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.

home


interviews

· philippe vandal

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

acknowledgements


schedule


publication


clubimca video art screening


performance night


archive

(coming soon)


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CONTACT 
clubimca2020@gmail.com


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01

Process of Healing:
An Interview with
Philippe Vandal


by Abi Stushnoff

Philippe Vandal is a self-taught electronic musician, composer, multi-instrumentalist and creative programmer, currently studying at Concordia University completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Intermedia CyberArts. He is also part of the Speculative Life’s Biolab at The Milieux Institute where he recently received an undergraduate fellowship. Vandal has many ideas that follow various leads in research, study, and transdisciplinary avenues. His practice is best described by the theorist and writer Elizabeth Grosz when she writes chaos “... may be understood not as absolute disorder but rather as a plethora of orders, forms, wills - forces that cannot be distinguished or differentiated from each other, both matter and its conditions for being otherwise, both the actual and the virtual indistinguishably” (5).

Vandal’s current project for IMCA 400, with support from The Milieux Institute fellowship, is “Process of Healing”.  Here he is “looking at the relationship between two materialities: environmental matter and language.” His interest lies between the intersection of these two materialities. To date, the work consists as a bioremediating intervention whereby sugar beets and mycorrhizal fungi extract salt out of snow deposit residues. The results dictate the path of vectors in a word map that is based on the machine learning algorithm called ‘word embedding’ (Vandal). 


As IMCA 400 developed into an online exhibition due to Covid restrictions, Vandal reconsidered how to present his work as it is sculptural in nature. He is now considering taking photographs, possibly a short video accompanied by a map depicting the relationship between the vectors and words in his installation. However, Vandal hesitates and reflects that “simply documentation is not enough, a video or livestream might miss the purpose of the installation and is quite complicated to program and set”. That being said, Vandal notes, “I think it is a good exercise to think to the limits of the screen, but I am still wondering how to proceed”.


For Vandal, research, both writing and reading is an integral part of his visual arts practice. This integration of theory and creativity provides him a lexicon found within a community of theoretical thinkers that he can relate to and discuss with. In his recently published article, Puits de captage et déversements: rétention et enchevêtrement de corps-matières dans le parc Frédéric-Back (ESSE art+opinion, February 2021), Vandal situates his thinkings from the past few years: new materialisms, environmental repercussions (i.e. waste management), scientific lexion of bacterias, and socio-cultural entanglements with spaces. He describes this process of writing and reading as, “enmeshed in how I make and think through projects: referential, theoretical, conceptual, philosophical and speculative. I feel that sometimes I am creating what I am reading to push further a certain critical way of thinking for writing, to then open up new readings and back into creating. Just all a big circle” (Vandal).


I first encountered Vandal’s work through his electronic music and I became curious how his multidisciplinary practice affects his visual works. In a recent conversation he noted that it is more of the methodology rather than aesthetic that informs his various approaches to creating. Specifically, the compartmentalization of tasks allows him to “start with an idea globalizing different technologies and tools, and then go through them one after the other, or in a certain way, instrument by instrument”. This allows him to then arrange all of these “different parts together and turn them into a single track, or piece” (Vandal).  


Much like a music composition, Vandal’s current project “Process of Healing” integrates rhythm, interrelationships, and the entanglement of felt and lived experience as interpreted and translated by both composer, listener, and computer interface. This communication and relationship can be best described by Vandal’s desire to “induce, as in induction” whereby he hopes to engage the viewer with connections between the words displayed on the screen and to relate to them critically. This ciritacicality is meant to bridge a gap that will “induce a consideration of how we treat language, matter, and how we name and sort things around us.”  Vandal explains, “the main idea behind this project is really to reconsider how we relate to what has been socially structured and constructed, where the material intervention of bioremediation, something that has been set as ‘waste, residue, not worth in an economical sense,’ explodes into a conceptual framework to engage with our understanding of our environment(s).”  


Through writing, Vandal hopes to communicate what his art may lack in material transparency.  Specifically, as part of this presentation he will provide explanatory commentary on the cosmopolitics of science and its political entanglement, intersectionality, critical materiality and the ethics of vulnerability brought by waste.  In the past, Vandal has engaged in speculative design and thought, which can be considered as an integral part of his artistic philosophy.

As Vandal states:

That is what the artist can do, bridge spheres that are interrupted, or offer some very wild collaborations through a ‘What if …?’ Science is all about protocols, expectations, cosmopolitics. The artist can play through them and basically rewrite them in a certain way that becomes artistic and thus a whole different set of aesthetics. There is also the scientific opacity, with all its very specific nomenclatures, concise experiments, and environment(s), that is somewhat complicated to relate to when you do not engage with its literature. By applying artistic maneuvers through scientific wonders, the artist addresses the possibilities of bridging a gap between the lab and actual embodied relations that can be felt and discussed in the gallery space, spilling into non-scientific conversations. I think that is the main thing I have been trying to do or have been exploring.



Grosz, E. A. Chaos, Territory, Art : Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. Columbia University Press, 2008.


Vandal, P. Puits de captage et déversements: rétention et enchevêtrement de corps-matières dans le parc Frédéric-Back. ESSE art+opinion, February 2021.


02

Louis-Felix
from HAAL.400


by Christine White


Art has been a common thread throughout Louis Felix D’Amours’ life. Starting at home where he grew up around his mom who’s a graphic designer, to attending art camps as a kid. Art became the grounds for his educational path, leading him to studying Intermedia at Concordia University. Currently in the course IMCA 400, Louis’ working on a collaborative project with classmates Heather Bradley Reid, Alex Pruneau and Abi Stushnoff—otherwise known as: HAAL. This project is featured in this springs IMCA Fest, taking the form of collaborative performance and video art. It both reflects the depth Louis has gained in his practice through his education and how he responds to the current conditions of learning online during the COVID-19 pandemic. As he adapts to working from home, HAAL is a place for Louis to explore what he calls “Un- Insperation” and a way for him to apply his top skill learned throughout his degree. HAAL as a collaborative project, explores performative gestures virtually using Zoom.

In understanding the process and concepts behind Louis’ work with HAAL, its worth connecting it too his past experiences in Cégep where his art practice shifted into what it is today. Inspired by friends at that time, he started exploring themes of semiotics. His fascination with language and how things are communicated began taking form through performance and video art. More specifically, Louis began exploring how participants chose to reveal themselves on camera. Not only did this experience shift his practice into video art, but one participant invited him to an art exhibition at Concordia. It happened to feature performance art by Intermedia students, where he was baffled by the work but also fascinated. This inspired him to apply for Intermedia at Concordia to earn his Bachelor in Fine Arts.

Louis began Intermedia in 2018 and will be graduating this year. Having to adapt to learning online has come with many restrictions, like students ability to socialize with one another. This struggle has inherently effected Louis’ creative process. Though HAAL seems to make use of this parameter as motivation behind their work. Louis explains that “un-inspiration drove me to collaborating...My second proposal was nothing. I just wanted to team up with people”. For Louis, HAAL is also a way for him to “[be] there for my people.” and to “[do] things with my people”. He reflects on the advice given to him by professor Monique Moumblow where “she wanted us to be there for each other more than anything this semester. I guess I sort of used that as a premise for my [project]”. So, how does one “be there for each other” in such isolating times? Confined by what means available, HAAL uses Zoom not only to connect and chat with each other, but also as a platform for performative gestures. In this way, Louis uses virtual collaboration to explore his “un-inspiration” in a series of cabarets. Instead of sitting alone with his feelings or having it lead no where, Louis confronts this virtually alongside group members, where the act of sharing “un-inspiration” becomes something else performative.

Recognizing the struggle in finding inspiration these days, Louis expressed feeling overwhelmed this semester. He gives advice to anyone making intermedia art at home, encouraging those to “have fun, go off, go crazy! document it.” Taking his own advice, Louis attempts to challenge the barriers he puts on himself by not taking things to seriously and just having fun. This reflects his own process where Louis uses the words “TEXT, PARTY” and “Whaaat?” to describe his art practice. In the context of HAAL, Louis explores communication and interactivity all while navigating “an anxiety to try and format [the zoom cabarets] in such a way that makes it legible and interesting”. As HAAL continues to generate content, Louis considers what the final presentation of their work will be.

When Louis does manage to be creativity at home, he describes it as “random sporadic inspiration spurs where I [feel] like I [have] to absolutely gather that inspiration and channel it into something. And so to keep this project going was sort of a vehicle to keep also the inspiration alive.” For Louis, one benefit to making artwork at home is a sense of immediacy to acting on inspiration when it does happen to strike. “I don’t have to book the studio, book the camera—I can just grab it and do it” he says. Even if he feels like “oh I’m stuck? But I’m also stuck here” almost as if being confined at home gives him no other choice but to face the creative process. In terms of his work with HAAL, for him it becomes “replicating the studio space. The communal school studio space within [the] online learning situation, zoom and all that stuff.” In a way, HAAL has become an outlet for Louis to to keep his creative process going and an escape from the isolating effects of learning online.

As Louis works in new ways in his project HAAL, he has faced challenges that he describes as both technical and conceptual. The skill he applies to facing these challenges is troubleshooting, which is the top skills he’s learned from the Intermedia department. He will “take a step back from a performance installation, or a jam session...and try and see what works, what doesn’t and how to implement that ‘machine’ to operate fully” he says. He has also learned to adopt a neutral objective view when observing his work with HAAL. Using this method, Louis reflects on how he “was definitely more active” in the first cabarets and so he “[takes] a step back [to] let others take more space” in later cabarets. He was then able to “appreciate being in that space with them and sort of listening”. Whereas the technical troubleshooting was “finicking around with zoom”. He hadn’t thought to prepare for “the noise sensitive of your microphone”where he quickly learned that this can result in one performer’s sound over-shadowing another’s. By using the skill troubleshooting, Louis is able to consciously collaborate while working in new ways over Zoom with HAAL.

Louis is curious to explore the limitations and possibilities of what Zoom can do as an artistic medium. His collaboration with HAAL and his performative gestures through Zoom, are a constructive way to respond to the overwhelming conditions of doing studio arts online during the pandemic.

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.

-

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.

04

A Conversation with Benni on Loretta and Denim


by carolina larossa

Benni Macdonald’s in-progress collaboration with Emerson Sanderson, “Loretta and Denim” is a chaotic performative video work which follows the two title characters through non-linear vignettes. This hilarious-yet-discomforting work centers themes of trans identity, addiction, and therapy. During our interview, Benni and I dove into this work and talked about humor, imperfection, new developments in the video, and their reflective process in this collaborative project.

“We wanted to create characters that were imperfect and okay… in a world that stigmatizes them for their identities and tries to pathologize them.”

In their collaboration with Emerson, Benni plays Loretta, an unapologetically messy Trans Suicide Hotline volunteer who is dangerously undertrained. When Denim calls the hotline during a crisis, an off-puttingly cheery Loretta answers, offering terrible advice before reading from a dry, unhelpful script with a checklist of superficial questions. Later, Loretta visits her therapist, an animated clown who interrupts Loretta with incoherent AI generated therapy jargon. Loretta talks about her drug use and daddy issues, and her goals of engaging in activism to “change all dads.” Both of these scenes represent a critiquing of the over-pathologization of non-normative identities. They reflect the experiences of alienation which trans, queer, and drug using individuals face from public health institutions. When talking about scenes like these in my interview with Benni, we circumambulated one of the central themes of the project, which is that society’s “professionalization of therapy [is put] on a pedestal as an end-all cure to mental health, but in practice it is unhelpful and overpathologizing… If you’re trans or use drugs, your identity becomes pathologized as sick or crazy.” For people whose identities are dismissed by western/colonial ideologies, the mental health institutions built from this problematic value system offer structural alienation and violence instead of help. Loretta and Denim is a restless video work which intuitively and intentionally explores issues of intersecting marginalized identities within the oppressive framework of psychology, crisis centers, and western society as a whole.

During our conversation, Benni and I talked about Benni’s trepidations with humor in their work. Most of the scenes in the video so far feature campy, over-the-top editing and dialogue coupled with intense scenes, such as Denim’s breakdown. “I’m questioning why I feel the need to make others feel comfortable.” Benni and I talked about some in-progress scenes which have developed a much more abstract and emotional tone. In one such scene, Loretta is shown hiding in the bathroom at a party, where disembodied gossiping voices criticize her through unsettlingly distorted audio. This tonal shift in the work reflects Benni’s contemplations on the performativity of humor, as both a performer and an artist. It seems that this in-progress scene may represent Benni’s growing ability to embrace the vulnerability in performing Loretta, a character which represents many challenging moments in their life. So far, Loretta’s unabashed self-acceptance has focused on the campy, “Paris Hilton” side of messiness, but this glance into Loretta’s dark emotional state acts as a grounding moment for the work. Surveilled, over-pathologized, dismissed, the whispers from the other partygoers outside of the bathroom in which Loretta takes refuge can be interpreted as the the social (and institutional) pressure of perfection, and what happens when these standards turn inwards, invalidating a person’s identity from within.

When going over artistic influences for the work, Benni and I spoke about Ryan Trecartin, specifically the way in which Trecartin’s videos suddenly shift from hilarious to scary. “I admire how Ryan Trecartin can switch between moods, where you’re laughing and all of a sudden you’re like ‘wow this isn’t funny anymore.” As a non-linear video work, the choice to allow the narrative to flow into darker moments gives the opportunity for viewers to take a step back, to reconsider their relationship to the work so far. Dark moments like Loretta’s bathroom scene make the viewer ask themselves if they had known the depth of these characters’ experiences the whole time.

Benni looks forward to working with music in order to compose emotional movement throughout the work. Early on in our conversations, we discussed the unhinged performances in Ryan Trecartin’s works, a technique which inspired Benni. We talked about the challenge that Benni considered, the difficulty of pushing the performance of such an intensely personal character so far. Benni considered the contrast between their work and Ryan Trecartin’s in the apparent degree of separation in the dialogue and characters featured in Ryan’s work; for example, the dialogue in Trecartin’s Center Jenny is quick and almost unintelligible, but when you do happen to catch a phrase they are philosophical, theoretical, and impersonal. The opposite is true for Emerson and Benni, who perform characters who are facing the same challenges as they do in real life. An avenue which Benni decided to experiment with was pushing the “overtherapized” persona, who obsessively tries self-help, yoga, and crystals in an attempt to embody the model of perfection for recovery. These topics have been fruitful pools of jargon from which the duo have been able to source much of their “chaotic” dialogue. This seems to be one of the latest advancements in the project.

“Loretta would never think about racism… they’re so in their own world, never thinking about their whiteness and living their bimbo lives...” Benni has also been considering the positionality of their work, which reflects the experiences and privileges of white people, and questioning not only the space and relevancy of the project but also how these characters can be used to talk about issues such as Black Lives Matter in ways that aren’t either superficial or unnatural. Benni feels inspired by their conversations with another local artist persona, Lenore Claire as Sandy Bridges, who uses their character and platform to uplift other artists through hilarious interviews. Benni finds that Loretta and Sandy are similar in many ways and feels inspired by the success of Lenore’s improvised and genuine approach to de-centering her character and sharing her platform while still creating art.

Benni’s work this semester has been very inspiring to watch. Their reflective/intuitive/care-full/playful collaboration with Emerson has developed a mesmerizing and touching video work with incredible potential. It has been a pleasure to work with them this semester.


05

Ley Lortie: The Blooming Witch


by vanessa moscato

Note by Ley: I initially started working on a different project for this exhibit, my upcoming: “Seasons of The Witch”, this is what this text is about. My pronouns were also only feminine then but I am now fluid with them.

I initially connected with Ley Lortie in a Performance Intervention class in 2019 at Concordia University in Montreal. Her work was informative, highlighting the spectrum of the LGTBQ+ community in The Spectrum Dictionary. In September 2020, Ley and I reconnected in one of our undergraduate degree's final classes in the Intermedia program. She expressed an interest in capturing images of nature and relating them to her Wicca practice, showcasing how moments in nature, rituals, and divinity coexist. As I've been reconnecting to my spirituality, I looked forward to learning more about her practice.

Ley has been studying Wicca since early 2019 on Imbolc. It is an ancient Celtic holiday celebrated on February 1st, representing healing and new beginnings – talk about synchronicity! She is "an eclectic, solitary, grey witch with heavy Wiccan inspiration, but also from many varied sources...solitary because (she) do(es) not have a coven, and grey because (she) perform(s) both white and black magic, though with (her) personal ethical code." Wicca’s primary code of ethics is "an it harm none, do what you will, which essentially implies karmic philosophies.

When asked about what interested her about Wicca, her response was complex and intriguing, stating, "Wicca is a mystery religion, and revelations come to you as you practice. I never thought I'd be spiritual in any way after rejecting Christianity, but this just made sense and called me". That intuitive response is what I'd love to bring awareness to in Ley's practice, as I very much work with intuition as well. There's something magical about how things come to you, as and when they are meant to. Ley finds the craft incredibly creative, stating that "it is art" and feels compelled to use this acquired knowledge and share it. "Making art is very personal for me. I communicate emotions, thoughts philosophies, and moments. And because it led my life back when I made work on mental health. The continuation of my self-development, and the emotions I have to share, are about the craft. I want to share what I have, to speak about it, and spread a love and respect for the earth", she says, expressin that the connection to nature is the basis of spirituality.

Perhaps due to its neo iterations in western societies, the misconceptions about Paganism sally the practice. As such, Ley finds herself researching documentaries of Paganism and its sub-categories to differentiate them from the "Salem witch trials." She reads instructional and educational books fro significant Wiccan figures such as Raymond Buckland and draws inspiration from Bill Viola. Similarly, Viola was brought up Christian and uses video in contemporary art as a tangible medium to express concepts of spirituality, existentialism, and theology, representing the invisible with raw imagery. In his
(and Michelangelo's) Life Death Rebirth 2019 exhibition, you can see how he integrates some of his beliefs in his works, suggesting embodied transformations and cycles with fire and water elements. In parallel, as Ley develops a framework to apply fundamental principles in building her craft, she choose to explore and merge nature and technology.

Ley documents her witchcraft rituals as they progress alongside the seasons. As most of us are stuck in our homes' during these virtual times, Ley steps out into the world and observes her surroundings, exploring spaces new and familiar in her hometown of St. Hubert. In preparation for this project series, Ley makes a list of things to do, helping her stay organized and accountable to her art. The
equipment used is her tripod, DSLR camera, and her environment. Through videos documenting rituals in and of nature, she captures some real witchcraft moments while living in unison with her practice.

In Seasons of the Witch, Part 1, there is a demonstration of the various cyclical reciprocities of life and simplistic actions in nature. Included are still shots of bees pollinating, and candles sparked to create light in dark spaces. An accumulation and flow of water, rustling leaves, and decomposing bodie demonstrate life and death. Her video includes beautiful shots of nature and ritual, with the lens in and out of focus, lending to the ever-changing interpretations of perspectives, some moments presentin clearer than others. Subtle environmental sounds tell a peaceful tale while the sun shines on fallen leaves as they change colour and move with the wind. The notable Canadian bird, the goose, is seen navigating the subtle waves of its habitat, congruently to the sedentary rocks anchored to the earth. The video ends with two birds, somewhat camouflaged by their environment, looking around, assessing thei surroundings and perhaps their next move.

Ley has given us the space to associate our connection to spirituality by including relatable imagery of the simple gifts of nature we have abstractedly encountered. She creates an overall sentiment of calmness throughout her video, where a wholesome connection demonstrates the cycleof life in conjunction with those in nature. Alongside Ley, I'm looking forward to experiencing the progressive evolution (of life) throughout the seasons as we cultivate our crafts.

Click here to read my full interview with Ley.