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How to really dig Into The Soil

Your Intrepid #artcriticfromhell’s guide to ITS 2018

This will be the third In The Soil I’ve experienced, and I’d offer the following advice to those looking to enjoy the festival to the fullest: plan ahead. There’s simply so much to do, so much to take in, that you must have some kind of plan in place (especially when the caesars start flowing, as they did last year, or that so many events happen at sites with fine local ales that, of course, you wish to enjoy, to fit with the larger theme of supporting local producers).

Let us go then, you and I, to the online schedules. Despite my sobriquet, last year your intrepid #artcriticfromhell attended more music and theatre than visual arts, and that’s a testament to the quality of ITS programming. I must also offer a disclaimer: I’ll surely miss some things of note so this is only a guide (but one of the hallmarks of last year was that events I attended on the spur of the moment were excellent).

Some of what I’m highlighting is time sensitive: prioritize it or miss it. Other events (especially some of the exhibitions) are ongoing, so you may wish to wait. Some might better be served by calmer, less frenetic, engagement anyway. Everything I list here are events and performances that are my own list for In The Soil: edit and add as you will for your own experience.

Chronologically is the best manner in which to proceed: and on the Friday that ITS opens, it does so with a bang.

Kurt Swinghammer at Niagara Artist Centre opens at 8 PM, with painted and video works. The paintings are titled Melt and “continues his interest in exploring a traditional Canadian subject matter in a contemporary manner.” Along with the still works, Swinghammer’s Turpentine reWIND will be screened: “These animated videos accompany instrumental remixes of five tracks from his song cycle homage to Tom Thomson, Turpentine Wind from 2010.”

Attic Daddy  and Strange Shakes are two of several bands kicking off the first night in the James Street Hub (Attic Daddy takes the stage at 8 PM, and Shakes rocks your world at 10 PM. #artcriticfromhell will be there for the latter, no doubt). Rhizomes opens that night in the Silver Spire United Church  (8 PM, and they will re open again Saturday at 2 PM, then 10 PM later that evening, and Sunday evening at 5 PM). Spire is a new locale for Rhizomes, but there’s many interventions of interest (several I’ve mentioned here). Kelly Mark’s Everything and Nothing Between Us or Phoebe Underhill’s This Performance is (NOT) for You offer the chance to see work by both an established and a more emerging artist. And, with a cutting humour and relevance that has marked ITS in its decade of action and activism, I’ll be checking out a “commentary” on #Canada150 called We Who Know Nothing About Hiawatha Are Proud To Present Hiawatha.

That barely touches on Rhizomes. Last year the three days went so quickly, so, again, check the online schedule. There will be a downloable PDF, and previous years offered copies at various venues, so you can walk among the various venues and decide as you go.

Saturday morning begins at 10 AM, with Carousel Players Hare and Tortoise, at the Central Library (family friendly, and ITS offers a variety of events that are more mature, or more open. There’s also many things for those of us who refuse to embrace one exclusively).

The Interactive Village opens at 11 AM, and is a fine hub to revisit through the day, for vendors and installations (and just as thriving space that acts as a “heart” of ITS). Other sites – such as the Mahtay Cafe where you can enjoy Sheldon Rooney’s My Fake Record Collection, or Rise Above, to see Taylor Telford’s work Planned Obsolescence – are good spaces to pause and breathe and plan and have a drink. Or several. And remember, #buymoreart.

While pausing, visit Signs of Our Discontent (the textures of our solitudes), a site specific installation by Arnie McBay and Gregory Betts. Or check out Lisa Renee McKenzie’s installation…if you’ve not encountered it already, as it winds through the downtown.

Band on a Couch begins at 1 PM, on the Yurt (a new development for the decennial of ITS). Some bands are already listed, others will be added, and again, social media is your friend in staying on top of the fest.

Another musical performance to mark in your calendar: Songs from the Willow, a project that has been ongoing at Rodman Hall, through the Willow Community and Joe Lapinski, happens at NAC Saturday afternoon at 2 PM. In the MIWSFPA, Raven Spirit Dance Society presents Salmon Girl This is at 1:30 PM. Some events are singular performances: miss it and you’re out of luck. But some, like John School, by BocaMotion Theatre Co., takes place both Friday evening (9 PM) and Saturday afternoon (2 PM), at Oddfellows Hall.

The Merchant Ale House will be presenting various bands from noon onwards on Saturday: another good space to pause and listen to some fine music. Speaking from experience, having a slow drink between venues, listening to Supernatural Buffalo, last year, was a nice way to restore energy before delving into the fest again. Birds of Ontario will perform at 11 PM at the Merch.

The St. Catharines Poetry Slam happens at the Mahtay at 6 PM, until 8: Creature Speak plays the Yurt at 6 PM as well, and Big Chicken Improv will engage in shenanigans at  Oddfellows at 10 PM.

Fat Moth in the Garden at NAC is “a one-time performance of music, poetry, visual projections and visual art.” This begins at 10 PM (though Emma Lee Fleury’s Sprout and About will be on display in the Plate Glass at NAC later into May). Fat Moth (like Strange Shakes at the Hub, on the opening night) is an event that is a must – see, for myself, as Jon Lepp and Anthony Sweet are both excellent musicians and Fat Moth is a group that’s received much praise. Stacy Koudys (visual projections), Del Stephen (Keys / Soundscapes / Poetry) and Amar Arnaout (Poetry) will add to the sensory experience.

Senegal Astroturf will close out the evening at NAC after Fat Moth. Or, if you so choose, you can dance away your remaining Saturday night at the Warehouse. From 11PM onwards (until we’re all thrown out to sleep in preparation for the final day of ITS – you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here), DJ Brize, JFM and DJ Lana Leprich (the latter bringing ELECTRICLADYLAND to us from Toronto) will be your soundtrack into the wee hours of Sunday morning….

Sunday brings us back to the festival hub on James, as the Interactive Village continues.

The Bae Beach Club will take the stage at 1 PM in the Festival Hub, and The Lemon Bucket Orkestra performs at 4 PM (if you’re old like #artcriticfromhell, sit down, have a ceaser and recuperate among the picnic tables and food vendors. Enjoy the music wafting out onto James Street, and then go into the tent for the final day of musical revelry).

In between Bae Beach Club and Lemon Bucket Orkestra, at 2:30 PM, is Cole Forrest, an Ojibway artist / writer / performer presenting Life Anishinaabe Youth (which won Outstanding Original Work award at the On The Edge Fringe Festival, 2017). This will be at Oddfellows Temple, barely even a walk away. 

Alternately, Grey Borders will be presenting a number of readings at the Mahtay (including artist / writer Mori McCrae) that runs from 1 to 4 PM. SOUND SOUND, that hot mess of improvisational music noise audio audibles echoes is slotted for 6 PM, but where this will happen is TBA (though listed as being at the Yurt right now). Various and sundry updates will surely happen, so keep tuned to the social media feed of ITS as well as other partners and contributors. 

Sunday is a good day to consider what you’ve not yet enjoyed and what’s left on your list (revisit Rhizomes, or 4 1/2 (ig)noble truths by zeitpunktheatre if you couldn’t see it Saturday, for example). But as fits tradition, and marking the end of the tenth anniversary of In The Soil, Suitcase In Point will offer “The Dirty Cabaret” as the “Festival Closing Comedy Event” at Oddfellows at 9 PM.

But it won’t really be over until Marinko Jareb dj’s into the night while we all deny the horror of Monday morning, and another festival, another year, will be done. It’s more a performative visual and aural extravaganza, with some imagery from local photographer Lauren Garbutt, but also collaborating with musicians / performers Janice Jo Lee, Melinda Suarez and Charlena Russell.

In The Soil 2018 offers a great deal, whether visual or aural, more traditional or challenging, more family oriented or with subject matter that can be difficult, yet relevant. Pace yourself, take in as much as you can.

Perhaps we can anticipate running into each other (with drinks, perhaps) and to next year’s incarnation of this annual hallmark of the St. Catharines – and wider – cultural community.

#artcriticfromhell has offered what he will, intrepid festival goers. The rest is up to you.

Festival passes are available, and (yes, I will post it again) the schedule is here. All opinions and suggestions expressed here are entirely mine, and all blame and / or complaints are solely to be directed to #artcriticfromhell.

Written by Bart Gazzola

Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, FUSE, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.

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