Updated: Feb 28
Still drinking gallons of Pedialyte from the mayhem of New Year's Eve? Here are all the things you might have missed in December. Our favorites series continues, from micro-venues to Fine Line to feminist tote bags, by Gabrielle Vaillancourt.
1. CUNT TOTES by GABI BARRERA
As Barrera describes, she uses her work to explore her “chaotic and babbling femininity." If you’re not already familiar with her from our coverage of her “Dear Grrrls” project, wherein female-identifying artists share their work with each other via snail mail, then, moving forward, there's no excuse not to be a fan. Barrera has recently taken to selling totes with the print “CUNT” spelled out, big, bold, and unwaveringly with confidence. I haven’t snatched one just yet, but I certainly intend to before starting art school next semester. Because what better method of making a good first impression than declaring your womanhood on your own terms loud and clear? Barrera is an artist whose work I’ve loved for a while now. She’s just so - herself. She admits that her portraits feature a lot of colour lights simply for the fact that they are the only kind of bulbs in her household. She doesn’t filter her work with layers upon layers of fade and grain in hopes of achieving an Urban Outfitters-wannabe aesthetic. She captures the women around her in their purest forms, living and moving and connecting with the environment around them, completely and blissfully ignorant of any inkling of the male gaze. Her work doesn’t feel like some hypnotic ultra-femme daydream, it feels like all of the moments in-between life. The ones where, in our own atmosphere, we release ourselves into what we are. We no longer carefully curate our appearance and actions and words, we just exist. These incremental moments of her own life that she chooses to share with the world gives me a sense of ease: that I, and the women that surround me, are cool as fuck in and of ourselves. No gloss, no luster, no glamour necessary, just living and appeasing the people that we want to be makes us remarkable.
This next bullet point is quite the opposite of a casually-feminist art collection. The Lighthouse, the 2019 black-and-white psych-horror film by director Robert Eggers, is something I loved watching but really, really wish that I hadn’t seen. Featuring our favourite leading man, Robert Pattinson, as an assistant to a lighthouse keeper on an isolated island, it is not a piece for the light of heart (or stomach.) For better or for worse, I went in knowing nothing about the movie. I came out still feeling like I knew nothing about it, just far more paralyzed. It opened quietly, a boat passing through water, coming into the island. It ended with Pattinson laying on the rock of the same island, naked, being pecked at (somehow still alive) by seagulls. What happened between these two points is yours to discover— but fair warning, even if you are the darkest and most brooding of artists or cinema connoisseurs, it is a rough one to digest. But this is also what makes the film so great: Eggers follows the insanity well beyond the characters breaking points and rock bottoms. No gruesome detail was spared, not simply in an attempt to utilize shock-value as a booster of the film's artistic integrity, but to stay true to its purpose: representing the distortion and meaningless-ness of time and memory.
3. FINE LINE BY HARRY STYLES
Alright, let’s be real: if you missed this, you are literally living under a rock on a planet in another galaxy. Must I say anything more?
As a certified ball of anxiety, all of the thrill and excitement that comes with being in the pit of a big show in an even bigger stadium is always accompanied by a touch of stress. Am I in the way? (the answer is yes, of course, it’s a concert, for fuck's sake.) Is the handle of my Kanken annoying the person behind me? I’m tall, are people gonna hate me because I’m in front of them? Do I smell bad? Oh, god, do they think I smell bad? Do I look bad? What if people think I look weird? Everyone can see me, I’m 5’11”! It doesn’t really end at any point; although, once the show starts, it tends to drift further into the back of my mind, at least. But last week, as I was shooting a local musician’s show in the teeny-tiny “music hall” of a Roncesvalles Brewery, I felt completely at home. I grew up on coffeehouse nights in the basement of a local church. Musicians from my hometown would play a set each; young, old, and in-between, sign-up was at the door; donations were accepted but not required. There was always a wall at the back covered in a featured visual artist’s work. There was a vintage rug on the petite platform stage, outfitted with mics, speakers, drums, and keys, and decorated with strands upon strands of fairy lights. Volunteers at the coffee table in the corner made London fogs, Lattes, and Italian sodas with products donated by the local cafe that I worked at. It was intimate, warm and light-hearted, and it felt like community. Since leaving the East Coast a year and a half ago and moving to Toronto, that’s probably the one thing that I miss the most: community. It took a while to develop the friendships that I have now, and while I value them above most everything else in my life, they’re scattered, and it’s a rare occasion now when I feel that sense of collective engagement. Being at the Burdock, even though the only people I knew there were my creative writing teacher (he played bass) and my photo-assistant / close friend Charlotte, I immediately felt in place and at home. The dark room, filled with people layered in sweaters and beanies and scarves, with folding chairs lining each side and the bar serving cold-in house microbrews in the back, reminded me of that dingy church basement. People gathered, conversed, drank, and enjoyed a much closer bond with one another and the musician playing that evening. Yes, I immediately broke somebody’s beer glass within thirty seconds of the first set, and yes, creeping and crawling around the tiny space in the dark was uncomfortable, but had I not been on the job I would have completely melted into the atmosphere without a doubt. While large-scale events hold their own kind of magic, anyone who thinks small shows are a waste of time must seek out their neighbourhood’s mini-music haunt, find an artist they won’t hate, and see for themselves. In the hyper-connected consumerist world that we live in, it is important to step out of the mainstream for a moment and to, well, support the local community. There is so much in our lives that we don’t realize we owe to startups, high school punk bands, hipster folk duos, mom and pop shops, and home-kitchen made beauty brands.
5. NASTY CHERRY
Netflix, in one of its many attempted ventures into the dimension of reality TV, actually didn’t do too badly with this one. Like 90% of their fans, I came across the music and '70s-esque lady power dynamic of the band Nasty Cherry through their season of With The Band. The show follows the vibrant pink glitter daydream of Charli XCX, who brought together four kick-ass women in hopes of launching a kick-ass band. Some of them are practiced musicians, some not. The lead singer, Gabriette Bechtel, never had vocal lessons or really even sang prior to the group. Other than the fact that she is the coolest woman alive, XCX chose her because of her capacity to captivate and engage: the old-as-time cliche is true: once you see her, you either want to be her or be with her. Debbie Knox-Hewson, the spunky pro-drummer, who toured with XCX herself, plays the voice of reason amongst the girls, at least on camera. Chloe Chaidez, guitarist in Cherry and lead-singer of the band Kitten, played the most interesting role in the first season: the under-valued and frustrated experienced artist working amongst newbies. Her relationship with the band— in particular, Georgia Somary, the bassist— moved along the plotline of the show and also opened up much dialogue on group and individual artistry. How much of this was for show? Probably all of it, but whether you hate the series or not, there's no denying that for a band created on a popstar's whim, they’re really fucking good. There are many things that I wish for With The Band: I wish that they hadn’t feigned concern over the band’s success, as if they didn’t have one of the top-selling industry stars backing and repping them, or an actual TV show on the largest streaming service in the world. I wish that they hadn’t so closely directed a cliche trope, and rather just let the girls run with it, but I suppose there can only be so much of reality in reality TV. I wish that not literally every goddamn person in the show was white. Regardless of the obvious holes in the for-entertainment-purposes-only part of the band, what the girls manage to pull off in four short months is relatively remarkable. Forced together awkwardly in a California-haze dreamhouse where they lived, ate, and made music, they at least came out of it in a cohesive manner, with something genuine to show for it. While their music is literally nothing like the bands they say influenced them, and they are far more pop than they’ll ever admit, they’re actually really good.