The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Here's Looking Up Your Nose

by Tricia Dower

“They teach almost no art appreciation in school,” our friend Ava said in response to my telling her Colin and I were befuddled during an evening of experimental French films. They were part of the Antimatter Underground Film Festival, held last month right here in Victoria, one of the Culture Capitals of Canada. Over 200 films as brief as two minutes or as long as an hour. The flash fiction of film.

“We spent twenty minutes looking up a man’s nose,” I told Ava, speaking of one of the films. “After a while, I wondered if they were just having fun with us, seeing how long we’d sit there. We would’ve watched a test pattern, I’m sure, if someone said it was art.”

The curator of the French collection had introduced the evening by exclaiming about the exciting things a group of young filmmakers in Paris were doing with celluloid. I looked forward to learning what the printed programme meant by, “A rejection of the disembodiment of vision has established itself as a formal principle in this collection of new work.” After the screening, Colin and I chatted with the curator who told us the nose film was intended to make us uncomfortable. We’re not used to staring at someone’s face for that long. “After a while, didn’t you begin to see landscapes?” he said. I did, that’s true. But, then, if I stare at any object for twenty minutes I begin to see something else.

Together Colin and I viewed forty-nine of the films; he took in a bunch more, having gotten hooked on their quirkiness. A few will stick with me for a while, including Naked, ten minutes of hairless mole rats living in a laboratory, climbing over each other as they go endlessly backwards and forwards in crowded plastic tunnels. I was incredibly depressed by the end of it. “If you’re looking for a metaphor for the pointlessness of life,” I told Colin, “this is it.” Not that he’s looking for such a metaphor. He’s found Camus.

Ava came out for the first time to the dullest evening imaginable. I was sorry we had encouraged her. Colin concedes only that the films were “slow” and reminds me that I did like the one about the county fair. The theme was Rural Route and the films were supposed to explore “traditional and cultural histories – their relationship to disappearing rural landscapes and the encroachment of the modern world – while excavating the rituals and ways of life attached to them.” I got a better sense of that standing on Lumpy Butte.

“I quite liked SAVE,” Ava said — five minutes of camera shots of a boarded-up gas station. Was she trying to make me feel better?

“Really,” I said. “What did you like about it?”

She gave me a wary look as if she thought I was mocking her.

“I’m serious,” I said.

“The camera angles,” she said, “and the whole question of what is there to save.”

Well, okay. Ava’s an artist. She has a clue. I don’t.* Some films were so abstract I wondered how the filmmakers knew when to end them. With little sense of their vision and no background in filmmaking, I couldn’t appreciate what they had accomplished. I wondered if anyone would consider it art if I wrote the same word over and over. Could they grasp the difficulty of the decisions I had to make: which word, what font, how much leading between the lines, how wide the margins, one page or more?

Ava, Colin and I showed up for Cold Hearts on September 29th and my determination to keep trying the festival ‘one more time’ paid off. On the screen as we walked in: a woman in a strapless red gown, sitting on a cloud, waving on continuous loop like a ‘50s Homecoming Queen. In store: eighteen films and music videos from Iceland that the printed programme quite accurately said demonstrated “the whimsical Icelandic imagination.” Best of all I “got” them! The secret life of moss. A digital Jesus. The build-up and fall-out from two boys kissing at a soccer match. Who’s Bardi: a sort of Spinal Tap meets The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico but starring the Bang Gang’s Bardi Johannsson in a send-up of himself. It’s hard to say what was the most novel but Toilet comes close. Four and a half minutes of a blond — done up like a sex-kitten in pink slip and high heels with ankle straps — on her knees next to an open toilet bowl licking whipped cream, maraschino cherries and chocolate sauce off of the seat. Beats looking up someone’s nose.

* Colin says I’m being unfair to that film and myself. I didn’t catch most of the narration at the end (my hearing aids spurned the tinny sound) where the filmmaker said he thought the boarded-up gas station was beautiful but, after he filmed it, a car pulled up and a guy got out and took a piss against one of the walls. So the filmmaker said wasn’t it interesting that what he found beautiful someone else would find utilitarian, so to speak. I don’t think he used the word utilitarian. Colin said that if I had heard all of the narration I might have liked that film, too. I shall have to stop asking him to proofread my blogs.

Photo: Icelandic songwriter, producer and performer Bardi Johannsson


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Iceland! I love everything about it. I love that soccer kiss. It's the video for a Sigur Ros song. My favourite video of all time.

However, France. France needs a nap.

Thanks for sharing your experience. "Are we being put on, here?" is a common anxious thought that I have at modern art events. As if being a rube would be the worst thing in the world. I usually decide, 'no' and try to dive into the intention of the artist, see if I can fathom it.

You're having such fun out west, eh?

Tue Oct 10, 02:17:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

Love the footnote. We take good care of our proofreaders.

Tue Oct 10, 10:10:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

you're a brave soul for trying this out, the Rat movie, god, that does sound totally depressing.

Hi Colin!

Thanks Tricia..xo

Tue Oct 10, 12:41:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like no more early looks at Tricia's blogs. Oh well, it's been fun.

Is that what you mean by taking good care of proofreaders Anne? Fire them if you don't like their comments?


Tue Oct 10, 01:40:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. Hi Patricia.


Tue Oct 10, 02:34:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Wow, that's some evening. You're a patient, open minded woman, Tricia.

Tue Oct 10, 11:08:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Nah, Jen, just insecure.

Thanks Anne, Patricia and Colin (very funny, you still have your job). Andrew, I'm so glad you know that video and know Iceland, too. I'd love to go there. They call each other Nicelanders, I've heard. Makes them sound downright Canadian.

Wed Oct 11, 12:29:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

ah, yes, the antimatter fest. good for you for supporting the local indie events. this post is a riot.

(I disagree with M. Tibbetts that France needs a nap, though ;) heh heh)

i've always wanted to go to iceland, too. though the few i've known haven't been 'nice.' nice-ish, but not nice-y nice-y. i think that's better, anyway ;)

Wed Oct 11, 03:13:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

I never know what to think of Modern anything, let alone art. I know from personal exerience that too much credit is sometimes given to the artist: I've "put on" a few art teachers in my day.

The toilet one would have sent me to the door.

Wed Oct 11, 04:29:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

I wonder if I can rent that nose one?

Funny, in a sad French way - I feel like smoking a Gitane.

Reminds me of the "What is Art?" days of my youth (in art school). We basically came up with the answer, "Well, what isn't?"

Wed Oct 11, 05:50:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks Tamara, Steve, Craig. Yeah, what IS art? A beautifully cooked meal sometimes. That I can relate to.

Wed Oct 11, 08:02:00 pm GMT-4  

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