A program of three works brought to you by Canadian artists Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. Duke and Battersby do not shy away from dirty stuff. Or creepy stuff. Or stuff that makes people uncomfortable. You could say that the dirty, the creepy and the uncomfortable are their milieu. The tapes in the program they are showing at UnionDocs deal with, in this order: an ape-human lesbian love affair; why hunting is OK (because we want to get to touch wild animals and they only let us if they’re dead); why it’s OK to be addicted to crack. Among other things, of course, but that’s the gist. But don’t get the impression that it’s gloomy: quite the opposite. It’s moving, tender, watchable and often very, very funny.
Lesser Apes By Emily Vey Duke and Cooper BattersbyCanada and USA, 2010, 20 minutes, Digital Projection
A winningly oblique narrative of forbidden love, Lesser Apes offers an inter-species fairytale between primatologist Farrah and the female bonobo (ape) Meema. Farrah extols the virtues of language as it offers the hope of empathy, but at the same time it pushes her out of her body, which she can recover only through a series of transgressions. These are offered in an impressionist collage – misted landscapes and time lapsed animals rotting, balloons caught in a rainshower. But most harrowingly there is a stunned verité encounter with Vey Duke lying comatose and jaundiced in a hospital bed, very near death, while her partner, Cooper, looks on with a face that signals that everything will be alright, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. These lyrical diary moments are filled with the punctum, with the sharp point of a picture that looks back, raw memory fragments that hurt the viewer to witness. They are interwoven with a-go-go animations that run beneath Farrah/Emily’s sing songs, offering musings on the trials of living in a body, whether via animal love or addiction. “And nobody wants to die/And everyone wants to get high/But we can’t get high all the time…” –Mike Hoolboom
Beauty Plus Pity By Emily Vey Duke and Cooper BattersbyCanada, 2008, 14 minutes, Digital Projection
Beauty Plus Pity sets a colourful single-channel video within a lush viewing environment populated by costumed taxidermic animals. Presented in seven parts, the video considers the potential for goodness amidst the troubled relations between God, humanity, animals, parents and children. While an animated cast of animal “spirit guides” quote Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be the Verse, and implore us to “get out as early as you can” from life and our parents’ grasp, a hunter dreams of a zoo where he might lie next to tranquilized animals calmed of their savagery. A senile and unstable God stumbles, forgets to take his medication, and turns frost into diamonds. Beauty Plus Pity contemplates the shame and beauty of existence; it is part apologia, part call to arms.
Songs of Praise for the Heart Beyond CureBy Emily Vey Duke and Cooper BattersbyCanada, 2006, 14 minutes, Digital Projection
Themes of addiction, violence, the destruction of the natural world and the agonies of adolescence are woven through the work, but as Sarah Milroy writes for the Globe and Mail, the work is “anything but depressing… [it is founded in] a sense of wonder at the endearing weirdness of life and all the vulnerable, furry little creatures immersed in it (especially us).”