Well not really, because the new exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts labelled ONCE UPON A TIME… IMPRESSIONNISM, contrary to the title, is not just another well-known impressionist hullabaloo designed to attract large crowds looking for pretty pictures of Paris and Parisians, there are a few academic and modern pieces in there also.

The pieces on display are from Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown Massachusetts, and were privately collected by Robert Sterling Clark heir to Singer sewing machine fortune. Mr Clark had a good eye, and certainly had the means to acquire such collection. However, as many a time prior, a private collection fails to display the strength of a movement, no matter how high in volume are the pieces.

In most cases the paintings are mundane examples, and there is only Degas’ Little Dancer to represent the sculpture medium, and yet that particular work might not be an original as the Little Dancer has many copies all over the world in many museums and collections, so one is forced to gauge the worth of this exhibition by paintings.

Try as I may, I can only single out three paintings worth mentioning, and all three are substandard works by the artists who painted them, nevertheless due to the importance of the artists and the significance of their other work within art history, I am compelled to proceed with descriptions that are at best conditional.

The Bath by Berthe Morisot painted in 1885-86 is a later exhibited work, yet one of the more important impressionist works on display due to the fact that Morisot had been exhibiting with the Impressionists from the start. “Societe anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs, etc” which is now known as the First Impressionist Exhibition included nine pieces by Morisot which were oils, watercolours, and pastels. Morisot sought to tell a story through her art be they comments on the progression of artistic styles or social norms imposed on women in particular, portraying them in private quarters which was not done by other artists with such empathy.

The social conventions existing in 19th century frowned upon women undertaking professions deemed unsuitable like oil painting; however Morisot through perseverance and dedication managed to pursue her choice in the arts amidst a wave of discouragement. Being a professional artist was seen as a masculine profession, and some women were ridiculed and labelled as “not true women” for pursuing such activities, in some cases masculine adjectives were given to women artists and writers.

A popular caricature at the time showed the horrified spectators at an all women exhibition in 1880s sighing disgusted, whilst in the background proper, suitable women were being escorted by their male companions. It was regarded as necessary for women of certain class with well to do upbringing to be escorted out by men or chaperones. The Ecole des Beaux Arts, the sate art school did not accept female students until 1897 and only then because of much appeals and numerous petitions put forward by women artists.

In 1867, when copying a Rubens with her friend Rosalie Riesener, Morisot came to meet Edouard Manet. Manet was an older painter of a somewhat wild reputation, especially after his much scorned entry to 1865 Salon “Olympia”. Manet, like Morisot, came from an upper middle class background and soon befriended Morisot and her family.

This brings us to the second piece in the exhibition which is worth seeing: Moss Roses in a Vase by Manet painted in 1882. Manet painted almost exclusively flowers toward the end of his life, and these small paintings can be seen as an old man not being able to undertake monumental work, or as I see them Manet’s realization of his own mortality.

Cut flowers have a short life span, they wither and die, and so does man. What Manet seems to be doing is trying to give us art that defies death and mortality. He seems to want us see his life in those flowers, and as a keepsake we are left with his creativity and ideas.

Final piece you should see, being an offensive culprit of the misogynistic, racist art of the 19th century is: The Slave Market painted in 1866 by Jean-Léon Gérôme. This painting embodies the qualities that gave rise to feminism in art, and the reason why Modernism set to destroy academic painting. It approaches art with such ignorant, male dominated manner that I really cannot see anyone not be offended by it in this day and age.

First of all it is a nude, but nothing like Manet’s Olympia. This nude is a slave, painted bare for your lustful gaze, and if you had any doubts about that do not worry because she is not confronting you at all, she is lost in trance, almost drunkenly looking at her new master checking her teeth like a horse.

You have the best seat in the house, because you get a sneak peek at her for free, and you don’t even have to buy anything so your conscience is clean. And those men selling her and buying her are all from another, distant, exotic land. Of course they are savages you tell your wife, but you praise the artist for his immaculate brushstrokes. If there was ever any uncertainty that the majority of academic paintings from those periods were done for the male gaze, this work with one gesture proves the sceptics wrong.

 

ONCE UPON A TIME… IMPRESSIONNISM will be at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until January 20, 2013.

The Montreal based artist and filmmaker Payam Mofidi is having a solo exhibition in Tehran’s trendy Assar Art Gallery. The exhibition has been titled “Destroyed Memories” which evokes a feeling of imminent nostalgia for the audiences, and indeed that is the intent of the artist.

The mixed media paintings are reminiscent of pre-revolution photographs and artwork plays around with people, disfiguring and visually manipulating. There are no recognizable faces or events in history here, however the work triggers a sense of remembrance and familiarity of a bygone era which is not unique to the Persian viewer, undeniably these work are universally decipherable.

Even the most savant art follower might question the reason behind such utterly contemporary work being allowed in one of the most closed off capitals at a time when the country is fast becoming more and more isolated from the rest of the world due to political and economic pressures exerted by the west?

A few months ago Iran decided to exhibit the biggest Modern and Contemporary art collection outside of Europe and North America, which they had inherited from the dethroned Queen Farah Pahlavi after the 1979 revolution. This art collection which the Queen had started to accumulate during the reign of Shah contains some of the most spectacular work by artists like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Edvard Munch and René Magritte.

If you think the irony and the political message of a row of Andy Warhol’s multi-coloured Chairman Mao being exhibited publicly by the Islamic Republic is lost to this observer then I am sorry to disappoint you. Iran is setting itself up as a place for art, and whilst other aspects of the system and culture are being oppressed, visual arts is flourishing, and this certainly gives an image of Iran as a progressive player in the region to be reckoned with, not to mention appealing to supporting forces like China and Russia.

Nevertheless, regardless of political games being played, visual arts having the freedom they have acquired in Iran is a step forward for the many exceptional artists working in and out of the country, and I see any exchanges with the west a hopeful and positive move which then can be built on for all of our sakes.  

“Destroyed Memories” by Payam Mofidi plays with the notion of nostalgic musing and these images are violent, disturbing and grief-stricken, however the way they are painted and the coloring used defy nightmarish feelings one might expect before confronted with the work. They are gentle, soothing and engaging, for they make you delve deeper into your unconscious and find your own memories which you had disregarded.

Memory is a delicate, elusive component of our psyche, yet even though they might seem ephemeral they are set in stone so to speak, for we repress them and they only resurface when we are faced with a trigger. Destroyed is a term that can be seen as tongue-in-cheek because no memory is shattered, they exist in the cavernous dark corners of our mind and they affect our day to day conducts.

Through evolution the human brain has created some sort of defence mechanism to combat the psychological damages we might endure in the event of an unforeseeable experience, and that is the repressed memories. However, this mechanism is not exclusive to bad experiences; it deals with other intense, unsettling matters the same way. We do repress love, passion, sex, beauty and other stimulations that might not sound so destructive, but the point is that these experiences will remain with us whether we are aware of them or not.

When we are faced with a trigger that causes resurfacing of a memory, a profound connection is established and we cannot help feeling inspired, alas with this elevated mood comes a sorrow that can only be explained by our realization at having forsaken those memories. We feel sad because we had ignored our experiences consciously for so long even though they had been in play throughout our lives. Nevertheless we find beauty in those triggers as like an epiphany moment we connect with our surrounding and come out of the cocoon our mind had built, and for me Payam Mofidi’s work do exactly that and I suspect I am not alone.

“Destroyed Memories” will be at Assar Art Gallery Tehran until 24 October, 2012

While hip hop artists have pushed socially conscious messages since the 1980’s, the issue of homophobia in hip hop and rap has been largely ignored—until recently.

One artist who takes issue with homophobia in the genre is Ben Haggerty, a.k.a. Macklemore. In his new song “Same Love,” off the upcoming album “The Heist” co-produced with Ryan Lewis, Macklemore compares homophobia with oppression and human rights abuses. And the issue is one very close to his heart: growing up, he had two gay uncles and spent a great deal of time with the gay community.

The video for the song, produced by Tricia Davis, paints a picture of a teenager suffering from being in the closet in high school, but who grows up to find a loving partner whom he marries and spends the rest of his life with.

Earlier this year, Macklemore’s home state of Washington made same sex marriage legal by enacting the bipartisan Senate Bill 6239, which “would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.”

However, same-sex marriage opponents are hoping to stop these marriages from ever starting by putting the law to a vote this November. Referendum 74, if it fails at the ballot, would send Washington State back to being one which prohibits equal marriage, like most American states. Only six states—Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia and two Native American tribal jurisdiction—allow same sex marriage.

Macklemore, along with a group of artists including the Canadian indie-folk duo Tegan and Sara, has volunteered for a campaign called Music for Marriage Equality, which advocates for a yes vote on Referendum 74.

“[Gay people are] the one group of people that are still okay to oppress on a daily basis in raps and no one really talks about it, and that’s discouraging, and something that needs to change,” said Macklemore on a video posted to the organization’s website.

Homophobic slurs like “faggot” and “gay” run rampant in hip hop, with artists like Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Odd Future’s Tyler the Creator “spitting” them frequently. However as of late, the tide appears to be changing.

Earlier this year when singer-songwriter Frank Ocean said his first love was a man, a huge discussion around homophobia in hip hop began.

Many of the industry’s giants showed support for Ocean through blogs or Twitter, with Nicki Minaj adding that the time is now right for an openly gay rapper to hit the scene.

A new video by California rapper Murs for his song “Animal Style,” shows the rapper playing a gay teen who *spoiler* kills his boy-crush due to the immense societal pressure of coming out of the closet.

“I just felt it was crucial for some of us in the hip hop community to speak up on the issues of teen suicide, bullying, and the overall anti-homosexual sentiment that exist within hip hop culture,” Murs said to the Huffington Post.

“Hip hop is really kind of the anchoring point in our culture for people to commune and talk about certain issues in our society,” said Marc Peters, professor of the class “Hip Hop: Past Present and Future” at Concordia University.

“Hip hop is not all social and political in nature,” Peters adds. “Like all entertainers, there is an element of sheer entertainment involved and that has to be recognized and accepted as well.”

Neither Murs nor Macklemore stick solely to promoting gay rights or even socially conscious messages. For instance, Macklemore’s new song “Thrift Shop” glorifies vintage clothing while Murs brawls with WWE wrestler John Cena in his 2008 video “Hustle.” But being conscious some of the time, at least, can be beneficial to the youth that are influenced by these artists.

“I’m just gonna freestyle and spit what’s in my gut, and if you want to you can go and label me ‘conscious’, but just remember there’s a kid at the bus stop beat boxing, whose life will be affected by what he hears in his walkman,” Macklemore raps in his song “I Said Hey”.

And it might also affect the outcome of a referendum.

Macklemore will hold an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit this Monday Oct. 8 at 8:00 AM PST where he will answer questions from the public.

*Photo of Ocean by activioslo via Flickr.

At Guggenheim New York next week there will be a reading of the infamous Picasso’s surrealistic play Le Désir attrapé par la queue to coincide with the gallery’s Black and White Exhibition of the artist. The play which will be staged on the 8th and 15th of October is directed by Anne Bogart.

The cast performing includes the writer John Guare, Diana Picasso who is the artist’s granddaughter, and the director of Guggenheim Richard Armstrong as Silence, which is one of many surreal characters like Big Blonde Curtain, Big Foot and Onion.

The play was first premiered at the writer Michel Leiris’ home in Paris in March 1944 and was performed by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Valentine Hugo the artist who was the wife of Jean Hugo the great-grandson of Victor Hugo. The original performance was directed by Albert Camus and featured Picasso himself.

Guggenheim revived the play previously in 1984 with the cast including Louise Bourgeois and the British artist David Hockney, and next week the play will once again be captivating audiences with its hallucinogenic acts and reparative randomness of dialogue. In the second act five pairs of feet outside hotel rooms will be chanting: “My chilblains, My chilblains, My chilblains” before a voice from the stage will be calling: “the dancing shadows of five monkeys eating carrots”.

Picasso has been reported to have composed the play in 1941 during four days of illness which explains the dreamlike sequences of the acts and the non-linear absurdity of the whole thing. Picasso and the Surrealists were contemporary and it is likely that they were influenced by one another.  André Breton the founder of the Surrealist movement even included Picasso in the Surrealist manifestoes of 1924 and 1929.

Picasso was close friends with Guillaume Apollinaire who first mentions the word Surrealism and it is where the movement’s name derives from. He was also friends with the Surrealist poet Paul Eluard in the 30s and even indulged in writing poetry that was influenced by Automatic writing. However, Picasso never saw himself as a surrealist and was always unique in his voice and style, so labelling his work as definitive Surrealism is improper, yet the influences are there and can be explored.

Writing, painting or performing through tapping into the unconscious was a significant method adopted by the Surrealist, and there are evidences of artists and writers reporting and painting their experiences after lack of sleep or when ill. The notion that true clarity can come from the unconscious had routs in the work of Sigmund Freud and the birth of psychotherapy, which André Breton had become familiar with when working during World War I in a neurological ward in Nantes.

Joan Miró wrote about how after being food deprived and failing to sleep for a few days he would see shapes and colour on the ceiling of his bedroom which he then would proceed to draw and paint onto a canvas. Other Surrealist writers and artists speak of similar experiences which then they used as inspiration. When it came to performances, Surrealism had been much influenced by Dada and their hypnotic and nonsensical shows at bars and on stage.

In many ways Picasso’s Le Désir attrapé par la queue can be seen as influenced by these movements, and I see it as homage by the artist, because it is so different from the work Picasso had done and he never pursued it wholeheartedly afterward. Yet its distinctiveness and exceptionality is all there and above all it is fun and entertaining.

Picasso Black and White will be at Guggenheim New York from October 5, 2012 until January 23, 2013


 

Temps D’Ours by Madeleine Zoe and Gabeil Robitail

This week I attended the Cégep de Saint-Laurent’s exhibition of Visual Art students and I was taken aback by the quality of work on display. These young students produced work on par with any University graduate in Montreal and they had clarity of vision and message that was utterly remarkable.

Work ranged from classic painting and collage, installations to conceptual and what gave these students’ work the special touch were the concepts and ideas being communicated. The social and political statements these works make are very current and understandable igniting sparks of inspiration in the viewers.

Some of the artists exhibited take a more relaxed approach to their art, and music, films and fiction can be seen as influencing their work.  They are fun and contemporary and remind us that not all art should be about serious political matters, they can evoke a sense of wittiness that can sometimes be forsaken in today’s art.

First artwork I want to praise is Marion Paquette’s “La Réserve” which for me represented a Native American Tipi made out of paper and strings and inside on a tapestry flooring there was a red petrol canister ready for igniting. This work is so politically charged that one cannot escape the notion that the message deserves our attention. The suffering of the natives by the hands of the settlers has been well documented, and some scars will never heal as long as people of those communities live at a disadvantage caused by historical events.

What makes this work in particular more potent is the fact that the petrol canister which is ready to produce fire is a modern one, not made up of woods that would in olden days keep the inhabitants warm during cold nights; this fire source is far more menacing and can result in burning down of the Tipi. The danger lurking for our forgotten communities is being ignited from within, and I cannot help associate this danger with addiction to alcohol and drug consumption that has put so many people in harm’s way.

“Fondu” by Ann Karine Bourdeau Leduc is a very modern and interesting take on the art of painting, and it deserves praise here for its innovative quality. In this work two elements in the art of painting have come together to produce an astonishing piece. The shape of each section in the piece is irregular and unconventional, and the artist has decided to use a black background with colors dripping up, down and side to side to give it a very liquid and fluctuating feel. To make it more mechanically fluid the artist has decided to attach the different sections together like a collage and if look long enough and the pieces start to move around one another like the arms of a clock.

Medeleine Zoe and Gabeil Robitaille have given us “TEMPS D’OURS” a painting that I can easily see in a museum of modern art. From a technical aspect the portrait in flawless, the dimensions and alignments are just right and produce a recognizable sorrowful gaze in the face of a man who is somewhat threatening at the same time. The choice of colors in the painting is just incredible, the greens and blues in the face of the man give him a cold sick look, contrasted with the reddish eyes which accompanied by the frowned eyebrows produce that angry feel. The choice of dark red for the man’s clothes also confirms this rage with a hint of passion.

The final work I want to talk about, although there are so many more that should be examined and commended and in my opinion will be in the future, is again by Marion Paquette “La Revolution du système pileux”. This piece can be seen as a feminist conceptual work playing with the idea of hair especially when it comes to women and perception of hair for women throughout history. The box in the piece has been filled with long hair which can only be referring to that of a head; however in the photographs which are hanging from the ropes attached to the box, we see hair from different areas including pubic hair. The relationship of hair with sex has always been an issue in society, mainly due to the religious notion that women’s hair is a source of arousal. In all modern religions, at times of worship or when working in an holy place like a church women have been required to cover their hair or wear artificial hair. Even today, in some countries, women’s hair must be covered with scarves as not to provoke sexual temptations, presumably because men would lose their faith in God and be compelled to think of sex. From cosmetics, to businesses thriving in dying, removing, waxing, cutting, styling… hair has come to dictate how we view women in a society and it all stems from a very dark place in our history.

Montreal Comiccon 2012 was bustling with people of all ages and from all persuasions, gathering to celebrate one our generation’s greatest contributions to the art of storytelling and entertainment.

The beauty of the event was the lack of a unifying theme; indeed Comiccon covered all genres from comic books and graphic novels which in themselves can be subsections into numerous categories, to sci-fi, films and television programs which have achieved or are gaining fashionable status amongst the content savvy audiences.

In the long queues zigzagging around the building people were thoroughly excited, be they in their handmade elaborate costumes, or just wearing their favourite T-shirts exhibiting their leanings toward certain fictional story

The key word here is fictional, because unlike religious groups and cults these people are intelligent enough to know fully well these superheroes and supernatural beings have no connection to reality, and so they are indulging in some harmless fantasy.

Mike Mignola the creator of the comic book Hellboy, present at the Comiccon, exclusively made a drawing of his character eating a Montreal poutine, but I really don’t see a group of Montrealers now declaring faith in his prophecy and start wearing magic Hellboy underwear at gatherings eating poutine.

Even though I can imagine ancient and modern religions being born the same way as legends of superheroes, I just can’t envisage fans starting cults because of Superman, Batman or Wil Wheaton’s super bright character Wesley Crusher on Star Trek. But again, who would have thought people would believe in Mormonism and one of them could one day run for presidency of United State.

My point is that thanks to mass media and expansion of communication means, we can now safely say that the great David Finch is an artist and not a prophet, and comic books like X-Men are great fictional stimulation for our ever dreamy intellects, they are not holy books. I really think Homer would have loved to have Iliad or Odyssey in graphic novel forms, and if nobody has done it yet I want credit for the idea.   

Did you hear about people murdered over Green Lantern being portrayed as a homosexual? No, because reason is in control here; these books are telling us stories even though as outrageously unrealistic as an angel talking with a prophet, they are based on imagination and we are aware whilst losing ourselves in the pageantry.

Though I have always been against the celebrity cult, I am ashamed to say that Sir Patrick Stewart being at the Montreal Comiccon this year made me abandon my ethics and I was succumbed to the glitz and glamor of the great man. I have been watching him and following his career from Shakespeare, Star Trek: The Next Generation to Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, even having a recording of his appearance in the eleventh season of Frasier in 2003.

So I paid the money at the till for a photo-op with an actor I consider one of the greatest of all time. I proceeded to queue once again, in line with many fans who I felt a great deal of camaraderie with. We shared bonds that united us, least of which was choosing to take our photo taken with Patrick Stewart instead of William Shatner.

Waiting in the line, I kept thinking what would I say to the great man? Thank you for opening my eyes to Shakespeare? No, no that would be too pretentious. Thank you for Star Trek? I guessed many of my comrades in the line would say the same. Thank him for Samuel Beckett? Suffice to say I was lost for words, and so I decided to just shake his hand and thank him for everything.

When the moment of truth arrived and I was next up to meet the man, the guard told me in a stern voice: “No touching or handshakes.” And just as I was gathering my nerves to say something, the photographer said that doomed word that shall haunt me for rest of my days: “Smile!” and the photograph of me and Sir Patrick Stewart was taken without him ever knowing who I was, or how much I enjoyed his work.

On the way home, photograph in hand, I thought about how many photos with actors must have been taken that day, and how for them it is only to feel appreciated as they should be, but how for the rest of us it is a fake memento of our starry eyed, childish wish fulfilment. All I can say is that I stood next to the man I admire, hoping it gave him some reassurance that he is doing a good job, alas I think he gets that from the awards and titles he is given, and so all our adventures that day are but a memory.

I have been reluctant to write a review of the new Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Tom Wesselmann exhibition Beyond Pop Art, because I am a fan and a member of the museum and I have been visiting MMFA exhibitions for the past six years, so criticizing them for this one event was to me unfair.

However, as the number of emails promoting Tom Wesselmann’s art increased, as did the museum’s ever growing outlandish praise of the artist, combined with the fact that this exhibition is now destined for Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, I am obligated as an art historian to speak out against his misogynistic, demeaning, and outright unethical work.

Here is how the organizers promote the artist: “Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004) was one of the greatest American artists associated with the Pop Art movement. Famous from the early 1960s for his Great American Nudes and Still Lifes, he is nonetheless the only one of his contemporaries associated with that seminal twentieth-century art movement who has not yet had a major exhibition in North America.”

Entering the exhibition, in the first section, we are faced with a number of large collages from the artist’s early career, where he is finding his own voice and starting to get noticed not for the quality of his art, but for the sizes of his pieces.

They are mishmashes of ideas and concepts, largely struggling to convey any coherent message to the viewer. The shameless use of the American flag in some pieces aims to give them identity, and, I suspect, attract the new wealthy American buyers who were starting to emerge in the scene with more money than taste.

Blatant stealing of images from the art of the past is also found rife within these images. Matisse, Renoir, Cézanne and Van Gogh being the most recognizable of whom Tom Wesselmann greedily copies in order to give his work some depth, whilst at the same time the pictures of famous figures give the work glamour.

This entrance is also where we are faced, for the first time, with the artist’s take on that inaccurately titled genre “Great American Nudes”, for if these works are great American anything, they are great American cons, designed to feed the appetite of the rich, misguided, sexist few men who like their women compliant, faceless, and more importantly awaiting their gentlemen callers naked and obediently docile.

These nudes are catering for that very recurring chauvinistic position of the male viewer which has been plaguing the history of art right from the beginning. This kind of take on the female body is why women saw themselves under attack in the arts. The nude genre in particular has been dominated by artists painting for the male gaze, forsaking in turn any dignity or strength of character the female model might have had.

There are a few exceptions who were pioneers in giving the female model the upper hand, like Manet, however Tom Wesselmann is not one of them—even considering that he was working nearly a century after Manet one might have supposed him to be more enlightened. Alas, for Mr. Wesselmann, faceless, erotic, lustful women were the way forward, and he tirelessly repeats these images throughout his career.

Sex sells. A sentiment which has become the modus operandi of advertising campaigns ever since the birth of Marketing. And pop art was there at the start of it all, never breaking away from it, citing empowerment of women through sexual desire as an excuse for objectifying them. Sexual power is the very definition of an ephemeral quality which is lost with time, and, if we accept it as a fundamental way of empowering women, we are doing years of struggle for equality by female thinkers, philosophers, and feminists a great injustice.

Tom Wesselmann wrote his own history, a version that uses sex to sell work and now our museums are cementing his name in the books. Looking back I can only see him being different in medium and style, all other aspects of his work remind me of why I detest so much of the superficial art made to be kept in the studies of the bourgeois as conversation pieces when all the men would retire for brandy after dinner.

Sexual allure alone should not dictate attraction, because it can be used to degrade. Art of the nude must be approached with great care as the line between inspiring and crass is very thin. With a simple act like denying his models facial features and identity as human beings, Tom Wesselmann over and over again creates scenarios where the people cease and a fetish objects are born, and I for one refuse to call them great art.

Beyond Pop Art will be at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until October 7th 2012.


Montreal’s new Double Spaced-theatre is putting on it’s first production this Wednesday. The comedy/drama Bea by Mick Gordon offers a glimpse into the life of 25 year old Bea who has been paralyzed by a terminal illness for 8 years. The story isn’t paralyzed by her unnamed disease though, because it is told through the voice of Bea’s inner self.

Through Bea’s playful and cathartic interactions with her mother and quirky new care-giver Ray,  the play explores themes of love and sacrifice when Bea expresses her wish for assisted suicide. Director Michèle Robinson was mindful of the recent B.C. Supreme Court Ruling ruling to grant Gloria Taylor the right to a physician assisted suicide when directing the play but Robinson insists that her role is not that of an advocate for the cause.

“Bea is definitely a hilarious show about a deeply troubling issue, so I want the audience to simply witness what is going on in Bea’s world. The play is not about pushing a stance on assisted suicide; it is about the impossibility of forming any opinion without being directly involved…”

Though it includes dark themes and painful issues Bea is lightened by a bangin’ disco soundtrack, lovely costumes, and Robinson describes the set as a “sparkly sterile party castle”.

Bea features local talent, Director Michèle Robinson is a student at McGill and the three actors featured in the play are graduates of Dawson College’s Professional Theatre Program who have been involved in many local productions. Despite some major set-backs along the way Robinson is excited and confident about the four night run for Bea.

“It feels incredibly exciting to be opening tomorrow night. There are less and less things to do! Though it’s not my first time directing a play, it is the first time that I feel such a professional energy. There is momentum happening everywhere and everyone feels it!”

She hopes that her new company Double-Spaced Theatre will find it’s place as the “it company for aspiring professionals” in the near future.

Bea runs September 12th to 15th at Théâtre Rouge

Check out the trailer

Jono Doiron is an exemplary, praiseworthy artist currently working in Montreal, and I met up with him at the English Language Arts Network (ELAN) meeting where he was kind enough to speak to me about his work.   

80s popular culture is being revived in fashion and movies, how much of your work is driven by the current scene?

I actually don’t actively seek out which 80’s trends are enjoying resurgence. Whenever I’ve aligned my work with those trends, it’s mostly just been a coincidence. For instance, when I did the painting of the My Little Ponies smoking (‘Stable Vices’), the designs were based off the 80’s cartoon, not the new one. I wasn’t even aware there was a new show at the time. The fact that I was born in the 80’s, kind of instills a fondness of cartoons (and some other trends) from that era while earning me camaraderie with others of similar influence. The application of my work tends to be more derivative of the current scene: taking inspiration from street art, graffiti, illustrative styles and numerous other contemporary painters. The content of my work tends to be more influenced by the past, particularly the 80’s and 90’s.

Where do you stand on commercial art? Would you mind if your pieces were sold by stores that do not specialize in fine arts?

I don’t believe commercial art and fine art are nearly as divided as many people would believe them to be. In my opinion, as soon as art has a price tag – whether it’s an original oil painting or a plaque mount – it’s commercial art because the objective is to sell it.

What’s important to me is that my work finds the right audience, and that’s not always possible to do so in art galleries alone. Many people for whatever reason are still intimidated by art galleries or just do not have the incentive to go into them. Locally, I think businesses like Montreal Images have the right kind of focus. They do not specialize in original art, but have an obvious convergence in selling art. As with many other things, the value of something is often determined by the circumstances you discover it in. What I’m not OK with is selling my work in stores that don’t specialize in anything. I still desire to have my art shown alongside other art.   

Do you see your work as bridging the gap between illustration and painting?

Absolutely! I refer to myself as a painter and illustrator when I meet new people. My paintings are very much illustrations because they deal with narrative subject matter, and they are illustrations that just happen to be painted. The fact that my work isn’t discernibly one area or the other allows me to exist in both worlds and I enjoy that.

Do you envisage a graphic novel in your future?

I would love to produce a graphic novel in the future. It has certainly been on my mind for a long time. There are several characters I’ve developed over the years and I think bringing them into comics would be the proper medium for them. When I was younger, my ambition was actually to be a comic strip artist, but later my focus shifted to animation. I enjoy the strong emphasis on storytelling the medium offers, the tolerance for every style and that you’re only limited to what you can draw. A graphic novel is a mountain of work to produce, but when you’re finished, people can take your art along with them wherever they go and I think that’s pretty cool. The comics I enjoy the most tends to be the cartoony stuff like Uncle Scrooge, Sam & Max or the Looney Tunes or SpongeBob comics, so the book I would make would probably be something similar of that nature.  

How much of your work is autobiographical?

It’s very difficult to remove myself from my work completely. Every painting or work of art I do, whether it’s personal work or commissioned, I try to add elements of my tastes and interests. When I first started, I didn’t really have many ideas for paintings – now I have tons. The reason is I’ve accumulated more life experience since then and now have more to say and share with people. What you choose to paint speaks volumes about yourself because you’re communicating to the world something you think deserves more attention. If you choose to devote hours to making a painting, the subject matter must be important to you or you wouldn’t have bothered. 

The reason I frequently paint cartoon characters is due to both a kinship and a personal conflict. I admire them in very much the same light most people look up to celebrities, however, I’m upset by the fact they don’t actually exist and I’ll never meet them. I grew up without cable too so the only time I really got to see them was Saturday morning and ‘The Wonderful World of Disney’. I often depict them in my work as if they actually grew up with me and must now face the same tribulations we all encounter to make them more relatable.  They’ve gone through a lot of the same stuff I have. The paintings that focus on those themes tend to be the most autobiographical.

What do you say to those who say painting is dead?

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I would say that is one poorly researched. Painting is a medium – not a genre, so anyone who truly believes that comment probably just hasn’t found anything that’s resonated with them yet. I would recommend that they keep looking. Not just traditional painting, but there is equally stunning work that is completely digital too. There are still plenty of people making paintings, so it’s obviously not dead.

When and where can we see your next exhibition?

Currently, I have many original paintings on display until the end of the September in a restaurant called Bistro Resto Bon Ton located in LaSalle. I am doing a ‘meet and greet’ on the evening of Wednesday September 26th. I would be happy to answer any questions about my work and encourage everyone to attend.

Mid September, I have a table at the 2012 Montreal Comic Con as well. I will be selling works ranging from original drawings, (smaller) original paintings, prints and a self published booklet of sketches. I’ll also be drawing quick sketches for people too.

If you happen to have visited IKEA lately in need of new modernly branded, mass-produced, ultra-ordinary futon, kitchenware or office and bedroom furniture, because, let’s face it, they are cheap and cheerful, you might have have noticed that paintings and prints are being featured more and more at every stage of your long walk.

And the journey does not stop there, just when you think you have bought everything you need and much more, you will come to a whole new section dedicated solely to Art by the exit and you think to yourself: why not just buy that framed print of Matisse to go with my new curtain and duvet? He was a master after all, and for that price who would fault you for being tempted?

Ever watched Antique Roadshow, where countless everyday people find out their impulse purchase at an auction house or some internet site is worth thousands of dollars when they were under the impression it was worthless. Ever hurried to your laptop and searched ebay for similar unsuspecting individuals who thought the signature on a painting is “Plexi” while you read it as “Picasso”, and you buy it to discover later on it was a reproduction made in China?

Is your home now full of valueless prints and reproductions, and your better half so upset with your naïve attempts to find a gem in a coalfield that they threaten to put everything in the trash, and you disparaged, dwarfed and hopeless revaluate your life and come to the conclusion that you could have spent the money on something far more important?

Well, if your answers to those questions have been no, then you are by far much wiser, stronger, market savvy person than I am; because I, dedicated fool, penniless and broke financially and morally, have been in search of a treasure for so long that I have left the realm of sanity and common sense, and all I have to show for it is the ability to distinguish between a Chinese machine made reproduction and a run-of-the-mill Walmart print.

Reproduction is not a new process, it is in fact so old and common that gallons of ink have been spilt writing about them by art historians alone, not to mention for the prints themselves. With the advance of industrialization a romantic view of machine made reproduction took hold of the critics and thinkers, most important of who was one Walter Benjamin. In his “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Walter Benjamin, influenced by Marxism, saw the process as a way of diminishing the superficial divine nature of the original and the aura that surrounds it, replacing it with a more human, interactive quality which was to bring art to the masses and allow them to think and appreciate it differently.

However, as luck would have it, the free market based world that emerged had different ideas as to what reproductions are made for, and so we are either left with tricksters, fraudsters and scallywags trying to unload the new fake Rembrandt, Monet and Banksy; or we have businesses and major stores framing prints of famous artists to match the couch we just bought from them, just to make that extra dollar.

You might say this is a good thing, and more people are becoming interested in art, more people are enjoying art for cheap, surely reproducing great artwork would only enhance the power of art in general. And you are right, never in our history have we taken so much interest in art as we do today, but the problem is that we are being told what to look at, what to buy, what is good art by the market. We are being force-fed popular art and popular artists because they are the ones that are more commercially valuable. This in turn in reflected in the reproductions that are sold by the stores.

Sure IKEA is selling Matisse, but it is not The Red Studio which inspired a whole generation of Abstract artists and essentially was the reason Mark Rothko became the painter he wanted to be. They are selling the one that goes with your toilet brush.

Money is dictating what is revered as good art, and that is not what Walter Benjamin had in mind. We have access to a world of creativity but what good does that do if we are being misled as what to look for? Why do I have to go to university and study Art History to be able to say Manet was a greater visionary and revolutionary than Monet? Why is that not common knowledge?

Because Monet’s Water Lilies have been sold by the truckload and now features in every condo as a testament to market’s desire for making more money, whilst at the same time giving the uninformed public something pretty to look at.

So when people go to Paris they ignore the dark, murky, real images of Parisians for the sake of gaudy, colourful, prosaic images of flower fields and people in boats. Consequently the vicious cycle continues and more people go for what is pleasing to the eye rather than what is beautiful to the soul.  What do those cunning businesses do? Well they do what they have always done: supplying the demand they created in the first place.

Manet? Don’t you mean Monet? Yes, yes, we have a print of Monet in our foyer and it just makes me feel so at ease with everything.

*This transcript has been edited for length. 

Megan: Hello everyone, I am Megan Dougherty from Forgetthebox.net and today I have with me Sheena Swirlz, a lover of art, activism, and doing it yourself and much more. She runs a blog dedicated to rejecting capitalism, connecting communities and activism, radical events, and challenging preconceptions in Montreal. Sheena, thank you so much to taking the time to talk with us today.

Sheena: Yes, Hi! It’s great to be able to have an opportunity to share information about the blog and some of the organizations that I like to highlight as part of it.

Megan: Well, definitely. Do you want to start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and about Radical Montreal?

Sheena: Well sure, my name is, as you said it, Sheena. I’m from Niagara originally but I’ve been living in Montreal for a few years and I am an artist, I’m a nerd and farmer, activist and I really have a passion for networking information especially I crave information for events and organizations. As for the blog I do, Radical Montreal blog, it offers community events listing and I also spot organizations, annual events, local sustainable living, resources, and also DIY projects for the garden or bike craft decor and different things like that.

Megan: That’s absolutely fantastic. What kind of brought you into this world? Is this kind of the radical living stuff that you have always been interested in?

Sheena: Yes. I’ve been doing a lot of these things back in Niagara, where I’m from, but here in Montreal the community is so big and there are so many different events going on so I feel really impassioned to both research what’s going on and also share the events. I stated this blog two and a half years ago, shortly after I moved to Montreal and because I have a passion about this sort of thing, I wanted to make a list for myself of the things to do in the city and I though why not share this information for people because I didn’t find a source in one place where you could find all sorts of different events of different natures and I just thought, “oh! This is a great kind of opportunity to be able to offer that.” You know?

Megan: Definitely, I want to talk about the name of the blog a little bit, Radical Montreal. In your opinion, what makes something radical? Is it on a person by person basis or is it a mindset, places. Can you just maybe talk about the concept a little bit?

Radical MontrealSheena: Well, for me the word radical can encompass anything outside of the mainstream view so its cultural, alternative lifestyle, progressive events and I tend to more towards anti-oppression, sustainable places and activities which would be considered perhaps more radical than others. These events and opinions come from my perspective of what’s alternative so it’s very subjective. I like to think of these events as being things you don’t necessarily hear all the time because they have smaller marketing budget but they have incredible relevancy in the community.

Megan: Since you’ve come to Montreal, what are some of the things about the city that you found are a benefit or a challenge or are there any things that you noticed in that light?

Sheena: I moved to this city now as an Anglophone so I have always found that English, French divide, can be a little tricky before you can speak French. I have been taking a course here that the government offers and I find it a really fantastic resource to be in a class with other non-French speakers in kind of a full time situation and then once you get there you feel so empowered to do it. Not too many other people also know about that so I want them to know how it is to be and Anglophone in Montreal and all the challenges and solutions to be able to do better. But of course, there is so many options to be living cheaply but also having a rich life and that is what I find to be the greatest parts of living in a city because there’s so many collective organizations that you can connect to.

Megan: Definitely. Would you like to tell us about a couple of those organizations that you like and are connected with?

Sheena: My favorite bike shop is The Flat at McGill University. They have a really great series of workshops, just kind of like bare bone, they do like how to build a bike workshops. They have done winter biking, doing end of city touring and it is really fantastic. I find their events are really inviting which is really accessible. One of my favorite restaurants is the Green Panther which is a great vegan restaurant it is pretty affordable and it’s just delicious. It’s always a great opportunity to have vegan restaurant here in Montreal. It is really a pleasure after not having a vegetarian restaurant back in Niagara, where I’m from.

Megan: I can imagine, I actually ate at Green Panther last week. I loved it.

Sheena: Yes, It’s fantastic. There are just so many great restaurants here like Aux Vivres was another one. Completely vegan options and really healthy, Crudessence as well, completely raw. This city is really great for food eating out and also being able to buy great local food at the markets and eat seasonably more than in some other places where they don’t really have a vibrant community market.

Megan: Montreal is really a city that is focused a lot around food I’ve noticed. There are so many communities that develop around the food.

Sheena: Oh yes, It’s very true. There’s a lot of urban gardening projects that are happening which could provide different community gardens in different sectors and then there’s different organizations which offer additional gardens for that. In addition, nearly each university has a community garden. It’s just fantastic both to be growing food, finding it in the markets, eating it out or going to potlucks which exist from everything from chicken potlucks to raw food potlucks on a monthly basis

Radical montreal zineMegan: I was going to ask, what are some of the events that you have been to that you consider particularly excellent or particularly representative of the radical lifestyle in Montreal.

Sheena: Well, Expozine is really fantastic. There you can find over 200 independent writers and artists that are vending their independently published little books. So that’s a really fantastic event that happens at the end of November each year. I vend my art zines and other things I create at that event because it’s just really accessible to table there, and you are exposed to so many artists both that are from Montreal and also from other parts of Canada that are drawn to Montreal and come that event each year. Other than that I really love Tam Tams on Mont Royal. I find it a great place to go, and spend the day for free. Everybody is really friendly there. There’s a local market where only locals can sell their wares for free. They give local artists a real opportunity to have a great stay for there’s a lot of tourist to try and make some money. There is a lot of different cultures in Montreal  that happen there, you’ve got the LARPer’s doing their big battles, you’ve got the circus performance setup, acoustic drums and electronic stages setup, and people of all types sprawled there over the mountain for a temporary stress relief.

Megan: If people want more information about you or about radical events and organizations in Montreal, how can people get in touch with you and follow what you are up to?

Sheena: I offer two blogs weekly. One is an events listing on Monday and then the other one’s on Fridays which is a spotlight on eventual projects. You can follow the blog to see those. There is also a Facebook page where I will post not only blogs but also events that I come across that are happening throughout the week. So then there’s also the Radical Montreal Zine. I go to different zine expositions throughout the year and sell my independent wares, my zines and give people information about projects and activities that are coming. You can always visit me there.

Based out of London, Ontario, Sunflower Skins is a collection of cut and paste self-published books that aim to delight, educate and challenge the reader.  I recently spoke with the brainchild of Sunflower Skins Britani Sadovski, and we chatted about life in the DYI publishing community, her inspirations and where she sees Sunflower Skins headed in the future.

 

Stephanie Laughlin: Tell me about the origins of Sunflower Skins


Britani Sadovski:
I began self-publishing before university, and the early chapbooks reflect my poetry-entrenched literary upbringing. My first Sunflower Skins projects were free, an attempt to inspire shared literature and guerrilla art; I still maintain the free-press mission with the Bulimic Beluga project and put lots of love into each book I make.

I work exclusively with my partner Thom Bacchus Roland, whose writing can be found here.

SL: I’m particularly interested in what inspired one of your books “the future of bullimic beluga whales”

BS: “Bulimic Belugas” originally started as an idea for a zine, but I quickly found a required monthly format to be too limiting for the direction I wanted to take my art. Instead, inspired by riotgrrl liner notes, Courtney Love’s early band posters, and Kathy Acker’s versions of cut-up technique, I created my own “self-help book” using some black humour and real statistics on eating disorders. More people need to be able to talk about bulimia, depression, and anxiety disorders. The absurd approach at least seems to get their attention.

 SL: Are you part of a community of DYI publishers?

BS: As a teenager I realized that traditional publishing was not for me. In general I don’t like big box business, and books are no different; I love local bookshops, the owner’s knowledge and intimacy with texts of all kinds. At 18 I found The Grove Press Reader which changed my approach to writing, for whom I wanted to write, and informed my ethics concerning the publishing world; Barney Rosset’s dedication to fighting censorship, as well as working closely with writers and their original texts, greatly inspires me to maintain full control over my art and to work without boundaries. My partner Thom Roland and I write, format, print, and bind all of our books ourselves. Both of us have blogs for comics, short stories, fragments, and essays. We decided to create the literary, socially-just world we want that we don’t find in London, ON.; though we’ve set up our headquarters here to expand publishing and distribution, we’ve found more of a community online, of like-minded individuals who publish their own comics and essays on blogs.

Sunflower Skins creator Britani Sadovski

SL: What’s the reaction to your work in London, Ont? Have you shown your work in other places?

BS: I’ve sent Bulimic Beluga books to friends around the world to distribute in local libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, and anywhere else they want. Contributing to zine libraries is a favourite activity! This past winter a fellow writer took books with him on a trip to Turkey, leaving some scattered in airports along the way; another friend, a Pure Poet, took a bunch to Washington, D.C. campuses and even he left a few in the aquarium.

 I’ve had many people approach me, both in person and online, about my mental health writing, sharing personal stories about medication, trial treatments, relationship troubles, and social triumphs; the opportunity to connect with my readers and inspire conversation and new ideas encourages me, for I want a more accepting, honest world.

 SL: How do you see Sunflower Skins evolving ?

BS: I have a couple of books currently available (a photography-based comic book and a double-feature horror chapbook shared with Thom Roland). I’m currently working on a collection of Stupid Children Stories, a hand-bound book of mixed media: short stories, photography, and childhood drawings.

As we continue distributing free beluga books to encourage mental health discussion, Sunflower Skins embraces a mindful, purposeful-play lifestyle in order to explore issues in a non-threatening environment; I play with Lego, plastic dinosaurs, Giant Microbes, and various other toys to focus on the absurd in my comics, whether it’s making literary jokes, socio-political observations, or completely silly dino scenes. I also make comics starring live spiders and take great pleasure in connecting with the natural world.

 SL: Anything specific you’d like me to mention in the article? Upcoming book fairs, etc…

BS: Feed the Whales is an important cause! I’ll send as many books as people want to anywhere in the world; free press for all! You can also support Sunflower Skins and Bulimic Belugas by spreading the word through t-shirts, buttons, or even little handmade plush whales.In December 2012 we’ll be taking the Bulimic Belugas to DisneyWorld! Blub blub!

Find me on Twitter @sunflowerskins

On the corner of St-Hubert and Boulevard Rosemont in Montreal rests the important gallery Art Mûr which for the past eight years has taken it upon itself to exhibit one of the most significant events in Canada’s Fine Arts students’ lives. This elegant three story space has housed some of the most innovative, extraordinarily creative works the Canadian young artists have ever produced, and this year the gallery has outdone itself. 42 students from 11 universities have participated on the recommendation of their teachers who handpicked the artists based on their ability and vision, and the result is beguiling.

In the past I have been disappointed by student exhibition, especially by final year extravaganzas full of outrageously self-aggrandizing, unfathomable junk veiled under the so called conceptual model, aimed mainly to shock and provoke rather than make the viewer feel and think. However this exhibition manages to do away with the self-obsessed ordinary and gets down to the meat of the notion that is Art.

Considering the variety in style, medium and concepts which separate these artists regionally and in most cases culturally, the organizers have managed to set up the exhibition in a manner that the pieces complement one another, yet they do not distract the viewer, nor do they get in the way of each others message. Each artist in this exhibition expresses his or her point perfectly and without hindrance, and what is more astonishing is the fact that these pieces are sellable and indeed many have already been adorned with red dots next to their descriptions.

Even though the exhibition is a triumph as a whole and all artists deserve much praise, in my humble opinion a few stand out above the rest as magnificent examples, and they are: Gabriel Bribeau representing Concordia University; Patrick Cull from York; Alexis Lepage representing UQÀM; Rob Nicholls from Waterloo; Marianne Pon-Layus from UQÀM; Sherrie Rennie from Manitoba; and Luke Siemens from York.

Concordia’s very own Gabriel Bribeau has done an exceptional job with his sculptures which are thought provoking with hints of despairing folly to them, and I do say this with great admiration for the pieces. “Capitaline” is a fox wrapped up in bandages with a paddle on his head, wearing a red safety ring with a rope attached, forcing the viewers to question whether they can or even would want to save the poor drowning creature, or alas the time for action has passed and the fox is but a corpse. In a similar manner Gabriel’s “Trouble in the Garden of Eden” at first sight is an ordinary hose pipe placed on an ornate wall hanging reminding one of old-fashioned fire safety equipment that once existed in high-rises, however on closer inspection one becomes aware of the snake head at the end of the pipe. Trouble in the Garden of Eden disguised as a way out? Or a solution to that ever tantalizing temptation we seem to be plagued with ever more?

Marianne Pon-Layus from Université du Québec à Montréal manages to bring feminism to painting in a very effective way. Her paintings include mainly figures of women in various out of ordinary scenarios, making the viewer question the value society imposes on them.  In “Erreur d’impression I” two modern women are at the feet of a cartoon like housewife who could be from the 1930s cleaning product commercial, and the two modern women seem to be at her disposal and helpless, enslaved by her image. The housewife figure is not being blamed here, because she is fictional, she is a cartoon drawn by an advertising firm, a product of some executive’s view as to what makes a good wife. Whomever might you blame, the message is clear, the stereotype we project onto women do not cease with our demise, it will have a lasting effect on future generation no matter how hard they try to escape it.

Another UQÀM artist deserving of commendation is Alexis Lepage who has taken an interest in sculptural form. He has introduced a very contemporary idea into an old technique, and the result is just remarkable. I caught up with the artist himself and he explained his fascination with exploring the possibilities of sculpture as a medium, and how forms can be used in juxtaposition to essentially balance each other. His “Lance-amarre” which is a basketball wrapped around with a rope which then extends off is a wonderfully entertaining concept as well as being sculpturally contemporary. Alexis’ “Globe” plays with negative space, a globe stand resembling a basketball ring missing the very thing that would make it the object we perceive it should be. Our perception of form and sculpture is further put into question by his “Cerf-volant” which is a fishing rode at the end of which are paper airplanes made from maps, a philosophical approach to the modern by Alexis Lepage.

Young Canadian artists in this exhibition have achieved what many deemed impossible, they have produced works that are intelligent and emotional in scope, and are easily accessible to the public. The teachers and staff who handpicked these students have shown themselves to be aware of the changes happening in the scene and have catered an exhibition worthy of the discerning viewers.

Fresh Paint / New Construction will be on at Art Mûr 5826 St-Hubert Montréal until September 2012

Robert Hughes, the Australian born art critic and writer passed away this week at the age of 74. He was by far the best critic of our time dedicating his life to expressing the unwavering truth about art. He seldom got it wrong and never stooped to sugar-coating mediocrity. His writing was on par with the best of them and he played with language like a well versed poet. His books include: “Things I Didn’t Know”; “The Shock of the New”; “Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History” and “Goya” to name a few.   

It is not right to belittle his achievements by inserting my own opinions, take on his life, or attempt matching his Shakespearian writing skills because I cannot and I shan’t do that. So, for this article only, I will share with you some of his wisdom on art:

“The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. It’s not something that committees can do. It’s not a task achieved by groups or by movements. It’s done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.”

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

“What does one prefer? An art that struggles to change the social contract, but fails? Or one that seeks to please and amuse, and succeeds?”

“So much of art – not all of it thank god, but a lot of it – has just become a kind of cruddy game for the self-aggrandizement of the rich and the ignorant, it is a kind of bad but useful business.”

“It seems obvious, looking back, that the artists of Weimar Germany and Leninist Russia lived in a much more attenuated landscape of media than ours, and their reward was that they could still believe, in good faith and without bombast, that art could morally influence the world. Today, the idea has largely been dismissed, as it must in a mass media society where art’s principal social role is to be investment capital, or, in the simplest way, bullion. We still have political art, but we have no effective political art. An artist must be famous to be heard, but as he acquires fame, so his work accumulates ‘value’ and becomes, ipso-facto, harmless. As far as today’s politics is concerned, most art aspires to the condition of Muzak. It provides the background hum for power.”

“The auction room, as anyone knows, is an excellent medium for sustaining fictional price levels, because the public imagines that auction prices are necessarily real prices.”

“It is hard to think of any work of art of which one can say ‘this saved the life of one Jew, one Vietnamese, one Cambodian’. Specific books, perhaps; but as far as one can tell, no paintings or sculptures. The difference between us and the artists of the 1920’s is that they they thought such a work of art could be made. Perhaps it was a certain naivete that made them think so. But it is certainly our loss that we cannot.”

“The new job of art is to sit on the wall and get more expensive.”

“One gets tired of the role critics are supposed to have in this culture: it’s like being the piano player in a whorehouse; you don’t have any control over the action going on upstairs.”

He was wrong about the last statement, because Robert Hughes had tremendous effect on our culture and opening our eyes to a different vision as to what art can be. He will be truly missed.

Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, 28 July 1938 – 6 August 2012.

Right before going into the theatre, I told a friend in my usual wild eyed matter, “I hope there will be lots of blood in this film!” I turned around and there was the producer of Hemorrhage who chimed in: “maybe just a little!” Indeed, Edmonton filmmaker Braden Croft has delivered a film in which the question “which came first, the blood or the murder?” can actually be asked.

Oliver, played by Alex D. Mackie, is released from a psychiatric facility and is determined to fall into line with a normal life. Then he meets a girl, and although his social worker advises him to stay away from any sort of attachment, he can’t help himself but try to get to know the lovely Claire, played by Britney Grabill. Problem is, Oliver is plagued by bloody visions and his meds seem to be doing jack shit.

Croft’s first feature film is bold, intriguing, and has a knack for keeping you on your toes. Considering it’s low budget, the film proves itself to be resourceful and viscerally gripping.

 

I had the chance to quickly interview the very handsome Croft and chat with him about his influences, his main character and upcoming projects.

What are your cinematic influences?

Braden: I noticed you said influence(S), plural! I love the classic directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder and Stanley Kubrick. More contemporary masters like David Fincher, David Lynch, Michael Haneke and Jeff Nichols—of whom I’m extremely excited to follow—are also major influences. There’s too many great directors to choose one!

How did this project come about? What led up to it and what were some obstacles you faced in the making of Hemorrhage?

The project came about after I wrote my first feature script—a massive action film—and realized I couldn’t shoot a page of it. After toiling away at day jobs a switch was turned and I set out to make Hemorrhage before common sense and doubt caught up. The major obstacles I faced were mainly due to my relocation to my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. Finding experienced crew, actors and key production people would turn out to be a mixed blessing. Instead of the often found ‘indifferent crews’ and difficult actors I found enthused people willing to work because they love film and believed in the project. That was priceless. Also, my friends, family and community were extremely supportive in a multitude of tasks ranging from acting in bit roles to finding free locations to shoot. The greatest obstacles soon turned into assets.

What attracted you to the subject matter of the film?

Initially I was drawn to the idea of a serial killer being in love. I was also fascinated with brilliant individuals plagued with mental illness and how they struggled to cure themselves. Combining the two gave me my protagonist and inner conflict behind the story—can you consciously defeat what may be your ‘true nature’?

[Director Braden Croft looking sharp.]

In terms of Oliver’s character, what kind of research did you do in regards to mental illness to write the character?

Family members and close friends of mine provided a jumping off point to research mental illness. From there it was my own curiosity of reading case studies and articles of people I’d hope to mold into my protagonist.

How do you explain Claire staying as long as she did?

The film is such a subjective telling from Oliver’s point of view that I felt Claire’s inability to escape only served as another layer to his madness. The entire film deals with perception and reality from Oliver. Why she stays—to me—has always been a question of ‘how much of this is objective and true’ vs. ‘does she actually care to help him’?

What’s next for you?

I have two projects in the oven: one, a tongue-in-cheek horror in the style of Deliverance and Cabin in the Woods; and the other, a two-hander psychological horror/thriller in the vein of Hitchcock and Clouzot.

As I was volunteering and taking tickets for a film screening, I saw a man with a red badge. My mind began racing: “What’s a RED badge mean?” So I ask the young man: “Filmmaker”, he answers.

“Oh, awesome, which film?” I ask with a cheshire grin.

Toad Road”, he answers.

“Oh man! That’s the film I’m looking forward to the most this year!” I say without thinking and with extreme enthusiasm. He gives me a smile and a sort of perplexed look. I may have scared him a little. That’s ok, I tell myself, because at Fantasia it’s allowed to be an awkward film geek.

Turns out my film instincts were right on about this one. It’s a little early to be calling the bests of the fest, but I’ll be daring and do it anyways! Toad Road tells the tale of a group of friends who live in a small town near York and who party a lot and do a lot of drugs. James, one of the comrades, falls for the “goody” city girl Sara who becomes increasingly interested in the drug culture of James and his friends. It just so happens that there is a place in the town called Toad Road where reside the seven gates of hell. Feeling a strange pull to this place, Sara wants to take James there.

Toad Road is a film that speaks directly to a generation of youth exploring the limits of reality, of what it all means, of themselves. It isn’t a film that sits comfortably in one genre or another: is it an arthouse film or a genre film? I dunno and I don’t care. What it is is intriguing as hell (hell, get it?). The editing is superb and the imagery is insidious (like seriously, I had nightmares). Watching the film, the idea of rites of passage and ritual use of drugs began floating around in my head. Liminality and the breakdown of categories of self, time, place also resonated in the images on screen.

In the Q&A session, director Jason Banker explained that the film was shot like a documentary. He found the actors via Myspace where he contacted a group of friends and asked them if they would be interested in his project.

The film was shot organically where Banker chose his leads after spending time with the group and found the themes through his interactions with and observations of them. Banker explained that this method can lead to making a totally different film than one sets out to make. I find this fascinating.

In this sort of film, editing becomes a crucial part of creating a story. Editor of the film Jorge Torres-Torres  agreed with a comparison to songwriting when it comes to editing a film of this nature. Toad Road thus blends reality and fantasy in the same way that taking drugs does. Its conceptual nature is artwork in and of itself.

I had the opportunity to quickly interview Banker and Torres-Torres about their chef d’oeuvre. I crossed my fingers Banker didn’t remember our previous awkward encounter.

 

Aside from Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark, what are some of your other cinematic influences?

Banker: David Lynch definitely.

Torres-Torres: Ulrich Seidl director of Animal Love. The filmmaker captures real life and somehow turns it into a classic cinematic piece.

What past projects have led you to make Toad Road, to focus on these topics?

Banker: In a way, I think All Tomorrow’s Parties (2009). It is working with kids. It was a documentary on a music festival in England called All Tomorrow’s Parties, and I shot that and spent time with the people attending the festival. Part of my job was to spend late nights with these kids while they partied and did drugs. It’s very relevant to the similar aspects of Toad Road. When I was shooting All Tomorrow’s Parties and thinking this is such great footage but it’s kind of pointless because there’s no story. Just kids getting messed up isn’t something knew. To spin that, to give it some perspective, that turns it into something scary.

Toad Road is an actual place and a real urban legend from where you grew up. Did you always have it in the back of your mind to use this legend in a film?

Banker: Yeah it was something that I was aware of. It wasn’t until I was working on All Tomorrow’s Parties that I realized I wanted to explore something with this. I knew that the parallels were very clear. A road that leads to hell and drug use and the idea of how far you will go before you turn back.

With Sara’s character it seems like she is looking to learn something from the drugs, to gain enlightenment from them. Is that an idea you are interested in?

Banker:  I definitely wanted to show the flip side as well. This is not just a tale of drugs are bad.

Torres-Torres: It’s not a cautionary tale.

Banker: It can go both ways. I think that’s the whole myth of Toad Road. The last gate is supposed to lead to hell, supposedly. There are other versions of the myth that the 7th gate is actually heaven but people say it is hell to stop you from going to heaven.