The fifth element of Valentina

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You do not overlook Valentina Cardinalli in a crowd. Wearing either a faux fur leopard jacket, a bright yellow and purple felt cloak, or at least a feeler headdress, she never just stands in the background or sits in the audience. She is  the one painting a canvas or chalking the sidewalk, accompanying live instrumental music with spoken word or announcing the next performer. Ok, maybe when there is no event on, she will sit down at a table in a café, but she will take out her scrapbook and make a collage; write down ideas on film theory; or try to figure out how to support a friend’s project, promote an upcoming show or organize the next workshop.

When asked which part of her home is the most reflective of her, she immediately points to the corner of her living room where she stores her paper maché puppet and cut-out cardboard props from recent shows. Then she heads to the kitchen, where dozens of posters she designed for events she participated in or promoted decorate the walls, the fridge, and even the cabinets. These are her “trophies,” as she describes the colourful mementos of her artistic ventures.

Valentina Cardinalli lives and breathes art, and would never think of sticking to one creative category. She is as enthusiastic about theatre, performance, film production, and music promotion as she is about visual arts. She also runs or participates in multiple artistic initiatives and projects.

Maybe for its capacity to combine all other arts, Cardinalli was first drawn to film. She left her hometown, Belleville, Ontario, and moved to New York at the age of 19 to pursue an acting career. She graduated from the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts and even started her own theatre production company, but soon learned how challenging it is to fill the house in a big city.

“We did some excellent plays to the crowds of maybe six, seven people,” she recalls. “There’s just so much to do and see. You’re competing with Broadway and relying on your friends  who are on the same level as you and come out to support you after they’ve worked all day and went to their own rehearsals.”

She ended up making a steady living as an extra in movies and got to meet and work with big names.

“You will not get that here,” she jokingly compares with Nanaimo. “You will not strike up a conversation with Francis Ford Coppola in a barber shop.”

But as much as New York embodied everything Cardinalli dreamed to be a part of, she considers moving to Nanaimo with her husband and son Nico a step in the right direction, although she doesn’t recall it as a smooth landing.

“When we moved here nine years ago, it was a bit of a culture shock,” she describes switching from a big city to a rural island. “We didn’t know many people and kept busy renovating the house, building our business from scratch, and running around Nico, who was three years old. We didn’t do much else. It took time to find stuff to do. In New York, you can just open a magazine and there would be 12 things you’d  want to go to that night, but here, we didn’t know about much. There would be occasional shows—on the other hand, it was easier to get tickets here.”

 

 

The game changed for Cardinalli this January  when she participated in the Top Men’s “Le Voyage dans la Lune,” and worked with painter and actress Carly Neigum, her future collaborator on numerous projects. It was the first time she saw the potential for live art to be an integral part of any show, while also being able to fully invest herself in such a project.

In her “day job,” Cardinalli assists her husband, musician Dave Read, with his record manufacturing company Vinyl Record Guru, where her “duties” involve paperwork, promotion, and adding her personal perspective to the operation. Working from home allows her the time to focus on her many artistic ventures.

“I have more time to work on my projects because I don’t have to work full time and fit in art and other activities into my time off,” she says. “I’m doing more here.”

Pony Girl Productions, for example, is Cardinalli’s own umbrella project facilitating performance and spoken word events for guest artists. The latest and biggest event she produced was the Extraordinary Spectaculaire, a two-day mini-festival of music, readings, and spoken performance held at the Vault Café in April 2014. Cardinalli has done one-on-one performance workshops since then and is planning a public reading show with the working title “Mortified” in where participants will present their journals they kept as teenagers.

Although her art usually abounds with joyful colours and positive messages, Cardinalli draws on her darker streak, which she discovered and embraced early in life. Growing up, she remembers sewing clothes and costumes for her dolls, for whom she made up fantastical stories and worlds for them to live in. These worlds were dark and deep, full of poisonous potions and deep motives. Influenced by naïve artists such as Paul Klee or Joan Miro or a kinetic sculptor Alexander Calder or comic book author Art Spiegelman, Cardinalli is passionate about children’s art both as an activity, a source of inspiration, and the creative style she has adopted not only in painting, but writing stories and making comic books as well.

“My art definitely has a lot of id in it,” she says. “But it is not boring kids stuff; nothing ‘Disneyfied.’’ I like the fables where the wolf actually eats somebody. I like that little kid creepy stuff.”

But mainly, Cardinalli likes to think of herself as a sociopolitical artist and activist on a mission to promote arts education in elementary and high schools. Driven by passion for children’s art, she volunteers at schools and organizes art workshops, but also campaigns and petitions for a better support and staffing of art and dramatic education. One of her dreams is to see, if not organize, a science fair in the district, that would involve art, math, languages, and science. She hopes the new local government and set of trustees will support it.

“There are businesses that would bend over backwards to help make it happen,” she says, but admits it is still a tough nut to crack.

“It comes from higher up. The funding for education in general has been cut repeatedly, and we tend to blame the people in the middle and not those who make those decisions. I will continue to write letters, but I am only one person,” she says and explains that, unlike in her other groups and initiatives, people are more hesitant to join her efforts.

Her experience with AEIOU, a live-painting group Cardinalli has co-founded, is the opposite: “People come to me and say, ‘You’ve changed my life! I want to be a part of this,’” she describes the growing public interest in the group, the title of which stands for Art Ensemble Initiative Of the Universe (and sometimes Yourself). It began production in January 2014, shortly after Cardinalli’s first collaboration with Carly Neigum, with the idea of live painting on large canvases as a support performance during music shows.

“It is so neat to work with people like Carly. We don’t even need to speak. We just paint,” Cardinalli describes the creative environment at these events. “We’re lucky to have this space in Nanaimo, and the bands who want to collaborate with us.”

 

Cardinalli’s role is to develop initial ideas and themes visually on the canvas. The other three co-founders are painters Alejandra Cano, Chantelle Spicer, and Daniel Appell, but the crew welcomes and encourages audience participation.

“We just don’t do this enough. Our society still has these little pockets of isolation,” Cardinalli explains her motivation to connect individuals and bring them together into a creative, tactile process.

Cardinalli’s motives, indeed, extend beyond the idea of art for art’s sake. As the guest artist for the Nanaimo branch of Zero Waste, a Canada-wide grass roots environmental organization, she designs  art pieces made of recycled material—plastic bottles and bags, cardboard boxes, and broken toys that she collects on her daily wanders around town. She believes her involvement with Zero Waste conveys a strong sociopolitical message.

“I collect, wash, and recycle anything that would otherwise end up in the landfill,” she says. “All that junk  has the potential to be turned into something else. It’s so much fun. It gives everything a second chance at being used again.”

“As an artist, I have a hard time not picking up garbage on the streets,” she laughs. “My son is always embarrassed and goes, ‘mom, put it down!’ but then he thinks ‘Wait, I could use this.’ He already thinks in that same mind frame. It is about how we as a society can limit the excessive production of garbage,” she describes the main idea of the organization and the theme of her works, which include stuffed animals that have been taken apart and reassembled into new, otherworldly creatures with a third eye or extra body parts, or a giant paper maché puppet used as a dramatic prop at various events.

ARTS7_ValentinaCardinalli3-colorCardinalli usually gives the toys away to the kids who help her make them during the school workshops.

“Making money is not my objective at all. I’ve gone down many roads in New York. I have worked for commission and it helped pay the rent, which was great, but I wasn’t able to instantly drop a project and go where I felt interested, Cardinalli says about the lack of freedom chasing profits entails. For her, visual art is about human relationships with objects in a creative, constructive way, while the final outcome is not necessarily the most important art.

“As soon as you add money to this, it changes everything,” she says.

Her inner drive feeds the desire to express ideas and philosophies she creates for herself when she is trying to understand what is real and what matters in her life.

“I’m looking for my own truth,” she says. “When I finally find it, I can’t see how that wouldn’t affect someone else’s life. When I see other artists being true to themselves in their work, it definitely moves me. It opens my eyes and ears.”

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For the next project, Cardinalli is toying with the idea of time travel. A large scale indoor installation piece inspired by the stories of H. G. Welles will take visitors back and forth in time into a post-apocalyptic space where archaeologists dig up artifacts left behind from a closer future—for example, plates that replicate food onto themselves. Cardinalli plans to open this project to the public, so that everyone can contribute with their own futuristic item.

To join or contribute to any of the groups or events, befriend Valentina on Facebook, or see her at her next event, The Festivus Bash, December 20 at The Cambie.

Update December 18 2014:

Valentina would like to thank the following bands for collaboration, support and inspiration:

Moths and Locusts
Top Men
The Massless
Cymatics Research Institute
Sun Araw
Je Suis le petit Chevalier
Theo Angel
Hamish Kilgour
Sinoia Caves
The Backhomes
Kensington Gore
Ghosts
Alpine Decline
Eric Boros
Colliding Canyons
Golde and Shadow
Tenchu
Saanich/Blackened Annunciator
Holy Boredom
Roberts Hall
Palo Santo
Noose Tree
PAC AD
Awkward
Alex Hicks
Sweetboxx
Emma Plant
Sean Paton
Ed Lee
Kane’s Son
Public Animal
Coal Moon
Rad Co
Featured at Quadrapalooza
And more!!!

Overgrowth

Photos by Chantelle Spicer

What I learned from Ebenezer Scrooge

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By contributor Jennifer Cox

I love everything about Christmas: the bright lights that my neighbours string along rooflines and in hedges, the nativity scenes and inflatable Santas that fill the yards, the carols in the shopping malls, and the blitz of parties and cookie exchanges around my community. But every year, as I flip my calendar to December, I have to brace myself against the pressure to open up my wallet and swap my limited resources for the elusive perfect gift. As malls ramp up for the season with Black Friday sales and holiday displays, the pressure mounts and my feelings turn to bitterness.

As a student, not only is my income limited, but so are the hours I have available to work. As we head into the holiday season, with all of its excess demands on my bank account, I wonder how much I’m willing to sell my labour for? This is a question Karl Marx poses when he argues that an individual’s connection to self and society is thwarted by alienating labour and property ownership.

According to Marx, the social self is determined by the mode of production in which the self exists. He writes about overcoming the alienation that is caused by the relationship to labour and property. He also raises important ideas that have not lost their relevance in over 150 years. For instance, his idea that labour alienates man from his spiritual nature—his human essence—is well worth looking at, especially the question, “If my own activity does not belong to me, if it is an alien and forced activity, to whom does it belong?”

As I consider this question, I take a special interest in his comments about overcoming self-alienation, hoping for clarification around his theory that, “Communism is ultimately the positive expression of private property as overcome.” The question at the forefront of my mind is, “How is this overcome?” The answer I find in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts isn’t satisfying. I can’t wrap my head around the idea of universal property ownership. Contrary to Marx’s utopian vision, the reality remains that a certain degree of unsatisfying labour is required to survive.

Is it really possible to be free from alienated labour? Is it possible for a person’s activity to truly belong to them? Marx’s concern with overcoming alienation is never fully realized because he is too caught up in finding a communal answer, a solution where the immediate activity of a person’s individuality is only found in his existence for other men. Adopting Marx’s system trades one form of alienation for another, as a person always owes their existence to outside forces.

As I pull my Christmas boxes from under the stairs I am surprised to find answers in the pages of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This story, written in Marx’s era, demonstrates how Scrooge’s selfishness and greed ultimately lead to his alienation. By the time he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, he is alienated from himself and everyone he comes into contact with. As Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, he undergoes a lasting transformation from a crotchety old miser to a benevolent friend.

In Marx’s system of universal property, Scrooge’s free expression of love and goodwill to his fellow man would not be possible. The true freedom from alienation is not in a society that forces individuals to share their resources. Alienation can only be truly overcome by a society that encourages each to love their neighbour as themselves, changing individuals and ultimately the world with one act of love at a time.

Scrooge was determined to alter his life, and in this promise he “was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more.” By earnestly putting aside his selfish, “bah humbug” ways, Scrooge freed himself from alienation. This freed Bob Cratchit from the oppression he’d been living under in Scrooge’s previous tyranny, and created room for a deep and lasting friendship—the best gift any of us could give or get.


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VIU Gong Show


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By contributor Drew McLachlan

The Gong Show is an annual tradition for the Satyr Players, VIU’s theatre club. The show invites VIU students to take the stage and show their talents. Audience members can cheer or heckle the performers, who will be gonged off the stage if they receive too many boos. Aside from a few unsuspecting non-theatre students, a majority of these acts are either improvised on the spot or designed to irritate the audience. This year’s Gong Show was held on November 28 in the Malaspina Theatre.

Book review: The Circle Game by Margaret Atwood

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By contributor Jennifer Cox

The fruits of wandering through secondhand bookstores paid off recently when I found a wonderfully vintage 1976 edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Circle Game.

When I read this seven part poem I was moved in a way I wasn’t the first time I came across it in my youth. Relating it to my life has allowed me to read The Circle Game and see a juxtaposition of individualism vs. altruism, childhood vs. adulthood and the cycle of the indoctrination of gender scripts that I never could have understood then.

Immediately within Part I of the poem there is a theme of cyclical of hidden messages within our social script. She begins with children outside singing and dancing in a circle, a rendition of Ring Around the Rosy. The folklore rhymes and songs we teach our children are so often about awful moments in history (Ring Around the Rosy is contended by many to be about the plague) set to song in order not to frighten but also to distract from the deeper meaning. We think of them as cautionary tales. Atwood shows us the use of cautionary tales to conform children into grouped thinking when she writes “that the whole point / for them / of going round and round / is (faster / slower) / going round and round.”

In Part II, we progress from the childhood lessons in social script into young adulthood of individualism. Yet as much as we are learning about the importance of individualism, we look to others to tell us who we are, “groping through a mirror / whose glass has melted / to the consistency / of gelatin.” The adult social script of gender differences has taken hold, “You refuse to be / (and I) / an exact reflection, yet / will not walk from the glass, / be separate.” We enforce these gender roles by policing each other, the fear of being different and of someone knowing it, “there is always … someone in the next room.”

By the time Atwood takes us to the next section of the poem the narrative moves into warning—trying to educate and alert the children of their participation in the cycle she writes, “When we read the legends / in the evening / of monstrous battles, and secret / betrayals,” noting that instead of hearing the call to break away, the children have become complacent to the threat of impending danger, “how / they could remain completely without fear / or even interest.” After a childhood of cautionary tales where danger comes but goodness prevails the children haven’t the ability to understand fear, they have locked themselves into “trenches / … fortified with pointed sticks / driven into the sides.”

Paired next to the fortification of the children’s trenches, Atwood circles us ‘round again to the tale of a man and woman, individualized by society but pretending to live together as a union. In Part II, Atwood illuminates this aspect of an intimate relationship when she writes, “You look past me, listening,” showing the challenge of truly hearing outside ideas when they first filter through your own sense of knowing and being. Perpetuating the idea of individualism and patriarchal gender differences keeps the general population distracted from the dangers we brush off in the cautionary tales, “I notice how / all your word- / plays, calculated ploys / of the body, the witticisms / of touch, are now / attempts to keep me/ at a certain distance … avoid admitting I am here.” Gender differences are a social construct reinforced in children when they take part in institutions like the education system.

In Part V, she writes, “The children like the block / of grey stone that was once a fort / but now is a museum,” reminding the reader that education used to be a fortress of protection against industrialization and child labour but has turned into a preservation of tradition for tradition’s sake. School is where we learn how to think like others.

The perils of individualism are emphasized when she writes “And you play the safe game / the orphan game,” telling the reader that only having to think of your own needs is a double-edged sword. A person who only has to think of themselves doesn’t need to break away from the comfort of the cycle they’ve always known, but they also run the risk of not having the connection to others who can help you with your own needs, “the ragged winter game / that says, I am alone.”

The cycle of Ring Around the Rosy, which the children started the poem off playing, has returned. Cycles are meant to repeat, and we haven’t learned the lessons of the poem thus far. Even though the danger of individualism has been spotted we hang on to the beliefs which place us in peril ,“(a wasp comes, / drawn by the piece of sandwich … one of the children flinches / but won’t let go).” Perhaps where Atwood is most direct at addressing the reader is when she writes, “You make them / turn and turn, according to / the closed rules of your games, / but there is no joy in it.” Even though our values and indoctrinations are creating a complacent culture of individualized, blind consumers, we participate in the cycle which keeps it alive, “our lips moving / almost in time to their singing.” Fear controls us, and Atwood wants “the circle / broken” because a circle is a trap, “a cage of bones.”

There are many more themes that could be argued as being a significant part of this poem: the reality of complacency allowing us to be in nature but not a part of it, income inequality, and a much more in-depth look at the social construct of gender.


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VIU Student Art Sale

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ARTS7_ArtSaleJust in time for the holidays, VIU’s Art department is having their annual Student Art Sale. Over 20 artists will be selling their artwork on December 3 from 10 am to 5 pm on the second floor of building 325.

Chantelle Delage, President of VIU’s Arts club, says the sale is a good opportunity for the students to promote themselves as an artist and get experience with showcasing.

“People come from all over to support students,” she says. “I highly recommend being a part of it if you’re in any year of the visual arts or graphic design program.”

The variety of works for sale ranges from paintings, prints, and photography to ceramics, sculptures, jewelry, and even Christmas cards.

“Everything is very unique and amazing,” said Delage. “I personally love Arie Bonsor’s handmade purses that she silkscreens on. They take a lot of time and dedication and I suggest checking them out.”

A third year Visual Art Major, Delage coordinates the event and has her own works in it as well.

“I will be selling stuff at the sale like my printmaking and illustrations,” she says. “I did it last year and I found it successful. Come show your support to the vastly growing group of talented artists in Nanaimo!” As part of the sale, a silent auction with artwork donated by faculty and various artists will raise money for the Arts Club which will go towards VIU’s year-end art show, “Progressions.”

Cash, credit cards (and cheques, depending on the artist) will be accepted. Coffee and treats will be available by donation.

Album review: Melophobia by Cage the Elephant

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By contributor Drew McLachlan

ARTS7_AlbumReviewMelophobia, a fear of music, is exactly what Kentucky five-piece Cage the Elephant needed coming out of their last release. Thank You, Happy Birthday, put out in 2011, transparently borrowed from larger alternative rock acts like The Pixies and Arctic Monkeys. Though Thank You, Happy Birthday had its moments, it was a far cry from the energetic, cacophonous clusterfuck that made fans fall in love with Cage the Elephant’s self-titled debut. It was a well-made album, though it was an album that could have been made just as well by any one of their contemporaries.

The writing and recording process of Melophobia, as the name implies, involved the band distancing themselves from their aforementioned influences. By silencing virtually all music from their lives, the five musicians were forced to fill the silence, finding their own sound in the process, making Melophobia’s greatest appeal its originality. While listeners may not find anything experimental or boundary-pushing, anyone familiar with alternative rock will instantly see what makes the album unique.

The most welcome element in Cage the Elephant’s newfound style is vocalist Matthew Schultz’s surprisingly honest lyricism. The synth-filled ballad “Telescope,” in particular, sees Schultz peering into his own life, which has drifted light-years away from his younger aspirations. The song occupies the time spent home alone, as the narrator’s world begins to crumble in a fit of self-inflicted loneliness and worthlessness. For anyone who has experienced an extended period of unemployment, the song is excruciatingly relatable. While the chorus: “I don’t think you understand / There’s nowhere left to turn / Walls keep breaking / Time is like a leaf in the wind / Either it’s time well spent / Or time I’ve wasted” may have you skipping “Telescope” in the presence of company, the dose of corniness is a fair trade-off for a level of sincerity and introspection rarely seen in the genre. Even the lead single off the album, “Come a Little Closer,” is drastically darker and more introspective than their earlier work. Ironically, while the serious tone has rewarded the band with a more mature and consistent sound, the change in direction may steer them off the chart-positioning path that “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” first opened up for them.

Beyond the lyrics, Schultz’s vocals have also undergone a thorough refinement since the band’s 2008 debut. While Cage the Elephant’s first singles, “In One Ear” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” saw Schultz rapping his way through the verses, he underwent a shaky transition into singing for Thank You, Happy Birthday. Melophobia sees that transition finally pay off, as the vocalist confidently belts each hook with a variety of emotions only hinted at in the two previous albums.

Within Melophobia is a level of energy comparable to the band’s self-titled album, though the bluntness of the latter has been refined to a sharp point. The band’s use of buildups, which were almost completely absent in their previous records, adds fuel to the explosive, frantic hooks that first garnered them attention.

Melophobia is the perfect showcase for Cage the Elephant’s newfound and pleasantly original sound. Despite refining their raucous style, the album maintains the energy of the band’s previous efforts. While the pop-rawness may have been pushed aside for a more traditional rock aesthetic, the band’s lyricism and musicianship seemed to have grown up rather than grow old.


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