Video & performance art: Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay

Pop & politics get a musical makeover

Montreal-born video artist Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay gets around. His work has screened at more than 200 film and video festivals worldwide, been exhibited in galleries and broadcast on television in Holland, France, Germany and Japan. He also recently launched a limited edition DVD at Art Metropole. All of this adds up to good reason to seek out his work.

One of his newest pieces, Patriotic, is a video collaboration with Paris, France-based performance artist Pascal Lièvre, and is currently playing in the Vtape video salon. An erstwhile music video, Patriotic steals its lyrics from the US Patriot Act and sets them to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. Nemerofsky Ramsay calls the piece “a strange, futuristic national anthem by a rogue political faction…. It’s a super cheesy romantic love song used as a vehicle to disseminate propaganda.”

Compared to Nemerofsky Ramsay’s previous work, the piece seems uncharacteristically political. No doubt this departure is a result of collaborating with Lièvre. The two artists met by chance. In 2003, Both Nemerofsky Ramsay and Lièvre had videos touring the European festival circuit, often screening together. Nemerofsky Ramsay suggests this was due to their use of “unusual musical intersections and performance.”

In Patriotic both artists, dressed in Boy Scout-esque uniforms emblazoned with unexplained pink Ws, do their best to demonstrate their patriotic fervour. They are stiffly poised, self-aware and camp camp campy. What at first seems just plain funny or strange is really a look at how language shapes belief. Not recognized for its entertainment value, the Patriot Act document seems dull and dry. However, when set to a globally recognizable pop song, possibilities for interpreting the language open up.

Also among the ongoing Benny art-stravaganza is J’Adore, a program of videos and performance by Nemerofsky Ramsay and Lièvre. This PleasureDome evening is comprised of individual videos from both artists, as well as Patriotic, and live performance. The program, originally curated for a screening in Montreal, has also been screened in Paris and Germany; it also marks Lièvre’s English Canada debut.

During J’Adore, Lièvre will recreate an Orlan performance piece from 1977 titled Le Baiser de l’Artist. For a small fee audience members get to kiss Lièvre wherever they like. It’s a fun way to play with people’s boundaries and to find out which set of cheeks are most popular. Nemerofsky Ramsay’s performance piece excerpts his installation project, Lyric, which he describes as a “strung together love song that creates a Dadaistic narrative.” The original two-hour-long video piece is composed of slices from more than 1,000 love songs sung by the artist in his home. Who knew there were so many songs proclaiming only the slightest variation of the phrase, “You’re the only one for me?”


Lyric reveals how contrived popular culture can be. Throughout the exhausting piece Nemerofsky Ramsay somehow manages to hit the high notes that the original songs demand. Unlike his other music videos, the performances in Lyric are not polished, adding to their sincerity. As viewers, it feels like we are seeing something private and precious. But it also feels a bit like watching Internet karaoke videos, which the piece kind of is. Alone in his room, Nemerofsky Ramsay is enacting the performance of his lifetime. Hop over to J’Adore and see what it looks like live.

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Music, Culture, Arts, Toronto

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