Studium and Punctums

Studium and Punctums


2013-11-21 17.04.15

The last two weeks of November have been remarkable. The scope of our interests and requirements at the NAC is vast. Our first task is to support and strengthen the national cultural condition, by familiarizing ourselves, in all manner of ways, with the breadth of talent and perspectives existing within Canada’s borders. In other words: connecting with “the amazing” and fostering relationships that will ensure that “the amazing” makes its way to our stages at the NAC. The second task is to put us into conversation with other parts of the world: in other words, making sure the traffic signals are working on a two-way street of international work.

Last spring, Jillian Keiley and I, invited Blake Brooker  – one of the collective members of Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit – to join us in Ottawa. Our intention was to spend a couple of days with Blake interrogating our process for decision-making at the NAC, and to help us to clarify and shape our goals. The time was well spent and was heightened by Blake’s introduction to the notion of “The Punctum”. So helpful was this as an organizing principle, that we have since labelled our annual planning retreat as The Punctum.

Why Punctum? … A little on the provenance of the punctum brought to you by Wikipedia

From Roland Barthes 1980 Camera Lucida:

“The book developed twin concepts of studium and punctum; studium denoting the cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph, punctum denoting the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.”

For me the over-arching studium has been about exoticism. This unusual two weeks has left me asking: What is an exotic life? What is an exotic place? Is exoticism a bad word? I draw no conclusions, instead I offer some links to follow.

Why Exoticism? … A 3-point shot on ways the word can be considered:

Wikipedia:  Essay on Exoticism: an aesthetics of diversity, “…possessing both aesthetic and ontological value, while using it to uncover a significant cultural “otherness”. “Exoticism is diametrically opposed to nationalism… Where nationalism seeks to praise that which is known and familiar, that which is not the other, exoticism performs the opposite process by praising what is unfamiliar simply by virtue of its difference… Whatever the case may be for nationalism, there is a paradox at the heart of exoticism, because exoticism is a value judgment based on ignorance.”

And finally onto Georgia O’Keefe: “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.”

Playwright and composer, Nick Carpenter, recently wrote to say: “Oddly enough, it is Fort Mac that feels the most foreign…” and after having been there I completely agree. But I return to the Roland Barthes notion of the Punctum(s) to bring order to my travel chaos.

What follows then is a Punctum link travelogue told in 6 cities.

Sydney – 4 days – The Big Punctum: THE BATS

  1. 2013-11-20 10.03.53Belvoir Watching Hamlet after 24 hours of travel, and being blown away by young director Simon Stone and designer and Belvoir AD Ralph Mayer
  2. Sydney Theatre Company  The long hall. A full 5-minute inside stroll from road to water (and the theatres) on gorgeous plank flooring with the pictorial history of the company’s work on the walls as you walk (Insert picture”2)
  3. Sydney Opera House Because of its construction history and nationally minded ideals it reminded me of our National Arts Centre
  4. The Cake Man A seminal work by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
  5. Carriageworks See how a vibrant performance community works with 87, 188 square feet.
  6. Meeting Tanja Farman because Tina Rasmussen @cultureshark tweeted that we should while at Carriageworks and Tanja was in the building!
  7. Meeting producer Fenn Gordon because Sherrie Johnson @sherriejohnson brokered an introduction from her hotel room in Indonesia
  8. Meeting Merindah Donnelly Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Program Officer for the Australia Arts Council because Fenn picked up her cell phone and Merindah was able make it through the pouring rain to meet us a French Café.
  9. Losing my Iphone in a cab and getting it back
  10. We did go the beach. It rained. We left the beach. It stopped.

Melbourne – 1 night – The Big Punctum: PUBLIC ART EVERYWHERE

  1. Going Nowhere Festival. An active conversation on staying home and civic sustainability in the arts
  2. The Federation Bells So, so beautiful
  3. The Malthouse We saw Back to Back theatre’s new show Super Discount here. It was another gorgeous venue.
  4. Public wifi in the lit up night sky of a Manhattan-esque sky-scape
  5. Breakfast with “indigenous theatre royalty”. Two people referred to Rachael Maza of Ilbijerri in this way. A deep appreciation for her brilliance and what her father – before her – did to bring indigenous works to the stages in Australia.
  6. Running to catch up to a runner who had dropped his wallet. Sounded like he was from Canada when he thanked me.
  7. Melbourne, like Sydney, is a massive city. Much bigger than Toronto. It really surprised me. Especially in Melbourne it moved at a Manhattan pace

Vancouver – 6 hours – The Big Punctum: DOUBLE SUNDAY

  1. Meeting in the airport with Corey Payette between time and space (Sydney and Winnipeg and a repeating Sunday due to crossing the international dateline)

Winnipeg – 3 days – The Big Punctum: THE SNOW

  1. 2013-11-28 19.42.35Boon Burger. The most excellent Vegan Burger Bar.
  2. PTE Still amazed that the theatre is in a shopping mall and even more amazed by how well designed the theatre and the theatre spaces are within it
  3. Nobody looks at you funny when you zip up your arctic parka to get ready to go outside
  4. Seeing Hirsh at RMTC
  5. Camilla Holland’s daughter is in the Christmas Show at RMTC!
  6. Alan Williams, one of the true stars in the firmament of the 80’s in the Toronto Theatre Scene, and now dwelling in the UK, was also in attendance for the preview performance of Hirsch
  7. A lovely meal with Steven Shipper and a too brief but great hello with Bob Metcalfe
  8. Two excellent days of General Auditions for NAC

Fort McMurray – 1 night – The Big Punctum: THE BOOT CLEANER 

  1. The Keyano Theatre. A space where Catalyst Theatre one of Canada’s pre-eminent creation based companies has – for the past 6 years – been invited to make work
  2. Seeing their brand new and very exciting Vigilante – Catalyst Theatre
  3. Music in the lunch restaurant at the Fort Mac Hotel brought me back to all my heartaches… over yam fries and salad.
  4. Seeing the marks on the land when flying in.

2013-11-29 19.31.53Calgary – 12 days– The Big Punctum: 20 YEARS

  1. Opening of the 20th year of Stephen Hair playing Scrooge at Theatre Calgary
  2. Seeing Graham Percy in As You Like It this summer at Two Planks and a Passion in Nova Scotia and as “The Ghost of Christmas Present” in Calgary
  3. Attending a reading of a new play by Ghost River Theatre in a beautiful home on a Saturday afternoon where I drank pea soup from a cup.
  4. Talking to Vicki Stroich, new ED of ATP about surfing
  5. Having a coffee with Michael Green (Making Treaty 7 and OYR) and in a conversation about transformation, he pulls out his fake tooth to show a gaping hole. And he tells us that the tooth that had been there: “just slipped out”.