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Lawnya Vawnya 12 Weird and Wired
Day 2: Thursday, June 9, 2022
Hello and welcome to day two of Lawnya Vawnya 12!
This is edition two of Weird & Wired, the *official* LV newsletter this year. The second day of the festival had so much to offer! Including an afternoon of comic creation and celebration put off by the incredible Art Brat Comics author Mollie Cronin, as well as an evening of story and song lasting all night long with shows both at the Ship and The Rock House. I was one of many in the audience at the Ship tuning into Andrew Smith, Myriam Gendron, and Katie Baggs while my new partner in crime Mollie was already headed over to The Rockhouse for Nap Eyes, Conditioner, and Knitting. Make sure to check out her experience at the Rock House elsewhere in this newsletter, you won't want to miss it.
Art Brat Comics Workshop
I had the chance to sit in on Mollie's workshop earlier, hosted at our harbour hub of arts and culture, Eastern Edge Gallery! Cronin hails from Halifax and is the creator of Art Brat Comics, delightfully dubbed due to her upbringing by not just one but two artist parents, where her original comics detail and illustrate much of her life and thoughts with great humour and candor. During the workshop, Cronin's art history background is in full force, beginning with a full run-down on how autobiographical comics even came to be as a medium. The ever flowing well of passion and knowledge Cronin has for comics is felt across the entire room as she takes us from early comic art in the 50s all the way to the diversity of artists engaging with comics today. What struck me most as Cronin shared her story of how and why she got into comics in the first place, is the punk ethos that is present throughout the entirety of her comic career. For Cronin, comics began as her own illustrative practice outside of the confines of art school. It didn't take long before she developed a personal and political penchant for storytelling as her comics explore her own realities: gender inequality, romantic relationships, fatphobia, capitalism, and recently even grief. Creating stories that are equal parts relatable, ridiculous, and riveting in social commentary is of the utmost importance to this fantastic author. All of us at the gallery were so lucky to listen and learn alongside an Atlantic feminist superstar as she warmly welcomed us into the wonderful world of comics.
- Violet Drake
Allison Graves, Andrew Smith, Myriam Gendron, and Katie Baggs!
Later on that evening, the storytelling continued with songs and words at the Ship. The host announces our lovely lineup and reminds us that tonight is a night for listening, and I couldn't agree more. Amazing author Allison Graves opens with a short story from Hard Ticket, an anthology expected later this year in August curated by the incomparable Lisa Moore. Allison's narrative voice carries a familiar frankness to it that reels you in with an intimacy as if you are listening to her yarn at her kitchen table over tea she invited you in for. The honesty and sneaking vulnerability found in her words is refreshing and brave to share in a packed bar full of strangers from all walks of life. The audience is crowded here to listen to her and everyone else part of tonight's event, and it’s encouraging to see how diverse the crowd is: all ages from young to old, festival veterans and newcomers, and local friends and come-from-aways here just for the weekend. Allison ends her story with a reflective bittersweetness that you will have to taste for yourself when August rolls around.
After Allison the stage is taken by St. John's own Andrew Smith for his debut festival performance. Consisting of songs written from all the way back in highschool, to his latest EP Away Game released yesterday, his music shares snapshots of Smith's youth much like Graves' earlier words. Its great to see local musicians like Smith who got their start in their bedrooms finally being able to share their work on our stages safely and freely after the live music moratorium COVID brought to St. John's. Andrew and his band play numerous catchy guitar melodies and the crowd is all ears and all smiles. He finishes his set graciously thanking us all before an interim break to set up for the next artist, visiting critical darling Myriam Gendron. When Myriam begins her set after the short break, there is a completely new energy brought to the Ship. The quiet stillness of the audience entranced with her ethereal voice is incredibly alluring to witness, as her lyrics are coupled with beautiful, gentle soundscapes created by both electronics and guitars. There is something almost haunting in the way her bright, crystalline voice glides over her compositions effortlessly, taking all of us nestled here on a new voyage we are more than welcome to join her on. When Myriam's time here is over, local indie-folk fixture Katie Baggs closes us out with her introspective and illustrious musical musings. Baggs is a long time musician, playing live both solo as well as in groups for well over a decade. Decorated with many awards and nominations, the confidence she has on stage is undeniable, as it puts us all listening at ease while she winds us down with her soft yet striking melodies and poetic lyrics. We all yearn with anticipation for the new material she plans to record this year, as all of us at the Ship last night know by the end of the show, it will surely be worth the wait.
- Violet Drake
/garbagefile x Violet Drake
Violet: As always, it is great to see you and your drag family, The Phelgm Fatales, included in Lawnya Vawnya this year. How did you first get involved with the festival?
/garbagefile: I simply adore Lawnya Vawnya! My drag mom, Irma Gerd, had been hosting their Dance Through the Ages event for...well, ages! Last year they decided they really wanted to incorporate more drag into their events and invited me to host a talk show as part of their Cyber Spring lineup. I got to chat with Desperta and The Garrys and we premiered new videos by both bands AND the iconic Cindy Lee. I even made brand new tentacles for the occasion.
Violet: What enticed you to get involved again this year?
/garbagefile: LV are simply *the best*. They are extremely respectful of their artists, considerate in their programming, and super heckin' organized (which I appreciate so much. My friends joke that someday I'll transcend my 'human' form and become a spreadsheet). If Lawnya Vawnya asked me to eat an entire bottle of ketchup I'd do it because I love them so much (I mean, they wouldn't, cause they're great, but I would).
Violet: When I think of the word multidisciplinary, you are a standout star in our local creative constellation. Your practice in and out of drag includes visual mediums, videography, performance art, circus, aerial work, as well as fashion and textile design. I would love to hear more about your journey developing such a robust and inclusive practice.
/garbagefile: V, you're so kind! I often think my whole life of learning has led me to precisely where I am today. I have been sewing, painting, and dancing since I was quite young. When I did my BFA I focused in sculpture - especially mold-making - which led me to special fx. I worked for years at the Anna Templeton Centre where I fell in love with textiles and took on a lot of textile training. About that same time I made my first video project on a lark, and wound up fusing textiles and film-making a lot in my artistic practice. Performing for the camera, interacting with fabrics, I started to properly consider the expressive potential of these mediums in relation to performance. In 2014 I took a clown class that totally changed my life and laid the groundwork for all my performance work to come. In 2016 I started doing aerial training and getting really excited about how circus artists are able to manipulate the body and expectations around the body. Finally, in 2018, Irma pushed me onto a drag stage with a broom and I've been scuttling around on them ever since! I use every one of these skills in my performance work, crafting costumes and prosthetics, painting elaborate faces, flying and contorting my body to defy assumptions around bodies and identities and generally have a grand ol' time.
I'm sort of like an octopus with my interests. It's like I've got 8 brains and they all need to be occupied all the time!!
Violet: Neither of us are strangers to injecting horror into our art. What draws you to exploring the macabre, monstrous, or otherworldly? Why is this increasingly important to your recent work?
/garbagefile: More than an allegiance to any specific genre, I am married to malleability. I am first and foremost a shapeshifter. This is rooted in my own experience as a non-binary/gender creative person, and acts as a reflection or expression of the challenges and thrills that come with that embodied experience.
My art in and out of drag has a lot to do with problematizing assumptions around the body, especially as they relate to gender. I always want to play in the sticky space between desirability and repulsion, and horror tropes are a great vehicle for playing in that space. We're used to babes in horror movies being torn asunder, often by frightening men, and the violent cis-patriarchal themes underpinning these tropes is the subject of much film theorizing. There isn't a ton of queer sci-fi or horror in popular culture (though I'm hopeful this is changing, and quick). In fact, queer bodies are often demonized in these genres; the distorted or 'alien' body is often used as an allegory for queer bodies as seen through a cis-hetero lens. As a trans-queer body, my physical presence in my work is an act of rebellion. I am reinterpreting these tropes from a queer position and using them to reclaim agency. As someone who has been sexualized and alienated in ways out of my control, embodying and harnessing the power of horror and sci-fi gives me back that control. Performance art is all about manipulating the audience, and as a performer I "want you to want me!" and then I want to interrupt that desire by injecting something horrifying. Horror, otherworldly bodies, and the abject open a space for visceral reaction. I want a visceral reaction. I want to get under your skin. If I hear laughter and disgust in the audience, I feel like I've succeeded.
For me, the story is The Thing, and I will use any tool in my shed to tell it...it just so happens those tools are often rusty and serrated.
Violet: Would you like to share with us what else you are up to besides Lawnya Vawnya? Anything we can look forward to, or that you are excited for in the future of your practice?
/garbagefile: Oh I'll be clowning around town, all right! Right after LV 12 I'm headed into full time rehearsals for Wonderbolt Circus's The Best Medicine Show, which is going on tour across the island at the end of June. Then I'll be working in the studio preparing new visual and performance work for The Rooms in 2023 that connects queerness, sci-fi, and circus. I've got some major things in the works for St. John's International CircusFest in September, including some of the most daring and titillating queer clowning you've ever dared lay your eyeballs on! In the near future, you can look forward to more events with my darling drag family the Phlegm Fatales, so keep those eyeballs peeled!
Violet: Please share with us some parting words or musings.
/garbagefile: I just want to share my immense gratitude for all the queer communities I've found myself lucky enough to be a part of. The drag scene here in St. John's has exploded and so many exciting things are coming our way. We're here, thriving in our art because we are resilient, and because so many brave trans and queer people have fought for us and the future of our communities. Much as we have gained, there is much work to do. Let's stay focused, stay soft, and stay exuberantly in love.
And remember, we all hatch naked, and the rest is decorative exoskeletons! xo
- Violet Drake
Lawnya Vawnya x Riddle Fence
LV Day 2 started the evening’s festivities with readings from Riddle Fence writers upstairs at Bannerman Brewing.
Kicking off with Katelyn Danylewich, the budding writer and established chef at Toslow (a St. John’s staple for townies and this out-of-towner alike), who began the evening with a rhythmic retelling of an early kitchen job. Riddled with tempo, beats, and the heat and hiss of a busy kitchen, its staff in the weeds, there is a harmony at the base of her story, the crew moving symbiotically, orchestrally, through the movements of a dinner rush where not all escaped unscathed by the charged environment.
Next up Amelia Harris takes us on a tactile journey of a young girl playing at adulthood: impatiently scrubbing the stove to try to reveal shining silver, peeling wallpaper during a home reno and finding more beauty in the layers of paper and tack than in the clean yellow walls that replace them. Rifling through piles of her mother’s teenage jewelry, she digs until she finds “it” : a pair so captivating the protagonist immediately pierces her ears in the bathroom (à la “The Parent Trap”), quickly learning the work and sacrifice required of beauty and the scars can generate in our impatience to grow up.
Nick Schofield and Yolande Laroche set the mood with a synth and clarinet soundscape meant to call to mind the airy space of the National Gallery. Translating sense of space into sound, there is a resonance to each piece, a repetition that builds a foundation for Laroche’s singing and clarinet, a structure followed by the embellishment: like a building, like a memory.
When Douglas Walbourne-Gough takes the stage he speaks about his chromesthesia, a form of synesthesia that he says brings to his vision shapes and colours with sound, which made the performance all that more enjoyable for him. His memories and dreams are interwoven, reading from a range of new and published work, Walbourne-Gough speaks of regret of not asking his grandfather more questions as he gutted a trout, of the sensory memories of Export As and rum and cokes clinking in grandparents’ hands.
Megan Samms closes the show with material memories, understanding an ancestral connection in her making practices as a textile artist as well as understanding her disconnect from those knowledges as well, that in many ways the making takes the place of where the memories should be. “I think woven work, and all handwork, reaches through time,” she says, “In this tone, I speak with my ancestors.”
- Mollie Cronin
Conditioner, Knitting, and Nap Eyes!
There is a particular *vibe* to the second night of a festival. The people that arrived on day 1 are maybe a bit peaky (aka hungover), the fresh arrivals are bleary-eyed from traveling, and we’ve all walked up 9,000 near-vertical hills in downtown St. John’s that day (special shout out to the brave souls who climbed signal hill on day 2). So it’s Thursday night, we’re excited for the show, but we’re maybe a bit…tired. This means that the opener at Thursday’s Rock House show really needs to bring the energy.
Enter: conditioner, a St. John’s staple whose sound is as greasy and gruff as their name implies cleanliness and silky smoothness. The shake awake any last bit of sleep from our eyes and grind us up with brutal drums, punk vocals, and relentless riffs (I’m new to music-writing, this is jargon, right?). The choruses often have words repeating over and over again (“so confused,” “it’s all for you”) relentlessly driving it into our heads: are you listening yet? Are you awake? Are you ready to friggin GO?? The band gives a shout out to the Mount Pearl punk exhibition (where it sounds like this band would be right at home) and Montreal group Knitting takes the stage.
Knitting brings a delightfully bleak energy, which is novel for the group of gen z’ers (I thought it was us millennials still holding the title for most bummed out young people). Lead vocalist Mischa (an LV alum via Lonely Parade), brings in an anxious opener with a steadfast guitar with doomy base plunking away to accent the anxiety of the song’s protagonist: “Hoping this is the las time I fuck up…” There are moments when their irreverent singing style slips into a cotton-candy shade, light and sweet, but never for long as Knitting and their soft snark tear up the stage.
And at the rockstar hour of 11:55, Nap Eyes walk on. “A mixer on a [Thursday] night, some pretty girls and guys are here” (to paraphrase from their 2016 album). The crowd is thick, and this band which I’ve heard called a “listening band,” known for their moody, quirky jams, waste no time showing that their stage presence is just as earnest and captivating as their albums.
Frontman Nigel Chapman has the fascinating quality of being someone whose speaking and singing voice are exactly the same, which, along with Josh Salter (still giving young Dave Grohl a run for his money in his long black hair and yellow smiley face t-shirt)’s head bopping and hair flopping, provide a kind of unpretentious muppety charm that might just be the secret to why this band is so cool.
Whatever it is, everyone in the Rock House is obsessed, some audience members that I talk to are even pretty struck, so it’s fascinating to hear Josh and Nigel tell a story of their own celeb encounter of the week. Salter tells the crowd about how they had walked past Black Flag front man Henry Rollins while downtown on Wednesday and how Rollins tripped and stumbled as they passed him. When the band had told me the same story the night before as we’d run into each other on the steps of the masonic temple, I told them it was because Rollins was such big fans of theirs and so starstruck to meet them that he lost his footing.
Near the end of the set Josh gives bandmate Brad a birthday shout out (now that it’s past midnight), and they end the night with a song that they promise to be incredibly long, “and you thought the pandemic was long!” jokes Salter. As the last feedback drones of the final song a “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” shoots from the crowd.
So with Day 2 under our belts, we watch underfoot as we stumble home, hoping to find more solid footing than Rollins, lest we also trip in front of our favourite bands.
- Mollie Cronin