acrylic on wooden panel

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

 Cold Iron Is A Titanic Comedy

Art Szombathy & Christina Kozak are Louis IV & Medusa in the British Museum

Ian Malone as Don Juan Ponce De Leon
One of the most remarkable things about COLD IRON IS A TITANIC COMEDY are the crisp, dense quality of the black and white tones used throughout. Each frame bceomes a moving snapshot/performance still that stands on its own as a beautifal expamle of the creators eye for precsiosn within a narrative that defies precise definition.
Cold Iron Is A Titanic Comedy was shot, scored and produced in Toronto during 2013, with locations that include City Hall, Kensington Market, Little Italy and the city's bicycle lanes.  While not the basis of the film, they provide place and time references in a filmless film that is a timeless kabuki opera formed by poetry.  

Starting with a bird's eye view, multiple players come to the stage as fictional characters carving out their individual journeys.  Passages follow from landscapes painted with cinematic tracking to rolling waves in great lakes.  The players balance on one leg of fiction and another leg of art history.  Words fall from their mouths like water, beans and flowers.  In a room of grand pictures a kettle is an unplugged key, relating to the waves, to the sinking of a ship which claims to be a comedy in a language that is difficult to understand.  Constant is the unravelling and the dance in the room of reproductions where words are also pictures and this medium is our present consumption.

What does the Chinese script mean?

With all of the references to art history - the British museum, the nude, the portrait, the painter, the musician, ballet  - the empty shopping cart brings to mind the sculpture by American artist Duane Hanson of the life size hyper real woman entitled "The Supermarket Lady" (1969), a cart that overflows with objects of mass consumption.  But director Wesley Rickert offers an empty cart, drawing attention to an emptiness found in many of the vessels of this film; not an emptiness that leads to tragic despair but instead to a space that is big enough to begin again.
One of the anchors in this film is the character Don Juan Ponce De Leon (whose claim to fame was accidentally discovering Florida) played by Ian Malone. 
Malone plays De Leon as the transient hippie, hipster, hitchhiker, man on the road, a beatnik poet headed for the beach.  He holds the records, the voices, as dead and dying vinyl in his hands.  And yet his presence is as important as the tea kettle, making connections to the vibrations of other objects and words in time and space.  Sound trippy?  The tea kettle interacts with the ballerina and Louis IV, connecting players who otherwise do not relate.  Is the connection significant?  Political?  Is the kettle connected to tea?  To the British museum?  To Medusa with whom Louis IV dances?  Who cuts off his head?  Are the American beaches connected to Chinese script?  Are there elements of chance poetry?  Are accidents the unravelling of history?  Is the electric kettle a symbol of revolution?
Two other anchors in this film are Louis IV, a pretended connoisseur of culture played by Art Szombathy, and Tally Aurora, a shape shifter who is also Medusa, a bird, and musician played by Christina Kozak.  Louis IV and Medusa interact with each other through their dance in the British Museum.  Louis IV looses his head to the cool and collected Medusa, who slices, cuts and edits the dead weight from his back.  Maybe it is a gesture of kindness or necessity, to remove what is no longer needed for art.

The film overflows with gestures and references to cutting ties with art history and art processes.  The
other characters make appearances as brief as hallucinations or fragments of a dream that appear and never return.  When faces do reappear, they are transformed and not always recognizable.  Moving inside, outside, from beach and lake to streets and bicycles, back to the operatic stage again.  Snapshots of people too distant to recognize, familiarity blurring with strangeness, a dream like consciousness merging with photographic memory.  The feeling of deja-vu.

When the Neoist Pied Piper, played by the real life leader of Neoism Istvan Kantor, arrives with his megaphone, the director brings us back to the stage, to remind us that this is clear cutting fiction, which is Rickert's platform for art making.  Through the megaphone Kantor's voice rings with the director's words:  "The hole is a schedule for difficult births".  Another key to what lies ahead.  Wide open spaces.  An audience of one.  Coincidental neoist dump trucks.  People, cars and bicycles.  A recycling of culture.  A wiping out of formula.
We are entering the what happens next era and the future looms big on the horizon as east meets west again.  There is an empty cart, great lakes and an ocean.  The audience must learn to sink or swim or emerge from the fresh waters of digital film making.  Philosophy and humour are the paddle, boat and compass of this fiction.

This kabuki opera film narrative is a surprisingly emotional off-beat comedy.  It embraces, squeezes and spits out multiple perspectives, offering no easy conclusions.
Istvan Kantor as the Neoist Pied Piper

Sunday, February 9, 2014

prints of original paintings by David Bateman - email at re. size and price range

garden of poodley delights (triptych)
gaynica one
gaynica two
baby jackie
jackie descending a staircase
pink chanel christ
jackie pieta
afraid to love
picasso and matisse meet on a stormy night
canadian poodle
garden of poodley delights ' hell' (left panel of triptych)
he impersonated flowers all the time
garden of poodley delights 'heaven' (right panel of triptych)
"a hard life, full of secrets" (triptych)

prints for sale - email me at re. size and price range

Saturday, November 12, 2011



'Commitment Issues'

curated by Jess Dobkin

featuring: Heather Cassils, Alicia Grant, Dominic Johnson, Dana Michel, Kitty Neptune and the Pole Club, & Mary Coble

"Let these be the languages spoken by bodies: to laugh, to cry, to suspend oneself otherwise through acts of perseverance and devotion, poised on the knife-edge of a permanent scream"

November 16th, 2011 a group of internationally acclaimed performance artists will come together in an historic Toronto location to entertain and enlighten us about our bodies and the complex ways in which we commit ourselves to various social, physical, and cultural structures. Taking a queer perspective on the idea of ‘commitment,’ and the various ways in which the word can be perceived, the evening promises to be an exciting interrogation of alternative, provocative, and proactive views of our bodies and our selves in a global environment that increasingly puts the emphasis upon impersonal technological forms of intimacy that feign a kind of intimate encounter yet move us further away from actual bodies, actual commitments, and actual intimacies.

And what better place to stage this sexy and exciting venture than the former site of the historic Club Baths, now a fabulous playground for swinging singles called Oasis Aqualounge. So don’t miss this amazing event!


‘Committed to Cleanliness’

1979 - my first visit to a bathhouse - Ethel Merman is belting out showtunes to a disco beat - I wander the halls looking for a close encounter of the queer kind - marking the beginning of a lifelong commitment to casual sex - I was making a heartfelt promise to promiscuity

1981 - ‘Operation Soap’ - four Toronto bath houses raided - the arrest of 300 men - Margaret Atwood defends the baths publicly - a new era in gay and lesbian politics is born

the Club Baths, after a prolonged and costly legal battle, carries on for two decades as a gay male bath house

2000 - the Club Baths becomes the site of the lesbian Pussy Palace event which is raided by Toronto police consisting of almost all male police officers

2010 - the Club Baths closes and Oasis Aqualounge opens later that year

2011 - November 16th - the Oasis Aqualounge, in existence for over a year, as an erotic playground for ‘swingers,’ hosts Commitment Issues

November 16th, 2011, marks a very special event in the ongoing commitment to one of Toronto’s oldest and most erogenous zones. Toronto Performance artist Jess Dobkin, the curator of Commitment Issues, has organized what promises to be a truly subversive evening that will include the work of five internationally known performers who will occupy various areas of a three floor Victorian mansion, providing spectators with an exciting program of site specific work ranging from steam rooms, to locker areas, hot tubs, swimming pools, and an actual rehearsal, supervised by Toronto artist Kitty Neptune, by a group committed to the art of pole dancing.

Dobkin describes the event as a kind of interrogation of the use of the word ‘commitment’ and the ways in which the queer community, despite interventions from homophobic sources, has taken part in very committed social, cultural, and political forms over the years. In her curatorial statement she talks about commitment as -

an exceptional word, often used in varying and oppositional contexts . . . an expression of agency and autonomy . . . a state of consignment or confinement wherein liberty is denied. We might commit to a relationship or to winning the big game, but we can also be committed to prison or a mental institution.”

In an era of same sex marriage when opposing fronts defend and question the need for legal commitment to what has been, for eons, a largely heterosexual privilege/ commitment, the artists Dobkin has brought together will provide a timely commentary upon the ways in which we relate to one another as continually evolving queer bodies. Located in a venue that has been attacked historically for its commitment to basic sexual freedom, Commitment Issues represents an exciting development in the history of queer body politics. Artists will explore a variety of areas ranging from Dana Michel’s Jack, a movement piece as a form of discipline and ritual, to the transgenderd experience of Heather Cassil’s Teresias, pushing her body to extremes that interrogate “issues of social power and control.”

The event can be viewed as a spectator sport wherein audiences meander through an intriguing spectacle with the option/possibility of interaction, and as Dobkin urges at the beginning of her curatorial statement -

Locker and towel service provided. Bring your bathing suit or birthday suit. For real!

Commitment Issues: An Evening of Performance Art - Wednesday November 16, 7-10 pm (featuring 6 performances over 3 hours) - Oasis Aqualounge, 231 Mutual Street, Toronto -$15 admission / $12 students/seniors/underemployed - Admission restricted to patrons 19+ years of age

Processing: Artists’ Panel & Reception - Thursday November 17, 7:00-9:30 pm Studio Theatre - University of Toronto - 4 Glen Morris Street, Toronto - FREE / open to all

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I woke up the other morning with a beautiful black feather growing out of my bum. It felt terrific. I pranced around my apartment nude for awhile, and then I leapt into the middle of my king size bed and landed in the centre of a group of beautiful men all dressed as white swans. They robustly plucked the feather out of my butt and it turned into a gorgeous dark angel who then flew through my balcony door and straight to heaven. It was the happiest morning of my life to date. And if you believe that then you’ll believe everything that happens in Darren Aronofsky's latest little horror flick The Black Swan.

In The Vampire Lesbian Sex Chronicles, or The Black Swan part two, a 28-year old woman leaves the corps de ballet and finishes her graduate degree in Women’s Studies at Columbia. She has been taking night classes for eight years, ever since she joined the corps. Her dream was, of course, to become a principal dancer, but she always knew that her chances, like her arms, might be very slim, so she takes her feminist lawyer mother’s advice and comes up with a back-up plan. She finishes her PhD when she turns 32 and immediately gets a tenure track position at her alma mater. She seems happy enough to all her friends and leads a fulfilling academic life. But she can’t get the horrific images of some things that happened to her at the ballet out of her mind. She sees a therapist once a week and it helps, but it doesn’t erase the images that wake her up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

One night she just can’t take it anymore so she gets dressed at 2am and walks to Lincoln Centre and gets the nightshift security guard to let her into the building. They had been friends the whole time she was in the corps de ballet and he was secretly in love with her but twice her age and married with children. She thanks him and kisses him on the cheek when he lets her in and then she walks into the theatre and straight to the stage where she used to dance. The stark minimalist set for Swan Lake graces the huge performing space. She walks to the centre of the stage and takes off all of her clothes and lies down on the edge of the white ramp that the Swan Queen leaps from at the end of the ballet and she starts to masturbate. The night security guard has secretly followed her and he is filming her on his new fancy cell phone with the camera feature that is wife gave him for his birthday. The next morning his son borrows his dad's phone, finds the video and puts it online and it goes viral for a short time before it is taken off. The boy gets in trouble for posting it and the security guards wife doesn’t speak to her husband for a week until one night she asks him to show her the video. They watch it and make mad passionate love as it plays, over and over again, on their giant flat screen high definition television set on the wall at the end of their bed. They continue to do so for many years to come.

The ex-ballerina holds no grudges and keeps in touch with the security guard and his family for the rest of her life. Soon after the video is taken off of youtube it becomes a cult film and is screened at several film festivals internationally. The ex-ballerina gets a worldwide lecture tour and early sabbatical so she can travel to universities to talk about auto-erotic sex and lesbian sensibility in the ballet. Her nightmares about her life in the corps disappear and she becomes so famous that she quits her job at Columbia and moves to Paris, where she visit Nureyev’s grave every Sunday afternoon and dances in a small modern dance company until she is sixty nine. She is banned for life from Lincoln Centre, marries her lesbian therapist, has many lovers of many genders, and on her deathbed at 89 years old, in the south of France, she laughs demonically and angelically as she gaily mutters the final lines from Aronofsky’s film.

See The Black Swan if you want to find out what the final lines are. Don’t see the film if you are squeamish. It reminded me of Carrie without the interesting plot. It’s basically the same movie as Aronofsky's The Wrestler, except Mickey Rourke is played by Natalie Portman. They both make swan dives, they both wear tights, and they both wear make-up.

The Black Swan is so full of simple-minded clich├ęs and stereotypes that it is cheesier than the music box I have had since I was a teenager, the one with the ballerina twirling when the box is opened. Aronofsky slams the box shut and yanks it open several times during the film, and each time he slams it shut another dancer crumbles. Some cine-babble experts would have us believe that this is a fine blend of horror, psychological thriller, melodrama, and naturalism, and they’d be absolutely correct. But it’s also a deeply simplistic, beautifully made visual feast for the eyes, but not for the ears (with the exception of Tchaikovsky's gorgeous apocalyptic music) and not for the faint of heart. The script is predictable, the performances are brilliant, and the design is superb. And my cherished Wynona Ryder gets a meta-narrative that evokes images of her former shoplifting daze. But ultimately it’s the same old story. Queer sexuality is used as a psychotic sub-narrative and femininity is demonized beyond belief. A very bizarre little Christmas flick.

If you prefer your ballet a little less gruesome then just go see The Nutcracker instead, and admire the hard bodies and the committed labour of young men and women who dance for a living and try to lead healthy, fulfilling lives.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Severe Clear Uneven Beauty

The current re-mount of Toronto Dance Theatre’s Severe Clear, currently running at the Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront, is a frequently exhilarating and elegant romp through a series of very impressionistic stories about the Yukon. After a visit in 2000 choreographer Christopher House came away with the inspiration for the show. House has crafted some fine dance/theatre segments through the use of spoken narrative that complements beautiful evocative physicality. In its finest moments Severe Clear utilizes this double-edged technique with extreme grace and power, at one point thoroughly engaging the audience as we follow a bird-like dancer and her ‘water-bearer’ through a harrowing battle with turbulent rapids and a final plunge into an ensemble whirlpool at the end of the scene, or so it seems. The narration that sets the tone for this segment, like all of the spoken narrative, has a crisp, broadcaster quality that provides a very uneasy contrast-cum-connection to the movement that follows. Voiceovers seem only indirectly connected to the dance stories, making it difficult to know whether the brief tale one has just been told is in fact related to the movement that follows.

The bird in the water narrative, describing a migration route from the Yukon to Antarctica and back again, with frequently fatal stops at the edge of Niagara Falls, is perhaps the most explicit and exciting coupling of word and movement, but even this element is somewhat obtuse regarding the merging of dance and spoken text. And despite many moments of exciting choreography, this is the general problem with the piece. It doesn’t cohere, and the attractive but overly playful set and costumes do nothing to aid these struggling stories as they awkwardly blend with accompanying sections of prolonged choreography.

Moments of softer, elegant movement occur from time to time, but there is so much lifeless filler wherein faint gestural movement lapses into static sections of prolonged wandering that one cannot help but wonder whether a thirty minute version would have been sufficient. One moment of empty bravado happens when the bewildering, inflatable, transparent, playground-like set pieces meant to look like huge chunks of ice are placed in a heap to one side of the stage for no apparent reason, and then a dancer inexplicably leaps into them. This exemplifies the times when the movement becomes almost childlike in a distressing and alienating way, doing nothing to further the sense of dance and storytelling that is introduced at the outset.

All of the dancers are in fine form as they commit themselves fully to this uneven mixture of choreographic narrative. There are early moments of great energy and frolicking twists, leaps, and turns that re-occur throughout, complimented by some truly lovely moments of subtler gestural motion perfectly coupled with the elegance of the musical segments of Phil Strong’s sound design and Roelof Peter Snippe's layered background lighting. Unfortunately, as a whole this re-mount does not gel into a fluid piece. Perhaps this is partially the result of the choreographer’s impression of a part of this country's landscape that is simultaneously elegant, calm, frigid, welcoming, alienating and explosive, like a Lawren Harris painting. Clear skies and severe temperatures coupled with raw monumental terrain make up the gorgeous overwhelming landscape of Canada’s Far North. However, in Severe Clear the elements of storytelling combined with the jarring sound quality of poorly delivered spoken stories make the overall experience hard to follow, and at times impossible to engage with. Narrative that appears to represent elements of some forms of aboriginal storytelling employs an awkward simplicity that belies the delicacy and power of the source material.

Nevertheless, coming in at 62 minutes, the show is well worth the price of admission for the opportunity to see artists engaging in a series of fine, gorgeous moments of severe, clear choreography that could have been stripped of some the unevenly conceived narrative connections and triumphed in a less cluttered and disorganized dance/theatre space.

Severe Clear runs at the Fleck Dance Theatre

Harbourfront Centre, until November 20th