Lester Alfonso asks: just what IS art, anyway?

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If Lester Alfonso’s What Is Art? series has taught him anything – and it seems to have taught him more than a few things – it’s that in the right framing, anything can be art.

The What Is Art? film project came out of an open studio through Media Arts Peterborough after a grant was received and put towards Alfonso being named artist in residence.

Through a meeting at town hall where people were asked what they would like to see as media, a webseries was settled on.

What Is Art? is “a way to encompass it all under one umbrella,” explained Alfonso, as it includes various portrayals of the Peterborough art scene.

The film series hinges around either performances or interviews with local artists as Alfonso collects answers to the question “what is art?” It’s also an opportunity for first time directors to get a “crash course by making something.”

On November 1 at Market Hall, Alfonso is holding What Is… Erring? a screening of several episodes of this season’s batch of short films in addition to fundraising for the next season. “It’s going to be like a 100 minute version [of the series] – six episodes back to back to back.” There will also be DJs Gnosys and Ekoplex and “a circus party” amongst other performers.

The fundraiser will help him in editing the subsequent release, What Is… Erring? focusing on Public Energy’s Erring on the Mount art festival.

The three day art and performance festival “transformed an empty building, a former convent, into an art and performance space.”

Alfonso pointed out the root of “erring” as being “to wander,” the building providing a venue in which the audience can do just that—wander the grounds and stumble onto a performance. “To feast their eyes and ears and senses.”

In terms of the whole project, Alfonso referenced the Jean Cocteau quote, “film will not become an art-form until it is as simple to execute as picking up a pencil and writing on a piece of paper.” He strives in making film into an accessible medium, and with advances in technology and social media like phone apps and Youtube, it’s becoming that vision.

“When I was 13… I really felt that I would make a movie. But it was not possible at the time to have your own camcorder. As technology became more accessible, the self-taught, DIY style has made it the people’s medium.”

Alfonso added that there are “Mozarts in suburbia out there,” that there can be truths told without the sleek perfection of the major film industry as long as a director “can tell a story from image and sound.” This is the “democratization of film-making.”

He sees his work as being closer to that of a painter—it’s not your Hollywood glamour—he’s a primarily solitary worker: “I have all the hats – agent, publicity, editing, accountant…”

His goal is to make a series that both promotes local artists and Peterborough itself – “It’s the narrative of everyday life.”

Alfonso also hopes for longevity as the series “was conceived as an idea for other directors to take over, and they can be the next artist in residence.”

In terms of his own answer to the question of defining art, Alfonso said “Art is never having to say you’re sorry.” He also picks up his favourites from different interviewees at different times. His current favourite is from Mike Camper: “Art is the engine of reality.”

“There’s a certain kind of art to living every day,” he added, saying that even conversations, being kind, or a smile is art. And that essentially, art is transformation.
Another quote from Jean Cocteau he brought up was “Art is the marriage of the conscious and the unconscious.”

On the horizon for Alfonso is also the chance of winning greenlighting for another project as he is one of four nominees in the Toronto-based Reel Asian Film Festival’s So You Think You Can Pitch competition.

After making a pitch for a film project, the winner will be immediately greenlighted to produce the film. Alfonso will be pitching a documentary on birthmarks and the mental fictions people attach to them out of his own superstition from Filipino culture that his birthmark meant bad luck.

The What Is… Erring? fundraiser and screening starts at 8pm on November 1. Tickets are $20 in advance from Market Hall, $25 at the door, and for $25 through indiegogo you can be entered into a raffle. Additionally, artwork from the film will be auctioned off.

For more information, check out mediaartspeterborough.org.

About Simon Semchuk 51 Articles
Simon Semchuk writes primarily on the arts and queer issues. A third-year English major, he is also interested in theatre, literature, and fluffy animals.