Meet the Artists – Tracey Vath

Tracey Vath started making art later in life. She was an avid music fan, attending many shows and supporting her friends who made music, but she never really thought she could be an artist herself because she wasn’t an “expert”. When she turned 30, she decided to pick up an instrument for the first time and formed a band with some of her friends, and the idea that she could make art without needing it to be perfect or even “good” was a liberating discovery for her. She realized that she loved performing, and she began to develop characters that she embodied while performing music, sometimes dressing as a robot or having stuffed animals in her band. Throughout this time, however, she remained oblivious to the contemporary art world, and most of her energy went towards her job as a support worker for schools. She began to feel stifled by her work life identity, and made the decision to go back to school. Today, Tracey is in her third year as an Emily Carr Visual Art student.

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For her new piece for Shooting Gallery, Tracey is exploring her upbringing in the Pentecostal church, specifically the lack of sex education she was exposed to and the lingering effects this has had on her life. The Pentecostal Church had its heyday in the 80s and 90s, and distinguishes itself as the only faction of Christianity that speaks in tongues, something that Tracey only experienced once. Making work about her Christian past is not new to her, and in fact it was seeping into her art practice unbeknownst to her. “I found I was making work about it without even knowing that I was, and some friends of mine would say, you know you kind of refer to this church side of yourself quite often…so ya…I guess I do” she says. She grew up immersed in southern gospel music within the Pentecostal church, which she says is a very capitalist institution that sells countless DVDs of Evangelical preachers spreading the word of God while gospel choirs sing. She began using these bizarre clips in her performance work, exploring feminine tropes by shaving her legs on stage or stuffing her bra with communion bread, and prescribing new meaning to the hymns she grew up singing by changing their lyrics and injecting humour into them. For her new piece she is examining the repressed sexuality of the church and the methods that were used to shelter children from learning about this basic human function. “If their parents didn’t want them to learn about sex ed in school, then that was totally fine. So I didn’t get to have that same talk that other kids would, I would get pulled out. I didn’t get to learn about evolution either” says Tracey. As she grew older, her confusion and curiosity around sex only grew, and this anxiety is at the heart of her exploration for her new piece.

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Her process involves a dialogue with herself, and she will often text herself ideas or phrases that she will then process, edit and brainstorm on later. She also spends hours digitizing bizarre old Christian “Jesus type” instructional videos on how to be a Christian, which in the context her adult life as a non-Christian, holds very different meaning for her. Looking at her old family movies and photos also serves as a jumping off point for her working process, as does Youtube. “There is a Christian artist from back in the day that is still making Youtube videos, and he’s a big Trump supporter…so I’m kind of revisiting things from the past by using Youtube…Wow, I wonder if this person is still around? Oh wow, ya, still totally active…” says Tracey about her internet deep diving.

Tracey uses video in her work, but considers herself to be primarily a performance artist, although she has begun to incorporate conceptual drawing into her practice. “The drawings that I’ve been trying to do lately, and have done in the past, have a performative element to them” says Tracey, referring to a work she made where rode the number 20 bus for ten hours a day 12 days in a row, making repetitive line drawings referencing the physicality of the movement she experienced in this durational work. Physicality and vulnerability factor largely in her work, which she often struggles with because she also likes to use humour. “I like to use humour, and sometimes I think I’m not blurring the line between humour and vulnerability enough…I think it really feels good when there’s a good mix of the two…the sweet spot” she says.

Tracey’s Instagram takeover this past week has also served as a great platform for her to explore characters, or aspects of her own character. A few years ago she had a Youtube channel where she made similar videos exploring quirky and awkward characters. Her channel “was kind of like the Instagram videos, and I was trying to get that feeling again, because I really enjoyed making those videos and I haven’t done anything like that for a while”. She is also influenced by performance artists like Bridget Moser, who also uses humour and props to explore issues of vulnerability, as well as stand up comedy. A few years ago she hosted stand up comedy nights at Toast Collective, experimenting with performing comedic work within that context.

As an adult, Tracey met more non-Christians that questioned or challenged the beliefs she grew up with, which eventually led her to expand her mind and reject the teachings of her youth. However, the context in which she was raised clearly provides her with an abundance of issues to explore in her art practice.

Come to Left of Main March 28, 29 and 30 to see Tracey Vath’s brand new performance work for Shooting Gallery Performance Series.

-Sydney Southam

Meet the Artists – Tracey Vath

Meet the Artists – Luciana Fortes and Ghinwa Yassine

Luciana Fortes and Ghinwa Yassine are Too Much Collective and the piece they are creating for Shooting Gallery Performance Series is their debut work as a collective. Both artists are in their first year of the Masters of Interdisciplinary Arts at SFU, where they immediately connected over their shared experiences with displacement and the desire for connection in their newly adopted home of Vancouver. Their piece “Warm” is an investigation into the act of giving to a place and an audience, using improvisation, playfulness and their respective research into clowning and autobiographical art.

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Photo by Elke Dick

Luciana Fortes is a Brazilian artist from Rio de Janeiro where she trained as a dancer. Her childhood was split between Brazil and Calgary, and she completed her undergraduate degree at Bryn Mawr College outside Philadelphia. Despite her training as a dancer, she is not interested in being married to any one form, stating that idea is what dictates the medium of the piece. Since beginning her Masters at SFU, her interests have turned to theatre, clowning, comedy, fragmentation and displacement. Her work questions how our body can be a map for identity and ones own sense of space.

Ghinwa Yassine is an anti-disciplinary artist from Beirut who also works as a graphic designer, which she says helps her see space and layout as a grid. She has a Masters in Digital Video Design where she focused on Video and Installation Art , but she does not see herself as existing within any one discipline. The thread that carries through her work is narrative and story, and it is mostly autobiographical. Her current work centres on relational autobiography, and how we weave personal stories together; for Ghinwa, relational autobiographical work is a way to create universal healing.

Luciana and Ghinwa’s working relationship flows very naturally and they have a deep trust in one another; this trust enables them to share both positive and negative feedback. “For me, collaboration, it means trust, and that resolves everything. If I trust where the comment is coming from, I don’t mind any comment and I just know how to be with the other person” says Ghinwa. They both acknowledge that they each have different strengths and expertise, and can defer to each other’s specific technical knowledge. Being from Arab and Latin cultures, of which there is a lot of crossover, they were often told they were “too much”, too dark, too loud or too chaotic, which created a sense of displacement for them within their respective cultures. This idea of displacement and the trauma this can create is at the heart of their work, and “Warm” brings together their shared traits of generosity, fun and playfulness to explore how one can make a home as a foreigner in a new place.

Screen Shot 2019-03-08 at 8.24.37 PMLuciana says “we both expressed a lot of struggle with Vancouver, but it’s kind of like a love/hate relationship, or your relationship with your Mother. Motherly warmth embraces and gives you so much opportunity, which is what Vancouver has done for us…sometimes there is harsh criticism, but in the end it is still in your benefit”, and for her this is at the core of the piece. Ghinwa often feels like a foreigner, having lived in many different cities, so she is used to not feeling at home. “I feel like when you leave home, where you spent your teenage years, I feel that you will never find home again. For me that’s ok, this uncertain place that I am getting comfortable living in” she says. The pace of Vancouver is something that the artists have been influenced by; “the rhythm here is very slow and we are so fast, so how do you negotiate that? That’s kind of what warm is too…hot is too much, warm is like…you are warming up to people, you are warming up to the place, it’s a transitional state too” says Luciana. This idea of warmth relates to connection, and their piece strives to create space to make connections by integrating movement, text, video and installation, while allowing for improvisation and audience participation. Their hope is that the audience will walk away feeling like they experienced something pleasant, something warm, a real connection.

Luciana and Ghinwa are currently developing workshops in Autobiographical Art through Text and Movement. They will be presenting their brand new work “Warm” for Shooting Gallery at Left of Main on March 28, 29 and 30.

-Sydney Southam

 

 

Meet the Artists – Luciana Fortes and Ghinwa Yassine

Meet the Artists – Jennifer Summer Ashley

Jennifer Summer Ashley is a dancer, lawyer and stripper with a varied history of performance. She started dancing at the age of 3, training in ballet and Chinese dance and eventually branching out into modern and contemporary dance, entering many dance competitions and exams in her youth. At the age of 18 she discovered pole dance and eventually started stripping a shortly after that, and in the last few years she has trained in various disciplines of aerial arts.

Her dance training has both helped and hindered her in her life as a stripper. While it has provided her with great proprioception and the ability to pick up skills quickly, it has made her overly aware of technique, to the point that she often finds it difficult to immerse herself in the flow. “For me, my awareness of technique takes away from my flow…do I want to be perfect or do I want really good flow? And for me, I seem to not be able to do both at the same time” she says. For Jennifer, performing as a stripper becomes a balancing act between good technique and immersive flow and musicality, which makes her a compelling performer to watch.

3o4a4928            Her piece for Shooting Gallery examines the judgements that all dancers face, not just strippers, although the societal stigma faced by exotic dancers is an added level of denigration that they must reckon with. Although she has received some judgement from outsiders around her status as a stripper, there is an extreme level of objectification that one must face as a dancer of any kind. “Both industries are very hard on women, and the talent in general. You’re disposable. You work so hard, you just want to perform, you just want to be on stage, you just want to do your art, but you get all this pushback from the people in charge…you’re not skinny enough, you’re not flexible enough, you’re not strong enough…as a dancer, that’s your reality, but as a stripper, that’s your reality PLUS the stigma” says Jennifer. Combining contemporary dance and exotic dance styles of movement, Jennifer’s piece attempts to draw parallels between the experiences and the movement styles of these two types of dance, using voiceovers to highlight the unhealthy judgements faced by female performers using their bodies to make their art.

With her piece for SGPS, Jennifer is making a concerted effort to transition into making “art” performance, although she believes that working as a stripper is one of the greatest ways for a performer to get paid a good wage to work as an artist. She calls herself a “bad stripper”, as she is much more concerned with creating a compelling performance on stage than she is with making money. “For me, stripping is just an opportunity for me to develop my art every night at work” she says. Stripping has enabled Jennifer to grow as an artist and to come into her power as woman, but it has also made her a much more empathetic person due to her exposure to such a wide variety of people with different lived experiences. She describes stripping as her own “ethnographic survey, which is really cool for me”.

After years of experiencing misogyny from both the dance world and the strip world, Jennifer really believes in the power of art to express these ideas to people who may not be aware of the parallels between these two worlds. “This is part of the story of so many dancers, and I have a way of expressing it, so if it works out it works out, and if it looks pretty, even better” she says.

Jennifer Ashley will be performing her new piece for Shooting Gallery Performance Series at Left of Main on March 28, 29 and 30.

-Sydney Southam

Meet the Artists – Jennifer Summer Ashley

Meet the Artists – Olivia Fauland and Lucas Wilson-Bilbro

Olivia Fauland and Lucas Wilson-Bilbro are two artists with very different artistic backgrounds who also happen to be in a relationship. Together they started the dance company Sapiens Sapiens, and their piece for Shooting Gallery combines sculpture, sound art and various “non-dancerly” movement practices including meditation poses , warm up exercises, trust falls, contact improv, and jiu jitsu.

Olivia graduated from Emily Carr University in 2014, focusing on sound art and immersive installation near the end of her time there. The contact microphones used in the piece were developed by Olivia while she was at Emily Carr, and she is reworking the technology for Shooting Gallery. After graduation, she took a concerted step back from the “party scene” art world and began her career at the Portland Hotel Society. Sapiens Sapiens marks her return to making things, this time in a different context.

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Lucas has trained in classical ballet for his whole life, and eventually moved into the contemporary dance world upon moving to Vancouver in 2015. He studied in the post-grad programme at Arts Umbrella before being asked to apprentice with Ballet BC, and even appeared in Centre Stage 3. He now freelances in Vancouver, working mostly in the contemporary dance scene, and trains in parkour and acrobatics.

Sapiens Sapiens includes a rotating roster of artists and was born out of a desire for more experimentation and play, and a feeling of dissatisfaction for Lucas with the work that was being produced in the contemporary dance and ballet scenes. The two artists have similar tastes and trust each other implicitly, which for an artist like Olivia who usually works alone, are very important components to a fruitful collaboration. Coming from such different backgrounds, both artists feel a sense of freedom working in a new space, with each of them bringing something different to the projects. “For me, the dance world, especially with language, is kind of like a freedom because I’m so new to it…to me it’s kind of fun to play with what a dance company could mean” says Olivia. Sapiens Sapiens is aiming to blur the lines between “dance” and “art”, and their piece for Shooting Gallery incorporates sculptural tiles fitted with contact microphones, and the types of movement available to them will be largely dictated by these complex surfaces.

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Their relationship dynamic plays a large role in the piece as well. “We like this idea of baggage and history and our entire history with each other, artistic or otherwise, is part of it and we allow it to be a part of it, even if we aren’t necessarily making it about that” says Lucas. Their working relationship is predicated on a deep trust with one another, and each of them has various techniques they use to help one another when they begin to spiral into anxiety and self-doubt, as most artists do.

Olivia and Lucas are influenced by Michael Schumacher and others in the live improvised dance world, and are interested in smelling the room and letting their senses dictate their movements. Lucas says “it’s about just being in a space and experiencing it and how if you are cued in very sensorially, it helps you keep your brain straight in a very sensitive place as opposed to a performative ‘oh my god’ place…it’s about a situation, it’s about you experiencing something, it’s not about you doing the moves”. They are interested in the natural improvised and unconscious methods of movement that we engage in, and Olivia has recently become obsessed with YouTube videos of mosh pits; “I had thought about this thrashing movement, and letting things be the echo of that” says Olivia.

Olivia and Lucas also have an Instagram page called @gooptubes that documents the intimate moments of their life together with various film cameras. The resulting images are beautifully shot and the love between them is palpable, with each of them being their most beautiful when viewed through the others eyes.

Sapiens Sapiens will be debuting their new piece at Left of Main on March 28, 29 and 30.

-Sydney Southam

Meet the Artists – Olivia Fauland and Lucas Wilson-Bilbro

Guest Curator – Sydney Southam

headshot (1)Sydney Southam is a visual artist, filmmaker, performance artist, and professional pole dancer. She often works with archival 16mm film, exploring themes of nostalgia, death, memory, and identity. Her current work explores the backstage and domestic lives of exotic dancers and how their private and professional lives are defined through ideas of Feminism, objectification, power, and love. Sydney is one of the founding members of Vancouver-based Iris Film Collective, and the curator of the potluck dinner and artist talk series Special Sunday Supper. Her films and artwork have shown across Canada, Europe and Asia, at venues such as MOCA Taipei, Gabriel Rolt Galerie (Amsterdam), Athens International Film and Video Festival, Antimatter Media Art Festival, Aesthetica Short Film Festival, Access Gallery, Emmedia Gallery, Yinka Shonibare Guest Projects, Vivo Media Arts Centre, Cinema Spectacular, Western Front, Cinemateque Vancouver and the Haida Heritage Centre. She graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA Fine Art First Class Honours in 2011 and from the University of Toronto with a BA in English, Philosophy and Cinema Studies in 2007.

Guest Curator – Sydney Southam

SHOOTING GALLERY PERFORMANCE SERIES OPEN CALL TO CANADIAN ARTISTS

Open to all forms of dance, theatre and/or live art, this is an opportunity to explore ideas in the beginning stages of creation. Priority is given to new ideas, experimentation in movement and interdisciplinary performance, adventurous and interesting work suitable for a low tech studio theatre environment. The call is open to Canadian Artists.

Where: Left of Main, Vancouver, BC, Canada

When: March 28th, 29th & 30th

Deadline for applications: Jan 20th 2019

Selected artists will receive a performance fee, curatorial support, and rehearsal space (based on availability). Please be aware that technical capabilities in the theatre are limited.

To apply please send a short bio or artistic statement, a brief description of the proposed piece including approximate length and two links to recent works toshootinggalleryperformance@gmail.com with ‘Shooting Gallery Submission’ in the subject line.

Artists for our March show will be selected by guest curator Sydney Southam

Submissions are open to:
– artists at any stage of their career
– solo, duet and group pieces
– works between 5 – 15 mins
– performances with minimal technical needs
***Work must be interdisciplinary or experimental in nature.
Curatorial criteria is based on the quality of previous work, unique vision, a range of aesthetic viewpoints, and artists whose work is underrepresented within the Vancouver arts community.

SHOOTING GALLERY PERFORMANCE SERIES OPEN CALL TO CANADIAN ARTISTS

It deserves its own show: a conversation with Lexi Vajda and Elissa Hanson

 

The question that last week’s artist, Nancy, put to Lexi and Elissa was about how their current process was contributing to the trajectories of their individual and collective practices. Lexi answered:

“This is us really trying to discover ways of working that we haven’t experienced before, because we feel like we see and we have friction with the ways that we have been working in other contexts — specifically related to production and commodification of art, exploitation of dancers bodies, all of these things — and I think this is our serious go at figuring out how we want to fall in love with dance again in a way that doesn’t feel shrouded in all of that heaviness. And so it’s actually really pivotal for both of us . . .  Every rehearsal we’re like, ‘Yes, this is the way it needs to be!’”

 


Elissa and Lexi’s process began from a desire to create a space where they could “pour all of [their] selves.” Working on supporting each other, valuing their time together, and following any and all curiosities and desires, they have been fleshing out their process by asking questions like, “What is process that isn’t replicating something that we have experienced and don’t like, or what is process that we don’t know, and how do we find comfort in that and just being there together?”

They have been trying to remain as open as possible to new and different ideas, and also to avoid letting the fact of an impending show cause them to “fall into this ‘making a piece’” mindset where a pressure to produce something becomes more important than the process of doing so. Lexi explained that they have come to understand that “[their] time together is always generative; whether it always feels explicitly generative in a choreographic sense or not, it always feels ‘productive’ (to use the nasty P-word).”

But it has been productive in the choreographic sense. They are working with ideas like digital vs analog, guilty pleasure, catharsis, two- vs three-dimensionality (and beyond), the question of “What is felt space?”, deconstructing the elements of a show, and much more. They told me they don’t want to “block any sort of feeling out” of what they’re working on, and so they have ended up with a wide array of material, essentially using cataloging as a generative method. With this, lists have figured into their process in a significant way, and they listed some of them for me: “a list of guilty pleasure songs, a list of ways to support ourselves in the studio, a list of physical tasks, lists of recent inspirations (books, articles, lectures, theories, friends, people, celebrities), a list of ways to prepare.”

Through this process they have laid out comprehensive understandings of things that are important to them, giving them a firm base from which to build a piece, and also, it seemed to me, an ease in letting their curiosities run wild. Aiming to embrace even their strangest ideas, they are giving space to the small, the bizarre, the pathetic, the ridiculous, to the lo-fi, to frustration, to bad pop, to feeling better, to patience, to humour, to their individual and overlapping histories, to what they need in this moment of their lives. Elissa told me that another catalog they compiled was of “just absolute desires of what [they] think makes a good show,” and this one is, I think, best encapsulated by this bit of dialogue from our interview:

L: “There’s something humorous in the work because —“

E (directly to my recording device): “YOU CAN LAUGH.”

L: “— the way we’ve been working, and what has come out, has just ended up being ridiculous. Like we’re not trying to make ridiculous things, but with the ideas that have entered the room we’re just like, ‘Okay, okay let’s do it.’”

E: “Or, I want that, like why is no one willing to do that?”

L: “We’re going to squirt hair gel on the floor and then dance with it. And there’s this kind of obscene lighting, we’re working with bombastic coloured projection and techno music. There’s some drama.”

E: “There’s some serious garishness. What I feel like it is is, we have this ugly sort of deposit in our bodies, and we’re just letting it, without judgement, just climb out of us and be on the dance floor, and get to have its own show. And that’s it. Like no judgement. It deserves its own show. It does.”

L: “It does. It needs a place to live.”

E: “It’s definitely a dedication to a part of ourselves that just needs some space or something. You know? … It might be insane. I don’t know. I don’t feel… afraid?… of what we’re making, but I definitely feel dedicated to it. I feel dedicated to the fact that we’re just going to do it. And it’s going to happen.”

L: “I feel unapologetic about whatever we do, because I feel like it needs to come out.”

E: “I just always think that if you feel something in you, you can’t be the only one that feels it, so, you know, share it. And someone else will be like, Yeah.”

 

Some of this garishness involved a trip to the Party Bazaar. They went there without knowing exactly what they were looking for, but rather because they “just love that you go to that store to purchase items that are meant to give you a ‘good time,’ like, This is what you need for a party. This is fun. People will love this, this will make people have fun. But they’re kind of horrible . . . Like they are not working very hard but they are literally doing everything they can do.” ‘They’ being the tacky miniature disco balls that Lexi told me “were just there, waiting for us.”

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I loved hearing about the lightness Lexi and Elissa were obviously embracing in their process, perhaps precisely because much of the impetus for their seeking new ways of working was born from troubled relationships with the ever fraught tradition of western contemporary dance. Elissa explained one problematic thing she has often felt:

“I feel like I’ve literally been asked to contort in every single direction to keep as much of myself out of my dance practice as possible. And my body and mind and soul have suffered so much from that. The dance that I’ve always disliked the most [is that which] has nothing to do with the lived experience of a body [because] to me, that’s what dance is. It’s what the body, and lived experience, and what sensation and soma is, and it’s just crazy that this thing [the body] that is this thing [dance] has been missing from this thing [dance] because of what people think this thing should be.”

In response to things like this they have been prioritizing creating a space of care in their rehearsals. They do this in simple ways, like making time for discussion and playing their playlist of guilty pleasure songs while warming up, and also with more complex things like a somatic practice known as TRE, the principles of which are particularly applicable to their goals: Elissa explained that TRE is “a practice that allows you to have resiliency for whatever [a given] experience is, so it’s not even about everything being good, it’s about having the tools to be able to move through whatever, and just be able to go through the process. So there’s like a certain level of acceptance that comes with just being able to experience the [different] elements of yourself; that being like how your body is feeling, how you are feeling, what you are experiencing… Not accepting where you are at or how you are feeling but being able to just feel [those things]… And then, I don’t know — you can move through. And that’s all.”

Lexi told me that this ‘moving through’ is also “related to something that we’re both interested in with regards to performance. Something about being in a certain performance state and being in a certain readiness and presence… I think we’re building a score that makes that accessible to us so that we can really be there — or aiming to. I think that’s a desire that we both have when it comes to performativity, like how do we make this feel really honest.”

Creating, in performance, a space for their truest, most honest selves is something they want to extend to the audience as well. Lexi told me that aside from all the planning they are doing in creating the piece, what they want to be most attuned to when they perform is what is present in that room in that moment. She said, We’re performing a thing, but it really is about everybody who’s there.” They appreciate shows that are not exactly cut and dry. Elissa said she likes it when “things start to leak in between . . .  [when] real life is still present.” She said, “We don’t want [the audience] to forget that we’re humans, and we’re going to let them know that we’re not going to forget that they’re humans.” The relationship of the performance to the audience is also an instance where I think the sentiment is best explained through an excerpt of their dialogue:

L: “We would like to include [the audience].”

E: “Big time.”

L: “Big time.”

E: “We would like to share that space with them like no other.”

L: “Obviously.”

E: “Yeah.”

L: “Yeah. I want to make them feel like how I feel when I’m with you in our friendship.”

E: “Exactly. Yes.”

 

From what I could gather, their friendship is quite a spectacular thing, so I must say that that is something I would love to feel while watching a show.

The very last thing that was said before I stopped recording our conversation was spoken as an afterthought, only peripherally related to what we had been speaking about in that moment, and it was, “Where does the value lie?” I had hardly noticed it at the time, but it stuck with me when I listened to the recording later, perhaps because, though we had discussed many things which we all considered to be of value, this question never got explicitly answered. Maybe the value is in something as ephemeral as the space Lexi and Elissa are working to create for the audience, or maybe it is somehow in the almost pathetically cheap objects they are using. Maybe it is in the feelings they are allowing themselves to move through, or in the lists they’ve been making that will remain as artifacts after the performance. Maybe it is in all of these things, or maybe it is elsewhere entirely. In any case, as Elissa said, “We’re just going to do it. And it’s going to happen.” Maybe the true value is in that.

 

Just a few more days til this exciting show! Tickets still available at https://squareup.com/store/shooting-gallery-performance.

More info about the show is available on the Facebook event page, and you can follow us on Instagram at @shootinggalleryperformance.

 

Thanks for reading,

Francesca Frewer, guest curator

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