The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart

I am a huge fan of this lady and had opportunity to hear her speak to her writing at a Wordfest event.  Jane Urquhart especially influenced me with The Stone Carvers, The Underpainter and Away.  However, with this novel, The Night Stages, she just didn’t make the mark.

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Strengths continue to be Urquhart’s writing of ‘place’ and her amazing capture of lyricism and poetic language.  I continue to be in awe of her capacity to paint images with words and this simply won’t change.

The book is, in fact, elegant in its language, description and characters, but somehow all of those elements did not pull, together, a larger arc.  I found that there were three separate stories being told and I read with anticipation that Urquhart, in her style, would pull these threads together in a surprising and satisfying way.  She didn’t.

The three narratives all spoke to me about connection, relationship, struggle and did share common desperate heart ache, but that’s as far as the links went.  Tam’s exploration of the mural, once grounded for three day’s in Gander, was intriguing to me because of my interest in painting walls and in my love of the visual arts, but Kenneth Lockhead’s partially fictionalized mural, Flight and its Allegories, does not ground the story…or meld successfully with Kieran’s story.

Kieren’s narrative, for me, was endearing.  I would enjoy it if this section was pulled out from the context of The Night Stages, in order to stand on its own.  The race, in particular, was powerfully written.

In reading The Night Stages, the reader is forced to jump around from one of these narratives to another…to be strung along, so to speak.  Unfortunately, from my reading of this past year, this is happening more and more with contemporary literature and I’m starting to wonder if writing is becoming less linear and more fragmented, in general.  Is this the ‘post-modern’ experience of literature?  I HOPE NOT!

I’m including links to a few different reviews here…if you pick this one up to read, don’t anticipate that it follows the Urquhart form that you might be over the moon about.

The Night Stages

 

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

It continues to be my goal to read the books of as many indigenous authors as possible this year…and to read content that will increase my knowledge, leading to better understanding of issues related to our Canadian indigenous peoples.  I have a desire in my heart to be a part of the mechanism that contributes to change, following a formal Truth and Reconciliation process.  The formal process is a mere stepping stone…the work, by all Canadians, is yet to be done.

I am grateful to have connected with author, Sable Sweetgrass, through an on line book club that Sable established and then on to a group book circle at the Forest Lawn Public Library once a month, with the gathering, Chapters and Chat, sponsored by the Aboriginal Pride and 12 Community Safety Initiative and led by Michelle Robinson.  Books offer inroads to powerful ways of viewing the world and understanding, whether non fiction, fiction, theater or poetry.  We owe it to ourselves to become educated.

This month’s read, Wenjack by Joseph Boyden, was selected as much for the weight of issues surrounding its author as for any other reason.  We decided we really wanted to have an honest discussion about appropriation of content.

The aesthetic of the book is beautiful…lovely paper, interesting and welcoming format, gorgeous illustrations and attractive associations with the natural world.  Based on the historical events of a young boy, Chanie who, in fact, was forced into a residential school system and as a result, died,  the discussion about the issues surrounding the writing of the book became a many layered, and at times painful, conversation.

I was unaware of Joseph Boyden’s reputation as an author, given that this was the first time I have picked up one of his books. Highly successful and recognized as an award winning author, Boyden’s connections with indigenous culture and appropriation of indigenous narratives has been called into question in various ways over many years.  His response has been anything but straight forward and the topic has been explored all over the internet.  An example of one such article can be found in the National Post.

I love books and I love the act of reading and it is for me to be discerning around my selection. As a visual artist, I have had to consider ethical boundaries as I explore certain topics in my paintings and it is important that appropriation is considered as I set up these boundaries.  While I am not fond of censorship, I do think, as artists, there is something refreshing about being true to our own stories.  I found our shared discussion circle to be invaluable as it contributed to expanded knowledge, in a very thoughtful way.

wenjack

 

Collaboration

Some weeks ago, artist, Kelsey Fraser, led a workshop at the Esker Foundation on collaborative art making in both drawing and painting.  A key feature of the present exhibit, Earthlings, collaboration creates a wonderful bridge between northern and southern artistic culture.

By happenstance, the week prior to Kelsey’s workshop, I had explored collaboration with a high school learning strategies class.  Often saddled with group projects, older students often struggle with their part of a piece of work (poster, presentation, power point, report) when they are assigned to work with a mixed group of individuals.  I thought that it might be fun to explore a small non-threatening Exquisite Corpse activity in order to enjoy the experience of individual contributions for a common goal and completed work.  To begin with, we looked at the process of collaboration.

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I forgot to grab some photos of the resulting drawings. (may post later)  I had the students complete the first section on a paper folded into three (a character’s head – fantastical to representational) and then walk to someone in the room that they might not know and to trust them with the second section (the torso) and then, finally, that person would get up and pass it on to a third person for completion (the legs).  I enjoyed this exercise with a former student of mine, Tim Belliveau, when he led a session of life drawing at the Glenbow Museum.  It is a great activity for warm up and for ice breaking.  If you want to loosen up the crowd, this is a great method or if you have a fear of not ‘knowing’ how to draw, this activity removes that responsibility.

So, it was no surprise when Kelsey used some similar techniques to begin with the workshop attendees.  She began with blind contour drawings and had us circulate, working with different people on three rounds of portraiture.  The HOW TOs can be found here.

These were the three blind contours completed, where I was the subject.  It was so good to meet up with Jocelyn again!

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Next (and I’ll use this with a class some time or maybe during a pot luck party) we began a telephone game activity…page one write something, pass the booklet on…page two draw something related to page one’s writing….pass the booklet on…page three, write something related to the drawing on page two….pass the booklet on…page four, draw something related to the writing on page three….and so on through ten or so pages.

One needs to completely let go of any notions…expectations…of where this booklet goes in terms on content.  They can become pretty hilarious!

Here are a few pages from my booklet…

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Finally, the participants visited four different tables, to hook up with pencil nicks left on the edges of previous artist’s  compositions and to create their own line drawings in charcoal pencil.  Esker, the paper was of beautiful quality….thank you!  After drawing on three compositions, without looking at any of the other related drawings, we were asked to return to our original places, lay out the four compositions in sequence and to add paint.  Both challenging and thought provoking.  At this stage, the main goal would be to add harmony and unity to four somewhat disjointed pieces.  The colour added a very exciting dimension.

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Thanks to Kelsey Fraser and to Esker Foundation for a wonderful afternoon of exploring line, colour and collaboration!

“Collaboration requires focusing on everything from vision and values to how individuals can feel they are making a real contribution.”
Jane Ripley, Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster

While I don’t think my contributions made sense sometimes, or that I had anything ‘intelligent’ to say, I also really appreciated the conversation PLACEHOLDER: An Unconventional Book Club Discussion with d.talks.  I was low on energy and very distracted and yet I had the true sense that the circle of people attending the event were listening.  Watch for future programs/events on the Esker site.

Join d.talks, in collaboration with Esker Foundation, for an evening discussion that responds to the exhibition, Earthlings, and draws upon the ceramic influences from Rankin Inlet, Cape Dorset, and Medalta in Medicine Hat. Structured as an unconventional book club, PLACEHOLDER is an intimate discussion and an opportunity for Calgarians to identify how our city and citizens affect – and are impacted by – local and global themes borne out of the work of Esker’s current exhibiting artists. Receive a list of selected texts or bring your own book, poem, or object. Let’s form a new narrative in Calgary together!