Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (1977)

As ELAN Organization Member Black Theatre Workshop (BTW) approaches its 50th Anniversary, we spoke with Artistic Director Quincy Armorer about the theatre’s evolution, and the programming highlights that have helped define BTW’s influential place in Montreal. Since its foundation in 1970, Black Theatre Workshop has been the longest running Black theatre company in Canada. It has played a significant role in shaping the stories told by playwrights and the opportunities available for Black theatre artists in Montreal, with resonating effects on broader Canadian theatre scenes. Founding members like Clarence Bayne, Errol Sitahal and Yvonne Greer (just to name a few) bring collective experience from organizations with long histories of advocacy in the arts and education in Quebec, such as the Black Community Resource Centre, the Quebec Board of Black Educators, and the Black Community Central Administration of Quebec. Today, Black Theatre Workshop has fostered a thriving community, with a strong network of collaborating theatres like Centaur, Neptune, Tableau d’Hôte, the Segal Centre, and MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels).  

The River Niger (1980-1981)

Black Theatre Workshops’ first productions have included the work of notable playwrights like Lorraine Hainsbury, Lorena Gale, Derek Walcott, David Edgecombe, and Trevor Rhone. “The earlier focus of Black Theatre Workshop was more Caribbean, with a Trinidadian focus,” says Quincy. “Now the programming is more encompassing of Montreal’s Black communities.” Over the years, BTW’s repertoire has staged plays that are both intimate and fiercely political, exploring issues of self-identity, assimilation, the fragmentation of family and community, as well as sensitively approaching global issues like poverty and the sex-trade.

Lorena Gale’s work has especially taken the spotlight during Black Theatre Workshop’s 49th season, with the acclaimed co-production of Angélique by BTW and Tableau D’Hote Theatre. Angélique tells the 18th century story of enslaved Marie-Joseph Angélique, who attempted to flee her owner’s home and is alleged to have set fire to the mistress’ house. In 1734, she was convicted of arson, tortured and hanged for the fire that took at least 46 buildings in Old Montreal. Quincy Armorer noted the critical success of Angélique as a “homegrown story” that had the opportunity to be performed at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Toronto’s Factory Theatre.

Also among Black Theatre Workshop’s playwriting cohort is Trey Anthony, the first Black woman in Canada to have her own television series, which was based on her play Da Kink In My Hair. Trey Anthony’s recent production of How Black Mothers Say I Love You is a tale of separation and reconciliation through character Daphne’s experience as an immigrant and mother in Canada. Quincy also mentions his first programmed play at Black Theatre Workshop, Djanet SearsHarlem Duet, which was a sequel to the playwright’s one-woman performance of Afrika Solo (2012). Djanet Sears’ work also shines in The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, which follows the complex story of a community descended from the Black Loyalists of 1812, who were granted Ojibwe land in Holland Township, Ontario. Local stories also resonate through the work of Canadian actor, producer and director Omari Newton. The 2013-2014 season presented Newton’s play Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy of, which was based on the 2008 police shooting of 18-year-old Honduran immigrant Fredy Villanueva in Montreal-Nord.

Angélique (2017), photo by Andrée Lanthier (L) and Harlem Duet (2012-2013) (R).

An important part of Black Theatre Workshop’s ongoing programming is the annual Artist Mentorship Program (AMP), which gives emerging theatre professionals the chance to work on a professional ensemble production. Started in the 2013-2014 season, the program is now in its sixth year with the support of the Canadian Arts Trainings Fund (part of Canadian Heritage). The Mentorship Program has evolved from its early years as more of a “summer camp”, as Quincy describes, to become a robust and well-respected program that helps transition recent theatre graduates toward career opportunities.

“The theatre community in Montreal is watching Black Theatre Workshop,” says Quincy, “Actors are finding work all the time. Participants in the Mentorship Program come out with real opportunities. They are cast in mainstage productions, their plays are professionally produced.” Every year, Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program culminates with the Industry Showcase, where about fifteen participants perform a one-and-a-half hour play for industry professionals including casting agents, directors, and producers. 

Swan Song of Maria (2009-2010) (L), Maija of Chaggalandand (2001-2002), and blood [claat] (2007-2008) (R).

Quincy highlights just a few of the success stories of Artist Mentorship Program alumni, noting the diversity of disciplines within theatre that each participant brings, and the richness of their involvement in both local and international projects. In 2016, actor Vladimir Alexis was awarded Black Theatre Workshop’s Gloria Mitchell-Aleong Award at the 30th annual Vision Celebration Gala. Alexis is known for his supporting role in Roland Emmerich’s 2015 film Stonewall, as well as appearing in X-men: Apocalypse, Saving Hope, Trauma and Just For Laughs’ Nasty Show. Actor, singer and director Tamara Brown had co-founded Montreal’s Metachroma Theatre in 2010, and recently directed the world premiere of Successions, by Michaela DiCesare, at Centaur Theatre. Actor and writer Rachel Mutombo, who participated in Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal‘s first Youth Creator Unit, has acted with Montreal’s Repercussion Theatre, Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre, and has recently gone on to join Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre Company.

Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program has also included designers. Quincy mentions the work of Sophie el-Assaad, who has worked in costume and set design, with recent productions like Clean Slate (Talisman Theatre) and BLACKOUT (Tableau D’Hote Theatre). On her costume design for Cabal Theatre’s production of Tragic Queens, Sophie el-Assaad was honoured with META awards for Outstanding costume and Emerging Artist. AMP participant and emerging theatre designer Zoe Roux has done set, costume and lighting design for the AMP Showcase of Harlem Duet by Djanet Sears and Blacks Don’t Bowl by Vadney S. Haynes. Roux has gone on to do set design for productions by Third Space Theatre, Centaur Theatre, and Geordie Productions

The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God (2015-1016), photo by Andrée Lanthier.

As Black Theatre Workshop nears its 50th anniversary, the team has much to celebrate — from the professional successes of the countless artists who have worked with BTW over the years, to enriching the representation and opportunities available for Black theatre artists in Montreal. Quincy acknowledges the challenge of Black Theatre Workshop remaining “a minority within a minority, within a minority”, given that the Anglophone community of Quebec is already a small community. This may certainly contribute to some artists leaving the city, Quincy admits, but the presence of BTW gives theatre professionals a meaningful chance to work and thrive in the city.

Quincy describes the importance of Black Theatre Workshop in shaping opportunities for Black theatre professionals to work with each other, instead of competing for a limited number of token roles. This also changes the dynamic of who is empowered to write, stage and perform in Quebec theatre. “The Black Theatre Workshop has a significant role in giving a foundation and opportunities to actors — a very vital role in fulfilling the needs of Black theatre artists.” Today, representation in theatre has moved away from merely “passing” mainstream plays by writers like Arthur Miller with black actors. “We are seeing Black stories, the work of Black writers,” says Quincy. “These stories are from Black communities where they are subjects, not objects”.

The Lady Smith (2006-2007) (top), and Gas Girls (2014-2015), photo by Antoine Saito (bottom).

The 2019-2020 season will be the busiest to date for Black Theatre Workshop as it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2020-2021 season. Stay tuned for upcoming announcements from Black Theatre Workshop later this month! In the meantime, the Artist Mentorship program is accepting applications for its next season until APRIL 20! This year’s Industry Showcase will be hosted MAY 10-11 at the Centaur Theatre.

Black Theatre Workshop website: blacktheatreworkshop.ca

Black Theatre Workshop Facebook: BlackTheatreWorkshop

Black Theatre Workshop Twitter: @TheatreBTW

Black Theatre Workshop  Instagram: @theatrebtw

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SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Erik Nieminen (Feature)

Vallum Magazine / VSEAL (Organization Spotlight)

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

 

Erik Nieminen is a Finnish-Canadian artist born in Ottawa in 1985. He achieved a BFA from the University of Ottawa in 2007 and an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal in 2010. He has exhibited in both Europe and North America, including a recent solo show at the Albemarle Gallery in London entitled “The Unreal”, and at the Galerie d’Art d’Outremont in Montreal entitled “Above Below”. Erik Nieminen’s next solo show will be in 2019 in New York City, entitled “Paradise Not Lost”. He currently lives and works in Montreal, after spending four and a half years living in Berlin. He shows with the Galerie Kremers in Berlin.

“Midas”, oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

What attracted you to painting, and to your mixture of realism and surrealism?

For me painting is the most malleable of visual mediums. It is not constrained by programming or other technological limits. It’s purely chemical — almost alchemical from a certain point of view. The flexibility of the painting process stems from its non-reliance on mechanical visual systems which allows painting to exist as a kind of alternate reality from our own — something dream-like or even surreal. Things like film and photography serve a different function as they tie concretely back to our world as a document of a moment in time. Paintings are created over varying lengths of time with each individual inch of the canvas being taken into consideration, meaning there is nothing incidental. It is an amalgamation of thousands of conscious and subconscious decisions. Painting can be whatever you want it to be.

I tend not to distinguish between realism and abstraction (or surrealism). It all exists together, as the moment you depict something on a two-dimensional painted surface it automatically becomes abstraction. It’s either that or it’s all representation. In any case it’s all unreal, and therefore it’s a bit of an absurd notion to be too reliant on notions of “what things actually look like” and thus I am free to move between styles as much as I wish.

“Abstract Paradise”, oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

Your work often has a mixture of artificial and natural environments: could you talk about how these themes influence your work?

I’ve always been interested in urban motion. I grew up in Ottawa, which is a city of a decent size, but ultimately has a very small-town feel about it. I always wanted to get out and live in a big urban center… to be in the middle of the hustle, in the dynamism of the crowd, of technology, of concrete — I found all this quite exciting. I understand the city as a kind of construct, a fabrication that is intended to serve humanity in an organic, natural, and fluid manner. However, it doesn’t always work, and so humanity constructs artificial escapes, mini-paradises in the middle of the city in the form of parks, biodomes, etc. We visit these places as a respite from everyday life. What was once commonplace is now a kind of theatrical therapy.

In terms of painting, I used the city as a subject for a long time. It provided enough content to develop complex spatial challenges, but natural habitats also provide these challenges through different shapes and forms. I’m interested in combining the city and the organic world in such a way that they collide with each other to create unique visual encounters, and from there — themes, narratives, and ideas may emerge.

Much of your work in the “Reality” series depicts people in day-to-day situations in the city. There’s a voyeuristic element to this. Do you work with photography to help create these scenes?

I wander through the city with a sketchpad, a camera, and a video-camera. Periodically I will stop and document a location that seems to contain significant visual possibilities, something I can cultivate further. I take thousands of photos per year, but also many hours of video documentation. Every painting begins with abstract sketches (lines, shapes, scribbles). Eventually a kind of abstract composition emerges. These digital photos and videos serve as reference points that I can steal from to inject into my sketched spaces. Therefore, as real as some paintings may seem, they are all impossibilities — a conglomeration of drawing, photo, and video coming together to create a singular painted experience that cannot be found in real life. In terms of being a voyeur — I try not to be noticed when documenting something… I don’t bother to compose shots, I get the information as fast as possible and move on. I don’t want to be intrusive.

“The Other Side” (top) and “Ricochet” (bottom), oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

What are some of the sources of inspiration for you?

While I try not to rely on anything specific, I am very influenced by artists whose interest is in playing with three-dimensional space on a flat surface. Therefore the cubists and futurists were some of my earliest influences. An artist like David Hockney is someone I’ve looked at a lot, though my work doesn’t have any particular aesthetic connection to his. I’ve been looking at a lot of very formal abstract painting recently, but then I’ve also been listening to talks by the artist Vincent Desiderio who paints in quite a figurative way, almost old master-like. Literature that involves reflections about the human condition in urban space have always interested me — Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy being one, but also something like Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Man of the Crowd, upon which I based a 7 meter long painting several years ago. I listen to electronic or minimalist music while working. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but perhaps it’s got the right mix of warm and cool to keep me in a state of balance while painting.

You’ve had experience living abroad in Berlin: how did you transition your artistic practice to the city? Can you talk about how you established connections, mapped out galleries and other resources?

It wasn’t necessarily easy to move to a country where I didn’t speak the language and knew almost nobody (my friend, the artist Vitaly Medvedovsky lived there at the time and he was very helpful). I’m also not an extroverted person, so diving in and making connections is not a natural state of being for me. It took quite a while (several years) to meet enough people to have regular opportunities open up for me. Ultimately, Berlin is not necessarily the best city in which to show painting — unless it’s of a more conceptual nature.

After nearly four years in the city I was approached by a gallery for representation. Partly it took so long because I work relatively slowly… just to build up enough work to show someone took a couple years. I had a list of galleries that I found interesting, but of course these are not places you can just walk into and show them work. They have to know of you prior to you talking to them or you have to meet through some of network-like connection. The gallery that found me was actually a new one at the time (it has since closed and I have moved on to another gallery in Berlin).

I’ve found that my work doesn’t necessarily change that much depending on where I am. Partly I attribute this to art being so globally connected now via the internet. Influences range far more than from just a local context. Furthermore I don’t have a particular interest in depicting specific locations, so if I’m living in Berlin I’m probably not using a location in Berlin as a source — it could be imagery I’ve collected ten years ago someplace else.

“Janus”, oil and linen, Erik Nieminen.

After graduating from your MFA, what steps did you take to continue exhibiting and practicing professionally?

I was quite lucky that a few people liked my work enough to want to collect it right out of the gate. Therefore I have been fortunate enough to more or less live off my art for nearly a decade now. It is not always easy — some years are better than others. The main thing is that I continue to always have exhibitions of some kind lined up for the future, which then can open up other opportunities. It was important after graduating to hit the ground running and to keep that momentum going. Therefore I try to maintain a steady schedule of about 2 or 3 upcoming (group or solo) shows at all times. I am fairly picky about where I show and the context matters, so it’s sometimes difficult to find the right environment for the work, but thus far things have worked out well enough. The occasional grant or award has been quite helpful as well, from a financial point of view.

Could you talk about your experience in exhibitions? What are some tips you might give to other artists pitching their art to galleries? 

I have worked with some curators, mostly as a result of them seeing my work online or via studio visits. I have almost never received a response by reaching out to a gallery out of the blue. I have heard this can work on occasion, but it’s quite rare as galleries tend to be inundated by similar requests for connection. They have to meet you in a social scene or see your work in a public exhibition in order to gain their attention (this has been my experience). I have worked with both commercial galleries and not for profit spaces. The upside to working with a commercial gallery is that they will (in theory) promote your work at all times and try to find opportunities for you to show and sell your work. It can have positive financial results and hopefully bring your work to a wider audience, though this very much depends on the reach and ambition level of the gallery. Artist-run centers and other non-commercial spaces can sometimes be more interesting from a creative standpoint. As they aren’t so concerned with making money, there is more opportunity to experiment and perhaps show work that would not be seen in a commercial gallery.

“AboveBelow”, oil on linen, and exhibition at Galerie d’art d’Outrement (Montreal), Erik Nieminen.

What projects are you currently working on?

I was fortunate to be the recipient of the 2018 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Award, and as a part of that I will be having a solo show in New York City in 2019. The exact date and venue have yet to be worked out, but that is my main focus at the moment. The title of the show will be “Paradise Not Lost”, which is also the title of my current body of work. In February 2019 I will be taking part in a group show at Galerie Erga curated by Jason McKechnie. The title of that is “Perspicacious Paintings”. I will also have a work at the Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Montreal as part of Nuit Blanche. I’ve never shown in a church before, so I am looking forward to that. Finally, I will be having a solo show in June of 2020 at the Galerie McClure in Montreal.

Erik Nieminen’s Website: eriknieminen.com

Erik Nieminen’s Instagram: @eriknart

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SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Vallum Magazine / VSEAL (Organization Spotlight)

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Founded in 2000 and based in Montreal, Vallum magazine is published biannually. Vallum provides a forum for emerging artists to interact with more established figures while giving them exposure and the confidence to continue with their art. As one of Canada’s top poetry journals with an international focus, Vallum encourages dialogue between Quebec and the rest of Canada and allows Canadian artists to exchange ideas with acclaimed and emerging artists from the United States, Britain, Ireland, Australia, India and other countries around the world. For this Organization Spotlight, publicist Rosie Long Decter speaks on behalf of the Vallum team.

Can you introduce a bit of Vallum’s history? How was the publication founded? 

Vallum was founded by poets Eleni Zisimatos and Joshua Auerbach in 2000. They both graduated from Concordia’s Creative Writing program and saw a need for an English-language poetry journal in Montreal. In 2003, the organization expanded beyond the magazine to organizing poetry workshops in local schools – these workshops grew into the outreach program Poetry for our Future! which now offers 35-40 workshops across the city each year.

The same year, the organization was incorporated as the Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters (VSEAL), a registered charity publishing Vallum magazine and holding poetry/literacy workshops in Montreal and beyond. In 2005, VSEAL launched the Vallum Chapbook Series, which publishes two chapbooks each year, and whose authors include George Elliott Clarke, Nicole Brossard, Fanny Howe, and more.

Today, we continue to publish two issues of Vallum magazine and two chapbooks in the Vallum Chapbook Series per year, as well as coordinating city-wide outreach workshops. The current managing editor in charge of operations is Leigh Kotsilidis.

How would you describe Vallum’s place in Montreal’s literary community? What events are you involved in or do you organize? Are there other literary publications, societies, networks, or spaces you work with, whether in Quebec or elsewhere?

As the publisher of Montreal’s only English-language journal dedicated to poetry, VSEAL strives to support local poets while also fostering connections with the broader literary and arts communities across Quebec and Canada. We have partnered on events and projects with a range of local arts organizations including the Quebec Writers’ Federation, Maisonneuve Magazine, and the Atwater Poetry Project. In addition to publishing Vallum: Contemporary Poetry and the Vallum Chapbook Series, VSEAL regularly hosts and participates in events designed to support the local and national writing communities – last year, for example, we co-presented a panel on chapbook publishing, alongside Baseline Press and Anstruther Press. We also organize readings, launches, and pop-up shops at cafes around the city. Our outreach program, Poetry for our Future!, further connects us to a wide range of arts and community organizations across the city. The Poetry for our Future! workshops emphasize the importance of creative writing as a means of self-empowerment and community-building; in bringing together established poets and local non-profits, these workshops build connections between communities, aiming to expand and strengthen Montreal’s literary community as a whole.

Some of the outreach partners listed on your website include: South Asian Women Community Centre (SAWCC), Perspectives II Outreach High School, Project 10: Projet 10, Chez Doris, and the Laval Penitentiary. Can you talk a bit about these partnerships (and any others!) and how Vallum has collaborated with these partners?

VSEAL’s outreach program, Poetry for our Future!, began as a series of workshops at Lasalle elementary school in 2003. Now, over 15 years later, we provide 35-40 poetry workshops each year for children, youth, and adult learners across the city.

Our workshops are primarily for participants from underserved communities. Each workshop pairs an established, local poet and educator with a partner organization – poet Greg Santos, for example, teaches workshops at adult learning centre Reclaim Literacy. Jessica Bebenek facilitates workshops at Spectrum Productions, a non-profit for children and adults on the autism spectrum.

By partnering with organizations like Reclaim, Spectrum, SAWCC, Chez Doris, and others, we’re able to ensure our outreach workshops are reaching a wide range of participants, and that each workshop is tailored to those participants’ needs. Our partnership with women’s shelter Chez Doris goes all the way back to 2008, which means we’ve had over a decade of developing workshops and approaches that work for Chez Doris’ community. We’re also continuing to establish to new partnerships with local organizations – this year, we’re excited to be planning workshops with Native Montreal.

Our outreach program aims to inspire, spark new talent, empower, strengthen communities, and to bridge demographics that might not otherwise have the opportunity to engage with one another. The workshops are committed to creating an approachable, educational, recreational, and safe environment for poetry to flourish.

Can you talk about some of the poetry workshops you’ve hosted? What has been some of the positive response or effects of these workshops?

Our workshops take a wide variety of forms, depending on the styles of our facilitators and the needs of our partner organizations. In 2016, VSEAL partnered with Hands on Media Education to lead workshops on digital literacy at Perspectives II, an outreach high school. Participants aged 13-18 used poems to create stop-animation videos, which were then featured on our website. In 2017, Kama La Mackerel led a series of workshops titled Our Bodies, Our Stories for QTBIPOC (Queer & Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) aged 16-24. These workshops, facilitated at Project 10, offered participants the opportunity to develop their creative writing skills and cultivate their poetics through performance. Last year we also began a new partnership with SistersInMotion, co-presenting creative writing workshops for women and femmes of colour such as Kai Cheng Thom’s “When Trauma Speaks The Bones”.

We receive a lot of inspiring feedback from our workshop participants that affirms the work our outreach facilitators are doing – one participant at a Chez Doris workshop told us that the workshop made her feel “hopeful about the future” and that she was grateful for the space to share with others. That’s one of our primary goals: to provide workshops that inspire confidence on a personal, individual level while also bringing participants together, forming creative communities.

What are your reflections on the English-speaking literary communities you see around Quebec? Do you have partnerships outside of Montreal or elsewhere in the province?

We are members of QWF and are involved with the Atwater Poetry Project, two organizations that support English-language poetry in Quebec. We are also in contact with English bookstores and hosts of poetry readings. However, we would like to expand our borders to include a more multi-lingual emphasis, especially with French-language poets and writers. We have already featured the visual art of French artists in Vallum, and published chapbooks and poetry by Nicole Brossard and Paul-Georges Leroux. We are excited about these kind of exchange possibilities. We appreciate the work of ELAN, which is a great, inclusive organization. We also have an informal partnership with Concordia for our internship program, which has been a great way to connect with young writers and those interested in small press publishing.

What are some of the public spaces that you would recommend for literary or interdisciplinary events?

Montreal has so many good bookstores, cafes, and venues that support literary events. We’ve had great experiences at bookshops like Drawn & Quarterly and Argo Bookstore – Argo recently opened up a back section as well for events! We’ve had successful pop-up shops at le Cagibi and Anti Café (and the now shuttered Chez Boris). Some of our other favourite spots include Kafein, which hosts a regular poetry open mic night, and Resonance, formerly home to the Resonance reading series. The Atwater Library also has a constant slate of excellent literary events. In terms of interdisciplinary events, Suoni per il Popolo does a great job of booking a range of exciting music, art, and literary projects at their various venues. Festival dans ta tête is a great Francophone festival that connects with the English literary community, and Poetry in Voice also hosts poetry recitation contests with a commitment to bilingualism.

What is Vallum currently working on?

We’re currently in production for our next issue, 16:1 “Connections,” which will come out towards the end of April. We’re also working on the layout for our upcoming chapbook release, Art of Surgery by A.F. Moritz. We have two upcoming launches in Montreal and Toronto for the issue and the chapbook. The Montreal launch will be at 7pm on Saturday, May 4th at Rocket Science Room (170 Jean Talon Ouest #204, Montreal, QC). We are currently accepting submissions to our annual Chapbook Award, with a deadline April 30th, as well as submissions for the next Vallum issue, 16:2 “Fear,” deadline May 15th, 2019. We’re also working on developing new outreach partnerships, as well as reworking our website and submissions system, to be launched later this year.

Vallum website: vallummag.com

Vallum Facebook: VallumMagazine

Vallum Twitter: @vallummag

Vallum Instagram: @vallummag

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc

SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)

Graham Krenz is a sculpture and mixed media artist who has shown across Canada, now living and working in Montréal, Quebec. He received his degree in Drawing from the Alberta College of Art + Design, where he was the recipient of an Alberta Foundation for the Arts project grant for his graduation piece, titled “A History of Nature”, which was constructed in partnership with his friend and collaborator Meredith Angus. He has since maintained studios in Toronto, where he showed installation and site-specific work at large events while continuing to develop his small-scale work.

Our feature ELAN Member for Artists Illuminated Shorts! is emerging artist Graham Krenz. Krenz reinterprets domestic objects and works with wood to create surreal objects and panoramic images of the city. Graham has been featured in Art Bazaar and in the Toronto Star, where he talks about his practice in carpentry, interests in urbanism, and monumental transit systems. Krenz takes inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright’s school in Scottsdale, and the use of fake military infrastructure as camouflage during WWI. He also refers to Japanese woodcuts as an influence, describing his interest in relief carvings and the way a pre-inked woodblock looks: “They’re negative images, reflections of what the final product will be. I don’t do precisely that with my work, but I maintain that monochrome, semi-finished appearance as a nod to the functionality of our infrastructure, and the transient nature of everything we construct.”

What attracted you to your medium in wood-carving and sculpture?

Both of my parents were “workshop” people. In my father’s case, making furniture and cabinetry in our basement, and in my mother’s, painting, drawing, miniature dioramas, textiles, and more. Both of them encouraged us to work with our hands. My father’s enormous collection of chisels and planes was a factor as well, I liked using those tools and wanted a way to apply that to my artistic practice. In art school I took several sculpture electives, and enjoyed the subtractive process of carving more than the additive processes or mold-making based processes, so I’ve pursued it since.

What are some of your sources of inspiration?

The initial point of inspiration was a sort of unlikely source. The creative agency Elastic, who you may know as the group behind almost every HBO title sequence, created a beautiful title sequence for the show True Detective. This sequence, directed by Patrick Clair, went a long way to pushing me towards representing infrastructure and urban construction as the primary focus of what I make- I had never considered the power of that imagery until then. Long before that point I had already started moving my work that way after relocating from Calgary to Toronto, and encountering the enormous scale of the 401 highway system, which I have now learned is the busiest single road on earth. I wanted to acknowledge the contrast between how mundane a highway is, and how vast and vastly important the project is when you consider it as a monument to labour and human will.

What were some of the themes you were exploring through your series of hanging sculptures, objects, and domestic items (“Stuff I Thought I Wanted”)?

I was having trouble coming to terms with what I wanted, put simply. I thought I wanted all these silly little boy things, and was finding it embarrassing to think about myself that way. I built these a series of tombstones to all the pretentious ideas about myself I had as a young man. It was also the first time I’d begun incorporating any real craftsmanship into my work, I think I was too focused on how conceptual my work had to be immediately after art school. It was the beginning of my understanding of how important spending time working on a material, how that informs the messages you can send with it.

What are some resources you find useful in Montreal that might also be helpful to other sculptors or carvers?

Reaching out to other artists whose work you see is important, to broaden the amount of techniques and ideas you have access to. That’s my main advice, don’t be an island.

Do you run your own space, or do you collaborate with others?

I share a space with some photographers and film workers currently, so that we can all afford a nice, large, enjoyable space to work in. I would tell everyone to avoid owning anything you can’t lift yourself, and to avoid owning any furniture that you can’t take apart. In Toronto I moved my studio at least once a year, you will want to make this as painless as possible. Once a month, throw away a box of what you have. I’ve had shared spaces and private spaces, both have pros and cons, you have to really weigh what’s best for actually getting things done, and enjoying your time while you’re there.

What are some tips you might give to other artists pitching their art to galleries?

I think like most artists I wish curators would solicit me more, but such is life. I have been lucky to work with commercial galleries and artist-run centers. I’ve had great experiences working with both, I think they both serve different viewers and collectors, and both have an absolutely essential place in the artist economy and infrastructure. The obvious downsides with artist run centers is the application and submission process, which is generally lengthy, involves a lot of paperwork, and can be demoralizing. The benefit to soliciting commercial gallery support is that if they don’t like you, you find out pretty much immediately. Rejection is like a bandaid, it’s nice to tear it off quickly.

Photograph is by Nick Wong.

Visit Graham Krenz’ website: grahamkrenz.com

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc

SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)

Avy Loftus (Feature)

Kathryn Berry (Shorts)

Fuat Tuaç (Feature)

 

Photography by Ming LI. 

For our first ever Organization Spotlight, we are featuring ELAN member Jingju Québec, a Montreal-based organization performing Beijing Opera! Beijing Opera (or Peking Opera) was designated in 2010 by UNESCO with the status of “Intangible Cultural Heritage”, recognizing its importance within Chinese performing arts since the origins of the style in the late 18th century. “Jingju Québec opened its doors to the public in 2016,” says Director Aurore Liang, “with the purpose of introducing to a Québec audience China’s most iconic artistic genre, Beijing Opera. We would like to share our passion with everyone.”

Jingju Québec has a distinguished team of artists and teachers. Director Aurore Liang has more than 10 years’ experience in sales and marketing. The performers include artist Lianlian Jing, who has achieved first national class with 55 years of experience on the stage; artist Yan Lu who brings 35 years of experience; and artist Dongmei Shi who brings 30 years of experience.

“For the Chinese, Beijing Opera is considered a true national treasure,” says Aurore Liang. “Uniting singing, dancing, theater, mimes, acrobatics and folk tales, this eclectic creation is a complex amalgamation of various art forms.” The opera is usually performed on a platform so that the stage can be seen from at least three sides. The performers’ elaborate clothing and make-up plays a symbolic role, given that stage props and scenery are kept to a minimum. The artists mime the stories through a refined vocabulary of gestures and manipulations of their costume as an extension of the performer’s emotions, such as the iconic use of long sleeves (Shiuxiu, literally “water sleeves”). The artistic facial makeup, which is called Lianpu, is also important to express cues about a character’s social class, personality and intentions to the audience.

This dramatic style of performance adapts some elements of older styles of Chinese opera, and music and literature are central to conveying the stories. “For the moment, the Chinese government encourages the development of this traditional art, from primary school and the public, to appreciate the art,” says Aurore Liang. 

The interdisciplinary practice of Beijing Opera involves long and dedicated training. “Normally we begin the training during childhood. The best age to start learning is around 10 years old. In a small class of 4 students, they need to learn techniques of singing, dancing, theatre and martial arts,” describes Aurore Liang. The demands of attaining proficiency in Beijing Opera require a deep knowledge and coordination of these multiple art forms at the same time: “That’s why we always say ten years of practice for only one minute on the stage.”

Although the prominent roles of women in Beijing Opera’s stories were played exclusively by men in the early years of the style, women also began performing in the mid 19th century. Some of the most popular operas are about women with pivotal roles in imperial courts or in military campaigns.

Beijing Opera is steeped with legend and history, recounting the tales of distinguished historical figures, romances, and military conquests. “Farewell My Concubine” is the tragic story of Xiang Yu, a princess who dies at the side of her emperor when Western Chu is at war with the forces of Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty. “Drunken Beauty” is an acrobatic tale of the royal consort Yang Yuhuan, who was deceived by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang and decides to get drunk on her own. “The Heavenly Maid Scatters Blossoms” recounts the story of a maiden who is ordered by the Buddha to scatter flower petals in the room of Vimalakirti Nirdesa as a test of his faith. “Lady Wang Zhaojun Goes Beyond the Frontier” follows the concubine Wang Zhaojun, one of the Four Beauties of China, who was married to a general from the nomadic Xiongnu in northern China, in order to maintain peace during the Han Dynasty. Lady Wang Zhaojun plays “Pipa Yuan” (“Sorrowful Lute”), as she departs in sadness from her homeland and travels to the distant north. “Lady Mu Guying Takes Command” is the legend of female general Mu Guying from the Northern Song Dynasty, who was renowned for her boldness and for commanding an army into her eighties.

Jingju Quebec hosts performances, workshops and classes around Montreal, and works in Mandarin, English and French. Jingju Quebec has held workshops with Union française, Projet Changement, and the University of Montreal for music students. Recent performances and collaborations of Beijing Opera have included the Orientalys Festival, the Hong-Kong Canada Business Association (HKCBA), Formons une famille, and the Chinese New Year Festival. The company is currently working on presenting more performances and classes in Montreal!

Follow Jingju Québec on Facebook: Operadepekinquebec

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SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)

Avy Loftus (Feature)

Kathryn Berry (Shorts)

Fuat Tuaç (Feature)

 

Clara Congdon is an emerging artist based in Montreal. She makes tactile drawings and artists’ books exploring gender, media consumption and representation, and personal archives. Congdon holds a BFA from NSCAD University, where she received the Margó Marshall Award for Textiles. Congdon has recently exhibited at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax, The Red Head Gallery in Toronto, and Galerie Monastiraki in Montreal. Her artists’ book “Want to buy some illusions?” is currently featured in Art of the Book 2018, a traveling exhibition of work by members of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild.

“Notebook 1”

Embroidery and textiles are politically loaded media, traditionally seen as utilitarian women’s handiwork, and not historically given much artistic clout. ELAN member Clara Congdon’s work fits within an experimental milieu that is still challenging the accepted norms of creating and exhibiting embroidery, quilting, and other textile-based arts. Congdon’s work also explores the form of the book as a conduit for unusual experiences of reading.

Drawn to the tactility of textiles, Clara Congdon works with three-dimensional media at the intersection of collage, embroidery, bookbinding, illustration and sculpture. She often reuses thread from old clothing, lending an intimacy to her work and creating contrasts between ink and paint, cloth, muslin, satin, plastic, coarse thread, or old gloves. Congdon describes her use of thread and cloth as a drawing medium: “Cloth and paper are a rich starting point because they are accessible media that everyone relates to—we interact with them in everyday life. Textiles also refer directly to clothing and the body, the politicization and policing of which are central concerns of my practice.”

 

“Sussi”, Drag Portraits (left), and “L’oubli No. 2”, Sewn Bound, Cover: Inkjet, Pages: Laser, Colour. 2018 (right).

Congdon’s hanging tapestry installation, entitled “Volume 1”, reflects the material items that were important for the artist. “In the way that you can tell what people value by what they take pictures of, I think you can also get insight into what a person values by observing what material objects they chose to hold on to.” Congdon’s work is informed by a diverse range of performing arts, comedy and costume design. She lists her inspirations as Louise Bourgeois, Faith Ringgold, Tracey Emin, Tschabalala Self, Kai Chan, Anna Torma, and drag artists. Her most recent work-in-progress is a zine titled You Betcha Iris, that profiles one Montreal drag performer per issue.

  

“Proceed Inward Until the Last Instant” (left), and “L’oubli No. 1”, Sewn Bound, Inkjet, Colour. 2018 (right).

Congdon’s “Calendar Series” combines the themes of “gender, media consumption and representation, and personal archives”, chronicling her day-to-day experience through miniature quilts. At the end of the month, she stitches these quilts together, creating a reflection of the materials, experiences, and inspirations she was exposed to. “One month was documented by stitching the headline that appeared most frequently on my phone’s news app each day,” she explains. “Another month, I stitched the name of a woman or non-binary creator whose work I consumed. In May 2018, I simply taught myself new embroidery techniques by practicing a different type of stitch each day.”

“May 2017”, Calendars.

“February 2018”, Calendars.

Live exhibitions are important for Congdon, as digital media does not convey the tactility of her work and the importance of touching the materials. She has exhibited across Canada and in the United States, and participated in the Montreal fairs Expozine, Artch : art contemporain émergent, and What the Pop!, as well as the CBBAG Book Arts Show and Sale in Ottawa. Congdon describes one of the challenges of exhibiting at commercial arts galleries as framing or preparing the art to be hung, seeing the restriction as a creative opportunity: “It usually needs to be ready for someone to walk away with it on the spot”. Congdon also describes the value of participating in art fairs which, though they may not garner many sales, consistently lead to more connections and opportunities. Describing her experience in getting into exhibitions, Congdon says, “Sometimes curators have seen my work at another show and have encouraged me to apply to the group show they are putting together. Sometimes they find me online. I would say apply as often as you can—sometimes you won’t get the first thing you apply for, but the organization that put out that call now has your info and will likely notify you when more opportunities come up.”

Visit Clara Congdon’s website: www.claracongdon.com

Follow Clara Congdon on Instagram: @claracongdon

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc

SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)

Avy Loftus (Feature)

Kathryn Berry (Shorts)

Fuat Tuaç (Feature)

 

 


neuronervendings by Glenna Tissenbaum

Second Life
By Sufia Duez

After working many years in the legal field, Glenna Tissenbaum took an early retirement and made a life-changing decision. Despite having minimal training and practice in the arts, Tissenbaum embarked on a new adventure that would plunge her into a world of infinite colours, textures, and potential. Overwhelmed by a desire to explore and make art, she acquired books, purchased artist-quality supplies and commenced her schooling in painting and mixed-media techniques.

That was 6 years ago, this is now: Glenna Tissenbaum is a working artist with an impressive collection of abstract paintings and mixed-media pieces that demonstrate an array of skills. The variety of styles that Tissenbaum employs is a reflection of her active curiosity and ambition. Her particular attention to colour and texture is obvious. On discussing colour, she says, “Colour has always been a driving force in my life. There are those who are most comfortable wearing black (maybe grey). I’m most comfortable in red.”

Tissenbaum’s work Quickening is particularly rich in colour and texture. Similar to her other works, Quickening instills a desire to touch every nook and cranny – as if only by touch can one truly “see”. Tissenbaum states, “I hope that when people view my work, the textures at play encourage them to really ‘touch’ the canvas with their eyes. I wish to instill a sense of curiosity as to how the particular texture was achieved.”


Quickening by Glenna Tissenbaum

“Quickening” is a term used to describe the first time a pregnant woman feels fetal movements. On describing this work, Tissenbaum states: “…When I finished the piece, I saw many elements of that life force. An egg waiting to drop, shapes swimming to fertilize an egg, a mushroom representing fertility, and a rising sun in the top left corner. None of this was planned, it simply came into being – as life itself does!”

In contrast to Quickening — which is a positive feast for the eyes, Meeting at the Riverbed is more minimal in appearance at first glance. While the colours used in this piece may be described as “greyish and/or off-white” at most, there are textures at play. In this work, Tissenbaum experiments with Crackle Paste, which gives the illusion of cracked Earth next to a bed of sand, made with various acrylic gels.


Meeting at the Riverbed by Glenna Tissenbaum

But as previously mentioned, Glenna Tissenbaum also favours the expression of mixed media. Her first creative exercise was a mixed-media project entitled: Gall-Liver’s Travails, inspired by the classic Jonathan Swift novel, Gulliver’s Travels. An antique “medical” G.I. Joe-type doll (the giant) lies at the centre of the piece with an assortment of toy soldiers and other small figurines subduing the strange giant. The work is mounted on a turntable to accentuate a world spinning out of order, and to provide viewers with different perspectives.

What’s clear: Glenna Tissenbaum is a dynamic artist whose work will surprise you, just as it sometimes surprises her. She describes the art-making experience similar to being in a trance, a “fugue state.” Only after taking a step back does the art ‘reveal itself.’ She relies on her intuition to tell her when a project is complete. Her parting advice to emerging artists: “Trust your instincts, Love what you do. Don’t allow others to define you. Persist, persist, persist. Don’t be afraid to fail, but learn from it. Never stop dreaming.”

 

Discover more!

Glenna Tissenbaum’s Official Website

Follow us on our new Instagram account (#elanqc) to see more of Glenna Tissenbaum’s artwork.


A new photo or video will become available everyday from August 21 – August 27, 2018

See Previous Features and Shorts!
Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts!)
Sharon Smith (Feature)

Elegant Orchids by Sharon Smith.
Painted at her family cottage by Lake Magog.

Infinite curiosity; infinite creativity.

By: Sufia Duez

After two phones calls with Sharon Smith, I asked her if we could meet in-person for an interview. Somehow, our long cellular conversations could not give justice to the stories that Sharon eagerly shared with me.

And so we met, and Sharon was ready. Her artwork and documented memories sprawled across the room. The abundance of vibrant paintings of plants and flowers inspired by her travels could transport you to the most majestic of landscapes: India, Bali, and Japan just to name a few of her journeys. The colours almost emitting an odour of rich plant life.

She picks out one of her paintings: mushrooms grown and prepared by her nephew. She says, “They were so good, I just had to paint them!” And I don’t doubt it. Her brush strokes do more than a photograph, they seize your senses as if, for a moment, you can taste the mushrooms too. Whether a painting of wild mushrooms, a bouquet of flowers, or a landscape, Sharon Smith’s paintings are homages to life. She honours what she loves, and the stories behind her artwork affirms her values of being present.

On the other hand, Sharon Smith never forgets. Her artworks are relics of her life. Born and bred in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Smith has been painting since she was 5-years-old and has continued painting ever since. Her earliest of muses continues to inspire her to this day: the family cottage overlooking Lake Magog. She notes: “The cottage is a sacred place to paint” – a family sanctuary that has endured through generations.

However, after foraging through Smith’s immense collection of paintings, it is clear that her artwork is not limited to scenes from her cottage, her travels, or even her own experiences. Rather, her paintings are inspired by human connection. Sharon draws inspiration from a variety of places including books and photos sent to her by family members and friends from their homes and their travels. “Often I take something I like and make it mine.”

Smith has an undeniable zest for life. I ask her if she ever feels frustration or anger when she works on a project. She tells me that she can’t allow herself to indulge in frustration. Instead, she concentrates on the process: “Try to remain positive to keep going.” Sharon admits that she frequently does not get it right the first time, but she works on it persistently until it feels complete. She imparts a personal wisdom: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest ‘til the good is better and the better is best.”

As art has been a lifelong passion, so has education. Sharon Smith studied Fine Arts at McGill University, Education at Concordia University, and received a Teaching Degree from Berkeley University. Moreover, she studied under renowned artists such as Rita Briansky and Ming Ma. Smith actively seeks new challenges and new forms of art making. Her appetite for learning conjointly cultivates with her passion for sharing and teaching. Smith has been teaching children and adults in Quebec and abroad for many years, and she continues to teach today — often teaching multiple generations of a family. She shows me photos of her students’ artworks, documented over the course of decades, many of which she is still in contact with now.

Sharon Smith’s artwork immortalizes the connections she has made in her lifetime. All of her journeys aligning with her passion for learning, teaching, and creating art. Presently, Sharon Smith is involved with NRTEA (National Roundtable for Teacher Education in the Arts). You can learn more about NRTEA here.

“It’s the message that I’m getting from the universe, stay positive, stay grateful, stay hopeful, and that’s what I do.” – Sharon Smith

Discover more!

Sharon Smith’s Website

Follow us on our new Instagram account to see more of Sharon Smith’s artwork.


A new photo or video will become available everyday from June 15 – 21, 2018.

See Previous Features and Shorts!
Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts!)
Avy Loftus (Feature)

 

 

Universe by Comic Artist & ELAN member Laurence Dea Dionne


What attracted you to your artistic discipline?

The need to develop well-being in youth through a creative outlet such as comics!

Where do you find your inspiration?

People! People and their struggles. And overcoming struggles. And passing on that wisdom.

Do you have any practical advice for fellow professional artists?

Just do it!

What projects are you currently working on/just finished working on?

Always working on many projects. You never get bored! Homeward is almost finished, and we’re working on the second and third book to continue the adventure.

Any last notes you would like to share with the public?

If you like learning, well-being, fighting against bullying, youth, and comics, consider contributing to the crowdfunding campaign going on until the end of May. We’ll use the funds to print the books, and visit schools, scouts, and youth groups to open up a conversation about bullying and belonging. We’re hoping to make a better tomorrow, today!


Discover more!

Click here to learn more about Homeward.
Help Laurence Dea Dionne’s crowd-funding initiative here!

Connect with Laurence Dea Dionne through social media:

Facebook
Instagram


Follow us on our new Instagram (@elanqc) account
to see more of Laurence Dea Dionne’s art work
(@homewardcomic)

Finding Answers in Batik

By: Erika Serodio

Red Tulips, Batik on cotton, 2002 by Avy Loftus. This batik painting was exhibited in Ottawa during the Tulip festival, at the Indonesian Embassy pavilion at the Major Park. The painting was made not only for the Tulip festival but also for celebrating fifty years of Indonesian-Canadian Diplomatic Relations.|

Founding member of Festival Accès Asie, batik artist, workshop instructor at the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal, ELAN Member, and soon to be graduate of Concordia’s MA in Art Education, Avy Loftus is a passionate artist dedicated to bridging arts and education and combating bullying in schools.

The table before us starts out perfectly vacant. As she speaks, Avy Loftus pulls out one piece of fabric after another, seamlessly weaving together the histories, struggles, politics and passions that have contributed to her body of work. It’s not long before detailed fabrics and vibrant stories are spilling over the sides of the table. “There are so many philosophical meanings behind one piece,” she tells me.

Avy first learned about batik when she was a young girl growing up in Indonesia. She was taught the technique by her Indonesian grandmother, and the art practice remained in her life as a medium for connecting to her heritage. In her early twenties, she realized that the younger generations in Indonesia were losing touch with this part of their heritage. Avy found herself explaining the regional origins of the pieces – Surakarta, Solo, Yogyakarta ­in central Java, where the art of batik is highly developed. “The colour itself is different from one city to the other city, and the cut, from left to right, or right to left, you know this is from different cities.” Avy says that most young people “only know how to wear it, they don’t really know the meaning behind the piece.” This realization spurred Avy into considering batik as a topic for education.

At that point, Avy was a young university graduate in Indonesia, working in business administration. She studied language, arts, and education for her bachelor degree, but speaking several languages made her valuable in the business sector. Language and the arts were elements of her job, but she says, “I really wanted to touch the art side of the work.” She describes coming to Canada as an “opportunity to go away from the business world.” She continues to make traditional batik artwork – some inspired by the geography of her current home in Quebec. “I’m living in Quebec now – I put the iris as the Quebec local flower, into the artwork. The flowers, as a batik artist, we adapt with the flora and fauna that we live in now.”

Throughout her career, Avy has rooted her batik in symbols and messages that she holds close to her heart, and has used her art as a mechanism for change. Her intent is to “not only create things; I would like to create something that could be useful. To have a meaning behind whatever I’m doing.” Ten years ago, Avy discovered that her daughter was being bullied in school. Concerned but also empathetic, Avy decided to channel her artistic energy into a benevolent mission: combat bullying in schools.

Her anti-bullying project, titled Peace, Love, and Hope, has recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. Avy describes the project as “a healing process in many ways.”

The message of non-violence behind the Peace, Love, and Hope project is deliberately local and contemporary and yet its reach has effortlessly transcended borders. It began in her own child’s school, but has since traveled through North America, Europe, and South Asia with over 150,000 child participants. She tells the children in her workshops “even though you cannot travel now, at such a young age, imagine your work is going to travel around the world with me. Just imagine that your positive words impact other kids in the world, in other provinces, other countries.” She encourages them to think globally, “but you act locally.” Avy always starts her workshops by gathering everyone in a circle. Then she says, “Tell your friends, beside you, just one or two words – the positive things that you like about them.” She asks the children to find inspiration for their work from positive things – to work on the three themes of peace, love, and hope. “Then I give them totally white cloth. Totally white, just imagine that.” Each of the students creates a small square batik masterpiece, which Avy brings together in quilts. These quilts have been displayed at museums, cultural centres, and schools around the world.

Discover more!

Avy Loftus’ webpage

Follow us on our new Instagram account to see more of Avy Loftus’ batik art!


A new photo or video will become available everyday from May 1 – May 7, 2018.

See Previous Features and Shorts!
Kathryn Berry (Shorts!)
Fuat Tuaç (Feature)