A Conversation w/ Margaret Dragu
The following email conversation took place over August and September of 2014. Margaret Dragu will be selecting and showing an episode from Art Talking Women (a future podcast series on VIVO Channel) as part of a Recent Acquisitions Screening at the centre this November.
The Robin Brass episode in production, Art Talking Women, Season Two – Robin Brass is shown on screen to the left with Lynn Chen of Cinevolution on the right – photo by Ying Wang of Cinevolution.
Jeremy Todd, Outreach & Distribution, VIVO/Video Out: Art Talking Women is your second podcast series to be distributed on VIVO Channel. Was it a project that was somehow inspired and/or informed by the initial Verb Frau project? How did you decide where to begin? And with whom?
Margaret Dragu: Verb Woman TV was born during a month long residency in October 2011 that I shared with Freya Björg Olafson at Latitude 53 in Edmonton. We collaborated on process instead of product in that we employed parallel play as our methodology as opposed to a more formal collaboration towards an event/object…
This allowed us to talk and talk and talk — and go to the YMCA to workout — and cook and share meals and bunk in together at the infamous Dayz Inn Motel where Freya watched PRETTY LITTLE LIARS on line while I romped thru Satellite TV favouring British Murders and the Food Channel.
I think the gallery originally imagined us as an older and younger artist-duo getting together and the older mentor-ing the younger but thatz not what happened. I learned TONS AND TONS AND TONS about accessible internet-based technologies from Freya and her art practice and she babysat me through one of the lower emotional pits of my 61 years. Freya is an interesting artist and smart and kind so like it was like win-win-win-win for me.
So I developed a daily practice in Edmonton.
Getting up at dawn to shoot magic hour. It was October and really cold. But magic hour in that longitude of Alberta was gorgeous! I was fascinated by Edmonton’s epic vertical architecture and the wide empty downtown streets filled with homeless people in the early hours followed by the city slowly filling up with cars, commuters, and students attending public and private schools — in malls. Malls everywhere.
Parallel to this was the OCCUPY MOVEMENT in Edmonton &around the world. I shot Edmonton’s OCCUPY encampment every morning and downloaded from the internet still/video images of OCCUPY around the world. Then I went to the gallery for huevos rancheros and coffee and opened Freya’s and my “lab” than included a public internet-cafe installation where public was invited to bring their computer devices and log on and drink fabulous coffee provided by a local Italian restauranteur while viewing a menu of Freya’s and my video works online.
After a few hours of dowloading/transferring/researching/editing. I had my daily BACKGROUND PROJECTION video aka reportage. Then, I dashed off for a workout at the YMCA and returned to the gallery for my daily 4:00 to 7:00 pm live streaming live performance on the internet doing live performance aktions in front of my “daily report” that I had created earlier. The projection was exponential as I added to the video from the day before so each day the projection was longer.
The live to tape event was then posted on Latitude 53’s webpage and social platforms — and I shared them on various internet sites as well. Then it was Dinner and too much red wine and then back to the Dayz Inn for sleep and then the same all over again the next day.
This ended in a live performance in the gallery at the end of the month. I left this project LOVING the free and democratic DIY aspect of live broadcasting with free shareware.
In July 2012, I did M.DRAGU’s MUSEUM, which was a retrospective with CINEVOUTION for YOUR KONTINENT 2012 festival that included an exhibition and a new performance. You were in it! xxxoxoxoxxo And Zuzia [Juszkiewicz] !!! Part of their process, as a group and unofficial collective, was to meet and drink tea and talk about art. My favourite thing! During our many conversations, we discussed creative process and technology. I was keen to somehow include conversations with women artists who are part of my tribe or environment or community or living-history. This lead us to four videotaped conversations in my kitchen with Koko, Lorna, Eileen and Dinka. Sebnem made a down and dirty quick edit to show in the exhibition but we ALL liked them so much that we knew we should do more and so we decided that we would continue my interviewing women artists and we would call it ART TALKING WOMEN. We operate pretty much as a collective in that we all contribute our skills and attempt to try to come to agreements collectively but we have no formal way of operating articulated together — it is all very instinctive. This is a pretty good method so far. I think I was totally ready to join a group of artists to make art and create situations for others to make art — and meeting and working with CINEVOLUTION totally blew my mind. So smart and responsive and individual and anchored in the multi-cultural community of Richmond and Vancouver — and all amazing artists with their own individual practices. Rocking and Rolling when we are out in the field shooting is just totally the BEST !!!
I was aching to get to Berlin to see the city without the wall. I had toured to Berlin from 1971-1983 but despite managing a Cologne based tour in 1999 I could not manage to get to Berlin so I was sort of haunted by the fall of the wall. Have you ever seen the film Goodbye Lenin? I was time-displaced slightly like the mother in that film. This impulse eventually created the exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery of VERB WOMAN: the wall is in my head/a dance of forgetting, Nov 2013 – Jan 2014, but I decided I had to do a similar series of daily reportage and performances in Berlin for Month of Performance Art and really tackle my deep curiosity around questions and notions around performance art practice by talking with artists at the festival.
This was totally exciting and fabulous. I used the same formula of Daily Berlin Portraits with interviews with artists and sometimes engaging in live improvised art aktions. This all happened in the Or Gallery (Berlin) only through the generosity of Jonathan Middleton.
As you can probably tell, I am obsessed with what we used to call the eastern bloc, and so was thrilled to visit Dinka Pignon and her sister in Belgrade after the festival and to interview her and her friend who were both movers and shakers in the contemporary performance art hey-day of the early seventies where in fact Marina the self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art” made her earliest works.
AND THEN Cinevolution got some funding to continue ART TALKING WOMEN in 2014-15. The concept is still my talking to women I know and love. It is very nepotism. I am for nepotism. We are not the CBC. Our first four interviews of Dinka, Koko Eileen and Lorna constitute season one. Second season we wanted to get away from talking heads and experiment and push interview format boundaries a bit. So We decided to shoot in the artists’ studios, then we shot at Grunt Gallery with projections and live Google+ broadcasts later edited to create an acid-like inside the artist’s mindscape and now we are in artist gardens and trying to walk and talk and do which is harder than it sounds. I imagine some other HOST/interviewer will take over my job to continue this project. We are also really keen to TRANSLATE our videopodcasts into Chinese and sendoff and build a relationship with broadcasters in China and Taiwan. Perhaps even Turkey. Ideally, we would share our podcasts with the homelands of all of our Cinevolution members. The whole world is a digital cafe and I am keen to share the women artists I know and love and work with with the entire world…. thru videopodcasting VIVO channel and i-Tunes ….
Oh but Jeremy there is ancient histories before this back in Toronto with 15 Dance Lab and Rodgers TV Cable and ARTISTS TV — a whole mess of stepping into the interview format and informed by what we have all seen on broadcast television, but perhaps we can discuss this more in person later? Let us maybe move on to other questions??????
VO: I think a lot of your work involves anarchic play as a kind of collaborative end, but lately with your output I’ve also noticed a much more willfully excessive quality — an overt, hyper-kinetic energy and busyness. Your previous email response provides a good example of this for me. There’s a kind of spilling over, or collapse, of public and private worlds, amateurism and professionalism, the domesticated and the rarefied — it’s as if you are parodying the dire compression of everyday life within our post-industrial, digital age. Is this something you think about while forming the Art Talking Women episodes?
MD: No — this is not something I think about whilst forming ATW episodes at all. Particularly because we are UNOFFICIALLY a collective and therefore I am only host and writer for the series although we all do everything but we also do stuff separately; it is a form of alchemy. ATW looks how it looks and is how it is because it is an odd alchemy of womens’ visions and processes. We are women. Hear us roar. We wear Pink Saris.
With Verb Frau TV, I choose all the guests and 100% solo shoot, host, write, edit and form everything in my own highly layered and frenetic style. ATW series is created so much more like a wonderful meal in a good French restaurant whereby many people touch every lettuce leaf, parsley, escargot and scallop on your plate with their BARE hands before you put any of it in your mouth. My layered, archeological, coal-pressed-into-hopefully-diamonds is still in there somewhere but it is not nearly as kooky as VERB FRAU.
We are pressing borders and horizons with season two of ATW by leaving talking heads in my kitchen. We are doing walk and talks with the artists in their studios and other labs/milieus where they make art and life and in May we did two totally fabulous live Google+ broadcasts with Robin Brass of Regina and Victoria Singh of New Zealand at grunt gallery where we employed multiple and layered video projections of the artists’ works on walls and tables to kind of make a visceral experience of the artists’ brain in a kind of Austin Powers disco mode. This funky 3-D low-fi budget SET was totally gorgeous due to the design and experience of Sebnem Ozpeta who is from our collective and the fabulash assistance of Elisha Burrows from grunt gallery. Wait till you see it. It is a performance and an interview at the same time. We want to push the format and expectations of video podcast interviews without actually breaking the diaphragm.
But to return to my own work (installation, performance, community events, parades, etc) and the whole overt, hyper-kinetic energy and business thing — I would love to talk more about this in person as this question really interests me. But my short answer on email WHICH WE HAVE PROVEN is very unreliable for HEARING and UNDERSTANDING and RESPONDING is that while I appear to be frantic and hyper and busy everything I am doing is at least IN BATCHES has in fact all been selected — for duration or volume — and extremely edited in a kind of way before the event or shoot begins, in that I begin with EVERYTHING and then the interesting part is what I get rid of and throw away as I get closer to what we arbitrarily call the START and by the time I begin it has in fact all been very much boiled down into a tincture or perhaps a thick red wine reduction sauce.
And in terms of my own work, the permeable boundary between and betwixt fiction and non-fiction always delights me… This was a harder question than number one — but don’t let that stop you, amigo. I eagerly await your next query.
VO: Can you say more about the women in Art Talking Women? What are some of your connections and interests with the people you feature in the series?
MD: I AM KIND OF CHEATING HERE but to answer your question the BEST way is to give you my artist statement for the project HERE.
The short answer to my method of choosing the artists is nepotism. The women in our series are all my family members, close pals or collaborators and sometimes all three things at once. As we progress into the series, the leash that links me to them gets a bit longer and covers more kilometers but they are all women artists I know and respect. We are not the CBC inviting an array of artists that we ought to invite nor asking questions that are current or expected. I sincerely hope, anyways. I want to talk with these women about their very personal creative process and how and why they create art and to hear there story about how they chose art and more precisely to discuss their personal and working relationship with technology and/or community… We are really just a gang of co-workers talking about these things from the inside as opposed to “real journalists” whose spectacles tend to be popular culture or a POV that is a reductivist sound byte.
I imagine that after my time as host/writer for ATW is over that another woman artist will take my place and explore her own artist family/network.
Although you have not asked about this at all — I thought I would let you know that before ATW and VERB FRAU TV I have dipped and dabbled in artists making a kind of news magazine TV Talk Show many times — originally, several series with Miriam and (late) Lawrence Adams of 15 Dance Lab in Toronto and also with them and John Faichney in the Artists’ Television Studio also in Toronto. I did hosting, writing, producing and even switching for several live TV series interviewing mostly independent dance choreographers broadcast through a live line from a local cable television station to the studios. Another event that inspired VERB FRAU TV was when I asked you to come and art-talk with me to contextualize the creation and publication of VERB WOMAN: a discrete dictionary (vol 1). I invited you to chat with me and Mo Simpson about its creation as a kind of Directors’ Notes EXTRA BONUS material that used to be included on movie DVDs we used to buy and rent — Remember? Before Bit Torrent and Streaming? I asked you to wear a selection of hats during our chat as a strategy to subvert the time chain and also challenge the TV news magazine format which I both adore and wish to dis-assemble…. x0x00x0x000x0xxx0x0x
VO: Thinking now of personal memories, I can recall several projects you’ve been involved with since I first moved to Vancouver (in 1996) that are connected in some way to VIVO. What has your relationship to the centre been like over the years (or decades)? How has the organization been of use to you and your art practice?
MD: Like Chef Emeril Lagasse’s Holy Trinity of onions, bell peppers and celery, VIVO was one third of another (Vancouver) Holy Trinity along with Western Front and Pumps. I first “met” Video In (and out) through Paul Wong and then also the Main Streeters when I first came to perform CANAJAN BURGERS in Vancouver with Enrico Campagna in 1977 during our cross-Canada tours. This was followed by frequent visits, tours and residencies in Vancouver. I was always keen to travel away from TO on art adventures and Vancouver was a favourite destination. And Video In and Out was a dynamic art-making social group associated and overlapping with WF and then also Pumps. I enjoyed them all as a visitor from away.
By the time I moved to Vancouver in 1986, Video In and Out had evolved and around then became VIVO (when????) and while VIVO was still my west coast distributor of video work with VTAPE being my home-based distributor and I sometimes used dubbing and editing facilities with an editor/artist
I was kind of isolated out at the Slough so I didn’t come to town a lot. Although the very first letter of recommendation I got towards my first grant as a new mom came from VIdeo Out distribution manager Jeanette Rheinhardt so I was rescued and helped a lot through sharing both community and history with Video In & Out. It was around the time that I toured a series of live performances and then a 16 mm film and eventually made a video — all under the overall title of A DECONSTRUCTED DOLLHOUSE – that explored and examined Ibsen’s play A Dollhouse. I became a bit more engaged with VIVO and the artists working at and around VIVO. I took some workshops. I brought my daughter with me while I was editing. I hung out at the Yaletown location and the “new” location on Main Street.
After DOLLHOUSE, I started to use COREL PC video editing software to edit completely by myself without an editor so I could edit at home on my own computer and that changed my relationship with VIVO. Instead of seeing it as a place that was a community access rental and editing/teaching facility it became a place to create and shoot work in the studio or perform live or hang out and socialize or give talks or join Victoria Singh’s Knitting Circle and go see screenings and festivals of other artists work — it became an important art making social hub for me along with grunt Gallery.
I kind of see my relationship with the internet, blogging and social platforms as being formed by my friendship and collaborations with you. And that some major works like PORTALS and VERB WOMAN:a discrete dictionary ( vol.1) along with Verb Frau TV and now Art Talking Women is wrapped up in your developing relationship with VIVO thru your Not Sent Letters Project and your joining the VIVO team.
VO: It’s amazing to me how much creative exchange has gone on between us for so long (it often feels like I met you just last weekend). I understand there are more Art Talking Women episodes to be shot. Can you say anything about other projects currently in development?
MD: I have two projects this winter (and longer):
THE LIBRARY PROJECT
is a series of durational and process-driven performances-for-camera that take place in libraries — public libraries, university libraries, private libraries, virtual libraries. I did Hart House at U of T in February as Verb Woman with female artist-academics and others. I am doing an event at The Brighouse Richmond Public Library on November 2nd as Lady Justice with my beloved goddesses the Vices/Virtues with some other women from my on-going INTER-GENERATIONAL WOMEN’s WRITING WORKSHOPS. There are more library interventions or occasions to come as well as more writing workshops. The work is an exploration of “education” and in particular education as a tool for social change to fight violence against girls and women everywhere. It is inspired by “the angel scene” from Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire and is dedicated to Malala Yousafzai.
COMMODIFICATION OF TOUCH
is a holistic investigation of the kinds of touching experienced by single seniors.
VO: Thank you Margaret for your generosity and engagement. It’s been fun and very informative too! We look forward to launching the Art Talking Women series on VIVO Channel – and to your next works for distribution at Video Out.