Thursday, June 20, 2013

Luminato 2013 - Free Exhibits

Luminato is an annual festival of arts and culture with performances and talks in the fields of theatre, music, dance, visual arts, magic acts, puppet shows and literature, held in venues throughout downtown Toronto.  Many of the events are ticketed, ranging from $20 for an evening conversation series featuring topics such as Verdi vs Wagner and gala readings from Canadian authors, $25-35 for a puppet show by Ronnie Burkett, $25-65 for a Chinese opera directed by Atom Egoyan, up to $175 for the top priced ticket to hear artists including Rufus Wainwright, Glen Hansard from the musical and movie "Once", Esperanza Spalding, and Herbie Hancock paying tribute to Joni Mitchell in honour of her 70th birthday. 

However there are quite a few free events to enjoy daily as well.  The hub for the activities is at David Pecaut Square in the entertainment district.  Free concerts are held nightly as well as in the afternoon during the weekends with  artists and acts such as Serena Ryder, Maxi Priest, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Rosanne Cash.  The eclectic performances cover all genres of music including pop, hip hop, country, blues, jazz, and multiple cultures including a Kyiv-based quartet, Sahara Desert Blues guitarist, Caribbean group, a Beijing group that mixes reggae beats with traditional Chinese music, and a range of African rhythms, mixed with bluesy jazz, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Latin sounds.

Free daily "Lunchtime Illumination" talks feature interesting conversations, sometimes between artists from various fields, including one between a scratch DJ, author/musician and a screen writer, and another where magicians compared their art to the culinary magic created by a molecular gastronomist.

On Monday, we listened to folk singer/songwriters Sylvia Tyson and Murray McLauchlan tell stories about their careers and experiences in the Yorkville music scene in the 1960s.  They both indicated that they struggled in Canada and were not recognized or appreciated in their home country until they first moved to New York City to make a name for themselves.  They interacted with other folk stars like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn.  They described Yorkville in the 60s as a "counter-culture scene" where there were no silos between different musical styles–everyone was young and carefree, and hung out together, exchanging ideas and songs.

Tyson's signature song, written by and performed with her by then husband Ian, was "Four Strong Winds".  This was one of the first songs to describe Canadian climates and locations such as Alberta.  She wrote the smash #3 Billboard hit "You Were Always On My Mind" in five minutes, a feat her accountant has been trying to get her to replicate ever since.  Sylvia tells the story about being at the infamous Newport Folk Festival where legendary folk hero Bob Dylan was thought to have "sold out" the folk scene by "going electric".  She remembers it as being really loud and commented that it might not have sounded so bad if his band had only practiced more. 

McLauchlan's big song was called Farmer's Song, but he also wrote songs about Toronto including one called "Down by the Henry Moore" where he references Kensington Market, The Silver Dollar, The Palm Grove, and City Hall where he skates by the titular "Archer" Henry Moore sculpture.  Murray obviously had a crush (and probably still does) on Joni Mitchell as he mentioned her several times in the talk and praised her fine "assets" at length.  McLaughlan told an amusing story about having Patti Labelle as his opening act one evening in a small bar, which was packed with gay black men dressed in shiny silver mylar space suits, there to see Labelle sing her hits like Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi.  Murray was nervous to go on next with his folk-song act, since that was clearly not their scene, but Labelle reassured him that they would love him... and they did, since luckily they thought he and his bass player were cute!

Also on display in David Pecaut Square was an exhibit called Art in Motion.  Students from an art school worked with a local artist to paint a "moving mural" on a Kia Rondo car.  Kia is one of the major sponsors of Luminato so this is both art and product placement.

Stockpile in Brookfield Place is a performance art piece that recreates a live sized version of the common carnival game where you manipulate a claw using a joystick and try snag a prize.  Nine performance artists from across the country take turns sitting in the machine and acting as the human claw.  For a $2 fee which goes to charity, you use a joystick to position and lower the claw to hover over your object of desire.  After the artist grasps the object, you maneuver him towards a slot to drop the prize into.  If you are successful, you claim the prize.  If he drops it before the destination, you get a souvenir "LOSER" certificate.  The over 1500 items of toys and common household items were solicited as donations from the local community.

For me, the highlight of the free Luminato events is the exhibit at the ROM Spirit House.  Thirty-one "Victorian-inspired" porcelain dolls of around 18 inches tall, dressed in haut-culture outfits created by Amsterdam designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, are positioned on a specially designed catwalk.  Each doll's eyes, makeup and hair were carefully recreated to replicate the live model who originally wore the outfit, and the clothing and accessories were shrunk precisely to scale.  I found it interesting and refreshing that these dolls were not "Barbie-esque" or even shaped like the typical rail-thin model figures. 

Most of the fashions were avant-garde and outrageous, as wont to be seen on European catwalks, and not likely to be worn by normal people out on the streets.  There was the dress that seemed to be stuffed with balloons, the aquatic scuba suit with black seaweed, the Frida Khalo-esque flowery dress, the pant suit with such big ruffles that it looked like the doll had a fake beard,  and the Harlequin clown suit.  A couple of the dolls were attached to metal rods that held up the pleats of the outfit and had spotlights attached.  It was not clear whether this was just to show off the doll, or whether the poor live model actually had to walk down the aisles in this manner.

There were several beautiful but simpler designs the average person could have pulled off.  I particularly liked the one outfit that looked like a casual/chic blouse and pants assemble from the front, but sported an elegant ivory cape that gave off a totally different, elegant vibe from the back.  There were so many details on each doll to pay attention to, including the hairstyles, the footwear, jewelry, veils, and other accessories that accompanied each outfit,that it required several passes from various angles to see it all. 

This was a very unique opportunity to get so up close and personal to gorgeous high-end designs, and the closest that I will probably ever get to experiencing a Paris fashion show.  This exhibit will be on display until June 30, so there's still time to go see it!

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