Back to the World

A CULTURAL REVIEW SITE created by Carl Wilson, Chris Randle and Margaux Williamson in 2010.


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BACK TO THE WORLD was created in 2010 as a place for Margaux Williamson, Chris Randle and Carl Wilson to write untimely reviews of movies, music, comics, books  and art. Around 2012, work on the site ended, but projects with the group continued.

We are most recently engaged in some CULTURAL MATCHMAKING, connecting people across disciplines, ages and scenes who we think might have ideas and experiences to share with each other.

In our first round of match-ups, we connected Toronto artists Ryan Kamstra (musician and poet) and Alex Lukashevsky (musician) to talk about writing songs not like a man, Jon McCurley (actor and artist) and Michael McManus (actor) to talk about not acting and Shary Boyle (visual artist) and Jordan Tannahill (theatre and filmmaker) to talk about fantasy lands connected to the real world or not. The transcript of Shary and Jordan's conversation can be read below.

We are currently arranging more conversations to see what other fruitful points of relation may be found. A handful of these conversations will be shared publicly.


CR: Chris Randle
MW: Margaux Williamson

CR: Shary Boyle is an artist and performer who grew up Scarborough and now makes her home in Toronto. To the seemingly great delight of this city, she was the youngest, most local, and female artist to have a solo show at the AGO last fall [scattered applause]. The same exhibit is currently touring across Canada, from the Gallerie du UQAM in Montreal to the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver. Just back Monday from a three-week residency at the Inuit printmaking co-op in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Shary is excited to start a new collaboration with her musical partner Christine Fellows, a Harbourfront Fresh-Grounds-commissioned performance for children, to be presented in January 2012.

Jordan Tannahill is a filmmaker and playwright living in Toronto. Under the aegis of his performance company, Suburban Beast, he has written and directed theatrical works including Post-Eden, Insurgency, and the Dora-Award-winning Get Yourself Home, Skylar James. During last month’s Rhubarb Festival he presented his new piece Bravislovia, set in an imagined breakaway Soviet republic of the same name. And our question for you guys is... In art, some fantasy worlds are connected to the Earth, and some are metaphorically connected. Why would an artist choose one or the other?

MW: Wait, that’s the wrong question.

CR: Is it?

MW: Remember I gave you the little-

CR: Oh yeah, I lost that sheet [laughter].

MW: Can I ask a question real quick?

CR: Yeah.

MW: Okay. So the question was for Jordan... Most of us are familiar with the desire to create fantasy worlds, but can you just explain the work you created that was a fantasy world interconnected with the real world?

JT: Sure, yeah. I think there’s only about three people here who saw my piece at Rhubarb, so - Bravislovia was not something I created for Rhubarb, it was something that I started when I was 10. As was described, it was a breakaway Baltic oligarchy, and it was something that I just created in my bedroom over the years. I drew a lot of maps, I loved blueprints of buildings. I had a younger brother, we loved Carmen Sandiego, and living in Ottawa there were a lot of embassies around, so I was really interested in flags and knowing about geography. So it was something that I created in my bedroom, and then years later I was looking for something to do again. Or being out of school I was questioning why I make art, why I do work or tell stories, and rediscovering a lot of binders and folders of this old country. I realized that it was something I did on a purely private basis, it was not for-

SB: So you didn’t show your family or your brother or anything?

JT: Not really. My dad I showed a little bit of the work. I asked my mom certain legal questions. She’s a lawyer, so-

SB: International lawyer?

JT: She’s in criminal law, so yeah, in certain situations. For me it was really important-

SB: It was really within the realms of some form of reality.

JT: For sure, yeah. So Bravislovia is - if you look at a map of the Baltic region, you have Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania, and between Lithuania and Poland there’s a little chunk of Russia, around Kaliningrad, and I always thought that should be - it looks like its own country. It’s just prime for the plucking [laughs]. So that was Bravislovia, and for me it was very important to integrate it fully into the local European history.

SB: What was your relationship to it? Were you a national of it?

JT: No, it was more complex than that, I think insofar as -I think I sort of lived through multiple alter egos throughout the history of the country, so I would be - in the piece that we did at Rhubarb I was a fugitive poet character that existed just before the uprising in the early ‘90s. That was the character I played in the piece, but it was an exhaustive task going through the piece and trying to pick up the narrative because it wasn’t really a narrative, there were just hundreds of characters and family trees and not a lot of writing.

SB: What were you avoiding by doing that?

JT: Um, I think, you know, coming out [laughter].

SB: Right [laughs].

JT: And I mean, also, I think just -

SB: You were a fugitive poet [laughs].

JT: But it was really important to me that it could be real. I think that’s what’s interesting about the difference with your work when I was looking at it, that it is also very psychosexual. I think a lot of Bravislovia is totally psychosexual.

SB: The whole nation.

JT: Yeah, totally [laughs]. Everyone. Every inhabitant.

SB: I understood that libidinous comment, about the complete giving-up or letting-go to the audience.

JT: I think [inaudible] is a bit like an oligarchy or a former Soviet state, where you’re always kind of watching over your back. I think sexuality was manifesting itself in that capacity.

SB: Were you ever the dictator or enemy of that state?

JT: I think, alternatively - I think in some ways I could see myself as also, I would play out different scenarios where I could - I wrote the story of the dictator who rose to power, and also of the poet he had a dalliance with and then later hunted down mercilessly.

SB: It’s kind of a role-playing thing.

JT: Yeah.

SB: And I think that when you say “fantasy,” the most cliched thing that comes into your head is more of a sexualisation, that context of fantasy and role-playing, which totally ties in rock & roll and acting as well. And masculinity. That’s interesting that the characters you created in this nation could act as a vehicle to test out ideas or to act out feelings of a young age. When I make my work I think there’s a part of me that’s consciously repelled by reality. And even to the - if I’m drawing a person, if it’s, you know, a hairstyle - a lot of the reason that my people never have clothes on is because the reality of the clothes, of the dating or the period, I can’t tolerate it, it makes me really uncomfortable. It just places everything in a context which I find more false than fantasy, whatever that - I think that the word “fantasy” has got a bad, strange rap.

JT: Why do you think that is?

SB: Well, I guess I think that reality has more - I think that’s worse, somehow [laughter]. I feel like the fantasy - how tricky, eh, to try to describe this? Because it’s a really private place. Like when you’re a child and you’re making this nation, you’re really manifesting things that have some kind of urgency, right? That would be the reason you’re doing it when you’re a kid, that whenever you play there’s some necessity to it. And I feel like fantasy allows you to be more honest than replicating an idea of reality, that there’s so many tropes and false assumptions in reality that it kind of dispirits me and makes me feel tied down to the very things that are so frustrating and hopeless about the world. So I always want to try to make another language, an alternate language that’s a new way to speaking in between symbols that already exist. Inventing something in the middle that seems more true and more right. But the weird thing about it is that people always feel like fantasy means escape, and if you don’t attach it to reality in the ways that you can recognize it, then it’s assumed that it’s an escape and that you’re avoiding it. And I think there’s a negative fantasy and positive creative fantasy.

JT: Do you think it’s integrally tied to the idea of innocence of childhood? Because I’ve noticed there are sort of tropes within your work, and I have to say with mine as well - I mean, having created the world as a preteen, in your case a lot of the repeating images of young women, young girls, do you think that is a prerequisite vantage point?

SB: Well, that’s the biggest question. And I feel as a woman that’s almost 40 that it’s the hugest question, because I get this sense that the underlying belief of people, you know, whether it’s a Western belief or whoever, like, the context of what I am socialized as, is that making up things is juvenile. And so if you keep doing that, then you’ve got some arrested-development issue. Or you’re a naive artist, like a Henry Darger, an outsider. It was interesting talking about the acting, looking for other artforms that aren’t taught or are self-taught or something.

JT: Well, the idea of outsider art is interesting, because I think this piece - I mean, Bravislovia was an entirely outsider project in the sense that it was not created to be shared...

SB: Well, Henry Darger, right?

JT: Absolutely.

SB: This is like that entire world he created with all the wars and everything. It’s kind of a parallel universe to what you’re talking about.

JT: Do you find your work compared to Darger’s frequently?

SB: Not so much, but it would be hard not to, because there’s children and sexuality and authority and gender and all of that. And also it’s illustrative in the way that there’s representation in the figure, you know? But I could never ever be - I’m very interested in that way of making art where you’re creating a reality that is a substitute for either something you don’t want out there or that you don’t have out there.
— Transcribed conversation between Shary Boyle and Jordan Tannahill that occurred on stage at Double Double Land in Toronto, March 2011.