This is the first in a series of features celebrating people in our community. It was inspired by my granddad (Nick Blatchford), a journalist who loved stories about people and their everyday lives. I’m excited to start the series off with Bethany Riordan-Butterworth and her recent project: Storage Compartments, an animated short that celebrates small things that lift us out of difficult times (the sparkling flags at a car dealership, a breath of fresh air, a special cat, cakes!).
The project came to be through the Centre for Art Tapes’ Media Arts Scholarship program (www.centreforarttapes.ca). Other scholars working alongside Bethany included: MJ Sakurai, Leslie Menagh, Kate McKenna, Bonita Hatcher, Leah Girado, François Gaudet, Suzi Cameron, and Jacinte Armstrong.
I tracked Bethany down for an interview after Storage Compartments had its debut at CFAT’s 20th Anniversary Media Arts Scholarship screening earlier this year:
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c: What inspired Storgage Compartments? How does it relate to your earlier work? (Can you remind me of the name of your book for the Eyelevel Gallery’s “If It Ain't Funny, It Ain’t Art” show?)
b: The animation was created through the New Media Scholarship Program at the Centre For Art Tapes. The idea for Storage Compartments comes from a series of daily drawings called Bends and Stretches that I created for a show at the eyelevel last spring. In both pieces I celebrate the mundane, the everyday, giving myself and others hope. The work is about realizing we're not alone and keeping our collective chins up, like "okay this is hard, to be alive, and it is scary, and no one is gonna do it for you so do your best and even though it may not seem like it's your best do it anyway. don't think too much, just do, do and do". Life was an inspiration for the animation. Documenting my reality in an imagined way.
c: Several people I spoke with after the screening felt that they could relate to the character's ebb and flow. Are there things in the film that you feel are especially relevant to people living in Halifax?
b: When I started this piece I spoke with my mentor about making it a love letter to Halifax and he was like "well, you should make it closer to your heart. Involve aspects of the city if you want, but the strength of the piece lies in the fact that this could be anywhere. To address Halifax creates a limit and you don't want that". And it was interesting for me to learn that, that distance can create closeness. So regarding relevance, the only ties to Halifax are that it was made here and I love it here. And I think people who live here can imagine where I was when I was making the drawings, or they can recognize certain elements, but really anyone anywhere can relate to the ebbs
c: Was there a particular image or part of the narrative that popped into your mind first?
b: Well at first, Storage Compartments was going to incorporate all sorts of different ideas, and themes, and styles. It was pretty vague and all over the map. And again, my mentor was like "Hey! You have this amazingly strong body of work! AND you have an endearing character! Use these things to your advantage!" So I realized he was right and I
created a more focused piece. At first I was hesitant to use the character, I don't really know why, because I've been making work with it for a few years now. Eventually I got over it and I really got into the idea. The character was a big part of the piece, but the biggest part was my desire to document things. I guess in the fall I was heartsick while I made the video, so the tenderness I felt was translated into the piece. I was thinking about fleeting happiness, and times when I felt at peace, and wanting to document those feelings, as well as sadness, in an honest and relaxed way. No angst amidst angst, see? I also wanted to include my grandpa. I've had a message of his on my answering machine for almost 3 years now, where he sings to me. And I wanted to incorporate that into the piece somehow. I'm glad it became coherent because when I first met with my mentor he was like "so what's the deal?" and I was like "oh a little bit of column a, a little bit of column b, my grandpa, this cool thing, I dunno..."
c: Tell me about CFAT. What was the creative process like? What has the experience inspired you to do next?
b: CFAT was awesome. The people there are so warm and supportive and patient! So patient. The program began in July, there were 10 scholarship recipients originally. We met a lot in the summer, going to workshops about all aspects of media: video, flash, sound, editing, story, etc. It was a real jumpstart. Each of us was paired with a
mentor, too, a current video/media artist with similar interests/working processes/etc. I was lucky enough to be paired with Khanhthuan Tran, a great artist currently on a working break from Toronto. He was really inspiring because he made my goals seem quite attainable. The creative process was hard, as always. You'd think I'd be used to it by now but it really destroyed me. Learning new techniques takes a long time, too- you always end up going about things in a convoluted, roundabout way- meanwhile, people are like "you can just do it like this" and you're like "oh". There were certainly some tears but I got through it!
What's next? I've been looking into similar programs, or programs that are a step up from this one. I'd like to expand my understanding of animation. Over the past few months I've learned so much but I need to keep applying my skills in order to get a handle on everything. I definitely am inspired to draw more, which is really exciting. I'm
looking at programs offered through the NFB, too.
c: Are there other people or projects that influence your work? Other inspiring people you'd encourage me to talk to?
b: Most definitely. I'm inspired by all the people around me, which is why I'm so happy here in Halifax. People do so many amazing things, no problem. There is drive and initiative here, but more importantly there is the desire to help each other. It's a small arts community but wicked things happen because people have time and energy to
participate. I've been really inspired by people who do things regardless, especially people who are like "I like art so I'm gonna do art" no holds barred. At school people can get really caught up in some scene, and it is really refreshing to hang out with old folks and kids who are like "what are you talking about?" It's nice to unlearn things.
That's what I'm talking about. Unlearning to keep learning, and having fun.
c: Thank you, Bethany!