The first Reflection / Refraction took place two years ago as part of the 2011 Queer Film Festival. It was an interesting experiment, and I’m glad they’re continuing it in the Queer Arts Festival.
The format is simple: five short films, curated by Jen Crothers and Kristina Lemieux, were each assigned to one performing artist that then have several months to create a response. The variety of those responses was amazing! Every artist picked up on something different and pulled the orginal film in a new direction; it all made me think about art, and how it’s born.
Galactic Docking Company by Clark Nikolai / response by Ralph Escamillan
You all know Clark Nikolai, right? This short film is a classic, mixing old footage of the NASA control room with footage of model rockets docking, and men docking. Ralph Escamillan’s response is a dance that at first left me cold. He’s a great dancer, and the reverse strip tease—ie: starting out naked then putting on multiple layers of clothing—was a neat twist, but aside from briefly being able to see his penis, I didn’t get what it had to do with docking or rockets.
But as he explained later in the Q&A, his inspiration wasn’t the dicks, but the offbeat humour. His piece was meant to be a subtle satire of his generation: since other youth tend to take their clothes off as much as possible, he decided to do the reverse. Which makes sense, and maybe I was being overly literal in how the performances should go. I guess this is why I’m a Web developer and not a performance artist.
Dance to Miss Chief by Kent Monkman / response by Mette Bach
Kent Monkman’s ultra-catchy film remixes clips from old German Western films with an eye to deconstructing them. Mette Bach’s response is a very moving spoken work piece about her father’s sudden death and learning to dance the Argentine Tango. Apart from the “dance” theme the connection is extremely tenuous—and (I may be paraphrasing a bit) Mette herself admitted that she already had her story to tell even before seeing Miss Chief.
Which makes her piece not really a response to the movie. But you know what? Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes and if this show gave Mette the impetus to tell her story, I won’t complain.
Herr by John Greyson / response by Tran ÀPus Rex
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen drag kings performing, either in movies or IRL. It’s quite an eye-opener: the jerky and overly controlled motions, the stylised swaggering, it all adds up to something weird and crazily over-the-top. I wonder, do women see something similar when they look at drag queens? Huh.
Anyhoo, Herr is a hilarious little film about a group of four drag kings that start out peeing in the snow and comparing how far it goes, walk and sit in sync when they’re not dancing, and bully their youngest member (while dancing). I thought Tran ÀPus Rex’s dance / strip piece (to Davie Bowie’s Fame), appearing as he did in a buttoned-up suit and tie, was just a continuation of that… but then it went in unexpected directions. Because underneath the suit? bright spandex tights and funky jewelry. And inside the plain leather briefcase? a gold lamé purse. I’m not sure what kind of symbolism I should read into that, but it was startling and awesome fun.
The Bus Pass by Narissa Lee / response by Cris Derksen
The Bus Pass is a cute and sweet movie of a woman silently pining for another woman on the bus, almost working up the courage to get her number… and then the other woman makes the first move, writing her number on her bus pass. Cris Derksen’s response is basically to remix and loop bits of the film (audio and video) while playing an electric cello. Catchy and simple. No extra story, no extra meaning. Sometimes that’s all you need.
The Hawker by Elisha Lim and Coco Riot / response by David C. Jones
A very short heartwarming film about trans visibility and community is refracted by David C. Jones into a wordless piece that’s mostly (I think) about hiding and then choosing not to hide. I missed some of the details of the story because, well, I do better with words and a clear narrative. But David pulled off a great performance, especially since apparently this was the first time he tried something without spoken words. Kudos.