Concordia University

IMCAFEST



A one-week festival presenting a virtual gallery showcasing Intermedia studio arts students from Concordia University. A collaboration between Club IMCA and IMCA 400, the festival celebrates the works of students past and present as they near the end of their Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees.

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interviews

· philippe vandal

· haal 400
· heather c. vulgar
· alex apostolidis
· benni
· ley lortie
· vanessa moscato
· diego ramirez

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clubimca video art screening


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03

Five Clementines and An Hour and A Half

a conversation about art making, music and television.

by Alex Apostolidis and Heather/Calluna Vulgar

A: I was looking at the work you did for your independent study and the Cabaret with HAAL.400, and I was contemplating on “conversation”. Everything feels a natural accumulation, like you’re letting things fall into place. I enjoyed seeing this intuitive way of creating as opposed to consciously following through on a formally crafted proposal, a standard within the academic and fine art institutional world.  When you allow space to make more discoveries and ask more questions, the work tends to be more energetic. Project proposals are critical to our professional development but realistically “the good work” comes from within and it’s difficult to explain through linguistic parameters especially when you're working in experimental or unconventional mediums like PowerPoint, performance or sound. Hearing you talk about your work, I see this idea of discovering “the good work” intuitively. When you make something with these proposals, it shows that you can execute a plan, but it doesn't show that you're allowing yourself to use art to explore larger questions.


H: When I was starting my independent study around music and sound improvisation, I was struggling with my relationship to music. I can’t consciously think in music. But I have made music, and the times when that would happen would always be in some spontaneous, unthinking way. And other times, I would feel completely incapable of music and empty of ideas. I wanted to use the independent study to solve that emptiness, and figure out how to become not-empty, and be able to come up with musical ideas in my head. But the project has become more about building a relationship with that emptiness, and accepting it as something that exists, not something to fix. I’ve discovered that a lot of my ideas of what is considered to have substance has to do with an internalized western-colonialist bias towards language: only whatever can be written down is real. So my mind feels empty, even though there are so many things happening in it - they just can’t be described in language. I do think in music, in a way. I am really tactile and responsive, and with sound I listen and respond physically.

At Concordia, we have always had to make a proposal before starting a project. In the last few years, I’ve realized I have only been doing what was possible for me to know consciously and explain in language, which is such a tiny fraction of what is going on in my mind. Being an artist is probably as much about your ability to frame yourself in terms of the institutions we’re in, as the actual art making. Being able to articulate yourself to institutions is a good skill to learn - but I feel like I’ve internalized these institutions so much I can’t let myself do what I actually want to do, or to even know what that is. When it comes to intuition and process, I find myself falling backwards into it as I’m simultaneously struggling to avoid it in order to perform normalcy.

It has always felt like a requirement to justify myself to people who are neurotypical or who don’t have a mental illness. You must explain yourself to make others comfortable. It’s dangerous to not be normal. And this is what the constant Powerpoint proposals we had to do felt like to me. Looking back, I realize what a heightened state of irrational urgency I would go into for every Powerpoint. I needed to explain myself. I think I ended up choosing my projects to survive the Powerpoint presentation, instead of making the Powerpoint fit the project I wanted to do - and now it’s so funny that I’m using Powerpoint as a medium in itself. I didn’t think about that relationship before - I ended up falling backwards into intuition again.

I was so drawn to Louis-Felix’s proposal at the start of IMCA 400 - proposing not to propose, and to instead openly collaborate with anyone who was interested. It felt like a safe little pocket I could just exist in for a while without having to explain anything. And that gradually evolved into the HAAL collective. So, there is a way you can bend the system around yourself, if you have the right language. Louis-Felix’s proposal framed the “doing” of it, not a result. Usually, I end up working so hard to come up with a result that I can write a proposal for, in order to justify the “doing” process that I want to engage in.



A: It’s difficult to propose informal practices in ways that are accepted by the institution, in your recent work, you've managed to very successfully explore intuition within these formal frameworks. I was intrigued by your use of Tumblr as a platform to showcase your work for your independent study, which would usually take place as a live performance or video. The Tumblr page allows the viewer to have agency in the content due to the nature of the platform. It's like Tumblr became this hosting space for you to do whatever you want, which then creates a general aesthetic, and a collective narrative. I really feel the accumulation of time in your works, which isn’t always easy to capture.


H: The independent study was spinning off of a piece I’ve been doing in some form since 2017. So it’s even more of an accumulation of time! I originally made an installation of a makeshift tent with materials and objects inside that were referencing my first explorations with a punk band, and then last year I started going inside the tent to perform with sound. My original proposal for this year’s phase of the project was to work toward a live performance, but I’ve totally given up on that. I think I pitched a performance to have an excuse to engage in this process of exploring sound and my relationship to music.

Over the last few months doing this project, I discovered I needed to be alone, let myself make all kinds of mistakes, and do things that might sound terrible. I didn’t want to then take that process and disguise it as something smooth by crafting a refined performance or sound piece. So I started to think of making a website, and having all these fragments of weird, raw,  chaotic, brilliant recordings live there together.

I like that you say that my Tumblr gives people agency. Sometimes I struggle with performing for an audience, where it feels like I am supposed to know how to direct the audience’s experience of me in a desirable or “effective” way. But when I turn away from the audience and focus on what makes the experience of performance better for me, it’s better for the audience too. By choosing not to do a live performance, and instead creating a website that can be explored in any order, or not, the audience has agency.


A: You've touched on performance quite a bit in Memory Violence with your text addressing the ability to perform, but not for an audience. At first I was thinking you're talking strictly about artistic performances, like getting nervous in front of a crowd, but then I realized you were talking about daily performance - the way you need to perform normalcy to navigate these systems that do not work for you. You're making sense of things in your own way and it's so mesmerizing.


H: Over the years I’ve thought a lot about why performance isn’t comfortable for me. When I first started performance classes, instead of performing some sort of action in front of an audience, I would create these environments the audience would enter, and my body was never centred or visible. I think I instinctually did that because I always felt like I had to perform normalcy, so to do something openly performative felt dangerous. If I did it well enough, my performance would become invisible and I would be safe.

The text I wrote for Memory Violence was literally in response to my hard drives being stolen last summer. Those drives had the only copies of sound recordings from the previous six months, and losing them was devastating, and made me really think about how important the memory technology I use is to my art making.

Memory is a major theme I’m dealing with in my independent study and with HAAL, especially when I talk about emptiness. I really appreciate your word “accumulation” - it describes my work so well. Sometimes, when I try to think of an idea, I can’t remember anything I’ve ever thought. So instead I find something to respond to, record that response, collect those recordings, observe that accumulation, and then I realize what “the work” actually is. I think maybe forming a coherent narrative is not something I’m capable of doing. What I can do is gather the pieces and let them sit together.

At one point with my collective HAAL, we were talking about doing a purge ritual of digital files - which I think was a conversation I had started, even - but once I realized what that actually meant for me it felt horrifying. Digital storage is a prosthesis for my dysfunctional memory that makes many things, including making art, possible for me, and it’s hard to let go of any file no matter how meaningless it might seem. Forgetting also has an important place. It’s this paradox. You can remember a story that has a beginning, middle, and end, but reality isn’t that organized, so to be able to tell a story that can be remembered, you have to forget some of the things that happened. But I want to remember everything - or at least try. It’s important to me that I hold onto all the overwhelming things that can’t be organized into a coherent whole.

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I think accumulation, growth, intuition, and allowing things to speak for themselves are ideas also really applicable to your work, Alex. Your video reminded me of a phrase that we use in HAAL: “indulgence in digression”. It might mean something different for all of us, but for me what I mean by “I am indulging in this” is “here is a moment where I am allowed to exist as I am”. There is something painful at the heart of that - your existence is an indulgence and a constant site of resistance. It seemed to me that in your video gathered all these different people to participate in a space of indulgence and resistance.


A: I wanted to create a space where queer people can be extravagant, flamboyant, and boring. I feel like the Queer existence tends to be a counter-narrative in heteronormative mainstream television. Although many Queer characters participate in these televisual narratives, their lived experiences are either disregarded or stereotyped. When all the characters in a production are Queer it levels the playing field a bit - not totally though because Queerness does not absolve people of other privileges. Heterosexual characters are generally given the space to perform a wide array of personalities - whereas Queer characters can be tokenized and stereotyped within those environments. By collaborating with Queer individuals, I’m creating a space where genuine personalities are showcased. I love watching TV and cable has all of these networks with random information all the time - you don't control what you're watching, you can turn it on and off but one couldn’t choose to binge shows or watch a certain show at a certain time without renting it. TV is this constant stream of content. It would be a dream to create this Queer wonderland, televisual fantasy, that some 12-year-old happens to stumble upon while watching TV, and then they see something that they relate to more than the Rookie Blue or Young and the Restless that’s airing right now.


H: What strikes me in your work is your ability to refuse. You are refusing the dominant narrative and creating a TV show for other people living these counter-narratives. It makes me think of your position as the collector of all this. Could you talk about the relationship that you're creating between yourself and all these contributors?


A: I feel like when I was younger I didn't really understand the power of the artist or the person behind the camera. Now I am in this position where I have to direct other people - I’ve worked in this way before but now I have people writing for me and performing for me. It feels weird although I'm trying to give agency to these people and have them shine in their own ways - it’s still under my direction and I have power over how they’re represented in this situation.


H: I guess in a project where you have the final say, and you’re working with a team to realize your specific vision, that power dynamic can be uncomfortable. But It does seem like your show was guided by the contributors. It’s interdependent. Without your work to create the structure for a TV show the contributors’ videos won’t be seen, and without their work there is no content for a TV show.


A: I plan on inserting myself into the narrative as an active host more in this upcoming part of the project. There're many pieces to this project which is nice since it always feels fresh. The audition tapes showcased the fabricated virtual community we created. I’m currently working on the first full episode where we're going to have a couple of the characters come on and perform different TV tropes.  TV is this performance of desires, if that makes sense, even the news - it's like this distillation of what's important. TV is such a crazy place to absorb information because it’s so coded and biased. TV feels way too big for me to grasp but I want to start understanding it by rebuilding it.


The third part of the project is recreating still TV cliches; using the language of television to create virtual tableaux. By combining the traditions of theatre and motifs from television I want to focus on the still scene within TV and replace the people that are normally broadcasted with Queer people.  It’s all a mimicry of real life that’s performed infinitely for the public.


H: I want to know how you ended up working with television, or how that developed over time.


A: I feel so obsessed with TV. Growing up, my dad left it on all the time and we’d watch together. I was having a whacky time when I first started university and watching tv became a ritual to slow down and not destroy my life. Now, when we're not able to experience life, we can watch normalcy performed. One thing that puzzles me is queer representation in television. It’s starting to happen but we’re not at a point yet where TV showcases everyone. When people are represented on television, they tend to be legitimized within broadcast media, which as a vast communicative force, is therefore an educator. We have gay, lesbian and trans characters on TV but the normalization and non-stereotypical versions of these are few and far between. When representatives of our communities are written in - they tend to be skinny, able-bodied and white to be more palatable to mainstream audiences. This is not what we need or are asking for and it doesn’t do any favours for those who don’t feel represented in the media. Not everybody has access to academia and Queer theory, and social media feeds you a reflection of your already existing ideal which is why educating through exposure is so important. Television does not give a s*** about your algorithm because what’s on is on.  Martha Stewart is always going to be Martha Stewart. If Martha Stewart trusts a fat, Black, non-binary person in the kitchen, then odds are a lot of viewers will begin to understand “Huh, okay, this is just another person”.  TV has a lot to do with establishing and upholding acceptable norms and behaviours in society, which is not always a positive thing.


Another thing that's fascinating for me is that TV is this single-sided conversation, like yelling into the void, which resonates with a lot of my work. It’s something you can access at any time but not have control over. TV is just so big and I'm so small and if someone who works in “the biz” is reading this please hire me. I'm pretty good with the camera and I have a lot of good ideas. This conversation/interview is one of these screams into the void.

TV is just a platform and a space for talking that is so big and universal yet limited and is attached to a commodity.  I feel like now you can watch TV on your tablet, pc, or phone, it’s everywhere but TV was originally made for the TV screen - and only to be viewed on that little box. The TV itself was created to show TV - now the TV is used for all sorts of things and TV can be viewed on all sorts of things. It’s just so big.