Cultural Olympiad in Vancouver connects artists to the world
As I write The Canada Project – a series of prose poems about my life from Pune to New Westminster, and in between, I gather up the stories of not only Canadians but people from all over the world. And what compels me most are stories of dis-location : events, people, places that get “disappeared, marginalized, smoothed-over” by dominant voices. First Confession: I didn’t expect to see these sorts of “artistic acts of intervention” sponsored by Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics.
But reading through the event listings, where better to connect self, art, and other people’s imagination than in and at a Cultural Olympiad? Beginning this week, visitors from around the globe can see, listen, and participate in a range of events, ticketed and free. And it’s the free part, and the range of innovation and experimental work that won me over from a decided disinterest in the usual hot and cold items of Big Spectacle Productions that usually associate with the Olympics.
If you are not that much up on curling, figure skating or hockey (second confession! Please don’t run me out of town and okay, I do have an opinion on this latest NHL v Burrows snafu), here’s just a few productions, installations, and plays that might intrigue and certainly seem to connect Canada to the world, particularly around themes of belonging, identity, voice and place.
First up, two ticketed events, both of which impress with their scope and the nature of their story, “what does it mean to appropriate, to touch another culture”? In the musical, “Beyond Eden”–set on Haida Gwaii in the 1950’s – famed artist, Bill Reid and a group of anthropologists sail off to remote Anthony Island. Their mission: to “save” what they saw as the “last remnants” of a dying culture. Their intent: to cut down ancient totem poles.
Local independent paper The Tyee features a fascinating, in-depth review by Heather Ramsay. The production is “self-billed” as a “musical spectacle,” with aboriginal and non-aboriginal actors. Its narrative touches on tension filled questions about Canada’s first nations and contact with the curatorial world.
Similar in theme, “The Edward Curtis Project,” a play and adjoining photographic exhibit, intervenes in another concept, relevant not just to Canada, but to all countries with indigenous populations, “The quest for the ‘Vanishing’ Indian.” On this blog, we sometimes write about colonialism and identity – these works make real, whole threads of discussion.
“Ginger Goodwin Way”: (free!) – photographic exhibition – in which a mix of artists from Mexico/Amsterdam, Vancouver/Frankfurt and Berlin “take ownership of stories that are in danger of being lost or distorted,” centred around the miner and labour activist whose death sparked Canada’s first general strike.
“Poetics: a ballet brut” (not free) – theatre/dance – described as “do-it-yourself-theatre” – the photos show men contorting their bodies. It’s from the National Theater of Oklahoma. Hmmm.
“Altered”: visual arts, digital/film/video – (free!) – this mixed media installation features a Canadian/American and a Vietnamese-Canadian and explores the “cultural history of memorials.” The production will be displayed at the beautiful Mountain View Cemetery celebration centre – set on the rise of a hill with a gorgeous view of the city.
“Syndicate of Public Speakers: Eight times an unknown quantity”: visual arts/literary arts – (free!) – a public lecture series created by Portland, USA novelist/publisher, Matthew Stadler.
If you are anywhere near Vancouver this spring, and willing to navigate the city despite Olympic security corridors and any phobias about crowds (third confession), the Cultural Olympiad might promise a fresh, new look at Canadian and world artists. Surprised? Planning to attend? Not interested? Disdainful? I’m interested to hear from those of you who may be “culture crawlers” at the Olympiad and equally interested to hear from artists and readers who won’t be going.
p.s. I hope my inclusion of links from the official 2010 Cultural Olympiad doesn’t, er, constitute some kind of breach? That’s how deep the practices of ownership and proprietary interest have run these past few years here in the host city. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.