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INTERVIEW: Ray Fenwick

Where are you visiting St. John's from? Where is your home base?

Winnipeg, Manitoba.

When you're not making art, what are three things you might be found doing?

This summer it would be: 1) Hanging out with my two young children, Cooper and Freja, (probably at the wading pool) 2) Skateboarding bowls with other not-young, easily hurt friends 3) Working at a local Artist Run Centre called PLATFORM.

Do you have any secret talents?

Well, because of my daughter I’ve gotten pretty good at singing slow lullaby versions of Disney songs?

If you could choose any artist to collaborate on a project with - alive or dead - who would you choose?

This is a potentially annoying answer to this question but: nobody? I’m lucky in that I already get to collaborate with an artist I love dearly, my friend Mitchell Wiebe. We’ve had a longstanding project together called Pastoralia. The relationship we have sets a pretty high benchmark for me, in terms of both art and kinship. I want to make work but I also want there to be real relationships involved. No collaborating with art-heroes. That sounds terrifying. Even as a thought experiment!

What are you looking forward to most about visiting St. John's and participating in HOLD FAST festival?

Oh there’s so much. To meet everyone, to meet the city, to share new work I’m excited about, to feel the great revitalizing energy that comes from an intense, concentrated event like this. I’m also really excited to go and check out my good friend Jery Ropson’s work at The Rooms.

Could you describe your creative practice in 50 words or less?

I was just thinking about how lately my practice seems to involve a lot of sitting on park benches and talking out loud to myself. It’s my favourite place to work out performance ideas or memorize/rehearse things. Then somebody strolls by and I feel like hey, get out of my studio.

How does humour and the absurd play a role in your work?

I think having a comedic tone or sensibility is just an inextricable part of how I communicate in general. So naturally when I make work there are aspects of humour in there. I don’t set out to make “funny” things—I’m not a comedian—but often the parts of my work that feel the most alive or interesting also seem a little bit funny to me. As for the absurd, I think it’s a complicated term, hard to pin down. It’s sort of come to mean ridiculous, or nonsensical, but I prefer to think of it as this great space where the impossible and the possible live together without ever resolving. I also definitely feel an affinity for plays within the so-called “Theatre of the Absurd”, and the way these works play out breakdowns in communication (while also breaking down the language itself in the plays).

When you incorporate performance, do you consider it acting within a character or self portraiture, or neither?

I don't create characters for my performance work. I just don’t have the desire to fully investigate some other life and inhabit it. I couldn’t pull it off, and I want things to be somewhat natural. It’s more that I’m creating versions of myself, or to put it another way maybe: synonyms. The base is just me, but with some small difference, like an alternate-reality-me, as in here’s the middle-management Ray; here’s the dark mystic wizard Ray, here’s the evangelical Ray. They’re different versions of me in service of the idea for the performance, and sometimes they switch pretty quickly. So I would say that is a kind of self-portrait, but a pretty cubist, fragmented one.

Some of your work relies upon the participation of viewers. How do you deal with this lack of control?

I don’t love it? Haha… I find participatory things frightening, both to participate in and to organize. I’ve forced myself to do it a few times because I was interested in the idea and thought it would be a strange experience for people to engage with. The most relevant examples would be leading a crowd through a series of abstract group readings, and engaging strangers in conversation as a disembodied voice in a darkened greenhouse. In terms of control, it’s so different from my own performance stuff, because I spend so much time rehearsing and reducing unpredictability (even though I try not to be too rigid). I have a hard time being really loose with things I’m putting in front of people, and while this often results in things I’m proud of, too much control can be stifling. So doing things where you are essentially seeding in some chaos can be exciting. And nothing seeds chaos like collaborating with people you don’t know.

Can you give us a sneak peek of your HOLD FAST project?

Well, speaking of the alternate-reality-me’s thing from a few questions ago, I’d say this performance is the Ray that believes in the idea that it is possible to talk to plants.

Visit Ray's website here:

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