Green Fools – Once Upon and Atom Bomb

A sketch I did after seeing Once Upon an Atom Bomb over a <a href="">hubble image</a>.

There were two shows I really wanted to see this weekend – one was Race (Ground Zero / Hit and Myth), which didn’t happen, and the other was Once Upon an Atom Bomb by Jennie Esdale, Eric Rose, and David Rhymer. That one I did make it to (and I ran into Jenna Shummoogum, who has reviewed it here).

I really liked the show overall. The projections were absolute fantastic. They didn’t seem gimmicky, just magical. The only time they didn’t quite work for me was when the projections were on a curtain in front of the stage – I was at a bit of an oblique angle, so the folds in the curtain made it difficult to read (in some cases) and see what was going on when the projection was on  the curtain. But the projection mapping on the main set – which was kind of shaped like a vortex – was absolutely fantastic. There was one part where a black hole sucked up a house, and the projection mapping on the different parts of the set was amazing for that particularly. There was also some projection mapping in a puppet sequence that was also fantastic.

Vanessa Sabourin shone as a few characters, primarily Emily (I think), with Jed Tomlinson doing some awesome costume and puppet work which was the perfect mix of childlike and creepy. I also liked how the music (which Sabourin sang very well) was woven into the story. It was very engaging throughout and I liked the journey we took through the psyche of this little girl, and how it was connection to the setting, 1950’s America during bomb raid drills. Emily’s mother is a nuclear physicist and her father is a military man, but her home life explodes right during this time, when the world could have been expected to explode.

I also liked how hints of science came into the storyline. I am fascinated cosmology, and big bang cosmology has a lot to do with nuclear physics

Death of the Freak Show – Swallow a Bicycle

Image courtesy Swallow-a-Bicycled Theatre

This High Performance Rodeo, I made it to one non-Lunchbox (Lunchbox is my employer – I’m their marketing manager) rodeo event today! It was Swallow-a-Bicycle’s Death of the Freak Show, which is part of their Site Specific Spectacular series. It was in the EPCOR Centre, and the show was basically split around the building. It consisted of sort of skits throughout the building, and the audience was variably part of the conceit as an audience, and not. This is going to get formal though.

Firstly, some non-formal impressions. Overall, I was entertained, and the story was engaging, even though I felt a bit confrontational with the story to begin with. I find I do feel confrontational with theatre that I am very up close to at first, maybe because I’m physically a part of the story, so if there’s a confrontational situation going on, I feel like I am ‘against’ the characters. And since storytelling normally involves a confrontation, that is basically always a problem. I saw Freak Show last year, the sex-themed one, which was probably not a good choice, it ended up being really awkward. And I feel awkward often enough that it’s not a transgressive theatre experience. This year was not primarily sex-themed which decreased the awkward factor a lot.

On to my formal comments. My main thought about the show was that the fourth wall was still totally there. I think the easiest, broadest comparison to the format of Death of the Freak Show is that it follows the format of a haunted house. And like a haunted house, sometimes you are there, there’s an audience acknowledged in the scene, and sometimes not; you’re able to observe, but like a normal play, there is no audience in the context of the story. This presented a real problem for me because it made it still very much a theatre-audience experience. I never was able to either be myself within the context of the play, or be a real part of the play, or not be really, really aware the theatre is happening. Basically, the fourth wall was really still there, even when actors were directly interacting with you, which happened maybe once. And apparently, when the fourth wall is six inches from you, it is really, really obvious.

I was comparing this experience to performance art, which I think could be a really useful reference point. The nice thing about performance art is you aren’t sandwiched in several realities you have to keep track of. In the site specific spectacular, there’s the reality in which you are you, the reality of the show when you aren’t there, and the reality of the show when you are there as an audience, in which you take on several roles (freak show attendee and medical student, for example). I found that pretty distracting, because instead of making the theatre part of life, it just collapsed the distance. Since in performance art, your role is an artgoer seeing some performance art, you still have all of your personal assumptions to be transgressed, but there’s no cognitive dissonance between the artist, who is playing a specific role but is still themselves, and you, who are essentially doing the same thing. I would be really interested to see site-specific, interactive theatre where it’s more integrated into your actual reality and you don’t have this odd separation from people. Where the roles the actors are playing are more integrated with who they are and where everyone is. I think it would be a lot easier to get lost in it.

And that’s really the key thing I found. I could not get lost in it. I can get lost in performance art, and I can get lost in conventional theatre, and I am sure it would be possible for me to get lost in interactive / site-specific /  theatre that is closer to a story that really blurs the boundaries between life and art and gets you in it, but the experience at the site-specific-spectacular then becomes weirdly confrontational.

Separation Point (art review)

Sean Caulfield and Royden Mills. Source: The New Gallery

Full disclosure: I’m on the board of The New Gallery

Separation Point opened a little while ago at The New Gallery. It’s the work of Sean Caulfied and Royden Mills, and builds on previous work they’ve collarated on before, some of which was shown in the Perceptions of Promise exhibition at the Glenbow last year.

I really like art along this line, which is dealing with scientific topics – or rather, scientific epistemology, so I liked seeing the work at the Glenbow and I’m glad to see this work as well (different works but they’re in the same vein). The works are Caulfied’s arcane biological drawings of fictional flora and fauna, and Mills’ arcane sculptures that become the lab equipment used to study the drawings. I like the contrast between the delicacy of the drawings and the potentially brutal quality of the sculpture –  it’s the sort of lab equipment where you might be scared about what it could do to you.

I do find it interesting that the equipment is studying the drawings – the drawings aren’t the result of scientific inquiry, they are the subject of it, as if they are the animals and plants they depict.

Check the show out!

PechaKucha #9: Verge

A couple weeks ago I went to PechaKucha Night Calgary #9: Verge. I’m going to give you a rundown on the things that really excited me during the talks:

Jasmine Antonick of Beakerhead

I am really excited for Beakerhead. I love projects that bring arts and science together; in the past few years I’ve become more and more interested in science as another way (like the arts) to have my mind blown. Now I just need a project! Engineers, let me know if you have room for an artist.

Arts Factory and King Edward School

Reid Henry from CADA and Stephen Schroeder from Calgary Arts Factory spoke on the King Edward School project and Arts Factory. Both are projects to create more arts space, both exhibition, workspace and workshops. I am very excited because there’s such a lack of workshop space in Calgary, and I really miss having a shop. I’m also excited about the opportunity for skill-sharing between arts disciplines in Calgary and the idea of a materials bank in the Arts Factory.

Dr Paul Fedak

I love learning about totally on the edge medicine. It’s so fascinating! I hear about a lot of this sort of thing (including HeLa) via the amazing Radiolab, which if you don’t listen to, do.  I had seen Anthony Atala’s TEDMED 2009 talk on the subject of regenerative medicine, and it’s just absolutely mindboggling, so it was realy exciting to see a Calgarian talk about the work he’d doing in the feel.

All in all a really good PechaKucha.

Ghost River Theatre’s Reverie

Ghost River Theatre’s Reverie was all that it promised to be in the first act. The music was amazing throughout; I’d totally get the album. And the style of the production worked well with the minimal storytelling during the first act. The concept was fully explored and there was the right amount of exposition. You knew what was going on but you weren’t having your hand held. it really brought the seriousness of what’s gone down in the middle east home; it made it something that could happen here and was very poignant given the recent election and how that made me, at least, feel. The special projection equipment totally shone in how they used it to create effects like an elevator ride and a night out drinking in the city. I also loved the way it was totally obvious that the show was set in a contemporary Canadian city but you were left to decide which one. The acting was great, particularly by

Unfortunately, the second act didn’t come together as successfully. It felt like a lot if exposition rather than exploration of the ideas. The structure of what did happen in the second act, story-wise, was kind of confusing. However, I’m so not a fan of dystopian fiction of almost any kind (I had to read Brave New World in University and almost gouged out my eyes in frustration), so I am pretty biased.

The technical awesomeness – a huge part of the choreography was how everything worked with video projections on moving screens – was absolutely mindblowing and wonderfully integrated into the show. And the music was absolute fabulous. I hope you caught Reverie!

Absurdesque (& 2011 Rodeo Wrap Up)

I got to see Absurdesque on Sunday! (I love my new theatre job!) I’ve had a really great time at the High Performance Rodeo this year and since I’ve been remiss in blogging about any of it, I thought I’d do a round up.

I went to: Swallow-a-Bicycle’s Freak Show (Thurs Jan 6), Compagnie Drift’s Soundmachine (Thurs Jan 20) and Theatrelabor’s Absurdesque (Sun Jan 30). I really wanted to see Catalyst Theatre’s Nevermore (which is of course still possible — and happened and I’ll post about it) and Snowblower, which I missed because it was cold that week and I’d frozen myself easrlier that week for DemoCamp and didn’t want to do it again.

I liked that Freak Show was both performance art and theatre at the same time. In some ways the tone wasn’t completely my bag … sometimes I found it sort of silly-sexual and I go in for absurd more than silly. But it was a really interesting format and I loved the use of the bowels of the EPCOR Centre for the tour. The first skit-tableau we saw was a “tribulations of pregnancy’ skit and I thought that was really entertaining. I also liked the Alice In Wonderland monologue (love Alice In Wonderland). I was there alone but with a group of friends I think it would be really hilarious and would love to see more theatre in this format.

Photo: Compagnie Drift / High Performance Rodeo

I was really glad I got to see Soundmachine. I thought the idea of “hearing the unhearable” but sometimes I thought the sounds weren’t … investigating the meaning of what they might be hearing? You know? So that became hard to get out of it and it was sort of whimsical experimentation with sound instead of hearing the unhearable. It was still really fun though, and the singing techniques and live sound mixing with recorded instrumentals were quite interesting. I also loved the singing and wished I understood the French. Another reason I may have not been as impressed by the connections between the sounds and the “unhearable” is that I had recently been listening to a Radiolab episode mentioning that people had recorded what sounds the electrical activity in mice brains make. Which really is sort of hearing the normally unhearable, and is awfully hard to follow with made up sounds.

Last Sunday I went to Absurdesque, by Theatrelabor.  I like shows like this that are hard to follow, though I haven’t seen a lot of classic absurd theatre. I think one of my favourite sections of Absurdesque was when one of the actors got on the table and was reciting what sounds like something from a theatre textbook on absurd theatre. It’s always interesting as you’re watching absurd theatre to navigate between how your life is absurd and then back to life being not absurd, really. It’s absurd but only to a certain extent. And so I think I find it … poignant, but also absurd and funny in and of itself.

I did end up getting to see Nevermore! I loved it and am planning to post about it later today.

Wine With Art Jan 2011: Sandra Vida on Clive Robertson’s Then + Then Again

I’ve been having a bit of trouble with Clive Robertson’s Then + Then  Again at The New Gallery. The show is a retrospective of Robertson’s work in artist-run culture, much of it in Calgary, and it’s presented through foam-core mounted info-blocks and recorded materials. Documentation. Of course I wasn’t in Calgary’s art scene for any of the actual events, so for me it’s hard to take in as an art show. I can’t read all the panels or watch/listen to all the work.

It’s not that I don’t accept documentation as art, but I think this exhibition is presented more on the side of documentation than documentation-as-art. You really do need to read all of the text to know what’s going on. It’s a self-history more than documentation of a process or performance-based work.

That said, I think I have found the way to enjoy the exhibition: go to the talks. I went to an opening night talk where Robertson spoke, and the talk tonight with Sandra Vida. As someone who is very badly versed in Calgary’s ARC history, it’s been a wonderful crash course that you can’t get from the exhibition itself because the exhibition doesn’t have the side stories or the evident rivalries. At the talks, usually there were one or two people in attendance who were also part of Calgary’s ARC culture when it was nascent, and the back-and-forth and extra tidbits were amazing. That’s what you really need to see and what really can get you energized about ARC culture in Calgary and making sure it keeps happening (not that there’s danger of the ARCs here falling off the planet) and what makes one want to be involved up to your eyeballs. Must get on that.

[The video is a trailer from when the exhibition was mounted in 2007 at several galleries in eastern Canada]

CivicCamp3D and #yycdata

I have another post in the works but I was just at this so I thought I should attempt to work with the momentum.

Today I went to my first CivicCamp! It was very exciting, and I’m really glad that the Getting-Things-Done experts in that organization can be available to offer advice. That’s where ideas I have fall apart; I’m just never sure how to spread the idea and get others to help me. I have a project I want to get going which would be an occasional space / time for artists to test their works in progress (it was inspired by the Calgary Science Centre‘s Prototypers — how had I not found their blog before?!). I haven’t done a good job of getting it off the ground because I don’t really know where to start and then I don’t try the things that may or may not work. I’m hoping to set that aside and just bite the bullet and start getting it out. Let me know if you want more info or have suggestions for me or are interested in the idea!

It was really great to see Nenshi come and give us a pep talk and let us know that there will be civic engagement fairs (online and in person) in January (I think?). That will be really awesome (and help with the homework he gaves us, which was to get someone who’s not engaged with city life engaged).

I went to the Open Data breakout group lead by Grant Neufeld with Shawn Kao, Mark Zaugg, Kirsten YB, and a few others (if you were there let me know how to get in touch now!). We had a great discussion about what needs to be done — continued support and use of the open data provided as well as demanding more and liasing with the City as well as citizens on the topic. After CivicCamp3D, I did manage to go to the Open Data Day Hackathon (see #yycdata). Lots of use were not programmers — in which I guess I include myself with my patchwork of skills / background.The crowd was different at the afternoon session as it had been disseminated previously in general but most of the people in the discussion group couldn’t stick around.

I chose the open data group because I think the possibilities for creating art experiences that can transform how Calgarians understand the city would be really supported by artists having access to live, open data about the city. What we have right now — mostly maps or parks and stuff and bus schedules — isn’t particularly inspiring, but when we have another layer to mash, it’ll be great. We could also use unofficial data to start off with. Here’s the current selection

The discussion was great, gave me a lot more detail about the issues and the reasons we have the data we have. We talked about some of the apps we wanted to see — particularly Art Proctor‘s Arts & Culture app was discussed at length and made into a subgroup, and a “Why isn’t my street ploughed” app was discussed. We all committed to coming up with app ideas on #yycdata.

My initial idea was a “Will I miss my bus” app. DJ Kelly pointed out that we need the GPS system that’s coming to the buses before we can really do it, which is true, but I was thinking of implementing it using the GPS / locational info from the phone. Obviously it wouldn’t be as accurate as it will be with the real data, but given your current location, would it be possible to guess a likely current route the rider’s on (and allow them to choose if there’s many possibilities, which would be likely), use expected stop time / trip time from time point to time point, and the expected departure times of the connecting bus (which the rider would need to pick, or a set of connecting routes they could use), and then see if they’ll make any of the connections.

… Then again it might be simpler to wait until the GPSes are on the buses, but I’m not sure how long that would take.

There are some links and resources I’ll be looking at while I’m finalizing the rest of my ideas (I had a few other inklings):

Another idea would be to mash up the restaurant inspection sites with a map of the city and urban spoon reviews (which wouldn’t require the data that’s really been released), and maybe an app for donating to charities that help the homeless in the city whenever you walk by someone panhandling? That would not require any data at all, really. If it exists already let me know!

Also, I found some experimentation sites and tools for creating mobile and web apps. Some of these are more advanced than others:

Note about linking: I decided to link mostly to twitter accounts because looking at websites, some were election-based and some were pretty far out of date, so I thought twitter accounts were more relevant.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

On Friday October 25 I was lucky enough to go to a performance by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet at Theatre Junction Grande. It was part of the Fluid Movement Arts Festival and I co-curated one of the other events, Spark, so I got some comp tickets. The show was absolutely amazing! I don’t see a lot of contemporary dance, so one of the great things about being involved in the Fluid Fest was getting exposure to an artform I don’t see much of. Now that I’ve seen Cedar Lake, I’ll have to see more dance events in Calgary. Especially ones showing work by such cutting edge choreographers.

The show had three pieces / acts:  Sunday Again choreographed by Jo Stromgren, Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue choreographed by Crystal Pite, and Frame of View choreographed by Didy Veldman.

Photo Credit (Sunday, Again):

From the chats I’ve had with people since seeing the works, it seems like most people were drawn to Crystal Pite’s work, which was really emotionally moving. However, I think my favourite piece was  Stromgren’s Sunday Again. It was kind of opaque in what was going on, and there seemed to be many layers of complicated narrative that were partially made clear. I like that kind of thing, so I was drawn to the puzzle and the possibility inherent in the lack of explicitness in the scope of what Stromgren was trying to communicate. I think that was really intentional; it was kind of like Last Year At Marienbad for me, and that’s my favourite film. The dancing was gorgeous and the set and costumes were varied but very reduced, which allowed for some of the fluidity in exactly what may have been happening.

The music was all Bach, and there was a great variety of pieces used. The choreography was very contemporary it seemed to me, so that was both a nice contrast and worked well together because the choreography was very aristocratic and had varying serious and very playful parts, and it explored the odd, constructed reality of a tennis club that was infused with Bach. Not that they listed to Bach, it was just like the medium of their life.

The other pieces were very striking too. All in all an amazing evening, especially as I got to catch the Artist Talk with Benoit-Swan Pouffer!

Robyn Moody on “Life in the 2 Field” at Truck Contemporary Art

Last Thursday I attended a talk at Truck Contemporary Art. Robyn Moody spoke about his exhibition, Life in the 2 Field. He talked about his other work as well and then moved on to addressing this exhibition. The exhibition puts the gallery space into the “2 field”, which is an animation term for a drawing surface that’s much smaller than normal so that when it’s projected, all the mistakes of millimeters from one frame to another are amplified, and so the wines are wavy and shakey. The gallery space is outlined with black cords that vibrate and there are two windows which frame moving scenes. If you are viewing the windows straight on, the scene is complete, but you can easily see how everything is moving (all of the motors are visible), and if you move at all the picture in the window breaks.

Life in the 2 Field, Robyn Moody

Photo Credit: Robyn Moody

It was really interesting because my experience of the exhibition was dominated by one specific sensation that has a lot to do with how I’m hardwired, not just the exhibition. I am fairly high strung, and I tremble a fair amount. So the constant movement of the dark lines on the white walls of the gallery was too much for me — it was like the room was vibrating at the same frequency as me, and that the harmonics were going to make me explode or something. It was really unsettling and the only way I could ignore it and spend time in the show was to pay attention to the motors and the workings of the show. They were interesting, and their movement wasn’t overwhelming — it was logical.

Why I find this so interesting is what Moody was saying about what it the show meant. He conceptualized the “2 field” as a sort of magical world where we can believe what we want to believe, but the workings are obvious for the sufficiently curious.  He did this because he sees the world going into a new dark age of human thought where we just believe thing and critical thinking is decreased (His reference was Jane Jacobs’ A Dark Age Ahead). He cited ideas like homeopaths as an example of the uncritical view that bothers him.

Why I find this so interesting is because my reaction is basically opposite to how the show’s supposed to function. I don’t think this means the work is unsuccessful and I think it could be successful for someone who’s less tightly wound. Also it does sounds nice, the fun wavy lines, the room breaking free of its arbitrary bonds of space and logic and dancing. But I was basically looking at the logical inner workings because they were logical and didn’t move around on me so much. They were quieter and easier to deal with; the “fun, exciting, magical” movement was just bordering on the harrowing for me, something to studiously avoid if possible.

That was basically one of the main reasons I wanted to go the artist talk — I knew that my perception of the show had been very much shaped by me, and wanted to get an idea of what it was like for other people. I chatted with an infant speech researcher, Stephanie Archer, after the talk, and she was saying she has the same problem when there are more than 2 sounds on in a room. So maybe my being more of a spatial thinker made the visual movement and cacaphony more of any issue. It’s also interesting because the movement makes a huge difference. Busy and strange static images have never made me feel like that.