Bennett Bedoukian is a musician and letterpress printer based in Havelock, Ontario. Local arts patrons may know him through his solo experimental drumming project Cold Eye; as one half of Horseman, Pass By, a fusion of electronics, drums, and cello; or as the person behind O Underworld! Prints and Press.
Bedoukian’s residency The Hidden Anatomy explores improvisation, experimentation and serendipity as part of art itself. Incorporating live and recorded performance elements along with printed essays, the residency exemplifies the humble and curious spirit of the workshop while reflecting on Peterborough’s history as a crucible for the creative arts.
Like any performance artist during the pandemic, Bedoukian has faced a number of challenges leading up to and during his residency.
“It was supposed to happen in 2020? 2021? I can’t remember anymore. Time doesn’t mean anything anymore,” he told Peterborough Currents with a slight smile. This winter’s Omicron wave forced him to adapt the in-person elements of his project, which would have seen live collaboration between various factions of the local arts community. “It just became untenable to delay it again, so we had to figure out how to move forward.”
Then, the last two weeks of his six-week residency were moved from Artspace into the Sadleir House dining hall.
“Unfortunately due to the mixed-use nature of our building Bennett has relocated to Sadleir House,” said Lucas Cabral, artistic director and curator at Artspace. “We began receiving escalating [noise] complaints recently, and did everything in our power to come up with a solution that worked for everyone. We continue to work with our landlords to find an amicable solution for future projects and events in the space.”
“Sadleir House is excited to be able to provide space and resources for the completion of Bennett Bedoukian’s The Hidden Anatomy,” said Matt Jarvis, the facility manager at Sadleir House. “Local artists being funded by provincial and federal grantors to showcase locally is exciting and can inspire more in the community to engage their practice with the seriousness befitting an object of value.”
Bedoukian’s residency concludes February 18, with live public performances at The Theatre on King (TToK) to follow on February 24 to 26. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.
Peterborough Currents spoke with Bedoukian about his time in the city, his multimedia practices, and finally taking up his residency.
Peterborough Currents: How did you find yourself in the Peterborough arts community?
Bennett Bedoukian: I’ve been playing music since I was four or five; my dad was a drummer and my half brother is also a drummer. So I have all my choices since then have been, “I love playing music, let’s keep doing it.”
I moved to Peterborough and went to Trent and, of course, was still playing music. There’s not a lot of people doing what I do in town, so quickly it became that when musicians I knew wanted to come to Peterborough, I was the person they were in touch with.
I also worked at The Spill for five years. Because of how Dave Tobey ran the place, that was what really spawned and allowed to grow the kind of art/music community that I would say I’m a part of.
PC: You work as an artist in both print media and in music. How did you come to find your footing in both practices?
BB: I’ve been playing music since I was a little kid, and it just feels like the only thing that really matters. Not the only thing – I also really like printing – but it’s one of the things that I feel like I have something to contribute with, so I have kept up with that.
Printwise, when I was a kid in Toronto, William Lyon Mackenzie’s house was a place that schools could go and visit. He ran a newspaper, so [class trips] took us into his print shop. And I really liked that. I’m not really good at pictures, but moving words around a page is what I get a lot of enjoyment out of for visual media, so that was what sparked the interest. Then when I moved to Peterborough, I met Jeff Macklin of Jackson Creek Press. I worked with him on a few projects, and then was able to find my own press. It didn’t really work, but it was dirt cheap.
PC: Have you found any overlap between the two, as two somewhat disparate media?
BB: I do a lot of the same amount of [thinking], “Here are the parts of this thing. How do I put them together, physically?” I have a whole bunch of different ideas and parts, and then I try to figure out how to put those together. In terms of the content, they’re both informed by my interests and my likes. So I’m trying to put them together in some sort of conceptual whole where they inform each other to the audience.
PC: How did you conceive of your Artspace residency, The Hidden Anatomy?
BB: Four or five years ago, I was talking to Bill Kimball [from Public Energy]; I had a radio show on Trent Radio that was giving the history of the arts in Peterborough through interviews. He said, “Oh, we’ve got recordings of all of these concerts that used to happen at Artspace.” One of them was a guitar player from England who’s since passed, Derek Bailey, who is one of the high-water points of improvised music and one of the people I would credit with making improvised music something that people cared about, to listen to or engage with. That is really what started the whole conception of the project, which has changed several times since then. From there, [former Artspace director] Jon Lockyer and I started talking about this residency.
The idea, up until the pandemic hit, was for it to be performance residency. There was a time when for three months, you’d know that an artist was playing at this café or club and you could go there any night and see them. That was the idea behind it: I’d be there playing, and people could come in and see me whenever they chose.
I wanted to be working with different musicians, dancers and other types of artists as well, because I think a lot of the Peterborough arts community is very disparate. It’s easy to say there’s one arts community in Peterborough, but dancers and theater people and musicians and writers, they don’t really interact as much as I’d like them to. So another goal was to put them all together in the same space at the same time to create a complete picture of what has been happening in Peterborough for a long time, and have the work that came out of it exemplify how everything informs everything. We’re not all operating in silos.
Of course I’m not working in person with collaborators anymore – we’re going to be working separately, and then putting it together. There will be a video every week, until the end of February. Then should things feel safe enough, there will be live performances at TToK with dancers and other artists, as well, all at once.
PC: The pandemic has impacted the interactive parts of your residency. Having done some of the residency now, do you have any thoughts or insights on the role of audiences, participation and collaboration?
BB: For me as a musician, without an audience, there’s nothing. That’s not true for everybody and I can only speak for myself. But for me, I feel that need to be performing, and what I get out of performing that then informs my playing is really important. So it’s been really interesting to sit there and play to an empty room four nights a week, and realize that one of the missing links is what I get from an audience, what the audience gets from me, and how that informs the product as it goes on.
From a different angle, but similar vein: as an improvising performer most of the time, I tend to change how I play based on the band’s performance who come before and after me during the concert. If I’m playing with [local rapper] garbageface, I’m going to do something different than if I’m playing with somebody who’s playing an acoustic guitar, for example, because I want to not create a rift between myself and the audience, or myself and the other performers – unless it was the right thing to do at that time. So it’s been interesting to try and figure out how to fake that feeling, as opposed to using all of the circumstances around me to inform what I’m about to do.
PC: One last question: is there anything that you think that the Peterborough art scene is missing or needs to highlight?
BB: One thing that I think is important is the support of places to perform. Peterborough’s lucky that we have TToK. The community around TToK have done a lot of work to keep it open during this pandemic, or not have it close [permanently]. But they need support too, because when they’re not having performances, they’re not making money to pay their rent.
From a music perspective, I think it’s become clear to me that unless you’re playing party rock music, bars are not the best place to be experiencing live music. The people who are opening their spaces for shows are doing it because they want music to happen. As a community, we need to support them as well, to ensure that it continues.
Otherwise, we’re just going to be left with no spaces to play. Right now it already kind of feels that way, and we don’t know what will happen in the next three years, for example. What might be a night to go out and have fun for yourself is great, but if you want it to continue, how do you support more of those things? If we want a sustainable artistic community, we need support for venues and theaters far beyond just one night of hanging out.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.