Interview: Kalli Paakspuu

Interview: Kalli PaakspuuImage courtesy of Kalli Paakspuu

Interview: Kalli Paakspuu

Luca Curci talks with artist Kalli Paakspuu during LIQUID IDENTITIES exhibition in Bangkok.

Kalli Paakspuu studied film production at the University of British Columbia and is currently researching photography’s recuperative role in the intergenerational trauma of war, displacement and loss – evolving from her past doctoral research at the University of Toronto. Her documentary and dramatic films have been broadcast in Canada and the United States. At the Canadian Film Centre she was a creator of World Without Water, an interactive new media installation exhibited at the Cultural Olympiad in Vancouver in 2010. She is presently developing 1921 – The War Against Music into a feature documentary with writer Ron Graner. She teaches film and cultural studies at York University in Toronto.

Interview: Kalli PaakspuuImage courtesy of Kalli Paakspuu

Luca Curci – Your work was exhibited during LIQUID IDENTITIES exhibition in Bangkok on March 2015: can you talk about your personal experience in Bangkok with International ArtExpo?

Kalli Paakspuu – The curatorial context of The Ferry Gallery in Bangkok offers a unique experience of video art to ferry commuters. Liquid Identities Bangkok International Experimental Video Art Festival exhibited our film, 1921 The War Against Music, in a looped programme of video art daily from March 7-14. The film features Canadian jazz artist Paul Hoffert, or rather his hands on a piano, in an improvisation on the ancient Ukrainian a cappella chant, Shchedryk. This pre-Christian song tells the story of a swallow flying into the house to sing of spring. Incidentally, the melody was appropriated by American choral director Peter J. Wilhousky who wrote the lyrics for the Yule time version Carol of the Bells. Our original concept was to perform this film at night on a Montreal hotel surface and get the public to hum the tune. We wanted to experiment with unconventional exhibition spaces and a transmedia design. The Ferry Gallery, as a commuter location was naturally appealing. We love the idea of getting the tune hummed in Bangkok.

Interview: Kalli PaakspuuImage courtesy of Kalli Paakspuu

L. C. – Can you talk about the artwork you presented in Bangkok? How is it linked with the festival’s theme?

K. P. – The film connects with the Liquid Identities theme of cultural identities through its fusion of scenes by Soviet film innovators which our creative team, myself as director, writer Ron Graner, cinematographer Kwoi Gin and our brilliant editor Peter Gugeler designed as a template for the public to contemplate.  The film’s Norman McLaren inspired architecture of colour was interjected into cinematic sequences from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Alexander Dovzhenko‘s Earth (1930) arranged like windows on a building. Originally the concept was that the film would get projected on a wall with windows and so we utilized a shape of a building in the design composition. McLaren’s experimental film, Synchromy (1971) was a catalyst for this creation. Using Eisenstein’s and Dovzhenko’s cinema as origins and endpoints was a way of getting the world’s publics to contemplate what is happening now in Ukraine and what has been happening there for the past few centuries. The actors in these early Soviet films are real participants in social activist movements that were designed to challenge a dominant system. These Ukrainian performers in the films knew something of their own history and lived through the first of three Soviet imposed famines –  that of 1921-23. Their bodies and actions tell a multivocal story to witness filmmakers in a free-floating protest network. As the 1920s in Ukraine was a time of upheaval and nationalist movements a decades, or even century later, perspective and an exhibition in a venue like Ferry Gallery brings another evaluation to the film experience. As a contemporary remix, 1921 The War Against Music turns the ferry commuter into a co-author.

Interview: Kalli PaakspuuImage courtesy of Kalli Paakspuu

L. C. – What are you currently working on?

K. P. – My team is building the momentum for a longer theatrical documentary of 1921 The War against Music which is the untold story of the Soviet banning of Ukrainian classical composers Mykola Leontovych (who arranged the song Shchedryk) and David Nowakowsky. We are working with the David Nowakowsky Foundation to produce original recordings of Nowakowsky’s classical works. The composers’ stories will be a doorway into the complicated history of modern Ukraine. The film has 1921 in the title because it is the year they both died: Leonotovych was actually murdered by the CHEKA State Security police and Nowakowsky’s music was smuggled out of Bolshevik Russia and later buried on a farm in occupied France. We will be filming a part of this story in France this April while attending Ethnografilm Festival in Paris where a longer version of the film called Shchedryk is being shown. This same film will also be presented at the Dawson City International Short Film Festival in April.

Interview: Kalli PaakspuuImage courtesy of Kalli Paakspuu
 
L. C. – What is art for you?

K. P. – Art is staying alive.
 
L. C. – What do you think about International ArtExpo organization?

K. P. – ArtExpo has curated 1921 The War Against Music into innovative international video art exhibitions in palace gallery spaces and The Ferry Gallery on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. The Ferry Gallery is a novel art space founded by Thai artist Kawita Vatanayankur to exhibit contemporary art to cross-river commuters, The Ferry Gallery moves video art beyond normative, narrative expectations. Experimental video art can address the public in unanticipated relations of surround sound in the lived effects of globalization. The International ArtExpo organization enables artists’ work to extend beyond known channels of art exhibition and social media to reach new publics that can rejuvenate the spirit of experimentation.  

L. C. – Do you think International ArtExpo organization can represent an opportunity for artists?

K. P. – ArtExpo makes an interesting proposal to artists. Anyone can apply to a themed exhibition but only selected works and their artists contribute to the exhibition expenses. This approach places high value on the curating of the exhibition as artists respect a curatorial vision. It is a different model from the present film festivals circuit and alternative to conventional gallery practices. ArtExpo utilizes unconventional places and generates connections between international artists and audiences.  

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