I was overwhelmed by our visit to the Maiwa Handprints atelier. You gave voice to the richness and sensuousness of the experience of being surrounded by the textiles in that space. Not only were those textiles rich in colour and texture, but they were rich in history, in community, in identity, and in the deep skill of their makers. Where Morris was concerned about the de-skilling of mass production, Charlotte’s business model supports the re-skilling of the artisans with whom she works. It should be noted that she is not merely interested in training artisans to duplicate traditional work, but is specifically interested in capturing the authentic, culturally specific handwork that communities have lost or are in the process of losing. This is perhaps why we both felt the strong need to examine, to handle, and to drape ourselves in those exquisite pieces – could it be that Benjamin’s aura was calling to us?
I concur that Charlotte has done an admirable job of navigating “the treacherous shoals of humanitarian work while forging a business” (Roche, 2017). I pondered this at length and the word that most occupied my thoughts was “generous”. A spirit of generosity runs throughout their enterprise. We were told that the atelier functions as a library for the general public, that the books and textiles are available to be handled and studied. Charlotte and Tim were generous with their time and knowledge during our visit, speaking at length about their work and responding to our inquiries with a refreshing transparency. Charlotte’s openness to error, to experimentation, and to taking the time needed (needed to learn, needed to meet community demands, needed to reach for the sublime) are all extensions of that generosity. I even see the workshops offered through the atelier as an extension of that generosity. I will acknowledge that the cost of the workshops place them above the means of many, but I respect that they are priced in line with the expertise of their instructors. Looking through the catalogue of classes, I see the care that Maiwa takes in seeking artisans with extensive skill and knowledge. I also see a generous number of inexpensive or free lectures and events that offer the interested public an opportunity to learn from the artists themselves. I agree that Maiwa’s success could/should be used as a framework for duplication – I don’t believe I would feel this way if I had not experienced that spirit of generosity in action. Thank you for helping me think through this experience Judith.
Wen Wei Wang’s Dialogue made its debut in Vancouver on May 25th, 2017 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. I wrote sixteen pages of notes during the opening night performance. My notes are messy, with inconsistent spacing, overwriting, and oddly large gaps between lines. My notes look this way because I could not tear my eyes away from the performance, for fear of missing something. The performance was overwhelming, the sheer level of activity onstage was difficult to apprehend.
I sit in my seat and gaze out at the performance space. The air is slightly sweet and reminiscent of the smell after rain – I assume it is related to the smoky haze that hangs in the air, presumably the result of a recently run atmosphere machine. The performance space is black, with six black chairs lurking upstage in the shadows. Set amongst the chairs are five spotlights. I focus on these because they are difficult to assign a name to – they are at once obvious as spotlights and yet also strongly reminiscent of old fashioned dryer helmets. Six dancers, Ralph Escamillan, Andrew Haydock, Arash Khakpour, Tyler Layton-Olson, Nicholas Lydiate, and Alex Tam, enter the stage, dressed in black.
The piece was 75 minutes in length and so rich with movement and action that I cannot begin to articulate, differentiate, or even transcribe it all. I will describe one moment in this tapestry of movement that moved me. The music pulses with a beat that reminds me of rave parties and dance clubs – the pounding bass driving the body to movement. The lights become more lively, I remember green and purple, flashing. The dancers seem most free during this segment. I can almost believe they are improvising, swaying, stomping, jumping, flapping. Their arms and legs and hands and feet are in control yet move with abandon. I notice one dancer’s eyes sweep the audience and stop, move on and then return. I wonder if he is meeting the eyes of someone he has danced with like this, in a place no less filled with people but far more filled with movement. I am struck by how greatly my own body wishes to move and I briefly consider what would happen if I stood and gave myself over to the beat. That pounding beat is loud in my ears and loud in my chest and loud in my feet.
I remember that music later in the performance when there is no music at all. I am struck by how magical and mundane the quiet feet of dancers are, how they slash through the air but land without almost no sound. For the most part, music disguises that throughout the performance and only in the quiet moments do I find myself appreciating the work in that quiet landing. I wonder about the sound my body produced, when I jumped and swung and flapped and spun to a throbbing beat.
I have been a dancer focused on the noise made by my feet. For sixteen years the shoes I wore while dancing dictated how my feet met the floor. In my soft shoes I landed with a whisper and with my hard shoes I landed with a crack. I think I was so taken by the dance club segment because it was only in my own similar moments of dance could I forget the sound I was supposed to make and instead enjoy how the sound made me feel.
Embracing the Subjective: Using Embodied Criticism and Autoethnography
as a panacea for the evaluative model of Art Criticism
This article aims to explore how embodied criticism and autoethnography can combine to offer an alternative to the traditional evaluative model of art criticism. Contemporary art criticism appears to be poised for radical change, with traditional print mediums being increasingly obsolete and the rise of social media and online platforms contributing to a glut of opinion with little depth. Embodied criticism offers the opportunity to situate the body as the production centre of knowledge, allowing multiple participants a position of authority when engaging critically with art. Autoethnography encourages its participants to look inward for political, social, and economic entanglements and then to shift their gaze outward to situate themselves within the larger context. Involving the potential arts audience in this process of meaning-making encourages non-experts to assume a role of authority, with the primary goal being an increase in the participation of the community in arts consumption and criticism.
Inspired by the form of Robert Mizzi’s “Unraveling Researcher Subjectivity Through Multivocality in Autoethnography” and the challenge put forth by Irit Rogoff, the author presents a vignette encompassing her embodied response combined with a mulitvocal autoethnographic exploration of her visit to the Audain Art Museum. Interspersing evocative narrative with the politically, socially and economically attached voices of Student, Spectator and Critic(al), the author is able to reveal the ambiguous, contradictory, and deeply vulnerable process of meaning making in critical art engagement. Afterwards she traces the roots of this critical approach from Walter Arnold, through Susan Sontag to modern scholars Peter Dickinson and Irit Rogoff.
The author includes an analysis of the benefits and challenges of this approach to art criticism. It’s non-traditional approach runs the risk of not being seen as legitimate in the conservative scholarly community. There is a risk that the audience will refuse to engage with the art, particularly if the critic is writing from a place of unpleasant embodied response. In the end, the benefits of a reciprocal dialogue between critic and audience and art outweigh the possible challenges. In presenting the deeply personal, the author concludes that an appetite for increased art consumption and engagement can be fostered.
Link to article
I am bombarded by sound. Staccato notes ricochet around the room, filling my ears with deep tones, then abruptly end. I expect quiet and am instead left listening to an enduring, echoing reverberation. Before silence has a chance to settle, the bombardment begins anew. This time I am attuned to it, more prepared to sift through the layers of sound. I can hear the clear tones of the hammer strike and the lasting ring of its sound. I can hear the percussive flatness of the felted strike itself. This time the end of active sound creation blends more smoothly into the echoing in between. I become aware of pondering spirals, how the beginning of sound flows past the echoes left before it and reaches into the echoes that come after.
The next movement feels more familiar, a melody more distinguishable, and I am able to relax into listening. The tinkling mid-tones mimic a mandolin and I peek through slit eyelids to remind myself that I am listening to a piano. I find myself wondering what instrumental category a piano falls into – strings, percussion, or something else?
A third movement catches me off guard, the higher tones of the upper register less able to blend into the vibrations left as their after effect. I am unsettled by a vague static hum and I long to reach out and still the piano strings with my hands. As the pianist moves back to the lower register, I become aware of the droning sound of an airplane. I settle on crop duster as the most appropriate name I can give this noise. I am looking at a piano and I am hearing a noise I associate with the dusty edges of a wheat field. As I begin to wonder how this sound is being produced, I detect the lower, rumbling hum of a locomotive. This is the deep thrumming buzz you feel in your feet long before you can see an approaching train. I identify the feeling of unease this brings as the knowledge that I am too close to a potential danger. Suddenly, the piece crashes to an end with a tumultuous slamming of hands and arms on keys. I am left with echoes and vibrations and memories and emotions.
The piano that had been arranged for Andrew Czink was misplaced prior to the beginning of his performance at SFU’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre. Had I not been staring at it while he played, I could have been convinced that the piano was never found. Mr. Czink crafts a soundscape through a rapid-fire interaction between his hands and the piano keyboard. He challenges his audience to suspend their expectations of what a piano sounds like and to be open to hearing unexpected things. Consequently, each audience member must draw upon their personal history to inform their experience of his work: when I hear a crop duster, another hears a didgeridoo. Mr. Czink’s structured improvisational style results in a unique performance combining artist, audience, and venue. There is a particular beauty in knowing that the work you are hearing cannot and will not be replicated. In his fleeting, evolving, responsive frenzy of vibrations and echoes, Mr. Czink offers us a series of reminders. We are reminded to pay attention. We are reminded to be curious. We are reminded of the importance of experimentation and play. We are reminded of the potential for connection through shared experience and the energy generated by turning to a fellow audience member and wondering: “What did you hear?”
Here is an interesting exploration of the importance of artistic practice in all communities and perhaps a little food for thought about intersections of personal experience, performance, and audience.