer, has arrived from inside the cafe. Shaffer gently places a beautiful piece of cake, with luscious raspberries adorning the top, on the table for us all to share, and off we go, tumbling into the jiggery pokery world of Angela and Drew.
Angela Grossmann and Drew Schaffer recently exhited their work together in a duo exhibition called Jiggery Pokery at Winsor Gallery. The exhibition ran from October 15 – November 14th. This interview was conducted a couple of weeks prior to the exhibition opening. Grossman, who is represented by Winsor, was very much looking forward to showing alongside her longtime friend. The joining of these two sets of works in the same space, provided Grossmann and Shaffer an opportunity for their ever evolving conversation about art, language, game-play, memory and life to be experienced anew.
Angela: How I met Drew was that I rented my studio, which I am still in–it was above the Salmagundy shop store on Cordova. I would go by and it’s a friendly neighbourhood, but its really changed. Drew was the proprietor of the shop and we got to chatting. Though, we were never never allowed to just chat were we?
A: I’d walk by and I’d see a face through the window and he’d give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down if the owner was in.
D: So Ang would come in looking for photos instead.
A: And you!
D: Yes, she was looking for me, and images of stuff to do her work with. When I was first at Emily Carr we would do one of those class field trip type things, and once we went to Diane Farris Gallery and I saw her work there and was just amazed. So it was quite exciting because I knew who she was. She would come up and buy photos and things like that, and I thought, oh yeah, this is really cool! I don’t just have a shitty job right? It was a very interesting place in those days. Those types of shops are great places for people like us to find the raw materials to make the work that we make.
A: It was.
D: So, yeah, we both start from a similar place, we go and find something that inspires us that already exists and then talk to it, bringing it into being somehow. For me, generally it will become a 3D object and nine times out of ten for Angela its going to be something two dimensional. We use these found objects as a starting place, to start the dialogue. And sometimes it’ll be something very humble, I ask myself, why does this grab me the way that it does, and what is it about this particular object that is so inspiring? Is it the functionality of it? What is it saying to me?
Sunshine: Do you decide instantly always what you are going to do with the found object or do you sometimes hold onto it not knowing what it will be for?
D: Yes, sometimes its instantaneous, but more often than not things have to stick around for a while. I have this massive collection of old suitcases full of things like that…. I have this recall memory in my head of what all the suitcases hold. Suitcase encyclopedias.
A: You know, when I was in school, it was a going thing, you had to have an image bank. A bank of things, photos and images things you liked, images that made you think of things, whatever it was. And there used to be this incredible image bank at the Vancouver art gallery, that had been kept over a hundred years, but they got rid of it–I couldn’t believe it. Anyway, I’ve got my own image bank, but its not just images. It is full of things that I like, things that I respond to, my materials. But I don’t like to collect things for the sake of collection, I only collect to use them. Because I don’t like stuff hanging around. Sorry, I just thought I’d differentiate myself there. (chuckles)
D: I on the other hand do have a lot of stuff hanging around that I may or may not use at one point.
A: Exactly, I get very anxious about things hanging around…
D: Yeah, you’re more purist than me.
S: Do you purge more often Angela?
A: Yes, but not of things you would think, for example, I’d never throw out my old buttons, but I would throw out a pair of old gucci loafers, no problem. But my old buttons, bits and swatches of materials are all stuff I keep, but only for collage purposes. Because I think materials make me associate and associate is what I do. It’s the very nub of what I do as an artist. I’m an associate. (chuckles) When something is happening for me it is because I am able to make to make associations that day or in that work and can clearly see when it’s a great one or when it’s a forced one. You really learn how to associate. When you’re trying to go down those paths but it’s forced, you can tell when it is good or no good or when it’s great.
D: And, I as well as Angela do that with language. I’ll phone her up and say, I’ve got a pun, it seems to be a current that runs through my work and everything in my life. Like I call my brother up on Fridays and we trade spoonerisms back and forth. Sometimes their just sonorous, and they don’t really mean anything. But the best ones are the ones that can be read both ways and mean something, like the The Taming of the Shrew or The Shaming of the Trew. You know like that kinda stuff. And I see objects very much the same way.
A: Turn them upside down, turn them inside out, put them back to front, see what happens, see where it goes.
D: Yeah, because there is something there. Whenever you pick something up, there’s something there–you know, you know that it’s loaded somehow. You know that, that object or image has something for you. It’s the weirdest thing.
A: I love that. It’s loaded with possibilities.
D: It’s loaded with possibilities, you see that thing and you know right away that you gotta have that because there is something there for you.
A: I think that’s true for everybody that ever collects anything, not just with art.
D: Oh yes!
S: But all the potentials that are and were there for the object disappear once you connect with it as you are taking it in one particular direction.
D: Yes, its a fork in the road I think.
A: As visual artists all we do is associate and make these connections. Poets also, because all they do is use language to open stuff up and make connections and refer to things, its always referring to things, it’s never as it is.
D: Ang and I are not exchanging images and seeing each other’s work until we install the exhibition. We’ve been wanting to do something together for quite some time and now we are.
A: We first thought of doing something together that was theme based. Where we would both do work on the same subject. But this show has morphed and it is us both doing work at the same time instead. I’m not looking at Drew’s work and he isn’t looking at mine.
D: Those are the rules, that is the game plan.
A: That was the game because, I can’t do work about you, and you can’t do work about me. We’re just going to hope that in the show there is some kind of relationship there, as there is with us.
D: I am sure there will be.
S: How did the title for the exhibition, Jiggery Pokery, come about?
D: Ang came up with this name…
A: It’s not a word that I came up with, it exists…it’s sort of a bit higgledypiggledy, hocus pocus, jiggery pokery. I mean it’s all word play. The reason why I think it’s nice wordplay besides the fact that it actually means something, but also because it’s also associating sound with what we like. We like these associations… and that the sound, it …it tumbles out.
D: Yeah, it feels good on the mouth to say it. It’s really interesting because it dates back to the mid to late nineteenth century and it was a word initially used for subterfuge.
A: Like, “he’s up to some jiggery pokery over there!”
D: Yeah, its a little bit sneaky, I think it is a great word. But then that’s the first meaning and then there’s a secondary meaning that they started using in around nineteen twenty, where it started meaning to cobble things together. Like, it’s a bit of jiggerypokery that got the engine started. And you can also spoonerize it piggeryjokery. It was also really interesting, I discovered this American poet who used these archaic words and phrases and wrote these really cool poems, purely for the fact that they had great rhyming capabilities and their sonorousness. Once again, yet another level of what we are doing. I discovered this poet Anthony Hecht who uses phrases like jiggery pokery, he did some work with another guy called John Hollander. I was pretty happy when I discovered him. Anyways, one of the lines in one of his poems describes what jiggery pokery is and he explains it as: “using whatever you’ve got around to get the job done.”
A: Absolutely! We could quote that!
D: Yeah, its great stuff! A lot of the stuff that I’m dealing with is the seduction and abandonment of inanimate objects. I find that really interesting. You come across these things and they look so helpless and you can see a vestige of what they were to somebody at one time, but they’re no longer that anymore. In the fact that they’ve been discarded, they become, to me at least, so much more interesting.
D: I’m also really interested in how we choose to define ourselves by what we own. The general view of the object when desired is that it is hip. My general view is that it becomes more interesting when its not hip anymore or when its discarded. It’s not trying to prove itself anymore. I often turn the use of a functional object into more of a narrative or metaphor rather than a practical perspective. It’s a different kind of practicality I would say.
A: If I may interject here for everything that you’ve just said, I would reiterate that my own work uses likenesses of people who are long gone. So, they’ve got that echo of being familiar, but at the same time not existing anymore. I think I like to play between that which is still current and that which is gone, but what is it, that remains, that we have a connection to. What is the humanity that crosses over from then to now. So it’s all about that bridge.
S: The way you’re approaching the installation of the work is very much attached to the notion of game play, just like how you two approach your friendship. Drew’s objects will arrive at the gallery, Angela’s will arrive at the gallery and then the two of you will connect the dots on site.
A: It will be very fun, the thing is I have absolute respect for what Drew does, so I have total trust in whatever he does. I’m excited to show with Drew.
D: This is a great opportunity, and I’m excited too.
A: Drew and I have a lot of echoing in what we talk about and what we think about.
D: Both Ang and I are interested in fashion, people’s clothes and the items that they choose to wear to express their identities. On a small scale from a personal perspective and on a large scale. Because fashion moves at such a fast pace, the whole seduction and abandonment rate happens so much quicker. Things that are beautiful become almost instantly ugly. Because art has this hallowed niche, people are like ‘oh it’s art, its sitting on a plinth hanging on a wall and blah blah blah’, you give yourself more time to contemplate it, or to reflect on your relationship with it in a much more sort of hallowed way. Because that process happens much more quickly in fashion it doesn’t have that chance to be self-reflexive and because of that it is very interesting in retrospect. Certainly with Angela’s work when you look at the old photographs of people and the types of clothing that they’re wearing what they thought was really great at the time and of course these things come full circle and they become great again.
A: Yes, we’re interested in that sort of stuff. But who isn’t!?
S: Who isn’t indeed!
Special Thanks to Angela and Drew for the interview. The exhibition was a great one!
If you would like to see works in person, you can visit Winsor Gallery, they can pull out any remaining works from the show.
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.
In person, Ola Volo is as warm and whimsical as her artwork. A graduate of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and the creative force behind designs for local clients like Lululemon and Doan’s Craft Brewing Company, it is easy to see Volo as a Vancouver artist. But, as successful as she is in this city, an international perspective is what elevates her work. We met at her apartment a few days before Halloween to chat about her upcoming CreativeMornings talk and life as a working artist.
Visual art as a profession is difficult for most people to wrap their heads around; the idea usually evokes images of noble poverty or antisocial genius. Volo disproves both these stereotypes, and her pragmatic approach to making a talent into a career is inspiring. What Volo firmly believes, and proves with her success, is that professionalism and artistic integrity are not necessarily opposed. Volo says she “hasn’t had a day off” since she started, and the idea of treating creativity like a nine to five is something she learned to do early on.
Growing up in Kazakhstan, Volo’s parents placed her in almost every genre of art class you can think of, from pastels to painting. She describes the classes as “babysitting,” but it is easy to imagine her as a precocious artist. When asked about developing her distinctive style, full of swirling patterns and playful figures, Volo says she has doodles and designs from early high school that look remarkably similar to her current work. Her style is clearly an authentic representation of who she is.
Volo consistently refers to her pieces as “stories,” perhaps a more apt word to describe the folkloric works she creates than “paintings” or “illustrations.” During her sold out CreativeMorning’s talk, she claimed she saw her style as a way to explore the stories that are important to her, not the other way around. Like a writer searching for the perfect word, Volo’s unique illustrations are the ideal language to explore the things that fascinate her.
This visual language is remarkable in its versatility; Volo’s work is equally at home on a gallery wall or a magazine cover. She combats the unflattering stigma of commercial art, only lending her style to projects that she can become invested in, that become her story. “My style cuts very close to my background. My inspiration comes from the stories I grew up with and books I owned as a kid. It all becomes like a personal voice, and if the project is not fitting, why would you want that voice to represent that project?”
Volo was introduced to the world of professional illustration soon after graduation. About a month after earning her degree, she flew to New York City to show her portfolio: “It was the first time I met working illustrators…They were all so passionate and very motivated, very prolific, doing things all the time, in like seven different avenues.” What Volo took away from her meetings was a sense of the sheer hustle that goes into working as an artist. The experience was both inspirational and terrifying; “I was so intimidated by New York…like ‘Oh my god this city will chew you up and spit you out, there are so many illustrators!’”
When Volo returned home to Vancouver she briefly abandoned illustration and tried to focus on a more straightforward career. A conventional career path didn’t last long, and she quickly found herself back in New York, where she lived for six months; “I made a promise to myself that if I find something that is so scary for me, then I should go there, I should figure something out with my work and myself.”
Traveling and periodically relocating keeps Volo on good terms with Vancouver and excited about her work. “It really grounds you,” she says. “You come back refreshed and full of ideas…you appreciate Vancouver again.”
Volo has said that she gravitated towards illustration as a way to transcend language barriers, and feels drawn to the idea of public art for the same reason. Commercial work allows her pieces to reach a huge audience, much more than individual works that are often sheltered in private homes. Public art takes this idea to the next level. “I like it when art is accessible to everyone. I want people to feel included, not excluded.”
Although she feels the need to leave the city occasionally, Vancouver hasn’t tired of embracing Volo’s work. The audience at CreativeMornings was thrilled with her candid words as well as her illustrations. As the talk ended, Volo was presented with a position as Artist in Residence at HCMA Architecture + Design—one more Vancouver business that will benefit from her unique vision.
I sat down with local artist Pax North on a very chilly November evening. Before meeting, I had taken a peek at the collection of paintings displayed on his website titled “Art for the Human Condition”. The abstract portraits, painted on both canvas and cardstock, were intensely immersive, and I came to the interview eager to know more about how they came to be. North’s show (curated by Shallom Johnson) opens on Tuesday, November 10th, at Skylight Gallery. After our conversation, I am convinced it will be a rare artistic experience.
What initially drew you to the practice of painting?
Wonder. Awe. I can remember as a child in preschool, discovering the whole idea of colour in the form of either yellow or green tempura paints using vegetable prints (you know, where you cut up apples or vegetables for kids and dip them in paint and then press them onto paper). It seemed so astonishing that there could be ‘pure’ colour, divorced from an object other than the colour itself, and that one could use this to create.
Over the years I have practiced in many mediums, but painting seems to bring the most joy to people and to help them feel less alone. I try to show the vast cinema which plays across the human face, to collapse and conflate moments in life. We do this all the time, both via media imagery, which map for us an idea of what a person is supposed to be like based on their appearance, and in relationships when we commune with others.
There is also a longevity factor. We live in both a golden age and a nightmare. There are a million acts of kindness, courage, sacrifice, and horror that will be unrecorded; as Roy Batty, in Bladerunner, states, they “will be lost like tears in the rain.” I am aiming to give some record of this period in human history. A painting might be a document of such kind.
And so do you feel that painting is the best medium through which to express the spectrum of human emotion and connectivity?
Actually, I feel that crown goes to music, and to television. Right now, television is at a cultural peak: Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Sopranos, Better Call Saul, Enlightened (a highly underrated show), The Comeback (also highly underrated), and Deadwood. Even Vancouver’s own Battlestar Galactica—they really are great art.
I often use screen grabs from TV and movies as models or inspiration. I also obsessively study people’s faces, both strangers and friends. I’m sure I’ve creeped a few people out, but each human face is such a testament to some kind of profound struggle. Wendy Mass said it best: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
I get a very mixed media or collage effect from your work. Do those elements factor in organically during the painting process?
I’ve always had this desire to have a formulaic approach to my process, but it is idiosyncratic. [My process] is purely based on what my piece demands.
I find that interesting, considering your work is consistent not only in theme but in presentation. I see your specific painting style in all of the works.
I have wanted to make a coherent body of work for a long time. That’s why I’ve taken so long to start showing the work, because I wanted a coherent style.
Who inspires you?
The whole canon of modernism and postmodernism. It’s an endless catalogue.
You mention in your artist statement that you use several cartography techniques in your work. Can you elaborate on that?
Well, I’ve done an amateur study of cartography and cartographic theory. I think that [cartography] is a very significant, cognitive, rather analytical tool that we employ while viewing the world. That fascinates me, how you have this very specialized knowledge, so much of which is cartographic or diagrammatic in nature. I also tend to think cartographically, imagining people moving through the city; I find it to be a very powerful technique for visualizing the world.
I also see references to photography, specifically time-lapse photography, in your work. Is that an influence at all?
Totally. I do think about that idea a lot, a time-lapse. Who is this person, over time and space? You walk down the street and you see so much drama on people’s faces. There’s this whole film, a micro-drama, based on all of these expressions. And it shifts so rapidly.
How does abstraction manifest in your process?
Well of course, you know, modernism. You’re competing so often against a camera for visual mimesis, and the camera wins every time, right? Jack Shadbolt had a quote about how you need to let the viewer ‘fill in’ parts of a work. At times I try and stretch it. How far can I abstract while still [portraying] a ‘face’, and one that conveys some feeling or meaning?
Do you see your works as a continuing series, or simply a collection of works functioning under one thematic umbrella?
I’m going to say both. There isn’t necessarily a defined series. I’d like to start to do more of that. But right now I would say they are more a collection of idiosyncratic works in a family. [They] riff off of each other, or are influenced by each other.
Would you consider your paintings to be optimistic about the human condition? Pessimistic? Indifferent and observational?
Fundamentally, for me, they’re optimistic. I think that no matter how dark things get, there is this light that shines, that never goes out. You don’t necessarily have to be theistic to have this view. You see it in people, in the million acts of courage that occur everyday. So maybe I’m depicting what could be seen as a dark aesthetic, but within myself, I have an optimism.
What do you find most interesting about your own work?
Well, this exhibition will only present one part of my practice. I mean, I am kind of a cliché, an artist who has been working on their practice for about twenty years in relative seclusion. Painting is a serious thing. You’re dealing with a conversation that has been going on for at least fifty thousand years. So, I wanted to take my time before I started promoting it in any kind of serious fashion. I wanted to be on solid ground. Certainly I want “success,” but for me it has always been more important to find success in making work that I feel might still be relevant two hundred years from now–wherever people are in two hundred years.
We are excited to present this show in collaboration with Hayo Magazine. Origin Stories: A Solo Exhibition by Pax North opens Tuesday, November 10th, at Skylight Gallery. Read more about it here and RSVP here.