Nanook of the North

February 24th, 2016  |  Published in February 2016

The Woodward Theater started as a movie house and this February it lit up again with the black and white flicker of Film. The cold light of ‘Nanook of the North’ seemed to produce an uncanny feeling of familiarity, as if this space remembered its calling as a silver screen instead of a punk rock stage (or as the venue for the 2015 Art Academy of Cincinnati graduation).

The true focal point of the night was not the architecture or the local history; it was Tanya Tagaq, an Inuit throat singer and performance artist. The performance curator, Drew Klein, drew Tagaq to Cincinnati as part of the 2016 spring season of the Contemporary Arts Center Black Box Theater series.  Klein seems to favor esoteric artists,  from Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds to the upcoming Belgian-Portuguese duo of Pieter Ampe & Guilherme Garrido. His eclectic yet sleek style has contributed greatly to the increasingly academic events hosted in the CAC space and around town.

In addition to performance art, Cincinnati has also experienced a revival in its film culture, most obviously seen in the popularity of Jacqueline Wood’s mico-cinema originally hosted at People’s Liberty. Her brainchild will continue its life outside of the OTR hub this March at The Carnegie in Covington. With this type of public exposure to film (and the recent filming of ‘Carol’ and ‘Miles Ahead’) the stage has been set for a home run of Classic Film and Contemporary Art.

So I wanted to like it….I really did. However the shocking racism and violence towards animals was too much for this writer to stomach. I’ll fully accept accountability for my own sensitivity and compassion towards both Inuit culture and adorable foxes. If Art is meant to illicit a reaction, to create dialogue and to forward a message from the artist, then by all accounts “Nanook” and Tanya were successful.

The sound of her voice shredding notes and gushing out guttural tones elicited by these visceral images populating the screen was very intense,  and Tanya’s mouth seemed to warp with sadness and disdain for the exploitation of her fellow people. This sort of energy through sound traveled across the crowd and everyone seemed suspended in motion, completely drawn in to Tanya’s performance and verbal deconstruction that both honored a tradition of the Inuit people and also expressed a pain, sorrow, and determination that define  a culture.

So that night, the Woodward was a glow with a film from the golden age of cinema, one that has propagated stereotypes about a group of people since 1922 without even trying, but it was also covered in the sounds of a strong, talented, vibrant woman whose lived experiences connect her intimately with the scenes flashing over her head. I may not have liked what I saw, but I loved what I heard.

–Katie Dreyer

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