The song ‘The Politics of Dancing”, was released in 1983 by the British group Re:Flex. Analysis of the lyrics suggests a blurring of media lines, where “deejays become the new politicians” but the popular understanding behind it’s rallying cry is more that dancing is true democracy, able to bridge social divides. With this phrase in mind, we set out to politicize our own dance for the lecture series, “The Spectre of Fascism”, presented by SFU’s Institute for the Humanities.
When originally discussed with Samir Gandesha, facilitator of the series, the idea was of a salon of sorts; a weekly series of lectures by invited guests, followed by hopefully lively discussion, and a dance party. Because ultimately, what better way to resist the weight of the world, right?
But it turned out a simple dance mix was a lost opportunity to truly investigate the importance of music for social movements. We decided to dig deeper and try to create a soundtrack that might help to frame these discussions, and give sound to the conditions specific to each topic. Plus, it was a great way to further research and prepare for each lecture. Many of the playlists are topical, while some are focused on region. Some of the artists are presented for the persecution they endured, not necessarily for the political message of their music.
This series will continue through November 2017; the archive below will be updated after each lecture. Each playlist is titled by it’s corresponding lecture title.
In July, a group of six artists between the ages of 16 and 20 started working together at the Pitt as part of the School of Collaboration and Invention (SOCAI). Through their discussions, they rapidly developed the concept for a one-day exhibition on the subject of immigration and migration, and we scheduled it for a weekend in August.
We didn’t know at the time that anti-immigrant and anti-refugee agitation would come to a head in such a dramatic way this summer. Obviously we could look around ourselves and see the massing of neo-nazi, white supremacist, anti-asian, and other despicable groups using lies about immigration as an issue to draw in gullible, angry followers. But at the time we scheduled IM/MIGRATION AF for Saturday, August 19, we didn’t foresee Charlottesville (just the week before), and anti-fascist groundswells in response to proposed racist rallies in several cities on the same day.
So this one-day show is effectively our response, deftly and intelligently composed by the participants of this summer’s SOCAI session, to the intolerance that is being promoted around us. Thanks to Jonathan Blessin, Lucas Chung, Sarah Kim, Tamsyn Kushner, Ashley Kusumoto, Wendel Vistan, and SOCAI organizer Lisa Novak. And congratulations to the many, many people who stood against hatred today.
We’re into summer now and about to take a break from gallery programming for a while, but if you missed Jamey Braden’s exhibition SHE _____ THE _____, there’s no need to despair! We’re keeping the show open for an extra week. Final day is no Saturday, July 8. UNIT/PITT is open noon to 5pm, Tuesday through Saturday.
PS we don’t have AC but it’s actually cool in here!
We’re excited to be presenting screenings, an artist tour, and a book launch during Jamey Braden’s exhibition SHE _________ THE _________, which continues until July 1.
Wednesday, June 14, 7pm: Artist’s tour for UNIT/PITT members. Join Jamey Braden and Kay Higgins for a tour of the exhibition, and some bonus extras. To become a member, sign up here.
Friday, June 16, 7pm: A screening of Ulrike Meinhof’s sole film production, Bambule. Set in a prison for young women, the screenplay was written by Meinhof based on an earlier radio drama she had written, and produced as a film to be screened on West German television. prior to the screening date, Meinhof went underground with the Red Army Faction and the film was quietly shelved. Running time is 90 minutes, and admission is free.
Friday, June 23, 9pm: (**NOTE NEW TIME**) a screening of Variety, a 1983 film directed by Bette Gordon, with a screenplay by Kathy Acker (based on a story by Bette Gordon). A young woman takes a job selling tickets in a porn cinema and becomes discomfortingly involved in the lives of patrons. When Variety was initially released, it appeared as a dark, problematic counterpoint to the celebratory character of Lizzie Borden’s Born In Flames, which was also released that year. Running time is 97 minutes, and admission is free.
Friday, June 30, 7pm: Jamey Braden’s book launch. We will be launching an artist’s book, also titled SHE _________ THE _________, and we’ll also have a closing party of sorts for the end of the exhibition.
Also: Watch street kiosks in Vancouver for poster-sized works by Jamey Braden during the next few weeks.
If you haven’t seen Jamey Braden’s solo exhibition yet, here’s a quick spin through it, courtesy of UNIT/PITT board member Derrick Chang. The exhibition, titled SHE _____ THE ______ runs until July 1st, and our gallery is open noon to 5pm, Tuesday through Saturday. We’ll also be hosting some events that go with the show, so stay tuned for announcements.
One schedule note right away: the remaining sessions of the Spectre of Fascism Free School are being postponed until September 2017. Watch for an upcoming announcement on that too!
This last weekend we painted out the chroma-key green on our walls and floor. The gallery now echoes the mid-80s, when the Pitt moved to 36 Powell Street and the basement was made into a black gallery.
We’re keeping one wall white for upcoming screenings — watch our social media, or add your name to our mailing list, and we’ll keep you updated. But there are a couple of things coming up fast that you should know about:
The Spectre of Fascism Free School series continues on Thursday May 11 at the Pitt with Sanem Güvenç-Salgırlı, and Wednesday May 17 at Selectors Records with Am Johal.
We’re also screening one of our favourite film noir movies in the monitor in our front window for the next two weeks: The Hitch-Hiker, directed by Ida Lupino. Video runs continuously, with sound playing between 11 and 7 daily. And it’s dark. Very dark. Like our floors.
We’re coming up to the end of Casey Wei’s Karaoke Music Video Maker Free Store residency and installation, and it has been intense! Four bands shooting videos using green screen, black walls, smoke machine, custom backdrops, a swimming pool, and a galvanized garbage can; plus all of the people who booked time to record or play songs or sing along with karaoke backing tracks on Fridays and Saturdays (all of the remaining slots are full, so we’re sorry if you didn’t get a chance to do one yourself).
Here’s a look at the rushes from the third week of shooting. Watch for a screening this summer of many of the finished videos — we’ll let you know!
Also coming up: a solo exhibition by Jamey Braden, opening May 18; more of the Spectre of Fascism Free School, which will re-start on May 4 and run until July 13, every Thursday; a screening series this summer that we’re calling Trouble (announcement soon); and a super amazing community engagement project for youth. Details on this and more, very soon.
Between shooting and production of music videos with flashing colourful lights and people singing/lip-syncing their hearts out, we sat down with UNIT/PITT’s artist in residence Casey Wei to talk about her inspirations, community involvement, and current art work: “Karaoke Music Video Maker Free Store.”
As an artist where or who do you get inspiration from?
Well, I have a video and film background with my masters, since then the aesthetics of video artists like Hito Steyerl and Chris Marker – how they combine disparate things in unique ways such as footage or subject matter and then tie it all together through narrative are inspirational to me. Their works have a sense of romance and sincerity. Maybe not so much romance, romance is more the byproduct I read into. That’s more a personal thing. I don’t consider that a starting point but an end result.
Not like romantic love but romanticizing?
Yeah, and I understand there’s baggage associated with that. And I realize that. Like the idea of romance is indulgent but a little bit of that indulgence makes for powerful poetry. I think it’s cliché and we’re all suspicious and weary of it given our place in history and the obstacles we face. But there’s always going to be a part of my sensibility that relates to that. I’m reacting to it, or against, or maybe both at the same time.
You make your own music as well right? Through Hazy and Late Spring. Now with this project how do you find it ties in, or how does this project grow your practice?
I think of Hazy and Late Spring are a kind of a practice a bit separate from visual art. This project relates more to the Art Rock and Agony Klub – this label I have that I’ve worked on the past couple of years.With that it comes from a place where you want to exist in community or discourse. I was coming in to music scene as like an outsider I feel cause I didn’t grow up playing music. I’m making music/pop music in a way I think is good. Because of my visual arts background I have other things influencing it, other visual or cinematic things. Not that musicians don’t already do that but for me those things came first. That made my music the way it was.
Art Rock and Agony Club gives more of community in my head. I try to make them the foundational space for this project to flourish. It gives people a reference point of who I am and what I’m about. It helps them trust me a little bit more and like know my motivations for why I would want to do this. It’s not to make fun of karaoke or to put on like, something where I’m a star – it’s not about that. I’m offering a service and a business, like an actual business and it’s more about the product that you would normally request and pay money for but out side of the normal monetary exchange process.
So your Kingsgate Mall Happenings and Chinatown Happenings projects had similar themes with community connection. Can you talk a bit about how community involvement is important to you and your work?
I think it Is because as an artist, when thinking about art as my life’s work, and I think about making it alone in an studio or computer – that is too isolating for me. And I don’t know how to navigate the existing ways for artists do that. There are these artists that I know and support and whose work I really enjoy. But I don’t think I make that type of work that flows in to that community easy. Even with Art Rock, and Agony Klub, and everything else, I create my own way and entry point in to bridging myself in to that [art] community and with another community. I find that’s where I get my inspiration. To me the real world more interesting than an art gallery.
But I don’t want to use that and put it in a gallery, like it’s not to use in utilitarian way or career way. I just want to be apart of it. So community engagement is just the given to how I want to exist in the world as an artist.
You are great with people, I find just from being in the space listening to you, you have a very positive and adaptable energy when working with people to make these videos, and they are mostly strangers right? So how do you tackle working with strangers and still having it be comfortable?
It’s because I’ve been doing this for quite awhile. You know, not so long, but working with people like when I made video and films where had to be in world and interact with people. Even before video work I made photographs and would put myself in uncomfortable situations like asking people to write their favourite quote – that was this one project in art school. Just making myself uncomfortable, cause I’m naturally a shy person I think a lot of artists are. So I’ve been using art as an excuse to engage with world as personal challenge. There’s this artist I really like, Gillian Wearing, she speaks about that and was an inspiration for that in art school. One of her projects was on Craigslist; she would ask strangers if she could take photographs of herself with them in bed. I haven’t gone that far — but over time pushing to put myself to be in social situations just pushed me to be more comfortable as person. Especially in art more than real life. In my art I want them to feel comfortable so how to do I make that happen. I need to be myself but more like a certain version of myself for the art. It’s a casual and a bit professional type of performance.
Artists think about that distinction between Art and Life and I’m still trying to erase that line. This is closet I’ve been able to come to that to this point.
What sort of platform does UNIT/PITT as a space provide for your work?
Well they’ve been so chill about everything I’ve been wanting to do. Even painting the walls. The space is amazing and don’t know if any other place of this size and is a professional gallery would allow be to do. Kay [Higgins]’s attitude towards it has been light and accommodating. Neither her, nor I, nor Jamie[Ward], were really prepared for the undertaking it has been. Now the project has hit its groove. The first few days were trial and error – figuring out how it would work with the tenants and such. To be fair it’s not normal exhibition so I’m asking them to adapt with me. It’s the exact kind of experience at Kingsgate Mall with trying to adapt to ecosystem but here is way more contained and gallery with studios so less potentially loaded with traps that public spaces have. It’s great they’re so supportive of this happening. I think UNIT/PITT is kind of like a funky weird artist run centre and not so traditional in the way the exhibitions and stuff, so I actually think it’s the perfect place to do this.
That’s awesome. Speaking of trial and error is there something that surprised you or that you found most interesting so far with this project?
I would say the way people have been with me, in the maybe six people I’ve had so far. At first as a human being coming in to a room without knowing what it would look like and how it would function and over the course of an hour or less the shedding whatever guarded reservations they may have had. Even with 2 or 3 songs they become more comfortable and had no camera shyness, um, no reservation redoing it, and it just became this natural being present in the moment experience. That’s not something you can anticipate. That’s something I hope happens every time! Sometimes it might not be as smooth but that’s my job to facilitate good energies. I think of like a mall portrait studio and the photographer in a way, getting people to smile, but doing that with making a video is … maybe it’s easier. There’s an hour time slot instead of five minutes with a screaming child or something.
More fun too probably
In the promotions it says anything is possible …
What sorts of backgrounds are there? Can they choose or?
I’m going to shoot all the footage and then ultimately I guess I do have artistic control but with bands and people who have ideas I really want to be accommodating to them, but at the same time I’m editing it so there will always be my sensibility to it. I think there is a level of trust operating between the bands and me. It might be found footage and stuff I can shoot in the world. I like looking through old movies for obscure references and affecting or collaging them to look trippy or strange. The challenge will be in making all 20ish videos look dissimilar.
What are your hopes for the videos/ project?
At the end of all this in the summer after editing, maybe have a performer screening and possibly with everyone’s consent at the cinematic, they have this dim series for artist films. I don’t have any desire for a festival showing. And then just giving everyone that participated their copy.
Anything else you want us to know about that you’re involved in right now?
The Art Rock series is every third Tuesday of the month at the Astoria. It’s a night of curated live music. Like experimental and a bit out there I guess, for people to make music who don’t really fit in to normal indie or underground shows. And agonyklub.com, which is the label where I make music and printed matter.
Juan Cisneros Neumann’s exhibition isn’t just focused on the space within the gallery, but instead extends from the neighbourhood around him to all of North America. On the back wall is an illustration of the American and Canadian flags crossed with an arrow pointing to LA LA LAND. Hollywood being a huge influencer of both countries culture and consumerism. There is also a galaxy in a frame seemingly out of place. But with the knowledge that it is the “Sombero Galaxy” one can make connections to both major symbols of heritage and the truly infinitesimal importance of man in the universe.
Not only are the symbols of his illustrations compelling, but the material itself as well. Juan created his drawings with hand made crayons consisting of chilli peppers, beeswax, and earth. Different chilli peppers were used to achieve the range of colours. These organic marking materials have a faint scent that is enhanced by the slow cooking chilli peppers in the gallery. The materiality is soft and has deep cultural ties showing the artists hand. His reflexivity to his environment is also present in his drawings.
At first look one might wonder “Who is Jordan Eng? And why is he leasing the land?” A little attention to the neighbourhood reveals the answer – his signs are across the street advertising prime China town real estate. His signs are actually all over the area. Juan has also chosen to include the paper which protests the gentrification of the area and rallies to save 105 Keefer street from development, and contrast it on the same window with a historical illustration depicting the bounty of the “new world.” His work is enjoyable, but also includes serious awareness of the history of colonialism and present day world issues. As with most art you could say the work is a reflection of Juan Cisneros Neumann himself – Or you could have entirely your own interpretation of it and that works too. There’s lots more to see in this show. It’s definitely not one to miss.
Juan Cisneros Neumann: It Was Something and Then It Became Something Else
January 27 to March 11
“It Was Something and Then It Became Something Else” is the result of several cups of coffee and months of conversations between Juan Cisneros and Unit/Pitt curator Jamie Ward. Their interactions range from issues of politics to the stress of being a Second Class Citizen that is often invisible to the general public body. Notions of identity and heritage, colonialism and power are explored in a drawn installation made from chili peppers and beeswax and divided by ethnic fabrics. Halfway through the show, Juan will slowly begin the erasure of the piece, eliminating the art from the white cube. Alongside the installation in the galleries’ library Juan has also included a 2 channel video piece called South-South.
An accompanying publication will also be produced for the exhibit and available as a limited edition print.
Juan Cisneros Neumann is a recent Visual Arts graduate of the Emily Carr University. Since 2006 he has worked in advertising, television and animated films. His current studio is located in the heart of Chinatown in the Downtown East Side. His work is based primarily on drawing but is constantly supported by sculpture, video, publications and installation. Born and raised in Mexico city, Juan currently lives and works in Vancouver, B.C.
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