Side A Video Poem: Catherine Heard & Gary Barwin’s THE MOST CHARMING CREATURES

Music was created by Barwin using Max/MSP programming language abstracting the recording of the spoken text into a haunting soundworld of ambiguous time, measured by the subterranean sound of a beating heart.

Interview with Catherine Heard & Gary Barwin

HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as collaborators (or continues to)?

GB: I’d wanted to collaborate on a video with Catherine since I saw her video work at the Hamilton Art Gallery. Haunting and uncanny. I had a million ideas for text and music to engage with the work. Then later on Facebook, I’d posted a picture of an ancient computer that I used for my PhD. Catherine offered to gold leaf it as a project. And somehow, that suggestion of gold leafing opened up our video collaboration. Hey Catherine, maybe you could gold leaf this interview?

HFR: What are you reading?

GB: I’m reading Franco Cortese’s mind-blowing Lip, a vast experimental universe of language exploration. I also just finished Apeirogon by Colum McCann—a really brilliant novel. I’m soon going to interview the author. There’s so much to discuss about this moving, fascinating novel.

CH: A lot of my work is labour-intensive and I often listen to recorded books while I’m working in the studio.  Currently I’m working on a series of new embroideries while listening to Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People– it analyzes the concept of race as a relatively recent social construct. On the fiction side, I’m looking forward to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun as my first summer vacation read.

HFR: Can you tell us what prompted The Most Charming Creatures?

GB: We wanted to explore what it is to be human in a universe both immense and infinitesimal—inconceivable spans of time, inconceivable distances, both microscopic and interstellar—and in a universe where distance and time are inextricably entangled. To think about what is it to measure our lives, to measure our world, by the human in relationship to a universe of such spans? What is it to conceive of the length of a human life and also have an awareness of deep time? What is it to be human, to have a human body and human consciousness, in light of the scale of the universe, a universe ranging from the spacetime of subatomic particles, cells and microorganisms to stars, superclusters and possible multiverses?

CH: I was inspired by Robert Hooke’s 1665 text, Micrographia, and Ernst Haeckel’s 1862 Monograph on Radiolarians. I have been creating miniature sculptures of cellular forms made using Japanese paper and materials collected in my garden—seeds, roots and stems. After treating the sculptures with an oakgall and iron ink, created from a medieval recipe, they can be read by a CT scanner. The STTARR Innovation Centre in Toronto was instrumental in supporting the project by imaging the sculptures using their high resolution micro–CT scanner. The scans are translated using Horos medical imaging software, then edited in Adobe AfterEffects. Our title comes from Ernst Haeckel’s descriptions of radiolarians, ancient single-celled organisms with mineral skeletons, as “the most charming creatures.”

HFR: What’s next? Are you working on another collaboration?

CH: I’m hoping that Gary and I will find an opportunity to collaborate again in the near future. The Most Charming Creatures is actually our second collaboration—our first was when I asked Gary if he would write a poem for The Magic Gumball Machine of Fate, an artist’s multiples distribution project that I curate.

HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?

CH: Currently, I’m working on a collaborative bookwork titled Dazzle Pods with one of Gary’s friends, Gregory Betts, which will be published by Arts + Letters Press and will be released via CMS Art Projects on Artsy in May, 2021.

GB: Funny that. I continue to work on a series of collaborations with Gregory Betts, too. We’ve written a book together and are working on several others. We recently released a CD with bill bissett. Collaboration is a big part of my practice—I’m always collaborating with someone—writers, musicians, arts, tax accountants. 

As for being fanatic and taking the floor:

Go to the beehive early because it means you’ll be at the beehive early. Let your firecrackers go. Film and save the door for later. If you are sleeping with a dolphin, the dark is good. Anyone can tinkle on a chef, but it takes a dope to love a footstool. If you find a tree branch boring, wait till you see the forest. He said he had tried to use a mirror to travel. Heart failure causes a large number of files. You are only as gold as gold. You can’t step in the same river twice unless you’re in a river museum.

Catherine Heard is an interdisciplinary artist. Her work interrogates the histories of the science, medicine and the museum. Simultaneously attractive and repulsive, her works delve into primal anxieties about the body. She combines cutting edge technology with historical techniques, melding craft, sculpture and animation. Her work has been exhibited in France, Denmark, Mexico, Canada and the US. It is in the permanent collection of the Canada Council Art Bank, The Art Gallery of Hamilton, The Art Gallery of Kamloops and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor. Catherine Heard is represented by Birch Contemporary, Toronto. catherineheard.com

Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, and multidisciplinary artist. His 25 books include For It is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems, ed. Alessandro Porco and A Cemetery for Holes, with Tom Prime and his national bestselling novel Yiddish for Pirates won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and also a finalist for both the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.  His latest novel, Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy was just published and Ampers&thropocene, a collection of his visuals based on the ampersand was also published by Penteract Press (UK). A PhD in music he has been writer in residence at many universities and libraries. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario and at garybarwin.com

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