Wednesday, June 5, 2013

opera for a small room @ AGO (art gallery of ontario)

"Lost In the Memory Palace" one of the most intriguing exhibits I've ever seen. A series of rooms containing art installations from Canadian artists Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller. Within each room a highly detailed imaginary world of light, sound & set which bombards & excites the senses. And in which 'you', the gallery attendee, are an active participant in each room's unique environment, motion sensors operating much of the sound, light & narrative effects. Above, a small detail of the installation titled "Opera for a Small Room" where multiple turntables & speakers take you on an operatic journey of stunning magnitude. Go see it. You won't regret it. AGO until August 18th.

Other exhibit titles within the "Memory Palace" : Road Trip; The Storm Room; Experiment in F# Minor (fabulous) ; The Dark Pool; The Killing Machine; The Muriel Lake Incident. (at AGO, 4th floor, til August 18 / 2013)

In addition, installed in the main floor Henry Moore Sculpture Centre, Janet Cardiff's Millenium Prize winning sound installation "The Forty Part Motet" : 8 five-part choirs (all members of the uk's Salisbury Cathedral Choir), 40 speakers. You may never want to leave.

Monday, February 11, 2013

a day in the life of ....

Candid street photography, El Jem, Tunisia....location of one of the finest Roman amphitheatres in the world. A pic taken in that split second of intuition that sets the heart racing when it comes to candid photography. You don’t know what it is you’re looking for until you see it. There!! Shoot that!! Click. On this occasion… an empty street of El Jem … a woman alone ... walking away ….. relieving the burden of her woven market basket by lifting it over the head & resting its weight on her back & shoulder … a small black plastic bag swinging from the hand of the other arm. Was attracted to the colour of her coat, my kind of khaki green, but not consciously aware of its graceful swing around her body until I down- loaded. Nor was I aware of capturing her in almost dancer’s mid-step or of the diagonal shadow that cuts its way along the wall & through her body, perfectly aligned with the slant of the basket. Details that came into play in the fraction of a second it took for the lens to blink.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

berber boy of the sahara ....

The indigenous Berbers, conquered by the invading Arabs of the 7th Century, make up only 1% of Tunisia's population today ... though 50% or more of Tunisians likely have ancient Berber ancestors. Traditionally a nomadic tribe, their urge to roam is curtailed by Tunisia's current laws of compulsory education for their children & have mostly settled in the desert regions of the south, travelling only outside the school year. Sad to say, their native language, 'Tamazight', never recognized as an official language of the country & not taught in the schools, is dying out.

The boy, Musbah, was carrying a small desert fox, hoping for a dinar from me for a chance to have my photo taken holding the fox. He got his dinar .. but for a photograph of him, not the fox.   *~*

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

tunisian sunrise .....

tunisian sunrise ..... by ana_lee_smith
tunisian sunrise ....., a photo by ana_lee_smith on Flickr.

from the beach at Paradis Palace Hotel, Hammamet, Tunisia.

Tunisia has 1300 kilometres ( 819 m) of coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. Hammamet was the first tourism destination of Tunisia. Located on the south-east of the northern peninsular of Cap Bon, on the Gulf of Hammamet, its golden beaches & temperate climate make it a popular destination for those seeking fun-in-the-sun all-inclusive style vacations. However, the tourism economy has suffered greatly since the Tunisian revolution of Jan 2011 that triggered Arab Spring across north africa & the middle east. Even slashed prices can't tempt the overly cautious tourist back, it seems. Too bad. Our 3 week trip, November 2012,  to this culturally rich & geographically diverse country, which started in Hammamet,  was an all time bargain with nary a single moment of not feeling safe.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

looking for banksy........

Toronto photographers were in a frenzy the early days of last week, looking for the graffiti art purported to have been left in several downtown backstreet locations by the notorious British street artist known as Banksy. His real identity has never been revealed. By him or anyone else, it seems. Doesn't that speak loudly to loyalty? The guy has been on the street-art scene close to 2 decades. He must have family, friends, business associates. No one has ever leaked his identity? He's either well loved or deeply feared *~*  His documentary film "Exit Through the Gift Shop", which premiered at the Sundance Festival in March, opened in Toronto last weekend & it's believed he landed in Toronto for the first time for that occasion. Come Monday morning the buzz was out.... Bansky had been here, leaving his mark on Toronto walls. Somehow the press had been coerced by their source into keeping the exact locations of the seven pieces vague, to deter vandals & taggers (graffiti artists who spray over others' work). The hunt was on. Wednesday, I too was tramping the downtown streets, in the pouring rain, looking for Banksy art. All I got was very wet & surprised at just how much graffiti is out there in downtown Toronto. I inadvertently located the laneway, several blocks long, that runs from Portland to Spadina filled with colourful graffiti from one end to the other. But no Banksy. Back at the computer, I learned that the Torontoist website had revealed all  ....images of what one was looking for, exact locations & their current condition. Graffiti is public art & public access its intended form, they declared, and the vandals & taggers will find it regardless. Only 3 remain, though one of those has been seriously tagged. The others have either been completely painted over, removed or tagged beyond recognition. The biggest surprise was to learn that one of them (above) is only steps from my own front door. It may well be the only one to survive due to the fact that management at Fionn MacCool's bar, on whose backwall it appeared, hired a security guard for 2 nights until a professional was found to seal it over with clear plastic (see below). There is heated debate on various internet sites ...some vehemently call Banksy a phoney, not a true street artist (he uses stencils to create his images), some cry foul at the vandalism & tagging while others argue that that is the very nature of street is meant to be transitory. How did Banksy attain such international notoriety? Intrigue always helps.....the secret identity he maintains, the enigmatic overnight appearances of his pieces in various cities around the world. He must do it in the middle of the night. Does he take a cohort with him to keep a look-out for the inevitable wandering night-owls? In a National Post article on Banksy's art, photographer Tong Lam calls it "a cultural phenomenon......a critique of capitalism (that) has itself become a commodity" Indeed, his pieces now sell for tens of thousands of dollars. In 2008 a collection of his works on canvas went for the equivalent of over half a million dollars, by British auction. What a to-do! The debates rage, the vandals deface, the photographers hunt & click & Banksy, clever fellow, has invaluable free publicity for his newly released film , over 100 pages of google links & is surely laughing all the way to the bank.

The watchers watch a banksy wall. (west side of Church, just north of The Esplanade.) The Torontoist intimates that the Banksy tag, in childlike scrawl, which the watchers appear to be watching, is in fact the artist's mark. Fact or interpretation on their part, who knows? Doesn't matter. Whoever put it there knew the exact position that would serve best. Kind of like finding the precise spot for the football in what was probably one of the earliest capitalistic dream factories hoisted on gullible contemporary society, a cultural phenomenon now obsessive & addictive to a frightening global degree ....the lottery! Littlewoods' Football Pools. Get bulls-eye on the football's position in the stop-play photograph & you too can be a millionaire ! 

 Usually satirical in nature, Banksy's message is often anti-establishment, anti-capitalist, anti-war. What is Bansky alluding to here? That the sheep-like mentality of our society has us gaping at a scrap of concrete wall, as directed by the artist, rather than marching to our own drummer ? Kris Kristofferson had something to say on that subject some time back, when his career was at its prime. " Imagine alien life looking down on us... what must they think seeing one person getting paid thousands of dollars to do what they'd rather be doing than anything else on earth & thousands of other people paying a lot of money to watch them do it. " That's my momentary take on it anyway. Like all art, it's open to subjective interpretation. Men in business attire / bankers / the global banking fiascos? A simple statement on societies' response to graffiti? Does Banksy make simple statements? I doubt it *~* He began as a freehand graffiti artist, part of the industrial city of Bristol's underground movement of the early 90's.  He switched to the stencilling technique in 2000 because, as he himself has said, it's easier & faster therefore better suited to surreptitious execution. This is the piece (above) that is around the corner from my place. And to me the most intriguing of the 3 I've seen. I'm happy to have it so accessible, available to muse on when the mood takes. Also, I'm curious as to whether it will last or will someone determined enough figure out how to vandalize it, pry the protection off, find the right tool to slice through the plastic, mar the material like a keyed car. I'll keep you posted. It is, in fact, high quality plastic, it doesn 't hinder clear viewing of the work, though optimum viewing & photography can only be obtained at certain times of the day as it's fiercely vulnerable to reflections depending on the sun's position.

Banksy's rat is alive & well & living on Spadina Ave, just north of Queen. And wearing sunglasses. In disguise? Rats are a common motif in Banksy's work. As are monkeys, policemen, soldiers, children & the elderly. The location of this particular rat is the heart of Chinatown, the immediate area where restaurants were closed down by the city health department in 2009.... for unacceptable preparation standards & rat, mice & cockroach infestation. Do you suppose Banksy knew that?

On the back of the old Provincial Police Headquarters, on Lakeshore between Bay & York. Only the policeman & leashed balloon dog is Banksy original The dodo bird on head & the writing is tagged. The "thanks" balloon no doubt left by an admirer.

A uniformed armed police officer holds the leash of a pink balloon dog, the kind handed out by clowns to amuse children, a balloon dog that needs to be muzzled. Banksy's mockery of law enforcement, even as he vandalizes their own bastion? The possibilities are endless. Thanks, Banksy. Your visit has left much food for thought!


Sunday, April 25, 2010

the raven himself is hoarse.......


......that croaks the fatal entrance of duncan
under my battlements. Come, you spirits
that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top full
Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood;
Stop up th' access and passage to remorse,
That no compuctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose nor keep peace between
Th' effect and it. Come to my woman's breasts
And take my milk for gall, you murd'ring ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief. Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
To cry 'Hold, hold !'

Lady MacBeth's soliloquy, Act 1 Sc 5.

The ultimate scheming political villainess ? Yet in the end, tortured by her own guilty conscience, she loses her sanity ("Out, damned spot; out, I say!" Act 5 Sc 1) & dies.

There's a longheld superstitious belief in international theatrical circles that any production of Shakespeare's MacBeth is vulnerable to an historic curse of disaster and / or failure. So strong is this superstition that one is not allowed, except in performance, to speak the MacBeth name, or quote a line from the play, in any quarters of a theatre or in any related space, for fear of invoking the curse. It's always referred to as "The Scottish Play". And the 2 pivotal characters as "his nibs" & Lady M. If one dares let slip the forbidden "M" word, there is an outcry & one must immediately perform a ritual of contrition : exit the theatre, spin around 3 times while uttering a profanity, then beg forgiveness & permission to re-enter. Other variations of absolution: spit over one's left shoulder; or repeat the rhyme "thrice around the circle bound, evil sink into the ground"; or spew out a quote from Hamlet " angels & ministers of grace defend us " (act 1 sc 4)

In the late '80's, I was involved in an outdoor summer production of MacBeth by the now-defunct Skylight Theatre, in Earl Bales Park, Toronto. During the opening night performance the set went up in flames. Pyrotechnics were being used, from beneath the stage, for dramatic effect during Act 4 Scene 1 , as the 3 Witches gather around the cauldron to invoke their own curses upon the nobleman MacBeth (double double, toil & trouble!) An errant spark flew out of the cauldron & ignited rigging that was part of the rear set decoration. In an instant it blasted into huge flames. The actors assembled behind the stage, awaiting their entrance cue, were stunned into disbelief & non-action ! Except for one just-out-of-theatre-school young apprentice actor, Rick, who rushed on stage, ripped down the flaming rigging & flung it into the deep ravine immediately behind the stage area. Immersed in their scene, the 3 witches seemed oblivious to the kerfuffle til it was all over... from the audience could be heard a palpable release of voyeuristic bated breath... backstage whispers cheered Rick as a hero &, without missing another beat, the play went on. That's the way of it. The show must go on. But most certainly that episode was considered a visitation, an attempt at infiltration, from the Scottish play's ominous curse. There are numerous stories, from all over the world, of the trials & tribulations of staging a production of MacBeth. Many much more horrendous even tragic in outcome than the example cited here. During the play's very first production, in 1606, Willy himself was forced to step up & play Lady MacBeth when the young boy cast in the role fell ill & died. In 1672, the actor playing MacBeth in an Amsterdam production substituted a real dagger for the harmless stage prop & stabbed the actor playing King Duncan to death, as the horrified audience watched in disbelief!! In 1721, hecklers became such an irritant at one performance that the actors attacked them with their swords & the army had to be summoned to quell the melee. The litany of catastrophes goes on : 1849....31 audience members trampled to death in a riot that broke out during a New York performance; 1937....when Laurence Olivier's sword snapped, a piece of the blade flew into the audience & hit a man, the shock causing him to have a heart-attack. He died ; 1953....Charlton Heston suffered severe burns of the groin & leg when his tights, accidently soaked in kerosene, combusted (huh?) ; through the ages, cast & crew members of innumerable productions of MacBeth have been afflicted by heart attacks, suicides, fires, collapsed sets, falls from the stage or rigging, strikes, robberies, serious illness, family tragedies. Makes our little fire at Skylight seem as inconsequential as it was inevitable !

NB: daring young Rick went on to have a very successful career as both an actor & playwright.

image : a raven claiming territory on Vancouver's Third Beach. / Though a scavenger, the raven has existed with humans for thousands of years. A member of the crow family, it has long been revered as both a messenger of God and, as Shakespeare uses it in MacBeth, a symbol of ill omen.

Friday, March 5, 2010

and these are our citizens..........

The lost souls of Vancouver's downtown eastside! The Olympic Committee didn't try to hide them away after all, to get them off the streets, make them invisible, as rumour had insisted was the plan. If anything, the decision to have the olympic flame relay pass through the troubled area, near the end of its coast to coast journey in the months leading up to the games, seemed the equivalent of an international announcement "This is part of our city too, these are our less fortunate citizens" Though the relay did have to be rerouted somewhat, due to the rowdy protests of activists for the homeless.

In another move, a 57ft tall outdoor LED sculpture, carrying the words "east" & "van" which, horizontally & vertically, make a crucifix, was commissioned by Vanoc's arts funding council. The east-van cross has long been a graffiti image of the tough eastside & now artist Ken Lum's inspiration for his contemporary sculpture. He grew up there, the son of low-paid chinese immigrant workers.The permanent "Monument for East Vancouver arises" has already become a defining symbol of the inner city & promotes critical discourse. It lights up at night. It looks a potent symbol of suffering. No, I havn't seen it. Wish I had. There was a fabulous nightshot from Rafal Gerszak for the Globe & Mail / Tuesday March 2nd.

Was also directed, via The Globe & Mail, to the website of Vancouver photographer Eric Deis whose campaign, through raw candid 2 gigapixel photographs of the eastside's streetlife, was to bring all eyes that were on Vancouver for the Olympics to the truth of the plight of the inhabitants of  downtown eastside.

None of it immediately helps those sleeping on the streets tonight, or the one who's going to overdose tomorrow or get beat up or die of AIDS but it seems a step turned in a direction that might have city hall actively looking for longterm solutions. They have acknowledged the condition. Perhaps they will also act. It isn't going to be easy  .......but then again, nothing worthwhile ever is , is it?

see previous post January 13th 2010 : the dilemma of vancouver's eastside......