OK,Quoi?! Contemporary Arts Festival
I found myself fighting off mosquitoes and listening to the sounds of traffic and train whistles mingle with the soundtracks of films and videos at an outdoor video drive in. Screenings of experimental film and video work from across Canada played in an outdoor parking lot under the stars in the hot humid weather of late July as a part of the OK,Quoi?! Contemporary Arts Festival, which ran from July 28 to August 2. This is an annual festival run by the Struts Gallery, the Faucet Media Arts Centre, and Sappy Records in Sackville.
I live in the apartment above the Struts Gallery, where the visiting artists stay when they’re in town. So for the past month my roommate has been Winnipeg artist, Ken Gregory, who works in a wide array of sound practices, electronics, and interactive computer interfaces. During the festival, Ken taught several workshops and gave artist talks to show his past works and current works in progress, which all involve incorporating the human body with technology. This month, he’s been building kites, and using homemade transducers to record the sounds that the wind makes as it vibrates the kite strings like guitar strings. He also attached electronic sensors to some of the kites that sent wireless signals to microprocessors on the ground, telling a computer what to do with these recorded sounds according to the wind speed and direction.
The week was also filled with many other artist presentations and workshops, ranging from how to compose a honk symphony for cars, to how to build contact microphones out of musical greeting cards. There was a workshop every afternoon, while the evenings were packed with artist talks, musical performances, film and video screenings, and radio broadcasts.
There were also a few local artists in residence creating and presenting new work, including Ryan Suter who was working on the “Accident Now!” project that placed video monitors in local business windows throughout the town. Meanwhile, Composer in Residence, W. L. Altman worked with professional community musicians to create and present a new work entitled “Sackville’s Ears” which explores the history of the Sackville Music Hall.
The Sackville Music Hall is an old vaudeville theatre that has been abandoned for fifty years. Recently a group of artists has taken on the task of beginning a restoration project and injecting life into the beautiful old theatre. The original fixed seating was removed decades ago, so people now sit on moveable chairs on the slanted wood floors, breathing in the heavy scent of hot summer air and old neglected wood. In addition to the “Sackville’s Ears” project, the opening reception and cabaret for the festival were also held there. The cabaret presented a collection of films, videos, audio works, and live musical performances.
I worked as a projectionist at the evening screenings, both in the Music Hall, and outdoors in the parking lot next to Struts Gallery. We handed out cans of bug spray and bags of popcorn for the crowd, and on one particular evening, some members of the Motion Ensemble presented a new musical work before the screening.
There was an especially beautiful moment when a small gang of skateboarders rolled down the back alley slope and skidded to a surprised stop behind the crowd. They stood watching from the back for a bit, and then scurried up to take seats with the audience for the last half of the performance for contrabass, voice, clarinet, and computer. Meanwhile, the tension of the evening increased further, as lightening began to flash in the distance over the marshes, and I stood operating the projectors and sound system for an experimental film screening. After the screening had finished, the skies opened up and poured sheets of rainwater all over town, just minutes after we had moved our electrical gear indoors.
There was also something for the kids at this festival, as every morning, the gallery filled with the sound of musical instruments and excited conversations, during the Kids Corner Power Jam; a rock camp for children between the ages of 6 and 12. The kids worked with Montreal based Michael Feuerstack (aka Snailhouse), local musician Shotgun Jimmie, and Halifax based artist Melanie Colosimo, to learn the basics of being in a rock band. They wrote songs, recorded songs, made music videos, band t-shirts, album covers, and band photos, before finally performing on the main stage at Sappy Fest.
The OK,Quoi?! festival peaked at the end of the week as it blended and merged into Sappy Fest with the Last Chance for Summer Romance concert on Friday night, and the Very Last Chance for Summer Romance concert on Saturday night. By this point, the two festivals, OK,Quoi?! and Sappy were so integrated that they were almost indistinguishable from one another as both had events taking place on the same stages and in the same spaces.
All in all it was an intense week, with more than enough inspiring and educating art events than a single person could take in. The town is now left in a satisfied, but sleepy state of recovery, as the impact of the festival continues to echo and reverberate in the memories and imaginations of local residents. These post festival reverberations will continue to resonate, forming new ideas that will certainly evolve and emerge into new projects for the future.