Sunday, October 3, 2010

Toronto's Nuit Blanche

Last night the streets of Toronto was alive with thousands of people who were taking in the Nuit Blanche experience. Depending on your outlook and temperament, you might describe it as a night of avante garde art, or a all night party or even an all night circus. I think my friend Michael Golland, Liberty Village's official Artist in Residence, was right on when he remarked that it was Art turned into Social Commentary.  We were discussing the Fragments & Sightings project at Lamport Stadium. Certainly, past year's Nuit Blanche has stretched the boundaries of the art experience and this year was no exception.    This  I provided a bit of introduction to Nuit Blanche in my last week's blog, so I won't go into here.

I must confess my Nuit Blanche night was not an all night event for me - I tooted around for just a few hours before I retreated to warmer quarters chilled to the bone.  I present below some photos from the installations I was able to catch before I weakened. It is the first Saturday of the month, which was my cue to be at the Liberty Bistro to catch XOTEKA and Laura Fernandez Latin Jazz band.  
Things were hopping at the Liberty.  I enjoyed a nightcap there and listened to the some great music before I strolled home amongst the night's revellers not long after midnight.

I did not get to the downtown area that had some projects I really would have liked to have seen, such as Daniel Lanois' "Later That Night At The Drive-In" at  the Toronto City Hall,  the film "Up Up and Around" at the Ryerson University Kerr Hall Quad, and the stuff at Dundas Square.  I had such an awful time last year navigating the crowds downtown that I decided not to venture there.  As  an introduction to my question Art or Not, I submit a clear example, in my opinion of "Not Art", something new this year - the Nuit Market - a fully functioning night "flea market", set up for one night on Victoria Street.  Not sure what a market - day or night - has to do with art, but I didn't get there either.

Zone C - Liberty Village Nuit Blanche Projects

In previous years, Liberty Village was the hub of Zone C.  Not so this year.  Most of the events in Zone C were along the length of Queen Street West, save for a half dozen down in my neighbourhood.  In my opinion was a good thing - I really don't need to stroll cheek to jowl with hundreds of others as I did in previous years.  Somehow wandering alone in a thick crowd is not as much fun as it is when you are in the company of friends.  Truth be known, wandering thick crowds with/without friends is not most folks cup of tea.  While there were still lots of folks strolling the dark streets looking for "ART", it was not the wall to wall people zoo it was last year.  Leaving my condo and heading west along Liberty Street, the first Nuit Blanche event I came across was a strolling performer with the need to have audience participants set fire to small objects hidden inside the closed box she held in front of her.

I observed what seemed to be a small paper replica of a table being ritually incinerated and then moved on - wondering what the point of this was supposed to be? Was it supposed to make me think or feel any certain way? Perhaps if I had a bit of pyromania in my psyche. Consulting the program guide, apparently I arrived at the burning part of the performance. It seems that participants would be asked to "eat, burn, smash or otherwise destroy small objects made of chocolate, paper or ice". I still wonder what the performer (and conceiver I presume) of this event, Lalie Douglas of Montreal, had meant for us to take away from the "performance".  Were we supposed to enjoy or to be dismayed at the destruction of the small items?   I continued to Lambert Stadium cursing my bad luck not to have arrived at the right time to eat the chocolate and mentally counting "art = 0, not art = 1".
I did not have to walk too much further when I came upon the Flux and Fire exhibit. This was the concept of Christine Irving & Site3.  It was billed as a "large-scale interactive fire experience that captures the idea that art can be made anywhere, temporary and articulated in flames."  I approached the area to watch the puffs of fire burst out of the gas jets.  In the centre of the ring of gas jets there was a platform.  For 5 minutes at a time pairs of individuals were accompanied to and hoisted up onto the platform and allowed to orchestrate the puffs of fire by waving their hands.  The puffs of fire somehow were controlled by the movements of the folks on the platform rendering each performance of fire puffs unique.  As I contemplated the interesting shapes of the fire and the movements of the various pairs "on stage", I decided that the score was now "Art=1, Not Art=1".

The further down the Lambert Stadium parking lot I spied what looked like a jungle gym climbing apparatus. There was Indian music playing to accompany the Goddesses & Gargoyles Group Exhibition of the Hercini Arts Collective. Titled "Night at the Indies", it featured an acrobatic dance troupe made up as various Goddesses & Gargoyles hanging out in what in your imagination you could think of as a cage.

There were 4 shrines set up with offerings to the 4 Goddesses and Gargoyles climbing in the cage. I liked Night at the Indies. It was right out there as far as performance art, but very interesting and well executed. OK "Art=2, Not Art=1".

In each of the previous years I attended Nuit Blanche there were quite a few uncurated events which just appeared on the street hosted by some unofficial effort. I guess anyone with an idea and motivation can do something on the street during the Nuit Blanche night, but that doesn't make it art. The next event was not listed in the guide, but there seemed to have been some money put into the project to acquire at least a tent and organization enough to arrange that the two dozen or so participants each (or mostly) wore white clothes and were equipped with something useful to a mobile musical group project.
 There was one lad who was carrying a sign "Nit Wit Marching Band". There was a motley crew of what I presumed to be University Students, kitted out in a way to be able to play their assortment of odd musical instruments as they marched around.  Given the tent set up, I wondered if much marching would be done except maybe in a circle around the tent. They were belting out Neil Young's tune "Helpless Helpless". I smiled as I wandered into Lamport Stadium to see the next exhibit. "Art=2, Not Art=2".

The next exhibit was very sobering and thought provoking. Titled "Fragments & Sightings" Allan Kosmajac, Diane Misaljevic,and Julie Steward trigger some major reflection on the social condition. The exhibit was well conceived and executed. Placed carefully on the playing field and aligned on a grid were several hundreds of small display boxes.

Each box was numbered and contained some personal fragment of a story that bears witness to an attrocity experienced by an individual caught in one of humanity's shameful historical events. As I walked the length and width of the field and examined the items, making personal the stories of the many shameful events in modern history I felt great sadness. "Art=3, Not Art=2"

In the Liberty Village Park, just outside my condo in view from my balcony, the project "The Exquisite Cropse LIVE" was set up by Alex Heidbuechel and Brian Durocher.  This was an interactive Video exhibit was set up to project live video bits of the audience participants onto a large screen set up against the old Chapel Heritage Building.  The program explained that the installation explores What makes you who you are? by proposing that each of us is a product of those around us.  An interesting thought as I watched my head get attached to someone else's bit projected up on the wall.  OK borderline.  "Art=3.5, Not Art=2.5"

The last set of exhibits were unmistakably Art. I was so delighted with the various photo-based displays mounted on the side of 10 shipping containers in and around Liberty Village, that I will leave that to a separate blog in order to do it justice. As an added note - this is part of a larger Art Event which runs from Oct 6-10th in Liberty Village - the Flash Forward Festival 2010. Stay tuned for my personal account of the 5 day event next weekend. If you are interested in photography you might want to plan to attend. Aside from the displays there are many free/lower cost workshops and panel discussions as well as gallery tours of this public space exhibit located throughout Liberty Village. You can get more information on the Flash Forward Festival here.

There were 3 separate installations situated within Liberty Village
"Art 6.5, Not Art=2.5"

What is Art?
According to
Art stimulates different parts of our brains to make us laugh or incite us to riot, with a whole gamut of emotions in between. Art gives us a way to be creative and express ourselves. For some people, art is the entire reason they get out of bed in the morning. You could say "Art is something that makes us more thoughtful and well-rounded humans." says a lot more about what art is - you can go there for a read to get the full discourse on that question.  That said, one could argue that if it is an official Nuit Blanche event then by definition it is a Contemporary Art project .  After all Nuit Blanche  is promoted as an all night contemporary -and curated - Art event.  I don't mean to argue with the Curators of Nuit Blanche, but there is art and there is ART.  In my mind, art must at least have some creatively and cleverly conceived content, a message capable to be taken away and evoke some emotion.  I need to be able to like or dislike it and there needs to be some point to the thing - even if just social commentary.

What do you think?  If  you were curating Nuit Blanche where would you draw the line between art and silliness?

Go to my Picasa Album to see all my pics.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Black Dog and Rock meets Blue Grass

A pal of mine recently reminded me of a musical pairing that I have been meaning to check into for a while.  I heard one of the Robert Plant / Alison Krauss duets some time ago and for some reason did not follow up on it then, although I recall liking the sound a lot.  When my friend Kathleen posted one of the songs from the Album last week on Facebook a light bulb went off in my brain and I went to You Tube to hear more and was hooked.   As I was pulling together the material for this blog, I ended up ordering their album, Raising Sand, from iTunes.  I have now listened to it off and on all week and am even more impressed than I was upon first listen.

Jimmy Page and Robert Plant 1974
Of course, Robert Plant is one of rock's charismatic rock-and-roll front men, vocalist and lyricist in the band Led Zeppelin.  He has also led a pretty successful solo career since the death of band member John Bonham and the band's break up in 1980.    Wiki talks of this Legend's influence on Metal Rock:
Robert Plant is one of the most significant singers in rock music and has influenced the style of many of his contemporaries, including Geddy Lee, Ann Wilson, Sammy Hagar and later rock vocalists such as Jeff Buckley who imitated his performing style extensively. Freddie Mercury of Queen also was influenced by Plant. Encyclopedia Britannica notes "Exaggerating the vocal style and expressive palette of blues singers such as Howlin' WolfMuddy Waters, [Robert] Plant created the sound that has defined much hard rock and heavy metal singing: a high range, an abundance of distortion, loud volume, and emotional excess".  Plant received the Knebworth Silver Clef Award in 1990.

Unless you are into bluegrass or country Music, you might not know of Alison Krauss. Wiki says:

Alison Krauss (born July 23, 1971) is an American bluegrass-country singer, songwriter and fiddler. She entered the music industry at an early age, winning local contests by the age of ten and recording for the first time at fourteen. She signed with Rounder Records in 1985 and released her first solo album in 1987. ...
She has released eleven albums, appeared on numerous soundtracks, and helped renew interest in bluegrass music in the United States. Her soundtrack performances have led to further popularity, including the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, an album also credited with raising American interest in bluegrass, and the Cold Mountain soundtrack, which led to her performance at the 2004 Academy Awards. During her career she has won 26 Grammy Awards, making her the most awarded female artist (and the third most awarded artist overall) in Grammy history.
So what is England's famous vocalist and legendary hard rocker doing with America's clear voiced angelic soprano Alison Krauss?  They have put out as fine a blend of rock--bluegrass-country -- Adult Alternative as you could imagine.

One great example of this wonderful collaboration and complementary vocal styling is the famous Led Zeppelin song Black Dog.  I remember wasting away many Saturday nights in my teen years listening to this song.  The song instantly transplants me back to 1971.   In 2004 the song was ranked #294 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Have a listen.  Isn't this vintage Led Zeppelin?  What were you doing in 1971 when this song was on the Hit Parade?

Black Dog - Led Zeppelin - Vintage 1971!

Black dog
by Led Zeppelin

Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move,
Gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.
Ah, ah, child, way you shake that thing,
Gonna make you burn, gonna make you sting.
Hey, hey, baby, when you walk that way,
Watch your honey drip, can't keep away.

I gotta walk, can't stand still,
Got a flamin' heart, can't get my fill,
Eyes that shine burning red,
Dreams of you all through my head.

Hey baby, oh baby, pretty baby,
Tell me would you do me now.
Hey baby, oh baby, pretty baby,
Move me while you groove me now

Take too long b'fore I found out
What people mean by down and out.
Spent my money, took my car,
Started tellin' her friend she' goin' be a star.
I don't know, but I've been told
A Big legged woman ain't got no soul

All I ask for, All I pray,
Steady lonely woman gonna come my way.
Need a woman gonna hold my hand
tell me no lies, make me a happy man.

Rock meets Bluegrass-Country
Now have a listen to the Plant-Krauss version.  What do you think?

Raising Sand is an interesting album.  The two vocalists harmonize wonderfully and their different musical background brings the best of both worlds to the album, but what about the musical selections on the album?    The album's producer, T-Bone Burnett is credited with giving the album its unique musical style.

There are no Led Zeppelin tunes on the album.  Plant and Krauss began an extended tour of the US and Europe in April 2008, playing music from Raising Sand and other American roots music as well as reworked Led Zeppelin tunes. It is from one of these concerts the Black Dog video was recorded.

According to Wiki:
Raising Sand is a collaboration album by rock singer Robert Plant and bluegrass-country singer Alison Krauss. It was released on October 23, 2007 by Rounder Records.
The album was met with critical acclaim, earning an averaged score of 87 from compiled reviews on Metacritic. This album was #24 on Rolling Stone's list of the Top 50 Albums of 2007. On February 8, 2009, the album won all five awards for which it was nominated at the 51st Grammy Awards: Album of the Year; Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album; Record of the Year (for "Please Read the Letter"); Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals (for "Rich Woman"); and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals (for "Killing the Blues"). Raising Sand was the second of three country albums to win Album of the Year, after Dixie Chicks's Taking the Long Way and followed by Taylor Swift's Fearless.

The album was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Prize in the UK.

In December 2009, Rhapsody ranked the album #2 on its "Country’s Best Albums of the Decade" list. The online music service also called it one of their favorite cover albums of all time.

The following Video featuring Please Read the Letter is from the album Raising Sand. It is a wonderful example of how well their voices harmonize.
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