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  • Norm Adams

Art is Amazing!

I thought I’d write a little on some really great artistic experiences I’ve had last week. I’ve been so inspired to see and hear art that changes my view, opens my mind and makes me ask questions, and gape in amazement!

The first was during a short trip to New York City. I love art galleries. It’s not like a concert, if I am not struck by the work, I can move on; if I love it, I can stay as long as I like! My favourite museum in NYC is the Museum of Modern Art, and we visited with the intension of seeing the 20th anniversary retrospective of Marina Abramovic’s work. I had read and heard a bit about Abramovic, and was expecting to be witness to some uncomfortable sights, but I never thought I would be prompted to ask so many questions, and really have my perception of art turned on it’s ear quite so much as I did.

Marina Abramovic is a Yugoslavian/American performance artist who is enjoying a highly publicized retrospective exhibit at MoMA. We’d already read about it in the Globe and Mail, seen the webcam images of her performing her ‘sitting across the table piece’ and I at least, was ready to see some naked people and probably some crazy art!

Well I saw the naked people and saw her at the table (in her 714th hour of performance). And I saw other images and videos of performances and live performances of works by models.

What struck me most, and what I admired most, was her tenacity and her commitment to her concepts. Conceptual art is tough, because we aren’t always given the details, or even a clue of the idea behind the piece! It seems that Abramovic’s work is about pushing limits: focusing on a singular act or image or idea and engaging in it until she passes out, or reaches her predetermined destination. I won’t detail all I saw, but I will say that I loved the woman suspended high up a wall, arms outstretched, spreading her energy to all assembled; and I love the idea of Abramovic committing to sit at that table for all the hours of her exhibit, without a break, without moving, and allowing the public to share in, and contribute to the piece by sitting opposite her; I liked the concept of the naked people standing in the doorway offering the challenge to us, to walk between them, forcing us to come face to face with our feelings about personal space, and taboos about nudity. That feeling sort of triggered in me a personal understanding of the exhibit. I realized that I was expected to react in some way, revulsion, sadness, laughter (only once!) curiosity, and many other possible ways. I found myself stepping out of myself and observing my reactions. “How did that make me feel?”

After visiting this exhibit, my visit to the other works in the gallery changed. I found myself either more disinterested in work that didn’t like or way more fascinated by the work that I loved. My favourite Jackson Pollack, became a three dimensional world, a map, a whole new world that I’d never before seen, all packaged in utter passion, and a brand new technique that both changed the art world of the day, and represented Pollack’s tortured life and desperate need to spread his demons on canvas.


I believe this is what art is all about! And that’s why I got so excited.

Art is about human beings observing the work of other humans and reacting to it. “How did this make me feel?” It’s not important if the reaction is “correct”, all we need is that feeling – sadness, happiness, inspiration, or revulsion. It’s what makes us different from whales or bears, we can share this creative spirit which will make people be more human!

The second great experience was at the Obey Convention in Halifax. This is a three-day festival presented by Divorce Records of Halifax, and it usually features a lot of noise and hardcore music. Each year, D’Arcy Spiddle, who is the brains behind the convention, puts up a concert of more avant guard new work. This year suddenlyLISTEN was honoured to co-present a concert that featured Tim Crofts, Zachary Fairbrother, as well as Pierre Bastien, a French instrument builder and composer/performer.


Bastien built machines to make some of the music, and played pocket trumpet periodically throughout the set. There were a variety of machines: all with little motors or fans to move parts to flap, or strike one another so as to make sound. These sounds were amplified and mixed creating a room filling sound. The result was a sort of innocent music: tinkles and swats, looping and repeating, being mixed in and out of the performance. Bastien would then play almost naive little melodies over the top, sometimes with a mute, sometimes with a clarinet mouthpiece or other implement inserted to make a new sound on his pocket trumpet.

Then, almost the best part: he had little video cameras focused very tightly on his machines. The video was projected on the wall behind him, in a huge format, making the tiny machines appear huge, matching the full sounds coming from the loudspeakers. What I saw created was a vision of an industrial world of gears and belts and metal. As he mixed the sounds, he mixed video, showing us intimate views of the machines making the sound. We had to figure out what we were looking at and how it related to the layers of sound we were hearing.


It was virtuosic, and completely original! And so exciting to witness.

And many witnessed it. D’Arcy S. taps into a different crowd; I saw only a handful of suddenlyLISTEN audience members, even though this was a concert that would have appealed to them. But there were perhaps 100 youngish listeners, mostly students, definitely alternative (REAL alternative) music fans. It was very exciting to learn that there are more people curious about this music and willing to come out to hear something new. I want to meet them all!

So, I said to Lukas Pearse this week that seeing new art was really exciting, and it’s true. I was lucky enough to be able to see two unique artists in a week, and they both reminded me how grand it is to be a generous, fearless, curious, expressive human.


Jun 1, 2010 at 14:19

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