The local arts community is about to receive a good review. cArtographies, a documentary profiling B.C. artists directed by Brian Johnson, will debut on Monday (May 17) on the Knowledge Network at 10 p.m. The film features 19 artists from across the province and explores why they choose to live and work within the borders of B.C.
Johnson, a seasoned cinematographer, told the Straight in a phone interview that he was eager to tackle the project. “This for us was totally exciting being B.C.-based,” said Johnson, referring to himself and producer Leah Mallen of Twofold Films. “It’s kind of an enigmatic place to be living and working as an artist. On the one hand, if you have a connection to nature there’s an incredible amount of inspiration to be taken from that. And in Vancouver, the amount of change that’s happening in the city and the influences from Asia-Pacific makes for a really dynamic cultural environment.”
But there are drawbacks to living and working here.
“On the other hand, we are on the frontier,” Johnson explained. “We’re pretty removed from what are generally thought of as the art or cultural centers of Western culture – the New Yorks, the Londons – we’re isolated from that.”
Because cArtographies profiles artists who practise different disciplines, Johnson felt it needed to speak to each artistic vision. “Often the main driving force behind what we did with each artist was the artists’ work,” he said. “The Fumiko and Roy Kiyooka piece is like a continued exploration into experimental film, which is what Fumiko works with.”
In addition to Vancouver-based filmmaker Kiyooka, cArtographies features musician Jesse Zubot, visual artist Stan Douglas, singer-songwriter Veda Hille, dancer and choreographer Crystal Pite, musician Alex Cuba, writer Michael Turner, theatre performer Paul Ternes, and painter Renee van Halm, along with 10 other artists.
Johnson is known for his experimental approach and when he isn’t working in film, he pursues visual art. “I like to explore different ways of storytelling, different ways of creating,” he said. “My work goes from straight up narrative cinema to completely wanky improvised sound and audio collage to gallery installation.” His interactive cinematic piece The Soft Revolution, co-created with Anthony Roberts, was displayed at TIFF in 2007.
Four themes flow throughout cArtographies: Vancouver as a postmodern Utopia, the proximity of nature, the freedom of the frontier, and the sense of community. “It’s a real patchwork—kind of a heterogeneous collection of individual pieces—so in order to try and connect all those pieces we kept those ideas in mind,” said Johnson.
The film’s release comes at a time when the provincial Liberals’ cuts to arts have some organizations struggling to keep their doors open. But Johnson says cArtographies is not a direct response to the financial turmoil.
“It’s not meant to be some kind of political statement at all,” he assured. “I think that by extension it is, when you look at all these amazing people that are working here and you think ”˜Oh, we may lose this part of our society and our culture’. It’s pretty devastating but hopefully it won’t come to that.”
Without enough support, the arts community may not be able to survive despite its best efforts at triage. “If it continues, it’ll be a lot of people out of work, and a lot of people either leaving the province or on unemployment insurance or welfare,” warned Johnson. “Some of the artists that we dealt with have been in the media lately because they’ve been considering leaving the province.”
But as his film will show, the picture is not all grim. “cArtographies is a way of celebrating the breadth and the level of talent that there is in this province,” he said.