Journey

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By Mia Carnevale

There are various ways of controlling anxiety or stress: sitting down with a good book, taking a walk outside, or even enjoying a cup of tea with one’s current activity. Video games tend to be overlooked in this area. They are better known for being loud or fast-paced—not what someone would turn to if they were searching for calm, or emotional investment.

This is the obstacle Jenova Chen set out to overcome in Journey, the final game of a three-part contract between Thatgamecompany and Sony that came out on PlayStation in March of 2012. It eliminates the goal-driven structure most video games follow, instead allowing one to get lost in the surroundings and music. The atmosphere makes it easy for a player to feel small.

The story is told without any verbal narrative and uses cut scenes that are, at times, ominous. It was only after finishing the game that I decided to go back and read about the storyline, picking up on details that enhance one’s understanding but don’t hinder the gameplay if missed. Journey is the story of a now-ruined civilization. The player travels through the remnants, past floating centipede-like mechanical automatons that are on the lookout for intruders.

The premise itself is fairly straightforward: the player assumes the role of a strange robed figure standing in an endless desert. A large mountain looms overhead, with a light shining upwards from its split peak. The goal is to slowly make one’s way through the game in order to reach the summit. But putting it that way eliminates all of the things that are important in Journey. Here, the focal point is in the things that people tend to overlook when playing a game.

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Image from kotaku.com

The music sets the tone from the very beginning. As the player guides the cloaked figure through the remnants of a destroyed civilization, there is already something meditative about the game. This is particularly evident when the figure’s scarf comes into play. Rune-decorated scarves and red ribbons are probably the central imagery of the game. The scarf lights up when fully charged by magical ribbons scattered throughout the environment. The charge is then slowly expended when you hold down the O button to fly. Later on, these ribbons form bridges, or make up huge floating jellyfish and serpent-like creatures. The player has to charge up at one creature before gliding on to the next one.

Large, white-cloaked figures reminiscent of Tibetan monks appear at occasional checkpoints to further elaborate on the story. The meditative quality of the gameplay is heightened by encounters with anonymous figures at various stages of the journey. These are controlled by other players somewhere in the world who happen to be at the same stage in the game. Players can communicate via a series of chiming tones, and can choose to work together by charging up each other’s scarves. These encounters build a sense of companionship that is strengthened by the anonymity and lack of competition between players.

Yet all of the above is still focused on the minute details of the game. The reality is that one must play the game in order to fully understand the effect Chen was going for. Despite how short it is—taking only a couple hours or so to complete—playing it feels like one has wandered into a tiny time loop. It’s a game that elicits melancholy and longing, as well as joy and relief, taking you from a vast desert into dark underground caverns guarded by Matrix-like automatons, then up the mountain and through a blizzard. There is one particular moment, at the end of the underground cavern before one has finally broken out, that I would gladly replay over and over again, flying from one ribbon jellyfish to another through a sea of golden mist as it rises higher and higher, until it finally bursts into a warm glow. It was a moment that sent a tingling sensation through me, making me understand what all the praise and near-perfect reviews were talking about.

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Image from picquery.com

At the end of the game, after reaching the summit, there is a beautiful cut scene of the player’s figure dissolving into an expanse of white light. A shooting star crosses the sky from the summit and follows the journey backwards, illuminating the other players who are on the same path. Once it fades beyond the sand dunes and the sun rises again, one has the option of starting the journey over again. Regardless of how cliché or predictable it may sound, Journey feels like an entire lifetime shrunken down into a few hours, at the end of which there is such an overwhelming spectrum of emotions that it is difficult to leave it behind. It’s a few hours of pure, unfiltered magic that has been skillfully woven into a narrative that doesn’t care about overloading the player with details or imposing criteria, instead it seeks to comfort and move, and does both in the most unique way possible.


-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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Not Your Usual Post-Apocalypse: The World of Stand Still Stay Silent

Ninety years later, everything is gone. Everything except Scandinavia, that is.

Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are all that remain of the Known world, and only Iceland is a completely safe area. As far as anybody knows, the rest of the Silent world is populated by the terrifying and dangerous victims of the Rash Illness, a pandemic that started innocuously and swept the globe, decimating almost all human and animal life. Those who succumb to the Illness either die or become the beasts, trolls, and giants that roam the Silent world in what appears to be perpetual agony. The remaining human life is concentrated in small, safe settlements, and they deal with their dangerous surroundings through a combination of fire, military prowess, magic, and cats.

Yes, that’s right, cats—somehow the only mammals immune to the Illness and invaluable allies to the surviving humans.

Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish woman and the writer and artist of Stand Still Stay Silent (draws upon Nordic mythology to tell her post-apocalyptic story in this ongoing webcomic, which began in 2013 and updates every weekday. A particular info sheet from the webcomic that depicts the Indo-European language tree has acquired a significant online presence outside of its original context, so all you language nerds out there may have seen her art before without realizing it. Readers may also know her from A Redtail’s Dream, a webcomic she completed as a sophomore about a young man and his shape-shifting dog who are tasked with saving their village from a meddling trickster fox. Both comics feature her beautiful artwork, which brings both the Nordic landscape and mystical dreamscapes to life in vivid colour. Sundberg creates a truly entrancing webcomic experience in her website design, which leaves no detail unattended to and draws the reader seamlessly into the pages of her story.

The ease with which the reader is brought into the world helps us follow the adventures of the motley crew embarking upon an expedition to explore the Silent world. Barely any of the six main characters have combat experience, so the two Finnish cousins and the young Swedish aristocrat follow the lead of a brash Norwegian captain and a chronically unemployable Dane. The Icelander who joins them later is a shepherd, who is even less experienced than the other three characters who are in their early twenties. The poorly funded crew is the first of its kind, in part because most of the remaining civilizations have little interest in rediscovering an old world that succumbed to so much death and decay. Described by Sundberg herself as “a story about friendship and exploring a forgotten world, with some horror, monsters, and magic on the side,” the crew find themselves working through language and personality barriers as they uncover old books and encounter strange creatures in the abandoned cityscapes. The characters are hilarious and compelling, and the world they inhabit is rich and intriguing. Sundberg often inserts worldbuilding pages near the end of chapters, offering insight into aspects of the post-apocalyptic society such as “The Blessed Felines” and their training process, the differences between Icelandic and Finnish mages, or “The Dagrenning program,” akin to in vitro fertilization and allowing Icelandic citizens to have children who are immune to the Illness.

At times, the tone of the comic becomes notably serious, even horrific. As the crew journeys farther and farther away from safe and inhabited lands, they witness the consequences of the Illness first-hand in old hospital wards and through fighting the creatures that attack them. In the Silent world, “the first rule for survival outside the safe areas” is to “stand still and stay silent” rather than running or calling for help when a beast, a troll, or a giant is encountered, because “it might go away.” For the inexperienced crew, the stakes are understandably high. One wrong turn could get them killed, and it seems they can’t help but make wrong turns everywhere they go. Sundberg makes the difficult shift from comedic banter to terrifying and tragic troll encounter seem effortless.

Beyond its excellent art and writing, Stand Still Stay Silent is a prime example of the new ways online publication can bring together fans of speculative work. The comic has an active readership that contributes to its comments section and participates in the fan forum, which has become a repository for the fan work that arises out of the comments. In particular, the fan community of this webcomic seems to favour writing poetry and filk songs (a genre of music related to fantasy and sci-fi, which often parodies of existing music) about scenes and ideas pertaining to the plot and characters. Though most of the works—particularly the filk songs—are written in English, some commenters even write poetry in traditional Scandinavian poetic forms and translate their fan work into English. The cultural exchange that occurs in the comments shows the power speculative fiction has to bring together people from all across the world over a shared interest. This celebration of friendship and adventure parallels the themes of Sundberg’s creation, with many more new fan works sure to come as the webcomic continues to develop.

-Contributed by Victoria Liao

Lilo & Stitch: it only gets better

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Illustration by Bethany Pile

Check out Part One of this two-part blog series here!

Before we delve back into the serious stuff, let’s take a moment to admire the unique and colourful animation style of Lilo & Stitch. For the first time in decades, the directors chose to return to watercolour backgrounds as opposed to the typical solid colour of most of Disney’s current filmography. Watercolours were used to create a more storybook look as well as to recall the aesthetics of Disney’s Dumbo.

The animation style also differed from the standard Disney fare, being more reminiscent of director Chris Sanders’ personal drawing style, which is often described by his fellow animators as seeming to melt, as if the images were dripping. This effect gives us the chunky and gorgeous curves we see on all the characters (I’m looking at you, Nani).

Reportedly, Lilo & Stitch was also influenced by another one of our Spec faves: Hayao Miyazaki, who, according to director Dean Deblois, “creates genuine relationships in the realm of fantasy”. This inspiration is apparent in the complexity of the characters’ relationships to one another. Fun fact: Kiki’s Coffee Hut is named in loving tribute to Miyazaki’s film Kiki’s Delivery Service.

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Nuanced Morality

The wonderful thing about this movie is the lack of “black and white” morality that is so predominant in films for kids. Too often, children’s media is excused for having poorly written, one-dimensional characters—something that is thoroughly criticized in most other genres. In mainstream film today, we demand well-written and complex female, queer, and ethnically diverse characters. Yet somehow we constantly excuse simplistic “good and evil” morality in films just because they are “made for kids”. Fiction is important because it allows us to see things that are not necessarily our personal reality, and to thereby gain empathy and understanding. The overwhelmingly reasonable characters and complex motivations and conflicts in Lilo & Stitch allow for a broader and more engaging experience.

Representation of Minorities

Although mainstream Hollywood seems to still be dragging its heels with good LGBTQ+ representation, films like The Danish Girl and About Ray, which premiered in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, signal hope for the future. Unfortunately, the casting of cisgender actors in these defining roles is a blatant indication that we must keep pushing forward. With luck, we can move toward a future where characters are not defined by their gender identity or sexual orientation—or are turned into a farce—but are seen as people first, their sexuality and gender a small part of who they are.

Considering the state of modern media today, it seems amazing that Disney included such an ambiguous and gender-fluid character as Pleakley over a decade ago and in a children’s film. Clearly identified with masculine pronouns and voiced by a male actor, Pleakley resists gender constrictions by dressing in traditionally feminine attire when on Earth. While his choice of disguises could be chalked up to a misguided understanding of Earth (which Pleakley clearly has), he is further shown to enjoy his wigs and make-up, and remains in them throughout the film. It’s not even a point of contention in the movie; no one at any point has a problem with the way Pleakley chooses to dress and behave. While I’m not saying that Lilo & Stitch is the best portrayal of casual LGBTQ+ visibility that I have ever seen (the only gender-fluid character is not from our planet, after all), Pleakley is nonetheless a positive presence in the film. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded that one’s decisions about one’s body don’t have to involve everyone around them.

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The respectful and beautiful way that the film portrays Hawaii also deserves a mention here. While Lilo & Stitch is set on the island of Kauai, it doesn’t exploit stereotypes in order to tell its story. There are examples of beautiful Hawaiian language songs, although they are not the only music that we encounter (Elvis makes numerous welcome and hilarious appearances throughout the film). The traditional-sounding songs serve to set the stage, but do not dominate the story as a whole.

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Similar is the treatment of traditional Hawaiian activities such as hula dancing and surfing, which are present but do not detract from the point of the story. What I mean to say is: Lilo does not have to win a hula competition to earn enough money for the surfing team; these activities are used to build on the characters, not the other way around.

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Furthermore, for the most part, the Hawaiian characters are played by Hawaiian actors. Tia Carrere (Nani) and Jason Scott Lee (David) are Hawaiian-born and Hawaiian-raised, respectively. For a film that doesn’t visibly show its actors, it is impressive that the casting directors took the care to cast actors with a relationship to the islands. The actors even helped to rewrite some of their dialogue using correct Hawaiian colloquialisms. The natural traces of an accent in their voices lend a realistic feel to the atmosphere of the film that is subtle but extremely effective.

Positive Romantic Relationships

On the subject of David Kawena, everyone take a good long look, because he demonstrates what you should be looking for in a partner. First and foremost a good friend to Nani and Lilo, David doesn’t try to hide his romantic interest in Nani, but neither does he resent her for being too busy to date him. Instead, he finds productive ways to be a positive force in her life, such as by cheering up the sisters when they are feeling down, or by helping Nani to find a job when she is at her most desperate. He seems to truly care about Nani, as a person and as a friend first. Theirs is a truly good example of a mature and sincere relationship, and anyone waffling about in the murky swamps of romance should take note.

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What my gushing boils down to is: don’t waste your time indecisively flipping through Netflix. Do yourself a favour—watch this film and drown in a torrent of happy-sad tears with extreme satisfaction.

-Contributed by Amy Wang

Emily Carroll’s Horror Spectacle: Why I Checked Under My Bed That Night

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“Unsettling” is a common word used to describe Emily Carroll’s graphic fiction these days, though perhaps it is given unjustly. “Unsettling” seems to skim the right word, but it ultimately lacks the punch her work delivers. Is there a definition for the sound of nails scraping a chalkboard? Or a word for the feeling of curling your toes anxiously, repeatedly bracing yourself in squeamish anticipation?

Is it uneasy? Queasy?

Disturbing?

In Through the Woods, Emily Carroll takes her readers on a splendid adventure of fantastical, yet highly disquieting, horror. Through the Woods builds on a great deal of Carroll’s previously established literary voice and visual footprint. This collection of five short graphic stories is her debut work in print, published in 2014, alongside her long-standing website of comics. Her writing, often characterized by a mix of lyrical verse and truncated, quick-impact sentences, is nothing shy of a master-class in how plain language can express, and incite, the most fear.

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A Lady’s Hands are Cold

The potency of Carroll’s horrific effect comes in large part from the way in which she delivers it. The “creepy factor”, so to speak, in stories like His Face All Red, The Nesting Place, and A Lady’s Hands are Cold, derives from their simplistic, often rhythmic, childish language. What may begin as deceptively lighthearted and unsophisticated often turns out to be disturbingly grim. And you discover a couple pages in that this is exactly the intent.

Much like the Grimms, it appears that Carroll understands the age-old wisdom that anything horrific told innocuously enough becomes doubly horrific.

The more Carroll’s prose and illustrations resemble a crude, childlike form, the more unsettling they become. Strangely, it is the frankness of her drawings that delivers the most nuance, because there is nowhere to hide in it. Much of her work is presented as upfront; visually speaking, Carroll suppresses a reader’s ability to hide within the vague by denying it in the first place. The lines are sharp, the colour is bold, the contrast is high, and the font is creepy.

And, while we’re on the topic—should you ever want a lesson on how colour can impact an atmosphere, this book is it.

Seriously. It is.

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Now before I close, I’d like to give a personal note from myself to any readers newly delving into Carroll’s creepy world: please, watch out for the teeth. I have yet to name it, but there is something highly unnerving about the way Carroll draws teeth, and I would bet good money that she knows it.

Read The Nesting Place, and you’ll see.

– Contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi

Your Daily Dose of Comics: an Interview With Dakota McFadzean

If you’ve been to a comic arts festival in Toronto you can bet you’ve seen Dakota McFadzean there, selling his books and sketches. This Canadian cartoonist is well-versed in the strange and the imaginative. He also has a talent for making people relate to comics about things like ghost rabbits and cave-dwelling monsters. His comics range from depictions of mesmerizingly weird scenarios to witty commentary on familiar ideas. In this interview I asked Dakota to give The Spectatorial’s audience an idea of what his work is like and how he approaches cartooning.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Many people find you through “The Dailies”, the daily comic strip you’ve been putting out for 5 years now. You also have longer narratives, like the ones collected in your book Other Stories and the Horse You Rode in On. How do you decide whether an idea gets turned into a ‘Daily’ or a longer piece?

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“Voices” by Dakota McFadzean

I’ve tried to view “The Dailies” as an exercise from the beginning. Part of the reason I started doing daily comics was because I was working full time and I was unhappy with my cartooning output. Back then, whenever I did have time to draw comics, I was way too precious about it. “The Dailies” were an attempt to force myself to put something onto paper every day, with no regard for perfection, no room for preciousness.

“The Dailies” have become a way for me to digest ideas and stumble on to new ones. If an idea keeps showing up in “The Dailies” over and over again, or I accidentally come up with something that I wouldn’t mind spending endless hours with, then I’ll try to explore it in a longer form.

I’ve never thought of myself as one of those cartoonists who has a bunch of graphic novel ideas sitting in their back pocket, although I think drawing a daily strip has helped me to better recognize ideas with potential.

 

Where would you say a lot of those ideas come from in the first place? Is there some treasure trove of creativity you have stashed away?

Maybe everything and nothing. Drawing a daily strip has made me realize that ideas are pretty much endless, but how they come to be is still a mysterious alchemy to me. Sometimes the lines flow out as easy as breathing, and other days I stare at a blank page for an hour while complaining that I have no ideas, and that I’ve peaked, and it’s all over so why do I even have to do this anymore?

I certainly don’t have a treasure trove, but cartooning is the kind of thing that usually leaves one alone with nothing but thoughts and memories. If I find that I’m thinking about something over and over, like the way bus drivers wave to one another or the way a three-legged dog walks, it will find its way into a comic.

 

A lot of your work deals with unusual representations of faces and masks. Is there a reason you frequently come back to this motif?

I like drawing faces. I like drawing grotesque things too. … Part of it likely comes from this idea that Scott McCloud articulates in Understanding Comics—that as humans, we see faces in everything. We’re hardwired to see ourselves. We can see a face in an electrical outlet, in wood grain, the moon, three dashes on a page. It’s a fundamental part of being human, and it’s a big part of why cartooning even works.

Beyond that, I’ve always loved (and feared) masks. I remember buying a werewolf mask at a garage sale as a kid, and putting it on at night and running around my grandmother’s back yard like an animal. It was play, but I was also spooking myself a little. When a face is slightly off, or unclear, or obscured, it can be deeply, irrationally unsettling, and I find that fascinating. I enjoy making things that are somehow disconcerting, and one way to do that is to make something that is simultaneously familiar and yet unfamiliar.

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Page from “Hollow in the Hallows” by Dakota McFadzean

 

You’re part of a collective of cartoonists who continually produce an anthology of comics, called Irene. What is the selection process for those cartoons and comics?

Irene is a funny project that I think me and my co-editors, Andy Warner and d.w., are only gradually beginning to understand. We initially discussed the idea of starting an anthology near the end of our MFA program at The Center for Cartoon Studies. We hoped to find a way to maintain our creative momentum after graduation.

Our process for each issue is to approach artists we admire, and see if they’d be interested in doing a few pages. Beyond that, they get free reign. We’re there for editorial assistance if they want it, but few ask for it or need it. … We get a lot of enjoyment out of trying to arrange each book in a way that feels like a complete whole despite being made of disparate parts.

 

To make a ‘Daily’ you have to use any and every idea—so, a lot of it is pretty weird and surreal. What would you say to someone exploring that side for the first time?

It’s funny—weirdness and surrealism have been part of cartooning since forever, but audience tastes shift and change so much over time. Part of the maturation and acceptance of the comics medium has meant that more cartoonists are able to tell stories rooted in reality.

One of the most common comments I get on my online comics is “What.” (Or “wat.” Or some variation thereof.) Further, one of my most shared strips simply depicts a floating human skull eating out of a bird feeder. I don’t understand why that strip resonated with the masses, but they just can’t seem to get over how weird it is. Of course, if you imagine a world where floating skulls exist, the fact that they might eat is a pretty likely thing to happen.

For those trying to explore the strange side of things, I think it’s partially a matter of refining and recognizing those impulses through repetition like anything else. Exposure to art that does what you wish you could do helps too.

 

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24/05/2013 by Dakota McFadzean

Anyway, I guess if you find your work gravitating towards the unusual, embrace it but don’t expect people to always love it.

 

What’s your opinion of speculative fiction?

I love speculative fiction, or as I called it as a kid: “anything that’s not just boring grown-ups talking.” The great thing about fiction is that anything can happen, even if it couldn’t happen in real life. The right cartoonist can show us something we’ve never seen before. It’s full of incredible possibilities.

You can follow Dakota’s work at http://dakotamcfadzean.com

 – contributed by Jonathan Ramoutar

 

Making ALL the Art! A Joyful Chat with Artist Chris Minz

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

This interview was conducted with the one and only Dr. Chris Minz, an eclectic mastermind of many talents. For our speculative audience today, we have cooked up an artist interview which shows that a large variety of interests does not have to mean losing one’s style. If anything, Mr. Minz has a uniquely fantastical perspective in all his works, which go beyond painting and cartoons  to music and film making, all done with a cosmic flare. There’s the added plus of caffeine addiction, which we both share—nay, delight in.

Without further ado, I would like to thank Chris Minz, our native Torontonian, for agreeing to be interviewed by The Spectatorial. Onwards!

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Oooops it’s all Spiralling out of the Coffee Mugs and into the Next World by Chris Minz

 

What started the madness? What was the first time you picked up an artistic project up and started to create

I’ll try to answer that literally, “PROJECT” may imply something of size and that would have been my first band, DR. MINZ AND THE CHRONIC HARMONIC. That was 20 years ago, but we were instantly compared to Max Webster and Frank Zappa. And yes, I was living that freaky dream as a band. Two dense CDs later… you realize how tough a reality that is and there were many other distractions. Animation being the big one. But the music was madness indeed because it was all about obtuse energy and excessive weirdness. Like Lord God King Boofoo FZ, we didn’t have boundaries. However, being a student of animation provided another world of seemingly no boundaries. Well, the art form anyhow—I work in the biz making tepid children cartoons for dull imaginations. Well, often enough to feel the confines of that. But I also direct Music videos for Adrian Belew, Kevin Hearn or Trey Gunn.

 

Can you give us a few examples of inspiration that works for you? In what universe is your magical well of creative juice located?

A strange moment of inspiration was definitely hearing MONSTERS ANONYMOUS for the first time. KEVIN HEARN played it live and you could tell it was such a fun song, but when you hear the VOICE RECORDING… You know it just has to be animated, and Kevin’s loopy doodle-style drawings were unlike anything else. TOO UNIQUE, EVERY BIT OF IT. I remembered recently that I was a fan of H.R. GIGER before ALIEN came out. Wow. I knew of him as a 14-year-old. So when I heard he designed a movie I was all in!! And the movie, ALIEN, to this day still fries your mind. GIGER made a massive impression on me, as did TODD RUNDGREN and DONALD ROLLER WILSON.

But as far as filmmaking goes, I was so thrilled when VIDEO allowed anyone to make a movie. So I did. AND WITH VIDEO anyone could make MUSIC VIDEOS. Cheap, but suddenly you could do it yourself. And when I bought my first laptop in the late 90s. IT’S A STUDIO IN A BOX!!! Suddenly I could ANIMATE an entire cartoon and be unrestricted. And I had to embrace that fully.

BUT inspirations are probably obvious: the excessive experimental music of the 70s, maybe the sinister stuff of HITCHCOCK movies. And DALI—all watches should melt, right?   That might sound old school, so how about THE COEN BROS, THE FLAMING LIPS, or RON ENGLISH… Those guys go for it. I just love seeing any artist operate without restraint.

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Sipping a Steaming Latte on a Cool Autumn Evening by Chris Minz

 

Do you have a process you go through before you start a project?

There is no consistent process. It’s always different. Or I should say, there are many processes. With THE AMORPHOUS MIND POLICE FACTOR, it was all about inventing and shooting all the stuff you normally suppress or that the actors never get to do. They went for it, and madness does ensue. It became pretty normal to shoot what I was calling WTF scenes. Every week we shot something kind of daring, and then thought, okay, what’s next? No big deal. I only had one or two actors that got a little uptight. Not bad, not bad at all. A few that had NO BOUNDRIES. And I like that.

 

You have so many different art projects. Painting, cartoons, installation art photography, music, movies! How, if at all, do these differ from one another in terms of creation?

Something like my cartoon book, THE SUBCONSCIOUS JUNGLE, was free form drawing. Sometimes they were jokes. I started dong one drawing a day for FACEBOOK and spent seven minutes on them. Sometimes eleven minutes. It was loosening up the cartoonery tightened up by the OCD CONTROL FREAKISMS of the animation business. The caffeinated paintings are cartoon-influenced and that’s okay. I’ve done a bit of realism and its boring to me, unless its DONALD ROLLER WILSON, man that guy can paint a watermelon like nobody else on earth.

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If You don’t Drink the Coffee it will Evaporate by Chris Minz

You’ve reminded me that I was a photographer as a kid. I had a really nice camera, and the dough to get pictures processed and would keep trying to make inventive shots, or strange scenarios. So shooting a movie now seems like a no brainer. I love it. Not so much the tech stuff, but the composition and direction of shooting. I think that’s what I like the most—shooting. By the time we are in a location, I feel like I’ve written stuff out, I’ve talked with the actors, got the props, we’ve all put our “fun pants and silly shoes” on and now, just let me shoot it. I kind of want them to take over at that point.  And really, the actors and how they do what they do, I have been finding fascinating, ESPECIALLY in THE AMORPHOUS MIND POLICE FACTOR. There are twelve actors and all have a very, very different approach,  and a couple non-actors too…

It was really a strange challenge to work with everyone pretty differently to get good stuff on screen. Two that stand out off the top of my head are TIMOTHY PAUL Mc CARTHY—he plays the cowboy in AMORPHOUS—and DAMON WHITE. They would read the script in bits and pieces, and we’d talk about it and I could tell they were liking it. However, when it was time to act, suddenly all this other stuff would come out, a weird energy… And I was totally surprised and the moments were elevated in weird unpredictable ways. Now when I watch it, they are so natural I can’t remember what was written and what they made up. And NOW, the main actor I’m shooting with, JEFF LEARD, new to Toronto, is a funky curiosity every time. He so goes there and NAILS IT. It’s strangely impressive to watch cause we don’t talk about it as much as I usually like to. He’s simply the right guy and a crazy real talent.

 

Which art type is your favourite? If you only had to pick one thing you could do forever, what would it be?

ALL OF THE ABOVE. But really, movies and maybe animation more so, because they encompasses it all—WRITING, DRAWING, PHOTOGRAPHY, MUSIC, ETC. However, one thing I’m surprised by was that only one piece of my own music was used for THE AMORPHOUS MIND POLICE FACTOR. An old friend, who is a kook and a bona fide composer-type musician, F.TYLER SHAW, scored it, and I was lucky to have access to a ton of TREY GUNN of king crimson alumni music, too. So those guys were the best for it and it was a rich, rich result. You know… NOW, it feels strange to be collecting bits and pieces of my music for an album of mine. I sooooo don’t consider myself a musician anymore… But… Seems like I have a pile of it that’s been stockpiling for years.  How odd.

 

Your movie, The Amorphous Mind Police Factor, was recently featured and shown in Toronto. What’s that all about? Where did the idea come from? What was the creation of this huge enterprise like?

It really is a grand actor experiment. I’d met many curious actors/performers and wanted to dive into the excess of the diversity. It was going to be a fake-u-drama parody of an art film. Then over a year and a half of shooting stuff… It took on a life of its own and totally distracted me from finishing the first movie I had just shot for three or so months.TAMPF was just too much fun to shoot. And so difficult to finish. Really, it’s got too many ideas in it but it’s kind of nuts and epic in its scale. Mission accomplished. It didn’t have much of an agenda beyond that. And somehow, it seems right to show it at Reg HARTT’s cineforum. The last remaining underground theatre in the city. Somehow I like the notoriety he has. So I had to try it out there, of course. But it’s great projection and sound there. People don’t expect that in his place.

 

If you had to define “speculative”, how would you do so?

I’ve never defined it. I’ve liked trying to guess what art of mine people will like. I usually don’t care. So every now and then I wrote a song that was supposed to be a “crowd pleaser”, and it was fun to see it work. Or in THE AMORPHOUS MIND POLICE FACTOR, I could tell what scenes were interesting, or funny, and were getting the results… Otherwise it’s a lot of strange glue about a mysterious social study. The peeps in the movie don’t know what’s happening. I didn’t explain it all and that was intentional ambiguity. In the future… like TOMORROW, my movies have no ambiguity. So I will “speculate” that they are hence more satisfying stories. Time will tell.

Find out more about Chris Minz and his art at http://drminz.com/

 -contributed by Magdalena Wolak

You Have to Create From Your Own Intuition: An Interview with Eva Lewarne

For this interview, The Spectatorial asked Eva Lewarne, a prominent art force in Canada and overseas, to share some of her experiences, wisdom, and creative juice with the speculative audience interested in the fantastical and unique art.

I have had the privilege of working with Eva’s art before, and have seen her work live and up-close in galleries around Toronto. Her work is a fascinating blend of quirky, intellectual, and thought-provoking experiences that get one to think and feel, and I was thrilled that she agreed to an interview, which was conducted by email.

This interview has been edited for style and clarity. 

runawayshadow
Runaway Shadow by Eva Lewarne, http://www.evalewarne.com/

You say that painting is your first and last love. How do you remember that first spark?

Even as a young child I observed people’s faces, their bone structures, and lights and shadows. I was visual….and at 8 years of age, while everyone in the family was watching their new black and white TV, I was sitting on the floor with my sketch pad drawing their feet.

Above my bed I had hung a print of the Mona Lisa and across from her a Modigliani copy.

As a teenager I drew the Beatles, whom I adored of course, and my teachers hung all my work on their walls. My first report card in elementary school read that I was a very good artist.

I was happiest painting and drawing, and later as a teenager writing poetry. Socializing was a secondary choice. I liked being alone and was never bored, still am not.

Your work is often surreal and fantastic, both in painting and photography, how do you come up with these ideas? Is it a long process or a spur of the moment thing?

I try to keep my mind still and not overly cluttered and keep my wants simple. My inner life experiences somehow manifest themselves in my art unintentionally.

I try not to have pre-conceived ideas and wait to see what ideas emerge in my mind and stick around. I particularly try to not think about what is fashionable or what will sell, even though it would be nice to make a living at it.

ravenqueen
Raven Queen by Eva Lewarne, http://www.evalewarne.com/

I am the opposite of a conceptualist. I would call myself an intuitivist.

I wait to hear what my intuition is trying to express itself on canvas. I like going to galleries and looking at other people’s work because occasionally an “Aha!” occurs and an idea materializes, not necessarily related to what I saw, but stimulated by it.

Also, I am an avid reader and sometimes am stimulated by poetry and other literature, but most often the painting happens first and then I read something that tells me what I painted.

An example was a series of bird women I painted in the 90s  and exhibited in France. One day I had just finished a painting with a woman’s face and a jaguar artifact and went out to rest and have a coffee. I passed a bookstore on the way and went to a shelf of books randomly and a book fell out right at my feet called Jaguar Woman by Lynn Andrews. I couldn’t put it down because it introduced me to North American Aboriginal Philosophy, which I knew nothing about prior to doing that painting series.

Have any of the multitude of showings you have done, like the one at the Grand Palais in Paris, and the awards you have won, somehow altered how you create or perceive yourself in creating art?

It stopped me from feeling guilty about being an artist rather than doing good in the world. Raising two children and making a living as well often left me torn between my priorities, BUT that kind of acclaim left no doubt in my mind that I need to paint, that this is what I am meant to be doing. Especially when they stole all my paintings from a big International Show at the Grand Palais.

I was told that it means the patrons locked them in their vault waiting for me to die, because they had decided I will be a significant artist in the future. Of course, no such thing occurred in Canada back then as very few people even knew what the Grand Palais was or that Picasso was discovered there, that even not a lot of French artists are invited to exhibit there.

tickster
Trickster by Eva Lewarne, http://www.evalewarne.com/

Having international acclaim gave me the courage to continue as an artist, despite the cost of materials (as I had no rich family to rely on).

I found very little appreciation for my art here, often being told by Canadian galleries that my art is “too European”. I think what they meant was “we are not interested in female spirituality, only conceptualism and what our clients will buy, i.e., abstract decorative art, with no emotions please and no figures”.

I think back then The Group of Seven dominated people’s appreciation of art and people wanted landscape or abstract only. I am mainly a figurative and/or figurative/abstract artist steeped in expressing and evoking emotions, which to me are the essence of being alive.

Also while in Paris for my next exhibition there at the Sorbonne, I discovered that the only Canadian artist people in France had heard about was Norval Morrisseau, while Canadians did not know about him.

Canadian art back then was not interested in what was happening internationally because the gallery owners here wanted to be the leaders of what their clients and collectors purchased. And Canadians were too sheepish to question them.

In New York, for example, people bought the art they loved even if they had no furniture, while here they hired their decorators to purchase their art. Luckily things are changing and have changed substantially in Canada, but alas REAL collectors still go to Europe and NY to purchase art, not supporting their own artists.

It is that old low self-esteem at play. If I could have moved to France back in the 90s I think I might have actually made a living at painting, but I had children here and a mother to look after.

What comes to your mind when you hear the term speculative art?

It makes me think of gambling or prophetic, futuristic art, but really all true art should be futuristic. Otherwise why reiterate what is all already known by everyone? That is what makes art transcend time, like Shakespeare.

It has to come from an authentic experience of an artist’s inner life; that is what makes art alive, when magic happens.

There is a fantastic, magical element in all of your work. How much of that would you say has been born out of the stories and fairytales you grew up with and have been surrounded by? Not just as a child, but overall?

Growing up in Poland, although supposedly a Catholic country, I was fed stories of faeries, dwarfs, nature spirits, and magic in the children’s literature that I was raised on. Paganism was alive and well, with a love of feminine spirituality. I think some countries appreciate the feminine more than others and call themselves Mother rather than Father lands, Poland and France among them.

unafraidofrain
Unafraid of Rain by Eva Lewarne, http://www.evalewarne.com/

Let’s talk about your photography, because that’s a force in it’s own right.  When did your photographic endeavor begin?

I have always loved photography, because of the detached way one can observe life around them without being self-conscious.

I could never afford a decent camera until the government, after I was laid off from my part-time job at the age of 63, paid my tuition to do a Digital Certificate course at GBC, thinking I stood a better chance at making money with it than painting, and so gave me money to buy a canon T3i. I was in love instantly. Also, I had learned Photoshop on my own when looking for work I was asked to teach it….it is a perfect companion for digital photography.

How much of a different process from painting is it for you?

Actually, it is no different as I can express the same sentiments and feelings with it.One inspires the other, although I have been reluctant to do mixed media, one because of the cost of printing and two because it seems like cheating to paint on a photo, and I like the ambiance of photos on their own.

Playing in Photoshop is very much a process of intuitive explorations for me, very much like painting. People who say there is something “not right” about using Photoshop are people who I would say haven’t bothered to learn the tool. If they have the money and resources to build their own live sets, good for them. I don’t, and can build any set I need in Photoshop.  Digital photography NEEDS Photoshop.

Would you have any words of wisdom to those who would like to pursue art of this caliber, work that is steeped in folklore, spiritualism and magic?

I think real art is only of that caliber. The rest of what people call art is really dead decoration or advertising, a game for the wealthy and the bored.

Art has to be authentic.

Pursing something that you find intellectually stimulating won’t work, you have to create from your own intuition.

However there are ways that your intuition can become clearer to you. Meditation, silence, for one, may give you an “Aha!” moment about what it is that you are meant to be expressing with your art.

I don’t want to give a format or path because that would be defeating the purpose of this kind of art.

– contributed by Magdalena Wolak

 

 Eva Lewarne’s main art page: http://www.evalewarne.com

Eva’s photography page: http://www.evalew.com