Tag: Givernation

The Art Of The Duel

Today marks the one-year anniversary of heads, the salon-style speaking event I helped to co-organize. It featured Ruth Klahsen of Monforte Dairy and Chung Wong of Givernation, as well as the first public edition of Art Battle, a competitive event that pitted two painters against one another in a timed event that the public could view and, once the pieces were complete, vote on.

While heads didn’t survive, Art Battle has rocketed into the stratosphere of popularity within Toronto’s cultural community. It’s so popular in fact, that the popular weekly Now Toronto is running a live feed of tonight’s event starting at 8pm ET.

The premise is simple: pit two painters against one another, live, for a specific amount of time (usually twenty minutes). When finished, the observers get to vote on a favorite, which is then auctioned off. The losing painting… can sometimes meet an ugly end. Or not. There are three rounds, and the public has the opportunity of being in one of those rounds. Fun? Scary? Nuts? Brilliant? All of the above.

I had the opportunity of interviewing the co-founders of Art Battle, Simon Plashkes and Chris Pemberton, about the hows and whys around pitting painters (sometimes well-known, sometimes not; sometimes not even painters) against one another in a public arena.

Toronto’s Art Battle by CateKusti

I have to admit, I’ve never been 100% sold on the idea of putting painters within a competitive arena. The very nature of it -people gawking and talking, holding cold beers and varying expectations, combined with the added pressure of an unforgiving stopwatch -means the essential nature of the artist’s output will be vastly different to what they’d produce in an actual studio. But who’s to judge which is better? That’s an interesting question worth exploring. And there is something fortifying about the level of community input and involvement Art Battle has consciously sought. I love the fact that Art Battle has encouraged those who’ve never put brush to canvas before to give it a try (both publicly and not). It’s equally heartening to see the curiosity Torontonians have shown towards Art Battle, rendering it the big success it is now.

Kudos to Simon, Chris, the entire Art Battle team -and not least of all to all the artists, past, present, and future, who continue to re-define that most contentious of words -“art” -and what our relationship to it is. Bravo.

Photo courtesy of Art Battle Toronto.

Come Drink The Wine

A recent exchange with performer Sharron Matthews for Love, Loss And What I Wore inspired a bevvy of ideas around the artform of cabaret. As she told me, cabaret is “a form of storytelling.” I like the idea of sharing stories within a musical realm; it’s something that my friends and colleagues at Givernation understand very well, in fact. Storytelling is, for many, central to one’s experience of art itself.

Sharon performed her own cabaret shows at the Young Centre recently. The busy Toronto arts complex in the Distillery District has had a few solid nights of cabaret happening over the past few months. The Saturday Night Cabaret Series has featured performers Patricia O’Callaghan, DK Ibomeka, Heather Bambrick, Denzal Sinclaire, and Don Francks. Upcoming artists set to take part in the series include Elizabeth Shepherd, Mary Lou Fallis, and Micah Barnes.

It’s an eclectic mix, to be sure, but one that underlines the importance of keeping the programming diverse and unpredictable -two things I feel are central to the artform of cabaret. I couldn’t imagine week after week of crooners, soulsters, fiddlers, jazzsters, or divas. Mixing them up, however, produces just the right zesty flavour befitting a good, engaging music series devoted to the cabaret style.

In attending a few of the first shows this season, what struck me immediately was the intimacy: the gap between performer and audience member has never been so minimal. Cabarets are situated in the tiny, black-curtained Garland cabaret space where the close quarters of piano, bar, chairs, tables, and stage implies an immediacy you don’t get in many other small, clubby spaces. The performers are very-nearly in the laps of the mainly silent, awe-struck audience. Musical styles run the gamut from German arthouse (O’Callaghan did portions of Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins) to sexy, soul (with Ibomeka using his enormously rich bass voice to full, spine-tingling effect on Cohen’s “Hallelujah”). Again, diversity’s the name of the game here, making for what I felt was a good, if occasionally challenging, listening experience. Cabaret isn’t about making you comfortable however, and I was happy to have experienced that diversity, if only to expand my own knowledge and sonic repertoire.

Perhaps the most entertaining cabaret I attended was one that featured a gaggle of “roaring girls” -the Roaring Girl Cabaret, that is. With fiery fiddler and frontwoman Miranda Mulholland, the musically-tight band delivered a walloping blend of Celtic-meets-bluegrass-meets-nasty-blues-rock sass with attitude, aplomb, and plenty of good cheer. It was great to actually see Mulholland’s eyes sparkle, and small mouth smirk as she delivered line after line of cheeky lyric, interspersing each with meandering if powerful East-Coast-violin sounds. At points she even vibed Nick Cave’s dark-lord lyrics and style: quiet and poignant one moment, roaring and bombastic the next, it was thrilling to behold, and refreshing to see Mulholland go against the cute-girl stereotype others might put on her. Don’t put this roaring girl in a box -she’ll kick your ass. Seriously.

An evening at a Young Centre cabaret is to be transported to another time and place –not merely the “gold lame outfits”-type thing Sharon Matthews referred to -but one that exists entirely by you and for you, meticulously moulded and shaped by any given performer on any given Saturday. Each comes with their own stories -tales of heartbreak, triumph, of lives fully lived -but it’s totally up to you, at evening’s end, to choose what to take home. In my case, the doggie bag was full of goodies I’m still enjoying, many weeks later.

Cabaret, for me, isn’t about being transported to “another time and place” as the old saying goes… it’s about feeling, fully and entirely, grounded in the wonder of the present moment, with every passing note, crooned syllable and extended vowel. There’s a story in every sound, the cabaret whispers, just sit still. You’ll hear it.

Photos by Chung Wong
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