2014 was a year of change for me and thus I didn’t log as many cultural experiences as I would have liked to. As the year comes to a close I reflect on the inspiring events that I got to part take in in 2014 and I’m noticing that this year was largely participating in social justice events, awareness raising events, and listening to lessons from activists. So here is what I thought were some of the best gatherings this year, in no particular order.
1) The Lost Twelve Years- Truck Contemporary Art Gallery. Performance art is definitely an art form that I find courageous and intriguing. This particular performance was part of MS:T 7 festival back in October. The venue was at Truck gallery in an industrial space painted white with stark fluorescent lighting. Upon entry artist Chun Hua Catherine Dong was standing naked on a rice paper wall hanging with a Chinese teapot, a supersoaker, and a ceramic bowl around her. The performance began with Ms. Dong repeatedly pinching her brow ridge above her nose between her index and middle finger knuckles. From time to time she stopped to wet her hand in the ceramic bowl which held water then she continued to pinch. After about seven minutes a definitive flesh wound had begun to form taking the shape of a red bhindi-like dot. As she continued this motion the onlookers were initially amused but as it became clear that Ms. Dong was inflicting harm on herself the mood changed to somber then disturbed. Next she picked an object out of the ceramic bowl which appeared to be a wanton soup spoon. With the spoon she began to scrape her throat along her esophagus. She pressed down violently as she repeatedly stroked her throat until a clear red, raw mark appeared. Again the audience did not know where to look or how to look away. Discomfort and concern could be sensed on the faces of the onlookers. My own internal dialogue consisted of me asking myself how long I was going to let the artist maim herself. This was followed by Dong taking the tea pot, turning her back to the audience, and balancing the teapot on top of her head. She proceeded to pour what appeared to look and smell like calligraphy ink down her back. The ink cascaded down her body and landed on the rice paper. Unexpectedly she swiped the ink pot off her head towards the audience. A shard of the pot landed in my lap. The finale consisted of taking the supersoaker (also filled with ink)and shooting herself first in the heart and then the head. She repeated this motion until there was not ink left. All-in-all this was a very distressing performance and I was trying to make sense of it for quite some time. Perhaps something about self-loathing and cultural rejection. When I read up on it it had to do with Dong’s absence from her home country and her wanting to express her experience as an ethnic minority overseas. What I liked about this performance was that it was the most evocative piece I have witnessed and I thought it was quite ambitious for our generally tame city.
2) Marda Loop Justice Film Festival– November– This is quickly becoming an annual favourite for me. Not only is this event free, there are awesome documentary screenings, tasty food from local vendors, and an NGO village. This year, when I wasn’t tabling for human rights with Amnesty, I watched a couple of great films including “The Patent Wars“, “The Human Experiment“, and “La Violencia“. The last film, about women during the Guatamalan genocide was a hard watch and I found the film, “Granito“, on similar subject-matter, much better done.
3) Honens Hullabaloo– September– This event was definitely more high brow than I have experienced in a while. Honens is well-known for putting on excellent events around the city and this one was no exception. This was an evening in French Cabaret style complete with amuse-bouche food sampling from some of Calgary’s best restaurants accompanied by music from pianist Alexandre Tharaud and Canada’s great Martha Wainwright. Ms. Wainwright, one of my favourites, was singing songs from her Edith Piaf album. The mortifying part of this evening, however, was that Martha had to stop her singing several times to tell the noisy audience to shit the f@#$ up! I respected her assertiveness but was embarrassed for the lack of recognition she got from the audience.
4) Wordfest presents Naomi Klein– October– Wordfest is a beloved annual festival in Calgary. Unfortunately I did not attend as many readings as I would have liked to but fortunately I did catch poli-sci favourite, Naomi Klein. She was promoting her new book “This Changes Everything” which is about the imminent danger of climate change and what we need to do to address it to ensure that life can continue on living on earth. I enjoyed this event for a number of reasons, namely it brought together a like-minded group of individuals to a sold-out lecture in an energy industry city where there is not always room for candid discussion on energy alternatives.
5) Vandana Shiva-April– This event was put on by Public Interest Alberta. Hearing Vandana Shiva speak was a pivotal moment in my life. Ms. Shiva is a leading global food security activist and has led many grassroots movements to protect farmer’s rights and biodiversity, starting in India but quickly spreading around the globe. I was there representing the National Farmer’s Union and petitioning against Bill C-18 which has to do with farmer’s right to save seeds. Vandana’s positive energy combined with her knowledge and strong feminine persona made for a very inspiring evening.
6) Sled Island– June– Last year’s flood led to a loss in revenue for one of Calgary’s trending indie music festivals Sled Island. Many generous music patrons donated their tickets to the festival rather than being reimbursed post flood to ensure that the festival could continue in upcoming years. As a result, 2014 saw a great line up of musicians and fans who were gung-ho to participate in the festivities. Luke’s Drug Mart in Bridgeland started off the festival by bringing in Shad and blocking off 1st ave NE. When Neko Case unexpectedly cancelled her Sled Island show a few weeks later the Sled Island organizers decided to offer a free outdoor show at Olympic Plaza including musical acts by Blitzen Trapper and Joel Plaskett. The beautiful Friday evening of the concert turned into an epic rain blitz that resulted in seeking shelter in outhouses and futilely under tree canopies. The next night, staying up until midnight three and a half months pregnant to see St. Vincent, was also well worth it until I accidentally fell asleep on the couches at Flames Central and got woken up by a disapproving security guard.
7) Emmanual Jal Tour- February– I felt really lucky to be part of Emmanuel Jal’s “We Want Peace” tour. Emmanuel visited about ten schools around Calgary and because I volunteer with Amnesty International I was able to get Mr. Jal to speak at my school. This former child soldier-cum-rapper/activist inspired many youngsters and adults alike during his stay and his story really made me think about the power of human resilience.
2015 will undoubtedly bring changes and the landscape of my cultural outings may consist of more baby yoga classes and long walks along the riverside. A whole new kind of cultural world will manifest itself and I’m looking forward to exploring the different parental communities in this city. Until next year, auld lang syne.