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Anatomy of a performance artist

 

To anyone who knew him or watched him, there was never any doubt that Keith Cole was born to perform. A trained dancer, Cole, like most dancers, resorted to other means to pay the rent. Whether it was going on stage in Pride Week as one the Cheap Queers or hosting events such as a burlesque night or a public debate, Cole, six-foot-four and often in highly mascara-ed drag, could be counted on to do something entertaining, outrageous or even instructive. His most remarkable performance was a run for mayor, complete with well attended rallies, in 2010: he placed eighth in a field of 80 candidates.

At a certain point, Cole, who holds a BFA from York University, decided to go back to school and in 2012 earned an MFA from OCAD University in performance art. His reasoning: “It seemed as if dance didn’t have any new ideas, theatre didn’t seem to be going anywhere and I thought, if you want to know where things are going, look at the visual arts.”

For his graduating project, Cole built a “big huge gay performance art vehicle,” from an abandoned wide-seat wheelchair he found, a platform with a sail fashioned from a shower curtain and a shopping cart. For six days, he pulled the contraption around Toronto, occasionally stopping to do a little tap dance on the platform that doubled as a bed when he pulled over to sleep at night. On the seventh day, Cole wheeled his vehicle into the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto and disassembled it. “I took it apart, so there was nothing left but a bit of detritus to sweep up. . . It was as if it had never existed,” he says.

In performances such as this one, Cole not only reinvented himself, but was re-fashioning performance art. In the 70s’ and 80s’ performance artists staged their work in art galleries or artist-run centres. And while the works of artists such as General Idea, Tanya Mars and Joanna Householder were often ephemeral, but documented, the context meant their work was treated as any other kind of visual art. And usually these performances were scripted.

At the juncture of old and new is FADO Performance Art Centre. Currently run by artistic and administrative director Shannon Cochrane, FADO has been the home for performance artists since 1993. Cochrane has provided support to Cole and collaborated with him on his book club project on the Jacqueline Susann novel Valley of the Dolls that concluded in January, with a mock graduation ceremony at 401 Richmond and a screening of the Valley of the Dolls movie.

Cochrane had announced she was interested in performance art projects that worked on the concept of a salon, an academic course or intellectually based club. This was made-to-measure for Cole, who as a sessional lecturer at York University and Seneca College, had been toying with the idea of teaching as performance. So he put up the idea of a book club that would run for five weeks. Participants got a free copy of the book, but were expected to read the entire novel, do homework and turn up for every session prepared to discuss topics outlined in the course syllabus. The whole thing worked even better than Cole had anticipated.

Inspired by the bedroom scenes in the Valley of the Dolls movie, Cole, who dressed the part of professor, held the book club sessions in a downtown hotel at Richmond and Spadina where people could sprawl on large king-size bed. Only one participant questioned the idea of reading “this shitty novel.” Cole was working off the legitimate notion of re-evaluating work in a new cultural context. “We just focused on the book. The book and the movie are quite different. The ending is completely different.  We would have sessions where we would talk about the nameless characters in the book,” or they would discuss the opinions of a bestselling book and popular movie as they are taken up by later generations of readers and viewers.

Cole’s master stroke was to persuade novelist and performer Kristyn Dunnion to pose as an academic giving the keynote address to the graduates. Posing the question, how many come from small towns? Dunnion delivered her lines: “We have this in common: aspiration, desperation, desire. We abandoned local expectation to enter into a magical place – urban, fictional, where we could become someone completely new. Or completely Gay. Just like us, the main characters come from shitty little towns to The Big City. So far, how is this different from our own stories?”

Following Dunnion’s speech, Cole, wearing a Harvard graduate’s majestic gown, handed out certificates to those who’d completed the course and then we watched Valley of the Dolls (1967), starring Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate and Susan Hayward. Even if you hadn’t sat in on the book club sessions there was much to appreciate in this finale.

In 2016, Art Gallery of Ontario curator Wanda Nanibush, invited Keith Cole to do a piece for her show, Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989, specifically to pay tribute to the work of the late David Buchan (1950-1993) who was a multi-media performance artist whose works often commented on advertising and pop culture. This was the opportunity Cole needed to do his Tom Thomson drowning piece. He’d originally planned to put it on in the city-run Owen Sound gallery that houses some Tom Thomson works. But when the curators there discovered Cole’s take on the mystery of Thomson’s death was that the artist was gay and perhaps killed by one of the many women who lusted after him, Cole’s proposal was dropped.

Now he had the Signe Eaton gallery at the AGO in which to give three five-and-a-half-hour-long performances, that consisted of Cole, wearing a wig he’d made himself out of colourful fishing line (Thomson was found with a line wrapped around his ankle) repeatedly dunking his head into a canoe filled with water, and tossing his fishing-line tresses back until all the water was out on the gallery floor.

For those following the storyline of performance art in Canada, this was full circle. Cole had brought his brand of performance art back to back to a visual arts space to be performed for an audience of visual artists and viewers.

With typical cheekiness, Cole titled the October 2016 performance, “#Hashtag Gallery Slut, A three-way performance . . . featuring The Spirit of Tom Thomson, The Spirit of David Buchan and Keith Cole.” The book that came out of this show will be launched on July 9th at the Gladstone Hotel. Who dares predict what Cole will show up in?

Photos clockwise from top left:  Keith Cole performance at the AGO; Cole does the spirit of Tom Thomson; Valley of the Dolls book club participant Ken Moffatt with Cole and Kristyn Dunnion; photography by Henry Chan

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Mapping lives in dance

Map by Years is a feast for Toronto dance fans. Peggy Baker has assembled an all-star cast of dancers, choreographers, musicians and designers to present three of her stellar pieces from the past and to perform herself in a solo dance story created with Sarah Chase.

The outline of windows on the rear wall of the Theatre Centre space turn it into a salon, an intimate private space to experience virtuosity.

Jessica Runge is a wonder in “Her Heart,” a piece Baker made on herself in 1993 and revised in 2005. It is one of the earlier instances in which Baker performed with a live musician, choreographing both performers.

Here pianist Cheryl Duvall plays the four sections of the Johannes Brahms Intermezzo in tandem with Runge, who appears to ride the music. The music is in her, leading her, as it is in pianist Duvall. Runge, with her incredible fluidity, wearing the blue velvet long A-line dress designed by Caroline O’Brien, makes “Her Heart” her own, leaving with a look of peace and hope, as if she were giving us a piece of her heart.

Andrea Nann, another of Baker’s well chosen legacy dancers, revives “Krishna’s Mouth” (2003) in her inimitable style. The lines of the narrative are choreographed to repeat as Nann (Natasha Bakht performs on alternate nights) speaks/dances and cellist Anne Bourne keens and plays Karen Tanaka’s “Song of Songs.” As a child, Krishna the Hindu god of compassion and love, puts a clot of earth into his mouth. When his mother investigates she “sees the entire universe in her baby’s mouth.” Nann, hair braided in a long pigtail, wears a translucent tunic over top and square-cut pants and engages in very geometric moves, sweeping across the stage, crouching low, lying down and rising up, the energy driving her from her core. Musician and dancer are balanced; both are a vehicle for expression of the music. Acoustics may need some adjustment as there are moments when the women’s voices and the music overwhelm each other.

Baker created the silent solo “Portal” (2008) with lighting designer Marc Parent. Kate Holden (Mairi Greig on alternate nights) embodies Baker’s notes: “I was forced to consider the edges of time and space at the brink of death.” Holden appears in a cone of light that makes a lit square just big enough to accommodate the performer. She wears an expression of sadness, almost defeat. But the dance defies death, the movement and the breath making all the necessary music. The stage goes black and Holden reappears in a new space of light, bare arms windmilling, each half of her body appearing to act independently of the other, strong and under control.

“Portal” makes a natural transition to “unmoored,” Baker’s second creation with Sarah Chase. The two first made “The Disappearance of Right and Left” in 2003, based on 102 stories Chase asked Baker to write, two for each year of her life up until then. But Baker omitted an important tale, that of her marriage to musician and composer Ahmed Hassan. Last year she came back to Chase, ready to tell that story.

Out of 30 pages of Baker’s writing, done in a room near the Mediterranean in Bogliasco, Italy, Chase has shaped a performance that Baker speaks, sometimes reading, sometimes reciting, raw in its emotions and polished in its performance. Two chairs, a table and a music stand make three stations among which she moves. What we see in our mind’s eye are the rooms Baker describes, from apartment to nursing home to hospital, where her long-time husband died, age 55, after living with multiple sclerosis for many years.

There’s a principle, it seems, fundamental to all choreography – you can see it in ballet, in bharatnatyam  and in modern dance – that makes the spine the centre from which all else moves. In Baker’s work, this full-frontal first position is often seen; as if her spine, running through neck and torso, were the driveshaft for the movement.

In black shirt, belted black jeans and low-heeled boots, Baker faces us, very erect, then moves through her story extending her arms to give it to us, accompanied by the vocals of singer Maryem Hassan Tollar, Ahmed Hassan’s sister. Everyone is moved, including the dancer.

As an artist Baker needed to make this dance story, for it marks the renewal of creativity, going forward with undying love on the wings of a poem by Rumi.

Map by Years

Works by Peggy Baker|Sarah Chase

Produced by Peggy Baker Dance Projects

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, through February 25

Photo of Peggy Baker (top left) by Aleksandar Antonjevic. Clockwise: Andrea Nann and Ahmed Hassan

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Older, better and timeless

The 40th edition of Claudia Moore’s showcase of dance, Older and Reckless, might easily be named Older and Better. It’s hard to think of the 15 professionals working in top form as older, but a few would be considered elderly in dance terms. And a flock of volunteers, some not so old, in Peter Chin’s Tell Everyone are not dancers at all but make a wonderful team.

Chin’s huge ensemble work features Dan Wild, Bonnie Kim, Susie Burpee, Marie-Josée Chartier and Francisco Carrera leading 20 community recruits in an intricately patterned dance as Chin plays percussion instruments, including a big skin drum, on the side. The piece is a tribute to Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, a man of 23 who was knifed and killed in May on public transit in Portland, Oregon while defending two Muslim girls against a white supremacist. His last words as he lay dying in the arms of a woman bystander were, “tell everyone on this train I love them.” What the world needs now is more love and connectedness and this very east Asian, foot-stomping dance, to traditional Tibetan songs and recordings of the Bosavi people of Papua New Guinea, showed us what might happen if we all just reached out to one another.

A moving duet based on the struggles of the mentally ill, Ils m’ont dit is performed by Jane Mappin and Daniel Firth. Mappin choreographed this tender yet muscular piece, conveying a story of longing and misunderstanding in abstract movements set to a score by Erich Kory: whispering voices lead into  balladic strings with some staticky electronic sound. The couple’s pure, clean lines and complex partnering, drawing in and then repelling each other, make a love song in dance.

Heidi Latsky has been seen before on a Harbourfront stage as a partner with Lawrence Goldhuber, both of them formerly dancers with the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane company. On her own since 2001, she created Countersolo in 2013. For Older and Reckless, she does a section from it, Solo One. She arrives under a murky light, appearing to walk on water. As the lights grow more intense, so does her dance speed up. This solo is short and swift and arresting.

A curious coincidence on the program is that after the colourful panoply of Chin’s Tell Everyone, every performer that follows is in all black or white.

Ric Brown and Darryl Tracey wear black pants and black shirts with white buttons, like cowboy shirts. The video backdrop looks like a desert where cowboys might roam. Lesandra Dodson choreographed In Two Days a Man Can Change, a piece from 2010. These guys might have stepped out of Sam Shepherd play, except they are more funny than grating. One goes into plank position with opposite arm and leg raised and then collapses. “What’s wrong? Not enough core strength?” teases the other. A contest ensues: the bigger guy gets down and the other one taunts him: “hold it lower.” There is talk of nemesis and heroes, meeting your dark side in a mirror-image of yourself and fun with fake mustaches and noses, as befits a dance whose title is drawn from an Elmore Leonard text about a change of character (“just like a rope pulling you into it”).

Sashar Zarif’s solo The wound is the place where the light enters you is a gripping meditation on memory and life cycles, the title inspired by the poetry of Rumi. This is a mature solo from a dancer steeped in the dance and spiritual practices of the near east and central Asia. His slow build-up to a whirling trance-like movement winds down again to a slow journey. He keeps our attention with his refined moves; walking away from us, a hand trembles slightly behind his right flank. Zarif is definitely on a positive trajectory as he grows older in dance.

The final slot on the program is an elegant solo created for veteran ballet star Evelyn Hart by Matjash Mrozewski. Hart starts from a seated position, then stands up in a long elegant ivory dress that exposes only her arms. There is something pure in Abiding, a simple statement in sweeping, flowing gestures that says not older, but timeless.

Older and Reckless #40

Produced by Claudia Moore MOonhORsE Dance Theatre in association with Harbourfront Centre

At the Harbourbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto through November 11

Photos by Tamara Romanchuk. From clockwise: Tell Everyone, Evelyn Hart, Ric Brown and Darryl Tracy, Jane Mappin and Daniel Firth

 

 

 

 

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Indigenous achievement on screen

 

“How many have to die before you say, Enough? ENOUGH!” So says one of the Maori women in Waru, a film made in New Zealand by eight Maori female directors, each of whom contributed a 10-minute segment to a feature telling how a community comes together over the killing of a boy by his caregiver.

Tomorrow, Waru will open the 18th imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, running from October 18 to 22 in different downtown Toronto locations. imagineNATIVE, now the largest festival of indigenous screen content in the world, is this year presenting 130 works, including 116 films and videos, five audio pieces and nine digital media works. Almost three-quarters of the works (72%) were made by women.

Powerful imagery about powerful women, Waru is composed of eight shorts, each made in one continuous shot that, strung together, tell the story from many points of view of a boy named Waru, revealing the pain of child abuse and looking to ways of healing.

The festival closer, screening Sunday at TIFF Bell Lightbox, is The Road Forward, a Canadian-made musical documentary created by Marie Clements, a Métis/Dene playwright and filmmaker from Vancouver. The National Film Board production is based on a stage show employing first nations singing and dancing to tell the story of protest and activism by indigenous peoples in Canada from the 1930s to the present.

Sweet Country, another searing feature from Down Under, is a western directed by Australian filmmaker Warwick Thornton. Set in 1929 in the Northern Territory, the movie is based on an actual event: the murder of a white rancher by an Aboriginal bushman acting in self-defence.

This year’s festival is an occasion to mark the 50th film made by Alanis Obamsawin, Our People Will be Healed. The Quebec filmmaker, whose works go back to 1971, when she made her first film with the NFB, Christmas in Moose Factory, has this time turned her lens on the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre, a Cree school near Norway House, 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg. As the 85-year-old Obamsawin told reporters in September at the time of the Toronto International Film Festival, “if you want to start talking about (native) problems, start talking about them in a positive way.”

Indictment: The Crimes of Shelley Chartier, is a documentary from CBC Docs POV. “I was stupid, I was bored, I was lonely – that’s the truth,” Chartier tells the camera of her catfishing exploits. She relates how simple it was to impersonate celebrities and their fans online from her home in a remote reserve in Manitoba, Easterville. When an NBA superstar falls for Chartier’s online pose as a model who sends him nude photos of herself, the player is entrapped with the revelation the pictures were of a 17-year-old. Chartier’s extortion efforts took RCMP on a trail that led to the Playboy Mansion and other celebrity locales, before Chartier was indicted and sent to prison for 18 months.

Among the 102 short films screening at the festival are many directed by emerging indigenous filmmakers. Razelle Benally (Diné) is an alumna of the Sundance Film Institute Native Filmmakers Lab. Her 10-minute drama, Raven, screens in the shorts program Mother + Child. Beautifully shot, Raven is the wordless, heart-breaking story of a teenage suicide that derails at the last minute.

Terry Jones, a Seneca artist from the United States, has made untitled & unlabeled, a three-minute experimental documentary that uses a video-game format to tell the story of how as a small boy he learned just how “different” he was.

Inuit filmmakers Carol Kunnuk and Zacharias Kunuk are represented at the festival with the world premiere screening of “Bowhead Whale Hunting with My Ancestors,” the first episode of a seven-part television series, Hunting With My Ancestors.

The festival’s new headquarters at 401 Richmond Street West will be the site for much of the industry component of the festival, including the imagineNATIVE live pitch sessions, workshops and panel discussions on such topics as, “Breaking the Mould: Developing Indigenous Narrative Models.”

Friday night, starting at 5 pm at the Onsite Gallery, is the festival’s Art Crawl, a bus tour taking in shows and talks on contemporary indigenous art at seven gallery spaces.

Partnering with Hamburg’s A Wall is a Screen, the festival presents an urban walk at 7:30 on Friday from the Art Gallery of Ontario featuring shorts projected on various wall spaces.

Last but not least, imagineNATIVE presents The Beat, hosted by Jarrett Martineau at the Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday night, showcasing live performances by Mob Bounce, Kayla Briët, Ziibiwan and DJ Kookum and screenings of music videos.

 

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

Oct. 18 to 22 at various venues in Toronto

Go to imaginenative.org for details and schedules

Photos, clockwise from top left: Sweet Country, Indictment: The Crimes of Shelley Chartier, Raven, Waru

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Sharing their culture – with song, dance and heart

Every performance of the Le La La dancers repeats a form that goes back thousands of years. But it takes this Victoria company and its director George Me’las Taylor to make the Kwakwaka’wakw (kwa kwa key wok) songs and dances new again.

Taylor’s willingness to share his culture is powered by a prodigious talent. He’s a showman. He’s a singer and drummer and knows how to wear a mask and animate it.

Last Saturday on the stage of the Victoria Aboriginal Cultural Festival, Taylor, born in Alert Bay, B.C., was in full voice, singing, drumming and introducing the dances.

“We perform these dances,” he said, not just for spectacle, “but because they belong to us.”

He meant “belong” in both a cultural and a family sense. In the Kwakwaka’wakw tradition, a dance and the mask that identifies it is the property of a particular family, passed on by inheritance or marriage. That means at any occasion that demands a potlatch, such as a birth, death or marriage, the family members can enact the dances they own. Some dances are considered sacred and are witnessed only in the context of a potlatch.

Since I first saw them perform in Toronto in 2006, Le La La (it means travelling from here to there) has only grown stronger at a kind of storytelling that’s at once specific to the spiritualism of the Kwakwaka’wakw and universally understood. Taylor’s nation has inhabited the northern tip of Vancouver Island, nearby islands and coastal inlets for millennia. Two of George and Melanie Taylor’s sons, Jason, 32, and Jarid, 29, have always danced with Le La La. Today the company also includes nephews and grand-nephews and grandson Lason Taylor, who is 5 years old. Melanie is the company manager.

The Kwakwaka’wakw are renowned artists whose reputation extends back to the time of Contact and includes important carvers such as the late Mungo Martin and his grandson Chief Tony Hunt. The full intent of the masks is only revealed when they are danced. Introducing Wild Woman of the Woods or Dzunukwa, Taylor tells the story of a haunting character represented with a mask featuring a hook nose and big red lips. She’s known as a bringer of wealth, but like many a mythical creature she has a dark side. Children were warned not to wander into the woods in case Dzunukwa might be abroad. She likes to snatch up young ones and take them home to eat. A Le La La dancer in a fur suit, wearing the magnificent mask, bears a cedar bark basket on his back – all the better for carrying home small children.

Bukwus, the wild man of the woods, possesses great strength and can make himself invisible. One interpretation has it that Bukwus might offer food that a wise person would refuse, because it is Bukwus’ habit to consume the souls of the living. Bukwus might also be an aboriginal interpretation of Big Foot.

Le La La’s Bukwus enters the stage in an outfit that looks like moss; he is truly scary. The transformation dance is an opportunity to see how dancers really do take on the identity of the animals and spirits they depict. On Saturday, 18-year-old Calvin Charlie-Dawson performed this dance with great agility, surrounded as he transformed himself by dancers Ethan Taylor and Jarid Taylor, wearing button blankets.

As a director at large of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia, George Taylor has an official role as an ambassador for first nations culture. And ever since establishing Le La La in 1987 he has been taking the message of friendship and unity around the world, from Europe, to China and Mexico and all points of the North American compass.

“My father always told me to be proud to be first nations, and I am proud. But I am also a proud Canadian,” Taylor tells his audience. He means it and he lives it. In fact he says it again.

Family, pride, love, respect, harmony and peace. These are the values that Le La La stands for.

Photos, clockwise from top left: Haida chief Lance Baker, George Me’las Taylor, Jenna Lancaster; Calvin Charlie Dawson as the Raven with Jarid Taylor; Ethan Taylor dancing the Nun the bear; Lason Taylor; Andy Everson of K’ómoks First Nation and Ethan Taylor.

See George Taylor at the prow of a canoe at the opening of Victoria’s aboriginal cultural festival: http://www.cheknews.ca/aboriginal-festival-kicks-off-traditional-canoe-landing-189217/

For more about the company go to www.lelaladancers.com

 

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Hands across the water

Watching first nations’ artists carve their works is nothing new for Victoria, where Thunderbird Park, around the corner from the legislative buildings, was the site of a carving shed from its opening in 1941.

But it’s not every day that a Coast Salish artist sits down for a demonstration with carver friends from the Iatmul tribe in the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea. Elaine Monds, founder and director of Alcheringa Gallery on Yates Street in Victoria, has been facilitating such cross-cultural interactions for a number of years.  And it was on her premises that three carvers were at work with their tools on Saturday, showing visitors how it’s done.

This was the fourth visit to Vancouver Island for Claytus Yambon, who is well acquainted with artist John Marston of Ladysmith. In 2009, the two of them participated in a project called Hailans to Ailans which paired Papua New Guinea aboriginal artists and their Northwest Coast counterparts. Near Marston’s home, Yambon and Marston carved a magnificent red cedar war canoe called “Bummdianmari” (one mind, one people), that features a prow with female image and a stylized alligator. The sides of the canoe display carvings integrating the motifs of both cultures.

“It was the most unexpected thing that ever happened in my life,” said Yambon of that first venture into another Pacific art tradition. He was whittling away at a swamp hen, a creature that is central to the Iatmul way of life. “They are what we survive on.” Beside him, Marston was in the early stages of carving a mask out of a large disk of alder. For him too the exchange with the Papua New Guineans, which took him to Yambon’s village in Sepik, was a life-changer.  “It expanded not only my art practice but my life’s horizons. Witnessing a culture that is relatively intact from ancient times to today was pretty moving for me.”

Both his parents were carvers, said Marston, as is his brother Luke. “We work with alder when its green, as it dries it gets harder and changes colour. This mask will be dark brown when it’s finished.” The smooth face, which will ultimately incorporate both female and male aspects, showed a remarkable serenity.

Edward Dumoi, also from Sepik, was carving a cat. It was his first time in British Columbia. “I’m self-taught,” said Dumoi, noting that his father who died when Edward was young had been an artist. Dumoi’s work bridges the traditional and the contemporary. Domestic cats are a favourite subject, carved with the same panache as his totemic finials for houseposts. He can see the effects of the cultural exchanges that have been going on across the Pacific. “After John had been to visit us, I noticed that he’d used some of our stylings in his work. Maybe I’ll do the same,” he said, with a broad grin.

 

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Hogging it: Rosenblatt and Callaghan

Stomachs UniteDrawing #11Chow DownDrawing #18

It’s anything but hogwash: an intellectual and artistic engagement between two CanLit titans entitled Hoggwash, because Joe Rosenblatt’s letters are addressed to James Hogg, Barry Callaghan’s alter ego and poetic protagonist. The release of the book, published by Exile Editions and subtitled The Callaghan and Rosenblatt Epistolary Convergence, is accompanied by an exhibition of Callaghan’s and Rosenblatt’s drawings and paintings on at the GN Studio in Oakville until May 11.

The works displayed on two walls at GN Studio are all new. (Those pieces reproduced in the book are no longer in the artists’ possession.)These pictures seem to converse across the room. Callaghan’s surrealistic, Dali-esque beings, all feet and lips and teeth, address Rosenblatt’s birds, cats, fish, dogs and other half-human creatures with much on their minds, and not all of it philosophic.

Hoggwash began with a proposal from Rosenblatt.  “Ten years ago I suggested to Barry that I would like to write to the leading protagonist in his epic poem, James Hogg and ask him a series of philosophical questions, pointed questions, as to the birth, or reincarnation of Hogg who emerges on an ice floe in Toronto Harbour and is set upon by thugs and crucified. Barry as Hogg would answer my questions, referring to our mutual friend Barry Callaghan.”

The epistles would also serve as a forum for the two authors’ thoughts on religion, philosophy, poetry and literature in general. The result (full disclosure; I acted as copy editor) is a unique Canadian literary document and a lively entertainment.

Callaghan sets the pace for Hoggwash in an opening Q&A with Rosenblatt, quoting liberally from Rosenblatt’s poetry. “You seem to me to be a blue angel, always in a delirium of poems and in this delirium you are, over and over again, born like death, with burning branches growing . . . .”

Rosenblatt describes himself as a “disillusioned romantic” and admits to a strange kind of voyeurism, the study of bees and their pollinating ways. Hogg is captured in a poem as a man living through “an endless winter of endless / nights, . . . sitting / squat hour after hour by a seal hole in the ice, / waiting for the snout of the seal . . . .” Hogg is in some ways the straight man to Rosenblatt’s remarks on Hogg’s musings about Martin Heidegger, God, the Virgin Mary and his Toronto subway Stations of the Cross. As for Callaghan, Hogg remarks, he “can be a bit of a gadabout and a rounder.”

This is not the first time either poet has emerged as a visual artist to be reckoned with. Writing about Callaghan’s Hogg works for an Ottawa exhibition, artist Vera Frenkel identified him as “a naturally skilled draughtsman.” Drawing and painting were something he did from an early age, prompting a poet visiting the Morley Callaghan household to ask what his son was to be, “poet or painter?”  But like Rosenblatt, Callaghan needs a theme and Hogg (the actual James Hogg immigrated to Upper Canada in 1824 from Glasgow) has provided him with lots of inspiration.

Among the Callaghan watercolours on display at GN, a large picture of limbs and lips locking, called “Hogg Remembers the All of their Love,” is a tender depiction of two lovers. Other paintings are more in-your-face, even sinister, such as “Hogg in Purgatory” or “Hogg Pursued by Devils in Hell.” These Hogg paintings are expressive in their jumble of body extremities and Janus-like visages of the earthly/heavenly polarities in Hogg’s thinking.

Drawing and painting is more of a constant pursuit for Rosenblatt, who has a solo show concurrently running at Yumart Gallery in Toronto. Making his artist’s statement, the poet says, “In my drawings personalities grow exactly like limbs . . . . Those creatures in my landscape carry my genetic material. . . . The drawing paper demands its form. It wants to be fed and craves for limbs. And perhaps a spiritual envelope called the soul.” At GN you can see in Rosenblatt’s black-and-white drawings accentuated with bright splotches of paint that the hand that draws the lines is the same one whence Rosenblatt’s thoughts proceed on paper. “Stomachs Unite” is a good illustration of the Stoma principle under discussion in Hoggwash. Other works, such as “Chow Down” and “Eat or Be Eaten” could be visual equivalents of his ripostes to Hogg.

There’s plenty of food for thought in Hoggwash, both the book and the art works; readers and viewers might well demand a sequel.

“Hoggwash: The Exhibition,” April 16 to May  11, gnstudio / contemporary art, 123 Lakeshore Road West, Oakville, ON

“Angels, Demons and Spirits,” works by Joe Rosenblatt, May 7 to 28 at Yumart Gallery,  401 Richmond St. West, Suite B20, Toronto, ON

Hoggwash: The Callaghan and Rosenblatt Epistolary Convergence, Exile Editions, 118 pages, $17.95 pbk.

Art work courtesy of the artists, from top: “Stomachs Unite”; “Compared to What,” Drawing #11; “Chow Down”; “Compared to What” Drawing #18