7th Champ Libre Video and Electronic Art Festival :: Phillip Pietruschka

September 2006, Montreal Canada Themed Cite Invisible City, the festival is a site-specific media arts event. Each year a new venue is chosen and the artists are invited to present and install works in spaces unique to the chosen venue.

This year the venue was ‘Le Grande Bibliotheque’ -The state library of Quebec (I believe it is in fact called the national library of Quebec, the ideology of Quebecois separatists still very much alive!) and work was curated to exist within and around the library, often in unusual locations, so that any visitor to the library may have a serendipitous encounter with the art. These installations included an interactive projection onto the steps of a stair well that responded to the passage of visitors through the stairwell, and a projection in a window of a neighboring building observable from the windows of the library.

The most exciting work at the festival ‘Blind City’, was conceptually at least, incredibly simple, but the personal and social repercussions were unique in my experience of art. Organised by Francisco Lopez, walking tours of the area surrounding the library were offered. Each tour was a one on one affair, one tour guide, one tourist. But the tour guide was blind, and the tourist blind folded. Being submerged in a foreign city without my primary tool of orientation and navigation was an exhilarating and challenging experience. This slow stumbling (on my part only)round the city, was coupled with a long conversation where Robert (my guide) was gracious enough to relate many personal experiences pertaining to his blindness. Not before, or after, did I ever get to see him, so Robert remains a friend I know onlyby the sound of his voice and the shape of his hand.

(Subsequent to this experience, I have had the pleasure of working (as an engineer) with a theatre company from Geelong, Back to Back Theatre, which has a permanent ensemble of eight actors diagnosed with mental disabilities. In both instances it has been challenging (to my expectations, not patience) and usually incredibly fun. Without exception no one I have worked with a physical or mental disability has needed my pity or sympathy).

I was invited to participate in a cross-cultural exchange project, titled Telephone, using music or sound-art as the media for communication and public presentation. The project involved two Canadians Kelly Churko, and Ben Wilson, and two Australian Kim Dellavedova, and myself. The project was to be realised in Montreal in the gardens outside the Library, as a day long installation work involving periodic performances from the four of us.

Unfortunately, I am sad to say, the logistical impotence of the festival was a force to be reckoned with. Less than a week before arriving in Montreal, we were informed that is was no longer possible for this installation/performance to take place in the gardens, and that we would be doing an evening performance in the Library’s theatrette. Five days had long been scheduled in Montreal to facilitate the preparation, installation, and rehearsal of this project. This disorganisation was further evident when arrived at the festival, as signage was poor, multimedia installations were frequently not working, and attendances were disappointing to all performances and screenings. Indeed only festival staff attended the artist talk we were scheduled to present, and I am dubious that it was publicised anywhere other than the whiteboard outside the theatrette.

Fortunately the art, as it was finally manifest, was an aesthetic and artistic challenge to all involved as dramtically different aesthetics and working practices rubbed up against each other, creating dramatic fissions and unlikely fusions of ideas and practices. Both Ben and Kelly have backgrounds as trained Jazz musicians, and have subsequently expanded their musical language to include electro-acoustic and harsh noise music respectively. Kim has a background as a signer/songwriter and sound-designer for installations & theatre. My background, musically, is essentially in academic electro-acoustic music, with an extremely haphazard set of composition/ performance strategies.

Technically, Ben, Kelly, and Kim were all sporting laptops with various live performance software, Kim also had an acoustic guitar. In this context I might have looked like something of a dinosaur using just a trio of test-tone generators to excite a very small percussion setup (snare, floor tom, crash cymbal) -not only was my equipment alot more rudimentary but it was substantially larger and heavier than the rest of the touring equipment combined. But, it did sound good (i think), and it provided a useful counterpoint to the sonic and performative qualities of the computers.

The music itself ranged dramatically from incredibly minimal drone music and field recordings, to dense electronic noise, and perodic melodic or rhythmically driven sections. The chaotic movement between different aesthetics capturing some essential element of the dialog that took place during the development of the work. The very nature of this dialog -working with the same group of people for a few days continuously to develop a piece of music -resulted in a product utterly dissimilar to anything any one of us may have created on our own, and was a unique learning experience.

In retrospect, I hold two contradicting opinions about this experience. On the one hand the festival itself was frustrating to communicate with and clearly disorganised, but the personal, professional and artistic experience gained from the particular project I involved with was valuable and unique. I have to be hesitant, unfortunately,in my recommendation to any other artists considering participating in the festival in future years.


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