Thursday, October 16, 2008
Prairie Artsters - Getting M:STy Down South*
Photo credit: Erica Brisson, 2008
As a festival blogger for the fourth biennial Mountain Standard Time Performance Art Festival, I spent the last two weekends traveling the QE2 down to Lethbridge and Calgary, respectively. Living in a festival city where the peak of festivities has just finally come to a lull, I find myself in yet another festival, but one of an entirely different atmosphere.
Down in Lethbridge, where the new media reputation precedes its windy coulee corridors, the festival included in its programming the world premiere of local artist David Hoffos’ Scenes From a House Dream. Taking up both floors of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and maximizing a full three weeks of install after five years in the making, the exhibition drew out the close-knit arts community and plenty of visiting onlookers wanting a sneak peak before its national tour kicks off at the National Art Gallery of Canada.
Nothing seen during the day on a dead walk through the town would prepare for the night. While walking around looking for the elusive Trap\door artist-run centre, I eventually stumbled upon it in the basement of the Trianon Gallery, where emerging Canadian artist Andrew Taggart opened his latest exhibition. Taggart, who is currently completing a unique joint MFA in Norway with his wife (who as it turns out I knew from a stint during an arts festival in Edmonton), was surrounded by friends and family who drove down from Calgary. Although not part of M:ST programming, but just serendipitous timing, they shared similar minded audiences who would otherwise remain alien to one another.
The other two performances that night included Calgary-based Angela Silver, who punched the carbon-paper-lined entrance corridor with red Everlast boxing gloves customed with an electric typewriter set across its knuckles. The corporeal execution of imprinting text has been an ongoing investigation for Silver, especially in terms of text and its function in society and the evolution of tools used in the creation of text. Although the performance itself was quite nonplus, the marks left by the carbon paper created a hieroglyphic chart in the liminal space between the gallery and the street.
The other performance took place in the Parlour Window space, the front window display/gallery of Hoffos’ studio space that sits on top of an original opium den just a few blocks off the main street. Performed and arranged by Calgary-based Wednesday Lupypciw, whose family tree traces itself back to Lethbridge, she pays homage to her mother in the form of a living tableau as she plays out a teenage scenario filled with Ouija board spooks and mimed telephone conversations that echo back on a video loop.
I would next run into Lupypciw during the Adrian Stimson performance in Calgary and again at the Glenbow, where she was volunteering for the Movement Movement’s “Run the Glenbow Museum.” I also ran into Cindy Baker, Renato Vitic and others, as the festival rolled on over a course of two weeks and two cities. Artists and administrators turned volunteers and spectators, as expected, but the audience throughout both weekends grew beyond the same handful of consistent faces, with many new individuals trailing in and out for each event and performance regardless of the overall umbrella festival mentality.
Part of my personal burnout for festivals is the excuse it has to show weaker works alongside one or two headliners, simply spanning both time and space as encouraged by the recent increases to festival funding that privileges the idea of presenting culture rather than its creation. Each M:ST event, unique on its own and strong enough to draw a respectable audience—which may have been happenstance, with several other arts conferences on the go—nevertheless pulled audiences from across the board. The festival did not boast itself before the work or its artists, but emphasized each work in its own rightful merit and critical context that can and should proudly stand on its own and be discussed within a consciously programmed festive atmosphere.
*First published in Vue Weekly, October 16 - 22, 2008
at 7:19:00 p.m.