Georgia O’Keefe at the AGO

Georgia O’Keefe is one of the current special exhibitions on at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). It details the life and work of the artist from her first few years in New York to her final ones in New Mexico. Aside from O’Keefe’s own paintings and drawings, the exhibit is supplemented by photographs of O’Keefe, her husband, the photographer and curator Alfred Steiglitz, and her home and surrounding land in New Mexico. We also see some works by Steiglitz and some by O’Keefe’s friends and contemporaries, like Ansel Adams and Paul Strand.

Walking through, I noticed that the gallery was set up in both chronological — from O’Keefe’s early life and works to her final works — as well as thematic order — showing her different styles and subjects. When you think of O’Keefe, you probably, like me, think of all those stunning close-up flowers, but she also painted skulls found in the desert, other plants and parts of nature, and abstracted drawings of buildings and places. As you move through the gallery, you see how her art style developed, as well as the changes in her life, and how they affected her work.

Before the exhibit, I honestly didn’t know much about O’Keefe herself. The gallery gave intimate, personal details of her life. For instance, I saw several nude photos Steiglitz took of her in various poses and expressions. I learned that while she was somewhat reclusive in later years of her life, she still took time to set the record straight on the “other meaning” behind her paintings. O’Keefe complained that rather than seeing the art as it was, many (mostly male) critics instead were all too eager to insert a sexual meaning to her work where there was none. The exhibit also highlighted various quotes from O’Keefe on art and life, including this one, which was my personal favorite: “It takes courage to be a painter. I always felt I walked on the edge of a knife.”

Also, O’Keefe’s works are just really beautiful. Of course, I was entranced by her famous flowers, but I was surprised by how many other subjects she painted, and wondered why, despite having just as much artistic merit, they are so often ignored. Either way, I was moved seeing her depictions of pueblos and stone cliffs around her home in New Mexico, and her gridlocked and grey paintings of the streets of Manhattan in the 1930s. This beautiful look at Georgia O’Keefe’s art and life is on now at AGO until July 30th.

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Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas at TIFF

On June 9th, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott of the New York Times published ‘The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century,‘ a list of films that are “destined to be the classics of the future.” Because I read almost every review the two write, I went through the list and noted down films I haven’t seen that I’d like to see now that they’re meant for even more greatness. A few hours later, the marketing team at TIFF reached out with news of a new Summer-long complete retrospective — the first in 15 years — of the French master, Olivier Assayas whose 2008 film, Summer Hours, graced number #9 on NYT’s list and on top of my to-watch list. What are the chances!

Not all coincidences, it is said, are interesting. Considering that Assayas has long been synonymous with post-1968 generation of French cinema that deal with adolescence, political dissent, terrorism, and globalization, and that Summer Hours won numerous critics’ award around the world, perhaps this particular coincidence falls into the not very interesting category. Yet, it is, nevertheless, a fortuitous one, as I now have the chance to spread the news on TIFF’s Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas.

Scene from ‘Summer Hours’

Olivier Assays was a film-critic for France’s Cahiers du cinémathe prominent film magazine founded by André Bazin, before he became a director. Though he worked both as a director and screenwriter for numerous short and feature-length films alongside film giants like André Téchiné starting in 1978, Cold Waterreleased in 1994, is considered to be his breakthrough film as it was screened at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Assayas has since established himself as a distinguished voice among contemporary filmmakers.

Assayas’s oeuvre is marked by the variety of genres. His 1996 satire Irma Vep about an actress (Maggie Cheung) and a failing director who wants to recreate Louis Feuillade’s 1915 classic Les Vampires is a strange and fascinating homage to the filmmaker and Hong Kong cinema. Sentimental Destinies (2000) is a costume drama set in the earl 20th centuries, concerning a Protestant minister. And with Demonlover (2002) and Boarding Gate (2007), Assayays forayed into noir and thriller. More recently, with Carlos (2010), Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), and Personal Shopper (2016), which won the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Assayas has become a globetrotter. With each genre, however, it is easy to see Assayas’s search for his vision. Encompassing his oeuvre is his rumination on films, film history, and issues of identity in the face of larger disorienting cultural, economic, and political forces.

Kristen Stewart as Maureen Cartwright in ‘Persona Shopper’

Summer Hours is interesting in that, for many who’ve come to know Assayas through Carlos and Personal Shopper, it offers a quieter and lyrical side of his oeuvre. The film begins with the 75th birthday of Helene (Édith Scob). Her three children, Frederic (Charles Berling), Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), and Jeremie (Jérémie Renier) gather in Helene’s home outside Paris to celebrate. Soon, Helene dies and leaves the house and her all-important art-nouveau furniture along with her inheritance from her famous artist uncle to her children. What ensues is a series of scenes and dealings with practical matters in which what holds a family together becomes increasingly vague; what was once thought to be a common ground — the house, both literally and figuratively — becomes a point of tension as money, emotions, and personal histories come into play. The center, however contentious and insufficient it had been prior to Helene’s death, does not hold once she is gone. Jeremie moves permanently to Shanghai and Adrienne to New York. Frederic, the only one left in France, struggles to realign himself as the new, albeit reluctant, center of his family of four.

Just next to the adult world of lawyers and contracts, Helene’s grandchildren lead, mostly unseen, entirely different lives. Shown Corot’s works nonchalantly hanging in his grandmother’s house, Frederic’s eldest son responds, “Well, it’s another era.” When Frederic is in the middle of closing a deal with regards to Helene’s furniture, his daughter, Sylvie, is caught shoplifting. That the film ends not in the adult world but with the children speaks to Assayas’s brilliance and vision. The movie that began with Helene and the art or artifacts of her life turns to one concerned with the disorder inherent in a family and becomes one about generations and youth, continuity and the lack thereof in families, cultures, and societies.

As with all great themes in film, family and adolescence and identity are materials that are visited without every really exhausting them. And Assayas’s continually revisits them from unexpected avenues.

Édith Scob as Hélène Berthier in ‘Summer Hours’

As part of TIFF’s ‘Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas,’ Assayas will make four in-person appearances to introduce four of his films: Cold Water, Clean, Le Diable Probablement, and Le Pélican. It is also a chance to see 35mm prints of many of his films, including Summer Hours, Clouds of Sils Maria, and Something in the Air. Finally, it is also a chance to see HHH — Portrait de Hou Hsiao-hsienAssayas’s documentary of the great Taiwanese director (A Time to Live and a Time to Die by Hou Hsiao-hsien is also a part of the retrospective). The retrospective begins on June 22nd and runs through August 20th.

Olivier Assayas with Hou Hsiao-hsien

You can find more information on the retrospective and its schedule here. And continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Harjit Bhandal and Jaz Saini of YouTwoTV

International YouTube sensations Harjit Bhandal and Jaz Saini of the hit YouTwoTV channel recently won the 2017 iHeartRadio MMVAs “FAN FAVE MUCH CREATOR” award. Born February 8th, 2016, their channel has garnered over 120 million views and 550,000 subscribers from all around the world. Using a camera and their own creativity, they’ve managed to build consistent viewership in India, Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. They also finish each others’ sentences. We sat down with them to discuss their success on the Youtube scene.

Helen Jacob: How did you get into YouTube?

Harjit: We both had channels before this. She made skits and so did I, here and there.

Jaz: He made short films but more like music videos.

H: I felt like I had the equipment now so might as well use it and take advantage. And I also felt like I wanted to be a Youtuber when all these Youtubers came out. You know, I think I’m kind of funny sometimes.

HJ: Take me through the process of making a video.

J:  First it’s scripting.

H: I sit in my room hours upon hours just writing. Usually we write like 10 scripts and end up throwing them all away. Then, right before we film we come up with a new idea and we pull from that instead. It happens every time.

J: Yeah, scripting takes us the longest. Then it takes us 8 hours to film and 3 hours to edit.

H: Then when we put it together, we split the work in half. So she comes in at the beginning and puts all the clips together and in order. Then I come in and colour correct and put in the sounds and music and all that stuff.

HJ: Whats your favourite part?

J: I think the acting part.

H: Yeah, the acting.

J: Because we get to do whatever we want and make the characters whoever we want that day. They can be really stupid or really silly. In the last video, I played the mom and he played the dad and that was really out of our comfort zone.

HJ: Were you afraid of putting yourself out there?

J: I think I was at first.

H: I wasn’t at all.

J: At the end of our vlogs we say stay true to you and stop caring. I think that’s drilled into my brain now and I just stopped caring what other people thought.

HJ: How do you explain YouTube to your parents (as a career)?

H: You don’t haha. They’re starting to understand now though, now that more opportunities are coming. At the end of the day your parents want you to be successful and if you tell them, I’m going to do this thing on the internet and make Youtube videos, they’re not going to understand because they don’t know what that is. I feel like at this point though, they’re starting to see us becoming successful on that platform. So now they understand. Whereas before they were saying, “go back to school.”

J: Yeah before, his mom would sometimes tell him to get a full time job and we’re like.. this is our full time job. We’re actually making more than what we would make at a “full time job”.

HJ: Did you ever think you were going to get here?

J: Oh man no way, if you told us last year we were going to be nominated for an MMVA, I would have no idea

HJ: You only started last year, too.

J: Yeah we started last year. It’s been a year and a couple months.

HJ: How did you guys grow your channel?

H: I think the main thing was just putting ourselves out there; being consistent and not skipping days. Right from the get go, we said we were going to release a video every week, and we did that. We haven’t skipped a single week since. I feel like that was the main thing and then obviously promoting it, Tweeting it, Instagramming it, all that stuff is important too.

J: I feel like a lot of it was a fluke too.

H: –No we worked hard!

J: Yeah we worked really hard but in the sense that I guess people saw our videos and started sharing it. I think our content is shareable. I think that helps a lot- having shareable content.

HJ: Who was your main support system?

H: I feel like the biggest support system was us.

J: Yeah, each other. At one point, my cousins were telling me to get a full time job, saying that this was not a dream for us. Our friends were supportive but at the end of the day, we supported each other. We had each other to say we can do this or we got this.

HJ: What’s the best and worst part of working together?

J: I think the best part is that we’re both workaholics- we’re both working  24/7. So if I was doing this by myself, it would really hard to balance a boyfriend and a career. I think that’s the best part, we  get to spend every day together even when we’re working.

H: Yeah we know other people on Youtube that do music and stuff like that and they can’t find the time for their significant other. But we’re together all the time. Although, me and Jaz- there’s two versions of us. There’s Harjit and Jaz: YouTwoTV, and there’s Harjit and Jaz: boyfriend and girlfriend. So it’s two different things, but we’ll try to make time for both.

HJ: What’s the Canadian youtube community like?

H: Not that big

J: Yeah there’s  handful of Youtubers in Canada…but I think our community’s the best community.

H: Always. Canada, always. But I feel like it’s getting bigger with upcoming Youtubers.

HJ: Do you think being in Canada was an obstacle, seeing as the big YouTube scene is in Los Angeles?

J: Not really. I mean it does limit our opportunities. I find that when we go to LA, we have a lot more opportunities.

H:…But to come up, I feel like it hasn’t stopped us in any way. Although, to grow I think it’s holding us back. The goal is LA. Hopefully we’re moving there next year.

HJ: What other Youtubers inspire you?

J: A bunch of people.

H: Hotdamnirock

J: –who doesn’t do youtube anymore

H: He stopped making videos, he used to make them back in the day. I felt like his content was really out of the box, but really relatable at the same time and I feel like we’re inspired by that.

J: Then Casey Neistat, and  Liza Koshy.

HJ: Have you collaborated with other Youtubers?

J: Yeah we’ve collaborated with a couple- Matt sentoro who is also Canadian, micky singh, Dannie riel, the Brampton boys, a bunch of people. That’s the best part as creators, its not a competition. Everyone’s super friendly with each other.

HJ: How do you deal with hate?

J: Harjit’s so good at it, I’m still learning. I get so frustrated when I get comments and I always want to reply! But Harjit’s like, ‘No.’ So now whenever we see a hate comment, what we do is we’ll reply to 10 nice comments.

HJ: What is your goal for the future?

H: We want to grow in other areas. We want to have our own tv show that we script and act in, and we want to go on a worldwide tour. But I think we’ll always stay creating content on Youtube as well. Because that’s where our fans are, that’s where our platform is.

J: Everything would be based off Youtube. So our tour would consist of comedy skits on stage and we envision our tv show to be like a sitcom tv show based on the content and characters on YouTwoTV.

HJ: Is there anything else you want to say to everyone reading this?

H: Watch our videos, like and subscribe. Be good and kind to people.

J: Stay true to you. That’s what we tell everyone if they’re having a bad day or not doing well. I just tell them to stay true to you, and stop caring about what other people think.

Check out their Facebook, and Harjit Bhandal,  Jaz Saini‘s Instagram and continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Morro & Jasp on Clowning, Feminism, and Performance

Toronto is no stranger to many great forms of theatre, spanning from the bright lights of Mirvish to the quaint and intimate smaller venues decorating our city. We can easily find a home away from home within these performance spaces. Currently, at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction graces the stage with an ultimate power-duo, and one of the only female-centered clown duos within the GTA.

Morro & Jasp, otherwise known as Heather Marie Annis (Morro), and Amy Lee (Jasp) have geared up for an entirely new production based off their years of experience and studying circus shows across the U.S. Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction is said to ask questions regarding “the meaning of faith, and will have a series of male chorus members onstage with them (the first time they have ever shared a stage with anyone) challenging them, and making them ask tough questions about the society they live in.”

Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, together with director Byron Laviolette, have created 10 full-length shows over 12 years, which led them to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015. It is no question that Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction is destined for greatness, creating an immersive theatre experience for all to enjoy.

Kimberley Drapack: When did you begin clowning?

Morro & Jasp: We met in university and started clown training in 2004. Byron Laviolette, our director, had studied clown in high school, approached us to work on a clown show after he saw us do a physical theatre piece together in the student festival.

K: What prep work did you have to partake in for the show?

M&J: We do our hair and makeup together do a physical, voice and clown warm-up. Then put on our noses.  We go through our clown masks and colours (a tradition of Pochinko-style clowning). Then, right before we go on stage, Morro tells Jasp (in the style of Darth Vader) that she is her father. Then we play a game. Then we repeat our mantra about how we are going to have the most fun together and then we dance.

K: What does this form of theatre offer audiences opposed to more traditional forms of theatre?

M&J: The clown nose reminds audiences that we are playing together, so people are allowed to invest in the game of theatre with us. We don’t ask them to pretend there is a fourth wall, which we feel allows them to let their guard down a little more and laugh at themselves. Also, since clowns are not regular humans, they can comment on human behaviour in a way that makes it seem new and things we take for granted as “regular” behaviour doesn’t seem so regular when it is done by a clown.

K: What is a feminist clown and what does it mean to you?

M&J: We can only define that for ourselves, not for all feminist clowns. But for us, because we are women and we make work that is true to ourselves and reflects our experience in the world, we are feminist clowns. We don’t constantly think about feminism when we are creating work, we think about the theme we are exploring and try to put that on stage in the most honest way. That, to most people, reads as feminism, because it is our truth.

K: How have Morro & Jasp evolved since your earlier shows?

M&J: We started making Morro and Jasp shows for kids and the clowns were younger in those shows, to reflect the audience we were playing to. Since then, Morro and Jasp age, mature, and change with every show and mirror our own journeys. They are constantly evolving based on where we are at in our lives, and therefore where they are at in their lives. Right now, they are very confused about the state of the world.

K: Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction is said to be a response to the “state of the world.” What does this mean to you?

M&J: To us, the world feels more confusing than ever right now and it is hard to know where to look for guidance and answers. This show is an exploration of how we develop our own stories of what life is or should be, and how that affects us and the people around us. We were curious about how faith and belief plays a role in the world today and how that guides us or gets in our way.

K: What was it like sharing the stage with additional cast members? Why were they added to this show?

M&J: Sharing the stage with Anand, Elliott, and Sefton has been exciting, challenging, rewarding, and has made us look at what we do and how we do it in entirely new ways. They have been bending over backwards, sideways and upside down to work fast, on the fly, then change everything, to accommodate our style of working. It has definitely reconfirmed that we have an unconventional way of working, and we are so grateful to have found playmates who can role with our punches.

We added additional characters because this play is about Morro and Jasp coming up against a world and feelings that they can’t figure out how to navigate. Their relationship is strained when the play begins and we wanted to challenge Morro and Jasp to have to find a way back to each other with a whole new set of elements coming between them. Also, because our play is about systems of belief, we felt it was necessary to have other characters start to follow the clowns and buy into their beliefs.

K: What does Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction hope to show its audiences? What themes can we find within the show?

M&J: We certainly don’t have answers to the questions we are posing in this show. By creating it, we have just discovered more and more questions. But those questions are about belief through the stories we are told or the stories we tell ourselves. When do these stories go too far? When do they get entwined with the human desire for power and status? When do they start to divide us? When do these stories prevent us from being authentic, open and able to connect with one another? When do they keep us from dancing like no one’s watching?

K: What is the most essential element to clowning?

M&J: Play.

K: What is next for you? Can we expect to see Morro & Jasp in the future?

M&J: You can certainly expect to see lots more of Morro and Jasp in the future! Our video game, Morro and Jasp: Unscripted, will be out later this week, so you can buy that on the App store and you can make us put on plays for you all the time! In the fall, we will be playing Of Mice and Morro and Jasp to high schools with Manitoba Theatre for Young which is going to be a magnificent adventure. We also have some more shows in the works that we can’t talk about yet.

K: Anything else you would like to add?

M&J: We could go on forever, but we have to go back to rehearsal, so we will just say – come see the show! If you’ve never seen a clown show, or you don’t think you like clowns, you should still come. We promise to surprise you.

Don’t miss Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction, which runs through June 24 at Streetcar Crowsnest and continue following our arts and culture coverage on  FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Novel Ideas: David Sedaris’s Theft by Finding

In the beginning of his newest book Theft by Finding (Diaries 1977-2002), David Sedaris suggests that the reader not read the book as a whole from start to finish, but instead dip in and out of it. I elected to ignore his advice, and was surprised by how quickly I went through it. Maybe it’s because each entry has been whittled down to a few paragraphs or less, or, as is more likely, it’s simply Sedaris’s brilliant writing style. You would think that reading Sedaris recount some of the more minute details of his life would be boring, and yet there’s something about his style that has the power to make even his grocery lists interesting and his gripes about phone bills amusing.

In general, I’m not so sure publishing people’s diaries is such a great idea. I don’t think most people are all that interested in listening to someone recount all of their innermost emotions and thoughts, especially if they are ones that have been carefully selected to portray the author in the most flattering way possible.

But this is precisely what Sedaris stays away from. As he said in a recent interview with PBS NewsHour, “usually it’s the worst thing you can admit about yourself that most people can relate to…if you write about, say, your own jealousy, people aren’t going to think ‘Oh, he’s a horrible person because he’s jealous.’ They’ll think, ‘That’s me.’” 

Not that David Sedaris comes off as being particularly jealous, but it doesn’t feel like he’s trying to mold himself into a better version of himself. And though this book is apparently only a small selection of the diaries he’s kept since 1977, it doesn’t necessarily feel like anything is missing. For instance, in the early eighties, while working in construction, many of Sedaris’s coworkers express racist attitudes and use slurs. Sedaris writes that he doesn’t approve of this behavior, but he also does not pretend that he stood up to them or told them off. He creates a thoroughly honest portrayal of himself and the people around him, perhaps because when he was actually writing it he wasn’t doing so for a particular audience. Although, Sedaris does note in his introduction, “Every so often, I’ll record something that might entertain or enlighten someone, and those are the bits I set aside.” Also in the introduction he acknowledges that editing changes how he comes across to the reader. “And entirely different book from the same source material could make me appear nothing but evil, selfish, generous, or even, dare I say, sensitive.”

Theft by Finding author David Sedaris

It also helps that he’s just a very talented writer. While I was previously a fan of his essay-writing, I wasn’t certain that those skills would translate to his diary-writing. Luckily, they do. While Sedaris’s essays always tend to have some kind of central point or to tell a specific story, in his diaries he doesn’t feel the need to bring us to that specific point. Instead, he’s just talking about the ins and outs of his life, as well as relating anecdotes from and about his friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers. By providing the reader with a small dose of daily interactions and observations, Sedaris manages to give us many different types of stories in a short amount of space.

Sedaris talks about a wide variety of topics, from a brief note in 1981 about his first time learning about AIDS (at the time, referring to it as a “new cancer”), to a lengthy passage after 9/11. He mentions his own feelings and thoughts from time to time, but these seem mostly in passing and less important than the world outside. Sedaris’s outward focus is the reader’s gain, as we see the world through his eyes over 25 years with humor, charm, and an ever-sharpening wit. Don’t let the size of Theft by Finding intimidate you. It’s a fantastically, surprisingly fun read.

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