Five questions with Miguel Ángel Hernández

Hernandez Miguel AngelIFOA: Why did you choose to write a novel to talk about contemporary art?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: I work as an art critic and historian and I had written a huge number of texts on contemporary art from an analytical point of view. But I felt myself doing art autopsies, like forensics, feeling that something was missing in my approach to art. I needed to introduce emotions, intensity, the real experience of art. I needed to make art works in real life. And I needed to move the discussion about some problems of contemporary art (the body, the self, social engagement, pain, death…) out from the world of art, to connect with a larger audience beyond the world of art experts and amateurs. So I decided to write a novel in which contemporary art could act and have a seminal role in real life. Because, in the end, art is always about life, even if sometimes art criticism makes us believe that it is just about art.


IFOA: Is your character, Marcos, an artist after all?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: He is a student of Fine Arts, so even if he wants to escape from the idea of being an artist he can’t avoid it. His research about migration looks like a work of art, his own action in Escape Attempt could be considered a performance. He decides in the end to choose life instead of art, but this decision, if you think of it carefully, is also an artistic decision: contemporary art is full of those kind of acts of rejection. Conceptual Art is sometimes about that. So in a certain way Marcos is close to being a conceptual artist. Maybe he can’t escape from art.


IFOA: Why did you choose to focus on invisibility & immigration?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: I was interested as an art critic in both subjects, but they were separated in my work. I wrote a PhD on “Antivisual Art”, the forms in which contemporary art avoid visibility fighting against the pleasure and domination of sight. And I curated an exhibition on Migratory Aesthetics and the ways in which contemporary art embodies the experience of migration. When I started writing my novel I realized that both interests were close. For one of the central issues in immigration is precisely invisibility. And I decided to work about how we perceive immigration in visual terms, how something can be invisible even if it is in front of our eyes, or how sometimes you need to hide, to erase, to efface in order to make the absence visible.


IFOA: Should art have boundaries? Is there unethical art?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: I think the limits of art are the legal limits. Art is not different from other jobs. It is not a state of exception. An artist is a worker, not someone that can do everything she/he wants. When you think of art as a separate world with no boundaries at all in the end you are thinking of an art without political agency. I prefer to think of an art engaged in social reality, that’s to say, an art that plays a role in the realm of politics. And that is an art that has social and legal boundaries and only then can it try to expand, subvert or reform them. But an art without boundaries is a non-effective art.

The question of ethics also has another answer, because art and ethics are separate domains, at least on what refers to modern art. From Courbet on, modern art is free from ethics as a coercive force. This means that an artist can do a good work of art that is not a good ethical action. That’s exactly what happens with Jacobo Montes, the artist in Escape Attempt. His works are valuable and full of potency as works of art, but they are problematic in ethical terms. The whole novel is about the tension between these two things. Because sometimes you have to choose: to be in the side art or to be in the side of ethics. And that decision, of course, is complicated.


IFOA: What’s next for you?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: I published my second novel last year, The Moment of Danger (El instante de peligro). It is a reflection about the memory of images, polyamory and the necessity of slow time. The novel remains in the realm of contemporary art and in a certain way could be considered a sort of second part of Escape Attempt, in the sense that the main character is close to Marcos, but in his forties and with the feeling that all the dreams of his youth have been shattered.

And now I am writing a non-fiction novel about a hard moment in my life twenty years ago. It is a true-crime novel in which art for the first time has nothing to do. I am entering an absolutely new and dangerous territory for me. And I must confess that I am not exactly enjoying the process. Sometimes literature is painful, but necessary.

Miguel Ángel Hernández @ IFOA:

Miguel Ángel Hernández, Suzana Tratnik and Ruth Ware discuss the journeys of their characters with the Toronto Star’s Deborah Dundas on Tuesday, October 25 at 6:30pm. For tickets click here!

From Spain to New York and Canada, from painting to performance art and music, Miguel Ángel Hernández, Molly Prentiss, and Eric Beck Rubin explore the lives of artists and their surroundings on Saturday, October 29 at 8pm. For tickets click here!




Five questions with Sylvia Legris

Legris SylviaIFOA: Why did you choose this title for your collection?

Sylvia Legris: I have an intensely vivid and visual imagination and a tendency to brood and obsess. I can freak myself out imagining what might be going on inside my own body. Blood streams afloat with islets of fat, bone islands, the recurring skirmish of muscle and bone in my shin-splints’d tibia. I simultaneously wish I had X-ray vision and could see under my own skin and am relieved that I can’t. The title to me is two-edged. Much of The Hideous Hidden is about anatomy—the poems probe into all that gross stuff, innards and viscera, blood and slime, that is largely hidden from sight. However, my intention in these poems is to unearth the music inherent in the body’s icky inner-workings, effectively displacing (or temporarily hiding) the hideous.


IFOA: What elements of anatomy attract and/or inspire you?

Sylvia Legris: Hoo ah!…connective tissue…the glue that holds it all together.


IFOA: Who was the poet that inspired you as a young writer?

Sylvia Legris: While Dr. Seuss basically taught me to read, and certainly attuned my ear and tongue to bendy, nonsensical language, I think that listening had as much—maybe even more—of an influence on the would-be poet in me than reading did (granted, I was a voracious reader from an early age). I was obsessed with cartoons, Mel Blanc’s many voices (my awareness that the Road Runner’s nasally beep was actually a Meep Meep). Even Yogi Bear’s distinctive inflection (“Look’s more/like a sycamore/to me”). Cartoons made me aware of the potential subtleties and nuances of the human voice. I do a pretty good impression of Elmer Fudd singing.

IFOA: What is the ultimate purpose of poetry?

Sylvia Legris: The purpose of poetry, ultimate or otherwise, for a poet writing in North America is no doubt completely different than for a poet writing in a country that doesn’t have the freedom of expression that we do. For me, the purpose of poetry is that it pushes me to pay close attention to everything in as minute detail as possible.

IFOA: What have you learned about language through writing?

Sylvia Legris: I’ve learned how beautifully elastic language is. However, I’ve also learned how kindergartenish my grasp of it is. I’ve learned I’ve got a lot to learn.


Sylvia Legris @ IFOA:

Hear Japanese writer Takashi Hiraide alongside Canadian poets Sylvia Legris and Sarah Pinder read from their latest works on Sunday, October 23 at 5pm. For tickets click here!

Re-awaken your love of poetry as you hear celebrated poets Phil Hall, Maureen Hynes, Sylvia Legris and Mark Wagenaar read from their new collections on Wednesday, October 26 at 8pm. For tickets click here!



Five Questions with…Nick Drnaso

Drnaso NickIFOA: How long did it take you to complete Beverly?

Nick Drnaso: About three years. Then a few months were spent editing and revising some of the artwork and dialogue, and laying out the book with a lot of assistance from Tracy Hurren and others at Drawn and Quarterly. The release date was just about four years after I started the first page.

IFOA: What comes first, the written story or the drawings?

Nick Drnaso: I always begin with the written story in a document on the computer, but I usually start drawing pretty soon after the writing begins, so it’s sort of like the art is always trying to catch up to the written story. In a way, it’s good that comics take so long to draw. Moments of tedium – ruling out panel borders and scanning artwork – are actually the best times to really critically examine what you’re working on, to try and catch any overlooked opportunities or unexplored avenues.

IFOA: As you probably know, this year the Festival is highlighting graphic novels. What do you love most about graphic novels?

Nick Drnaso: That’s a wide open question. I’m actually having trouble answering that. Some of the best comics stir a feeling in me that is similar to a great film, sometimes they’re more akin to a great album, and some feel more in line with literature or poetry. Come to think of it, there are some graphic novels that read similarly to a photo album or a yearbook. Or a fine art monograph. So I guess that’s my answer. They’re great because they’re malleable. They can adapt to fit the whims of the artist.

IFOA: What artist or writer inspires you?

Nick Drnaso: A few weeks ago I visited Roger Brown’s home and studio in Chicago, which has been preserved since he died in 1997. He’s one of my favorite painters. It was surreal to walk through his home and see the way he adorned nearly every inch of his walls with unusual artifacts, pieces from friends and fellow artists, strange outsider art, toys, and other ephemera.

A short list of things I’ve read recently: Showa: 1926-1939 by Shigeru Mizuki, The Fiancee and Other Stories by Chekhov, Deep Blues by Robert Palmer and Bright-Eyed at Midnight by Leslie Stein.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Nick Drnaso: I’ve been working on another book since January of 2015. So far it’s going pretty well. I’ll hopefully be finished by the end of 2017, but that’s just an estimate.


Nick Drnaso is part of the Five Ways exhibit opening tonight at Harbourfront Centre and will take part in the Five Artists Five Ways: The Modern Graphic Novel round table at the Festival.

Five Questions with The Word On The Street Organizers

Word on the Street 2015 (2)

IFOA: You are a small team making a BIG event happen. What’s the hardest part?

The Word On The Street
: Probably making sure the office keeps working and doesn’t just read the festival library. We’re not kidding. The whole team is really just a bunch of word nerds,so with a ton of great books at our fingertips this year, it’s sometimes difficult to stay on task. Some of us also have a tough time not nerding out when speaking to childhood heroes, ie, Kenneth Oppel, or new favourite authors, ie. Nathan Adler. Apparently the hardest part is just being too geeky.

IFOA: This is the biggest The Word On The Street has ever been. What are the newest additions to the festival?

The Word On The Street
: We have two new stages this year.The Genre Zone Stage is brand new, with programming that audiences have been wanting for a long time. This is the must-attend stage for fans of Canadian science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and comic books. The Canadian Magazines Stage, which hasn’t been a stage at The Word On The Street for a few years, has been revived with an injection of pure excitement. There’ll be panels discussing a wide range of Magazine topics from designing the Canadian identity, living a greener life, and even a Zine race!

IFOA: Can each of you recommend one thing we cannot miss at this year’s festival?

The Word On The Street

  • Loribeth, Programming Assistant: Is there a better way to spend the day than on a boat with André Alexis and Gary Barwin talking about boaty, piratey things and sailing around Toronto’s waterfront? I think not. A Pirates’s Life for Me on the Author Cruises is the event I’ll be dreaming of all day.
  • Emily, Volunteer Coordinator: Without question, the TVOKids LIVE! Stage. Even as a full grown adult, OddSquad is the funniest show I’ve ever seen. I’ll be sneaking away to make sure I’m there. There’s also so many activities for families, where kids can run around and be kids which is probably the best part of the festival for me.
  • Justin, Marketing Coordinator: Make sure you’re at the Toronto Star Tent for the talk between Mitch Potter and Thomas Walkom, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump: What it Means for Canada. I have the feeling this one will be a show stopper (I mean the event, not the presidency…I think).
  • Katie: Event Coordinator: I’m getting my sister to take copious notes at Purely Pumpkin with Allison Day at the Cooks ‘n’ Books Stage. Allison is right. Pumpkin doesn’t have to be just seasonal anymore. I want to know how to make that happen. And free samples of pumpkin flavoured goodies?! Yes please!
  • Evan, Festival Director: Maybe it’s obvious that I would have a penchant for the visual, but our panel featuring some of the best indie comics creators in the city, The6ix in Four Colours, is an event every comic-lover should attend. Found on the Genre Zone Stage, Jason Loo, Nathan Page, Drew Shannon, and Leisha Riddel are going to show why Toronto is a centre for comic innovation.

IFOA: We are really intrigued by the Author Cruises. Can you tell us more?

The Word On The Street
: We take a lot of pride in this stage because there’s nothing else like it in the country. Audiences are able to go on hour long boat cruises throughout the day on the gorgeous Tall Ship Kajama with various panels of renowned authors. Because of this amazing experience, this is the only stage at the festival that’s ticketed, but it is well worth the price. You can buy tickets in advance for any of our four Author Cruises.

IFOA: What do you love most about The Word On The Street Toronto festival?

The Word On The Street: The opportunity to share something we love with so many people. It’s still so encouraging to us that over 200,000 people come out year after year to celebrate reading and literature, and that we get to be a highlight in many Canadian’s reading lives. No one will say “print is dead” when they see the excitement in the air during the festival. There’s something special in being part of the literary energy of not only Toronto, but of Canada.

Five Questions with Chris Hedges

Hedges, Chris

IFOA: Can you tell us a bit more about what you will be discussing at your keynote address: The Price of Truth in Journalism in a Post-Fact World at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference at IFOA?

Chris Hedges: The decline of print as a medium to impart information has given primacy to the image, and therefore the skillful manipulation of emotion.  The electronic mediums that impart images eschew complexity and nuance.  They speak in easily digestible cliches and replace information and fact with entertainment and spectacle. This is the template for all forms of totalitarianism, including our corporate totalitarianism.

IFOA: You currently teach prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey. What is your favourite and least favourite part of this role?

Chris Hedges: My favorite part is teaching brilliant students with a deep hunger to learn. My least favorite part is dealing with the prison administration.

IFOA: You speak English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Latin and Ancient Greek. Is there another language you would like to learn?

Chris Hedges: Russian.

IFOA: Can you describe your time as a foreign correspondent in fewer than 10 words?

Chris Hedges: A study in human depravity and violence.

IFOA: Foreign correspondent, author, professor, ordained minister. What’s next for you?

Chris Hedges: That’s enough.


See Chris Hedges deliver the keynote address at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference.

Get your tickets here.

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