Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Appropriation, or Why Miley Cyrus' Performance Isn't Simply a Feminist Issue

"Appropriation in art is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them." (Wikipedia). 

Is this not what we witnessed; teddy bear onesie, dancing african american women, silly putty bikini, foam finger. Cyrus' body itself, and Thicke's body as well. Cyrus, her choreographers and image-makers absconded these images, and used them. No transformation actually occurred, despite claims from many camps that this was to take Cyrus from little girl to woman, much as oversexed images such as Britney Spears with the snake, or Christina Aguilera in a boxing ring orgy took them from pop princess to mature artist. But let us ponder a moment over the chosen imagery. Teddy bears could not be any less mature; the choice of this image only reinforces her youth and the impropriety of Cyrus' sexual behaviour, rather than solidifying it as a statement of her new found maturity and control over her sexuality. Thicke is just as culpable here; his choice to participate in this charade, to allow Cyrus to gyrate up against him whilst whining his misogynist lyrics at the young girls in the crowd is deplorable.

Priviledged white girl takes on images associated with black culture. Priviledged white boy takes on images associated with black culture. The misogyny is only a part of the picture. They even went so far as to carry oversized cardboard cut-outs of paintings around the stage. Appropriation. Taking the object, the image, without transformation. 

In a way, the misogyny is appropriation too. Not that it is a good thing, mind you, but it is certainly a hallmark of stereotypical hip hop culture, "bitches and hoes" and "bling" gangsta mentality. What we saw was a 21st century minstrel show. Both performers put on their blackface in the form of words, gestures and costumes, and attempted to "fit in" - they took on these images, performed them. 

But this begs the question of WHY. Traditionally minstrel shows in late 19th century Americana were Irish-American performers who were trying to fit in, doing so by highlighting their dissimilarity to the OTHER, in that case, the african american. Eventually, the Irish American worker, once the much scorned member of Northeastern society, actually became the symbol of the American dream, stretching as far forward as the inherent symbolism in the Die Hard trilogy, pitting working class Bruce Willis against European Alan Rickman. 

So what then does this imagery purport to achieve? If it is to follow the same trajectory, it suggests that in some time the definition of the American dream will be entitled children parading around in a highly sexualized fashion, making all those around them objects for use. Entitlement. Achievement through family connections and money, rather than talent and work. 

We can be concerned about the sexuality, the misogyny, the racism. But the larger message underlying is that success doesn't come from what you do, but who you know and where you were born, and even worse....what you can pay to get what you want. Now this is truly something to be concerned about. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Impel Theatre present The First Time at MEME 2013 (Winnipeg)

I've been crafting this experiment for some time now, aiming to air some questions for myself, and for people experiencing dance music and theatre . . .
What happens when we take two independent experiences - a piece of theatre, and a music performance - and let them lose at the same time? How are you impacted as an observer? What do you notice? How does this in tandem experience change your understanding of each individual piece in a way that you may not have viewed them when separate?

The First Time is an audio installation designed to be experienced in tandem with a live DJ set performed by John Norman - Friday will be the premiere of this experience, beginning at 7:30pm.

If you're around and interested, the audio file can be downloaded for free at memetic.ca/thefirsttime - simply download the file, select a meeting place, and turn up at 7:30pm. There will be a girl in a purple dress who will lead you to the Cube, where John will be playing.

If Friday evening doesn't work, that's ok too - the installation can be experienced at any time during the festival - and will create a different experience for you! Just begin at a meeting point, and slowly walk yourself toward the cube stage.

If you do participate, please share your thoughts here, by tweeting me @impeltheatre or using hashtag #memeFirstTime and #meme2013

Huge gratitude to the MEME festival for allowing this experiment to see the light, and to my volunteer devisers and performers on the project!

Created by artistic director Kendra Jones (www.impeltheatre.blogspot.com)

The First Time will take you on a journey immersed in the festival’s main stage atmosphere which will amplify your aural
experience of the event and your surroundings. In a festival dedicated to live
performances of recorded sounds, come enjoy two forms of recorded sound at once,
and share in a further amplified experience of these two art forms in tandem with one
another. Downloadable for you to experience at any point through the festival, the piece
is best experienced corresponding with a DJ set by Winnipeg’s techno-maven, John
Norman (Hype Muzik, UNT! Records).

Download link:


Step 1
Download the audio file to your phone, mp3 player, or some other portable audio

Step 2
Make your way to one of the meeting points shown here for 7:30pm on Friday
August 16th:
Meeting Point 1 – In the small triangle park across from the Burton Cummings
(Walker) Theatre – 364 Smith Street

View Larger Map
Meeting Point 2 – In front of MTC John Hirsch (Mainstage) Theatre – 174 Market Avenue

View Larger Map
Step 3
Wait for the girl. She will be wearing a purple dress.

Step 4
Put your headphones in. Press play at 7:30pm. This is best experienced on your
own, so resist the temptation to take them out at any point, or to chat with others. Let
the experience envelop you.

Step 5

Step 6
Follow the girl. She will lead you to the Cube stage to enjoy the festival.

Step 7
Notice. Keep listening.

Step 8
The full experience is about 40 minutes long, and will then leave you the remainder
of John Norman’s set to enjoy the site and music. And don’t forget to stick around for
more great acts through the evening!

Questions? Email kendra@impelartists.com or tweet @impeltheatre – and don’t
forget to share your thoughts using hashtag #memeFirstTime and #meme2013

Monday, 12 August 2013

100 Masters @ WAG (until September)

I was simultaneously overjoyed, and disappointed with this exhibition. On one hand, it was very exciting to see the pieces, curated from galleries across North America, showcasing major and influential Canadian artists alongside the world's masters. The innovation of someone like Emily Carr  stood out like a beacon, and the piece by Wanda Koop was oustanding, pulling focus in the room.

At the same time, and perhaps only because I have been lucky enough to see the famous works by many of the international painters, I was left feeling disappointed in the selection for those artists. I actually said aloud "why would they choose that Gainsborough", and although the Monet was lovely, it paled in comparison to some of his more infamous work. Granted the VanGogh was every bit the energy-filled frenetic canvas that his work is, and the Matisse was outstanding.

In a way it almost felt as if the less exciting works were selected to help the Canadian artists stand out more. Disappointing, because the Carr, Koop, and Thompson would have shone regardless.

I suppose that my overall assessment is that if you haven't been lucky enough to visit the world's major galleries, then this will be a fantastic exhibition, providing an excellent opportunity to see many masters and learn more about Canadian artists in the context of the world scene. If you have, then you may not find it as engaging.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Til Death: Six Wives of Henry VIII - Monster Theatre @ Winnipeg Fringe

Tara Travis is outstanding in this one-woman show written by Ryan Gladstone, embodying 6 wives of Henry VIII along with the king himself with unwavering detail and clarity. The script cleverly posits an afterlife in which all six wivevs and eventually Henry are held together in a purgatory, in which St Peter will allow only one wife in to Royal Heaven - purportedly better than "regular" Heaven. As the women jostle for position, their stories and perspective toward Henry (and their own life's potential) is seen, creating a larger picture sense of the opportunity for women of that time. 

There was still something a bit lacking from the script; it centres heavily on beauty and sex, the ability to make the king happy, which seems to detract from its supposed feminist message. 

Notwithstanding, it is well worth seeing.