Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mark Lewis Q&A Out Today

Mark Lewis is Canada's national representative at this year's Venice Biennale. Though a lot of people have talked to him already about the trouble he had raising money to get to Venice in the first place--which was goshdarn interesting, I have to say, just check out this piece by Peter Goddard and this one by James Bradshaw if you don't beleive it—I just wanted to ask him about his art, y'know? OK and so maybe nationhood too. So that's what I did in a long-distance phone chat. The condensed convo was published in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q Sometimes your films focus on overlooked people in public, like the homeless or dog walkers. Why?

A I think I work intuitively, and it just feels sometimes like there should be people like that in the scene. Or sometimes, I've witnessed a situation very similar to the one I'm trying to depict. For example, I've been to High Park many times with friends who walk their dogs, and I'm fascinated with the complex way people move through that space.

One film I'm showing in Venice, Cold Morning, is actually shot at the corner of Bay and Queen Streets. It was something that I saw one day and I just got a camera and came back and shot it. It's seven minutes of real time unfolding as a homeless person cleans up his spot where he slept on a grate. That's a document --no one's being directed do anything, as happens in most of my films.

Q A number of Canadian artists, such as Roy Arden or Germaine Koh, have looked at homelessness. Why did you?

A Well, I don't know anything about this guy, and I don't think that my film reveals much about him. But I think it does reveal that at some level he's a human being who displays a very normal human characteristic, which is basic housekeeping -- looking after the place you're in and trying to bring a certain kind of order to a very limited domain.

I think people like that are often invisible; you walk by them and give them a dollar. But maybe, in this film, you're forced to look at him and not see not a "homeless person" but a person. That would be an ideal reading.

There's a lot of criticism of this subject matter for making art, and I think that's total bull---t. Any subject matter should be open. When I shot the video, some people said, "That's wrong, you shouldn't be doing that." And I thought, "How is this wrong? How am I helping him by not shooting him?"

I don't think I have an explicitly social message. What I'm interested in is revealing the detail in life, so you can slow down and think about it.

If you actually want to watch Lewis' films, he's got a bunch of them archived on his website. I personally still enjoy 1995's Two Impossible Films.

Image of Mark Lewis at the Canada Pavilion in Venice copyright Margherita Marzorati, Courtesy of Canada Pavilion

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