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Art Dubai festival goes ahead without the crowds – CNN

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Written by By Kieron Monks

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The devastating coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 14,000 lives has cut a trail of destruction through culture industries.
A rapid succession of concerts, museums, festivals, and theaters have shut down across the world to mitigate the threat of the virus, from the Glastonbury Festival to the Guggenheim.
The 14th edition of Art Dubai, the Emirate’s flagship art show that typically draws tens of thousands of visitors, was set to join the casualty list when organizers announced it would be postponed.

But after further deliberation it was decided that the show would go ahead – or at least a version of it.

Visitors to the Art Dubai festival in 2018. Credit: Tom Dulat/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

Digital display

Art Dubai launches a digital-only edition on March 23, incorporating an online gallery of more than 500 works, videos from performance artists, and a “Newshour Special” featuring leading lights of the art world discussing the pandemic and its implications.

“Adapting to a digital program enables us to uphold our mission to support galleries and nurture Dubai’s arts ecosystem, even in these challenging circumstances,” Art Dubai directors Chloe Vaitsou and Pablo del Val told CNN in a joint statement.

Many scheduled performances and events have been canceled, and the directors are “realistic” about prospects for sales this year.

But staging the festival online opens up a larger potential audience, and transitioning to digital serves as a test case that could prove useful in future events.

“People still tend to prefer physical art consumption,” the directors said. “But if initiatives such as online catalogues and platforms do prove popular it may demonstrate how digital and online ventures can potentially become a growing addition to how art fair and gallery programs are transmitted in future.”

An oasis for artists in the desert

Adapting to crisis

The performance art program, which will be available to stream through the Art Dubai website, has the prescient theme of “Healing.”

Featured artists include Beirut-based Bahar Noorizadeh delivering a “desktop-lecture-performance” on the stormy US-Iran relationship, and Brazilian Tiago Sant’Ana on colonial legacies in his home country.

Curator Marina Fokidis says much of the show was already planned to address threats to humanity whether military, environmental, or economic.

“I am a specialist for adapting to crisis,” she says, recalling the devastation of her native Greece following the 2008 financial crash.

Fokidis suggests that artists have a responsibility to adapt and find solutions that will allow the creative industries to continue in the era of social distancing.

“At this moment we must be aware of what we are missing and find ways to create collectivity and moments of togetherness,” she says.

Art Dubai’s approach could become increasingly normalized in the coming months. The government of Dubai has announced that its major museums will be available for virtual tours, and galleries such as Alserkal Avenue are organizing online exhibitions.
Similar experiments are also taking place around the world. Art Basel is making its Hong Kong fair accessible through online “viewing rooms,” and the British Museum is successfully promoting digital experiences.

No one can predict when the public will be able to physically attend cultural events again. But the creative industries are determined to keep the flame alive until then.

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Life mimics art for actors in play about pandemic – Victoria News

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As a pair of Victoria-based performers sit on the couch of a rented suite in isolation this week, they can’t help but think of all the similarities they’re seeing in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Danny Saretsky, 22, and Regina Rios, 23, moved here to study the theatre program at the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Oak Bay. In November, they performed lead roles in the stage production of Unity 1918, a play by Kevin Kerr in which the Spanish flu disrupts the small community of Unity, Sask.

“There’s a lot of similarities,” said Saretsky, who played Stan, a new father who is recovering after his wife died in childbirth. “It’s disturbingly parallel.”

Performers Danny Saretsky and Regina Rios during a Zoom chat this week. The two starred in Unity 1918, a movie set in the 1918 flu pandemic, and are now finding it a bit uncanny that they are under self-isolation just a few months later. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

READ ALSO: Love and humour shine during a time of death in Unity, 1918

In particular, it’s society’s reaction to the virus that stands out. The nation was still grieving the 56,638 Canadian military members who died in the First World War. To this day the number of people killed by the Spanish influenza ranges in estimate from 20 to 100 million people worldwide, about 55,000 people in Canada and 650,000 in the U.S.

“[It’s kind of the same as] how people were [recently] exaggerating, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’ while others stocked up on toilet paper,” said Rios, who played Sunna, a young Icelandic woman who becomes the town mortician.

Amid the chaos of death, in which there aren’t enough coffins for the dead, Sunna and Stan find romance.

In Unity, as it was back then, things were typically slower. But with the flu, things changed quickly day-to-day.

The schools are closed. Physical contact is forbidden and there is a town curfew.

“Basically, all fun things were canceled then too,” Saretsky said. “The town people were quarreling with one another, not because of illness, but because of fear of illness.”

The actors even played out the same responses we’re seeing now, especially mistrust of people who travelled internationally.

“Even though people sought a human connection, travellers were met with a ‘please get away from me,’ vibe,” Saretsky said.

“They didn’t really understand the flu,” Rios said. “The flu hit Regina [Sask.], so they knew it was coming in, but they didn’t know how it spread, they thought being downwind would spread it. It was being spread with the soldiers coming home from the war.”

READ ALSO: Celebrities urge Canadians to take COVID-19 seriously

There were mass graves and misinformation.

When CCPA last staged Unity 1918 on Dec. 1 there was no sign of a global pandemic unfolding.

The two graduated in February and went their separate ways. Rios joined local troupe Story Theatre and was touring preschools with the show The Very First Circus.

“Of course, going school to school was not ideal, so that was canceled [early],” Rios said.

Saretsky was in the middle of a vacation tour with his father to the United States and Europe.

“We were in Boston when we made the decision to follow recommendations and come home,” Saretsky said.

If it goes ahead as planned, Saretsky is headed to Vancouver this summer to intern at the annual Bard & the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver.

Now the two are stuck, together at least, in an Airbnb suite, until things change.

“We did jazzercise today, a ‘90s jazzercise funk workout on YouTube,” Saretsky said.

“Support artists if you can, it’s a tough time for all of us,” Rios said.

reporter@oakbaynews.com


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Home as art: Interior designer's Laval house her proudest creation – Montreal Gazette

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Placing the fireplace and TV side by side makes the living room look wider. The acacia flooring reflects the fire’s warmth. Perry Mastrovito/Montreal Gazette

“While Bruno looked after the budget, I took care of the plans for the layout and interior design of the rooms, including the plumbing, electricity, LED lighting configuration, kitchen cabinets, laying of the ceramic, etc. Having full-time jobs, we couldn’t be on-site every day,” recounts Castro.

But Bernatchez’s father has extensive experience in the construction industry and was present to supervise the tradesmen and manage the delivery of materials. Even so, Castro visited the site whenever she had to revise plans with the plumber, electrician, ceramic installer, etc.

The colour scheme in the guest bathroom in the basement is bold and energetic. Photo: Perry Mastrovito Montreal Gazette
The colour scheme in the guest bathroom in the basement is bold and energetic. Perry Mastrovito/Montreal Gazette

The final product is true to Castro and Bernatchez’s vision of an elegant contemporary home inside and out. The juxtaposition of the grey cut stones and brown stained wood combined with black garage doors and trim on the façade makes for an imposing-looking residence with a graphic architectural design style.

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Why we need the arts, now more than ever – The Globe and Mail

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The Cirque du Soleil has laid off almost 5,000 performers, crew and staffers in the Montreal head-office.

Markus Moellenberg/Cirque du Soleil

This week in Canada the theatres are dark, the concert halls are silent and the art galleries are empty. As all arts and entertainment venues close their doors to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the losses are beginning to mount.

The Cirque du Soleil has laid off almost 5,000 performers and crew, and staffers in the Montreal head office. The Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity has given notice to 400 workers while the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has sent the band home – all 67 musicians, as well as 30 administrative staffers.

The Junos were cancelled earlier this month; this weekend, there won’t be any Canadian Screen Awards. The Vancouver International Children’s Festival has been cancelled while Bard on the Beach hangs in the balance. In Toronto, Luminato, the June arts festival established to help the city recover from the SARS outbreak of 2003, will not be held in 2020, and there will be no Shakespeare in High Park. The Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts predicts that sector will lose $500-million in ticket revenue in the next three months.

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TV and movie sets have been abandoned as activity in Canada’s $9-billion production industry grinds to a halt: The new Canadian medical drama Nurses stopped shooting its second season in Mississauga, Ont., two weeks ago and donated 600 masks, 400 surgical gowns and pairs of gloves to local hospitals.

Meanwhile, at The Rooms in St. John’s, departing staff have been warned to remove any stray sugar packets from their desks. The keepers of Newfoundland’s provincial collections are worried that mice, moths and silverfish will have a field day in the shuttered building.

From the microscopic to the macro-economic, the pandemic is chewing its way through the arts. Yet, trapped inside our houses, it is to the arts that we turn: to novels, to recorded music, to movies and TV shows. It is how we find escape but also how we seek meaning. Contagion, an apocalyptic drama about a global pandemic, was one of the most-watched Netflix movies in Canada this week.

And, while artists are losing gigs, they are hardly inactive. There’s a daily buzz of virtual concerts, classes, conversations and art displays using everything from the good old telephone to sophisticated software that can patch together remote performances by individual voices or instruments. Dancers from the National Ballet of Canada are now live-streaming classes from their living rooms. The Toronto Symphony performed Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring remotely and posted it online last week. The Playwrights Guild of Canada conducted a 28-script, seven-hour play-reading relay Friday.

The large losses and the ironic gains of the pandemic are offering sharp lessons about why we need the arts.


Miranda Mulholland has cancelled a Toronto album launch, some U.S. radio appearances and a U.K. tour.

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In Canada, the arts are both a big business and a precarious living. When Statistics Canada last counted (in 2017), culture accounted for almost 3 per cent of the GDP, generating $100-billion in economic activity every year and directly employing almost 700,000 people in the performing, fine arts and heritage sectors, the publishing, screen and music industries, and the media.

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Some of these jobs are salaried positions with well-established institutions; others provide regular work for the many skilled trades employed by the booming film-and-television production industry. But many are low-paid contracts or occasional fees for visual artists, writers, actors, dancers and musicians who cobble together a living working directly and indirectly in the arts.

“We all know the hustle so well, living from month to month, even musicians who you know, who you have heard of,” said singer, fiddler and music activist Miranda Mulholland, who has just cancelled a Toronto album launch, some U.S. radio appearances and a U.K. tour. “Once the digital revolution hit [the sales of recorded music], everybody was told to tour. This has exposed the danger of that.”

In the business that brought you the term “gig,” even highly successful performers are left painfully exposed, working on contracts that include “force majeure” clauses allowing presenters to cancel without penalty in circumstances such as these. Spring and summer are busy seasons in the music and theatre businesses: Many freelance artists are predicting they will lose half their annual income. Meanwhile, layoffs from service jobs at cultural institutions can also hit artists hard: Many of the more than 50 technicians, box-office attendants, bartenders and front-of-house staff who lost their jobs at The Cultch theatre centre in Vancouver last week are also freelance artists who use that work to pay the rent.

“It’s the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” said Cultch executive director Heather Redfern as she laid off the casual workers immediately and gave three weeks’ notice to 21 permanent staffers. Normally, Redfern would be about to announce her 2020-21 season, a busy 300-performance year that would invite 18 different independent theatre companies into the building. “I can’t even imagine how we could not do a season next year because everybody is going to need work. Artists need to work.”

Nowhere is the link between jobs and the arts more apparent than at the Stratford Festival, an institution founded 67 years ago as an economic development plan for the small Southern Ontario city and which, by a 2017 Conference Board of Canada estimate, generates more than $135-million every year in economic activity. The festival, where the season was set to begin preview performances April 11, just laid off almost 500 workers and delayed opening to June.

“Everyone is in the same boat; we are just waiting to see what will happen,” said Elaine Gadbois of the Stratford and Area Bed & Breakfast Association, where the phone has not rung in two weeks.

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Charlie Gallant as William Shakespeare, centre, with the cast of Shakespeare in Love.

Tim Matheson/Handout

And yet amid the dollar figures and the layoff counts, it is possible to lose sight of the truth that the arts are not simply a massive job-creation scheme. If you focus too narrowly on the looming economic hardship for artists – as well as for the numerous creative, administrative and technical staff who support their work, not to mention workers in the allied tourism sector – you may forget that Stratford has a larger mission than keeping restaurants and hotels open. Or you may miss the difference between the jobs created by the many U.S. TV shows and films that shoot in Canada and those local productions that, according to the old industry saw, are “telling Canadian stories to Canadians.”

The arts have often used their economic impact to justify their existence – and their widely varying levels of subsidy – to governments, but behind that argument lie real social needs. The arts provide the reassurance of narrative, the peace of contemplation and, most of all, the power of community, experiences that can be hard to define but which the current crisis is laying bare.

“What is fulfilling about the arts is not necessarily the art itself but the way it connects us all,” Vancouver singer/songwriter Dan Mangan said. “Those moments when you feel that connection with thousands of people in a room lift the great weight of existential loneliness.”

That may sound impossibly lofty, but Mangan has fresh evidence. This month he ran an unplanned experiment in the virtual’s ability to replace the actual when he recorded his “show to nobody” at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall, where his kit was assembled but his gig was cancelled. The performance in the empty hall felt like a letdown after the triumphant live show of the night before – until he broadcasted it online and 11,000 people tuned in simultaneously .

Whether it’s at the concert hall or the movie theatre, the thing we are missing most of all these days is the crowd. The cinema business, which was already suffering badly in the era of streaming, has been so busy advertising the big screen, the booming sound or the 3-D image, that audiences may have got the impression that watching a movie outside the home is simply a question of superior technology. It is, more importantly, an occasion: an appointment to receive the film as a member of a community.

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The Greeks, who invented theatre 2,500 years ago, developed the notion of catharsis, the audience’s purging of sorrows and anxieties through the spectacle of great tragedy. Perhaps the best contemporary parallel would be watching Contagion … at the multiplex. Society needs to be physically present to understand the story and feel the relief.

It also needs to be physically present to appreciate visual art.

“You cannot have sex without the other person; art needs the body,” said Montreal art dealer René Blouin, who closed a sale this week. The buyer purchased a painting by Saskatchewan native Matthew Feyld, an artist now living in Montreal who builds up layer after layer of paint in abstract compositions that, Bloiun explains, simply can’t be understood or appreciated in a reproduction.

Like the scatological comic or the melodramatic actor, the avant-garde artist is probing the limits of what is intellectually possible or socially acceptable. We contract out risk to the arts: They say we watch the tight-rope walker to see if he will fall.

“In the arts we have the freedom to ask complicated questions,” Blouin said “I am sure something exceptional will come out of this: It’s a dramatic moment. … Happily, there is art.”

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