Collages in the grocery store and robots on the street

If you’ve been wondering what Nuit Blanche — the one-night arts festival to be held in Ottawa in September — will be like, then go to Chinatown on Saturday.

Chinatown Remixed” goes on for a month, but the opening day is the fullest, with indoor, month-long exhibitions augmented by outdoor, temporary installations. It’s not precisely like Nuit Blanche — Remixed has an added element of neighbourhood-celebration — but both have a day when artists are outdoors and offering all sorts of passing surprises. Robots that you can control.

The robots will be on Somerset Street on Saturday afternoon, courtesy of The Latest Artists, otherwise known as the husband-and-wife team of Deborah and Andrew O’Malley. There’ll be two robots (in costume, at least) with remote-control units, which passersby use to make the robots “move forward, backward, sideways and jump,” O’Malley says on a Facebook page set up for the event. “Challenging the notion of control, the remote also has a special ‘autonomous’ button that enables the robots to choose their own actions.”

Last year at Remixed the Latest Artists spray-painted gold a large pile of trash in an alley to create an incongruous sight. I wasn’t able to see last year’s performance, but this year I intend to order their robots to take me down the street for dim sum, and to pay the bill.

Remixed puts art into places where it usually wouldn’t be, such as “coffee shops, tea houses, restaurants, grocery stores, opticians, laundromats, travel agencies, gift shops, and hair salons.” The month-long exhibitions include sculptures by Mat Dubé at Ji Xiang Yuan, and abstract paintings by Andrea Warren at Oriental Charm that will explore five key colours in Chinese, and how they warn against over-indulgence. There’ll be works by Daniel Martelock, Jennifer Amenta and Marisa Gallemit. Many more exhibits are planned for businesses stretched several blocks along Somerset.

The opening day’s events range from the expected — music by Brian Simms, May-Jun, Rise Ashen and others, and a Chinese dragon dance troupe — to the perhaps unexpected.

Jenny McMaster will be at the Daily Grind (601 Somerset) “dressed as a slightly eccentric Edwardian tea drinker,” and serving coffee and tea to passersby from pots “especially selected for their tendency to drip,” over handmade paper, while artist and visitors chat. Later, McMaster will hand-sew the stained paper, “transforming the drip patterns into continents and the cup rings into compass roses,” thereby creating “maps” of the “social space … between the artist and visitors.” The maps can later be seen online, or at an exhibition.

Less esoteric will be Desert Rose and the Rosettes Bellydancers, by the Chinatown arch. At 1:30 p.m., at Empress and Somerset, you can see the truly unique Mike Essoudry’s Mash Potato Mashers, “Ottawa’s craziest mobile horn dance riot.”

The exhibitions will include puppets — by Mary Spicer at Double Happiness BBQ, whose figures are a sort of homage to her late grandmother, and by Gabe Thirwall at Ben Ben Restaurant, where the handmade figures in the “Political Circus” will “encourage political literacy through playful fun.”

One of the longest works on display ­— measured both by time and physical size — will be by Yvon Villarceau, a gentleman who lives in south Ottawa.

“This collage is a collage that I started seven years ago in a studio in Stittsville,” Villarceau says in an interview. “I was part of a group of women artists. I was the only man. I said ‘my name is Yvon,’ when I called, they said OK.”

The collage is made of thousands of clippings from Ottawa newspapers, cut and glued in layer upon layer, year after year. It’s now 72 feet long. He starts to unravel it in his Barrhaven living room and I wonder if the other end is still in Stittsville.

There is little text on the collage. Villarceau has gone for colour more than words, and when colours he added a couple of years earlier fade, he adds new layers of new colours as contrast. “It’s like a painting, a long process.”

It’s called Ephemerida, from the Latin for daily, “like in daily news,” he says. “It’s to express the ephemerality in life, and in art.”

He’ll have it suspended across the ceiling of Wah Shing, a grocery at 835 Somerset, where it’ll span from one side of the shop to the other. On the wall below one end of the massive roll will be Villarceau’s painting of the Chinatown arch — a roll of something fragile and transitory leading to something strong and permanent. He wants you to look at it and think, “What do you want the world to be tomorrow?”

I refuse to answer the question, directly. I’m going to order a robot to answer for me.

What: Chinatown Remixed

When: Official opening 1:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 12 to June 12.

Where: In the shops and alleys of Somerset west.

More: chinatownremixed.ca

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