Monday, May 24, 2010

Art and Connections

It’s been a whirlwind of days since I wrote last, and I haven’t been keeping up because I’ve been busy trying to experience everything. I don’t want to be that person, so concerned with documentation that I forget to experience, despite the fact that this is probably my nature. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me, or something inborn that is part of why journalism seemed like a natural choice for me. Anyway, I’ve been living, and living well at that.
I’m actually writing this as I sit in the grass in Stadtpark in Vienna. I’m exceedingly lucky that our hotel is very, very centrally located, and this beautiful space is literally about 7 minutes walk from where we sleep. It has already become one of my favourite places in Vienna, and thus far, in the world. It’s a perfect place to sit and write on a pretty spring day.
But more on that in a moment. What haven’t I updated you on, dear reader? Well, I saw La Traviata. Or at least, I heard La Traviata performed, and saw part of the second half. What I mean is that I was sitting in a box, and for the first half, I literally could not see the stage because I was behind someone and was trying not to get in anyone else’s way. I was a little pushier in the second half, at least sliding my chair up enough to see 1/3 to 1/2 of the stage, depending on how the person in front of me was sitting. What I saw of the costuming was absolutely stunning, but since my main experience was auditory, that’s what I’ll comment on.
I’d only ever been to one opera before (Manon by Massinet) because a friend of mine who is an opera singer took me to it. If you know me, you probably know that I’m essentially an alternative rock girl, though my tastes are certainly eclectic, but I suspect some people might expect that opera wouldn’t be my thing. In Manon, I remember thinking that it was very cool that people could produce these sounds, though I’m not sure I really connected with it the way I wanted to. I felt like the male singers sounded better, and that I probably didn’t know how to listen to it. But this time around, I connected absolutely with the voice of the lead soprano. She had this...vulnerability to her voice that nearly brought me to tears. It was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard, and while I still don’t really know what I’m perhaps supposed to listen for, I know what I heard. It was kind of sublime.
The next day, David, Ian, Rachel and I wandered the city, first stopping at the butterfly house (completely underwhelming, especially if you ever saw the butterfly house at the Calgary zoo), though the surrounding grounds of the imperial palace were lovely and I got some nice photos there. From there, we headed to the Modern art museum, but the majority of the building is currently devoted to a video and television based exhibit called “Changing Channels” which required a much more dedicated perusal than we could give it just then. There were a few sculptural and traditional print based pieces that were interesting, but I think I’m modern where this was perhaps too postmodern for my taste.
The next day, Saturday, David, Ian and I went to the famous Naschmarkt, a big outdoor “farmer’s market” of sorts, which includes a large flea market on Saturdays. The food and the smells there were amazing. Particularly the booths full of dozens of varieties of spices, were unbelievable. I bought hummus that was fantastic, as well as dried strawberries that I really think I could give up all other sweets so long as I could have them. Though we also got ice cream at a gelateria near Stephansplatz, and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to go without that lemon gelato. It was so good, we went back again yesterday.
That evening, we went out to a Marie Brassard show called Me Talking to Myself in the Future. I had already seen a Marie Brassard show, Peepshow, in Calgary at the Grand some time ago, so I knew to expect some strange technical experiences. However, I really feel that I couldn’t connect with either show the way I wish I could have. I didn’t feel that shiver that connecting with great art can give you, and I really wanted to.
Yesterday, David, Ian and I slept in, missing our free breakfast, so we decided to buy something and go sit in Stadtpark to eat and then get some writing done. We ate, but then the park was just so beautiful that I lay down in the grass in the sun and just basked like a lizard, getting no writing at all done. That being said, I really began to feel the intangibilities of that experience, so it was worth it for that. I wish I could document it in a meaningful way: listening to the noise of a thousand birds and the rustling of branches and the somewhat distant sound of cars, along with the murmur of conversation, and the music from an accordionist just out of sight; the alternating feel of the breeze and the clouds with the warmth of the sun, and the grass under my feet and hands; the smell of that grass, and the flowering plants this time of year, the coming to remember all the life in the greenery around me with every ant I saw, but there is no way to capture it that does it justice.
Eventually, we wandered on, meandering along a waterway, then through the streets before getting more gelato. We ate at the base of a statue, but it soon began to rain, so we headed indoors to dry off. After yet another nap (I’m not sure if this is still jet lag or I’m just not sleeping well and enough) and late, light lunch at a little outdoor eatery in Stephansplatz called Venezia (garlic soup is the best idea anyone’s ever had, and the fried vegetables we shared between the four of us were great), we went off to a play/theatre piece called Raoul.
Raoul was at least as abstract as Marie Brassard’s show. It didn’t really have text, just the rare word aloud, and the rest told through movement. It was essentially a one man show, with help from an extremely talented puppeteer and a small crew. There are about a million threads one could extract from Raoul because it tells a story without text. I personally connected with what I felt was a comment on the symbiotic relationship between performer and audience; they need each other. Obviously, without the performer, an audience is not entertained or shown anything, but also without an audience, the performer isn’t doing anything all that valuable. There were moments in the show that drew attention to our role as audience; we were reflected in a mirror, and in some way, we were the mirror in which the performer could see himself. It was exactly the kind of connection I felt lacking in Brassard’s show. To say the least, I dug it. And that all says nothing really for how talented James Thiérrée is. As a clown, mime, dancer, actor, performer, whatever you want to call it, he created a character who was a million characters, and his ability to convey animal movements, and emotive human movements was something that was almost not to be believed. As I say, about a million threads one could connect to, but suffice to say if you ever have the chance to see it, or anything involving him (he is apparently Canadian, so hopefully he performs in Canada from time to time), take the chance. Absolutely.
This morning, I’ve come back to Stadtpark to write, though so far this is the only writing I’ve managed. I really need to work on my play, but it’s incredibly difficult when all I want to do is experience this amazing city. And this morning has been well worth it.
Sitting in Stadtpark, I was interrupted just a little while ago by two young people who (after saying a lot of things in German, then I said “English?” and they said “Even better”) told me they were students, one from France and one from Germany (I think), and they were doing some surveying, and they asked me about God and family and what I believed our purpose in life was. Normally, I’d be a total skeptic about this sort of thing, expecting some sort of other interest to be going on; that perhaps this was all lead up to them wanting to ‘teach me the ways of Jesus’ or ask me to join their fight in the ‘war on family values and religion.’
But the conversation we had—them asking me to articulate my fairly secular ideas about purpose, life after death and what a family is—was actually totally enlightening. I think it’s true that we don’t think about these things enough. Particularly as someone secular who really denies religion any entrance into my life, and as a skeptic who maybe does not trust others or take them at face value all the time, I rarely articulate what gives me purpose, so I think, to be put on the spot like that, was really worthwhile. I also caught myself seeking validation as I answered—looking to them to nod or say they agreed with me—when I know this shouldn’t matter. But to catch myself at that and realize that I had to have answers that worked for me, not that worked for anyone else, was in itself, an enlightening experience, one I need to remember more often, I suspect.
Anyway, perhaps it’s where I come from that has made me such a skeptic. In Canada, as a non-religious person, these kinds of dialogues really do only seem to come up in the course of talking to religious people who either have an angle, or are trying to figure out how I can possibly make meaning without god. It’s a scary topic. Nobody wants to be made to feel stupid for their beliefs, and I think my culture has made me mistrust that dialogue as a tool people use. Of course, I also tend not to be a “philosophical person” by nature, or at least, I don’t want to be forced to articulate these things most of the time, but I like to think that my art can constitute a large part of my philosophy—that, like philosophical texts, my art can, if I’m doing it right, be read to mean different things to different people, while still speaking somewhat to my own beliefs and politics.
And I hope that my art connects with people sometimes in the way that Raoul connected with me—in the way that makes you begin to really think about the meaning of one’s experiences.
I’m going to post a poem that I started a while ago, when I finished Tom’s poetry class and began to think about why artist’s biographies were the center of my work. I’ve just finished it today, and no doubt it will change, but it had been stuck for some time, and I finally feel it captures something I mean to capture. It’s called edge.

I know that balance,
the ten- tative fulcrum
between creation and ;
in a mind divided
by two instinctive interests—
the drives.

I’ve held the teeter,
the faltering line where
want wars want—
victory neither sweet nor
justified. undefined,
the spoils.

I’ve felt that edge,
the del- icate stasis
of vital art and sanguinity;
imposing gloss white lines
like the rules of a page,
the margins.

but maybe that’s the artist’s dwelling,
and living to create must always mean
living to destroy, conjuring destruction
in every word.

I’d rather live here,
than anywhere else.

Ok, enough of that for now. It’s part of a constant dialogue anyway, one that seems to be a theme for me lately, and I certainly can’t articulate everything at once, right?

“One thing about great art: it made you love people more, forgive them their petty transgressions. It worked in the way that religion was supposed to, if you thought about it.”
-From Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, a book I definitely recommend, because it deals with the artistic drive, and how we create meaning in our lives.

"I'm not fully convinced that there's something wrong with this/could another point of view, biased and untrue, tear me away from you?/will you be my valentine if I'm a world away"
-“Valentine” by The Get Up Kids


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