Why Hate, Why Love, Why Riot

get to see lots of neat things in my position as storyteller for the Vancouver School Board. But I haven’t seen to many things that would top the boundless creativity that was encapsulated in today’s Grandview Elementary School play Why Love, Why Hate, Why Riot about the Stanley Cup riot told from the perspective of Grade 4 to Grade 7 children.

The play was created by Grandview students originally exploring the topic through improv with their “artist-in-residence” Terri-Lyn Storey. Storey says the concept of the play took its form out of acting workshops as students sought to understand how the riot could take place in such a rich and safe city as Vancouver. Twelve student actors played adults caught in real time during the hockey riot that made news across the world. There were a melange of characters including a news reporter and camera man, interveners as well as people who witnessed and participated in the riot.

It was fascinating to watch for a number of reasons. It was interesting to see elementary school students’ perspective on events that shook up many adults around Metro Vancouver and around the world. The key word that came across in all of the skits was the word “disturbing” as well as the senselessness of the entire situation. The big question? How could this happen?

Students identified and then pilloried a character who stole bags that were lying around “on the ground”. They documented the confusion of elderly citizens watching it all on fold on TV. Scenes were broken up by fist fights and general chaos and the entire performance ended with a chorus of kids holding wooden signs scribbled with kind words similar to those adorning the Bay and other targets of the riot in the aftermath.

Perhaps most interesting was the student’s critique of the media and their coverage of the event. Several times throughout the play, a “Global TV” journalist, primped and preened in front of her camera man as she sought to find the “action” of the night. It was particularly interesting considering the number of TV cameras and journalists covering the performance that day in the lead up to the riot anniversary. The irony was not lost on anyone.

All and all, the performance was a fantastic reminder that the horrible event a year ago Friday touched on all of our lives, including our youngsters.

Canvassing the Country

A cool story came to me across our virtual editor’s-desk that couldn’t be more fitting for a feature on the ‘boot.

It’s a community, using ideas from across Canada, coming together for a cause.

The bonus – it’s a community of artists, as a recovering painter and printmaker myself it’s exciting to get to talk to inspiring people working on a really cool project.

Here’s the skinny:

The MFPA (That’s the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists) have selected artists across Canada to work together on a canvas. It’ll travel the country as each artist paints a portion that is representative of their region. It’s like the Voyageur guitar, but less like a guitar and more like a tapestry of Canadian inspiration all in the name of supporting disabled artists and showcasing what can be achieved in the face of adversity.

That a group of artists are coordinating a collaboration across Canada is noteworthy enough. That the group of artists are all facing significant challenges, have found drive and inspiration through art, and are using that to inspire others is fantastic.

I got to talk with the painter Cody Tresierra, he’s got the canvas first and is painting a scene of the Stanley Park totem poles and coastal mountains as a representation of the West Coast. He says most of what he paints for the public is representative of the West Coast, and that lots of it is kind of a diary of where he goes. For himself and friends he does portrait work and experiments with really pushing colour.

Learning, seeing others progress and the ability to meet people from all over the world through the MFPA have been key for Cody. He was inspired to take up painting himself when one night, about two years into rehab at Pearson after a motor vehicle accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, he saw a lady painting with her mouth. The ability to produce something real you could look at and share had him hooked.

Cody’s perseverance in the face of adversity is inspiring – and his work is fantastic. Take a moment to connect with the group making this happen and use their dedication as inspiration to get something creative and constructive done yourself.

Go check out the MFPA – The association supports artists through selling cards, calendars, books and more, and  bookmark the Canvassing the Country page – each artists is also recording their work and you’ll be able to follow it as it develops and travels across Canada.

Exhibition Unites Energy with Art and Motion

[Editor's note: sometimes Kurt and I get pretty darn busy with work, life, and Kurt's lifelong plan to ensure that Johnism becomes the ideology of the next 100 years. For these reasons, we will occasionally copy and paste press releases from cool organizations and call them "blog posts" - right now is one of those times].

VANCOUVER: eatART presents an exhibition illuminating the connection between art and energy through photography, paintings, performances and art-in-motion at the Great Northern Way Campus on December 15th.

Exhibits include interactive touch sensitive sculptures, a wearable walking machine, the first walking electric vehicle, and a 50 ft electromagnetic snake.“We define energy as the exertion of vigour or power, and the vitality and intensity of expression,” said said Emily Hamilton, Curator and Co-executive Director of eatART. “Energy manifests through art through mood, emotion, movement, materials, narrative, connection with the viewer, and sources of power and light.

eatART is a volunteer-run charity organization that provides space and support artists, performers, engineers, and robotic sensationalists to gather, network and collaborate. “We give artists the opportunity to demonstrate their explorations of energy and sustainability, promote their message and to gain exposure,” added Ms. Hamilton.

The Hangar is the event space sponsored by the Great Northern Way Campus. Located in the Centre for Digital Media Arts, it echoes the narrative of this exhibition: an industrial past with an educational present.

ART WITH ENERGY

DATE: December 15th

TIME: 7 to 11pm, 6 to 11pm for Media

LOCATION: Great Northern Way Campus, The Hangar, map

ENTRY BY DONATION: All proceeds go to the eatART Foundation to support the artists.

ARTISTS:

  • Michael JP Hall – Realization
  • Vincent VanHaaff – Resonance
  • Leigh Christie – A New Industrial Utopia
  • Frederick Brummer – Dimension X
  • G?Bikes – Powering the Party
  • Raul Casillas – Entanglement
  • Jonathan Tippett – Prosthesis: The Anti Robot
  • mondo spider - The world’s first walking electric vehicle
  • Mark Illing – Clones are People Too
  • The Cooper Bros – Panoramic Photography
  • Titanoboa project – 50ft electromagnetic snake
  • Peter Holmes – Water Portraits

Website: http://artwithenergy.tumblr.com/Exhibition | www.eatART.org

©2009 eatART Foundation

 

An Appropriated Diet for a Full Life

My Dad’s favourite book of the year is Tim Ferriss’, The 4-Hour Body. At his insistence I had to check out the website where I found a bonus chapter, written by Dr. Seth Roberts, that really sent my mind on a tangent. I’ll explain it from the beginning…

“Louise and Brody build the Eiffel tower” by Gedidiah McCaughey

Dr. Roberts is a professor of psychology and a member of the editorial board of the journal, Nutrition. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and The Scientist. He’s legit. The theory that captured my imagination is the basis for what he calls The Shangri-La Diet and springs from Pavlov’s psychological framework of associative learning. The idea is that our brains are hard wired from the days of hunting and gathering to stock up on calories when they detect that there is an abundance of good food.  The brain detects that abundance when it registers familiar flavours or smells. The first time we taste something, our brain has not yet made the connection between the associated flavours and the calories that are derived from their consumption. Because no association exists yet, the impulse to stock up on calories is not triggered and we feel satisfied with less. The next time we have that same thing, we subconsciously remember we like it and want more! Essentially, flavours are addictive and make us crave progressively more and more in order to feel that same initial feeling of satisfaction that a new taste experience elicits. The stronger the smell or flavour, the stronger this effect is. This is the same theory that industrial food brands capitalize on by striving to make their products taste identical each time and therefore making us crave their products at the first familiar whiff of grease or sugar.

This theory about appetite seems to me to be a very apt analogy for many human conditions. Particularly, it seems to me that our experience of time is affected very similarly. It is well recognized that as we grow older time seems to speed up. In the beginning of our lives when everything is unfamiliar and new, a few days can seem like an eternity. As we grow older and more familiar with what it is to experience the passage of time and as our daily experiences become well-worn routine, the months seem to fly by before we have the chance to even flip the calendar page and satisfaction doesn’t come as easily. The weekends seem to get shorter and shorter, and vacations are never long enough. We crave more and more time for the things that really nourish our lives but we are restricted to our standard time tables and schedules.

In this context it is logical that humans strive to perpetuate the feeling of satisfaction that a first experience produces.  Drugs have been used throughout history as a tool to do this. The desired effect being to alter human perceptions, arguably in order to experience the familiar in a new way and ultimately recreate the initial satisfaction of what was once new and novel.

Another tool we can use to break us out of the monotony of our daily experiences and alter our perceptions of the world is art. Consider how a new song can make a routine commute seem fresh again, or an unexpected piece of public art can transform a familiar city or landscape. Art has the power to make us reassess our surroundings and experience them like new again. It can also be the stimulus that makes us reassess our assumptions and see the familiar in a new light. This is why art is such an essential part of a full life experience. It alters and enriches daily experiences and offers an alternative to monotony. In a Big Mac world Art provides the nourishment that makes your life feel fuller longer.

So, there you have it. That is one insightful diet book. Thanks Dad!

 

A Fair Experience

It wasn’t raining last Friday, but I was happy to be inside nonetheless for a visit to The Fair. I heard amongst the chatter that it had been much busier for Thursday’s opening reception. I imagine the vibe then was probably very different from the very easygoing experience I had strolling amid scattered clusters of visitors. The chilled out tone on Friday suited me just fine and the intimate gathering encouraged conversation and mingling. I definitely enjoyed my visit. The collaborative atmosphere was strong and the resulting show was refreshing and adventurous. It was community at its best.

The 18 galleries were actually hotel suites and moving through the exhibits felt, at times, like being at a house party – navigating though spaces that felt rather private and piecing together the random conversations and goings-on in each room – the occasional unruly drunk speaking way too loudly in the hallways. The show did not have the same cohesion that an orchestrated show at a single gallery typically has, but rather took on the characteristic of variety that one would associate with a fair. Combining several curatorial visions resulted in diverse expressions throughout the rooms. Each exhibit set it’s own mood complemented by the people who maneuvered together around beds, and side tables to take it all in.

The Fair included some very compelling installations as well as great people watching opportunities. Using hotel rooms as Gallery space poses a series of challenges outside of the traditional gallery installation. Each exhibitor rose to the challenge to create a very interesting art show experience. Some rooms were stripped bare of the traditional hotel room trappings to make room for the artwork. Others crammed every inch of the room with artwork making use of the bed, nightstands, walls, and closets. Much like you can stumble or stroll into a room at that house party and never be certain what you’ll find behind the door so it was to find artwork hiding in the least likely places throughout The Fair.

I love when art encourages its audience to be more than just a viewer. I believe one very effective way to do this is to encourage bad behavior. Consider the notorious irresistibility of a host’s medicine cabinet at a dinner party. There is a certain thrill to snooping and – just as we might explore a cabinet of pills and creams and unmentionables – this was an event where snooping was rewarded. If you were brave enough to peek into a shower, behind a door, or into a drawer there were never ending surprises to unearth. This structure, or lack thereof, provided the opportunity for each visitor to create his or her own unique experience and was very engaging.

Based on the quality of the artwork and teamwork involved, I applaud the team of planners, exhibitors, and artists who came together to stage such a successful event.

Please, keep encouraging this excellent bad behaviour!

Visit The Fair (June 2-5)

This week marks the inaugural International Contemporary Art Fair in Vancouver. Simply called, The Fair, this event will be held at the Waldorf Hotel on Hastings Street and brings together 17 local and international exhibitors and the work of over 90 artists.

This is part one of a two-part post. Hopefully you’ll read this in time and get to go and experience the Fair for yourself. If not, I’ll tell you about it later.

I called this the inaugural, but the truth is I don’t know for sure whether this will be a recurring event. I certainly hope that this marks the first of many like events in the coming years. If that happens Vancouver could quickly become the City formerly known as No Fun. The Waldorf seems to be stepping up to take the lead in this dance and has quickly become a major arts and culture hub, attracting myriad events to take place each week throughout the building’s many rambling rooms. For example, while I was leaving a talk by Douglas Coupland last week I stumbled into a used record sale that, at 11pm, did not appear to be shutting down anytime soon.

I am excited to see what the contributing galleries will bring to the tables, walls, and probably floors of the Waldorf. This is an awesome opportunity to get out into your community and to put your finger on today’s cultural pulse in Vancouver. You could easily make a night of it by grabbing a bite to eat at one of two restaurants in the building before perusing the Fair for inspiration. And afterwards, drinking out of a coconut while staring at the starry ceiling of the Tiki bar can also be pretty inspiring.

The Fair runs from Thursday June 2 to Sunday June 5. Given the odds that it will probably be raining for at least one of the days, I am sure you will find it warm and friendly inside. Also, the event is free so really there are no excuses. Especially since you could stumble into a record sale on your way home…

Public Dreams is going to be better than ever!

Art, live performance and theatre are essential to any sort of vibrant and cultured city. Sometimes art can be stuffy, populated by wealthy people mingling over canapes and wine as they take in the latest abstract work of art on show at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Other types of art and performance are more populist. They feature street performers and costumes. One of my all time favorite memories surrounds the Parade of Lost Souls and the Illuminares Festival put on by the Public Dreams Society.

Parade of Lost Souls attracts thousands of people every year to Commercial Drive. In the old days (ie. pre 2009) the drive was jammed with thousands of ghosts, ghouls, superheros, upaloopas – you name it. In the backyards around the area, neighbors set up puppetry shows and shadow puppets. Grandview Park, long the refuge of the random, was Ground Zero of it all.

Illuminares is another massive festival that’s at the heart of Vancouver’s popular culture. Two years ago, a group of friends and I constructed a nifty little lantern with candles, paper and toothpicks. We descended on Trout Lake park and joined thousands of other lantern-goers.  Flickers of candles everywhere. Giant lantern boats bobbing in the lake. That night brought lightning and then drizzles of rain. The distant sound of drums made the whole environment epically mystical. I won’t forget it.

Recent years haven’t been incredibly kind to the Public Dream Society. It cancelled the 2009 Parade of Lost Souls and scaled it back last year. Illuminares was cancelled in 2008, and last year was moved into an indoor venue, at W2, from its longterm site at Trout Lake, due in part to gaming-grant cuts from the provincial government.

Fortunately there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Yesterday, Karo Kaus, run by branding agency, Karo Group donated $50,000 for a re-branding of the society. With re-branding, I’m hopeful the vision and scope of such an amazing Society will be renewed.  Here’s why I’m hopeful:

Public Dreams Society is the fourth recipient of Vancouver Karo Kaus. Past winners include Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) where Karo was able to help them and boost ticket revenue by 40 per cent in 2010 and secure their first-ever season sponsor for 2011. That’s impressive. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that with the help of the re-brand, Public Dreams will be back and better than ever this summer and fall!

Hungry for Community? eatART!

The Mondo Spider in all its community-building glory

The Mondo Spider in all its community-building glory

Thanks mostly to dumb luck, I have become responsible for the publicity of an art project called the Mondo Spider, made by a foundation called eatART, during a sporting event called the Olympics. The Mondo Spider is a giant (8×8-foot) steel robot spider. It’s currently being upgraded to electric power, making it the world’s first zero-emissions walking vehicle. And it represents one of the most interesting communities I’ve ever come across.

Allow me to provide a little background.

In 2005, a crew of masochistic young engineers participated in the Vancouver Junkyard Wars. Tasked with building a walking machine, they created a pared-down version of the spider. They also created a monster. The Mondo Spider, Badass Steel Edition, would consume the next year of their lives. By August of 2006, the beast was ready to lurch and stomp its way to international notoriety.

Daisy, the Solar-Powered Tricycle

Daisy, the Solar-Powered Tricycle

From there it was an easy jump to formalizing the group that had quickly and passionately galvanized around the spider. “Basically,” explains co-creator and eatART director Jonathan Tippet, “you had a bunch of people interested in art, Burning Man, and parties, and a bunch of professionals itching to make large-scale, audacious sculpture. Both groups had waaaaay too much energy.”

eatART, the non-profit art laboratory-come-foundation, was born.

Since then, remarkable growth has occurred. eatART became a registered formal entity in 2008. Its artistic endeavors have included ContainR, a solar-paneled mobile cinema (recently on display in front of the Vancouver Public Library); a partnership with Daisy, the solar-paneled tricycle; 3E-ROI, an 80-foot long helix curve tracing evolution in terms of culture and technology; and a part in the Gramorail project, building pedal-powered vehicles for display on Vancouver’s disused railway lines.

Perhaps most importantly for eatART’s longevity, it also found a home.

The eatART laboratory on the Great Northern Way Campus is an indication of how this community functions. The day I visit – which, I’m assured, is A-typical – I am made party to a strategic communications meeting, the constant shriek of welding and metal-grinding, the taping of a television interview with BCIT Magazine, and Tippet, launching himself around the room in a hammock hung from a heavy-duty crane. The group moves from focused professionalism to hearty laughter and back again effortlessly, and the cluttered, vibrant lab space feels like your parents’ rec room and a boardroom all at once.

3E-ROI basks in the Nevada sunset

3E-ROI basks in the Nevada sunset

What I like the most about the work I do for eatART is being affiliated with eatART. Let’s face it – these guys are cool. They’ve taken some seemingly unrelated threads – Art! Technology! Engineering! Environmental activism! Hammocks! Cranes! – and tied them into a package worth marveling at.

A moving spider the size of Honda Civic; a shipping container housing a movie theater, powered by the sun; a stunningly beautiful conceptual piece celebrating the potential of technology… all built and exhibited in hopes of inspiring responsible energy use.

These are not your average art pieces, nor your average artists. This is, however, one radical and above-average community.

eatART is hosting a fundraiser and unveiling its Zero Emissions Mondo Spider on Saturday, January 16. Come on down to 577 Great Northern Way to witness history. Admission by donation. More details are available at www.eatart.org.

Rain Doesn’t Keep Culture Crawlers Away

Birds by my friend Esther Rausenberg

Birds by my friend Esther Rausenberg

This weekend, thousands of people trooped out into the pouring and sometimes misting rain of the West Coast to take part in the East Vancouver Culture Crawl.

All types of art adorns the studios and galleries of the Art Crawl!

All types of art adorns the studios and galleries of the Art Crawl!

The Gumboot Team donned our gumboots on Saturday and headed out into the fray to rally at Uprising Bakery on Venables, before heading out on the crawl with a posse ( an art-enthusiast posse) to the Parker St galleries and studios located smack dab in the industrial zone west of Commercial. There we visited dozens (literally dozens!) of little studios taking in more art in a couple hours than your’s truly does the rest of the year put together.

If you’ve never taken part in the crawl, consider doing it next year. It’s free, it’s chill and it’s a terrific way of exploring all the amazing offerings of the region’s local artists, printers, sculptures, 3D digital artists, furniture makers, wood carvers, etc all in one go.

Each year I’m surprised at just how jam-packed our area (ie. Grandview Woodlands and Strathcona) is with little studios and galleries. It’s inspiring to see the breadth of the city’s artistic community, seemingly hidden in our own midst.

Crawlin' around the map

Crawlin' around the map

Artists and Vandals in East Vancouver

This weekend, art enthusiasts will flock to the streets of East Vancouver to admire, appreciate and analyze the best that our community has to offer. The East Vancouver Culture Crawl gives local artists the opportunity to strut their stuff and show the world their art, their passion, their talent. The mediums are as diverse as the perspectives, ranging from painters to jewelers to sculptors to furniture makers; from printmakers to weavers to potters to glassblowers. Being allowed into the inner sanctuary of an artist’s studio – often their home – can’t help but create a sense of intimacy with the artist. This is where the emotional and intellectual threads were weaved into the tangible fabrics we see before us.

The myriad forms and mediums of art beg the question – what defines art? If it is not produced by an established ‘artist’ in an established studio space with an established medium, is it art?  The nature of art has been described by Richard Wollheim as “one of the most elusive of the traditional problems of human culture”. Different viewpoints have been proposed to tackle this difficult question – realists will say art is not art unless it has aesthetic quality that has value independent of subjective opinion, while relativists will say there is no absolute value to art, and it depends on and varies with the human experience by different humans.

Graffiti in Tehran, Iran

Graffiti in Tehran, Iran: Artistic Expression or Vandalism?

There is no better example to illustrate this divide than graffiti (fun fact: did you know that the singular form of graffiti is graffito?). Graffiti has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The earliest forms date back to 30,000 BCE in the form of prehistoric cave paintings using tools such as animal bones and pigments. The ancient Romans carved graffiti on walls and monuments. More recent forms of graffiti have been used to convey political or social commentary – in 1970s, the hostility of American youth culture was conveyed through popular graffiti stating “Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You”. The Israeli West Bank barrier has become a site for graffiti, as was the Berlin wall decades before. In Vancouver, graffiti has been used to beautify aesthetically unappealing concrete buildings through the East Vancouver Mural Project.

If the point of art is to express oneself, and the value of “art” is subjectively defined, who are we to say whether these expressions are considered art? One reason, which you’ve probably all thought of my now, is if this ‘art’ was done on property without the owner’s consent – this, my friends, is what you’d call vandalism.

Equitable opportunities for artists?

Equitable opportunities for artists?

Now. One could stop there and renounce vandalism as a criminal act and call it a day. And certainly, situations like this do exist – take the group of teenagers I saw defacing the building across the street from my apartment the other day, who had no other purpose but to destroy property. But what about those artists out there who do not have the luxury of a studio, a canvas, or a camera? Who resort to doing their art on city walls and streets because they have an artists’ compulsion to express oneself but not the means?

 In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a project entitled ‘Out of the Rain’ attempts to provide these means. Out of the Rain supports artists who face challenges to maintaining regular art practice. Artists are provided with art supplies and a street level art studio to make their work.  Many cities also provided designated space for graffiti art. If art is to be considered an equitable endeavor, subjectively defined and open to all who wish to express themselves, then space and opportunity needs to be given to all artists within our community.