Vines Art Festival takes diverse approach to eco art

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      Environmental activist Taylor Pearon and dance artist Kelly McInnes have been communing with nature—Trout Lake, to be specific.

      Afternoon rehearsal has just ended on the East Side beach, and their hair is wet from the water, the last vestiges of sand sticking to the sides of their faces. They’ve been collaborating on just one of dozens of performances that will bring the southern end of the park to life as part of the second annual outdoor Vines Arts Festival—and, in a way, their piece sums up everything the grassroots environmental-arts celebration is about.

      Called Two°, it is bringing together the worlds of art and ecological science. Named for the controversial maximum temperature rise that experts think the globe can sustain before it collapses, the metaphorical performance captures the anxiety mixed with ambivalence that so many people feel in the face of pending environmental catastrophe.

      “It’s about the contradictions of our society—of people wanting to save our planet but not wanting to make specific changes quickly enough,” McInnes explains, sitting on the grass by the lake with Pearon and fest founder Heather Lamoureux, “and that leads to this continual decline.”

      Perhaps no other work at this year’s fest, situated near the lake on Saturday (August 20) and branching out to other parks in the days preceding, makes such direct contact with the natural surroundings. Two° features McInnes and Pearon raking the sand and entering the lake.

      “It’s about the impact we leave on the land, and we leave traces of ourselves there by the end,” explains Pearon, an environmental-policy grad who is making her first performance as part of the collaboration. “It’s provoking reflection, and the sooner we can do that the more hope there is. Art is so visceral; you can read statistics all day.”

      Expressing those environmental concerns through art was one of the motivating factors behind the festival, which started out, smaller, last summer. but Lamoureux had multiple goals.

      “My intention was also to put more contemporary art in an outdoor setting, because in theatres, so often you see the same audiences,” explains Lamoureux, who hopes to draw viewers from the busy park and nearby farmers markets to the site-specific shows, roaming performers, and art installations at Vines. “The idea is they’ll be walking by and say, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ So it’s that acces­sibility factor. But I’m also really interested in activism and how art and environment can work together.”

      Eco art is a growing phenomenon, but locally, it has generally been limited to visual art. What sets Vines apart is that it features so much interdisciplinary performance.

      “I’m interested in what we can do as performers to show the message of scientists in a more understandable way,” Lamoureux says. “I find eco art really hard to define: it can be about appreciating the land but it can also be activist art. So it ends up being almost anything that connects to the earth.”

      It makes sense, then, that the works on view take such wildly diverse form. Look for Tin Gamboa and Forest Borch’s In the Dirt, a bicycle-powered-projector film; Hometown Remedies, with performers offering up herbal concoctions for all your ailments; Grief + Dignity’s theatrical look at feminism, environmental activism, and the Site C Dam; and Nuu-chah-nulth/Kwakwaka’wakw poet Valeen Jules’s writing on healing and meaningful change.

      Dance artists Darcy McMurray and Maxine Chadburn will perform at the festival.
      Sophia Wolfe

      Art installations include Linnea McPhail getting the public to help her fold and hang 1,000 origami whales, and Elissa Hanson and Claris Figuera’s At House, At Home, a structure built from salvaged wood pallets. There is much more dance, music, visual art, and storytelling throughout the day.

      This year, for the first time, Vines also extends to other city parks, partnering with the artist studio residencies there to present programming. Look for Publik Secrets’ pedal-powered cinema at Kitsilano’s Hadden Park on Wednesday (August 17), when programming runs from 4 to 10 p.m. You can also see McInnes’s other work at the fest, Ree-Wahyld, there.

      “It’s coming from a really disconnected place, with our cellphones and busy lives, and losing touch with nature and our natural bodies,” she explains of the outdoor dance work. “We’re in power suits and on our phones at the beginning, and then it’s a journey of rubbing grass against your face and what does it feel like?

      “It’s kind of celebrating the animalistic, carnal aspect of ourselves. I was wondering what it would look like if we did take more time to connect with our bodies and these spaces.”

      The next day, from 3:30 to 9 p.m., hit East Van’s Pandora Park for dance and a clowning workshop, while Lori Snyder leads urban foraging at John Hendry Park. And on Friday (August 19) from noon to 8 p.m. at Strathcona’s MacLean Park, take in woodcarving, improvised music, and more, as well as a gardening workshop and barbecue at that same ’hood’s Norquay Park.

      The aptly named Vines is starting to spread, slowly, through different communities, and that’s just what Lamoureux wants.

      “My vision is it doesn’t grow into a big, huge day where there’s thousands of people,” she says. “I’m more interested in critical mass of more people creating outdoor art.”

      Vines Art Festival runs from Wednesday to Saturday (August 17 to 20), with the main day August 20 at John Hendry Park. A full schedule is at the Vines Art Festival website.