Nuit Blanche curators prepare for one-night stand of engaging art


Tuesday, July 3, 2012






Nuit Blanche curators Megan Smith, left, and Lainie Towell got funky on Friday, June 29 at La Petite Mort Gallery when announcing the list of artists and organizations who are in bed with them for the September 22 one-night stand of art projects.





Ottawa is a city of festivals—but most of them are shut down by 11 p.m. Its nocturnal nature is just one of the things that makes the upcoming inaugural Nuit Blanche Ottawa (NBO12) palpably different.


Slated for the night of Saturday, September 22, NBO12 promises to put a local stamp on the Nuit Blanche phenomenon that began in Paris in 2002 and has since become a mainstay in cities around the world.


Initiated by the BRAVO-Est arts organization through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, NBO12 will be one night of projects and installations (approximately 100 in total) that will bring alive a range of venues concentrated in the Byward Market and Hintonburg/Wellington West.


For a behind-the-scenes look at NBO12, Guerilla editor Tony Martins chatted via Facebook with the curatorial team of Megan Smith and Lainie Towell.





Tony: There has been some pretty significant build up to an Ottawa Nuit Blanche ... so as the two gals on the front lines, what it is like now that it is finally happening?


Lainie: exciting


Megan: bombastic


Lainie: inspiring


Megan: about time!!!


Lainie: Ottawa is getting to see who we are...


Megan: we're quite playful by nature and though NBO12 is an incredible amount of work we're having a great time being creative with the community



Tony: How do you two complement one another as a team?


Lainie: We are an awesome team ... we have obvious differences and backgrounds, however like yin/yang we complete each other ... like the positive and negative on a battery.


Megan: As a team, we bounce ideas off each other and we're not afraid of taking risks because as a pair we are constantly supporting each other.



Tony: This is a brand new event so I guess you are taking a certain amount of risk with every decision?


Lainie: calculated risk, because these are leadership roles it is important to balance what NBO is about (creativity/risk/adventure) yet at the same time we need to weave all the parts of this event together



Tony: So what is the overall experience you are hoping to offer to Nuit Blanche audiences?


Megan: We want them to view the city in a way that they have not experienced it before.



Tony: I understand that spaces—both inside and outside—will be transformed. Can you share some examples?


Lainie: Angelo's Pizza on St Patrick will be pizzeria + art studio ... enjoy a slice of all dressed undressed.


Megan: The Rectory Artist studios will be bursting at their seems with installations made for NBO


Lainie: Brick walls become film screens in the city


Megan: Also, Candy Chang's work will be an interactive piece based outside Saw gallery that will transform that space.


Lainie: Projects that could normally reside in a gallery are now in different kinds of venues ... projects that use mediums outside of the realm of what one considers “art" will be included.



Tony: Are there any particular projects that you are especially excited about?


Lainie: I’m looking forward to the Yarnbombing a Bus project. The AwesomeOttawa grant for the month of May (see went to Lisa (Justy) Dennis for her proposed project Bus Yarnbombing! Justy is an artist who works alongside her mother to crochet a vast array of amigurami and other yarn projects. After they starting work together they opened an Etsy store and have been in many arts and craft shows in Ottawa over the past three years. Lisa’s idea is to yarnbomb a bus in the parking lot of the SuzyQ donut shop in Hintonburg. She hopes this project will warm up the hearts of bus drivers all over the city and show that Ottawa is a “cozy” place to live.


Megan: Britta Evans-Fenton and Darcy Whyte are making a piece at Artengine called “Bright Smiles” that is really exciting. It is an interactive installation that will react to the number of people smiling in the space at any one time.



Tony: Great stuff! Final question. What's the most important thing that people need to know about Nuit Blanche Ottawa 2012?


Lainie: It will be the most beautiful one-night stand of your life so don't miss it, September 22.


Megan: Love, Lainie and Megan, xox




Gingras and company dance a radio-wave romance at NAC

Monday, May 7, 2012

Story by Tony Martins   /   Photos by Chris Randle

Love pulses like a radio wave. The feeling fades in and out, crackles with electricity, and dissolves into static without the precise alignment between transmitter and receiver.


Celebrated Canadian choreographer Dana Gingras and her Animals of Distinction cross-media company explore this metaphor in Heart as Arena opening Thursday, May 10 at the National Arts Centre.


An innovative installation of some 60 radios playing an eclectic mix of music serves as a sonic architecture in the dance, a key aspect led by Anna Friz, an acclaimed Canadian sound and radio artist now based in Chicago.


Friz champions radio for what she describes as “
accessibility, ubiquity, and its still-emerging potential as an aesthetic and analogic device.”


“I’m one of many radio artists who have long sought to transform radio from an apparatus of information diffusion to an apparatus of communication,” Friz told Guerilla.


“My work additionally proposes radio as an apparatus for sonification of the electromagnetic spectrum, and for experiencing radio as instrument, as landscape, and as space of social self-consciousness and reverie.”


The reverie in this case is love, and Friz seems to have fully embraced the radio-romance metaphor.

“It's not only about sending and receiving,” notes Friz, “but about feedback loops, electro-magnetism, and the paradox of feeling closeness and distance simultaneously, which are at play in all our relationships.” 

As a group of five dancers including choreographer Gingras gyrate and sway in the throes of ardor, the Heart as Arena sound environment becomes an eerie scenography, a metaphorical and actual late-night tuning across the AM radio dial in search of love.


“The songs used were chosen for their ability to convey and express states of emotional intensity, with lyrics about desire, love, loss, and longing,” Friz explained. “We worked with a larger pool of potential songs in the early part of the creation period, drawn mainly from Dana's record collection, but certain songs just fit better than others.”


The Bellini opera Norma serves as the musical core in the show. This and other recordings were chosen in part because of their relevance to radio.


“For instance, we feature an aria from Norma, sung by Maria Callas, which was recorded for radio broadcast,” Friz notes, “and two Cuco Sanchez songs, which would have been heard regularly on AM radio in Mexico.”

Love and radio, Friz observes, are also all about change.


“The sphere of electro-magnetic activity is defined entirely by changing relationships between things, described by attraction, repulsion, interference, fields of influence, potential energy, etc. … Radio and people aren't so different within this sphere—emotional territory is similarly unstable, prone to change. Is a stable signal possible, or even always desirable?” 

For Friz, Heart as Arena is a great opportunity to take the work she’s been doing with large-scale radio installations and transform it for a theatrical setting.


“Working with Dana has led me to think much more deeply about electro-magnetism as it manifests in the physical and emotional relationships between moving bodies,” said Friz.

Heart as Arena is a co-production of the CanDance Network Creation Fund: The Cultch, Brian Webb Dance Company, the National Arts Centre, L’Agora de la danse, and supported by
 the Dance Section of the Canada Council for the Arts. Heart as Arena is also a co-production of Festival TransAmériques.

Heart as Arena is 65 minutes in duration with no intermission and presented in the NAC Studio. Tickets are $29.06.

Will an all-Aboriginal King Lear enlighten or confuse?

Monday, April 30, 2012



By Kirk Finken / Photo by Coco-Simone Finken


A daring adaptation of
King Lear will open May 11 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It is the first-ever production of Shakespeare to be set in early colonial Canada, specifically in Algonquin territory in the 1700s. Although they will speak in Elizabethan thees and thous, the characters will be depicted as Algonquin in this first-ever Shakespearean play with an all-Aboriginal cast. With a ground-breaking take of one of the English language’s greatest tragedies, the players and the NAC’s artistic director Peter Hinton stand to either fan the flames of a damaging fire or kindle a transformative one.


Suzanne Keeptwo, the production’s Aboriginal Advisor and Community Liaison, is wary of the very
King Lear to which she has contributed. An Ottawa-based writer, educator, and consultant of Aboriginal cultural awareness, Keeptwo has worked with the NAC on several past productions. Though she has chosen to remain involved with King Lear, in the weeks before the opening she spoke with Kirk Finken on the play’s themes, the cultural challenges, and her concerns.


Kirk Finken: There are many thematic layers to King Lear. However, there is one central theme: division of land and struggle for authority over that land. What was your reaction to that theme when you first read the play in preparation for this production?


Suzanne Keeptwo: Before I read it, my first reaction was not to the themes. My first reaction was to Shakespearean theatre. It has been foreign to me since I first read it in high school. I could not relate to it at all. The language is flowery, laden with words, full of double entendre and difficult for me to readily understand. European language seems to make a lot of noise whereas, many indigenous languages, although poetic, conserve words and use language carefully to directly convey specific meaning.


As far as my first reaction to the theme of land division, the play immediately evoked thoughts about treaty negotiations.


In particular, I thought about the treaties signed between the Haudenosaunee (a.k.a. Iroquois) and the British. I thought about how First Nation (Metis and Inuit) and British concepts to land were and are so different. Land is not something to which you can lay claim, give away, destroy, pollute, deforest, buy, sell, or build a fence around. It is something we are all dependent on and thus need to cherish and keep in a healthy state to nourish all, including the generations to come.


KF: What are the other thematic layers in the play that are significant for you as a Metis woman?


SK: To me, the character of Cordelia is very symbolic. She represents one who is very traditional.She counters the stereotypical Eurocentric way of communication because she speaks plain truths with no hidden agenda or ulterior motive. She speaks honestly. And for that she is punished. She is denied her share of the land that her father will bequeath.


Other themes? Tradition versus assimilation of foreign values. I think about two cultural groups colliding and how the ancestors back then in the 1700s, especially the leaders, faced great uncertainty. I don’t envy those leaders who, three hundred years ago, were confronted with such foreign concepts and impossible choices.


KF: Others involved have talked about how important this production is for Aboriginal artists. Actor Lorne Cardinal said it is a milestone, proof that there are now enough qualified Aboriginal actors in Canada to do Shakespeare. That may be true for the artists, but I have a feeling that audiences will have a completely other read and there will be a completely different significance to this work. King Lear is one of the greatest tragedies of Western theatre. And the experience of watching it is a profoundly visceral one. What do you think will be the reaction of Aboriginal audiences?


SK: I am concerned about that reaction. I feel somewhat vulnerable as one of the co-creators of this work. There is a possibility—my greatest fear—that it will perpetuate the negative stereotypes that the colonizers have propagated for the last century, since contact, that Aboriginal people are “savages, heathens.” I fear that Aboriginal audiences will ask, “Why?” For what purpose did they—the institution of white man’s theatre—decide to depict this story as one that belongs to the Algonquin? Aboriginal audiences may also ask themselves what messages are the non-indigenous audience members taking away?


KF: How do you think non-Aboriginal audiences will react?


SK: I worry they will simply think that the First Nations were “just as dysfunctional” before Europeans came into contact with them, that the current political and societal plight plaguing many indigenous communities is not due to the “Disruption,” systemic racism, oppression, and imposed value systems. And if that is a potential reading of the production, it would not be a good one.


I hope the audience will react by saying, “Oh, my goodness, we, the colonizers, really disrupted their world, their societies, their families, their inner beings. I never knew how much turmoil our imposed worldview—deceit and conquest—rocked their world, to this very day.” I am not sure that will be the reaction.


KF: Can the reactions of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal audiences be unified?


SK: I am not certain. There is an expectation that both audiences will say, “Wow! These Native actors perform Shakespeare very well.” The universal reaction to Shakespeare, and his real intent, is to have insight provided to the human condition. But, he wrote to comment upon his own British societal observances. Humans are humans, but much of the context does not transfer to traditional indigenous societal norms.


KF: It is unavoidable—this play's themes will be seen as symbolic of this country's history. The response to the symbolism, from all audience members, could be explosive. The sadness, anger and guilt. And, certainly, tragic stories are a vehicle for catharsis and understanding. Is this going to be cathartic for audiences? Is there a danger of it evoking something less or something more?


SK: It is more complex and confusing than just a question of catharsis or not.


There are a couple of dangers. The big one is the danger of the publicity that was originally announced last spring. It promotes the play as being set in 1608 in Algonquin territory just one year prior to Champlain making contact with the Algonquin. That was the original intention of the director. But it has since evolved. It is now being set approximately 150 years following a generation of Christian and European influence.


The problem is that the first publicity sets up the play for some very serious cultural and historical inaccuracies. It sets up the media to misread the production as it is now. It sets up audiences to misread it. And for those Algonquin people who know their history—and most

know it very well—this production will be inaccurate. It will be confusing. The Algonquin never signed a treaty with the British, the French, or the government of Canada. They never divided lands; they occupied traditional territories.


And it is not just the historical setting but the cultural interpretation found in the set and costume design. For example, there will be palisade fencing to depict the Algonquin village, but the Algonquin of this territory never used fencing to envelop their communities. The land and the water served as natural protective barriers. Hair styles are another important symbol. How a person’s hair is worn and styled, cut, or braided has deep significance and provides cultural distinctions between nations in traditional First Nation societies. These are details that need to be understood.


For this, I am somewhat nervous about this production. My name is on it as the Aboriginal Advisor and Community Liaison but, ultimately, decisions are made for various theatrical and artistic reasons that are above my control and may not, in the end, reflect cultural accuracy or authenticity. The director has a difficult job in honouring both Shakespeare’s text and the Algonquin People.


KF: Let's explore the Anishinaabe prophecies of the Seven Fires. According to the play’s production notes, that the name of the Four Nations [Theatre] Exchange—the group of local non-professionals cast to play Lear’s people—is in reference to the prophecies. Can you shed some light on the prophecies and what they mean to the Anishinaabeg?

SK: It is not my place to comment on behalf of the Anishinaabeg. There are Faith Keepers, Medewiwin Elders and Oral Historians who could be called upon for that. I can only process my own interpretations. From what I know, the Fourth Fire foretold of the coming of the pale-faces, with either two opposing attitudes, one of brotherhood and the other in conflict. The Four Nations Exchange agreement is between local Aboriginal community members and the National Arts Centre and is based on the ancient values of trade, honor, and friendship, reflective of the more positive attitude of the Fourth Fire’s prophecy.

The fifth and sixth prophecies speak of a time of trickery, sickness, betrayal, lateral violence, rejection of traditions and spirituality, breakdown of family members’ roles and responsibilities, the impact of European goods and value systems, confusion and civil conflict.

The Seventh Fire speaks of a New People, the renewed (and wary) role of the Elder, the rebirth of the Anishinaabeg which, as I see it, is largely based on the Light-Skinned or Euro Canadian’s new, more equitable attitude towards the indigenous peoples. If it is a true and honourable attitude of reconciliation, the Eighth Fire will launch a restored relationship based on the treaties and relations of old, assuming the principles of the Seven Grandfathers’ Seven Teachings. It will be like coming full circle.

KF: How can such a production as this one of King Lear help build the relationships between cultures, to light the Seventh Fire and, hopefully, the eighth?


SK: We are in the time of the Seventh Fire. It is lit. We have yet to see if the Eighth will be lit. It will take great leadership, integrity, and age-old values of truth, honour, and respect from both nations—Canada and Indigenous—to initiate that final fire.

With King Lear we are experimenting with that model on a relatively small scale within the construct of theatre. We shall see if the colliding cultures reflected within this “bold and exciting” theatre initiative will be transformative—for those involved on both sides of the colonial fence.

NYC: Wilder and kinder than you think

Monday, March 19, 2012

NYC art fairs reviewed by Ottawa’s Jonathan Browns

Armory: Luis Gispert (Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago) photo by Jonathan Browns


By Jonathan Browns


Repeating mirrors reflecting to infinity, giant car headlights, video paintings, a wall of salt, art stars, modern masters, big time collectors, fashionistas and performance artists—all were on display at the various art fairs in New York City during Armory Arts Week, March 7 through March 11.

The Armory Modern and Contemporary, showcased in two of the large Chelsea Piers, is the grand dame of the art fairs. It is the largest art fair in New York, where blue chip galleries are de rigueur and million-dollar paintings are not uncommon. The Armory art fair is an homage to the legendary exhibition in 1913 that showcased for the first time European artists beside American artists.


This year’s special focus was on Scandinavia, bringing together numerous Nordic alternative spaces that were an obvious juxtaposition to the major commercial galleries elsewhere in the fair. The general consensus was that the Armory Contemporary was the most impressive of all the fairs.


Fewer galleries were participating this year and the fair included key mid-career artists to offer a bit more of a “boutique” style. The champagne bar with the overhead pink neon signage “Scandinavian Pain” at the beginning of the Pier was indeed impressive.
The 42 foot neon artwork by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson was purchased by Swedish Moderna Museet during the vernissage. The Armory Modern section did however highlight the who’s who of the art world: European and American pieces by such greats as Picasso, DeChirico, Morandi, Warhol, Christo, Cindy Sherman, and Hirst were everywhere.


, unceremoniously located in a big tent, has the advantage of being situated a few short blocks away. The space itself tended to distract from the overall presentation. The whimsical video of birds in old cages by Troy Abbott was memorable for its use of old and new technology. Video incorporated into paintings and objects was a recurring theme. Booths at Volta in mid-town Manhattan focused on a singular artist, and were a refreshing change from the jumble of artists showcased in other locations. These are the same organizers of Art Basel and the Toronto Art Fair and they know how to organize a professional display.


, with its commissioned Dan Flavin fluorescent lighting separating floors, had an open-concept feel, utilizing the old Dia Center for the Arts warehouse space in Chelsea. Pae White’s multi-faceted coloured hanging mirrors made for an attractive eye-candy entrance into this space.

These various art fairs offer a glimpse into art production across the globe. Canada was well represented by numerous galleries, Art Mur, Battat Contemporary, Parisien Laundry and Pierre-François Oullette from Montreal, Christopher Cutts, and Catherine Mulherin from Toronto. Patrick Mikhail from Ottawa and numerous Quebec galleries showcased a number of artists in celebration of Armory week. This year also included, for the first time, a booth by the Canadian Association of Canadian galleries and featured a talk with Douglas Coupland and curator Denise Markonish of Mass Mocca in celebration of the upcoming, Oh Canada, an exhibition featuring 60 Canadian artists that opens March 27 at Mass Mocca.

Overload and museum fatigue can easily set-in after viewing thousands of artworks in a short few days—most of these fair are on for only 4 days. The opportunity to talk to curators and artists were definitely part of the highlights. As Robert Montgomery’s neon artwork prominently outside Scope announced, “The City is wilder than you think and kinder than you think ...”

Armory: Ragnar Kjartansson (i8 Gallery, Reykjavik)

Armory: Saint Clair Cemin (Paul Kasmin Gallery, NY) photo by Steve Allen



Armory: Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen (Christian Larson, Stockholm) photo by Steve Allen


Armory: Nick Cave (Jack Shinman Gallery, NY) photo by Jonathan Browns


Armory: Douglas Coupland (Art Dealers Association of Canada, Toronto) photo by Jonathan Browns


Armory: Ivan Navarro (Paul Kasmin Gallery, NY) photo by Jonathan Browns


Jonathan Browns (Cultural Planner – Collections Public Art Program, City of Ottawa) is currently researching art collections and conservation practices in New York.


Rachel spurs memories of Rachael

Wednesday, February 21, 2012

Ottawa Fashion Week photos by Elliot Mak

By Tony Martins

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very much a fan of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and his bevy of sexy, sultry, stylish leading actresses, most notably Penelope Cruz. So I think it’s cool and somewhat interesting that Toronto’s Rachel Sin credits the Almodóvar girls as inspiration for the Fall/Winter 2012 collection she unveiled at Ottawa Fashion Week (OFW) on Saturday, February 18.

Before the dust had settled on the catwalk, however, I’d already conjured a different cinematic reference for Sin’s collection—one that strikes me as sexier and more stylish that even Penelope at the height of her powers.

Thanks, Rachel, for summoning memories of Rachael from the sci-fi film noir classic Bladerunner.

Embodied to perfection by a youthful Sean Young, the Rachael character in Ridley Scott’s film was the essence of feminine cool. Hair upswept, cigarette poised at just the right angle, Young’s naive femme fatale was decked out in a succession of killer ensembles that combined architectural angles with form-fitting curves. Because Rachael was eventually revealed as a troubled robot on the run, hers was necessarily high style for a woman of action.

Enter the contemporary Rachel, whose cohesive collection walked that fine line between wearability and wow factor. With some riskier elements compared to previous Sin collections, this one did offer more glamour, particularly in sparkly metallic dresses and faux-fur-accented blazers—both made befitting of Rachael with strong, padded shoulders.

More daring, yes, but Sin will never completely lose the plot.

“Runway trends are inspirational, but often not wearable,” the designer cautions. “Our designs are timeless, modern and always wearable. Just like how architecture must be functional, I think clothing should foremost be wearable.”

Sin’s signature wearability was very present elsewhere in the collection, particularly in elegant hotel lobby looks that combined streamlined skirts with thick belts and blouses sporting architectural accents.

All told, the collection (though modest in size) spoke of feminine power. These garments are not for the clubbing set. Only women brave enough to make bold style statements in a business or upscale setting need apply.

Sin has maintained a sizable presence at OFW from the early days of the event. She is originally from Toronto and moved back there at the end of 2010.

“I came to Ottawa to complete a Masters in Architecture and ended up starting the [Rachel Sin] brand in 2009,” explained the designer. “The move to Toronto was a logical step for the business to expand brand awareness and target a larger market.”

Sin’s practical approach to design combined with professional diligence has led to results. The latest milestone: a new showroom in Los Angeles as brand distribution expands to the United States. Rachel Sin is sold in stores and online. The full stock list can be found at





Impeccable timing moves frAsh forward

Monday, February 13, 2012



Photo by Joel Bedford. Model Chelsea at M.I.M. Make up by Noah V. Styling by Justyna Baraniecki. Jewelry by frAsh.

By Tony Martins

Fashion is, usually out of necessity, a top-layer, superficial affair.

That’s what makes the genre particularly alluring when a practitioner comes along who can convincingly thicken the plot.

Ottawa’s Isobel Walker is doing precisely that with her frAsh line of vintage-inspired, handmade jewellery. Though she’s been at it for eight years, her innate shyness and high standards for production have made this an overnight success that’s long in the making.

At 8 p.m. on Friday, February 17 at Ottawa Fashion Week Walker's debut runway show will be a culmination of sorts—perhaps the first full expression of all that frAsh could be—but you still get the sense that the designer is only getting started.

“We are planning more of an experience than a typical runway show,” Walker told Guerilla
in an interview.

“This is the first time that all my loves are meeting in one place for all to see,” she continued. “Film, history, violence, romance, theatre, dance and fashion. I feel very exposed but at the same time this is the first time that I don’t really care what people think.”

That’s an important psychological step for Walker, who is perhaps modest to a fault and very protective of frAsh creative integrity. Now, with a full-on fashion show to deal with, the designer has more on her mind than just the jewellery.

“I am more nervous about making sure the vision of the experience we want to create is executed properly than I am about the collection itself,” Walker explained. “Without the experience the collection will just be another pretty collection.
I am so lucky to have found Justyna Baraniecki, who I asked to produce the show and based on my vision she has been able to create an amazing concept.”

Details of the “experience” are for now under wraps, save for the fact that the jewellery itself was Carl Thoedor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The frAsh line has gained exposure in local magazines and Ottawa Fashion Week in years past, but things jumped a notch or three when Walker was invited to bring her wares to the Toronto International Film Festival last year. As a result, luminaries such as Jude Law, Frieda Pinto, Allison Janney, and Fefe Dobson all own frAsh. And, producers of the television program ET Canada Tonight have selected frAsh pieces for their female hosts to wear this season.

But greater exposure calls for a greater commitment. For the first time frAsh has a brand manager and sales representation.

“Honestly it has been exhausting, exciting, and overwhelming—sometimes all three at the same time,” said Walker. “I am not getting used to the attention at all. In fact, I fear that if I get used to it the passion and drive will disappear.”

That’s one risk Walker has been waiting several years to take.