BRUCE EVES IN POLARI is an intimate, upclose and personal portrait of Bruce Eves, the 2018 winner of Canada's Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts - that country's highest honour.
Eves' work has remarkable intrinsic value that also engages key aspects of culture and history. His story began in Toronto's clique-riven avant-garde art scene in the mid-1970s. As practicing artist and Programming Director for CEAC (Centre for Experimental Art and Communication), among other activities Eves crafted socially-engaged performance art pieces that were shown in Canada, throughout Western and Eastern Europe, as well as the United States. This included a stint with Joseph Beuys' Free International University at Documenta 6, Germany. As such, he was at the forefront of putting advanced Canadian art on the map internationally.
Residing in New York City in the 1980s, Eves created and curated The International Gay History Archive at the point when the devastating AIDS epidemic threatened a loss of history for the gay community. It is now housed in the Rare Books and Manuscript division of the New York Public Library. "Becoming Visible", an exhibition (and accompanying book) drew extensively from Eves' collection and is still to-date the most attended exhibition ever for the library, drawing over 100,000 visitors in four months.
Described as a polymath, Eves' work evolved into photo-based and installation works. The varied use of coded language is a recurring theme in Eves' practice. A recent series of these works is based on Polari, an underground vocabulary used by gay men in early to mid-20th century London to evade harsh anti-gay laws while paradoxically affirming the identity of the subculture. Polari is referenced (often quite humorously) throughout the film. Eves' frequent visual manifestations of coded language unflinchingly address political and personal issues in startlingly original ways for any and all viewers. And Eves' dialogue in the film, though sophisticated, is very entertaining, understandable, and blessedly free of jargon.
The film was conceived and directed by Peter Dudar. Unlike directors who drop in temporarily on their subject, Dudar shares a lifetime of experience with the arts culture in which Eves operates. Dudar's filmic style is dynamic and highly original. Consequently Bruce Eves In Polari engages not just the intellect, but is also sensual, and runs the whole gamut of emotions from laugh-out-loud hilarity to deeply raw and crushing sadness. Dudar has been awarded for his "arresting cinematic composition and elegant study of movement" in dealing with straightforward images, but the film is also graphically stunning.
Besides film, Dudar is an accomplished designer in print and electronic media, and brings the film's myriad period photos and graphics fully to life. Likewise, he fully energizes Eves' works visually, while ingeniously disclosing their meaning. Dudar's integration of image and text, which has been called "absolutely brilliant" in his previous work, is at its most advanced here, deepening the shared contexts of both.
Bruce Eves In Polari is witty, poignant, and unflinchingly honest. It is not your standard one-note bio. For anyone interested in a fresh approach to the culture and politics of the last half century, Bruce Eves In Polari is a must-see.