Number 572, Sep 28, 2006

Love is a Battlefield.

Pop and politics get a musical makeover.

Montreal-born video artist Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay gets around. His work has screened at over 200 film and video festivals worldwide, has been exhibited in galleries, and broadcast on television in Holland, France, Germany, and Japan, and that’s just a start. He also recently launched a limited edition DVD at Art Metropole, and received a grant from the prestigious Chalmers Fellowship Program from the Ontario Arts Council. All of this adds up to good reason to seek out his work.

One of his newest pieces, Patriotic, is a video collaboration with Paris, France-based performance artist Pascal Lièvre, and is currently playing in the Vtape video salon. In keeping with his ongoing exploration of popular music and video formats, Patriotic steals its lyrics from the US Patriot Act, and sets them to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, from Titanic. Compared to Nemerofsky Ramsay’s previous work, the piece seems uncharacteristically political. This departure is a result of the collaboration with Lièvre, no doubt. Nemerofsky Ramsay says the piece is a “strange, futuristic national anthem, by a rogue political faction…it’s a super cheesy romantic love song used as a vehicle to disseminate propaganda.” The two artists initially met by coincidence. In 2003, Both Nemerofsky Ramsay and Lièvre had videos touring the European festival circuit, often screening together. Nemerofsky Ramsay suggests this was due to their use of ”unusual musical intersections and performance.” They were introduced to each other’s work by a curator, and an ongoing dialogue began, eventually resulting in Patriotic.

In Patriotic both artists, dressed in boy scout-esque uniforms, emblazoned with unexplained pink “w’s” do their best to demonstrate their patriotic fervour. They are stiffly poised, self-aware, and camp camp campy. What at first seems just plain funny or strange is really a look at how language shapes belief. Not recognized for its entertainment value, the Patriot Act document seems dull and dry. However, when set to a globally recognizable pop song, possibilities for interpreting the language open up.

Also amongst the recent Benny art-stravaganza is J’Adore, a programme of videos and performance by Nemerofsky Ramsay and Lièvre. This PleasureDome organized evening is comprised of individual videos from both artists, as well as Patriotic, and live performance. The program, originally curated for a screening in Montreal, has also been screened in Paris, and Germany. It also marks Lièvre’s English Canada debut.

During J’Adore Lièvre will recreate an Orlan performance piece from 1977, titled Le Baiser de L’Artist. For a small fee audience members get to kiss Lièvre wherever they like. It’s a fun way to play with people’s boundaries, and to find out which set of cheeks are most popular. Nemerofsky Ramsay’s performance piece will be an excerpt from his installation project, Lyric, which he describes as a “strung together love song that creates a Dadaistic narrative.” The original two hour long video piece is composed of slices from over one thousand love songs sung by the artist in his home. Who knew there were so many songs proclaiming only the slightest variation of the phrase “you’re the only one for me?” Lyric highlights recurring themes, revealing just how contrived popular culture can be. Throughout the exhausting piece Nemerofsky Ramsay somehow manages to hit the high notes that the original songs demand. Unlike his other music videos, the performances in Lyric are not polished, adding to its sincerity. As viewers, It feels like we are seeing something private and precious. But it also feels a bit like watching internet karaoke videos, which the piece kind of is. Alone in his room, Nemerofsky Ramsay is enacting the performance of his lifetime. Hop over to J’Adore, and see what it looks like live.