The scene opens on the stark white walls of an empty dance studio. A dancer’s body appears on the floor out of nowhere, its gender ambiguous. The dancer merges into another dancer, who seamlessly continues the gestures of the first. Slippery pools of colour emerge on the blank floor and walls: pixelated pastel blocks dart across the white paint, while shimmering fluorescent forms bleed together like spilled ink.
Suddenly, the screen—blowing violently in the wind and attached precariously to a building on Halifax’s Barrington Street—erupted in a twirling cyclone of limbs and arms, which twisted in and out of focus, fusing together and tearing apart.
This experience was part of “3X3X3,” a month-long exhibition in Halifax that presented video art in public spaces during the city’s Photopolis festival. Presented by Halifax artist-run centres Eyelevel Gallery and the Centre for Art Tapes, “3X3X3” joined the forces of three curators—Céline Jouenne, directing manager of France’s Videospread; Michael McCormack, director of Eyelevel; and Mireille Bourgeois, director of CFAT—in presenting three artists over three sites.
The Barrington Street segment focused on emerging Toronto-based artist David Frankovich’s reimagining of Norman McLaren’s famous 1968 ballet film Pas de deux. Frankovich’s short film Plus de Deux uses a digital compression artifact technique called “datamoshing.” By embracing this particular form of data error, Frankovich’s piece reduces each frame into a beautiful, silent flow of movements and colours.
David Frankovich’s tarot cards and tinned treats
Of the many unpredictable unions of artist and audience member the One-to-One Series at the Rhubarb Festival promises to create, David Frankovich’s Psychic Cooking Show seems perhaps the simplest and strangest.
“I have a specially selected ‘deck’ of canned food with all the labels removed so you don’t know what’s inside,” he explains. “You choose three cans, which I then use to give you a tarot reading. I tell you your fortune and cook you something with those three ingredients.”
Each of the 22 different cans, Frankovich says, has been chosen to correspond with a card from the Major Arcana tarot deck. These, he notes, are the most archetypal images. “Some of the symbolism is more overt, some a little more loose
. . . for death, I chose baked beans. It’s a bit of a joke,” he deadpans.
Out of respect for vegetarians (and those with taste), there will be no canned meat, but there are still, the artist says, “a lot of possibilities for different combinations.”
As with a deck of cards, where the backs are all the same, the label-less cans present uncertainty. “It introduces the element of chance and possibility,” he says. And while that includes, of course, the possibility that the subject will dislike the contents of any particular can, Frankovich says, that becomes part of the reading, the way an upside-down card inverts the meaning of the tarot.
Frankovich says it’s “transitions and transformations” that drive his work, and here, in these sessions of about 25 minutes with each audience member, “this idea of bringing a stranger into a room, doing a tarot reading and serving them food is, on the surface, very simple, but underneath there’s an exchange that happens between us through these rituals of reading and eating . . . it becomes something ‘other.’”
Frankovich, who started out in film and video, has embraced performance. In a previous piece, Grey Cup Party, he deflated the macho ritual of the football championship with a delightfully fey Earl Grey tea party, serving snacks to his audience. “I like the idea of working with food and creating a new kind of hybrid ritual,” he says. One-to-One at Rhubarb was a logical next step.
“Rhubarb and Buddies both are very much about experimentation and pushing boundaries, very open to possibility,” Frankovich says. In the Psychic Cooking Show, “the boundaries being pushed are more about personal space and tastes . . . It’s not a queer piece, but I think my aesthetic is formed by a queer sensibility, and when you’re working with more experimental forms as an artist, you’re entering a queer territory.”
Viewers of the shows are entering queer territory as well: the One-to-One programs are being held not at Buddies in Bad Times, but at the 519 Community Centre.
“It made perfect sense,” says Mark Aikman, head of marketing for the theatre. “When people walk into a theatre, they come in with certain expectations, behave in a certain way, but when you take things out into the larger community, you’re totally changing that relationship.”
Matthew Cutler, director of development at The 519, agrees. “You’re really engaging with the art and experiencing the performance much differently than you would in a standard theatre,” he says. “The idea that you can experience theatre inside our elevator was fascinating to me. I mean, every day of riding the elevator at The 519 can be theatre,” he laughs, “but not like this.”
The Psychic Cooking Show, says Cutler, “is happening in our community kitchen, where we do a lot of food programming, so the folks in our Fabarnak restaurant are really excited to see what it looks like.” Like most of One-to-One, he says, the synopsis of Frankovich’s show is “delightfully cryptic, but it’s that curiosity that will draw people in.”
Urban video screens somehow managed to withstand Halifax’s strong coastal winds this October during 3x3x3, one of the year’s most exciting, collaborative exhibitions. The month-long exhibition curated by Eyelevel Gallery, the Centre For Art Tapes, and directing manager of France’s Videospread Céline Jouenne explored themes ranging from the degradation of the moving image to our relationship with our built environment: Halifax’s city streets became pop-up cinemas for Michel Klöfkorn’s apocalyptic imagery of a mob of robotic plastic and metal insects, the glitch art of David Frankovich, and the projection of Julie Louise Bacon’s contemporary spin on an ancient water clock.
A digitalization of familiar images can indeed jeopardize analogue elements remaining within those images. However, digitalization processes can contain their own seductively messy excesses. Within the ‘sweet transvestite’ production number from the camp classic Rocky Horror Show, David Frankovich focuses on ‘dirty frames,’ resulting from the 2:3 pulldown necessary into the conversion of 24 fps. film to 30 fps. video. (David Frankovich, residency proposal, Sept. 2009) The even and odd fields within these questionable frames originate from two different frames of film. Editors are required to at least minimalize these frames as they are prone to flickering and jittering, especially when frozen. However, in Sweet Interlaced Transvestite, Frankovich locates and then maximalizes these dirty frames. He considers them analogous to the space between hero and villain hosting the source film’s antagonist- Frank-N-Furter. What Frankovich calls ‘dirty frames’ could also be labelled ‘shaky frames.’ When he stretches the lengths of these single frames, the images begin to destabilize. Those who are cool and composed become visibly nervous, and those who are already nervous become hysterical. Dr. Frank-N-Furter induces the jitters by captivating his not unwilling guests in a space both seductive and terrifying, one between but not outside of the binaries of Male/Female, Gay/Straight, and Hero/Villain. The good doctor may well be an antagonist within the classic narrative structure of the camp classic source film, but then that’s merely narrative. And innocent lambs Brad and Janet have also been (further) destabilized and they’re simultaneously terrified and fascinated.
Sports bars are so cliché – neon signs, projections screens, beer, more beer. So David Frankovich is holding his own Grey Cup party within the beer-scented environs of the Gladstone Hotel with a little historical refinement. Sipping Earl Grey tea – whose cup did you think it was, anyway? – and nibbling at biscuits at the hotel’s Art Bar, Frankovich, an artist, and a friend provide offer a hiccup of an unexpected sort as one kind of male-bonding ritual meets another in a very public way.
It’s the final act of a week-long performance art series put on by Toronto’s FADO performance art centre. Called “Escapist Action: Performance in Recession,” the series embraces the upsurge in cheap-pleasure indulgence that down economic times seem to spark, booze and TV among them. The tea party may have none of the former, but they’re in for the latter. If you brave the biscuits and finery, they’d probably tell you: ‘Riders by 2.
Towards the end of the series, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Recessions are supposed to be a natural part of business, and what goes down must come up. In an inclusive gesture both celebratory but cautionary, David Frankovich’s Grey Cup Party was a performance, installation and intervention staged on the day of the Grey Cup (the Super Bowl of the north). Camaraderie and sportsmanship were viewed through a queer lens, as historical victorian references and various Earl Greys were mixed. “The Grey Cup is also the name of the trophy given to the winning team of the CFL and is named for Albert Grey, the 4th Earl Grey and former Governor General of Canada. Every year, millions of Canadians watch the Grey Cup from home on their TVs. Earl Grey tea is an aromatic tea blend made with oil of bergamot. Like the Grey Cup, it is also named for an Earl Grey, but a different one: Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.” Male lineage as patriarchy were subtly critiqued in this piece, while other surprises happened along the way. Four ‘dandies’ sat to watch the football game in a grey object adorned room in a Victorian hotel, while other spectators (mostly women) came for tea and the performance. The performers were consumed in watching football, and the audience was consumed with watching the watching of footballBeyond the artist’s control were the commercials aired on the CBC that day, which were frequent, gendered, and aiming at a specific clientèle that weren’t necessarily present that night. While the performance intended to subvert the dominant narrative of the Grey Cup, it did so while inadvertently indulging in class tourism; plus, only so much tea come be consumed before getting the point. As the game wore on, eventually the Dandies started to serve tea to the audience, mingling, as unclear how the narrative would end as everyone else. An upset by the Montreal Alouettes ended the performance, the football game, and the series. Like some recessions, the problems continue, slowly fading out with a murmur, leaving most people to the daily monotony as if nothing had happened.
The first half ended with recent York University graduate David Frankovich’s “Exquisite Corpse.” It is slick and high-gloss, and churns through various B-movie tropes at a breakneck 17 minutes, finding time to interject some self-deconstructing musical numbers, at a 120 sly-wink-per-minute irony rate. It is much more winning than we’re letting on, but nevertheless, it is a project so clever, only a film student could have thought it up.
Some people look at the CN Tower and feel a sense of civic pride. I get the same feeling from watching a short musical made by York film students that features giant robots, a necrophiliac, ‘The Japanese Diana Ross,’ a green-vegetable man and an orgy involving oversized Styrofoam hand tools. A highlight of Pleasure Dome’s 15th-annual New Toronto Works Show, David Frankovich’s adamantly odd Exquisite Corpses is one of many stimulating examples of the city’s ever-prodigious output of experimental film and video.
– Jason Anderson
13 March, 2008