The Karaoke Karate Kid

Curtis Grahauer does not take himself too seriously.

An artist in residence this month at the Macaulay House in Dawson City, Grahauer blurs the lines of performance, social art and curation.

“I find anything that is creative is fun and engaging,” says Grahauer. “Sometimes it leans more towards film and entertainment, and sometimes it leans towards art, and sometimes it is a specific form of entertainment like karaoke.”

One of his most intensive, ongoing projects is the Vancouver-based Weekend Leisure, a collection of artists, musicians, comedians and filmmakers that creates an atmosphere of fun and wit alongside a DJ, comedic troop or a gang of chaos.

Weekend Leisure hosts karaoke nights at the Astoria Hotel in Vancouver, as well as public access television shows and short video sketches.

The group began in summer 2006 after graduating from Emily Carr University of Art and Design. They got together to shoot some video, not knowing what to do with it.

“We had all been going to karaoke nights in school in the early 2000s and loved the videos that played behind it,” says Grahauer.

They created a playlist of 30 videos. Sending the videos to karaoke DJs, they made a name for themselves and have been invited to DJ events in Seattle, Portland, Toronto and Vancouver. They have also hosted community block parties.

With 7,000 songs, Grahauer says they are “very much karaoke DJs of the internet age.”

Weekend Leisure posts notices on Twitter and Facebook, via email or blog when it is are downloading new music, and takes requests, making the music a mix of what participants want to hear.

Grahauer turns stage setting into a serious art form, challenging our views of everyday conduct in the urban fabric. Weekend Leisure lays the foundation for an organic social experience and brings life its environment, whether a public or private space.

“Those spaces are there to do something with,” he says.

However, Grahauer suggests it is about creating a framework, and working within existing structures, rather than making a deliberate political statement.

Doing this type of art in a bar, for example, “is a somewhat commercial endeavour,” he admits. “If the bar benefits from it, you get to keep on doing it.”

Weekend Leisure’s events are often high energy, with instruments including giant cardboard guitars, plastic keytars and makeshift tambourines.

In an animated atmosphere, Grahauer says people give their karaoke performance their all.

On November 26, Grahauer is hosting a karaoke night in the Odd Fellows Ballroom, following The Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) Christmas art and craft sale in the afternoon.

Earlier this month, Grahauer hosted a teen karaoke night as part of KIAC’s Youth Art Enrichment. He is also hosting a series of “low key” film screenings at Odd Fellows Hall.

On November 24, Katherine Bigelow’s 1991 over-the-top action film, Point Break, will be preceded by his own short film, Steel Viper Force: Rise of Fiero.

Grahauer’s fascination with ’80s and ’90s action films began when he was a kid. The collaborations that stemmed from Weekend Leisure laid the foundation for Grahauer’s latest project, directing his first feature, Steel Viper Force: Fiero’s Redemption, a project he conceived five years ago.?Steel Viper Force: Fiero’s Redemption is a low-budget homage to direct-to-video-action movies set in Vancouver.

“Rumble in the Bronx was a huge influence on the feature film. I was obsessed with any crappy movie shot in Vancouver,” says Grahauer, explaining that most action films make Vancouver look completely generic.

In June 2012, Grahauer will do another artist-in-residency program in Reykjavák, Iceland, sponsored by the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists (SÍM).

Grahauer is interested in how northern communities will adapt to climate change, and also in how Reykjavák is becoming increasingly self sustaining.

He has entertained the possibility of working in another northern community, but is not certain about his plans.

“I like going to a place where I barely know anyone, and you just get to know people,” he says.

Making a career of bringing people together in a fun atmosphere, he is definitely someone who has his finger on the pulse.

“I want to keep all of these other projects on the go. Keep a lot of iron in the fire,” he says. “I get bored very easy.”

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