Vines Art Festival gets you outdoors in a different way

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      You won’t be able to join crowds at the eco-activist Vines Art Festival this year, but organizers are putting together sonic performances and an interactive map that will help you get outdoors and tune in to the celebration in a different way.

      Outside of the online programming as the sixth annual fest runs Wednesday (August 5) to August 15, you’ll be able to explore six parks online through artist Adriana Contreras’s map. It creatively guides you through the green spaces, highlighting things like the indigenous flora and fauna and the geographical history. While enjoying your socially distanced visit, you can download and play specially crafted playlists customized to each area.

      You’ll find a wide variety of styles and messages across the soundscapes, from the Queering Histories sonic performances for David Lam Park to the Freedom: Stories of Black Liberation playlist for Creekside Park.

      That reflects the sixth annual fest itself, which has evolved to embrace issues of climate change, Indigenous and BIPOC rights, and more. Freedom: Stories of Black Liberation fans out into a full Facebook and YouTube Live event on August 7, with performances including a multimedia work by Afro Van Connect and storytelling from Siobhan Barker. On August 15 via the same platforms, Resilient Roots returns with a program of queer, trans, and two-spirit Indigenous performances, including form-pushing nonbinary drag artist Bo Dyp, from the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw nation.

      To get an idea of the diversity of voices you’ll find on the sonic performances tailor-made for each park, look no further than the Trout Lake version, titled Complexity of Together.

      “I submitted the song I did because it’s questioning the status quo—and I think that’s one of the fundamental aspects of Vines for me,” says one of its contributors, Zion Fyah, who’s performed live at the event for the last several summers.

      His guitar-driven reggae song is called “Free-Dumb”. “It’s a study of how language reflects thoughts and how language is regressing toward a negative hue—like saying something is really bad when it’s really good—like saying ‘You killed it’ or saying ‘That’s sick.’

      “That becomes a kind of a cage, a jail where the culture becomes negative in a way that affects you to your core.”

      Fyah has a roster of hundreds of songs, but this one seemed to speak most directly to this moment of quarantine and political activism, he says. “My son has a bunch of my songs in his phone and he was playing it in my car,” he explains, referring to his 13-year-old, “and it was like a bolt of lightning—like, ‘That’s the one.’

      “These days one of the topics at the forefront of our minds is freedom,” he adds. “The song is about that too: not being tied down to any nationality or religion.”

      Multidisciplinary artist Mildred Grace German.

      Elsewhere on the Trout Lake soundscape, Filipino-Canadian multidisciplinary artist Mildred Grace German, whose work skews more towards performance art, integrates her own voice with traditional bamboo and gong instruments from the Philippines, as well as electro sounds and even sampled animal noises.

      Called “Huwag Kang Baby/Year of the Swine”, the work interweaves issues of global warming, colonialism, forced migration, and police and government brutality, showing how they are inextricably tied together around the world.

      Her ongoing project had its genesis a couple of years ago, in her first trip back to the Philippines in 20 years, visiting her home province of Tacloban, where the ravages of 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan could still be seen. Its destructive force was largely attributed to global warming.

      “It was emotional for me to see it and witness it,” she explains. “I saw the anguish of the land, there not much rehabilitation. It made me question, how do we really sustain climate-change-affected areas?”

      Around the same time, Canada was under fire for shipping its mountains of garbage to the Philippines. Adding to German’s distress was seeing her homeland under the tightening fist of state-sponsored violence and police brutality—issues she now sees rearing their heads in North American streets.

      All these ideas swirl into “Year of the Swine”, as does German’s personal experiences as a forced migrant. She was separated from a mother who came to work in Canada, only joining her years later. “That’s opened my eyes to displacement,” she says. She’s also deeply interested in Indigenous claims to land in her adopted home country.

      These are the kind of complex ideas that find their unique voice at Vines.

      Says German: “My choice as an artist is to show solidarity with what’s happening right now, systemic racism and reflecting in Mother Earth and climate change and how they’re all interconnected.” She adds that she’s grateful for the freedom to express those ideas in a public space—even if that space is a digital one this year.

      The Vines Art Festival runs from August 5 to 15 at venues online and around town.