INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER BAUDER

Light artist Christopher Bauder and DEEP WEB (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Light artist Christopher Bauder and DEEP WEB (photo by Ralph Larmann)

By Anita Malhotra

German artist and designer Christopher Bauder has married his love of light with technology he invented to create large-scale, otherworldly installations and performances that combine kinetic light with electronic music.

SKALAR, by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

SKALAR, by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Among his award-winning works are SKALAR (2018), a large-scale installation created with musician and DJ Kangding Ray; DEEP WEB (2016), a monumental installation and live performance done in collaboration with electronic musician Robert Henke; and LICHTGRENZE, created in 2014 with his brother Marc, a filmmaker, for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Bauder’s installations and live performances have been presented in Germany and around the world, including at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Design in Zurich, MUTEK festival in Montreal and Mexico City, and numerous other venues and festivals.

An audience experiencing SKALAR at the CTM Festival in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

An audience experiencing SKALAR at the CTM Festival in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

He is also the founder of the companies WHITEvoid, the design agency that produces his shows, and KINETIC LIGHTS, which manufacturers and distributes the light systems used in them.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019.

Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: When did you first get interested in light?

CB: I was basically always interested in light. Even as a kid I started collecting candles and lighters and matchers in a drawer under my bed. I was three or four when my mom caught me collecting them.

I was fascinated with all kinds of light and that’s what I could get my hands on. Later, I started experimenting with light bulbs – with my own fixtures, desk lamps and table lamps. Then I got to know LED and other technologies, and it basically developed from there. It was a continuing love that I have been sharing until today.

AM: What is the fascination about?

CB: It’s the materiality of the light itself. I’m very interested in the output of the light. For example, a laser has a very iridescent, otherworldly, alien kind of look to it. You think you can touch it because it looks so real, but it’s not really there.

SKALAR at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

SKALAR at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

A flame is totally different. A flame seems to be alive. It has this golden look to it – very warm – and we connect it with certain emotions that we have when we sit around a fire.

Then there’s LED. It allows me to create light in any kind of shape I want. There’s moving light – halogen. Each of these light sources has a different property to the light that is fascinating to me. I can use it in in different ways to manipulate it and to work with it.

LICHTGRENZE, a citywide art installation created in 2014 by Christopher Bauder and his brother Marc Bauder to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall (photo by Ralph Larmann)

LICHTGRENZE, a citywide art installation created in 2014 by Christopher Bauder and his brother Marc Bauder to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall (photo by Ralph Larmann)

AM: How did your passion develop into actually doing art with light?

CB: I took a little bit of a detour. I was studying here at art university in Berlin and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in digital media classes.

LICHTGRENZE, Berlin, 2014 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

LICHTGRENZE, Berlin, 2014 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

It was creative programming – everything related to computer and screen output and so on, but I also experimented a lot with 3D software.

I wanted to use all these elements that I was using inside the computer – like polygons or voxels – in the real world.

So I came up with this idea of a three-dimensional pixel – something physical, like a small unit of a bigger form that I could position in space. And that pixel needed to have a colour.

I had the idea to invent a motor system that allowed me to move the light in space by attaching the light source to the end of a cable that I reeled in and out. Through that I was coming back to my original passion about light and from there I started experimenting with what I could combine that with – with laser and all kinds of different light sources.

2047 Apologue, a concept stage show directed by Zhang Yimou that features a kinetic display by Christopher Bauder, presented in Beijing in 2017 (photo by WHITEvoid)

2047 Apologue, a concept stage show directed by Zhang Yimou that features a kinetic display by Christopher Bauder, presented in Beijing in 2017 (photo by WHITEvoid)

AM: What was your first official piece for light?

CB: It was a large-scale installation called ATOM. It was 64 helium-filled balloons each about 50 centimetres high and there was a small LED inside each one.

Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke working on their piece ATOM in 2010 (photo by WHITEvoid)

Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke working on their piece ATOM in 2010 (photo by WHITEvoid)

I had an arrangement of eight by eight of these – it was about 10 by eight metres in size. It was attached to a motor on the ground and I could reel the cable in and out. I could control it through computer software – it was the first art piece in this direction.

AM: Were you the first person who used this technique?

CB: I think so. I would claim that I invented kinetic lighting.

There are so many copies out there and it’s diluting the original source. We have copies of our installations and products coming from China and all over the world, but I’ve been doing this since 2001, so I don’t think there was anything before that.

AM: Your installation DEEP WEB just completed a six-week run in Berlin a few weeks ago. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

CB: DEEP WEB is a large-scale audio-visual installation. It’s 175 15-centimetre diameter balls. They’re filled with water and each of them is attached to a motor – a winch – on the ceiling so we can move them and animate them in patterns. And then we have an arrangement of 12 high-power lasers around this, and the lasers are basically tracking those balls.

DEEP WEB, by Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

DEEP WEB, by Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Normally, a laser beam would be endless. It would end up on the wall or somewhere. But in this case there is a stopper to the laser beam, which is one of the balls.

So by using this system we can create vector drawings in space. Again, this comes back to wanting to transfer properties of 3D software into the real world. It’s three-dimensional vector drawings that allow me to create architectural forms in space, made out of light.

And I work together with a very famous composer and electronic musician from Berlin – Robert Henke. He’s one of the inventors of Ableton Live, the music software. We present this as an exhibition, so you can enter it at any time and stay as long as you want.

We also have one-hour live shows where we can have a more clearly defined dramaturgy because we can start with something small and build it up to a peak, which you can’t do in the exhibition.So the exhibition is more ambient – you’re sitting on the floor, walking around slowly and it’s more meditative – while the concert is clearly more sound-driven. It has  hard techno music; there are beats. It’s more like a full-on, one-hour concentrated show.

DEEP WEB in Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

DEEP WEB in Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

AM: Are you improvising in the live performances?

CB: We have the possibility to improvise mainly on the music side, and the visual side is directly connected by software programming to the audio side. So if Robert is changing something in his score, altering parameters, this automatically transfers to the visuals at the same time. So every performance is different.

AM: Is the lighting technology something that your company produces?

CB: This is something that my companies WHITEvoid and KINETIC LIGHTS produce. KINETIC LIGHTS is a manufacturer, so we make those motors. We sell and we rent them worldwide. And WHITEvoid is a design agency and at the same time acts as the producer of my shows.

SKALAR at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

SKALAR at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

AM: I have read that you have always been interested in electronic music. Can you tell me a bit about that?

CB: You could say I’m like a techno-kid. I grew up with techno music – I was fascinated by electronic music right from the start. When I moved to Berlin almost 25 years ago, I immediately dove into the Berlin techno scene that Robert is also a big part of. That was always my background music, and when I’m creating art pieces I’m always thinking of the connection with electronic music.

Christopher Bauder (photo by Saskia Uppenkamp)

Christopher Bauder (photo by Saskia Uppenkamp)

AM: What comes first? The lighting design on the computer and then the music, or is it created at the same time?

CB: It’s a truly collaborative process. I come up with a general idea of what I want to create – so, in this example, a combination of lasers and kinetic balls. And then I meet up with Robert and we discuss a topic that we want to illustrate. We have an abstract storyline.

In this case we’re illustrating communication – from the early ways of sending and receiving to multi-point communication, to complex networks, to modems. This is basically a run-through of the development of digital communication from the early days until today. And then we try to illustrate that on the visual side and on the audio side.

Robert is creating sounds that could illustrate different aspects of this topic. I’m creating patterns that could match with certain parts of our storytelling. And then we see what fits together and look at the visuals and say, “This could sound like something like that.” And then either he already has a small snippet prepared or he’s producing something on the fly.

DEEP WEB in Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

DEEP WEB in Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

We do the same on the visual side. If we think, “Okay, the sound is great, it illustrates a certain aspect, but we don’t have a matching visual,” then we create something.

So it’s an iterative process – a ping-pong back and forth until we are satisfied with the overall construction of the show.

AM: Your lighting designs bring to mind the planets and the universe.

CB: Definitely. If you enter our space, if you’re experiencing our installation, you’re somewhere else. We’re transporting you to another dimension or another universe. A lot of people have said that they felt detached from being in Berlin, being at this time, or being who they are, and in the best case we managed to do that. So, of course there’s a strong connotation of creating something otherworldly or alien or like a universe of effects.

DEEP WEB at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

DEEP WEB at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

AM: How do you choose your spaces for your work?

CB: I like industrial spaces. I don’t like traditional museum spaces – white cubes or black boxes – because they’re just a neutral shell. I like to work with the space because my installations are spatial. You can experience them from 360 degrees. And I like this interplay between the old industrial space and the modern light installation inside.

Christopher Bauder's kinetic light installation CIRCULAR at Paris' Éléphant Paname art and dance centre in 2015 (photo by WHITEvoid)

Christopher Bauder’s kinetic light installation CIRCULAR at Paris’ Éléphant Paname art and dance centre in 2015 (photo by WHITEvoid)

For me it’s very important that the space has a character of its own because I will highlight that through my piece and that will be reflected back onto my installation and give it a nice background.

It’s like the frame around a picture in older times. You had the picture and then the frame gave it kind of a “shine.”

We are creating a similar effect by using old industrial spaces as a backdrop for our installations. Obviously I like big, so the space has to be huge and there are not that many available. So we are always hunting for particular spaces that can match the size and the properties that we need.

ELECTRIC MOONS by Christopher Bauder, at the St. Maria Church in Stuttgart in 2018 (photo by WHITEvoid)

ELECTRIC MOONS by Christopher Bauder, at the St. Maria Church in Stuttgart in 2018 (photo by WHITEvoid)

AM: Can you say a few words about your 2018 work SKALAR?

CB: For SKALAR I worked with Kangding Ray – David Letellier. He’s a French electronic composer and a DJ, and I’m a big fan of his. With SKALAR we tried to dig more into basic human emotions. I realized with previous shows that you can trigger really profound emotions in spectators with very simple combinations using technology.

We have light, we have movement, and we have sound. They are very abstract and we use a lot of technology to create them. There’s nothing natural about it, but we can still trigger very profound emotions in the spectators.

An audience experiencing SKALAR in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

An audience experiencing SKALAR in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Some people feel sad in some parts; other parts make them feel elevated and happy; in other parts they get angry because it’s very aggressive. We got that feedback a lot from audiences, so we realized we were on to something.

With SKALAR we were digging into that. We used a cycle of eight basic human emotions and we tried to illustrate each of those emotions with a combination of light, movement, colour and sound. I think we were quite successful with SKALAR in recreating this palette of emotions with the very abstract means that we had at hand.

AM: What are you working on currently?

CB: I’m working on a new show – also related to light, of course. I’m trying all kinds of combinations of a lot of different light sources. Before I was always focused on one aspect and now I’m trying to cover multiple things.

The Hakkasan Grid designed by Christopher Bauder, at the Las Vegas nightclub Hakkasan in 2019 (photo by WHITEvoid)

The Hakkasan Grid designed by Christopher Bauder, at the Las Vegas nightclub Hakkasan in 2019 (photo by WHITEvoid)

We are also working on a lot of projects where we do derivatives of our art installations for more commercial clients.

So we will do an installation for a club in China and probably a club in Switzerland, where we will use similar technology but in a club context to illustrate what the DJ is playing.

We’re also working on touring SKALAR. We will be in Mexico City in November for a whole month, and we will be in Amsterdam in January for one month. And then we’re looking at other shows probably in China and wherever we can find suitable spaces and opportunities.

AM: What future developments do you see with your company?

Christopher and Marc Bauder’s inauguration with the Order of Merit of the State of Berlin for the installation LICHTGRENZE (photo courtesy of WHITEvoid)

Christopher and Marc Bauder’s inauguration with the Order of Merit of the State of Berlin for the installation LICHTGRENZE (photo courtesy of WHITEvoid)

CB: I want to tour our pieces more to the general public – maybe even multiple at the same time. We do a lot of corporate shows, but it’s just a limited audience. So we’re looking to tour our installations more worldwide and also to show them for a longer time to be able to appeal to a broader audience.

For me it’s very important that this is not art for a certain peer group or special interest group. This is not just for art lovers or for people who like electronic music – it’s supposed to be for everyone: from children to old people. In Berlin it works quite well. We attracted 50,000 people in one month. But we need to get the word out and transform that all over the world when we’re touring, and that takes a bit of time.

SKALAR can be seen at at the Frontón México in Mexico City until Dec. 2, 2019. For more information about Christopher Bauder and his work, please visit christopherbauder.com or whitevoid.com.

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INTERVIEW WITH JEFTA VAN DINTHER

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther (photo by Nina Andersson)

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther (photo by Nina Andersson)

By Anita Malhotra

Dutch-Swedish choreographer Jefta van Dinther’s work is driven by his explorations of the physicality of the moving human body as it interacts with light, sound and materials, and the sensory affect of these explorations on the audience.

A graduate of the Amsterdam School of the Arts, van Dinther was a dancer before becoming a choreographer in 2008. Since then he has choreographed 10 works, four of which are currently touring in Europe: Plateau Effect (2013), Protagonist (2016), Dark Field Analysis (2017) and The Quiet (2019). 

A still from Jefta van Dinther's "Plateau Effect" (photo by Jubal Battisti)

A still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Plateau Effect” (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Based in Berlin but with close working ties to Stockholm, van Dinther has received numerous grants and awards, including the Swedish Theater Critics’ Dance Award for Plateau Effect.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Jefta van Dinther in Berlin on Sept. 5, the day before Plateau Effect received its Berlin premiere by the city’s prestigious Staatsballett.  

Jefta van Dinther on Sept. 5, 2019 at the Relish Restaurant in Berlin following his interview with Artsmania (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Jefta van Dinther on Sept. 5, 2019 at the Relish Restaurant in Berlin following his interview with Artsmania (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: When did you first become interested in dance?

JvD: My interest in dance as an art form started when I was 17, when I was brought to a studio by chance by a friend in Stockholm. It was an open class – a jazz class – to see if you wanted to start one of those evening hobby courses.

The teacher was so enthusiastic about me that he immediately pushed me to start dancing four times a week. I had danced before, but that was the turning point for me becoming really serious about it.

The reason I became serious about it was that I was in Gymnasium – senior secondary school – in Sweden and I was on a track of becoming an academic. I was very good at everything at school, and it came easily to me. I found that dancing was the only thing that I really had to work hard to achieve. It felt like getting your hands dirty – in a very complete sense. So from one day to the next, I decided to join that program. And a year and a half later, I did an audition for a dance academy.

A still from Jefta van Dinther's "Dark Field Analysis" (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

A still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Dark Field Analysis” (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

Prior to that, I had had performance experience. I grew up in a Christian environment – my parents were missionaries. They were travelling the world telling people about God.

I had performance experience from the age of six – playing in plays, singing on the street, sometimes moving in a kind of gesture, choreography or formation of kids singing about God.

Jefta van Dinther as a young child (photo courtesy of Jefta van Dinther)

Jefta van Dinther as a young child (photo courtesy of Jefta van Dinther)

AM: What countries were you performing in?

JvD: My first experience goes back to Japan when I was six, and I also lived in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Morocco, and for one year in the United States. That is when the idea of performing started – the idea of being in front of others and also this idea of conveying something to people.

It was very much about converting people, but it’s not so different from what I’m occupied with right now. There’s something about conveying and talking about something and bringing people somewhere.

AM: You studied dance in Amsterdam and you danced with other choreographers. What led you to decide to become a choreographer in your own right?

Jefta Van Dinther working with "Plateau Effect" dancers (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Jefta Van Dinther working with “Plateau Effect” dancers (photo by Jubal Battisti)

JvD: For me, there was never a calling to be a choreographer. It was really about the dancing body and having an interest in a kind of physical research.

After school, at first I was in a more classical company structure, where you’re given choreography and you perfect your model.

But quite soon after, I started to work with choreographers who were very collaborative – where the agency of the dancer was also very much a part of the creative process. There was always a person responsible, but there was also a kind of co-authoring with the team as a whole, and especially with the dancers.

I worked in these settings for a few years, and then I felt I wasn’t getting to try everything I want to try. So I asked for a research grant. Back then it was possible to get a research grant in Amsterdam.

I pulled together two other dancers and we had this project that didn’t have to result in a show. I would say the foundation was made there. Many of the things that would later develop also appeared in that research project.

Still from "The Way Things Go" by Jefta van Dinther (photo by Yoav Barel)

Still from “The Way Things Go” by Jefta van Dinther (photo by Yoav Barel)

AM: What were these elements?

JvD: Kinesthesia, for example – the power that it has on the spectator. The kind of mirroring that happens when you watch a body in motion and how that body enters your body.

Still from Jefta van Dinther's "It's in the Air" (photo by Peter Lenaerts)

Still from Jefta van Dinther’s “It’s in the Air” (photo by Peter Lenaerts)

A sense of duration – my work deals with a strong sense of time.

I was also researching into how face had been very excluded in my dancing background. I wanted to bring that out and let that be part of the dancing body. And then it became natural to crystallize these findings in performances.

Only a few pieces later I started to think in the reverse way: “What am I making, what do I want to talk about, what do I want to bring to an audience?” First it was more like, “What do I want to do with my body? How do I want to explore my body?”

AM: After studying and working in Amsterdam, what brought you to Berlin?

JvD: I moved here 10 years ago, in 1998. I had wanted to come here for a while already. I had lived in Amsterdam for 10 years and was tired, in a way, of its smallness. And then I met my ex-boyfriend of that time. And it was just an easy call to go. It was like, “I fell in love, I went.”

Jefta van Dinther (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Jefta van Dinther (photo by Jubal Battisti)

AM: What is the dance scene like here?

JvD: I am not so affiliated with the dance scene here, except for my recurring relationship with the theatre Hebbel Am Ufer, which co-produces and presents all my works. I’m Swedish, and for the last six years I’ve been getting structural funding from Stockholm to run my company.

This is the first time that I have felt that I work locally. I’ve had shorter rehearsal periods of one or two weeks here, but I’ve been in a kind of circuit of dance that works a lot through the residency system. So I’m always travelling to rehearse somewhere through partners that provide studio or theatre spaces. It’s been a very, very nomadic life with a kind of home base here.

People assembled in front of the Komische Oper before the Berlin Premiere of "Plateau Effect" on Sept. 6, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

People assembled in front of the Komische Oper before the Berlin Premiere of “Plateau Effect” on Sept. 6, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

I have this big gig here with Staatsballett Berlin and I think now is the time to really start to expand on my possibilities here because I have got married and bought a flat here. So this is going to be my place to stay.

AM: The Berlin premiere of your 2013 work Plateau Effect takes place tomorrow. Can you tell me a bit about the piece and its title?

JvD: “Plateau effect” is a term that is used for when development evens out. For me this plateauing is interesting because we live in a society where development is something we always talk about. If something is not increasing, we consider this bad. So I wanted to look at what happens in a plateauing situation. Celebrate that form; linger on that.

Still from Jefta van Dinther's "Plateau Effect" (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Plateau Effect” (photo by Jubal Battisti)

In the end, I think the work has become something different because it’s more about slow processes. There are waves, there are curves in the piece – but there’s always a progression. There’s a slight boiling that starts to boil more and more and more.

Still from "Plateau Effect" (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Still from “Plateau Effect” (photo by Jubal Battisti)

AM: Is it very challenging to work with nine dancers?

JvD: Actually, it was originally for nine but I wanted one of the alternates to be in the piece, so I have made it for 10 now. I find it very beautiful to work in big groups. Of course, the challenge is there are many voices, and finding time to bring in so many voices.

"Plateau Effect" poster (photo courtesy of Jefta van Dinther)

“Plateau Effect” poster (photo courtesy of Jefta van Dinther)

I’m pretty directive as a choreographer, but I’m also collaborative. It’s important to me that their voices are part of the creation process and eventually also the piece.

Also, it’s important that we communicate about what works and what doesn’t work. I would say the most challenging aspect of that is to find time to speak together because you’re so many people. It’s the 10 dancers. It’s also the lighting designer, two set designers, the costume designer, the sound designer and two assistants. There are many voices there.

AM: Does improvisation play a role in Plateau Effect?

JvD: There are a lot of things that are set, but there are also a lot of things that are not set. It’s a complex layering of physical, spatial, performative undertakings that the dancers have to do in real time. And it’s by being busy with a complex set of these in each section of the piece that the choreography unravels.

It’s like a score that the dancers have to re-interpret every time, which has some very fixed points. They have very clear sound cues, for example. They have light cues – when certain things should shift. But who is where doing what, and if an arm is up to the right, or if they’re touching the floor, all of that is very improvised.

AM: Is there any audience participation in your work?

JvD: Not in a literal sense. I’m much more interested in a very subjective, almost cinematic experience for the spectator, where you forget about the other audience members and this work enters you.

Still from Jefta van Dinther's "Dark Field Analysis" (photo by Max Stürmer)

Still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Dark Field Analysis” (photo by Max Stürmer)

Many of my works are very overwhelming of the senses. There’s very loud music; the light is a very present and active player. I often work in the very dark – like in Dark Field Analysis. You can’t actually see anything but those dancing bodies on stage.

AM: Can you tell me a bit about Dark Field Analysis?

JvD: Looking back, I’ve made 10 shows, and what I see now is that in every work I look for some altered state.

And the altered states can be through sexual experience, through depression – Protagonist, for example – through intoxication, or through a “rush” of something.

With Dark Field Analysis, there was something about what the encounter with someone else does to you and your state, and how that can be a very altered state, even through a simple conversation. That was one aspect for me – the encounter with someone else and how that shifts something about your self-perception.

Still from "Dark Field Analysis" (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

Still from “Dark Field Analysis” (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

And there was also this other idea, which is where the title comes from. “Dark Field Analysis” is a term that comes from a branch of alternative medicine where you take a drop of blood, you analyze it under a microscope, and you can actually see your living blood in front of you.

So I had that test done. And to me that was a very interesting, deeply profound, and uncanny experience of looking into myself.

Being myself and at the same time looking into myself – literally, anatomically, I was seeing my blood and the way that it would disintegrate and dissolve, and the way that the red blood cells would interact or other bodies in my blood.

So Dark Field Analysis is also about that. It’s about getting into your own anatomy, but also your emotional life, your psychological life, into areas unknown.

AM: The Quiet is your newest work and I have read that it was set in a post-apocalyptic time period. Why did you set it then?

JvD: That’s what has been written about it – it’s not my phrasing. The last pieces seem to have something to do with technology and future.

Still from Jefta van Dinther's "The Quiet" (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

Still from Jefta van Dinther’s “The Quiet” (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

The Quiet wasn’t necessarily about that, but through the reactions of the audience and through what has been written about it, I understand more and more that the piece brings something out that deals with something archaic on one hand – rituals, gathering of people sitting around a fireplace, constructing something, walking – coupled with something that is very futuristic and technological.

For instance, they find a hatch in the floor, they open that hatch, and they gather around it as if it’s a kind of campfire. But it’s a hatch with a basement, and the light that comes out of it is very artificial. So it makes people think of a television or a computer.

Still from "The Quiet" (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

Still from “The Quiet” (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

These two images together, they don’t make sense. So people started talking about that piece as if it started after some sort of apocalypse. Why are we in a world where there are only women? It’s a world without men, it’s a world that is slower, with leftover traces of what might have been a house.

I guess it’s an interpretation based very much on the esthetics – the light esthetics, for example, or the costumes they’re wearing. It’s a beautiful dialogue for me: the archaic and the futuristic. 

AM: You are touring four of your works in Europe over the next half-year or so. Are you creating any new work at the same time?

JvD: I’m just starting a period now where I’m an associated artist with Cullberg, the company I made Plateau Effect for originally and that I made Protagonist for. They are the biggest contemporary dance institution in Sweden. And for the next three years, me, Deborah Hay and Alma Söderberg will be the associated artists with this company.

Still from "The Way Things Go" by Jefta van Dinther (photo by Yoav Barel)

Still from “The Way Things Go” by Jefta van Dinther (photo by Yoav Barel)

So for the next two years I’m making one work per year for them. One of them is a solo, and one of them is a group piece for the whole company. That solo I’m starting on already in a few weeks, but I always work very slowly, so the premiere is not until next November.

I always try to have at least a year for a project – not in real time of spending time with a dancer, but spread out over that year. It’s very important to me to revisit what we make and then have a break. Work, have breaks, come back to it, see it again, and have lived life in the meantime.

For more information about Jefta van Dinther and his work, please visit jeftavandinther.com. 

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INTERVIEW WITH DIANA SCHNIEDERMEIER (INTERACTIVE MEDIA FOUNDATION)

Diana Schniedermeier of the Berlin-based Interactive Media Foundation (© Interactive Media Foundation)

Diana Schniedermeier of the Berlin-based Interactive Media Foundation (© Interactive Media Foundation)

By Anita Malhotra

Diana Schniedermeier is a Managing Director and Executive Producer at the Interactive Media Foundation, an award-winning, non-profit company based in Berlin that produces culturally and socially relevant productions in a variety of media.

Their innovative projects include Inside Tumucumaque, a breathtaking VR installation that allows participants to “see” from the perspective of five animals in the Amazon rainforest; Baukraft, a Minecraft contest aimed at improving social conditions in an overcrowded Berlin neighbourhood; and Das Totale Tanz Theater, a stunning VR installation inspired by Bauhaus concepts in which the participant interacts with hundreds of digital dancers on a multi-story virtual stage.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Diana Schniedermeier on September 9, 2019 about the Interactive Media Foundation’s work at its office in Berlin.

AM: Can you tell me a bit about the Interactive Media Foundation?

Diana Schniedermeier at her Interactive Media Foundation office in Berlin (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Diana Schniedermeier at her Interactive Media Foundation office in Berlin (photo by Anita Malhotra)

DS: The Interactive Media Foundation started in 2013 and we are a team of experts from digital media, from narrative, from film, from games, and what we are trying to do is find expressions for topics that are relevant to society. These might be cultural topics, ecological topics, or health topics, for example.

When we start to research a topic that is interesting to us, we always have two questions: to whom do we want to communicate, and how do we have to communicate it so that it reaches people intellectually and emotionally? And so we have done graphic novels, motion graphic novels, games, and have been doing VR for a few years.

Then we look for partners: technological partners, partners for distribution, for financing, because we are a small company. Our main role is thinking about the topics, how to convey them, and who to work with. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK WATSON

Montreal musician Patrick Watson (photo by Patrick Gouin)

Montreal musician Patrick Watson (photo by Patrick Gouin)

By Anita Malhotra

It’s hard to imagine a more authentic, sincere musical voice than that of Montreal singer-songwriter Patrick Watson (also the name of his band), who will release his sixth studio album this fall.

Audiences connect with him on a highly personal level, as shown by the heartfelt comments left on his YouTube videos by fans and the warmth of audiences at his live shows.

Watson’s musical approach was influenced by growing up in the small Quebec town of Hudson, where he sang in local church choirs.

After studying music at Vanier College, he toured as himself and as a band with such artists as James Brown, John Cale, Philip Glass, The Cinematic Orchestra, Amon Tobin and Feist. He and his band have also toured extensively internationally in their own right.

Patrick Watson's second album, Close To Paradise, won the 2007 Polaris Music Prize (photo courtesy of Patrick Watson)

Patrick Watson’s second album, Close To Paradise, won the 2007 Polaris Music Prize (photo courtesy of Patrick Watson)

Releasing his first album in 2003, Watson won the Polaris Music Prize in 2007 for his second album, Close to Paradise, and went on to release Wooden Arms (2009), Adventures in Your Own Backyard (2012) and Love Songs for Robots (2015).

Several of his songs have been featured in movies as well as in TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, and Orange is the New Black.

Watson is also a soundtrack composer and recently created the sound and music for Gymnasia, a haunting virtual reality piece co-produced by the National Film Board and Felix & Paul Studios, and directed by animators Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski (aka Clyde Henry Productions).

Anita Malhotra spoke with Patrick Watson by phone on June 11, 2019 about his work on Gymnasia, his approach to music and his current projects.

AM: How did you get involved with doing the music and sound for Gymnasia?

PW: Chris and Maciek work for Clyde Henry Productions and I usually do all the music for their films. We got involved in VR because Felix & Paul Studios had asked Chris and Maciek to test out a camera of theirs – to do a little short.

We did this very humble video of me playing in my studio. In the initial test they noticed that a certain type of simplicity was really crucial. The whole thing is meant to feel like you’re sitting there, and at one point I look at you. If it’s done well, the effect of being alone with someone in VR is a strange experience, even before you start adding any kind of fancy stuff. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH SANDRA BEASLEY

Washington, D.C. poet Sandra Beasley (photo by Milly West)

Washington, D.C. poet Sandra Beasley (photo by Milly West)

By Anita Malhotra

Sandra Beasley’s poetry is striking, surprising, clever and funny – and often inspires the reader to learn more.

Based in Washington, D.C., Beasley is the author of three poetry collections – Theories of Falling (2008), I Was the Jukebox (2010) and Count the Waves (2015).

Her poetry has been published in dozens of magazines and journals, including Poetry, Black Warrior Review, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird and Oxford American and she has won numerous awards, most notably the New Issues Poetry Prize and the Barnard Women Poets Prize. 

In spring 2019, she held the John Montague International Poetry Fellowship sponsored by Ireland’s Munster Literature Centre and University College Cork. 

Beasley, who holds an MFA in creative writing from American University, is also a non-fiction author and book editor.

Beasley's 2015 book of poems, "Count the Waves" (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Beasley’s 2015 book of poems, “Count the Waves” (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Her memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life was released in 2011, and she is the editor of Vinegar and CharVerse from the Southern Foodways Alliance (2018), an anthology of poems about Southern food. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tampa’s low-residency MFA program.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Beasley, who was at her home in Washington, D.C., on May 20, 2019.

AM: What are your earliest memories of being drawn to the written word?

SB: Probably the simple request to be excused from dinner early at my grandmother’s house.

I would usually beg to get away from the adult conversation and they’d send me downstairs. And downstairs usually meant picking up one of the books, or one of the Reader’s Digests off the table, and reading.

Sandra Beasley as a young girl celebrating her birthday (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Sandra Beasley as a young girl celebrating her birthday (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

For many years my favorite first poet was Emily Dickinson, in part because there was a brown softcover reader of Emily Dickinson’s poems – I think it was one of my uncle’s college textbooks. That was the first one I would go to when I got away from the dinner table. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ALISON SNOWDEN AND DAVID FINE

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

By Anita Malhotra

Vancouver-based animators, directors and writers Alison Snowden and David Fine received some very good news recently – an Oscar nomination for their most recent animated short film, Animal Behaviour.

The film, produced and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada, is a humorous look at what happens when a new animal joins a canine-led therapy session for five animals (a leech, praying mantis, pig, cat and bird), who are struggling with their natural instincts.

Still from "Animal Behaviour" by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Still from “Animal Behaviour” by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Snowden and Fine, a husband-and-wife team, have been working together since they met in the early ‘80s at England’s National Film and Television School.

Their films include the Oscar-winning short animation Bob’s Birthday (1994) and the Oscar-nominated shorts Second Class Mail and George and Rosemary.

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

They also created the animated TV series Bob and Margaret (1998-2001), for which they served as executive producers, writers, and in Snowden’s case, voice actor. Other TV series they created were Ricky Sprocket: Showbiz Boy and Shaun the Sheep.

Anita Malhotra spoke to Snowden and Fine, who were at their Vancouver home, by phone on Feb. 8, 2019, two weeks before Oscar night on Feb. 24, 2019.

AM: Congratulations on your Oscar nomination and the other awards you’ve won so far for Animal Behaviour. I understand you’ve just come back from Los Angeles. What were you doing there?

AS: They have a luncheon for the Oscar nominees. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere and they take a big group photo of this year’s nominees, and it was really lovely. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CAMILLE SEAMAN

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

By Anita Malhotra

Photographer Camille Seaman is best known for her stunning photos of polar ice and habitats as well as for her dramatic photographs taken while storm-chasing. Her unique style is informed by her Native American heritage and its emphasis on connection with and respect for nature.

A TED Senior Fellow since 2011 and a frequent public speaker, Seaman has received several awards, including a 2006 National Geographic Award and a 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University.

Three books of her work have been published, and her photos have appeared in National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine, among others. 

Seaman recently moved from California to Ireland, where she is working on her first novel. Anita Malhotra spoke with her by phone on Dec. 3, 2018, a few days before she left for Antarctica on her latest photographic project.

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

AM: Can you tell me a bit about where you grew up and your childhood?

CS: I grew up on Long Island. My family on my father’s side are indigenous to Long Island. We’ve been there for thousands of years – part of the Shinnecock tribe. And my mother is black and Italian, so she came from New York City out to the island and met my dad and they got married. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CRISTINA COSTANTINI AND DARREN FOSTER

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary "Science Fair," at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary “Science Fair,” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning investigative journalists Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster have been getting a lot of positive buzz about their first feature film collaboration, Science Fair.

Full of humor and deftly crafted, the inspiring film follows nine extraordinary teenagers vying against 1,700 others to win coveted prizes at one of the world’s largest international science fairs.

The film has played to almost unanimous acclaim, winning audience awards at several film festivals, including Sundance and South by Southwest (SXSW). In April 2018, Science Fair was acquired by National Geographic, who are distributing it in cinemas and schools and plan to broadcast it in 2019.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Costantini and Foster, who are based in Los Angeles, on Nov. 6, 2018, a few days before Science Fair began its Nov. 9-18 run at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema.

AM: Can you each tell me a bit about your career before Science Fair?

DF: Both of us were journalists before we became filmmakers. I did a lot of TV docs. The opioid crisis, immigration and the drug war were probably my primary areas of focus over the last 10 years or so.

So it was a bit of a departure for me to do something like Science Fair, but it was a much needed and very happy departure. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been partnered with Cristina on a previous project.

CC: Darren and I worked on a project about fentanyl together, which is a deadly opiate that has made both the U.S. and Canada’s opiate epidemic much more deadly. That was, like it sounds, a very sad story.

Cristina Costantini's previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Cristina Costantini’s previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

And I had done also a lot of reporting on immigration and sex trafficking and prisons and detention centers. So, like Darren, I was ready for a break. And it was actually during the fentanyl documentary that we started talking about this idea of doing a science fair documentary.

I was a science fair kid when I was in high school, and it totally changed my life, and it validated me during the dark years of high school. I learned just so much from it and I’m really in love with this world.

We started talking about how fun it would be to go to the fair and scout the characters and tell the story. So we went to the 2016 fair, and that’s where we met many of the kids that are in the movie.

Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH HANS HEMMERT

By Anita Malhotra

German conceptual artist Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

German conceptual artist Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Berlin-based artist Hans Hemmert is best known for his groundbreaking conceptual artwork, most notably his performative balloon sculptures. His work has been exhibited at the MoMA in New York, the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea (CGAC) in Spain and Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.

"o.T. - "Yellow sculpture fitting to beer crate" (1998), balloon/air/artist/ beer crate, Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“o.T. – “Yellow sculpture fitting to beer crate” (1998), balloon/air/artist/ beer crate, Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

It can also be found in many art collections around the world, including those of the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Helsinki, Malmö Konsthall, Berlin Landesmuseum, German Bundestag, and the Jumex Collection in Mexico City.

Hemmert is also a member of the collective “inges idee” (Hans Hemmert, Axel Lieber, Thomas A. Schmidt and Georg Zey), whose more than 50 striking public sculptures can be found in Europe, Asia and North America.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018.

AM: Where did you grow up?

HH: I grew up in Bavaria – in the countryside.

AM: What were your first experiences with art?

"Unterwegs" ("On the Road"), 1996, balloon/air/artist/car; lightbox slide, 100 x 160 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“Unterwegs” (“On the Road”), 1996, balloon/air/artist/car; lightbox slide, 100 x 160 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

HH: At school I liked to work with my hands building small models made of paper, or working with clay. And this developed in my youth.

I knew that I wanted to do something with my hands – not with texts and words, but with pictures and three-dimensional objects. I started studying philosophy in ’81, but then it became clear that I wanted to enter arts school.

Hans Hemmert at the age of 6 in Bavaria (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

Hans Hemmert at the age of 6 in Bavaria (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

AM: What interested you about philosophy?

HH: The interest came from the religious education I had in Bavaria. My family was very religious – Catholic. I was even in a seminary from age 10 to 17.

There I got a lot of religious and philosophical input, because we were reading the old Greek and Latin philosophers.

I started studying philosophy but realized that I’m not a scientist but an artist. Then I got a place in the art school in Berlin and studied sculpture for five years.

Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH FRED PENNER

Fred Penner at Cooper's Gastropub in Ottawa, where he was interviewed for Artsmania on May 11, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Fred Penner at Cooper’s Gastropub in Ottawa, where he was interviewed for Artsmania on May 11, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning children’s entertainer Fred Penner is still going strong after a 45-year career entertaining and educating not only children, but also their parents and grandparents, many of whom were part of his audience when they were young.

Born in Winnipeg in 1946, Penner worked as a singer/songwriter, youth worker, children’s entertainer and stage actor before releasing his first album, The Cat Came Back, in 1979.

In the mid-‘80s, he was invited by CBC television to create his own children’s TV show, Fred Penner’s Place. The popular show ran from 1985 to 1997 in Canada and from 1989 to 1992 in the U.S. on Nickelodeon.

Fred Penner performing on Sept. 16, 2017 at CityFolk festival in Ottawa (photo by Michael Anderson Photography, courtesy of Fred Penner)

Fred Penner performing on Sept. 16, 2017 at CityFolk festival in Ottawa (photo by Michael Anderson Photography, courtesy of Fred Penner)

Penner has released 13 albums, four of them garnering Juno Awards. A passionate advocate for children, he has won four Parent’s Choice awards and has been a spokesperson for organizations like UNICEF, UNESCO and World Vision. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1991.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Penner in Ottawa on May 11, 2018, on the first day of his five-day run at the Ottawa Children’s Festival.

AM: How did your shows go today at the Ottawa Children’s Festival?

FP: They went well. The 11 o’clock was sold out and the 1 o’clock was a smaller house but with some lovely connections There was a family from upstate New York, and they had contacted me a while ago saying that their daughter was a huge fan and would love to have an opportunity to meet me, so I gave her one of my Fred Penner T-shirts and we had a lovely connection.

The cover of Penner's 2017 CD, "Hear the Music," which won a 2018 Juno Award for Children's Album of the Year

The cover of Penner’s 2017 CD, “Hear the Music,” which won a 2018 Juno Award for Children’s Album of the Year

That’s always the delight of my performing, no matter where it is. It’s not just singing a couple of songs and then people singing along, but that shared moment after when I’m signing autographs and doing pictures. People want to go a little deeper and then tell me some of their stories.

AM: What kind of material are you playing at the festival?

FP: It’s an hour performance, so about 15 songs. The majority are original tunes – many from the new CD that I produced last September called Hear the Music. And there are the standards that the audience is expecting. A song called “The Cat Came Back” and “Sandwiches” are the number one and two requests. And then I intersperse that with some hand games and sign language things.

Penner being congratulated by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn after being named to the Order of Canada in 1991 (photo courtesy of Fred Penner)

Penner being congratulated by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn after being named to the Order of Canada in 1991 (photo courtesy of Fred Penner)

AM: I imagine it’s not the easiest thing to entertain children because of their attention span.

FP: I don’t think of it in terms of attention span, I think about it in terms of listening to them and engaging with them. I think of my performances as a musical dialogue, so I’m singing universal topic songs about animals or food or families or co-operation.

I’ll put out these songs that the parents can connect to, grandparents connect to, children can connect to. And after the performances, the caregivers and the child will continue the triangle of communication.

AM: Can you give me an example of that?

FP: There’s a song called “You can do it if you try.” I wrote it years ago based on a Japanese children’s company that was playing in Vancouver at the kid’s fest there. Parents have come to me and said that they use that song when their children have felt insecure or feeling they’re not able to do a certain thing. And the parents will say, “Remember what Fred says. You can do it if you try.” Knowing that the parents are taking some of these songs and the concepts and bringing them into their own lives is really quite overwhelming.

AM: When you perform live, is your audience mainly children?

FP: No, it’s 50/50 at least and often more adults than kids. The first album, The Cat Came Back, was out in 1979. That decade – the ‘80s into the ‘90s – was the heyday for what we were doing – with Sharon, Lois & Bram and Raffi and the core of those performers. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CALLEN SCHAUB

Callen Schaub with one of the paintings in his show "The Arena" at The Sussex Contemporary gallery in Ottawa (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

Callen Schaub with one of the paintings in his show “The Arena” at The Sussex Contemporary gallery in Ottawa (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

By Anita Malhotra

Twenty-seven-year-old artist Callen Schaub’s abstract paintings are bold, colourful and appealing but there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye. Namely the process, which consists of  spreading paint on a canvas using innovative equipment he has designed and built himself.

The act of creating these paintings is an integral part of his work, and Schaub, who is based in Toronto, has performed his work live at galleries in Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa as well as on Instagram, where he has more than 70,000 followers. A graduate of OCAD University who ran his own gallery for four years, Schaub has also had his work exhibited in Toronto, including at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and in Miami at Art Basel.

Throughout April, Schaub has been Artist in Residence at The Sussex Contemporary gallery in Ottawa, where his exhibit “The Arena” opens on Saturday, April 21. Anita Malhotra spoke with him at The Sussex Contemporary on April 17.

One of the spin paintings Schaub created during his residency at The Sussex Contemporary gallery (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

One of the spin paintings Schaub created during his residency at The Sussex Contemporary gallery (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

AM: Can you describe your show at The Sussex Contemporary?

CS: The show is called The Arena. It’s a residency in which I’m spending a month here, turning the gallery into a studio. That’s a very special kind of opportunity for me because my process is at the crux of my artistic practice, and the content of my work is the process.

My studio’s right near the window so people can come in off the street and ask questions, even post gallery hours. Different demographics that might not usually engage with the gallery feel more inclined to because it makes it a little bit more accessible by saying, “This is my process. There’s not a secret to it.” It takes away the barrier, or the sterile nature of the white space of a gallery, and brings the mess and the colour and rawness of the process in.

Callem Schaub painting live in at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Callem Schaub painting live in at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: What kinds of reactions have you been getting?

CS: A lot of people pulling out their phones and wanting to record. It’s very Snapchattable, so that’s fun. The one-on-one interactions with people have been extremely positive, which is a relief because I spend a lot of my time as an artist in this new-age technology, online, with videos and reading comments, and there is a lot of trolling and negativity that people behind the mask of technology feel like they have a right to say. So here – in real life – it’s been extremely positive.

A spin painting by Callen Schaub (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

A spin painting by Callen Schaub (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

AM: Can you describe your work?

CS: My paintings are abstract spin paintings. They’re done with an acrylic paint. I use different innovative tools I’ve created by hand – most notably my spin machine, which is a bicycle that I have cannibalized. I pedal the crank, and the chain goes to what would be the wheel, but instead it’s the canvas, and the canvas spins around.

When I’m explaining it to people for the first time I just say, “I splash paint on there” but I’ve been doing it for nine years, so there’s actually a lot of control in the way that I apply the paint to the canvas. I’ve also developed a swinging trough. It’s like a painting trapeze that deploys over the top of the horizontal surface of the rotating canvas. The image that is created is a relationship between the centrifugal motion of the canvas and the pendulum of the swing, and illustrated through colour.

Callen Schaub with one of his paintings at the Art Basel Fair in Miami (photo by Callen Schaub)

Callen Schaub with one of his paintings at the Art Basel Fair in Miami (photo by Callen Schaub)

AM: How did you first arrive at the idea of having your paintings spin while you created them?

CS: In my second year of arts university under the teaching of Dan Solomon, he gave the class the assignment to do whatever we liked. That was really exciting for me because I wanted to look around and see what my peers were creating.

So I’m observing as my classmates approach their canvas in a traditional manner vis-à-vis using a paintbrush, a palette, having their canvas on the easel. I saw that as an opportunity to do something different. I ran down to the potter’s department, got a potter’s wheel, brought it back to the classroom, strapped the canvas onto the potter’s wheel,­ and started pouring paint kind of haphazardly. And everyone is like, “What’s going on?” It was a performance piece – engaging my classmates and my teachers to say, “Hey, let’s think about this differently.”

The repurposed bicycle crank used by Callen Schaub to spin his paintings (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

The repurposed bicycle crank used by Callen Schaub to spin his paintings (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

And then it quickly developed and I was surprised by the results. I did 10 pieces, I had a little show in a café, and I sold a few pieces. I continued to paint with that simple set-up for a year and a half and then my friend had this bicycle that got smashed by a car. I chopped it up and re-welded it into the orientation which it has now.

That’s not my greatest triumph because there are other spin painters out there, so in terms of process, I’m really quite proud of the swinging trough and the relationship between the swinging trough and the rotating canvas. I think that’s a new idea.

Schaub painting live at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Schaub painting live at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: What role does chance play in your work?

CS: I think the pursuit of perfection is still there, and the way that I get there is unconventional. Instead of trying to control everything I create the parameters for chaos to occur and within those parameters I’m hands-off. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH HANK WILLIS THOMAS

Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas (photo by Andrea Blanch courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas (photo by Andrea Blanch courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

By Anita Malhotra

New York based conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas is best known for his groundbreaking and provocative works that encourage viewers to think about race, identity, history, advertising, sports and other subjects from a different, often uncomfortable, perspective.

His photographs, sculptures, installations and videos have been exhibited extensively in the U.S. and internationally. They are also in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C, among others.

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 sculpture “Hand of God” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 sculpture “Hand of God” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

Thomas’ works include Priceless, a scathing commentary on commercialization; the Branded series, about the commodification of African Americans; and two Unbranded series, which strip away the logos and slogans from advertisements portraying black men and white women respectively.

Thomas has also been involved in several collaborative projects, including Question Bridge, which aims to represent and redefine black male identity in America and The Truth Booth, a portable installation collecting video testimonials of people’s opinions on the truth.

In December, Thomas won the 2017 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize, a $50,000 prize awarded by public vote based on works exhibited by four shortlisted artists at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Thomas, who was at his New York studio, on Dec. 13, 2017.

Thomas’ bronze sculpture “Raise Up,” part of the work exhibited for the 2017 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Thomas’ bronze sculpture “Raise Up,” part of the work exhibited for the 2017 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: What will the Aimia Photography Prize mean for you and your career?

HWT: Well, for me it’s a big deal, partially because it’s the first prize I’ve won as an artist independently from an arts organization in over 10 years. I’ve had a lot of success with my collaborative projects but this was a chance to highlight my solo work. Seeing how the work – which is pushing the boundaries of what photography means in the 21st century – was received and accepted well by the public is a major sense of accomplishment for me.

Hank Willis Thomas in 2017 (photo by Levi Mandel courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

Hank Willis Thomas in 2017 (photo by Levi Mandel courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

AM: Can you describe the work you currently have on display at the AGO?

HWT: I have images from different bodies of work. I have a lenticular print that is a text-based piece. Rather than the photographer using a camera, I think of the viewers as a camera because it changes as you move around it. It says, “History is past, past is present.”

“Scarred Chest” (2004) by Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery

“Scarred Chest” (2004) by Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery

I also have a series of retro-reflective prints, which are using archival photographs screen-printed onto a material that illuminates when there’s direct light on them – so when a flash photograph is taken of them. And there are also some sculptures that were based off of photographs that I found in archives in apartheid-era South Africa.

AM: When did you first get interested in photography?

HWT: I think I’ve always been interested in photography. I was always fascinated with the family albums and photographs. But my mother is also a photographer and photo historian and I think I was following in her footsteps most of the time.

AM: Did you take photographs when you were younger?

HWT: Always. As early as I can remember there have been cameras in my life – and both sides of it.

AM: What did you take photographs of?

HWT: Pretty much anything and everything. With a point-and-shoot camera there are maybe some limitations, but license plates to sunsets, family members, shadows, many of the other things young photographers focus on – light and texture.

Hank Willis Thomas in 1997 while pursuing photography at New York University (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas)

Hank Willis Thomas in 1997 while pursuing photography at New York University (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas)

AM: When did you first become aware of social justice issues – especially those related to African Americans?

HWT: I would say my entire life. My mother being a photographer and photo historian and a person who worked at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as a curator, issues of universal struggles for human rights and equal rights were all over my house. And from the earliest ages I was at least listening to conversations about these different struggles, if not actually looking at work by artists dealing with them.

“The Long March” (2013), a video installation at the Birmingham (Alabama) Shuttlesworth International Airport by Ryan Alexiev, Jessica Ingram and Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

“The Long March” (2013), a video installation at the Birmingham (Alabama) Shuttlesworth International Airport by Ryan Alexiev, Jessica Ingram and Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

AM: When did you decide that you would become an artist?

HWT: I would say I started really thinking of myself as an artist at the age of 28. By that time, I had finished grad school and I had a Masters in Photography and a Masters in Visual and Critical Studies. I really hadn’t thought about myself as being an artist as much as I thought of myself as someone who was trying to avoid being in the real world.

Thomas' work "Zero Hour" at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia in 2017 (photo by JR P, Flickr Creative Commons)

Thomas’ work “Zero Hour” at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia in 2017 (photo by JR P, Flickr Creative Commons)

I was using photography as a place to explore the world and I thought of myself more as a searcher and explorer. Because I never learned to paint or draw, I thought that I couldn’t be an artist. But then I realized that I’d been doing that all along and that being an artist is not a profession but just a way of life.

AM: Why did you choose the particular studies that you did?

HWT: Africana studies and photography were my undergrad degrees. I always joke that my mother kind of chose them for me. I didn’t realize that I was following in her footsteps in much of the work. But I think there was just a great example set and I followed unwittingly.

Deborah Willis (Thomas' mother) and Hank Willis Thomas speak at TEDWomen 2017 — Bridges at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana (photo by Stacie McChesney/TED, Flickr Creative Commons)

Deborah Willis (Thomas’ mother) and Hank Willis Thomas speak at TEDWomen 2017 — Bridges at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana (photo by Stacie McChesney/TED, Flickr Creative Commons)

AM: You’ve said that your adult artwork started with the murder of your cousin. Can you tell me about the work that came out of that experience?

HWT: That happened in 2000 when I was in grad school. In going through the process of mourning and loss, I realized that I wasn’t alone. And recognizing if you’re not rich and famous the only real evidence of your life are the people who you impacted. Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, you can have a tombstone, but most people who die don’t even have that.

“Priceless” (2004), by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“Priceless” (2004), by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

So I asked people who were affected by his life or death to pose for portraits for me. I did a project called Bearing Witness: Murder’s Wake. I also revisited pictures I had taken at his funeral, using the language of advertising like the Mastercard “Priceless” campaign of the time, and talked about how even in mourning we’re still being marketed to.

“Branded Head” (2003) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“Branded Head” (2003) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: Much of your work has been related to advertising images. How did your interest in that begin?

HWT: I believe the ‘80s was really a watershed decade for commerce becoming a ubiquitous part of everyday life. Most of what we did and saw was branded, with the explosion of transnational corporations like Nike and MTV. So advertising was definitely my second language. I had been speaking it, like most people, for a long time, but I had realized that I wanted to use it rather than just listen.

AM: In Branded, you used it by applying images of branding onto bodies. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

HWT: I wanted to use the language of advertising to talk about things that advertising couldn’t responsibly talk about such as slavery and the way in which commodity culture shapes our notion of ourselves and value of other people.

AM: What was the reaction to Branded when you first exhibited it?

HWT: Usually there’s never one reaction. Some people found it interesting; some people didn’t care. But overall what I’m most impressed with is the fact that the work has continued to be relevant and gain relevance now 14, 15 years later. Every artist hopes that the work they do will be relevant beyond the moment that they make it in. And I think that’s what’s really exciting to me about that work.

“The Liberation of T.O.” (2003/2005) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“The Liberation of T.O.” (2003/2005) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: For Unbranded, you took away the context from advertising images, just leaving the images. What did you learn from that?

HWT: I did two Unbranded series. One was called Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968 to 2008. The other one was Unbranded: A Century of White Women 1915 to 2015.

Each of these series, where I removed advertising information from ad images, were focusing on specific demographic groups that ads were targeted to. Black people as a demographic weren’t a market that people were interested in back in the ‘60s.

Typically, if you saw a person of African descent, they were a servant. But with the emergence of a black middle class, and as a result of the Civil Rights movement, you started to see more and more brown-skinned people in advertising. And I wanted to track this kind of corporate notion of blackness over 40 years.

“Come out of the Bone Age, Darling” (1955/2015) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915-2015” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“Come out of the Bone Age, Darling” (1955/2015) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915-2015” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

And then in Unbranded: A Century of White Women, I took a period where most women in the United States weren’t legally empowered to vote and I tracked from 1915 to 2015, when the first viable female candidate for presidency was announced. So the project really becomes this timeline of American history through the lens of this notion of a white, female identity from a period where it was very uniform and very controlled.

The Truth Booth in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2013 (photo by Jim Ricks courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

The Truth Booth in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2013 (photo by Jim Ricks courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

AM: You started a project in 2011 called The Truth Booth. Why did you start that project?

HWT: It’s important to mention it’s a collaboration with Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks and Will Sylvester. It’s really about perspectives – how different people can have a different perspective on the same object or issue. The truth is something very contentious that people fight and kill each other over and debate. And The Truth Booth became a platform for it – a forum to invite all versions of the truth.

AM: What were some of the things that you heard from The Truth Booth?

HWT: Over 10,000 people went in The Truth Booth and the beauty is seeing the wisdom that different people share and recognizing how our prejudices based on someone’s look or their age or their geographics limit our ability to hear them.

AM: Your work Question Bridge aims to fight stereotypes of African American men. What are the biggest challenges around fighting stereotypes?

HWT: Question Bridge is a collaboration with Chris Johnson, Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair. The biggest challenge is that we’re told at a very young age not to judge a book by its cover, and then taught by society always to put on a good cover and to judge everyone else by the cover that they put on.

An audience viewing the video installation “Question Bridge” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

An audience viewing the video installation “Question Bridge” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

The challenge is recognizing the hypocrisy in this and that two people can be from the same family and have very diverse cultural experiences and views on life. Therefore, how likely is it that people from socially fabricated groups of millions of people have more in common than they do with anyone else? Question Bridge is really trying to show that there’s as much diversity in any given demographic as there is outside of it.

Crossroads (2012) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Crossroads (2012) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: And that is why you say that race is a myth.

HWT: Well, yes, it was created to keep certain people in control and certain people under the thumb of that control.

AM: As an African-American artist, what kinds of preconceptions do you face?

HWT: I think there’s a preconception that I think about race a lot. Probably true, because it’s not real, and it shapes my life. So how can I not think about it a lot? But I’ve learned enough to not presume that people are presuming things about me or about my work, meaning there are many times where I’ve been misjudged or prejudged, but there are many times where I’ve misjudged and prejudged viewers – African American and non African American.

Installation view of Hank Willis Thomas’ sculpture “Liberty” (2015) in City Hall Park in New York City (photo by Jason Wyche courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Public Art Fund)

Installation view of Hank Willis Thomas’ sculpture “Liberty” (2015) in City Hall Park in New York City (photo by Jason Wyche courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Public Art Fund)

AM: It takes courage to put out some of the work that you’ve created. Do you ever feel nervous about how your work might be received – that it’s too provocative?

HWT: Well, I think provocative is good as long as it’s not destructive. I think I don’t ever make things with the agenda of being harmful or destructive, but you never know if somebody might perceive something that is made in one spirit in a very different way.

One view of Thomas’ neon sculpture “Love Overrules” in San Francisco, California (photo by Mariah Tiffany courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Sites Unseen)

One view of Thomas’ neon sculpture “Love Overrules” in San Francisco, California (photo by Mariah Tiffany courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Sites Unseen)

AM: You have two recently installed public sculptures, All Power to All People (an Afro pick) and Love Over Rules. Can you tell me a bit about them?

HWT: Public space is more and more contended about what kind of objects, who we celebrate, and what we celebrate. So I decided that I wanted to make statements, and one of the statements my cousin made that had a profound effect on me was, “Love overrules.” I thought of that being read multiple ways, both as “overrules” and “over rules” and the different ways you can interpret a single statement. So the neon flicker is between saying “Love Overrules” and “Love Rules” and “Love Over Rules.” In public space, where most of it is dominated by ads and commerce, putting things out that make different kinds of statements is important.

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 public sculpture “All Power to All People” in Philadelphia (photo by Steve Weinik courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Philadelphia Mural Arts)

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 public sculpture “All Power to All People” in Philadelphia (photo by Steve Weinik courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Philadelphia Mural Arts)

With Afro pick, I was inspired by artists like Claes Oldenburg, who would notoriously put different everyday objects – whether they be a spoon or clothespin or a symbol – into the public space as a sculpture. I decided that Afro pick would be an important thing to add to that lexicon.

AM: What are some of your upcoming projects?

Thomas speaking at Design Miami on the topic "Concept, Abstraction and Blackness" with Torkwase Dyson and Dozie Kanu (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Design Miami)

Thomas speaking at Design Miami on the topic “Concept, Abstraction and Blackness” with Torkwase Dyson and Dozie Kanu (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Design Miami)

HWT: There’s an equal justice initiative, which is in Alabama. It’s led by Bryan Stevenson. He’s opening a national lynching memorial. So I’ll be having a sculpture on display in that park and we’ll be working on public sculptures at Brooklyn Bridge in New York as well as exhibitions at museums in Oregon as well as Delaware and Florida and Chicago in 2018.

AM: Do you feel that this is a good time to be an artist?

HWT: Is there ever a bad time or is there ever a good time? All we really have is now, but now is then, and then is now. So that’s what I’m trying to encourage myself to think about – that we sometimes think about our moment as if it’s the first or the last – but it’s part of a much larger continuum.

For more information on Hank Willis Thomas, please visit hankwillisthomas.com.

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INTERVIEW WITH ANNE DUDLEY

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning British composer, arranger, producer and performer Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Award-winning British composer, arranger, producer and performer Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

In a career spanning more than four decades, UK composer, arranger, producer and performer Anne Dudley has accumulated an impressive number of awards for her evocative music, including an Academy Award, a Grammy, and the 2017 Ivor Novello Award for outstanding contribution to British music.

Classically trained at the Royal College of Music and Kings College, she also had an early passion for jazz and popular music. This led to session keyboard work and arranging music for dozens of artists including ABC, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Pet Shop Boys, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Seal and Elton John.

In 1983, she co-founded the influential British synth-pop band Art of Noise, which pioneered the use of sampling and released several international hits, including the Grammy-award-winning “Peter Gunn.”

Anne Dudley and J. J. Jeczalik of the Art of Noise with Tom Jones (centre), who recorded the hit single "Kiss" with the band in 1987 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley and J. J. Jeczalik of the Art of Noise with Tom Jones (centre), who recorded the hit single “Kiss” with the band in 1987 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Dudley is also a critically acclaimed soundtrack composer. She won an Oscar for her soundtrack for The Full Monty (1997) and has written scores for more than 40 other movies and TV series, including The Crying Game (1992), Pushing Tin (1999), Tristan & Isolde (2006), Les Misérables (2012), Elle (2016) and the BBC TV series Poldark.

An album of Anne Dudley's music from the BBC TV series Poldark (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

An album of Anne Dudley’s music from the BBC TV series Poldark (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Dudley has recorded several albums of her own work, including the critically acclaimed Ancient & Modern (1995) and most recently Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise.

She was recently commissioned to write a suite for violin and orchestra based on the 2013 award-winning children’s book The Man with the Violin.

Written by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Dusan Petricic, the book was inspired by a 2007 experiment initiated by The Washington Post in which concert violinist Joshua Bell busked incognito in a Washington, D.C. subway station and was virtually ignored.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Dudley, who was at her UK home, on Dec. 11, 2017 in advance of the Canadian premiere of a multi-media production of The Man with the Violin at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on Dec. 20, 2017.

World premiere of the multi-media work The Man with the Violin, featuring music by Anne Dudley, at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

World premiere of the multi-media work The Man with the Violin, featuring music by Anne Dudley, at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

AM: How did you get involved in creating the music for The Man with the Violin?

AD: I met Joshua Bell a few years ago when I wrote some children’s pieces with the cellist Steven Isserlis. We did some musical fairy tales for a chamber group and Joshua and Steven have often played these pieces. So I met Joshua when he was rehearsing the first of these pieces, which is called the Little Red Violin. I think he probably suggested that I might a suitable person to do this piece.

Virtuoso violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre)

Virtuoso violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre)

AM: Did you know about the actual story behind The Man with the Violin?

AD: I knew vaguely about it. This particular incident seems to be well-known all over the world. So I did know the story but I didn’t know a book had been made about it.

AM: How did the process of working on the piece unfold?

AD: It was interesting because the book is mostly pictures – very little dialogue, very little narration. If you were to just read it from end to end it would probably only take about a minute. I had to devise a way of expanding this to be a piece that lasts about 12, 13 minutes. So it was a process of a collaboration between me and the animators to discuss how to put scenes into the book.

As soon as the animators began to start on the pictures, there was plenty of material to be working with. But when I first started off, they hadn’t started and we were both sort of starting from nothing. So it was a process of collaboration. They showed me what they were doing and then I’d play them a bit of what I was doing, and then it went back and forth.

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin featuring animation by Normal Studio of Dusan Petricic's illustrations from the 2013 book (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin featuring animation by Normal Studio of Dusan Petricic’s illustrations from the 2013 book (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

AM: How did you determine the style of the music?

AD: I wanted it to be approachable for a family audience but I also wanted it to have a degree of virtuosity because Joshua is an amazing violinist and I wanted to do something that would show off his particular talents. He has a particularly beautiful, lyrical style – a lovely tone, an absolutely massive, gorgeous sound.

Violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo by Chris Lee)

Violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo by Chris Lee)

The whole piece is about music being transformative and being beautiful. So it had to be beautiful – and I hope some of it is. And then you have the contrast with the world of the train and the underground. So parts of it are quite dissonant and quite rhythmic and quite loud.

AM: Could you describe the set-up of your home studio and how you work with visuals when writing for film or television?

AD: Usually when I’m writing film music or TV music I get the picture first and the picture dictates the structure of the music. It was a bit different on this piece. I have set-up where I have a Pro Tools rig, which is playing the picture.

And I am quite a traditionalist really, and I’m also a piano player, so I like to compose at the piano, and the piano becomes my orchestra. I do a degree of orchestration just working at my desk and working in my head, but I do like to use the piano as part of my composing process.

Anne Dudley recording her album "A Different Light," which was released in 2001 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley recording her album “A Different Light,” which was released in 2001 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: Your work has always been innovative. What are the new elements in this piece?

AD: I’ve never written a piece for solo violin and orchestra, but also the particular combination of the animation with the storytelling is so lovely because the animators are really clever. The animation is running live but the orchestra’s not playing to a click-track. So every performance will be slightly different.

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

But the animators have devised a method of working whereby if the music is going slightly faster or slightly slower than before, they have a little bit of leeway. So it’s the perfect combination of the excitement of a live performance without a click track and a film performance.

AM: Did you go to the world premiere of the piece in Washington earlier this year?

AD: Yes, I did. It was great. I really enjoyed it – fantastic. Great orchestra, Joshua was wonderful, it was lovely.

Anne Dudley's 2001 album "A Different Light" (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley’s 2001 album “A Different Light” (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: What do you see as the message of the piece?

AD: It’s that we need to take time to listen. This piece revolves around the child who’s listening, and his mother, who’s not listening. She’s not listening to anything. She’s not even listening to him. So their relationship has become slightly dysfunctional because clearly she’s off in her own world and she’s not really relating to him. And when they listen together, something special happens.

I hope people don’t lose this wonderful experience of listening together. I see so many people and they’ve got their earphones in and they’re listening to their own music. And that’s great, that’s fine. But there is a sort of collective experience that we have going to a concert or playing music together or actually being with other people and encountering a work of art as a group is something really special.

Anne Dudley reunited with two other Art of Music founding members, J.J. Jeczalik and Gary Langan, in a performance at Liverpool Sound City Music Festival on May 25, 2017 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley reunited with two other Art of Music founding members, J.J. Jeczalik and Gary Langan, in a performance at Liverpool Sound City Music Festival on May 25, 2017 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: What were your own first memories of music?

AD: My family aren’t musicians but we always had a lot of records and they played a lot of records. One of the earliest memories I have is hearing Danny Kaye singing the “Ugly Duckling.” It’s a classic, really, and there’s an absolutely beautiful moment in it where the Ugly Duckling becomes a swan. And this is reflected so wonderfully in the music.

Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

And I remember being totally transported by this moment, where the whole arrangement of the music changes. That’s a piece that I haven’t heard for years and years and years, but I know if I was to hear it I would know every bit of it because it really became a piece that I would obsess about and want to hear it all the time. I must have been about 5 or 6 at the time.

AM: When you were younger, did you have the ability to imagine an orchestration?

AD: Yes, I think I’ve always been entranced by an orchestra. I can’t remember the first time I saw an orchestra, but when I was learning the piano, if I was to be playing a Mozart sonata, I would be thinking about if I were to arrange this for an orchestra, who would play this line – would it be woodwind, would it be strings? And still today, if I hear something, and I think “ Wow! That’s fantastic orchestration,” I’ll make an attempt to find the score and see exactly how it’s done. I think it’s something you learn all the time – all your life.

AM: How did music become your career?

AD: I always knew that I had to be a musician. There wasn’t really any choice. I never had any Plan B. But I didn’t know quite what sort of music or what sort of musician I would be because I’m not a virtuoso pianist in any way. In fact, I used to play the clarinet. That was really my first study. And I didn’t study composition at college. I just sort of drifted into it, really, by doing arrangements and orchestrations for people. But music was always going to be my career. There wasn’t any doubt about that.

The 1987 Art of Noise album "In No Sense? Nonsense!" (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

The 1987 Art of Noise album “In No Sense? Nonsense!” (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: You studied classical music, but your first work was in popular music. How did you make that transition?

AD: From quite a young age I was also interested in jazz and I used to listen to great jazz pianists – Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson. I couldn’t play jazz at all at first but I really wanted to, so I went off and I had some jazz piano lessons.

A really good teacher taught me how jazz is constructed and how it’s related to classical music. So when I was about 14, 15, 16, I began to play in little jazz bands and pop bands. Even while I was at college I was doing that to earn money, and you meet people. I met Trevor Horn at a very early stage. I was about 20 playing in a band, and he was also playing in the band, and he was trying to get into music production, and I was trying to get into session keyboard playing and arranging, and he gave me my first job. And things grew from there really.

AM: How did your work with the Art of Noise influence the work that you did later on?

AD: Art of Noise was a band that was obsessed with technology. We loved technology and we tried to do as much with the technology as the technology could stand. We had one of these early sampling instruments, which is called the Fairlight, and we would sample things like people talking and doors slamming, and play with different pitches.

It was quite experimental. It was always quite a surprise to me that it was ever remotely successful because it was never really meant to be. It was meant to be quite avant-garde and off-the-wall.

Looking at it from the perspective of nowadays, I’ve always been interested in sound, and working in film music you have to be very aware that the music is only one part of the sound – there’s a whole sound design going on as well. So I feel that that’s something that may have started with my work with the Art of Noise. A consciousness of how music is part of a whole sound picture.

The soundtrack album featuring Anne Dudley's music for the 2006 romantic drama "Tristan & Isolde" (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

The soundtrack album featuring Anne Dudley’s music for the 2006 romantic drama “Tristan & Isolde” (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

But also, in my film music I still like – if it’s appropriate – to incorporate electronic as well as live stuff. And you know, it was spirited. It had a great spirit of creativity about it. It was good fun and I suppose I’ve always aimed to have quite good fun at things that I do.

AM: You have composed dozens of soundtracks for films and TV series. How do you get the inspiration to compose when you have a deadline?

AM: Well, actually I prefer to have a deadline. If I’ve got all the time in the world I procrastinate a bit. I think the inspiration comes from playing the piano, really. And improvising – from finding a chord sequence that you like, from finding the notes that fit together in a nice way, and building it from there.

AM: You’ve collaborated over the years with many people. What is the key to a successful collaboration?

AD: It’s hard to put any hard and fast rules to it. It depends on the person. I’ve had directors who are incredibly demanding and other people would find them very difficult. But I have respect for people if I think they’re right. I don’t mind how difficult they are because that will inspire better things from me. I think I’ve been very lucky in that most of the time I’ve collaborated with people who are brilliant. And the best thing is if they are brilliant geniuses, then they can raise the standard of your own work. So I’m on the lookout for genius people.

AM: What are some of the highlights of your career?

AD: I suppose it was quite fun to be in a pop group in the ‘80s. Pop in the ‘80s was such a big part of people’s lives, and in Britain there’s this program called Top of the Pops, which was the most important pop program. And I, as a kid, Thursday night you had to watch Top of the Pops. And then one week we were on it! And I never forgot that.

AM: What is your daily routine like?

AD: I try and work regular hours. I work from about 9 til 5 or 6. If I’m really busy I will then go and work in the evenings as well, but I don’t really like to do that. One day I might be in the studio recording, then I might be spending several days orchestrating something because that’s a very time-consuming process.

Anne Dudley on the River Thames conducting one of her compositions at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London in June 2012 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley on the River Thames conducting one of her compositions at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London in June 2012 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Or I might be writing something or I might be meeting somebody and talking about what we’re doing. Or I might be in the studio mixing something. It does depend, but I like to have some sort of pattern so that something gets done every day.

Today we’re mixing a TV film that I’ve just done, and we’re wrestling with power cuts, actually. We had just had a very large fall of snow over the weekend and being Britain, of course, we can’t cope with snow. We’ve had about six inches of snow and we’ve had one or two strange power cuts today, which is a nightmare. We were actually mixing and we had a power cut and it sort of just ripped the power out of the computer and it had to be rebooted.

Anne Dudley conducting at Royal Albert Hall (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley conducting at Royal Albert Hall (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: What will you be working on in the coming year?

AD: There will be another Poldark. Also, I’m producing an album for the lead actress in Poldark, called Eleanor Tomlinson. She’s a singer and I’m producing an album for her. I’ll be playing piano and doing arrangements for it. And I’ve also got a solo piano album called Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise, which I did for a Japanese label because the Art of Noise is big in Japan. I’ve used the piano in quite an experimental way. I’ve used prepared piano and I’ve sampled it and I’ve used it as a percussion instrument – playing a rhythmic pattern on the lid and on the soundboard. That’s something that I’ll be continuing with and finishing in the new year.

The Man with the Violin will receive its Canadian premiere in a holiday concert at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Dec. 20, 2017. For more information about Anne Dudley and her work, please visit annedudley.co.uk

 

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INTERVIEW WITH SASS JORDAN

Canadian singer Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

Canadian singer Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

By Anita Malhotra

Toronto-based rock singer Sass Jordan’s earthy vocals and powerful lyrics have rocked North American ears ever since she released her debut album Tell Somebody in 1988.

Recipient of a 1989 Juno award for Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year, she went on the record several successful albums, among them Racine (1992), which produced four Canadian hit singles, and the critically-acclaimed Rats (1994).

Jordan has also worked as a theatre and television actress and was a judge on Canadian Idol for the six-year run of the show. This year, she celebrated the 25th anniversary of Racine by releasing Racine Revisited, a reimagined re-recording of her 1992 album Racine.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Jordan, who was at her home in Toronto, on Oct. 27, 2017 following her tour of the Netherlands and Germany and in advance of her Nov. 7 show at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

AM: How has your tour been going?

SJ: I always get thrown by the word tour because in my world, tour means you go out for a couple of months and you don’t even come home at all during that time. Actually, I did do two weeks in the Netherlands and Germany, but I’ve been doing what you could call one-offs. All of that to say, it’s going fantastically.

Sass Jordan performing in Arnhem, the Netherlands on Sept. 15, 2017 (photo by Gernot Mangold)

Sass Jordan performing in Arnhem, the Netherlands on Sept. 15, 2017 (photo by Gernot Mangold)

I’m doing a different type of show starting in November where I’m going to be doing the Racine Revisited album front to back semi-acoustically, but in a format of storytelling. It’s like I’m telling the stories with the soundtrack of the music. So I’ll play a couple of songs, then I’ll tell a story or two, then I’ll play a couple more songs, tell a story. There’s two 45-minute sets of that, which I’m super excited about.

AM: So the stories will be about your life at the time when you recorded the music?

SJ: More about the writing of the songs, which of course includes my life. Just telling the story of the writing of the song and how that song came about. And hopefully the rest of the band will have little stories about what they were doing in ‘92, along with people who are at the show. I’m hoping they’ll want to be involved in the stories as well, or ask questions. I want it to be interactive – as if we’ve all gone out for dinner together and we’ve all had a glass of wine, and now we’re sitting around after dinner just telling stories with music. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MARIE CHOUINARD

By Anita Malhotra

Marie Chouinard (photo by Richard-Max Tremblay)

Marie Chouinard (photo by Richard-Max Tremblay)

Renowned Montreal-based choreographer and dancer Marie Chouinard is known for her groundbreaking dance works and exploration of the human body. Starting in 1978, she built her reputation with highly personal, experimental solo works, some of which attracted controversy. She formed her own dance company, La Compagnie Marie Chouinard, in 1990, and her more than 50 dance creations have been performed to acclaim in North America, Europe, and other parts of the world.

James Viveiros and Kirsten Andersen in Chouinard's 2005 work "bODY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS" (photo by Marie Chouinard)

James Viveiros and Kirsten Andersen in Chouinard’s 2005 work “bODY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS” (photo by Marie Chouinard)

Chouinard has received many national and international awards, including the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Order of Canada. She was recently appointed Director of the Venice Biennale’s dance section for 2017-2020. She is also active in other media such as film, multimedia, drawing and poetry, and has even created an iPhone app.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Marie Chouinard, who was at her home in Montreal, on July 10, 2017 about upcoming performances in Ottawa of two of her recent works: Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights and In Museum V2.

AM: How did your dance piece Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights come about? What was the impetus behind that work?

Chouinard's 2016 work "Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights" (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

Chouinard’s 2016 work “Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights” (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

MC: First of all the impetus for me is always creation. I love to create. This is a passion and a joy, and my job is to create. Why did I create this specific piece? I was invited by the organization of the 500th anniversary of the death of Hieronymus Bosch to create a piece and perform it in their festival. There was this immensely big event organized in Holland around the death of this man 500 years ago. I love Bosch, I love this painter, and I immediately said, “Yes, I will do that.”

Dutch/Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch painted "The Garden of Earthly Delights," sometime between 1490 and 1510 (public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Dutch/Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch painted “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” sometime between 1490 and 1510 (public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

AM: How did you go about translating the three parts of the painting into dance?

Marie Chouinard's "Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights" (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

Marie Chouinard’s “Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights” (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

MC: The three panels of the triptych are full of bodies – full of people moving to different positions. There are hundreds of bodies everywhere in those paintings. So for me it was like seeing a snapshot of a moment in an immense dance of so many people everywhere. It was a joyous exploration to try to put all the bodies of the dancers into these positions and then say, “Okay, what might have been the movement before that and what might have been the movement after that position?” It started like that. Continue reading

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