Adventures in arts & culture in Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014

Arts adventures continued last night at Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014, as audiences roamed the night to view and engage with various arts and culture exhibits around the city.

A lot of the exhibits I saw (along with pals Lizzie Violet and Zoltan Hawryluk) were part of the Night Circus series. Here’s what we saw last night, followed by a slide show:

All Together Now – Group Exhibition @ Hart House. Video and live performance with choirs, featuring LGBTQ choir Singing Out, among others.

Queen’s Park was rockin’ with a cosplay rave vibe, with a DJ, fire juggling and eating, peeps in animal costumes and clowns. Dancing, music and a fun, energetic atmosphere.

8th Wonder – Michael Oatman and Brian Kane @ Union Station

A very cool interactive light box installation (will see if I can find title/artist).

Un/natural History: Drowning Captiva 2014 – George Bolster

The Melodious Malfeasance Meat-Grinding Machine 2014 – Dana Sherwood

Night Suite – lightsweetcrude

Big Top Grand Stand 2014 – SuttonBeresCuller

Cascade – Ananadam Dance Theatre, Brandy Leary, Eamon MacMahon, James Burton

Impressions – Mina Vedut, Alice Song, Andrea Ng, Alice Chen @ Wychwood Barns

Hive (2.0) – Hopkins Duffield @ Wychwood Barns

Dried Beans Models of the Universe from the Department of Household Sciences and Advanced Proverbs – John Shipman @ St. Matthews United Church (which also included a helping of very tasty vegetarian chili)

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Jessica Speziale’s “Brace Yourself” music video

Jessica Speziale launched her first official music video for her song “Brace Yourself,” one of the featured tracks on her Dear Reverie CD, on Saturday night at Cherry Colas in Toronto, during the Music City North music fest.

Here’s the video, scripted, directed and shot by Bruce Nagy:

I interviewed Speziale about the video on the blog recently. You can check that out here.

You can also find Jessica Speziale on her YouTube and Facebook sites, and follow her on Twitter.

“Brace Yourself” – Interview with singer/songwriter Jessica Speziale

IMG_0101Jessica Speziale is a Toronto-based singer/songwriter whose powerful vocals easily shift between  kick-ass beats and sultry ballads, with R&B-inspired pop/rock sounds. I had the pleasure of attending the launch of her CD Dear Reverie, featuring the rockin’ out, guitar-driven “Brace Yourself,” which has now become Speziale’s first official music video. With some new recordings under her belt, Speziale is now looking ahead to the video launch, happening Saturday, March 22 at Cherry Colas in Toronto, during the Music City North music fest.

I won’t be able to attend the launch, but got a sneak peek at the video got in touch with Jessica Speziale for an interview over email.

LWMC: First off, congrats on the music video for “Brace Yourself”! Its fast-paced editing, and evocative locations, moments and images really illustrate the song well. What made you decide to go with “Brace Yourself” for your first official music video?

JS: Thank you so much! When I met with director/screenwriter/videographer Bruce Nagy, it came down to three songs. We decided on “Brace Yourself” because of the storyline. Bruce felt it was the strongest and came up with the idea right off the bat! I’m really happy with the way it’s turned out.

LWMC: Can you tell us a bit about the process of putting the video together? Who wrote the script for you/envisioned the story, and who shot and edited it?

JS: It was all Bruce Nagy!! (laughs) When we first selected the song, we talked about some of the themes in the song, the origin of the song, and the visual that I see when I play the song. Bruce used that imagery to enhance a jilted love storyline that he came up with. We met for coffee and listened to the song and went through the lyrics piece by piece. He then took all the ideas from that meeting and drafted the storyboard so that I could properly visualize what was in his mind. Once the storyboard was fully discussed and edited and approved by us both, I set out to assemble the cast and the scheduling! When it came to editing, Bruce did all of the technical work, and we went back and forth with ideas and drafts. Bruce is an incredible person to work with. He is incredibly patient and focused, and he made sure that I was part of the entire process.

LWMC: What was your favourite part of that process? And your least favourite part?

JS: I have to say my favourite part was the actual filming!! One day, we shot the full cast and extras in the Distillery District and at Bruce’s place. It was just such a fun day with amazingly talented friends! My least favourite was probably the editing! (laughs) It took so much longer than I imagined it would! And it’s the nit-picky part, so it can be tedious.

LWMC: Without giving too much away (I’m not down with spoilers), I really love the Tarot reading scenes and the Tarot card imagery that was used throughout various points of the woman’s journey in the video. The lyric that hooks me into it is in the chorus reference to April 1st, which brings to mind the Fool. How did you come to use Tarot symbolism in the video?

JS: We really needed something that tied all the scenes together! Some kind of image. The song is written about a thunderstorm and that whole notion of being reminded that we’re small beings on this planet. So, the tarot cards made sense as the, sort of, outside force that communicates with the audience to narrate the story. Fortune telling being a way that the universe communicates with humans, right? So, it was an idea that really struck a chord with us. And we used it!

LWMC: Are you planning on doing any more vids of Dear Reverie songs?

JS: I would really like to! I’m speaking with a couple different directors right now about doing another one off Dear Reverie. While that’s in the works, I am really starting to get focused on the next album, too 🙂

LWMC: Besides the video launch on March 22, any other upcoming gigs you’d like to shout out?

JS: If you’re in Hamilton, I’ll be at the Underground on March 28th!

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share?

JS: I’d just like to send a huge, huge thank you out to the team that made this video possible – especially Bruce Nagy – and I really hope to see you all at the release party on March 22nd at Cherry Cola’s! 10pm screening!

LWMC: Thanks, Jessica!

JS: Thank you!!! :D:D

As for the “Brace Yourself” video itself, you’ll have to wait until Jessica Speziale makes it public on Saturday, March 22. Head on over to Cherry Colas to see that happen live, along with a live performance of the song – otherwise, drop on back here after the launch and I’ll have it posted.

In the meantime, you can check Jessica Speziale out on her YouTube and Facebook sites, and follow her on Twitter.

Nuit Blanche T.O. amazes & inspires

Had a blast wandering the night and checking out the Nuit Blanche Parade exhibits and others with my good pal Lizzie Violet. I’ve included some highlights of the evening below.

What turned you on at Nuit Blanche this year?

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The Queen of the Parade, by Lisa Anita Wegner & Vanessa Lee Wishart. Multi-media artist/performer Lisa Anita Wegner, as the Queen, waves to the crowd from atop a 20-foot high gown.
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The Queen of the Parade – gown detail.
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Tortoise, by Michel de Broin. One of a series of assemblage sculptures made from picnic tables outside Campbell House. You could smell the cedar on this pleasantly cool fall evening. Warm cider was served there as well.
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Music Box, by John Dickson. A kinetic sculpture of musical instruments, creating eerie, otherworldly sounds all based on parts moving against each other.
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Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles installation at Nathan Phillips Square.
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Forever Bicycles installation with Toronto City Hall in the background.
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Ferris Wheel, by Katharine Harvey.
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Parallax, by Idea Design Collective. A luminous, beehive-like effect – all done with cardboard tubes and light.
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(X)Static Clown Factory, by Ruth Spitzer & Claire Ironside. An interactive performance installation, where folks were invited to come up and do the clowns’ work. I think peeps got paid in balloons.
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Woman in the crowd with neon light hula hoop.
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There is an elephant in the truck, an indie installation by Laurence Vallières. Another impressive piece done with cardboard.
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Hybrid Globe, by Arthur Wrigglesworth, Mohammad Mehdi Ghiyaei & Mojtaba Samimi.
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Ad Astra, one of three indie projects by [R]ed[U]ux Lab at the Bata Shoe Museum.
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RevitaLight – another piece utilizing cardboard – at Bata Shoe Museum.
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Light_Scape, an interactive light installation at Bata Shoe Museum.
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On the way to Artscape Wychwood Barns, we encountered this sculpture artist at work on Bloor Street West. He uses only centre of gravity and balance to build these pieces.
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Yep, that’s a concrete block balancing on top. And set on fire to great effect.
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An assistant moves a piece on Chess Set, by Blandford Gates, an indie installation at Artscape Wychwood Barns.
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Chess players Tomas Krnan (L) and Peter Vavrak (R) play blindfolded, giving verbal instructions to their respective assistants to move pieces on the board. And having to remember where every piece is.

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek gets up close & personal in Anxiety exhibit @ Fran Hill Gallery

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek’s exhibition Anxiety opened at Fran Hill Gallery last night to a packed space full of friends, family, fellow artists and likely – given the gallery’s neighbourhood vibe – folks who live in the area. Anxiety is Vitasek’s MFA thesis exhibition – she’s studying at York University after doing her undergrad at OCAD – an extremely personal exploration of moments of anxiousness, recorded through photographs, video and text.

Visitors to the gallery can see the one of the three self-portrait photographs as they approach the entrance. When I arrived, I met Vitasek, who gave me a tour of the exhibit, along with background info on the project. I couldn’t help but think about the irony of opening such a personal, revealing exhibit, which then had to be defended in front of her professors – an anxiety-inducing act in itself – a point that, while unspoken, I don’t think was lost on either of us. After we finished chatting, I took the opportunity to wander and visit each piece myself, going back to revisit, winding through the crowd as the space filled up.

The larger of the two intimate exhibit spaces displays three photos, all taken during moments when Vitasek was feeling anxious. She wears no make-up and her long dark brown hair is tied back, her gaze fixed straight ahead, giving you the impression that she’s looking right at you. What is especially remarkable about these three pieces is the scale. Each is a 40” x 40” inkjet print close-up – larger than life, emotion writ large. In each case, the emotion itself has a still intensity to it that makes these photographs both challenging to view yet impossible to look away from.

On the wall between the two spaces are three framed questionnaire pages, taken from two anxiety questionnaires. Each has been filled out, boxes ticked and statements regarding behaviour rated on a scale, along with written descriptions of anxious moments addressed by cognitive therapy responses, along with the outcome. As I read through them, I couldn’t help but mentally fill out the questionnaires myself. How often do I avoid, and how anxious do I feel about, being alone? Being in a crowded space? Travelling?

In the smallest exhibit space are two monitors, facing each other from opposite sides of the room. Each plays a video on a two-minute loop with no sound – both close-ups of Vitasek’s face. One shows the artist doing a breathing exercise – in through the nose and out through the mouth. On the other, the artist has her hands full of milkweed, her face in the background as she gradually blows the white fluffy, seed covered stuff off her hands – the last tuft becoming airborne with one puff of breath. The videos speak to each other even as each speaks to the viewer – and I found that, after a few moments of standing in front of the breathing exercise, the rhythm of my breathing fell into sync with Vitasek’s. Of the two videos, the breathing exercise is also the most challenging to witness. It has a rawness to it, an intensity that stands in sharp contrast to the more whimsical milkweed blowing video, where the artist’s face is in background focus.

Anxiety is extremely raw, personal and brave project – and also very beautiful and universal. Everyone has had moments of feeling anxious, apprehensive or uneasy, with individual responses driven by an eagerness to please, fear of failure, fear of the unknown. It’s all just a matter of degrees.

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Artist Victoria Vitasek, as seen through the gallery window.
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One of the three large self-portrait photographs.
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The anxiety questionnaires.
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The breathing exercise video.
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Blowing milkweed video.
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Vitasek speaks with some of the opening night visitors.
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Artist Victoria Vitasek and gallery owner Fran Hill.

Anxiety is up until April 20 at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Road, Toronto – St. Clair/Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst). Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.

Current & upcoming visual arts feasts

Wanted to shout out some current and upcoming visual art exhibits – in Toronto and Ottawa:

Photographer Pamela Williams has an exhibit up at Sunderland Hall GalleryFirst Unitarian (175 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto – west of Avenue Road, south side of St. Clair). Running now until April 21. Hours: Sun. Noon – 3 p.m., Tues. 5 – 9 p.m., Wed. 5 – 9 p.m., Thurs. 7 – 9 p.m.

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek’s MFA thesis exhibition Anxiety (a self-portrait series of photography, video and text) will be going up at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Rd., Toronto – St. Clair and Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst). Runs from April 9 – 20, with the opening on April 11 (6 – 9 p.m.). Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.

Visual artist Blair Sharpe presents new works from his On Some Faraway Beach series at Wallack Galleries (203 Bank St., Ottawa) April 13 – 27, with the opening on April 13 (meet the artist 2 – 4 p.m.) and an artist talk and tour of the exhibit on April 20 at 3 p.m. Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.