Recently I noticed that whomever the powers that be are, decided to make President Kennedy in between Clark and Jeanne Mance, one way going west.
I presume that they did this because of the 80/535 stop in front of the Place des Arts metro. This buses are big and block up a full lane when waiting. There were a couple of time this fall when I saw some cars trying to pass them while going west almost crash into cars going east along President Kennedy.
Way back in the dark ages, before the Quartier des Spectacles and the Place des Festivals was a gleam in anyone’s eye. The 80/535 used to trundle down Bleury all the way to Rene Levesque, where they would turn east and then turn north onto Jeanne Mance in order to head back to Parc Ex. But once construction was started on the Quartier des Spectacles and the Place des Festivals the 80/535 stops had to be changed.
So some bright wag decided that the 80/435 (and they also decided to change the number of the route as well) should continue along Rene Levesque until Saint Laurent, turn up Saint Laurent until Ontario, and then stop in front of the new(ish) UQAM buildings.
Which is how there almost was a rash of car accidents on President Kennedy (for the non-locals, Ontario and President Kennedy are the same street, with two different names). But what both the powers that be and the bright wag completely forgot about was that there was another street maybe 50 feet south, that paralleled President Kennedy and was already one way west. It’s called de Maisonneuve.
I don’t understand why they didn’t route the 80/435 to turn left on de Maisonneuve thereby enabling them to keep President Kennedy two way. It seems kind of silly to me to have two streets duplicating the same thing not even side-by-side, but practically on top of each other. Especially since it now means that the 125 going east has to detour up to Sherbrooke and the back down Saint Urbain to complete its route.
Then there is some other silliness as well. Clark street is two-way for 50 feet! And de Montigny is also one way going west (and why didn’t they just rename it to become de Maisonneuve? Why the name change for just two, short blocks?
I might be able to understand if these particular intersections were on the Plateau where they deliberately try to make it difficult, if not down right impossible for drivers. But this is downtown, centre-ville Montreal where they still like cars.
As long as I’m musing about funding sources, one thing I probably should get off my chest. I was interviewing Paula De Vasconcelos recently (more on the interview in another article, later) when she mentioned one possible reason for all the solo dance performances with no sets to speak of. Funding being stretched. While I am all for government funding of the arts, and dance in specific, I’m not so certain that funding a large number of bare bones projects is the way to do it. But I digress.
There was a fair bit of hype surrounding the show before it even started. Articles in Voir, La Presse, The Gazette, and Le Devoir among others. After the show, I could only find two reviews, in Dfdanse, and Le Devoir. I’m not sure what to make of that. But I can’t help but thinking that it might be better if there were more reviews and less previews. But I’m not about to start telling anyone else what they should write about.
The show itself takes place on a relatively bare stage. On the left, there are some large piles of paper. On the right some venetian blinds that quickly become a video screen, a smaller pile of paper and some electronic gadget set up, that quickly proves itself to be a video camera that projects live images on to the blinds.
The whole thing starts very casually when everyone in the audience realizes that Ms. Porte is on stage. No dimming of the house lights, no mention of turning off cell phones, nothing like that. It actually is so casual that it even appeared that Ms. Porte nodded at people she knew as a way of saying “hi” from the stage. Then she starts writing and it gets projected on the screen.
This is where I wish I knew more about the brain and cognition. Somehow, no matter how hard I try the words stay in my memory much longer and stronger than any of the movements. Unfortunately I don’t know if this is due to how my brain is wired. Nor do I know if everyone’s brain is wired the same was as mine. And finally it might not even be due to how my brain works. But I’m not about to start doing research on how the brain works at this time.
Personally, I’m inclined to think that it is me and my brain. If I think back to other memories of movements, such as baseball games from my youth or parties or other events like that, I am much more likely to remember a written description than to actually have some sort of image burned in my memory. Then again, I could be wrong.
But enough of this dilly-dallying around the subject at hand. I probably should get around to trying to write about what I saw. From the title (translated as I for those that are not up to snuff on their French) through all the preview articles, everyone was pretty much in consensus that this was a performance not only by, but very much about Ms. Porte as well.
Obviously, I’m not going to argue that it wasn’t, because I’m not really in a position to. But without knowing an awful lot more about Ms. Porte’s life it’s extremely difficult to identify the salient points. It’s kind of like trying to find a narrative in the paintings of Paul-Emile Borduas.
I‘m fairly certain that she copped some of her own choreography from pieces that she had previously made – I think within the context of dance that’s 100% alright – it’s just that since I am not as familiar with her work as I should be and that my brain prefers to remember text over images, I’m at a slight disadvantage in being able to identify them.
I also wish that there had been some sort of chronology of her life provided in the program (as per usual, there was no press kit). If you haven’t realized by now, I was trying really hard to impose some sort of plot on the piece and came up woefully short. A month later, I’m still trying to stretch it into some sort of linear narrative, a full month after seeing it (and still having the same difficulties) ‘cuz that’s what I like, darnit!
So what is there beyond plot and narrative? Well, by my count there were 11 different sections. All of them were danced particularly well. While I obviously can’t recognize a plot, I can recognize good dancing. I just wish I knew the vocabulary better so that I could better describe why and how Ms. Porte danced so well.
But let me give it a shot. Somewhere in the middle (according to my notes, it was the fifth section, the one that starts with her writing “revenir a un page blanche,” literally “return to a blank page” but more likely just a more poetic way of stating that she was starting over) in between the point where she falls down on her side and when she ends up with her hands and feet on the ground and her butt in the air, I wrote in my notes “nice sequence.” On the video above, I think it is the part around 2:40 or so with the solo piano that sounds like George Winston.
OK I know, I need some more practice.
So I dunno, despite Je not having an easily recognizable narrative. Despite my not knowing a whole heck of a lot about Ms. Porte’s history. Despite my inability to write clearly about dance (in a pathetic attempt at some sort of excuse, it was dark and I was probably riveted) I still kind of think that it was a pretty kick-ass performance. I probably could foam on uselessly for another 500 words or so, but I figure it probably would be best to wrap it up here, and see if I can’t score another interview with Ms. Porte.
Once again I’m late to the party. The exhibit was up from October 6, 2011 to January 8, 2012. I’m just realizing now, how backlogged those rhymes about the Triennale Québécoise and other things made me. Like Marie Chouinard’s The Golden Mean (Live) I saw it at the end of November, 2011. Jeez! It’s a good thing that there is a history of reviewing shows that you can no longer see, otherwise y’all would think that I am one of the most irresponsible people in the known universe. But before I go find a whip so I can flagellate myself, we gotta get to the verse:
Ed Burtynsky takes really big photographs.
For the most part I don’t think he does anything by halfs.
Big political statements
I hear they cost many many cents.
Mostly on concerns about the environment
Places with natural resources and the changes they underwent.
I really liked the images of the refineries,
Sometimes you gotta think duodecimally and not in binaries.
His pictures of highways were also very impressive,
The Golden State Freeway, like La Joconde is something I won’t outlive.
But condemning Talladega and Sturgis
Is where, from my beliefs, he diverges.
They’re images designed to make you pause and reflect,
I think it is the earth that he wants you to protect.
But it is possible to be too politically correct.
Yes, big photographs are good. I still get weak in the knees thinking about the Andreas Gursky show I saw back in 2002 in Chicago. Big (for the most part) is synonymous with good, especially when talking about photographs.
But this one raised more questions than it answered. The first one being, that it was sponsored by Scotiabank. The very same Scotiabank that has a mutual fund of $170 million dollars invested in “equity securities of Canadian resource based companies, including companies that operate in the oil and gas, gold and precious metals, metals and minerals, and forest products industries.” – The One Sheet (pdf). Does this mean that Mr. Burtynsky is allowing himself to be used for greenwashing purposes? Or is he just willing to take money from whomever without thinking about their ethics? Or something else? I dunno, as I said his show raises more questions than it answers.
The second question that came to my mind as I was looking at it, was how much oil did Mr. Burtynsky use in order to get his pictures? There are shots that could have only been taken from a helicopter. There are other ones where he went to rather obscure places (Sturgis, South Dakota, Walcott, Iowa, Baku, Azerbaijan, Chittagong, Bangladesh) which would have either required some serious long distance driving or flying. And while I’m fairly certain that in order to take his pictures he doesn’t travel alone, I gotta think that he has a rather large carbon footprint.
The reason I ask questions like these, is because according to the press release the images in the show “deliver a social and environmental message that is both disturbing and thought-provoking.” So I can’t be accused of being the only person linking the concern for the environment and the images. What’s that line about glass houses and stones?
But enough about the theoretical questions, what are the pictures like? ‘Cuz isn’t it possible to appreciate them aesthetically without giving one good gosh darn hoot about any political message that Mr. Burtynsky is trying to make? Short answer: For the most part they are very good. As I mentioned up above “Big (for the most part) is synonymous with good, especially when talking about photographs.”
The longer, nuanced and more detailed answer is as follows: Spread over two floors, it presents something like four or five dozen images that vary in size from 68″ x 78″ to 29½” x 36½”, with most of them being 51″ x 63″. Organized thematically, they span three of the four sections that he lists on his website; Extraction & Refinement, Transportation & Motor Culture and The End Of Oil (somehow Detroit Motor City section didn’t make the cut at the McCord, I can’t understand why).
Now while I don’t know too much about photography, there was the aforementioned Gursky show I saw in Chicago and if my memory serves his teachers at art school were Bernd and Hilla Becher. Don’t quote me on this, but if they weren’t the first people to take large pictures of industrial things, they definitely were the folks who made it hip. Mr. Burtynsky definitely owes them something. What I’m not sure. Because he doesn’t copy them (at least as far as I can tell) but at least as far as recognizing that he is mining a field that they were instrumental in making.
Mr. Burtynsky, does them one better, his are larger and in color. Have I mentioned that big is good, when it comes to photographs?
For the most part his images are very formally set up. If I were to make a gross generalization about Mr. Burtynsky’s landscape photographs, I’d say that the picture would be taken from a high vantage point, if not a helicopter, some sort of scaffolding was used, there would be an immense foreground, taking up something like ¾ of the image. There would be mountains in the background, or something mountain-like taking up the other ¼ of the image. The sky (and this is where my knowledge of photography is woefully lacking) is completely washed out, to the extent that I would make a pinky bet that Mr. Burtynsky’s skies are very familiar with Photoshop (or Gimp).
The foreground is some kind of large collection of something industrial. Endless repetition of form with minor variations since each object is distinct. And since they are so large and there are so many objects in the picture it’s quite easy to literally get lost in it. On one side that’s the fun part. On the other, once you realize that there is a formula it kind of makes me think that while Mr. Burtynsky is making some sort of commentary on 20th century industrialization, he is at the same time being very mechanical in how he makes his pictures.
You get the picture.
One other thought that occurred to me as I was looking at the pictures. Not a single one was signed, and there was no information on how many prints had been made. Not that that would detract from the image itself, but it’s just that if I want to buy into the concept that the images Mr. Burtynsky makes are art and not just some mass produced industrial object that happens to look pretty, it would be nice to have his John Hancock on it and know that there were only XXX copies made. But I would guess I’m in the minority here. Or maybe he signed and numbered them on the back.
As I wrote in my notes, there really is no movement in the pictures. There was also a distinct lack of people in the pictures. While I didn’t keep count, there couldn’t have been more than half-a-dozen people. I wonder if Mr. Burtynsky has ever done portraits, and if he has, I’d love to see them. I’d guess that he would ask his subjects to dress in tuxedos. (ba-da-boom!) His images are that formal.
I always find it a tad awkward when I come across an exhibit that has an agenda, like this one does. Even if it is an agenda that I agree with. I find that trying to force an idea on someone by using an art exhibit extremely difficult. In order to do so, the the exhibit, for the most part, has to be incredibly simplistic. It tends to be repetitive as well, and I find that in order to make their point they end up being dumbed down to the point where the idea that they are trying to promote becomes more suitable for five year-olds than adults. As you might have guessed, I’m not five years-old.
But enough of that, and lets concentrate on the pictures. As I mentioned in the ditty, his pictures of highway interchanges are quite cool.
I think part of the allure comes from the fact that he is using something like a helicopter to take the pictures. The pictures he gets are not the type of pictures that are available to M. & Mme. Tout le monde. And that I think is something incredibly significant. That sense of discovery, seeing something for the first time, is a sensation that shouldn’t be ignored. If he took similar pictures, as formal in their composition but from the perspective of a driver, they would not be one tenth as powerful.
Beyond that, if you are in London, England, I think that’s where the show is now, and it is probably going to continue touring and making more people aware of Mr. Burtynsky’s name. The catalogue for the show won some kind of award, but I’m not clear on how it is awarded, so I guess I should assume that it is legit, and not something where you toss the organizers some cash and you get a medal.
Being aware of Ed’s name is a good thing. It makes people aware of Canadian art just a little bit more. I just hope wish that he would push the envelope a little more, instead of playing it safe. He knows how to handle a camera, I’d like to see some images from him that prove that.
About two years ago, I had a sudden flash of insight as to who I thought had created this art. But then I failed to write the name down, and now all I’m left with is the memory of remembering. But not remembering who.
Which is kind of appropriate seeing as how they (it) aren’t that far from the Allan Memorial. But then I had another flash, “how about I write to someone at the Royal Victoria Hospital and ask?” Veronique Scott was extremely gracious and prompt. And if my memory serves, the “flash” I had about the artist wasn’t Michel Goulet. So I still have a ways to go.
Done five years after Les leçons singulières (although the city’s database says that Les leçons singulières were done in 1992, M. Goulet’s website says 1990). They are similar in that they use copper and seem to tell some sort story.
Although it is very very similar in concept to the CCA Garden which was designed by Melvin Charney, who is definitely not Michel Goulet. It’d be nice to talk to both of them and get their thoughts.