(in)trepid cultures, Exceptional Art
Elaine Whittaker with the visuals, Ruth Roach Pierson bringing the poetry
Patrick Connors-Toronto: On Friday, October 29, the penultimate evening of Elaine Whittaker’s stunning bioart installation (in)trepid cultures, the following poets gave a group reading on the theme of Beauty and Terror: Leanne Averbach, Barry Dempster, Sue MacLeod, Steve McOrmond, Sachiko Murakami, Ruth Roach Pierson, John Reibetanz, Daniel Scott Tysdal, and RM Vaughan. Complementing Whittaker’s exploration of the strikingly beautiful forms and colours present in the world of the salt bacterium Halobacterium sp.NRC-1, each poet read a poem of her/his choosing on the paradox of astonishing beauty’s coexistence with the terrifying.
Averbach is a Canadian poet and filmmaker whose first book of poetry, Fever, was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. On Friday she read the very powerful ‘Apology: Rwanda 2009’. You can see her tonight at the always excellent Rowers Pub Reading series, and again this coming Thursday, November 4, when she launches her second book, Come Closer, at The Ossington (61 Ossington Ave.) from 7-9:30.
Sachiko Murakami’s first collection of poetry, The Invisibility Exhibit, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for poetry as well as the Lampert Award. “I find it amazing when people take a cross-disciplinary approach to art,” she told me, “and especially with art and science.” Her second collection, Rebuild, will be released by Talonbooks sometime next year. She co-hosts The Pivot Reading Series, which next runs at The Press Club, 850 Dundas Street West, this coming Wednesday, November 3rd, at 8 PM.
Barry Dempster is the author of sixteen books. He read ‘Blindness’, which appeared in The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008. This is the story of Sprout, a horse he knew who had eye removal surgery, “as close to love as shock can get”, as he said in this moving piece. “I find this very gratifying”, he said to me. “As a poet you work very hard all by yourself, and then it’s very invigorating for the world to say you wrote a good idea. Then, we have one art commenting on another art, working together, responding to how important all the arts are.”
I have to thank John Reibetanz, who told me about this remarkable event when I interviewed him at The Art Bar Poetry Series. He blew everybody away with his reading of “The Monarch Butterfly Migration 1943”, which he wrote in homage to Homero Aridjis . Each butterfly was to have represented the death of a villager in Mexico. In 1943, there were “more millions of orange petals than you have ever seen”, due to all the death of World War II. His tone and style evoked images of a monarch’s flight, and the undersides of many of the petri dishes which were Elaine Whittaker’s chosen medium in this exhibit definitely resemble butterflies.
Inspired by an aesthetic of life in which art, science, and nature overlap, Whittaker’s multidisciplinary works consider biology as contemporary art practice, concentrating on the biological forces that make us human. Her artworks have been shown nationally and internationally, and she has been the recipient of grants from the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, and residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts. (in)trepid cultures was supported by a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. She has been an active member of the Red Head Gallery collective for over six years. Aurally (ir)rational, a sound piece created by Larry Sulky, envelopes the gallery with regimented precise tones and random biological chitterings.
When I told Whittaker my favourite petri dishes were the plain ones depicting the outside of the virus strand due to their snowflake effect, she told me I wasn’t the first to notice this. “I have been researching microbiology for years to prepare for this,” she said. “In any scientific illustrations, a virus has to be in a petri dish, the image of which becomes beautiful in itself.
“Ruth Roach Pierson and I met at the Banff Arts Residency. She came to my shows and was inspired to write Aide-Memoire, which was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award in 2008.”
“I benefit so much from my collaboration with Elaine,“ Roach Pierson told me. “I get acquainted with what she is doing, the methodology. I really admire her approach to her subjects, the world of beauty which exists in the microscope.
“And, then, to bring all of these wonderful writers together is so satisfying in the greater diversity, the distinctive voices. While I know all of them to varying degrees, I hadn’t heard all of these poems before tonight.”
Joan Kaufman’s photographic and video installation entitled ‘NEWS FROM NOWHERE’ opens this Wednesday November 3rd and runs until Saturday November 27th at the Red Head Gallery. There will be an opening reception with the artist on Saturday, November 6th from 2-5pm.