The Temptations of St. Clair

1140, 1863 and 2008: A twelve-hour collision • 2008

John Shipman, The Temptations of St. Clair, 2008 « Vous n'aimerez pas ça! » — Charles Baudelaire

After several centuries of little change in the human condition, by the mid-1800s the scientific and industrial revolutions in Europe began making huge material and cultural alterations to daily life. Born within a year of each other, Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867), Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) and Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880) responded. Li Qingzhao (1081–1140) also lived and wrote during a time of great change, China's Song Dynasty (960–1279).

Produced and directed by John Shipman, The Temptations of St. Clair ­juxtaposes the unusual visual gravity produced by camera-in-motion video with personal testaments taken from two periods of transition and significant change in the human condition.

During The Temptations of St. Clair, Charles Baudelaire, as sung by jazz vocalist Ben D'Cunha and read by Stéphanie Bérard, takes 12 night walks through Toronto as seen in the context of the 12 categories of modernity Baudelaire describes in Le peintre de la vie moderne. He is accompanied on these walks by the voices of Florence Nightingale (vocalist Dianne Wells), Gustave Flaubert (Yann Vargoz) and Li Qingzhao (poet Gu Z­henzhen).

«Ah! La tentation était forte. Mais comme je m’en suis deliveré!» — Gustave Flaubert

Presented as part of Toronto's Scotiabank Nuit Blanche city-wide arts festival on 4 October 2008, Temptations uses images from John's The Night Light Atlas of Toronto (NLAT), a collection of short video works documenting 12 night walks through Toronto. The Atlas video is compiled from continuous digital still images exposed from one to eight seconds using a camera mounted on a human-powered mechanical device — the Camera-in-Motion — which enables simultaneous panning, tilting and rotating around the axis of the camera's lens as it moves over ground.

These images transform what we see into spectacular trajectories of colour, and confound the visual clues we use to locate our position in the world and the direction of gravity on our bodies.

«The line is drawn but not cut.» — Florence Nightingale

Three slowly-rotating video projectors projected series of images at oblique angles through multiple semi-transparent screens onto the surrounding walls and ceiling of St. Matthew's United Church's barrel-vaulted sanctuary, a 36 x 21 x 8 meter space offering an exceptional acoustic environment for live music and performance.

Sound design included voice, pipe organ, violin, music box, computer game sounds and on-location recordings. In addition, a simple computerized device, TVICU, was used to generate a variable pitched audio score from Night Light Atlas of Toronto images. Its ten sensors, mounted on a video monitor while the Atlas video played, continuously triggered tones, the pitch depending on how much light reached each sensor. This produced a continuous, low-resolution seeing of the images which were then transcribed as audio tracks.

Slideshow · photographs from Temptations

Produced and directed by John Shipman
Curated by Janna Hiemstra
Camera-in-Motion video by Shannon Miller, Adrienne Coffey, John Shipman
Auditoria Illuminatorium projection system by Dan Eylon, Janna Hiemstra, John Shipman

Ben D'Cunha sang Charles Baudelaire with composition, performance, production and engineering by Ben D'Cunha and lyrics adapted from Baudelaire’s poems and essays by John Shipman
Stéphanie Bérard was the voice of Charles Baudelaire
Dianne Wells sang Florence Nightingale with arrangement and performance by Dianne Wells with lyrics adapted from Nightingale's and Flaubert's writings by John Shipman
Yann Vargoz was the voice of Gustave Flaubert
Gu Zhenzhen was the voice of poet Li Qingzhao
Dr. Paul E. Jessen · organ
May Ing Ruehle · violin
Mark Pelligrino · computer game sounds
John Shipman · TVICU sound, additional audio, sound design and mixing, still image and video editing, texts adapted from Les fleurs du mal, Le spleen de Paris and Le peintre de la vie moderne by Charles Baudelaire; The Collected Works of Florence Nightingale by Florence Nightingale; Bouvard and Pécuchet, Flaubert in Egypt, La tentation de saint-Antoine and Les lettres de Gustave Flaubert by Gustave Flaubert; Complete Ci-poems of Li Qingzhao by Li Quigzhao
Jeremy Kai · production still photography
Joy Shipman · print projects

With thanks also to Marcelle St-Amant, Ginette St-Amant, Brian Hicks, Susanne Tabur, Simone Auger, Michael Finn, Emilie Shipman, Victoria Shipman, Johanna Householder, Elizabeth Infante, Philip Sportel, Dayna Mailach, Kim Tomczak at Vtape, Sheila Moll, and The Reverend Katherine Brittan.

The Temptations of St. Clair was presented at St. Matthew's United Church, 729 St. Clair Avenue West during Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Toronto 2008. For more information, please contact John.

Photos · Marcelle St-Amant