New Forms Festival Sept. 13-16. Events scheduled for the Masters of Digital Media building at the Centre for Digital Media campus on 577 Great Northern Way, as well as the Waldorf Hotel and New Brighton Special at New Brighton Park. This year, as part of the International Cities of Advanced Sound (ICAS) initiative, exhibition artists will address the theme of Living Labs. For more information on NFF12 visit 2012.newformsfestival.com.
Vancouver’s New Forms Festival connects the dots locally as part of a world-wide international, multi-media festival movement exploring cutting-edge artistic practice and providing a platform for dialogue and artistic growth._Now in its 12th year the fiercely independent enterprise makes new media art, music, film, technology-based installation and performance accessible to a wider audience. Founder Malcolm Levy spoke to the North Shore News about what to expect at NFF12 this weekend.
North Shore News: The New Forms Festival has had quite a run. How did it get started back in 2000?
Malcolm Levy: It was really a response to a larger group in the community who were getting into contemporary art and electronic music. It was kind of a grassroots festival the first couple of years and then since then it has grown appropriately as the culture has caught up with it to some extent around technology, around electronic music around media art that looks at these different forms of art itself.
North Shore News: You say as the culture has caught up. Do you mean Vancouver in particular?
Malcolm Levy: Festivals like New Forms have been going back 25 to 30 years in Europe but in North America New Forms is one of the oldest of its kind. Mutek in Montreal is maybe a year older. For a festival that does what we do we’re actually one of the oldest in Canada which is interesting — it’s just how culture takes time to move from place to place.
North Shore News: You’re from Vancouver but you studied in Montreal._
Malcolm Levy: Yes at McGill and that was absolutely influential with regard to some of the aesthetics the art forms, and everything else, New Forms was founded upon. We were even doing events in Montreal that were kind of similar to the events that started New Forms.
North Shore News: What types of challenges do you run into putting on events in Vancouver versus Montreal?_
Malcolm Levy: To be honest I love doing things in Vancouver. We have an incredible community here. We have an amazing group of curators and the only challenge has been the time it takes for works to evolve and so on but as that’s happened we’ve seen it really grow in a very natural and organic way. There’s some challenges around some of the laws and restrictions with regard to different events but that’s getting better and better all the time as well. It’s an ongoing process — we’re a young city and we’re all growing together.
North Shore News: What type of restrictions?_
Malcolm Levy: Time, capacity, assembly. There’s just a lot of different issues that were created 30 years ago before a lot of these events were happening so I think the city’s just catching up to a lot of that currently. It’s just a part of the overall ecology of the city growing.
North Shore News: How has the festival evolved over the years?_
Malcolm Levy: It’s grown a lot in size. We have a very consistent curatorial group that work on the festival. We’ve had more and more artists involved year by year and also our audiences have grown as these art forms have grown. We see an increase in people coming as well as audiences that are older still attending that attended 10 years ago. What we are seeing is a multigenerational festival in a sense.
North Shore News: Did the Olympic year help at all?_
Malcolm Levy: Well you know I was curating CODE Live during the Olympics which was the digital part of the Cultural Olympiad. The Olympics was interesting because I think it gave the city a chance to see some of these events in a larger context so in that sense I think it gave the city a way of thinking about things that wasn’t necessarily there before. On the other hand there’s been some funding issues that happened post-Olympics and that’s been very hard for the cultural community. I think people felt certain impacts both positive and negative from an experience like that and I think that’s the reality of any kind of event like that.
North Shore News: The Waldorf seems to have been something of a home for New Forms the last couple of years. How has the relationship worked out?
Malcolm Levy: Thomas Anselmi and Danny Fazio and the group that are the directors at the Waldorf have been part of the community for a long time. It’s really fun to work with them and we have a lot of mutual respect. We decided even though our main focus is at Great Northern Way this year to still do some events at the Waldorf including the conference and a daytime event because it’s always nice to continue those links. We also partner with the Waldorf on ongoing events throughout the year. They’re working hard to create something in the city that’s very unique and when people are going to that level I think it’s important to support those things. New Forms is really about that kind of community as a whole all the curators also produce and promote different events as artists in their own right and it all helps towards a larger goal.
North Shore News: This year the Waldorf is hosting the Saturday conference._
Malcolm Levy: The conference we’re really excited about. We had conferences in earlier years and then the last three years it hasn’t been much of a focus. This year we felt it was important to bring the conference element back to the festival. I think people are really interested in learning about different aspects of contemporary art and what people are doing and creating as well as how festivals work and how labels work in North America and how that evolved as well as hearing from someone like Steve Goodman about the AUDiNT installation. He’s one of the foremost theorists in sound culture in the world having the opportunity to have these kinds of people here is just incredible and it just makes sense if we have the opportunity to help grow the dialogue in the city.
North Shore News: There must be a lot involved logistically in making the festival happen._
Malcolm Levy: There is a lot involved we have an amazing operations team which really helps us to get there. Michelle O’Brian who is our operations director she also works on Transmediale which is one of the main media art festivals in the world. We’re really fortunate to have someone like her there this year.
North Shore News: This year’s theme is Living Labs at New Forms. What does that involve?
Malcolm Levy: Living Labs is a theme that really looks at a festival in a way that’s almost like a laboratory. There’s a number of different installations that are going to be running during the festival that are allowing people to interact and participate with the installations themselves. So within this context it’s almost like taking ideas from contemporary art and bringing them to the audience. A lot of the installations you might see are ongoing during the festival. They might need you to interact in order for the installation to work. It might be something where you watch a robot draw or you walk into a room and feel a sonic bass without actually hearing anything. They’re things that bring you in and make you think not just about the space differently but the world we live in differently. There’s a group that we are a part of with other festivals around the world called ICAS International Cities of Advanced Sound and within this group Living Labs was the major thematic programming over the past year. New Forms as well as Mutek, Club Transmediale in Berlin, TodaysArt in The Hague, Unsound in Krakow and FutureEverything in Manchester have all taken on this theme and other projects and partnerships have worked around it as well so it’s really interesting because everybody’s looked and dissected it in a different way.
North Shore News: As part of the collaborative process do some of the artists travel to the different festivals as well?
Malcolm Levy: Absolutely. We have certain acts coming this year that have played at those other festivals. There are certain installations that have been at the other festivals. It’s not essential it’s really about everyone’s take with regard to the overall thematic and concept. And what’s actually more interesting is seeing how different people look at that and the different artists that people bring in.
North Shore News: In terms of NFF12 there’s a huge schedule of music acts performing during the festival including Actress from the U.K. and a French electro showcase._
Malcolm Levy: Actress, Kode9, Daniel Bell, Beautiful Swimmers, Kevin McPhee, Veronica Vasicka, Legowelt, Pilooski, it’s a really exciting year for the festival. It’s our most internationally conceived lineup to date. The curators work together on a year-round basis creating this line-up. This isn’t just picked by who’s coming to town or what might be happening. It’s really a much larger thought. We start talking about who’s coming next year now and we make a lot of our decisions very early on in order to conceive of how the entire flow of the festival will work not just for us but for the audience as well. It’s really for us about building that narrative and that narrative is built around the art within the festival as well as the music. We really encourage people to come for the entire weekend so they can take in that narrative and see how it plays out for them specifically.
North Shore News: Scanning the schedule that looks like an epic narrative._
Malcolm Levy: We like to create a narrative that might be a bit meta in a sense but in that way you can check out and take in what you want.