Brenda Dunn artinjest

Chance and Choice

I’ve been transcribing our conversations with the seniors. Now that we’ve made a few trips to visit them and gather their stories, there are themes and patterns that have already started to emerge. I am taking note of what would be considered a shared experience, and trying to watch for the overarching themes with our Canada 150th celebrations in mind. What does it mean to collect these stories? What am I gathering when I transcribe them? What exactly is being learned, remembered, shared?

The experience of a world war is prevalent in the vast majority of these stories. It is so abundantly clear that every single person alive during these monumental events was directly affected in some way. We’ve met multiple war brides, and I notice that the experience of Canadian seniors is particularly coloured by this experience. So many people had to make their way – by choice, deliberately- to Canada from another place they previously thought of as home.

Group shot 1The stories of these travels are arduous and often dangerous and with many stops along the way.  As someone who has lived in Canada my whole life, the idea of this undertaking – often when young, or newly married, a child or nearly – is mind-boggling. These stories are told with a shared tinge of “well dear that’s just what had to be done”.

group shot 2There is a resilience that has come out of these experiences of war, and an appreciation for what it means to become Canadian by choice rather than chance. Even in the early stages, this project of collecting is a learning experience.

Brenda Dunn artinjest

 

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MASC

Storytelling

As in all the storytelling/animation projects I’ve done with Awesome Arts, there was the great pleasure in witnessing everyone:

  • recognizing the essential nuggets in their own stories (and the parts that weren’t as important), how to put them together more effectively, how to make them sing — both of the people who ended up recording came with a strong sense of story and seemed to relish the refining process
  • becoming invested in one another’s stories — able to give useful and kind feedback on what was and wasn’t working in each others’ tellings; although Jennifer didn’t end up recording her story, Wilf and Amanda were able to help her see the difference between a speech (which is what she started with) and a story
  • coming together as a group enjoying a joint venture

Amanda and her family are relatively new arrivals in Carp, having emigrated from England a few years ago.  Her family story doesn’t have anything to do with Carp but, as you heard, is funny and very human.  It took a few tries to get a comprehensible explanation of curtain wire, commonplace in England and critical to the plot, worked out.  Amanda’s father-in-law used it to repair the choke in his wife’s car — it came unravelled at an inopportune moment…

Wilf, on the other hand, grew up in Carp and his story about Bert really captured the tone of rural Ontario life in the 50s and 60s and the semi-acknowledged place of a misfit like Bert in the community.  As Wilf himself observed, the edited version is a story about a trick; the longer oral version is a portrait of an individual in his community.  I’m glad the latter will be posted eventually!

In order to turn some of the oral stories into stop motion animation videos, they need to be edited down quite a bit. Tina Le Moine, the follow-up artist that will be transforming the stories into animation, does a marvellous job of that but I realized that the the oral stories and the stories used for the animation are quite different. To honour the two art forms (storytelling and animation) as well as the original story told, we came up with the idea of sharing both on Youtube. The longer version will be shared with no animation, it will be a stand along oral story. The other will be the shorter, edited, animated story. The participants and artists were pleased with this solution.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy projects like this so much and find them so valuable is that people need and want to tell their stories.  When we tell our stories, our connection to one another is affirmed and we recognize what we have in common.  When you’re working with older people, that need for connection, for being heard, for experience being acknowledged and valued becomes even more pressing — although I could say the same about many of the other groups I’ve worked with — immigrants and people young and old who’ve found themselves in stressful, difficult situations.  And then there’s the satisfaction of shaping and telling your experience in a way that others are clearly happy to listen to…  So — definitely worthwhile and a deep pleasure!

– MASC Artist Katherine Grier

Brenda Dunn artinjest

re[place] re[collect] Small Town Big City

It’s a good thing my photographer comes from the Pontiac. His rural street cred is necessary to help ease the tension when we first roll in from the big city. I’ve never thought that I’d live in a rural area, but I recognize the incredible advantage to having that built in recognition and sense of community.

When we meet seniors from these more remote neighborhoods, there is sometimes a hesitation, even suspicion, about what we might be doing, and what intentions we may have brought from downtown Ottawa. The impression, for some, is that the big city is not a particularly caring or friendly place. The idea comes from a sense of anonymity. One of the greatest things about a rural community is that you KNOW everyone. Like them or hate them, they are part of your ecosystem. And that can come hand in hand with an idea that there is no community – no shared responsibility – in a place where you cannot possibly know everyone.

I can see how it can look that way. But I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a really close knit and mutually supportive community in Ottawa, and being part of the Arts scene has played a huge part in that. For a small town, the entire population becomes part of this mutually sustaining ecosystem. Everyone recognizes, and therefore feels accountable to each other. One of the advantages of being so entrenched in the arts is that there is this funny little subset of “big city Ottawa” where the concerns and the mutual support feels in some ways like a small town. Although that can cause artists to struggle with economy of scale, it can also lend well to connecting with and sustaining a very devoted and supportive audience.

This project has reminded me that there are some wonderful things about being part of a community, and I’m reminded to appreciate the niche that the arts has provided in the Big City of Ottawa. So thanks Ottawa Arts. Mighty nice to know you.

Brenda Dunn artinjest

Brenda Dunn artinjest

re[place] re[collect]

When a project is beginning, there’s always trepidation around how participants are going to engage. I wanted to create the re[place] re[collect] project because I think people have stories that matter. That said, I wasn’t sure how much that would matter to my participants!

When I first get in touch with facilitators in the seniors support community, they all have supportive and enthusiastic responses. But right away, even within that amazingly helpful group, Carolyn stands out. She knows instantly which of her members would love to chat to me, and she is clearly as passionate about getting me connected as I am.

Our first site visit is to join into a luncheon held monthly out in Metcalfe. When we’re introduced, we’re sort of surprise guests. The attendees are polite, but they are suspicious at first of a giant recording device. I make it very clear that NO one has to be recorded or photographed if they don’t want to, and Carolyn is great and smoothing our introduction. I’m lucky – my photographer is also from a rural area and he acts as a bit of an ambassador and gets noticeably warm reception. After that, we just sit down to lunch and start chatting.

And that’s all it takes.

These people are instantly able to recall details and moments that are perfect little capsules of rural Ottawa 20, 30, 40 50+ years ago. I hear about lighthouse dances and backyard parties, I learn about buildings that served 10 different purposes for as many different owners. I am immediately overwhelmed by the generosity with which people share. Not just with me, but with each other. This is my first tiny toe in the water of this project, one that asks so much of the participants. It is instantly a flood of recollections. Something tells me we’re going to get all the stories we need.

Brenda Dunn artinjest