Maura Axelrod is a fearless director and producer of news and documentaries. Covering global conflicts and stories deserving of our attention, Axelrod has reported from places such as Cairo, Kabul, Minsk, Aman and Rio for networks including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, BBC, ITN, Al Jazeera, PBS News Hour, National Geographic Channel, The New York Times and Dan Rather Reports. Most recently Axelrod has switched her attention to a documentary on the contemporary Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. The feature length Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016 as a special presentation at the Guggenheim Museum and aired recently on the BBC on their Imagine series. Axelrod continues to excite and confound us with her body of work.
Work by Maura Axelrod:
Stills from Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back
Maura nominated the American performance artist Michelle Ellsworth:
Michelle Ellsworth is made of ideas. She never stops envisioning new ways to do things and to say things, and she never lets an idea escape unrealized. In each of her pieces, there are layers and layers of effort and execution, laid one atop the other. No one has ever worked harder.
Michelle’s work is incredibly generous to the rest of us. Her compassion for the human condition leads her to lay herself bare in her work. She lets us know that she forgives us for all of our flaws - and she does it by exposing all of her own, never flinching. It can be tragic at times, but her work is still filled with joy at the hilarity of how imperfect we all are. Michelle’s pieces are a celebration of the mysteries of our existence, and a stark acknowledgement of the unbearable reality of loss, and the terrible and beautiful ways we are trying to make sense of it all.
Michelle Ellsworth trained as a dancer, and you'll find dance at the root of her work. But her practice has expanded to encompass a great wild amalgamation of disciplines. She uses technology, spoken word, and elaborately constructed sets and costumes in her work, which have included set-pieces as far-ranging as videos of women burying hamburgers at locations around the world, and a toilet whose seat rises and lowers at random intervals. Michelle's work has inspired me to look for solutions everywhere, even in the absurd. As she says: "There are no bad ideas....or maybe they are just all bad ideas.
Work by Michelle Ellsworth (images by Satchel Spence):
Michelle Ellsworth nominated the writer, editor and academic Thalia Field:
I, first, read Thalia Field’s work 17 years ago. At the time, my suspicions about language, rectangles, marriage, performance, and narrative were starting to form shapes in my mind. The forming brain bodies/shapes affected my balance ....then I read Field's book, “Point and Line”. The pieces between the covers of her book were not dopamine masking my wobble...they were ballast in my pelvis.
So even now as I write these sentences... I feel her influence. Pre-Field, I would look at the paragraph above and say to myself, “your metaphors aren’t parallel….shut up dumb cat.” And then I would rewrite them, tidy them, and/or find a way to bury them altogether. Now, I still hear/feel the line in my head, “shut up dumb cat.” But now the dumb cat’s barf on the floor isn’t the the sentences I wrote, but rather a shockingly clear and viscous pool of liquid (with a few strands of grass floating on top)... on the floor... in front of the fridge...that perhaps has an adhesive quality I might employ.
Today I’m reading her new book, “Experimental Animals” Amazing. Thalia Field’s works are question generators...and not the same 'ole questions. Her questions don’t conform to the laws of the establishment (“solve for 6 if 6=1 and 6=0”) and they provoke questions/answers in me that are not attached to laws of physics and language. Time inside her books increases my tolerance for myself and my worst/best ideas.
Work by Thalia Field:
Thalia Field nominated the Irish-Canadian writer Anakana Schofield:
Who makes a difference if no one will say or sweat the hard stuff, or ask questions others are happily ignoring? What is the power of literature if no one is willing to transform the daily bullshit into song, to challenge readers not only with new forms and new stories, but also with humor where we wouldn't expect it, and a sense of theatricality where dry description is all we're used to? The answer is the singular and unique Anakana Schofield, who I've been privileged to be penpals with for a few years.
She has given me a new outlook on literary courage. AK has the sort of honesty that I would want to have for myself in all things. She has changed my relationship to contemporary literature because she puts herself in the conversation with books, defending good work and good writers against mediocrity and small-minded careerism. AK will be the force that ruptures the precious anti-intellectualism and timidity of maintream publishers, along with the sexism that holds women writers to ridiculous standards of both literary and extra-literary domesticity.
Mostly I admire AK because of her novels. Her books explode, even when they're quiet. They dance, even when they're quaking. Her language can't be anything but exquisite, precise -- and again, mostly, she never loses the power of humor to connect everything we've forgotten is connected.
Work by Anakana Schofield:
Anakana Schofield nominated the visual artist Marina Roy:
My conversations over the years with Marina Roy have always been a source of not just inspiration but oxygen to the intellect. She's exceptionally well read in two languages and a cross disciplinary thinker and artist. She has directed me to many writers, texts and artists and her own work ambitiously engages with language, biopolitics, materials, history and more. She's been especially important to me in our exchanges around French literature and philosophy and psychoanalysis. I never visit her studio without leaving fired up with new departures, ideas and reading material to seek out.
Most recently her dramatic public art installation Your Kingdom to Command in Downtown Vancouver impacted and interfaced with the whole city's pedestrian population. Allegorical, the giant plywood mural is made from bitumen, tar and latex paints. It featured to quote Diana Freundl, who articulates it much better than I can, "a painted ensemble of phantom-like flora and fauna, deceased organism from a geological past that break down to form bitumen." In front of it surrounded by water lay two tree stumps salvaged from a 2015 windstorm. One tree basically pisses on the other tree. The mural comprises intricate baroque paintings and the scale of it is a testament to the immense labour it must have taken to create it.
The represented contrast of beauty in the painting and the grotesque nature of the environmental assault taking place in our midst was literally framed or implicated by 20th century capitalist consumer economy. Across the street from the installation is the most ridiculous condo development while kitty corner to it looms Trump tower! Between the two is one of the busiest roads in the city that takes you out into the rest of the province, where our lumber resources have been depleted by various disastrous provincial governments selling them off to American multi nationals and where our First Nations communities battle the constant threat of pipelines and water and fish stock contamination.
Work by Marina Roy:
(L-R: Your Kingdom to Command, temporary outdoor installation & details of mural, 2016. Photo: Trevor Mills; The Fable of the Bees (from the Thumbsketch Collection), pen on paperback, 2002)
Marina Roy* nominated the installation and photo based artist Kelly Lycan:
I began to really appreciate Kelly Lycan’s art practice when we found ourselves in Berlin at the same time, in the summer of 2010. What immediately captivated me about Kelly’s work was the way her daily life activities were inextricably tied with artistic processes. In many ways her art practice could be understood as a life project. One afternoon we sat on the banks of a canal in Kreuzberg drinking beer while she shot video footage of plastic garbage floating by. She also had an ongoing project of painting her nails in successive layers, letting them chip away day by day, documenting the successive damage to their surfaces, revealing the multiple layers of colour below.
Having accumulated many of these photographs of her nails over several months, she blew them up as oval painting-photographs. These are just a few examples eye-witness encounters with her practice reflecting the idiosyncratic nature of her practice. It’s rarely ever about working on one project at a time toward some goal, but the process of setting up a set of parameters and seeing where things go—some of these threads growing toward autonomous projects/exhibitions. Such contingencies as thrift store shopping and shooting photographs of museums displays make up some of her ‘research’ praxis.
* Image of Marina courtesy of Christine D'Onofrio
Kelly Lycan and her work:
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