Get Your Harmony and Arts On!

Tomorrow is the last day of the week-long Harmony Arts Festival in West Vancouver. This annual August festival has been going on for 25 years, but this year marked my first.

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The Ferry Building Gallery

The Ferry Building Gallery

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What a fun time it is! Good food, good art, good vibe (and not overly crowded, either!) I went last Sunday and it was a beautiful day to be strolling the art market where local artists (many West and North Van ones, but also ones from Surrey and Victoria) were set up with their white tents, selling all sizes and styles of paintings, jewellery, handmade wood flutes, pottery, glassware, and many other items. They were all incredibly friendly and it was neat to run into some that I’ve encountered through working at an art gallery.

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The white tents of the Art Market

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Here are some of my favourites:

dconstruct (jewellery)

Anouk Jonker (visual art)

Nicoletta Baumeister (visual art)

Haejin Lee (ceramics)

Leanne Christie (visual art)

Heather Johnston (photography)

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Ambleside Pier

This flamboyant display of silver and magenta balloons in the distance is not just party decoration—it’s a public artwork by Matthew Soules called Intense the Heat. (I actually couldn’t tell it was a public artwork from far away so I didn’t go under it (oops) but now I wished I had!) This temporary installation on Ambleside Pier “offers shade from the August sun while transforming the experience of strolling the pier or gazing from the shore. The balloons sway in the wind as a subtle reminder of the dynamic energetic systems that make up our surroundings. The result is a magical and celebratory space for all to enjoy.” (from the festival website)

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Other things to do include taking in the live music acts on stage, live artist demonstrations, viewing the group exhibition under the white tent and community art in the Ferry Building Gallery, enjoying food from one of the food trucks, and getting cozy on the grass for a movie in the park. Check the schedule on their website to see what’s on the last day.

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Eating my poutine from Raglan’s Soul Surfer food truck and watching the cruise ships go by!

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The lovely Lions Gate Bridge that the cruise ship just slipped under.

If you have some time tomorrow and enjoy community art festivals, it’s definitely worth checking out!

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Showing me the way with a brush and splashes of paint

None of these writing prompts prompt me lately. I don’t want to write about an onion, how I fight life, or what I would have said if I had landed first on the moon.

I want to write about the little boy in the art class I help teach who makes up the craziest interpretations of his work and reminds me what it’s like to be young and wonder-full. There are ninjas and dragons and oceans and astronauts where I see only splotches of blue and splatters of red. When he’s explaining it to me, I start to see his world. I start to love his world.

Maybe it’s like Donald Miller with jazz music:

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked  jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

The five-year old boy I see once a week at the Surrey Art Gallery is the musician never opening his eyes. He gets immersed so easily, even if it’s not in the ‘sanctioned’ activity. He’d rather bob his sponge up and down in a container of water with the end of his brush than load it with paint and put it on canvas because he is, after all, a boy, and boys like to play.

“Take a look at this,” he calls me over in a eureka!-type voice. “The sponge is so heavy with water, but it still floats! This is amazing!” And I guess it is. Forget the paintbrushes and paint. Equipped with sponge and water, he is mesmerized the rest of the class.

The kids are painting self-portraits. Bright colours, Matisse style. Fauvism. Or Andy Warhol’s pop art.

Portrait of Madame Matisse (The Green Stripe) by Henri Matisse. 1905.

Portrait of L. N. Delekorskaya by Henri Matisse. 1947.

Silkscreen prints of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol. 1960s.

Or at least they’re supposed to paint bright colours. Green, orange, red, blue, yellow. They get a bit of white for lightening purposes, and black, to outline their features.

“There’s something wrong with these paintbrushes!” the boy quickly remarks in an alarming tone, beginning to outline the edges of his face.

“What’s wrong with them?” I ask.

“They look thin but they act fat!” He lets out the groan of an artist not happy with his work.

I laugh. Appearances can be deceiving, whether you’re five or forty-five.

Looking at the canvasses in the room, I don’t see many bright colours. Kids are so creative and yet when encouraged to be creative, they blend the colours like crazy until they find the most realistic skin tone. Maybe you have to be old to be avant-garde. No, that’s not true.

They were old enough to be frustrated.

“I’m beginning to regret something about my painting,” the same boy says with a deep sigh. I didn’t know a five-year old knew regret, let alone could use it in a sentence.

“What do you regret?” I ask, curious what’s on the other end of that line in a five-year old’s mind.

“I put so much white on my face, but I don’t think it will show up.”

It did show up. White as snow. This is the boy who stuck eight layers of glaze on his clay cupcake the week before to make sure it would come out of the kiln completely covered. It came out covered all right. More like caked.

Sometimes kids do things too completely. Lost in art, they don’t know when to stop. Of all the problems to have, I think this is a pretty good one. The saxophone player never opening his eyes, feeling his way through the music.

A good kind of lost.

The Leap and the Fall

Three seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

The leap and the fall.

Leap into the Void, After Three Seconds (2004) is Romanian artist Ciprian Muresan’s remake of Yves Klein’s Saut dans le vide (1960). Muresan’s exhibition is on now until April 7 at the Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery.

Space fascinated Klein. This French painter literally jumped into the void so he could feel what it was like and translate this vision to the viewer. Completely uninhibited, arms outstretched, back reverse-arched, he flies into that middle space of the street. Open, empty, pregnant with possibility.

To paint space, I owe it to myself to go there, to that very space… without illusions or tricks, nor with a plane or a parachute or a rocket ship: [the painter of space] must go there by his own means, with an independent individual force, in a word, he must be capable of levitation. – Journal du Dimanche,” November 27, 1960.

Even though he says “without illusions or tricks,” the image is a photomontage. Klein fell onto an outstretched tarpaulin which was then replaced with a shot of the street.

Journal du Dimanche, 1960. “Theatre of the Void.” “A man in space!”

In his remake, Muresan removes the optimism of Klein’s photograph and depicts the reality after three seconds. What goes up must come down. Klein is flat on his face, dead in a Cluj street. Muresan’s rendition shows disillusionment with the idea of liberation. His work speaks out of the context of the Romanian Revolution of 1989 that resulted in over a thousand civilian deaths before overthrowing the Communist government and executing head of state Nicolae Ceausescu.

In an interview I was reading at the Contemporary Art Gallery that provides more details of Muresan’s work, he said this photograph is also a commentary on how there is no space for art in Romania. He used the present tense, which intrigued me because he lives and works as an artist in Romania.

Although Muresan’s installations are set in this specific socio-political context, I found myself making other, more general interpretations.

I had a recent conversation with a friend who said, “Sometimes you need to jump off that cliff.” (This was in the context of taking risks – whether it be with a career, relationship, or otherwise). I gave a quick laugh, a little shocked at the drastic imagery.

This is the type of picture that came to mind. This is the fear:

“Leap into the Void, After Three Seconds” by Ciprian Muresan. 2004.

Perhaps sensing how I interpreted it, she followed up with, “and you won’t die. You will land somewhere.”

I was oddly encouraged by these words. You’ll leap and you’ll eventually find that space where you feel like you’re flying, not falling. This is the hope:

“Le saut dans le vide” by Yves Klein. 1960.

Muresan briefly puts aside postmodernism’s theatricality and gets powerfully real with the viewer in Protesting Against Myself (2011).

This video installation stages a puppet show from inside a garbage bin on a Romanian street where the marionette gives a list of reasons why he’s protesting against himself. In the last shot, the camera pans past the marionette into the depths of the garbage can where Ciprian Muresan himself is sitting, speaking directly into the camera.

I’m protesting against myself because I keep hiding in a bin whilst everything gets taken away from me.

His figurative mask comes off and the viewer senses the puppet show was simply the warm-up to say everything he needed to say before he could say what he really wanted to say. His words take him out of hiding.

Muresan’s installations are all so interconnected. On the topic of garbage bins, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his other fascinating piece in the same exhibition room.

Recycled Playground (2011) by Ciprian Muresan. Photograph by David Gagnebin-de Bons.

Recycled Playground (2011) was inspired by a rusting train the artist walked by daily in an abandoned park. He reuses five life-sized plastic garbage cans and links them together to create a modern day train set. But the idea of childhood play is jaded. Here is consumer culture going around and around. Here is homogeneity. Here is a metaphor for our lives. Have we become stuck circling the same track because we’ve forgotten what it is to create, what it is to break from the mechanical rhythm, pop out of the garbage can Jack-in-the-box style,

 

and leap!                                                                                                          into the void

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I visited the Surrey Art Gallery today. The current exhibitions there centre around the self. What does it mean to portray yourself in a self-portrait? How do we choose to represent ourselves? What is self? Big questions for a Friday morning.

Artist Holly Armishaw portrayed herself taking her doppelganger (double) for tea. This photograph depicts the multiple identities that comprise each of us. The right figure reflects her mother’s influence on her life (how to be a lady, serving tea, sitting pretty) — and the left figure reflects her father’s influence (working on his motorbike in the garage listening to Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper records).

Mixed Heritage by Holly Armishaw

This next image by Colleen Baran plays with the idea that we can get a cursory yet often accurate glimpse of someone’s identity by the things in one’s purse, in one’s medicine cabinet, the books on one’s shelf, a DVD collection, the art in one’s home. I think this is why I’ve always found it so fascinating to housesit. The things people own tell a lot about who they are, their aesthetic tastes, their loves and fears, the way they spend their time. But we are also more complex than what these objects speak about us. We can’t be reduced to what we own.

Self-Portrait in Open 8 and 9 by Colleen Baran

This next one by Grace Gordon-Collins, I like the description better than the portrait. She’s unstable and evanescent, and it probably reminds me too much of my own in-betweenness.

In Between by Grace Gordon-Collins

Undefined space and time as both prison and prelude to a new reality. Could she have said it any better? If you were submitting a self-portrait in this exhibition, how would you portray yourself? What defines you?

This collage of personal documents and photographs by Al Neil reminds the viewer of the limits of such a question, for we are different people at different times in our lives. Or maybe not different people, but different versions of ourselves. How do you capture all these facets? Do you even try?

Autobio #6 by Al Neil

Under this mask, another mask.

I will not finish taking off all these faces

– Claude Cahun, early 20th century French artist

“Art is in the air, and on the ground”

I frequently walk by a giant placard with the above message advertising the newest development to be built on the corner of Cook and Johnson streets in Victoria.

Having just defended my master’s essay on the relationship between architecture and literature, this advertising slogan resonates with me, as it essentially makes the same statement — that art and architecture are inextricably linked, having both material and immaterial, or physical and imaginative dimensions.

Do you know the painter who inspired this development?

Soon-to-come residential building in Victoria

Think clearly-defined straight lines. Think bold, primary colours. Think squares and rectangles. Think modern. If you came up with Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, you’re right. Here are some samples of his work:

Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red

Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow

de Hoog & Kierulf architects in Victoria describe the above building as “a playful composition of rectangular forms, coloured glass, and metal railing.”

I like seeing architects play with art and translate a vision of what was formerly two-dimensional into something new, three-dimensional, and inhabitable. Rather than replace or outdo its inspiration, the architect’s translation of Mondrian’s art provides another way to access the original.

In the past, when I’ve looked at Piet Mondrian’s paintings, I stare at them thinking I’m missing something (which, I should note, is often my reaction towards modern art). What is he trying to get at with this painting? It’s so simple, so geometric, so basic. Sometimes modern art seems like a trick question whose answer, if there is one, constantly eludes me.

But seeing Mondrian’s art literally constructed in the present context in the city I live, I appreciate its strong, simple lines, its clear shapes, and its bold colours. I appreciate its definition. I appreciate its order. Order is a difficult word in architecture as it can swing both ways, creating either tedium or pleasure (to borrow Alain de Botton’s phrasing). In this residential building soon to come in Victoria, we see the pleasure of order in its conciseness, recognizability, and readability.

The Pleasure of Order

This building also brings clarity to a section of a literary text I recently read –urban critic Jane Jacobs’ influential The Death and Life of Great American Cities, where she talks about the necessity of dynamic borders for a city’s public life. Railway tracks and streets adjoining two neighbourhoods shouldn’t be dead zones that act like barriers to divide the city and the people in it. Instead, they should be seams where one segment of life spills into the other, creating a vital and very much alive space.

Mondrian’s paintings portray this urban idea in art. The most exciting spaces of the canvas are at the edges, where our eyes are drawn and where we’re left hanging, wondering, and waiting for something to happen, something unexpected, something significant because we know the colours and the lines don’t stop just because our eyes can’t see any further. These edge spaces animate the canvas, and have the potential to do so on the urban one as well.

Composition 10

Apparently de Hoog & Kierulf architects haven’t been the only ones inspired by Piet Mondrian.

Mondrian dress

“Mondrian” day dress by Yves Saint Laurent

All things Mondrian