The Arts Issue

As part of our August “Arts Issue”, here’s the inside scoop on amazing art events happening in the city:

House of PainT celebrates hip hop and urban art

Getting my head around graffiti

Electric Fields We make the city! We are the city!

Talking ’toons at the Ottawa International Animation Festival

Walkers stroll past colourful murals on the south side of the bridge.

Walkers stroll past colourful murals on the south side of the bridge. Photo: Soo Hum.

House of PainT celebrates hip hop and urban art

By Patrick Darvasi

House of PainT, Ottawa’s festival of hip-hop culture, is back for its 10th year. From September 11 to 14, graffiti artists, break dancers, DJs, and MCs (rappers) will showcase their talent beneath Dunbar Bridge, where Bronson crosses the Rideau River. Since 2003, the concrete walls supporting Dunbar have officially served a double function as Ottawa’s first legal graffiti zone. House of PainT, a.k.a. HoP, is a celebration of this breakthrough and of the urban communities that identify with the music, dance, and the art of hip hop.

A variety of events will take place within the four-day festival. Highlights include a poetry night on Wednesday, September 11; a graphic design display at Café Nostalgica (603 Cumberland), followed by an MC showcase at Ritual Nightclub (137 Besserer) on Thursday, September 12; and a “Concert Under the Bridge” with after-party at Ollie’s in Carleton University on Friday, September 13. The festival continues all day Saturday, September 14.

Gerald Dragon, chair of the House of PainT board, comments on the Saturday program: “It will start at 11 a.m. and run to 11 p.m. – longer than previous years. We’re planning more children’s programming for the early afternoon to encourage more young families to come down to the Dunbar overpass. The group Hey Kids!, a hip-hop children’s music group for ages 4 to 9 will be performing at noon. Additionally, there will be DJs, graf writers, food trucks and a whole host of other activities.

We’re especially excited about our b-boy final dance battle. We’ve commissioned the local band SoulJazz Orchestra to create a piece that will allow them to do improv during the battle, which itself will be improvisation.” Hip-hop culture originated in the streets of south Bronx in the 1970s when block parties became popular and DJs such as Kool Herc started mixing records and generating a lot of excitement. Energetic dancing emerged as accompaniment to the sound and later, people started rapping to the music. Dragon points out that it had a very positive effect: “The origins of hip-hop culture come out of the truce that was formed between various gangs in New York City. These crews, who were once enemies, shared many characteristics in their makeup (marginalized youth, poverty and lack of opportunities). Hip hop became the movement that united these groups; therefore hip hop is a movement of positivity aimed at bringing people together for peace, love, and unity, in the words of Afrika Bambaataa.”

The celebration of graffiti as a form of art and expression is an important part of the House of PainT festival. Dragon explains the festival’s take on graffiti: “We recognize its importance and long history as a part of hip-hop culture. We make a distinction between graffiti as art and graffiti as vandalism. We put a lot of value on creating safe and legal spaces for young people who want to be involved in this particular form of art. We emphasize art in public spaces – not just to see, but also to participate in. An example could be the boarding around Lansdowne stadium. Right now it’s pretty bland, and that would be great space to put some art up if permitted.”

Aside from his job as chair of the House of PainT board, Dragon is a community developer working with the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, engaging young people through resources, support and programming. Dragon explains how offering young graffiti artists a legal space can lead to positive change. “Youth who have found themselves in conflict with the law due to graffiti can have the opportunity to be mentored by older writers and be able to hone their practice under the guidance of someone with experience. These mentors play a vital role as they themselves likely have experiences similar to the youth and they’re able to share those things with them while enabling the youth to move forward and in some cases consider educational programs such as design or architecture.”

Ottawa’s “Paint It Up!” program also supports the use of legal spaces for marginalized youth to paint. Funded by the City of Ottawa and administered by Crime Prevention Ottawa, Paint It Up! supports five to 10 mural projects per year. The idea is to get youth engaged, to beautify the city and to reduce the spread of graffiti vandalism.

For more information on the House of PainT festival, go to houseofpaint.ca.

For more background on graffiti as urban art in different parts of the world, check out the documentaries Las Calles Hablan or Beautiful Losers. To learn about and appreciate techniques for creating graffiti as art and expression, see Sano’s film GV4.

Patrick Darvasi is a teacher, musical performer and freelance writer.
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Getting my head around graffiti

By Adelle Farrelly

Context is everything – doubly so when it comes to graffiti. Is it destruction? An eyesore? Whimsical self-expression in an age of increasing corporatization? Blatant disregard for property? What people really mean by all of this, perhaps, is simply this: is it good (art), or is it bad (art)?

Recognizing graffiti as an urban art is controversial in some quarters, whereas related art forms such as performance poetry, rap music and hip-hop dance styles  have gained more mainstream acceptance.  Photo: Soo Hum

Recognizing graffiti as an urban art is controversial in some quarters, whereas related art forms such as performance poetry, rap music and hip-hop dance styles have gained more mainstream acceptance. Photo: Soo Hum

It doesn’t help that what one means by “graffiti” is frustratingly unclear. It can include everything from large-scale murals to the splotchy signatures known as “tagging.” One solution would be to imagine the same image or words on a canvas and imagine a new context – hanging on the wall of a museum or at the very least, with a descriptive plaque mounted below it. The problem there, of course, is that context is everything: the audacity of creating an image where it is forbidden is part of the project, a defiant “I was here.”

When people leave their mark, whether in words or images, on a piece of property, it calls into question the very idea of private property. This is especially the case when the “private” property in question is really public property, such as city benches, parks, and public transportation. In theory, if it is truly something belonging to the public, members of the public should be free to “decorate” it as they wish, especially if a bit of paint causes no structural damage but is merely an “eyesore.”

Yet as my mother says, “Why do they have to ruin it for everyone?” There are two contrasting ideas about what public really means: the more libertarian, independent view of the graffitist, and the more collectivist view of people like my mother, someone who does not appreciate even clever political slogans she agrees with if they come in graffiti form. Aside from that, she says, “It’s just so ugly.”

Not everyone thinks so, of course: there are entire books, such as Nicholas Ganz’s Graffiti World: Street Art from Five Continents, documenting the beauty of this contested, often politicized, form of expression.

There is something perfomative about art and its dependence on audience appreciation. There are now high-profile graffiti artists such as Robert Banks, also known as Banksy, whose works have been sold at auction for £100K+, according to Reuters. He has been the subject of a number of “legitimate” art shows as well as the subject of a documentary (Exit Through the Gift Shop) and book (Wall and Peace). One reason an artist like Bansky has proved popular is his inclusion of the viewing public. We are in on the joke. For example, one of his well-known pieces is displayed on the wall of a sexual health clinic in Bristol, U.K., a man escaping through a
window as his lover’s husband looks out with suspicion. There is a certain winking cleverness in the content and its location. Being on a public building, though, it was slated for removal until public support convinced city council otherwise. Yet less refined images, symbols and scrawled words by other graffitists are removed daily with no outcry. All art needs an appreciative audience; without an audience, it is just noise or erratic movement or messy scribbling.

Once more, it’s all about context, physical or cultural. Walking downtown one day, I noticed a bit of graffiti scrawled on the side of a building. Someone had scrawled the words “Bad Wolf” (I believe it was on a house). I confess that I normally would not be sympathetic to that kind of vandalism – seemingly random and inelegant in its execution, with no artfulness. Instead, I look back on it with indulgence, because I understand the reference: it’s from BBC’s Doctor Who. That sense of being “in the know” and getting the joke transformed it from unsightly nonsense into a clever bit of art.

Glebe resident Adelle Farrelly is a writer, blogger and essayist who shares her observations about contemporary urban life with Glebe Report readers.
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Electric Fields We make the city! We are the city! September 11 to 15

By Liz McKeen

Electric Fields, a festival that first took place in Ottawa in 2003, unfolds this year from September 11 to 15. Organized by Artengine, an artist-run production and presentation centre located at Arts Court, its aim is to connect artists, audiences and the general public. Artengine also drives creativity in all of us by incubating creative public projects.

LED messages on the spokes of a bicycle wheel (like this one in Sackville, N.B.) will light up the Electric Fields Agit P.O.V. parade on Sunday evening, September 15. Photo: Creative Commons 2.0 Generic

LED messages on the spokes of a bicycle wheel (like this one in Sackville, N.B.) will light up the Electric Fields Agit P.O.V. parade on Sunday evening, September 15. Photo: Creative Commons 2.0 Generic

Electric Fields, a cluster of programs and events intended to showcase multi-media art, focuses on art with a technological twist. Simultaneously, it seeks to encourage a deeper understanding and exploration of our city and how we might make it better. By promoting the theme “We make the city! We are the city!” Electric Fields challenges us city-dwellers to think about how we “move, meet and play in this space” we know as Ottawa-Gatineau. It invites us to ponder how we can shape the city for the better through collective action and interaction. The way in which we navigate Ottawa’s common spaces – its shopping malls, office blocks, restaurants, cafés, office towers and government buildings – helps shape the city, and in turn, the city shapes us.

How will Electric Fields play out? Why, in games, of course! Little mini-games, serving almost as “interventions.” According to Artengine’s program manager, Remco Volmer, posters explaining the mini-games will appear at various locations throughout the city during the festival, and will also be mapped online. These will be simple games that can be played by adults or children on the spot – spontaneous, discrete moments in our daily lives when the city itself becomes a play structure. We can choose to play the game, or not.

If locomotion is more your interest than games, Electric Fields also includes a bicycle happening called Agit P.O.V. It challenges us to speak out and express ourselves in and about our city. P.O.V. stands for “persistence of vision,” the visual phenomenon that allows an image to persist on the retina and accounts for the fact that the “petit objet de vélo” can be used to “speak” for us in the form of LED light displays of words or phrases on the bicycle spokes. (The phrase “Agit P.O.V.” also evokes images of “agitprop,” highly-charged art with an agenda). Similar bike actions have taken place in Montreal, Sackville and around the world.

To participate, bring your own bike, and Electric Fields will provide the kit and teach you how to assemble and program the LED display at one of two workshops on the evenings of September 11 and 12. On the evening of Sunday the 15, participants will form a bike parade to allow their bicycles to “speak” to the world. According to Volmer, the LED displays on bike spokes can be anything from a heartfelt message to tongue-in-cheek irony. “Anyone can say anything they want. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get a ‘Jennifer, will you marry me?’ message, says Volmer hopefully.

Bikes figure large in Electric Fields. In something they’re calling “Ghetto Blast Soundsystem,” anyone with a bike is invited to be part of a bike parade on Saturday afternoon, September 14. Participants will be outfitted with battery-powered walkie-talkie-type radios to pick up the sounds of the riders around them in the parade, and broadcast them to spectators and other riders. The idea is to create a moving soundscape, where everyone experiences and expresses a different sound. The parade will wind up under the Dunbar Bridge on Bronson Avenue in time to enjoy the (free) House of PainT hip hop and urban art festival taking place there (see pages 20–21).

Electric Fields is also promoting experimentation in multi-media performance in the form of a collaboration between a choreographer, a video/projection wizard and an urban theorist/DJ (Elizabeth MacKinnon, Mathieu Trudel and Kwende Kefentse). Brought together by Artengine, they will take the idea of artistic intersection literally, converging at the corner of Sussex and Rideau to explore space and time. People pass through this space every day, sometimes pausing, sometimes meeting – the area has always been a hub of activity. Now, the walls and stairs of the plaza shape the flows and create the surfaces upon which the projections and performers will play. Although highlighting the everyday movement of pedestrians, the project, with the working title “Body Building,” will also show the transformation of the space over time by integrating archival images into the work.

Stay tuned to the Artengine website for details of evening performance times from September 12 to 15.Electric Fields promises an eclectic array of choices for interaction with our fellow city-dwellers, having our say on matters important to us, and playfully engaging with our city. Fittingly, the program is fluid, so check the website at www.artengine.ca for up-to-date information on events.
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Talking ’toons at the Ottawa International Animation Festival September 18 to 22

By Willem Dunham

This fall marks the 37th edition of the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF), which began in 1976 and has become North America’s biggest animation festival. Worldwide, it’s one of the oldest animation festivals still held annually, along with the Annecy Festival in France and Animafest Zagreb in Croatia. Poster

The OIAF is considered by many to be an immensely prestigious venue. World premieres for future award-winning works and big studio productions are held right here in Ottawa, alongside special exhibits on celebrated works in the industry. To say it’s a local even is quite the understatement. It’s a festival comprised of many forms of animation: features, shorts, promotional vignettes, music videos and television programs for adults and children. World-renowned figures in the animation industry are invited to speak and showcase their favourite works. Last year’s festival held a tribute to Ralph Bakshi (Fritz The Cat, Lord Of The Rings) and hosted screenings of his work, attended by the man himself. Animation fans, aspiring animators and the general public; there is literally something for everyone.

This year is looking to be a memorable one; a total of 108 films have been selected for competition, with an additional 44 in out-of-competition showcases. The number of “best feature” candidates has doubled compared to last year, with a total of eight titles, and several have already generated quite a buzz. Award-winning animator, Phil Mulloy, will return to Ottawa with his third and final installment of the Christie family trilogy, The Pain and The Pity. The two prior Christie films (Goodbye Mr. Christie and Dead But Not Buried) each won the Grand Prix award in past OIAF festivals, making this latest entry auspicious and a potential record-breaker, should it round out the trilogy’s victories. Combining a trilogy of impressive short films has put Oscar-nominated Don Hertzfeldt in the spotlight: Everything is Okay, I Am So Proud Of You, and It’s Such a Beautiful Day are integrated in the animator’s first feature film. Sharing the same name as the final installment, It’s Such a Beautiful Day follows stick figure, Bill, through the ups and downs of human existence. Hertzfeldt’s work is important in the animation industry and has been shown or nominated in competitions such as Cannes and Sundance.
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Science fiction and mystery fans will no doubt fall in love with Cycle, Hungarian director Zoltan Sostai’s first full-length feature is currently touring several festivals around the globe and has impressed many. From early promotional stills and trailers, Zoltan appears to have utilized shadows and light to his advantage in creating the illusion of non-animated action sequences. Cycle has the potential to become a notable entry in the genre on a par with Blade Runner or Outland.

Some refer to A Liar’s Autobiography as a spiritual sixth film from the Monty Python troupe. Released almost 30 years after their last film, The Meaning Of Life, this 3D animated romp is an adaptation of Graham Chapman’s 1980 book of the same title and features all members’ voices, including that of Chapman, who died in the late 80s. It joins together 17 different animation styles and brings Chapman’s presence through newly discovered audio recordings of the late Python.

Of all the countries in competition this year, the curious eye must focus on Japan: its total of 15 films is now a festival record and has made an impression on OIAF artistic director Chris Robinson. “Their quality was outstanding, which made the selection process extremely difficult. The Japanese (and feature) films were particularly refreshing due to their boldness and originality.”

More information on festival programming will be released in the following weeks. The five-day festival runs from September 18 to 22. Tickets and pass information can be found at www.animationfestival.ca. (Daypasses $55, weekend passes $105).

Willem Dunham, a frequent contributor to the Glebe Report, is currently working with the Ottawa International Animation Festival.
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