Are emerging media artists depressed?

Emmedia’s Digital Sugar Cubed is an emotional rollercoaster

For emerging artist Mark Lowe, his question of the moment seems to be “should I stay or should I go?” The curator of Emmedia’s Digital Sugar Cubed video screening is relocating to Saskatchewan, where he plans to start a new media arts centre.

The tension between city and country plays out in his selections for Saturday’s one-night-only screening, where the works of 19 post-secondary media and arts students will be shown for the first time. Emmedia Gallery and Production Centre has hosted the annual screening for several years, debuting film, video and animation by students from Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) and beyond.

“All the videos I selected have a relationship to each other,” says Lowe, who is also a graduating student at ACAD. “They deal with how we perceive and react to our environments — there is this inner turmoil with urban life and how the city can disrupt interactions and relationships between people.” His intention is to carry the audience through different emotions, and the program displays a great range, although mostly verging on depressing. This group of emerging artists is taking on difficult topics. Starting abruptly on this course is a jarring endurance video, in which the artist is gagged and strapped to a chair. She is a captive audience, literally, as audio of news and television clips spur her into a hysterical writhing performance.

Further into the program, it’s clear these emerging artists are developing their ideas, techniques and skills right onscreen. In the spirit of most shorts programs, there are also a few experiments here that classify as train wrecks. Among the best works in the bunch are experimental films using layers and filtering, hand-drawn animations and a very cute claymation — each have moments of brilliance.

Succulent is set to an Asian folk song with tinkly beats that create a pleasant accompaniment to the film’s brightly coloured collage of a walk through Calgary’s Chinatown. Multiple layered scenes unfold simultaneously as the screen is flooded by images of the inside of a restaurant, shots of food, spices, familiar looking buildings and a man smoking in the sunlight. The music stops abruptly with a few cuts-to-black thrown in for extra-jolting effect, and the narrative seems to become slightly panicked — indeed there is a plot twist waiting around the corner, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart!

Cocopuss is a squishy little short that features an orange Plasticine octopus and a black cat, and the characters inject a rare moment of comic relief into the program. Madeleine Greenaway has cleverly pulled together common objects for the crafty little house, and it’s fun to see her alternate uses for an egg cup and dishes as well as bits of newspaper and fabric. Bree Horel’s animation is a cheeky play on Joseph Beuys’s name. We see the artist’s hand embellishing a pencil portrait of Beuys with lipstick, eyeshadow, a big curly hairdo and, in a final gesture, crossing out his name and writing “Geurls.” Dinah Washington’s “Cry me a River” adds to the critical feminist punch of the short work. Fairytales and Indians by Christina Latham uses a similar image layering technique to great poetic effect, again showing the artist’s hand drawing as evidence of the creative process of stop-motion.

Among the most carefully considered esthetic moments is The Keyhole. The exposure, shadow and use of lighting effects contribute heaps of emotion to this narrative about a damsel in distress who’s stuck in a shack. This dramatically overwrought tale suffers a little when the two actors go all pouty-faced, but the landscape says it all: the damsel is confined in the dark while the boy who holds the key to let her out walks away over the horizon of a sun-bleached field of wheat.

Jasmine Valentina’s An Alternative Use for a Party Dress appears about halfway through the program, where Lowe’s emotional rollercoaster is about to take another sharp turn. A girl is all decked out in one of those little black dresses that fashionistas say everyone should own, only the mood is far from party-inducing — our heroine looks as if she’s trying to drown herself in the tub. As the dreamy camera distortion fades in and out, she submerges her head, sinks a bit, and finally comes up gasping up for air. Geez, lady — that was a close call!

For Lowe, his interest in learning about the behind-the-scenes biz of what happens at a media centre began while organizing and volunteering for music and arts events. A practicum at Emmedia fuelled his interest in the centre’s administration and programming, and has been complemented by the curatorial process for Digital Sugar Cubed. The series encourages emerging curators to develop long-term programming skills that are essential in artist-run culture, and the practical experience is propelling Lowe towards ambitious things: he’s planning on launching a performance program and community-based art project as soon as he arrives in northern Saskatchewan.

From there, his collective Brown Ground Studios aims to establish a space that will be modelled after Emmedia, with resources for local people and artists to use. Despite all the doom and gloom in Digital Sugar Cubed, it seems that his experience at Emmedia will have a happy (and productive) ending after all.

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