The Infernal Grove is an unsystematic structural analysis of drug use, addiction and recovery (not necessarily in that order). It is anti-carceral, anti-prohibition and seeks to amplify the voices of radical harm-reductionists and their coalitions. It recognizes the value of the sacred while rejecting all forms of piety. It posits wonder and the land as spaces of enchantment, as not an antidote to but an extension of the space opened up by drugs.
It’s based on the artists’ lived experience of drug use and the consequent interventions of state and medical establishments, which included both involuntary hospitalization and outpatient rehabilitation.
This is the version 1 of The Infernal Grove as it was shown at The Blue Building Gallery in the fall of 2021. The Infernal Grove video will change which each new exhibition or screening.
You Were an Amazement on
the Day You Were Born is a visually rich
film that follows a woman through a life characterized by damage and loss, but
in which she finds humor, love, and joy. With a score that follows the span of
Lenore’s life, from her birth in the early 70s to her death in the 2040s, the
film takes us from moments of harrowing loss to those of poignancy and dark
humor. Her life is told through voice over, narrated by performers who
range in age from nine to sixty-nine, and is beautifully illustrated with
images of animals (including humans), insects and landscapes.
Film theorist Eli Horwatt writes “You Were an Amazement… conveys how the
human animal’s ineluctable death drive can be the source of both profound
comedy and tragic cruelty. In the many stories relayed across this short but
voluble film, viewers are invited into an intimate identification with the
experiences of marginalized others.”
Featuring Becca Manley, who played Shelly in Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant, Barbara Woodford in Shane Meadows’ This is England 86, 88 and 90 and Mary in the recent adaptation of PK Dick’s Electric Dreams for BBC Channel 4.
An exhibition at Argos Center for Art and Media Jan-April 2018.
At Argos the exhibition combines two new monumental groups of works. In the video Something Wonderment, made in collaboration with Vashon Watson, the artists explore the notion of wonder, asking questions about the relationship between the visceral sensations we associate with that concept. These include awe, disgust, and the powerful but oft-disparaged feelings derived from the cute and the cliché.
They interrogate the relationship between wonder and religion, asking if the former is a function of the latter or if the latter is a way to contain the former. Using animation, song, macro photography and micoscropy, the work invites the viewer into a world of magic and science, of empathy and revulsion, of humor and heartbreak.
The eponymous new interactive multimedia installation rounds out the exhibition. On a table there are two microscopes that enable the viewer to investigate various objects and organisms – bones, mosses, crystals, bacteria. The devices are connected to projectors that show the objects greatly enlarged.
In relation to this there are six sculptures: dioramas composed of geological crystals, minerals, and small animal remains such as whiskers, bones or feathers. As they have done with earlier works, in the exhibition, the artists draw reflexive parallels between human society and the animal kingdom.
“Bone collector Maxine Rose, a 14 year old teenage girl, is looking for validation from her heroes, amongst them the primatologist Jane Goodall, bishop Desmond Tutu and the New Zealand teen pop Star Lorde. Offering them a gift of language, Maxine Rose stands for the desire to be visible and understood, not unlike the desire of an artist. We are particularly impressed by the multilayered story telling structure, the freshness of the characterization, and the honest exploration of an artists` vulnerability."
Here Is Everything (2013, 15 min) presents itself as a message from The Future, as narrated by a cat and a rabbit, spirit guides who explain that they’ve decided to speak to us via a contemporary art video because they understand this to be our highest form of communication. Their cheeky introduction, however, belies the complex set of ideas that fill the remainder of the film. Death, God, and attaining and maintaining a state of Grace are among the thematic strokes winding their way through the piece, rapturously illustrated with animation, still and video imagery. It is a work that contains specific details about its themes, but sufficiently ambiguous and free of dogma, including religious dogma that, our futuristic visitors explain, is a vestigial leftover from an earlier phase of evolution. And while Death is an ever-present rumination, so are Redemption, Affirmation, and Possibility.
– John Massier, Hallwalls Catalogue for the exhibition “Hopelessly Middle Aged”, Fall 2012
Lesser Apes (2011 13 min) tells the story of a love affair between a primatologist, Farrah and a female bonobo ape, Meema. Bonobos are the species with which humans share the most DNA, but unlike our species, they are matriarchal, live without conflict, and are unabashedly sexual. A paean to perversion, the film combines animation, live action and song to challenge attitudes about sex, language and our relationship to nature.
Lesser Apes tells the story of a love affair between a primatologist, Farrah and a female bonobo ape, Meema. Bonobos are the species with which humans share the most DNA, but unlike our species, they are matriarchal, live without conflict, and are unabashedly sexual. A paean to perversion, the film combines animation, live action and song to challenge attitudes about sex, language and our relationship to nature.
The contemporary fables of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby propose that existence is abject, farcical, and messy. In their richly textured videos, Duke and Battersby employ live action footage, scavenged images, and simple animations to create episodic structures that evince a simultaneously utopian and dystopian world view.
‘Beauty Plus Pity’ sets a colourful single-channel video within a lush viewing environment populated by costumed taxidermic animals. Presented in seven parts, the video considers the potential for goodness amidst the troubled relations between God, humanity, animals, parents and children. While an animated cast of animal “spirit guides” quote Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be the Verse, and implore us to “get out as early as you can” from life and our parents’ grasp, a hunter dreams of a zoo where he might lie next to tranquilized animals calmed of their savagery. A senile and unstable God stumbles, forgets to take his medication, and turns frost into diamonds. ‘Beauty Plus Pity’ contemplates the shame and beauty of existence; it is part apologia, part call to arms.
Songs of Praise for the Heart Beyond Cure (2006, 14min) marks our return to the episodic structure of our earlier works Rapt and Happy, Being Fucked Up and Bad Ideas for Paradise. As with earlier works, Songs of Praise takes on difficult, often painful subject matter. Themes of addiction, violence, the destruction of the natural world and the agonies of adolescence are woven through the work.
“anything but depressing… [it is founded in] a sense of wonder at the endearing weirdness of life and all the vulnerable, furry little creatures immersed in it (especially us).” Sarah Milroy The Globe and Mail
“a moving yet relentless experience of contemporary life (human and biological) in the face of moral, physical and environmental degradation” Emily Jones, Catalogue Essay, Songs of Praise for the Heart Beyond Cure, Dalhousie Art Gallery, 2007
“…a series of pagan hymns that unearth slight but potent saving graces amid seemingly inescapable pain and anguish.” Jon Davies, Canadian Art, Fall 2006
Steve Reinke on Bad Ideas for Paradise: “There is no such thing as self-esteem. Self-esteem as a construct is illogical and contradictory, so its frequent deployment as the lynch-pin of New Age discourse seems to me satisfyingly appropriate. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t have frequent bouts of self-loathing. There is something truly monstrous about the self-righteous. Eating a well-balanced diet is a horrible act of aggression. Whenever I hear the word “culture” I think of bacteria mutating under an ultraviolet light and I’m happy again for a while. Within the petri dish: unfettered egoless desire, the proliferation of new possibilities ideas made flesh, uncaring and finally airborne. Empathy is a tool for making the cruelty more precise. Beauty is independent of taste; the sublime only works for suckers. Whenever I laugh I feel guilty.”
Bad Ideas for Paradise is a 20-minute episodic videotape. Funny, touching and ambitious in scope, Bad Ideas continues to deal with many of the themes addressed in Duke and Battersby’s earlier works: addiction, spirituality, identity, relationship dynamics and the ongoing quest for joy.