What this blog is about

It's an art blog.
Mostly about theatre... but also a healthy dose of pop culture, politics and shameless self-promotion.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Art for Business…Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Michael Cowie

Big sale on now for artists who want to get on the web

Michael CowieI’m kinda excited for today’s blog post because I’m finally able to offer something useful to readers, rather than my own silly opinions.

I’d like to introduce you to Michael Cowie, a friend and colleague of mine who I’ve worked with extensively. Among other things, he’s a web designer (that’s how he eats) and, get this, he specializes in websites for theatre companies and artists.

Which companies? Well, there’s the internationally acclaimed (and soon to be featured at Toronto’s Luminato festival) Catalyst Theatre. There’s also Worshop West Theatre which, if you’re an aspiring Canadian playwright, you should become familiar with right quick. And for you West Coasters, there’s also young Jon Lachlan Stewart.

So why would you want to work with Mike? Well, he’s talented, design-savvy (most of the pics on my blog were taken and/or manipulated by him) and has a tonne of tricks up his sleeve. He can do regular HTML sites, and is also proficient with the new Joomla content management system, which is all the rage right now. Why? Because it allows you to update your website yourself without having to pay a designer to do it for you (like Facebook).

Most of all, he respects artists. Check out the opening paragraph from his Art for Business page:
“Every artist is a good businessperson. They have to be – they get their business done on a shoestring budget, and sometimes have to work miracles just to stay afloat. Any small business knows the game of juggling customer relations, business-to-business collaborations and marketing costs, customer development and financial gymnastics. Business and art go hand in hand – and nowhere more than on the web.”

Whether or not you agree, it’s a refreshing attitude to start a business relationship with, don’t you think? And if you’re not ready to bite, he has useful advice on his “I need a website” page. Check it out:
“You don't necessarily need something shiny or fancy to make an impact or to get a lot of functionality – and functionality is key, now that the web is a means of production and not just a means of communication. If you take time to plan a web-design project properly, you can have both - and get a work of genius on a low-fi budget - but you need to make sure it's a foundation you can build-on when your resources and budget increase, and that it's a tool that you can use to its maximum potential.”

Last but not least, he’s having a “recession busting” sale right now, and knocking off a large chunk of dough (up to 500 bucks!) off the price, if you throw down a deposit in advance. But don’t take my word for it. He’s got testimonials peppered around his site, or you can check out his portfolio and see for yourself. (Yes, there are a lot of pictures of me up there; I’m not totally selfless when marketing my friends…).

Those of you a little more technically inclined, take a look at his Hack Notes for useful tips on pimping out your Mac.

Contact him. He’s really cool.

(You’re welcome, Mike.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spite seems to work for the Arts

Cultural Heritage Minister James Moore

Budget Day 2009

So, on top of the $160 million in new Arts & Culture funding already announced, there might be additional funds hidden in the rest of Budget 2009, to be read later today.

Pretty amazing turnaround from a few months ago, hey? Maybe you're like me and you're asking, "What gives?".

This might help. I was digging around the webbernet and found this little tidbit buried in the G&M's "Spector-Vision" blog:
Today, on the front page of La Presse, the newly-minted minister of cultural heritage, James Moore, is promising $160 million for culture. Recall, that it was a $45 million reduction in funding that many observers believe was the reason the Conservatives were denied a majority in October. Asked what he had to say to the Bloc which has been demanding the restoration of those funds, Mr. Moore lets the cat out of the bag:

"They've been demanding $45 million? We're talking $160 million. If the Bloc Québécois, the Liberals and the NDP vote against the budget, they'll prove they're liars about being the great defenders of artists."

Kinda sounds like the new Conservative Culture policy basically amounts to: "So THERE!"

In any case... works for me!

Let's see what other tidbits they announce later this afternoon...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An(other) interview w/ Matej Andraž Vogrinčič


courtesy Matej Andraž Vogrinčič

This is the second half of my interview with Matej Andraž Vogrinčič, a cool, international visual artist originally from Slovenia. You can check out Part ONE here.

Aaron ~ So, Matej, the reason why we're chatting right now is because of a blog post I wrote last year about Run For Love, a cool multimedia/theatrical piece at the 2008 Aurillac International Street Theatre Festival. I was inspired by seeing that production and would love to get some insight on the process.

MAV ~ Okay.

Aaron ~ How did you get involved with Run For Love?

MAV ~ Ja, I first worked with Matjaz Pograjc 17 years ago. We have the same producers in Ljubljana.they've continued to work with Matjaz for all that time and then they also worked with me on my Liverpool biennial boats project in 2006.courtesy Matej Andraž Vogrinčič So they suggested, "how about you two working together again?" So, we had couple of brainstorms.

Aaron ~ How about Ez3kiel? I mean, the music was such a huge part of the project... Was there any prior working relationships there?

MAV ~ I had never heard of Ez3kiel before. But the project was done as a collaboration with a cultural program called Tandem. It's a French project that invites artists from France and another European country to collaborate. So we started to listen to some French bands and this one seemed to fit.

Aaron ~ International cultural collaboration... believe me, we're all very envious back here in Canada! So, did you all collaborate together? Was it one person's vision or did everyone come up with the idea together?

MAV ~ It was more one person's vision of how to put separate works together into a single theatre piece. How to bring a contemporary art piece, a concert and a story all together into a theatre piece. Or an "urban spectacle" as some critics used to call it.

Aaron ~ And, how do you personally communicate your ideas to others?

MAV ~ In most of the cases I just talk about them. Sometimes I do some drawings, but drawings are normally totally different from the end project, so I do not use them as much.
courtesy Matej Andraž Vogrinčič
Aaron ~ Does the way you communicate change depending on the country you're working in? I don't mean just language barriers: I mean different cultural histories and attitudes towards art.

MAV ~ The way I communicate has not changed so far. My approach, especially using public space, is really basic. And, at this basic level cultural histories and attitudes in my opinion are not so very different.

Aaron ~ I guess you would know: you've travelled around the world to create site-specific art. BTW, is Ljubljana still home for you?

MAV ~ Hm, I have to think about it. Yes, I guess it is still my home. But I know it is not my only home. Home for me is where my love is. And also where the stove is burning and people are gathered around a freshly cooked meal. Well. I guess those two are connected somehow.

Aaron ~ After working on Run For Love, what would you say the main difference is between an public space installation piece and a public space performance piece (like street theatre)?

MAV ~ Well, in my case, the main difference was the site specific element. The majority of my projects are done just for a single space. Especially for that space and so the piece can not travel. Also, the majority of installations are there for longer. They do not have the same "performance magic" of just couple of hours and then everything is back to normal. But. if I start to think about it, the boundaries become more vague. Depends also on how we define street theatre and installation
courtesy Matej Andraž Vogrinčič
Aaron ~ That's probably a can of worms we don't need to open right now. Moving on! Digital media is becoming more accessible (and affordable!) for many artists, and was a big part of Run For Love. Do you plan to use more digital media in your work?

MAV ~ Yes, I do. It is very important for me because it is a document. After a month, an installation is gone and the images are the only remaining document. I must say, for me, they are not just documents - they are pieces of art themselves. I prepare my installations knowing that the main product is not only this installation but also the photography. So far I have not had enough money to make movies about the whole process. but hopefully for my next project, a video or a movie about the installation with all the close ups and beautiful details will be another work of art here to stay longer than just a month.

Aaron ~ Speaking of which, do you have future collaborations coming up?

MAV ~ No, unfortunately not at the moment. I might work with Matjaz on some set designs for his new piece, but no future collaborations with somebody else at the moment.

Aaron ~ Hear that Canada? Opportunity is knocking.courtesy Matej Andraž VogrinčičOkay, last question - and it's a goofy one, but totally fitting within the context of this blog. Do you read comic books? If so, do you have a favourite?

MAV ~ Uh. I am bad when it comes to comic books. But please tell me which one is your favourite one? I am in London at the moment so I hope they sell it here!

If anyone has a comic recommendation for Matej (or has any questions for him that I didn't ask), please let him know by commenting on this post. I know he's watching.

Thank you so much to Matej for taking the time to chat with me and providing the cool pics. I wish him all the best, and look forward to being able to see his next project! (Hopefully in person!)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dark disappointment?

No "Best Picture" for Dark Knight
not necessarily a bad thing

The Dark Knight poster

Listen, I can't complain about DK being beaten out by lesser films for the Best Picture nod, because I didn't see the other contenders. Mind you, A LOT of people missed out on the other contenders. This seems to follow the Oscar's latest trend of lauding films that nobody goes to.

Personally, I think this is probably the way to go: Point out the diamonds in the rough -- give the little guys a chance! (But then, I come from an independent/experimental theatre background... I know all about being the little guy in the big bad arts world.)

However, some people are REALLY disappointed by DK missing out on BP honours. I'm not. Why? Cause I think it'll be better for comic-inspired movies in the long run.

DK is the second highest grossing movie of all time. The only other movie to beat it was Titanic, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1997. (Whether or not it was deserved is another story altogether.) Thus, movie producers can conclude three things:
1) High quality comic book movies will make a helluva lotta money
2) Dark Knight could have made more money than it did (or will)
3) Simply copying Dark Knight is not the way to make the most money

Movie producers tend to take a good idea/concept and carbon copy it until it dies a horrible, horrible death. Look no further than the Batman movies of the 90's.

Maybe, however, just maybe, movie producers might realize that a blockbuster comic book movie that is capable of getting an Oscar nod is the way to go. The Dark Knight was the closest that they've ever got. But it was missing something... and, maybe, some more thought needs to be put into it before blindly copying and mass producing the shit out of the formula.

... Or maybe I'm giving Hollywood too much credit.

Anyway, let's keep it in perspective. I think The Dark Knight was a great movie, and the main reason for it's critical success lies in Heath Ledger's exceptional performance as Joker. He has been given Oscar recognition for that role (though whether he'll actually win is still very much in the air).

His recognition stands alone, as I think it should. His performance lifted the movie up. It's only right that the movie's accolades should not overshadow the performer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Attention Writers!

Full text of Barack Obama's Inaugural Address:

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

An interview w/ Matej Andraž Vogrinčič

Part ONE

courtesy Matej Andraž Vogrinčič
Last year, I blogged about a cool multimedia/theatrical piece at the Aurillac International Street Theatre Festival called Run For Love.

Not sure if you noticed in the comments section, but Matej Andraž Vogrinčič found my blog through that post. He's the visual artist who was responsible for the set design of Run For Love... including 7,000 Slinkys walking down a two-storey plynth.
("Slinkys?" you say... Check out this video.) And, he offered advice, inspiration and answers for anyone who might have questions about the project.

Gawd, I love the webbernet.

See, Matej Andraž Vogrinčič is an internationally renowned artist who specializes in the creation and design of site specific work for public spaces. His notoriety began in the early nineties when he "dressed" an entire house in his hometown (Ljubljana, Slovenia) with used and donated clothing. He was invited to do a similar project for the Venice Biennale in 1999: Casa Vestita. After that, his career skyrocketed and he has been invited to produce new work around in the world. Places like:
New Haven, Connecticut (US);
Liverpool, England;
Melbourne, Australia;
Christchurch, New Zealand;
And, of course, Aurillac, France.

Check out his bio over at the website for the SCCA - Ljubljana Center for Contemporary Arts. Scroll down for photos and links.

Naturally, I had a few questions for this very cool artist. Check it out...

Aaron ~ Thanks for finding me Matej! I've written about your past work above, but is there anything new that you're working on that'd you'd like to share?

MAV ~ Right now I am still working on Slinkys. I took like a million photos so now I have to choose the right ones to make a small series.

At the same time I am also working on a video. Short, not longer than couple of minutes, about Slinkys going down and what is happening to them while they're marching down the slope. It reflects life in a way.

Aaron ~ How do you mean?

MAV ~ Some Slinkys look like they are in love, walking down very close together. and then somebody - a third Slinky - comes and destroys this harmony of two. Some of them look like they are completely drunk. Some are going down on their own way...

And I also want to make a smaller kind of perpetual mobile slope, escalator and ramp for Slinkys so I would be able to put it in a gallery like an installation art piece. which it was anyway, from the start. Or it can also work on a street, but as a street art piece in its own right.

Aaron ~ How about new art projects beyond the wild world of Slinkys?

MAV ~ I am working on dealing with the ski jump. I think we should use it for something else than just for ski jumpers. So I want to do a project using a ski jump. Hey. maybe I should do it in Canada.

Aaron ~ We have a brilliant contemporary art festival in Toronto called Nuit Blanche. Would you ever be interested in participating in something like that?

MAV ~ I would love to come to Canada. Just invite me and I will be on the first plane! I already am interested in participating in something like that! Lectures, exhibitions, contemporary art festivals...I would be very happy to come and participate.

Aaron ~ Wicked. Mind you, I don't think we have any ski jumps here in the T-dot. You'd probably have to come up with something different. Do you have any ideas for an art piece that would work for Bay Street?

MAV ~ I'm also working on how to use a catapult for art purposes.

Aaron ~ Oh yeah, that would work! But, I've read that you do a lot of research about a space ­- the history and the sociology of a site - for inspiration when you're creating a new work.

MAV ~ Well, it is really very different with every project. But normally, if possible, I want to see the space first. That would mean walking around the city or the area and trying to find some space that I like. something that grabs my attention. In most cases I come up with a concept in couple of days.

Aaron ~ That's pretty quick. How does it come to you?

MAV ~ The idea is developed according to the site. Like in Adelaide, I saw "Small Car Members Only" written on a wall. So I just read it literally and put 15,000 toy cars on the wall...
courtesy Matej Andraž Vogrinčič
MAV ~ In the desert, I was dealing with the light and the fact of lacking water.

Aaron ~ And so you covered an area the size of a football field with watering cans.

courtesy Matej Andraž Vogrinčič

MAV~ Yes. And in Ljubljana and Venice, I was working on old abandoned houses. which brought me to the idea of dressing them.
courtesy Matej Andraž Vogrinčič
Aaron ~ So then, what's your dream project? Imagine you have unlimited funds and unlimited time. What would you do?

MAV ~ Well, I do not know. Never thought of it that way. Most of the time I work with almost no budget or very little...

Aaron ~ Tell me about it brother.

MAV ~ ...so everything I have goes to the material costs anyway. But at the moment, I guess it would be connected with ski jumps. Something kinetic. with objects in the air, using everything from artificial wind to helium to lots of beautiful lights to create some kind of visual experience we would never forget.

Stay tuned to Tracking Righteousness to catch Part 2 of this interview, where me and Matej chat about Run For Love, digital media, and staying connected to home.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On Theatre and Politics - Matthew Freeman: On "Meaning"

Reading to fill your heart with inspiration

I hope everyone had a happy and restful holiday season.

Here's a brilliant post from On Theatre and Politics - Matthew Freeman: On "Meaning"

I found it inspiring. Hope you do too