I just got back to Toronto after spending two weeks in Nova Scotia. I was thrilled to be invited as a resident artist — or “rabbit” — for the seventh annual White Rabbit Arts Open Air Art Festival in a rural community in Upper Economy along the Bay of Fundy. During this time, 19 of us artists lived, worked, and played communally at Red Clay Farm, where we were invited to take part in workshops, skill sharing, pirate radio programming, site responsive installation and performance, and more! The three ballast artists — Lindsay Dobbin, Helmut Lemke, and Sally Morgan — guided us in creatively enriching workshops such as “Deep Listening,” “Water Drumming,” “Body Mind Centering Movement,” and “Contact Mic Making.” Matthew Whiston, a Halifax-based pirate radio enthusiast, warmly encouraged each of us to develop programming for the pirate radio on Red Clay Farm, which was transmitted to radios across the surrounding area.
At Red Clay Farm we were served three delicious meals each day, with nourishing alternatives for all of our diverse needs — vegetarian, gluten-free, sugar-free, and so on. It is amazing, the role that healthful and delicious food can play in one’s life. These meals were what sustained all of the other elements of this communal living situation — the art production, the conversation and the collaboration. While I felt quite anxious upon arrival, having had a particularly difficult week in Toronto before I left, I found that my body soon became attuned to the ‘tones’ of Red Clay community and the landscape: I felt at ease in my lack of amenities, capable in my lack of usual routines, strong in my capacity to be socially engaged for sustained periods of time despite my introversion. It’s great to be able to have the opportunity to take part in non-academic spaces of learning, growth, and artistic development. Being a resident artist (rabbit!) at White Rabbit Arts felt a lot like going to art camp. While I am embedded in the Academic Industrial Complex, and have consistently had success within these institutions (receiving grants, scholarships, and so on), I remain ambivalent about its efficacy and ethics as the University system becomes increasingly modeled as a business. Are students consumers? What do we lose if and when students become consumers and professors and teaching assistants become providers of a particular product? We already live in a world in which our agency tends to be seen solely in light of our status as consumers, rather than citizens. Yes, we are all implicated in our capitalist context. And yet it is important for us to find little ways in which we can ‘loosen’ these contexts, create space in which different ways of living, different ways of existing and being in this world, can be realized. Red Clay Farm is one of these spaces.
The piece that I made for the White Rabbit Festival was entitled “Moon Hut,” a site-specific audio installation work situated in a willow dome structure behind the farm’s two large ponds. I also created a radio play and book work entitled “Mleko the Leaky Goat: A Farm Tale of Abject Feelings.” I installed this book project as loose pages in what had been, up until a year ago, the home of Red Clay Farm’s resident goat. The goat is no longer with Red Clay: the work is installed in the empty pen, existing temporarily in the absence of the goat who once lived here. The text takes up issues of anxiety and what I have loosely termed “abject feelings,” using the metaphor of a leaking goat. Other social and political issues, including psychiatric institutions and experimental anti-psychiatric movements (like Felix Guattari’s La Borde) is referenced alongside different approaches to farming and keeping animals. For all of my institutional embedded-ness — as a PhD student at York University, for example — I remain passionate and interested in learning more about alternative structures of organizing. During my time in Vancouver, many of the people I spent time with were skeptical of Universities, some of them viewing my decision to do a Masters as highly suspect. I feel immensely privileged to be able to have some funding to assist me as I undertake this PhD. It is my hope and goal that I will be able to enact real change in my communities.
During the artist residency, Matthew Whiston, a Halifax-based pirate radio enthusiast, warmly encouraged each of us to develop programming for the pirate radio station at Red Clay Farm, which was transmitted to radios across the surrounding area. I did a great on-air interview with Helmut Lemke, a UK-based German sound artist who creates evocative analog sound performances (for example, one of his performances at the festival involved fishing wire, contact mics, an electrical belt, and large felled tree branches). During our on-air interview, I played tracks by some of my favourite German artists — Can, Holger Czukay, Guru Guru, Xmal Deutschland, Kraftwerk, Einsturzende Neubauten, Malaria! — and Helmut Lemke gave his feedback on the tracks. He is brazenly outspoken (even curmudgeonly), refusing to pander to Canadian politeness, but also has a lot of warmth to him. He provided some interesting critiques of Krautrock, approaching their 1960s psychadelia from the perspective of a sound artist who also identifies as a political activist. He also recommended one of his favourite German bands, a proto-punk powerhouse called Ton Steine Scherben. We had a great time talking about German music, art, and politics.
The two dresses that I am wearing here were both purchased in Toronto at vintage stores and consignment shops over the past two years. The first is a tight-fitting halter-style dress made of a cotton and spandex blend. This is the dress that I wear on those occasions where I feel sexy and strong: indeed, one of my personal goals is to hone this feeling of strength and confidence on a daily basis, holding myself up in public spaces (urban or rural) even when I’m experiencing anxiety. The other dress was found at Kind Exchange, a Toronto-based chain of consignment stores. This dress is my new ‘witchy dress’. It holds its own shape in a way that makes me feel like I’m wearing a work of wearable sculpture. I feel comfortable and safe when I wear it. Here I am wearing my black beret and my green beret with the dress. There is a sweet story here about when I first moved to Toronto. I had plans to stay with a friend who I had not seen in over five years. I was wearing a leather jacket and a black beret on this rainy day when I arrived in Toronto from Vancouver, a large suitcase stuffed with most of my belongings in tow. When I arrived at the address that my friend had gave me, I noticed there was a piece of paper on the front door with the image of a bird wearing a black beret. It read “WREN.” The beret was sheer coincidence, and the “wren” denoted my nickname to this friend (my name, Lauren, is actually pronounced “lah-wren”). Me and this person have been dating ever since: it’s been 2.5 years now.
Thanks for tuning in! Until next time.
You can check out more photographs from my time out east here: https://selfcareforskeptics.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/white-rabbit-arts-residency-2015-red-clay-farm-upper-economy-nova-scotia/
You can check out White Rabbit Arts and what they are up to here. If you are an artist, I encourage you to apply to their summer residency! : http://whiterabbitarts.ca/
Lauren Fournier is an artist and writer currently based in Toronto.
She is working on her PhD in feminist theory and performance art at York University.
Photography credits: Lee Henderson (www.noattainment.com)