In two very distinct shows, Maritime Museum exhibits work by artists inspired by the century-old disaster
Andrew Danson Danushevsky took photographs of the graves of Titanic victims buried in Halifax for an exhibit called An Earnest Price: 150 Grave Stories from Halifax, which is on view in the foyer of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic until July 2. (TED PRITCHARD / Staff)
PHOTOGRAPHER Andrew Danson Danushevsky has always been intrigued by the Titanic and has had dramatic life experiences of his own on the sea. He was born on the English Channel and sailed to Canada with his mother, a war bride.
During that voyage, his baby carriage rolled towards the rails.
“I was just about to go between the rail when this guy grabbed me in mid-air,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L.
For the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, Danson Danushevsky decided to photograph the gravestones of all 150 victims of the Titanic buried in three Halifax cemeteries: Mount Olivet, Baron de Hirsch and Fairview Lawn.
Danson Danushevsky calls his show at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic An Earnest Price, after 17-year-old Ernest Price, a boy who got a job as a barman on the Titanic and did not survive the disaster.
Also, “everyone who sailed on that ship paid an earnest price, whether with their lives or the huge sums of money to be on it.”
Danson Danushevsky is more interested in the experience of the ordinary individual than the wealthy and the famous aboard the Titanic.
He was all alone when he was in the cemeteries photographing graves.
“I could feel spirits coming from some and others didn’t affect me. I can’t explain it.”
Some of the most powerful feelings he experienced were from the tombstones inscribed with a number and not a name — the graves of the unidentified victims whose stories have never been told.
“I started late in 2008, and in 2009 my father died and in 2010 my mother died and I was in the middle of the project,” said Danson Danushevsky.
The project became more spiritual than historic “and embodied with my own mourning process.”
To take these images, he used a hand-held, point-and-shoot camera, so each photograph is slightly different.
“None of them are identical. I didn’t want them to look catalogued because people are individuals. I wanted to illustrate the fact no one is the same.”
Apart from the story of Ernest Price, Danson Danushevsky is also moved by the story of the Black Squad of engineers and boiler room staff who kept the ship going so more people could be rescued, by the grave of the unknown child, now known, who “represented all these young people who lost their lives,” and by the crew, most of whom went down with their ship.
No one knows exactly why — whether there was no room on the lifeboats, or crew members were too busy helping passengers, or they just couldn’t get out.
“We don’t know these answers. It’s the unknown stories. It’s the questions I find more intriguing than obvious answers.”
Danson Danushevsky’s work has appeared in 65 exhibitions in Canada, and he has organized photographic exhibitions in Cuba, Germany and the Czech Republic.
HALIFAX ARTIST Susan Tooke’s interest in the Titanic began when she was a child.
“My grandmother had a copy of this book, The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters. And when I visited her in small-town Ontario, I remember reading it and being completely fascinated and struck by the enormous tragedy of it.”
She turned to that 1912 book, which she found in her late father-in-law’s bookcase and which now sits in her studio, to create Depths of Sorrow. It’s a multi-media performance with dancer-choreographer Veronique MacKenzie and musician Lukas Pearse at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on Monday and is part of the Night of the Bells on April 14.
The trio’s experimentation in two- and three-dimensional imagery, large-scale projections, sound, dance, infrared capture and real-time video processing creates ghostly figures in projection as MacKenzie dances on stage.
When the three performed in the Kinetic Studio Series in January, scientist Henrietta Mann, who specializes in the rusticles on the Titanic, was in the audience.
“She saw the ghost-like images that the infrared capture was able to transfer into visible light. She right away associated them with the ghosts from the Titanic tragedy.”
Mann suggested the trio create a piece for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking.
“It struck me as a wonderful opportunity to tell that tragic story,” said Tooke.
Depths of Sorrow is “the story of a fictional woman who boards the Titanic in Southampton with all the optimism of the day and then, of course, she wakes up to the striking of the iceberg.”
“She’s not a survivor so it’s quite a dramatic tale and very emotional. We’ve used underwater photography to capture Veronique the dancer underwater, and that’s very emotional.”
Technician and videographer Tim Tracey, who has been teaching Tooke, shot MacKenzie in a nightgown in the Centennial Pool in Halifax.
“There were so many people that did not survive and that did not have the chance to tell their story. This stands in for that.”
In her Elm Street studio full of her bold Nova Scotia landscape paintings, a tiny blue bird named Dora and a sleek clean desk with a computer, Tooke has spent the last month and a half drawing and animating Depths of Sorrow.
“It’s meant ramping up my ability,” said Tooke, who has been studying animation and video editing.
She made drawings and paintings based on historic photographs of the Titanic and its passengers, placed them in three different layers on separated plates of glass and then moved her ghostly figures on vellum amid the “sets,” as well as moving the sets themselves.
“I would move and take the next snap, move and take the next snap.”
She put these sequences into Photoshop to further manipulate them, “and I came up with an image that looks like a woodcut, and using sepia tones it takes it back to 1912.” Intentionally, her images look like storybook pictures from 1912.
Dancer MacKenzie, shot against a green screen, is inserted inside these storybook pictures as a person in motion inside a ghostly narrative.
“She’s performing Monday. And you can see her dance and her image captured by infrared camera and translated to visible light, and she can dance a duet with her video self.”
Audio-visual composer and technical wizard Pearse is creating a score using sound sampling and snippets of music from the day as well as composing traditional music.
“There are so many layers to it. It’s so intense and we’ve been rehearsing late hours — we went till two in the morning the other night — making sure everything comes together from the technical to the creative end.”
Tooke finds working in this new way informs her other work as a painter and award-winning illustrator. This project “has got me wondering what else we can apply our experience to. This collaboration is really exciting and is pushing me in other directions.”
Tooke, MacKenzie and Pearse are working toward an installation using all these elements called Motion Activated at Saint Mary’s University in May 2013.
An Earnest Price: 150 Grave Stories from Halifax is on view in the foyer of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic until July 2. Depths of Sorrow is performed twice Monday, at 8 and 9 p.m., in the Small Craft Gallery of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and may be viewed from inside and outside the museum. Admission is free. Depths of Sorrow is also part of the Night of the Bells on April 14 at Grand Parade.
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