Ex­tremes Janet Smith W

CAGE takes im­prov to bold new

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - By

e can’t tell you ex­actly what vet­eran dance rene­gade Katie Duck’s CAGE

will look or sound like when it hits the Sco­tia­bank Dance Cen­tre next week—and that’s ex­actly the point.

The die-hard im­pro­viser changes the piece wher­ever she goes, the only con­stants three wigs, four texts, and a black dress, along with a pro­jected film and a sound­track she al­ters for ev­ery per­for­mance. Work­ing with guest mu­si­cians from what­ever spot she’s vis­it­ing—whether it’s Hong Kong or Ar­gentina—she lets these props, words, and sounds in­spire ev­ery­thing that un­folds on-stage.

“I’ve just watched four doc­u­men­taries about your cul­ture to see what your pop cul­ture is,” says the U.S.– born, Am­s­ter­dam–based pi­o­neer over the phone from the Nether­lands, hint­ing the Cran­ber­ries’ late Do­lores O’ri­or­dan and the Biebs him­self may have worked their way onto her sound­track. “It’s not about the piece. It’s about the re­la­tion­ship. And I need to un­der­stand how to re­late to you. I need every­one to know I’m a vis­i­tor.”

Duck says her wish to con­nect to dif­fer­ent cul­tures prob­a­bly stems in large part from be­ing a life­long nomad. “I’ve al­ways been a tour­ing artist,” she says. “I was born in the U.S., but came here when I was 24. I’m in so many cul­tures and trans­la­tion is part of that, so I get in­ter­ested in see­ing how flex­i­ble I can be.”

From the late 1970s into the ’80s she ex­per­i­mented on Europe’s cut­ting edge, and it was dur­ing a stint start­ing in 1979, at her com­pany Gruppo, which stud­ied with Ital­ian theatre icon Dario Fo, that she be­gan push­ing im­pro­vi­sa­tion be­yond its usual bounds. In the mid-’80s she be­gan look­ing more to­ward mu­sic, and es­pe­cially its con­cepts of spon­tane­ity within time frames, for her in­spi­ra­tion than to­ward dance or theatre.

“I was work­ing with im­pro­vi­sa­tion to­ward a set piece. I was work­ing with my own sound­tracks—and be­cause it was the ’80s, it was reel-toreel then,” says the artist, who’s in­flu­enced sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of dancers. “And I re­al­ized I don’t like tak­ing a piece and pack­ag­ing it and mov­ing it around the world. By ’85, I was get­ting in­ter­ested in mix­ing this mu­sic. And I re­ally looked at [com­poser John] Cage quite se­verely…and say­ing ‘I’m go­ing to make a com­po­si­tion that’s played im­pro­vised.’

“I de­cided it was more in­ter­est­ing for my pub­lic re­la­tion­ship for some­thing to be cho­sen right in that mo­ment.”

In fact, the ti­tle of the work here refers to one of her art’s huge in­flu­ences, Cage, and the way he of­fered sim­i­lar choices to his mu­si­cians. But the deeply fem­i­nist artist also refers to the cages that im­prison us in so­ci­ety, from sex­ism to vi­o­lence.

Mu­si­cians Ben Brown, James Meger, and Rox­anne Nes­bitt help bring the piece to life here. Join­ing them on-stage, Duck bares her body and soul, giv­ing her­self to the mo­ment—some­thing three decades of prac­tice, and metic­u­lous re­search into sub­jects in­clud­ing neu­ro­science, have made her com­fort­able do­ing. She says be­ing able to make choices on the spur of the mo­ment takes rig­or­ous study.

“And I would say for my­self, per­son­ally, it’s been hav­ing 30 years to get out in front of the pub­lic with these odd sit­u­a­tions and fail a lot,” she says, adding that her world-view also fu­els her par­tic­u­larly bold prac­tice: “Be­cause I see things in a fem­i­nist way, I say you’re not a vic­tim of the sit­u­a­tion; you’re a

VIS­UAL ARTS

ANNA WONG: TRAV­ELLER ON TWO ROADS At the Burn­aby Art Gallery un­til Novem­ber 3

OC­CUR­RING FIVE YEARS af­ter her death, the Burn­aby Art Gallery’s Anna Wong ret­ro­spec­tive spans the ca­reer of one of our most ac­com­plished and yet un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated print­mak­ers. Com­posed of some 70 art­works, in­clud­ing ink draw­ings, etch­ings, seri­graphs, lith­o­graphs, block prints, and tex­tiles, and com­ple­mented by a ma­jor cat­a­logue, the show re­veals sig­nif­i­cant as­pects of her life, times, trav­els, and cre­ative as­pi­ra­tions.

Born in Van­cou­ver in 1930, into one of the city’s most dis­tin­guished Chi­nese-cana­dian fam­i­lies, Wong was the fifth of 10 chil­dren of Wong Kung Lai and Chu Man Ming. She greatly ben­e­fited from her par­ents’ de­sire to give their off­spring a com­pre­hen­sive ed­u­ca­tion, en­sur­ing that their western school­ing was sup­ple­mented with teach­ings in Chi­nese lan­guage, his­tory, cul­ture, and, sig­nif­i­cantly in Anna Wong’s case, cal­lig­ra­phy. Early on, she also worked in the fam­ily busi­ness, Mod­ern­ize Tailors, and gained ex­pe­ri­ence in cut­ting and sewing that, many years later, would in­form her largescale, screen-printed and quilted tex­tile works.

Wong’s art ed­u­ca­tion took place over a long pe­riod, ar­guably be­gin­ning with those cal­lig­ra­phy lessons in her child­hood and en­riched, when she was in her late 20s, by Chi­nese brush paint­ing stud­ies in Hong Kong. The show fea­tures four of Wong’s un­ti­tled ink works on pa­per from 1957, their de­pic­tion of tra­di­tional, na­ture-based sub­jects re­veal­ing her quick flu­ency in the medium.

Hung next to these is a grid of 16 small pen-and-ink draw­ings—again un­ti­tled—that Wong pro­duced while at­tend­ing the Van­cou­ver School of Art in the early to mid-1960s. Char­ac­ter­ized by ei­ther densely lay­ered net­works of cross­hatched lines or swirls of jots, dashes, and squig­gles, they demon­strate her deft shift from brush to nib, her de­vel­op­ing in­ter­est in mark­mak­ing and over­all ab­strac­tion, and the in­flu­ence of a few im­por­tant in­struc­tors, par­tic­u­larly Ann Ki­pling.

At the VSA, Wong en­coun­tered the print­mak­ing that would seize her imag­i­na­tion and de­fine her ca­reer. Her sub­se­quent works are ex­e­cuted with amaz­ing tech­ni­cal skills through many dif­fer­ent pro­cesses, tech­niques, and mo­tifs, from geo­met­ric ab­strac­tion to Chi­nese sym­bol­ogy. The re­sult­ing im­ages,

Pray­ing Wheel Pi, such as and are ex­tended ex­per­i­ments with colour, tex­ture, lay­ered im­agery—and tran­scen­dence.

On grad­u­at­ing from the VSA, Wong trav­elled to New York to fur­ther her stud­ies at the famed Pratt Graphic Art Cen­tre, and stayed on there for nearly 20 years as an in­struc­tor. Dur­ing this time, she es­tab­lished a pat­tern of teach­ing in New York through the fall and win­ter and re­turn­ing to the West Coast each sum­mer to spend time with her fam­ily, teach again, and work in her Van­cou­ver and Quadra Is­land stu­dios. Among no­table prints

Pine II Weeds #10, she cre­ated dur­ing this pe­riod are and from a se­ries of lith­o­graphs based on hum­ble and over­looked nat­u­ral forms such as leaves, grasses, and, yes, weeds.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Wong made seven trips to China fol­low­ing its open­ing to the West in 1978, and a large body of her prints and mixed-me­dia works is based on pho­to­graphs she shot on her ex­ten­sive trav­els there. Sub­jects range from hum­ble vil­lage ar­chi­tec­ture to Bud­dhist sculp­tures, and from tea ther­moses to

The Great Wall #6, snowy moun­tain land­scapes. Often, as in

Wong in­cor­po­rated im­ages of fam­ily mem­bers, re­in­forc­ing her deep com­mit­ment to her per­sonal and cul­tural ori­gins.

Anna Wong: Trav­eller on Two Roads is both visu­ally and emo­tion­ally ar­rest­ing. Ku­dos to the BAG’S Ellen van Ei­jns­ber­gen and Jen­nifer Cane, and to the Wong fam­ily, for bring­ing to­gether a com­pre­hen­sive show and cat­a­logue that hon­our an artist whose mod­esty and in­dif­fer­ence to self-pro­mo­tion might oth­er­wise have al­lowed her work to slip into ob­scu­rity.

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