Performance
Misinformed Informants curated by Lisa Visser

ARTISTS
Corina Kennedy
Guillaume Adjutor Provost
Henry Adam Svec
Joshua Schwebel (cancelled)
Julia Mensink
Michelle Lacombe
Sophie Castonguay
Stacey Ho

Misinformed Informants: Preface to the Performance
By Lisa Visser

Fragments, fleeting words, fights. You’re not listening to me

Misinformed Informants invites emerging artists to answer to the idea of miscommunication, misunderstanding, misplaced lines of agreement. Responses range from antiquated expressions of communication to suggestions, covert signals, mis-remembrance and the unapologetically false. Diverse interpretation converges into an overhead problem of mistrust. In trusting the informant (who may be misinformed) misinformation is communicated as true information. Truth and reality negate the very premise of this performance event. I begin to doubt the truth I communicated. And yet: I would never lie to you. But: this is about lies.

This curatorial premise acknowledges the complicated boundaries of curator-performer-audience relationships and pushes past them. These tensions are apparent in the work of Misinformed Informants, and can be as subtle as a gesture, as apparent as a role-reversal, or as confrontational as a slap in the face.    

Julia Mensink’s maybe it was nothing brings a tension to the audience/performer role by inviting her ex-boyfriend to be a participant. Both Julia and her ex tell a lecture-style story, based on their own experiences of the same event. Through the development of the story, what becomes clear is the absence of synchronicity in memories, the highlighting of the fuzzy parts and the uncomfortable inclusion of audience members into a breakup. The audience can choose between listening to Julia or her-ex’s side of the story: a literal choosing of sides. How terrible to be brought in to this. I would like us not to fight.

Joshua Schwebel’s piece deliberately misses the mark, or so it was meant to. Relying on the accuracy of Canada Post, Joshua mis-addressed his application to the call for submissions. However, a glitch delivered the package to the correct address in a sensible amount of time. In following Joshua’s instructions, I rejected the dossier. Joshua’s cheeky approach to the premise has yet to play itself out, but his deliberate determination to accepting and then rejecting causes me to question my role as curator. What have I done in creating these intentionally missed formations of informants?

In a similar farce, Henry Adam Svec plays with the role of the lecturer and delivers a performance rooted in fiction. Stompin’ Tom Connors never wrote The Lost Stompin’ Tom Song. Did he? Henry engages the audience in an experiment that questions and abuses the influence of authority and the audiences’ desire to be patient, active and honest listeners.

Sophie Castonguay toes the line between performer and director, creating a confusion that arises from the conditioned reverence of the audience for the performer and the space of performance art. You took the words right out of my mouth puts audience members under the direction of the performer. The audience wants to know what is happening. The performer is in control. Is this the performance? Sophie withholds the one thing the audience wants: clear communication about what will happen next. Going beyond the unexpected is also the under-expected, the under-performed and the under-communicated. 

Stacey Ho invites additional participants in her GROOP MEDITEHSHUNS, a three-part piece that draws attention to breathing, blinks and beats. Each performance will have the participants respond to one another’s bodies with a gesture, a sound, or a slap in the face. By drawing attention to the subtleties of the bodies’ motions, Stacey is over-communicating in a way that is delicate and absurd, respectful and brutal.  

The obsessive nature of this over-observant performance is present in Corina Kennedy’s cheer sir or madam, a durational performance in which letters are typed out on a typewriter, only to be immediately rendered unreadable. Letters of love, protest, and rejection are destroyed upon their completion. What remains are mounds of lonely letters of the alphabet, without a structure or form. Both antiquated forms of communication and obsession elevates these letters until they are objectified and displayed, nearly fetishized.  

Guillaume Adjutor Provost’s fetishization comes into play in a different form, a covert and suggestive gestural work. Guillaume claims a subjective reinterpretation of historical moments, changing meanings and communicating a new history. SLOW READERS, argument no.1 is based on a song meant to inspire spirituality. Through the performance, the song and it’s intent is broken down in subtle movements, hidden meanings and secrets only the performer knows. The secret is there. But we stopped understanding each other long before that. 

The performances in Misinformed Informants break down communication—reducing it to an elemental approach. What results is a step-by-step guide on how to mis-communicate and a deliberate delivery of misinformation. Each artist claims a unique response, playing with issues of trust, structure, defined roles, tensions and obsessions. These are common-place issues. Every moment we are faced with the authority of being an informant and of being the informed. Sweet lies for protection, small in nature, keep us from personal disaster. The authority of the speaker is consistently abused in a way that is difficult to place and even more difficult to accuse.

Your word against mine. But I know you’re lying. I would never lie to you.

Special thanks to Clive Robertson for the hook-ups, Johanna Householder for the coffee and advice, and Shannon Cochrane for a being a model of enthusiasm, dedicated support, and superior decision-making skills, to which I aspire. Also thanks to Sarah E.K. Smith for listening to all my lies. Big thanks to Matthew Williamson and all the staff at XPACE for their help and support.

Exhibition Hours
December 17–19: 12:00pm–8:00pm
Friday & Saturdays: 12:00pm–6:00pm

Writing
On Escapist Action: Performance in Recession

The context of performing in Canada has changed extensively since Dot Tuer first observed these actions: 

On Queen Street corners, performance art is an everyday occurrence of spontaneous street actions and bodily gestures.(1) 

It is somewhere in this dystopic territory – one in which the looking glass of simulation mirrors back narratives of the subject and representation of the body – that a context for performance art emerges in the 1980s.(2)

How does performance exist now? And just as importantly – why? Fast-forward twenty five years, and Parkdale still retains some of its charm (and problems), sandwiched between the continually gentrifying Queen Street West and Roncesvalles village. Toronto’s architectural boom, orchestrated to remake it as a “city of innovation” is punctuated by a sudden turn for the worst at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Globally, from bombings to political scandals and massive natural disasters, to the weakening dollar, crash of the housing market and global recession, the last ten years have been the bleakest in history (according to some)(3). Like the scenarios in Dot Tuer’s Toronto, seen through the looking glass the city becomes a stage where performer’s motions and gestures evoke all the feelings the recession has inflicted.(4) The five artists (four projects) curated by Don Simmons in Escapist Action: Performance in Recession and focused on in this essay, best embody the zeitgeist of the current economic state, and not in their actions alone, but in how these gestures evoke very telling audience responses.

Julian Higuerey Núñez and Ignacio Peréz Peréz collaborated in week-long series of performances, created using the 72 objects they received during their first day of performance, in their titled Open Barter Market. The artists brought with them 72 objects from their hometown of Caracas, Venezuela, with hopes to trade equally meaningful objects with audience members. The objects from Venezuela weren’t merely souvenirs, but ranged from personal momentos given by loved ones to childhood relics, each with a story of their own, that the artists were happy to share with you while you traded your object with them. They too, were interested in the story of your object. This initial gesture would set the stage for the rest of the week. Putting restraints and parameters around the work in this manner establishes some control for the artists, but much of the power lies in the barteree.

I arrived at InterAccess on November 23rd to participate in the market. I scanned the gallery for the objects I wanted and negotiated the trades with one of the two artists. Afterwards each traded object is logged and a photo is taken of the barteree and their new object, as well as the artist and their new object. These records are then immediately put online on the artists’ blog. It was difficult for me to barter without having feelings of attachment and responsibility for what I was taking, and leaving behind. As I went through some stuff at home I found myself thinking “What will the artists find most useful?” Admittedly though, another sentiment took over: “Do I really need this?” But, one person’s (performance art) trash could be another person’s (performance art)treasure. One gallerist, bartering a birdcage mentions, “Oh, this was just in my basement for a long time.” Perhaps that’s not exactly the best criteria for offering great source material. Ignacio said his exchange with me was one of the most meaningful ones of the day. What’s that old adage? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?

During the week leading up to the performances on Black Friday, Red Flag Saturday and Grey Cup Sunday (weekend events of the Escapist Action series), Higuerey Núñez and Pérez Pérez performed with each of the 72 newly bartered objects, creating a new performance each hour on the hour, from 9am to 9pm for six days, accumulating a total of seventy two hours. The title of the project, The Artist and the Beanstock fittingly narrates the artists’ own experiences arriving to Toronto (change in climate, and a certain amount of culture shock), while heralding the classic tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, where the hero’s error of trading his last piece of material wealth is remedied by finding new riches (by stealing from a giant). Each of the 72 performances were streamed live on the web making thework accessible, and invariably added an ironic tone. Information on the internet has fed recession fears and yet has connected people to news (not to mention, speculation) and spurred change faster than ever.

In the wake of this, the performance series Escapist Actions: Performance In Recession did a uniquely Canadian thing and offered a range of relatively objective and unscathing responses, while projecting an understanding of just how jarring the current economic climate is. We are all restless, and we are a restless audience. This is key to understanding all the performances. The work shown made people feel restless for a variety of reasons, and this restlessness is a reflection not only of the work, but of the response regular folk have to the current economic recession.

InterAccess, the main venue for the series, is currently facing hard times of its own, making the whole situation rather apropos. Having my own personal and professional ties to InterAccess, for me this feeling lingered as I watch the performances, and I sensed that this and other feelings of apprehension are present in all the work. Pérez Pérez and Higuerey Núñez’s project took over the entire gallery and permeates the space. Each hourly performance was created on the spot, completely improvised based on the bartered object. For one performance, Pérez Pérez used twine to wrap around a central pillar at InterAccess, through the door handles, out the main doors, into the hall, back through the gallery space and around the same pillar, following the same path again and again until the string broke and needed to be tied together. After using up the twine, Pérez Pérez beckoned an assistant. The spool was placed in her hand, then he dropped to all fours and begged. She tossed the spool, and he fetched it. This gesture was repeated until he sat at her feet. This seamless transformation of a familiar space and familiar objects transitioned into a change of power dynamics. The artist begged, played, and cowered like a dog after the audience accommodated his transformation of the space. A fair exchange? Potentially, and disarming for the audience. 

Meanwhile, artist Tomas Jonsson had set up shop at 3072 Dundas Street West. Slightly north of Parkdale, this Junction neighbhourhood is still negotiating gentrification, littered with a glut of failing businesses and a whole new populace moving in. The goal of Jonsson’s work, titled Magpie was to create “a personal engagement with a variety store that has been a long time fixture in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto, another area of the city whose retail identity is rapidly changing.” Jonsson purchased several items from this eclectic store, and set up shop across the street in front of a construction wall, marking where another store had been. In exchange for his goods, in a similar spirit to Núñez and Pérez, Jonsson asked participants to tell him what they wanted this empty lot to become, which he would then post on the wall. Rather than entertain escapism as passive consumption, his work very actively  subverts it, going straight to the heart of the matter, and the neighbourhood, to ask people directly about how they feel when they see their community being gentrified. The objects do not have the cache, it’s the stories. Suggestions included ‘shoe store,’ ‘diner,’ bank’,The artist’s agenda suddenly seemed very different than the community and the developer’s agenda. Perhaps it’s a case of confusing wants and needs.  Your story might be intriguing, and through this project the artist gives the viewer a voice, but dollars to donuts the Wal-mart still comes to town.

Later that night at InterAccess, claude wittmann presented his piece, my first witch piece. It was framed as an exploration of witches, and what it means to be accused of being a witch. Wearing all black and a charm made of feathers and pieces of an antler, the artist asked the audience sit on the floor with him. He explained his interest in the history of witches and how his fascination kept him on the fence. He wanted to believe and immerse himself but sometimes he couldn’t; a perplexing balance. He pointed to a jar of ‘flying ointment’ he had made, sitting in the centre of the circle, and listed its ingredients (stating that he omitted anything unethical or poisonous). He invited the audience to verify it, as it would be part of the performance. He then began to lead the audience in breathing and meditation exercises designed to dispel fears; He suggested people find a comfortable position, and express their feelings verbally throughout the meditation.

Accusations of witchcraft were fraught with anxieties, insecurities and outright sexism. Yet, it is not uncommon in situations of crisis to find a return to religion or the more spiritual. During and after World War I many new church groups emerged, begging mankind to repent from evil and return to God, and begging forgiveness for the atrocities and suffering of the Great War. Paralleling this was another lunatic fringe: the séance. This return to spirituality also provoked some to try to find a means of connecting to loved ones lost.(5) Connecting me to these ideas are wittmann’s own musings: “if we all decided not to commit to this image [an image of reality] it would disappear.” Here, we are given a very different reading of the definition of recession, one of going back, receding and withdrawing, this time into oneself.

Perhaps where things began to unravel in wittmann’s performance was when a protocol was suggested: during part two of the performance the artist asked the audience to apply the ointment to places on the body with particular energies -anywhere on the left side of the body or in contact with the earth, or on the genitals. It was perhaps this last suggestion that caught the audience off guard. Listen to your body; it’s all about you. As the performance progressed, the ointment was distributed and for those who chose to, applied. Some found the means to sink into themselves. wittmann became consumed by his actions. Would the ointment work if you wanted it to? The performance was aimed to make everyone feel like a witch, to become their own personal mediums for themselves, but instead became a spectacle. The audience couldn’t seem to find it in themselves to commit to wittmann’s sorcery. Another symptom of the recession era – doubt, mistrust and maligned séances. 

Depression-era entertainment was the subject of the next performance that evening. With the rise of the proverbial curtain, Rodolphe Yves Lapointe presented himself to the audience tied to the wooden chair he was sitting on holding a sign on black paper, upon which was written in white chalk: “will he survive his work?” This stylized cue card reminded me of the black and white text narration of silent movies. Movies were often indulged in during the Great Depression, as during times of recession in modern day, as they offered wholesome fantasies allowing viewers to escape their own harsh realities. Is it ironic that the 1930s film industry led to the boom of the Classical Hollywood era, only now to find Hollywood the source of so much personal drama and ennui in the age of reality television? Although Lapointe was able to untie himself, he kept certain parts of his body restrained with the ropes being held by the audience. Taking a small axe he cut an arbitrary amount of rope, and proceeded to tie classical sailing knots and deliver anecdotes about their names, uses, origins. Lapointe blew a whistle before each knot name,  turning the magician escape act into boy scout recreational activities. After tying the “hangman’s noose knot” he demonstrated its use (with the audience’s help) by hoisting sandbags equaling his weight. Furthering his demonstration he then wrapped the noose around his own neck. He smoked his “last cigarette” and punctuated his execution aesthetics with another title card, before asking for the audience’s help, one last time, in hanging himself. Despite their cooperation so far, in the end the audience refused to help him hang himself. But not before going half way, and offering a slight tension on the rope. Quite quickly, Lapointe slipped his neck from the noose and fell to the floor, ending the performance. Was this a plan b in case the audience really anted to see him hanged? The paradox of Lapointe’s performance lied in the assumption of autonomous, passive spectatorship. The audience watching Lapointe’s actions were asked to participate, yet compliance was assumed. When the audience refused to finish the job, so to speak, and their commitment annulled, one wonders if he was really going to do it.

The next night of the series, Red Flag Saturday, had two performances, one also taking a violent turn. The first, Calentura, is part of a series of new performance works by John G Boehme. “Looking into the performance of gender, specifically masculinity, the valorization of labour, the pursuit of leisure, and the marshaling of amity, John explores language and paralanguage, the spoken and gestural aspects of human communication.”(6) The work began with two videos projected on either wall of the gallery depicting teenagers throwing plates and fluorescent tubes into the camera. Boehme had a colleague with him. The younger accomplice and the artist enticed the audience to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and Canadian Club whisky with them, as if to achieve camaraderie. The age difference between Boehme and his accomplice confused fraternal and paternal loyalties. Boehme took a few moments to take some drugs (or so it would appear) and then he tied a dresser to a ceiling beam, and Hitler’s face and the McDonald’s logo were drawn on either side with a black marker. The two fascist icons. Together they proceeded to throw knives at the swinging dresser, play the guitar (roaring single cords, played loudly and not too well) and entice the audience. It was unclear whether or not the work was meant to be participatory; maybe we were all just too scared to move. Once drawers were smashed Boehme cut the dresser from it’s tether, and his accomplice smashed it to pieces ending the performance.

Similarly to wittman’s personal exploration, the recession Boehme references is a return to memory and history. Because this performance was pretty stressful for the audience to experience, it’s hard to interpret anything leisurely about it. A clue in the form of a title: Calentura is a region in California where Boehme spent some of his youth. The artist mused to me after the performance that many of his friends there were surfers, some of whom had million-dollar surfing sponsorships from Billabong and Quiksilver. Angst riddled youth with spare time and copious spending money is a dubious combination. When youths reach the point of rebellion, these processes of questioning and breaking rules (and plates, sometimes) is normal, but now that these things can be put on YouTube and shared as a group, growing pains can be labeled deviant, and Boehme offered a stylized display of the typical worst. wittmann’s performance showed that everyone wants a scapegoat, and economic turmoil may try to solidify causal links between recession, anger and violence. Major research show this continues to be a red herring.(7) Boehme’s work makes the viewer wonder if they misspent their youth, and the deceptive power balance keeps the audience at bay. Both artists work illustrate escapist actions and coping mechanisms for financial turmoil, yet their audiences paradoxically can’t withdrawal from the scenario and also face the difficulty of becoming immersed.

Towards the end of the series, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Recessions are supposed to be a natural part of business, and what goes down must come up. In an inclusive gesture both celebratory but cautionary, David Frankovich’s Grey Cup Party was a performance, installation and intervention staged on the day of the Grey Cup (the Super Bowl of the north). Camaraderie and sportsmanship were viewed through a queer lens, as historical victorian references and various Earl Greys were mixed. “The Grey Cup is also the name of the trophy given to the winning team of the CFL and is named for Albert Grey, the 4th Earl Grey and former Governor General of Canada. Every year, millions of Canadians watch the Grey Cup from home on their TVs. Earl Grey tea is an aromatic tea blend made with oil of bergamot. Like the Grey Cup, it is also named for an Earl Grey, but a different one: Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.” Male lineage as patriarchy were subtly critiqued in this piece, while other surprises happened along the way. Four ‘dandies’ sat to watch the football game in a grey object adorned room in a Victorian hotel, while other spectators (mostly women) came for tea and the performance. The performers were consumed in watching football, and the audience was consumed with watching the watching of footballBeyond the artist’s control were the commercials aired on the CBC that day, which were frequent, gendered, and aiming at a specific clientèle that weren’t necessarily present that night. While the performance intended to subvert the dominant narrative of the Grey Cup, it did so while inadvertently indulging in class tourism; plus, only so much tea come be consumed before getting the point. As the game wore on, eventually the Dandies started to serve tea to the audience, mingling, as unclear how the narrative would end as everyone else. An upset by the Montreal Alouettes ended the performance, the football game, and the series. Like some recessions, the problems continue, slowly fading out with a murmur, leaving most people to the daily monotony as if nothing had happened.
 

Notes:

(1) Dot Tuer. Gestures in the looking glass: performance art and the body. Mars, Tanya and Householder, Johanna. Caught In The Act: an Anthology of Performance Art by Canadian Women. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2004, Page 54.

(2) Ibid, 56.

(3) Time Magazine. ‘Goodbye to a decade from hell’ by Andy Sewer. Published November 2009.

(4) On some, Toronto and Canada have been relatively unscathed by the recession.
   
(5) For examples, see Spiritualism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritualism

(6) Artist statement from Boehme’s website. Accessed 02/04/2010. http://people.finearts.uvic.ca/~jgboehme/

(7) See Media violence research and youth violence: Why do they conflict? Dr. Cheryl K Olson, M.P.H, S.D. Accessed 02/04/2010. http://ap.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/28/2/144

Performance
Escapist Action: Performance In Recession

ARTISTS
Joanne Bristol
John G. Boehme
David Frankovich
Tomas Jonsson
Rodolphe-Yves Lapointe
Julian Higuerey Núñez
Ignacio Pérez Pérez
claude wittmann

Curatorial Statement by Don Simmons

Daily media reports bombard us with the reality of the current worldwide economic situation. We are in the midst of a recession. Businesses are failing and offering discount prices on everything in the store, the stock market is volatile, companies are looking for bailouts, and government agencies are giving away bloated stimulation packages.

Despite these tough economic times, some businesses are experiencing a boom. Alcohol sales are up; Hollywood movies are experiencing a surge in attendance and theatres are reporting a rise in audience numbers. People need to escape from their problems and forget about reality. During tough economic times, art relating to escapism prospers.

Escapism is an immersive art. It satisfies a desire for sensual pleasure. It envelops the viewer in a hermetic and narcissistic space where reality is suspended. Stimulated by an individual’s need for escape the realm of the imaginary is opened and new possibilities arise. Non-places that do not exist make themselves possible, submerging the individual and leaving them in a state of confusion. Spectators who participate or view an escapist action become disconnected from their everyday surroundings and transport themselves to a place of contemplation or simply blank out. 

Escapist Action: Performance in Recession begins with a weeklong series of performance events that investigate economics and presents the audiences with alternative methods of exchange. The series culminates in three evening programs of performance entitled Black Friday, Red Flag Saturday, and Grey Cup Sunday. These three evening investigate the mixed emotions evoked by the volatile economic market. The performances navigate the sensations of fear, despair, laughter, and hope. The audience is transported from the dark emotions of Black Friday through the humour of Red Flag Saturday arriving at the celebratory Grey Cup Sunday.

Julian Higuerey Núñez and Ignacio Pérez Pérez activate Escapist Action by creating an alternative barter system in which performances and time can be exchanged between the artists and audience. The exchange starts with an Open Barter Market on Monday, November 23, followed by a 72-hour performance (6 days / 12 hours each day). Tomas Jonsson’s work creates a redundant economy across the street from a storefront display he mimics. In the piece Magpie, Jonsson observes the shopkeepers display, purchases items from the shop, and then sets up shop across the street. Jonsson consciously contradicts traditional exchange structures by giving away items, available for purchase at the neighbouring store, to passersby who engage the artist in conversation. Joanne Bristol presents an intimate service based performance dealing with internalized space as a form of escapism in her performance entitled Association for Imaginary Architecture.

The first evening program takes place on Black Friday. Renowned as the biggest shopping day in the US, and an indicator for financial forecast for the upcoming holiday season, Black Friday also refers to the financial crisis of 1869. On Black Friday, Julian Higuerey Núñez and Ignacio Pérez Pérez start the evening with the last performance of their twelve-hour day. claude wittmann explores the fears we experience in times of economic uncertainty and the mob like tendency to blame it on the “other”. In this case Wittmann looks at the instances in history where woman have been labeled as witches and damned for financial hardship within communities. Rodolphe-Yves Lapointe addresses risk taking and responsibility in a final desperate act of escapism.

Black Friday is followed by Red Flag Saturday. The Red Flag signifies warning, defiance, left-wing politics and amazing sales at department stores. This evening’s tone is decidedly lighter than Black Friday, compelling the audience to escape from their recessionary blues and find some relief in humour. This evening begins, like Black Friday, with a portion of The Artist and the Beanstalk by Julian Higuerey Núñez and Ignacio Pérez Pérez. Then John G. Boehme explores adolescent escapism and Joanne Bristol encourages Torontonians to relocate to the “wallet friendly” city of Winnipeg. 

Escapist Action: Performance in Recession concludes with Grey Cup Sunday, and a performance party in celebration of escaping the daily grind with cheap televised entertainment and the excitement of an annual national sporting event. David Frankovich’s Grey Cup Party mixes high and low brow activities, morphing the football party with an Earl Grey tea party to reveal hidden sexual truths.


BLACK FRIDAY | 8:00pm
My First Witch Piece by claude wittmann
Nut your way out!
 by Rodolphe-Yves Lapointe

RED FLAG SATURDAY | times various
Magpie by Tomas Jonsson
Association for Imaginary Architecture by Joanne Bristol
Calentura by John G. Boehme
My Winnipeg Can Be Yours… by Joanne Bristol

GREY CUP SUNDAY | 6:00pm
Grey Cup Party by David Frankovich


PERFORMANCE DESCRIPTIONS

Association for Imaginary Architecture by Joanne Bristol
This performance involves architectural design and touch. I am interested in investigating relationships between our physical experiences of the built world and how we imagine and internalize those spatial experiences. The performance involves a one-on-one exchange between the audience and myself: I will ask audience members to verbally describe an architectural space. It could be a space from memory, a dream, or any kind of space in the built world that is of significance to them. As the space is described, I will draw a ‘plan’ of it on the speaker’s clothed back with my hands. Sessions will last no longer than five minutes. 

My Winnipeg Can Be Yours… by Joanne Bristol
In this lecture performance Joanne BristolI will describe the advantages of living in Canada’s low-budget cultural capital. This performance is especially designed for Torontonians who might like to experience the joys of living an in what is arguably North America’s most affordable city.

Calentura by John G. Boehme
Calentura (first in the series) intends to investigate autobiographical escapist narratives of adolescent disenfranchisement projected through direct akshun.

Grey Cup Party by David Frankovich
The final day of Escapist Action: Performance in Recession ends with a party to celebrate all things…football? Join us for Grey Cup Party by David Frankovich. A team of dandies gather to honour Earl Grey’s Cup over a cup of Earl Grey. The sports bar and the Victorian tearoom collide. Dressed in thrift store finery, they engage in male bonding over tea and biscuits while watching the Grey Cup final. Masculinity is reconstructed through a recession-friendly social ritual. Join us for a cuppa and the game!
6:00pm | The Gladstone Hotel Art Bar, 1214 Queen Street West

Magpie by Tomas Jonsson builds on a person engagement with a variety store that has been a long time fixture in the Junction District of Toronto, which is increasingly precarious as a result of the rapidly altering the retail identity of the street. Creating a dynamic that resisted the usual flows of investment, speculation (eviction and/or gentrification) this performance installation piece is an ongoing adjunct redundant economy. By selecting, sorting and taking advice from the seller the collection of items will be built to there after offered them on the streets to the passers-by for exchange. In place of monetary gain, other forms of exchange are favoured. The objects will function more or less as token opportunities for discussion about the economic and material transformations in the neighbourhood and city, the role and ritual of corner store shopping, and the determination of value and exchange.
1:00pm–10:00pm | 3072 Dundas Street West, Toronto

Nut your way out! by Rodolphe-Yves Lapointe
The intensive use of the spoken word, nonverbal languages and the ingenuous manipulation of props is what typically characterises Lapointe’s Performance Art work (“textactions”, in his own words.) But, the thematic of ‘escapism’ induced a restrained use of expressive means and the Quebec-based artist radically reduces his display of objects to a plain hemp rope, and the flow of words to only two, “Pull it!” In Nut your way out!, as he leads the public through productive time-killer activities (knot-tying), social games (tug-of-war) and skills tests (rescue techniques) until he reaches the “highest stage” of escapism. The end of the performance virtually lies in the spectator’s hand.

My First Witch Piece by claude wittmann
Today, my first witch piece exists as an idea that has to do with my body and with escapist acts, which I see as impulses to avoid or to transform a certain system of beliefs. I am fascinated by myths about 15th century witches, and I allow myself to ossilate between believing and not believing that they had unusual abilities, such as “flying” or temporarily depriving men of their male organs. I wonder what kind of consciousness shift I would need in order to commit to their philosophical view of the world, and to see myself become one of them. What are my embodied psychological walls? Doubt? Fear? Judgment? My relationship with death? My goal with this work is to take my audience on a journey that makes visible our resistance to a shift of consciousness.

Performance
Open Barter Market & The Artist and the Beanstalk by Ignacio Pérez Pérez and Julian Higuerey Núñez

Presented in the context of Escapist Action: Performance in Recession

Barter is a relational practice, and is as old as the wheel. In a pairing of related performance works, Open Barter Market and The Artist and the Beanstalk, Núñez & Pérez create an alternative exchange and cultural economy, one based not on capitalist value, but on need value. Barter as an opportunity for performance. Performance as an opportunity for escape.

The artists arrived to Toronto carrying with them 72 objects from their home country. Objects ranging from the absurd to the personal, trinkets, objects with stories. On November 23, they opened the doors of the gallery with a performance called Open Barter Market. The public was invited to bring an object of their own to trade and barter for one of the objects the artists brought. Or instead of an object, you could trade an hour of your time in which the artists would do an action for you, within reason, at a location of your choosing. After a day of bartering and exchanging objects and stories about the objects, the artists had 72 new objects. Some absurd, some personal, trinkets, objects with stories.

The very next day the gallery transforms from a market place into a performance space. Using the newly exchanged items as materials in an ever-changing and exchanging series of one-hour performances, the artists begin the next phase of their project entitled, The Artist and the Beanstalk. For 6 days, 12 hours a day, Higuerey Núñez and Pérez Pérez take turns choosing one of their new 72 objects and create a live performance using that object. All of the objects stayed in the gallery space, and often (but not always) become a jumping off point or a part of the next performance. You are encouraged to trade an hour of your time during the 6-days of The Artist and the Beanstalk to come and witness the performance being made with your item.

Open Barter Market
November 23, 2009 @ 2:00pm–9:00pm

The Artist and the Beanstalk
November 24–29, 2009 @ 9:00am–9:00pm

Performance
Potential Fertility Rite by TallBlondLadies

FADO is pleased to present a new durational performance, Potential Fertility Rite, by TallBlondLadies. Established in 2003, TallBlondLadies is a collaborative performance project between Anna Berndtson (Sweden) and Irina Runge (Germany).

Two nearly identical tall blonde women, wearing white folklore blouses, grey leather short and white moon boots strapped into traditional wooden snowshoes manipulate large red exercise balls, enacting a traditional invocation rite by utilizing non-traditional gesture, action and costume. In this 5-hour performance movement, TallBlondLadies repeat a ritualized synchronized dance using modern day props, in time to the sound of snowshoes.

“TBL inverts female stereotypes through the composition of absurd and unexpected performative gestures, often incorporating a range of accoutrement from high-end fashion to sports gear. Their works present diametrically opposed concepts; beauty and grace are juxtaposed and diminished through brute action and athleticism, tacitly disrupting and challenging gender-based categorizations.”

Artists Space, New York, 2007

TBL will also be performing at Hysteria Festival, an annual festival of women hosted by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, on October 24, 2009.

© TallBlondLadies, Potential Fertility Rite, 2009. Photo Stephanie Sirant.

Writing
Eyewitness Account: TallBlondLadies
© TallBlondLadies, 2009. Photo Stephanie Sirant.

Even before arriving at YYZ gallery, a steady beat of loud rhythmic slaps could be heard from the hallway of the 401 Richmond building. Upon entering the performance space, the noise was revealed as the stomps of two tall blonde women wearing snowshoes. The stoic women had their arms extended in front of them wrapped around large red yoga balls. They were carrying the inflated balls in front of their chests and abdomens. The women were dressed in a more revealing version of traditional alpine folk costume; suspendered grey lederhosen micro-shorts and cropped white milkmaid style blouses exposing bare shoulders and midriffs. The women wore no make-up. They wore their shoulder length blonde hair down. Their long bare legs lead to white fur-lined winter boots strapped into their oval shaped snowshoes. These were the only props and accessories. The bright red colour of the yoga balls contrasted sharply against the muted non-colours of the clothing. The room was otherwise empty except for the audience members and the loud shudders of the slapping snow shoes. 

© TallBlondLadies, 2009. Photo Stephanie Sirant.

The performance was comprised of two distinct parts or acts that blended into one another. The first set of gestures had the women maintaining an equidistance from each other, as they made their way clockwise around the perimeter of an imaginary circle the size of the room. They were not walking, but rather stomping their snowshoed feet to an unaccompanied beat approximately one stomp per second. Without warning they would suddenly turn on their heels and continue with the stomping in a counter-clockwise direction. They remained equidistant apart on a smaller imaginary circle. Again they would pivot making the circle smaller and drawing nearer to another.  Eventually, the woman would come so close to one another, that as they turned to pivot, their protruding yoga balls would collide, knocking the women off their seemingly magnetized pull and back onto their starting path. At no point did the women make eye contact. I later learned that the pattern they were following was a celtic knot. This spiralling went on for quite some time. I counted 22 stomps between collisions. The perpetuating stomping path to collision went on for about 20 minutes when the performance transitioned seamlessly into the second act.

© TallBlondLadies, 2009. Photo Stephanie Sirant.

Rather than colliding at the center of the room, the women suddenly dropped their yoga balls on the ground and sat face to face, with knees interwoven on the red yoga balls. They sat staring expressionlessly at one another for a minute or two and then began to gently bounce. Gradually the bouncing became more pronounced. With each bounce the balls made a squish and the floor a small creak. Another few minutes passed and then the women began to play game of silent “patty-cakes.” They did not speak out loud or break their stares. The only sounds were the rhythmic handclaps of the girls mirroring each other, and the squishing/creaking sounds made by the balls. This went on for about fifteen minutes before the women quite suddenly stood up and transitioned back into the first act of the performance. It seemed the transition was one of girlhood and play into womanhood and labour.

© TallBlondLadies, 2009. Photo Stephanie Sirant.

Unlike other fertility rites, where traditional symbolism and gestures are used, the TallBlondLadies’ Potential Fertility Rite used untraditional symbols and gestures. Symbols of winter and summer were used concurrently; clothing was summer, footwear was winter. The lederhosen the women/girls were wearing fall into the category of german menswear, the old traditional snow shoes allude to traditional Swedish culture but the white snow boots were brand new an of contemporary fashion.  Traditional fertility issues like menstruation or childbearing were possibly alluded to (the red balls= menstruation, womb, pregnant belly, red + pulsing = heartbeat, or symbolic of life.) but there was no reference to the natural world.  Where a traditional fertility rite might use flowers or plants, the TallBlondLadies used latex. 

Rather than a spiritualized, sexualized, celebratory or even emotive invocation, this performance was cool and calculated. There was no graceful dancing, no organic flows or motions in the performance. The TallBlondLadies did not embellish, adorn, or exaggerate their femininity or sexuality, despite the revealing costume. Everything was rigid. It was like watching the cogs and gears of a swiss watch, or a perpetual machine operating; with every collision providing the inertia to sustain the actions of the next cycle. The TallBlondLadies’ sense of time and synchronization was impeccable at first, early in the evening. But as time went on and the performers began to tire, a few mistakes or breaks to the synchronized cycle were made. They recovered well from these, at least in the hour or so that I spent at the performance. One women would stay in place until the other recovered. The rhythmic stomping induced a meditative state in me. I believe it was the same for other members of the audience. I applaud the tall TallBlondLadies for the level of discipline, concentration and endurance (both physical and mental) that it requires to perform in this manner for five hours.


Stephanie Sirant is a student of Johanna Householder’s at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD).

Writing
Sandra Johnston’s Ephemeral Monuments

Upon entering the Toronto Free Gallery, a former a hardware store, I could almost still smell the lingering odours of paint and metal. I enter the performance space knowing that Sandra Johnston uses space as a character in, rather than a mere container of her work, and so I imagine how she will interpret this atmosphere; I envision various literal scenarios and toolbelt props, all the while knowing that this is certainly not how Johnston will portray the space. In fact, during her performance I don’t really see any relation to the history of the building at all. The performance space, at the back of the gallery, is a large darkly-painted black box, illuminated solely by two square holes and one tiny circular hole in the floor which let in the light from the basement below. Navigation through the room is tentative. At the far end of the room there is a raised platform with stairs connecting the two levels.  

The audience takes their place in this dim room, sitting and standing wherever they find a spot that pleases them. Johnston begins with slow repetitive hand and foot gestures. I can’t decipher if her eyes are closed or slightly open; regardless, she appears to be feeling her way through her movements rather than connecting directly with the spectator. It is as though she senses our presence, knowing us in a way that sight will not allow. Her movements are pedestrian in intention, but made unusual through their compulsive repetition. A rocking movement, originating as gesture, ripples through her body and into her feet and we watch as her toes cover and uncover a speck of bright light. Is it an ember? A laser? Johnston continues on drawing the audience through the space with her. Upon closer inspection, we see that the ember is actually a tiny hole in the floor. But Johnston has shuffled off with hunched posture toward another light, a larger square hole cut in the floor in the corner of the room. The light illuminates her face from below, giving her a ghoulish appearance. She stands in the hole and is suspended mid calf. It looks uncomfortable. I feel antsy and want her to step out. 

Throughout the performance Johnston hands are a central focus. She rubs tissues through her fingers, rubbing them until they disintegrate and their grainy texture is embodied through the movement of her entire body. Her downtrodden posture and tentative steps remind me of an elderly homeless person. As I watch I am curious to about how these movements relate to her perception of the space. 

The selection of the space is a choice that Johnston prefers to make herself. When this is not possible (as in this performance) and she has not even seen the space before arriving, the exploration begins from a truly blank place. For Johnston, the process of getting acquainted with a location never reaches a definite end and consequently, she doesn’t present what she considers a conclusive performance, but rather a finale of her process within the space, a technique which involves getting to know a space by working intimately within it. Certainly her work is informed from the site; however, this process of acquaintance involves a more reciprocal relationship; the environs react to her just as she is impacted by them. In this case, Johnston had access to the gallery for six days, with the final presentation occurring on the last day, September 25, 2009. Although many of the sites she has worked within are public, her process within the spaces is mainly a private one, only exposed to the public in its later, or even final stages. 

Johnston is primarily known for her previous work in the history of trauma and how site relates to  often disturbing memory. Previous locations for performances have included sites stigmatized by violence in Tel Aviv, Madrid and her native Northern Ireland. Fascinated by the role of place in the catharsis of the victim, she mentions to me that witnesses or victims are compelled to return to the site of the incident as a integral component of the healing process. The performances in these locations then act as an intervention in the history of the space, allowing new memories to be created and shared within a site previously associated with intense trauma. 

The role of location in trauma recovery is perhaps most evident in our desire to remember through the permanence of architecture. In his article, On Memory, Trauma, Public Space, Monuments, and Memorials, Julian Bonder discusses the commemorative role architectural monuments play in the collective psyche.

“As events and circumstances unveil in the present, a memorial’s destiny is to recall the past and provide conditions for new responses in the future. As our psycho-political and ethical companions, memorials should help us consider trauma and rethink and reactualize the past. They should encourage critical consciousness, committed memory-work, and the possibility of engaging with the world through transformative practices.” (62)

Johnston’s site-reactive work echoes this interventionist philosophy. She recognizes the physical catharsis of returning to the physical location of trauma, as if the body perceives the significance of its physical space in the process of recovery and grieving. In this way, her performances become like ephemeral monuments; the memory of the performance persists as both a way to recall the trauma and as a new conceptualization of the site, altering the individual and collective memory of it.

While Johnston’s origins lie in locational memory, in recent performances (including her Toronto performance) the site is more benign and she is left to interpret the site’s character and “essence” in the absence of any prior perception of it, interpreting the surrounding environs as she encounters them. In this case Johnston works to alter audience perception of the surroundings by highlighting the quotidian aspects of it. Her movements are based on both the space itself and her interactions in the surrounding neighbourhood.

Johnston’s current focus on everyday rituals and occurrences require an attention to habitual and unconscious neighbourhood activity that only an outsider could identify. However, I am struck by the similarities between her trauma work and her more “benign” performances which similarly rely on her attention to the body as a vessel of memory. Bonder suggests that memorials give us a way of representing memory in a cathartic and interpretive manner. It is in our return to the physical site of trauma that initiates a certain type of healing. In much the same way that the grave commemorates the dead and an epitaph creates a representation of the individual, a monument interprets an event for collective memorial. Theorist Paul Connerton insists that more ephemeral events, namely commemorative ceremonies fulfill much the same role and are unconsciously reified through bodily manifestations. “We can also preserve the past deliberatively without explicitly re-presenting it in words and images […] In habitual memory the past is, as it were, sedimented in the body” (72). Connerton is suggesting an embodied memory, one inaccessible to the intellect alone, one experienced through physicality. His interpretation of habitual memory seems on par with Johnston’s quotidian work in which she observes the everyday workings of neighbourhoods and the movement of their inhabitants. Although, Johnston does not seek only to commemorate through her practice; her goal is not to re-create the trauma in the event as a means of remembering it, rather her work is meant  as an intervention in the memory of the place.

In fact, the performance I witnessed was uncharacteristic of Johnston, who told me that this work took on a more personally motivated character than usual. My impressions of aged and homeless imagery were accurate; while familiarizing herself with the surrounding environs of the gallery, she became fascinated by the repetitive gestures of a homeless man, whom she followed and observed for an entire afternoon. Circumstances from her personal life also came to shape her interaction within the space. Johnston was coming to terms with the recent death of her grandmother, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s. In this performance the embodied memory of trauma, albeit of a personal nature, was her impulse for creation as she relived childhood memories that occurred in a secondary spacial character: her grandparents house.

When considering her process, one that she describes as including meditation, I am not surprised that personal experience would tint Johnston’s interaction within a space. While watching her perform I sensed that she views her body as a medium to channel the energy of a place and its atmosphere. It is not surprising that the body’s own recent trauma or sensations play a major role in this translation of environs. If one subscribes the idea that the body is inscribed with memory, then it can never be a tabula rasa. In reaction to a canon of performance art writing that proclaims the body to be an unmediated medium, performance theorist Amelia Jones reacts to the idea that body art provides a direct channel of communication between artist and audience. She challenges the assumed ontology of the performance “object,” (the body).

“The ‘unique’ body of the artist in the body artwork only has meaning by virtue of its contextualization within the codes of identity that accrue to the artist’s body and name. Thus, this body is not self-sufficient in its meaningfulness but relies not only on an authorial context of ‘signature’ but on a receptive context in which the interpreter or viewer may interact with this body. (Jones 14)”

According to Jones, there are two layers of mediation that prevent body movement from being a solely ontological communication medium: the way the artist chooses to represent themselves based on a complex conception of the self and the situation in which the performer presents themselves. Grief is a viscerally embodied experience and its resonances still reside in Johnston’s body. 

In the last minutes of Johnston’s performance she proceeds onto the raised stage, causing us viewers to shift and move around once again. Arching backwards over the largest illuminated chasm, she continues her tactile gestures. Her hands touch her face, exploring eyes and mouth with meticulous detail, as if they belong to a blind person. This is the only time in the work when her eyes are noticeably open; although they still do not see. They look at us, blinded by light. She is bent backwards over this crevice in a manner that looks uncomfortable. She seems to embody the discomfort and fragility of age. Her teeth appear to crumble like the tissues did previously, creating a collage of gestural movement. The light hits her skin, giving it a translucent quality. She exits through a door at he back of the stage and we are left in confusion. It is over or do we follow her? 

Her performance seems to be about openings, both of the room and in her own body. The holes in the floor are flaws of the room, just as her orifices are points of weakness and vulnerability in the body. Correspondingly, it seems fitting when one audience member opens the door, following her out into the cold. She concluded the performance in the outside space of the yard, entangling herself in the dense vines and wild plants. (Later, I learn that she intended the end to be inside, but continued after the audience followed her out.)

The impression of the light in her blind eyes is, to me, the most haunting image from this performance. I am left with the feeling that Johnston creates from a place outside the visual realm. She is primarily feeling the space, hearing the space and smelling the space, while vision is an afterthought, an accidental way of sensing. This blindness imagery was juxtaposed with Johnston’s use of light as an object, a sculptural entity within the space. Although she appeared to be feeling her way through the space she was also drawn towards the three light sources in the room, like a moth to a flame. 

Johnston’s concentration on alternative senses to vision is in keeping with her philosophy of creation. Her interest is in genuine movement and expression, instead of making arresting aesthetic moments which read like visual snapshots. This is in opposition to a visual art sensibility in which bodily performances such a ballet craft a series of static positions. Even within movement she places value on the tactility of the space. Sensorial awareness is privileged over aesthetics, experimentation over rehearsal.

After the interview I return to the concise but brief program notes and am struck by how accurately the last sentence describes my experience talking to Johnston. “[Her] work often retains the fragility of weighing out new thoughts, remaining unapologetically inclusive of all the doubts and disjunction which invade the human capacity to respond honestly to any given moment.” While chatting with her, post performance, I was struck by her simultaneous concern and interest over the perceptions of the audience and her seemingly contradictory acceptance of their confusion or silence. She is comfortable with various interpretations, which may be a reason for the rather general artist statement. Her untitled Toronto performance allows room for interpretation and suggests a comfortability with a lack of control of its purpose and meaning. Just as the spectators are left to negotiate themselves through the space (eventually determining a new ending to the work) we are also left to interpret its meaning as autonomous viewers. She is not afraid that people will be confused by it and seems to welcome my questions, clarifying and explaining as we progress in the conversation. She describes the immediate reception of the work as a “positive silence.” That perception is left unresolved is none of Johnston’s concern. I imagine that in another life she continues her process in the Free Gallery, evolving with the neighbourhood, breathing in its essence, gathering layers of its character through the human behaviour of its inhabitants. 


Worked Cited:

Bonder, Julian. (2009) “On Memory, Trauma, Public Space, Monuments, and Memorials” Places, 21(1). Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/4g8812kv

Connerton, Paul. (1989) How Societies Remember. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, Amelia. (1997) “’Presence’ in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation” Art Journal, 56(4). 11-18.


Emma Doran is in the PhD program in Communication and Culture at Ryerson University. Her previous work as Archival Associate for Dance Collection Danse has sparked her interest in constructions of radical bodies through language and is the impetus for her dissertation, entitled “The Avantgarde Body in Dance Performance Criticism: The Case of Maud Allan’s Salomé.” As a writer, Emma has contributed publications to The Dance Current and Dance Collection Danse Press/es.

Performance
Performance by Sandra Johnston

Northern Ireland’s Sandra Johnston’s practice is site-reactive, exploring ideas of active intervention in both the history of and the present physicality of a selected environment and the people who habitually use the space. Most of the working process occurs privately, concealed from public awareness, with only the latter stages of an action framed as performance. Improvising with whatever materials and architectural features are immediately available, in this way, Sandra Johnston’s work often retains the fragility of weighing out new thoughts, remaining unapologetically inclusive of all the doubts and disjunction which invade the human capacity to respond honestly to any given moment.

Using the backspace at Toronto Free Gallery, Sandra Johnston will be working in the locality of the gallery for 5 days, sourcing ideas through a number of walking actions and periods of sited stillness. From these observation activities a public performance will be presented in the gallery, a collage of fragments of received behaviour.

Between 2002–2005, Sandra Johnston was awarded an Arts Humanities and Research Council Research Fellowship. During this research the work she was creating were focused around core issues of trauma, in particular the concept of “Trauma of Place” – exploring how artists can make creative interventions within spaces associated in public memory with violent events. This research was instigated initially in response to the post Cease-Fire situation within Northern Ireland, and subsequently evolving outwards into many different international contexts to develop the core concept of investigating relationships between processes of art, and issues of territory, trauma and commemoration. Johnston also produces video/audio installations and durational drawing installations which are made directly onto architectural features. She has produced work at an international level since the early nineties and recently represented Northern Ireland at the Venice Biennale in 2005.

© Sandra Johnston, preparation for performance, 2009. Photo Shannon Cochrane.

Performance
International Visiting Artists: Switzerland

Monika Günther and Ruedi Schill have been making performance work since the late 1970’s. Long before meeting and starting to collaborate in 1995, their work shared similar themes, concerns and materials. Their joint performances since exemplify the artists’ dialogue with each other and in their words, offers a commentary on the “intensive rise of the pressing concerns of our times.” The images the artists create strive to illustrate both feelings of being trapped and of experiencing vast spaciousness, collaged through absurd picture combinations reflecting powerlessness and vulnerability.

“Monika Günther and Ruedi Schill develop in their performances sparse pictures of suggestive force which are hard to describe in words. Deliberately slow and sedate gestures underline not only their physical presence but also create mysterious sensations of time, emphasized by repetition. The emerging archetypal picture – and sound – scenarios are, in their ambivalence, not only sublime and enigmatic but also depressing and spine-chilling.”

Marie-Luise Lange, Kunst + Unterricht, 2003

Please join us to experience two works from Monika Günther and Ruedi Schill entitled Silence and Fait a la Main. This will be their first appearance in Toronto. While in Canada, the duo will also perform in Montréal and Chicoutimi, Québec.

September 19, 2009: FADO Performance Art Centre (Toronto, Canada)
September 24, 2009: VIVA! art action (Montréal, Canada)
October 2, 2009: Art Nomade Festival (Chicoutimi, Canada)
October 7, 2009: Art Nomade Festival (Chicoutimi, Canada)
October 8, 2009: Art Nomade Festival (Chicoutimi, Canada)

Writing
Ritual Communication and Body Doubles: Attending (to) the Work of Monika Günther and Ruedi Schill 

Art… can take the sound of the sea, the intonation of a voice, the texture of a fabric, the design of a face, the play of light upon a landscape, and wrench these ordinary phenomena out of the backdrop of existence and force them into the foreground of consideration. (Carey 24)

Monika Günther and Ruedi Schill have been making performances together since 1995. They became collaborators after having established solo practices as individual artists. Ruedi, who is Swiss, began making work in the mid-1970s, exploring photography, music and Super-8 film as well as performance actions. Monika, born in Germany, began as a painter in 1966, finding her way into performance in 1981 out of a desire for a more direct connection with an audience. Now the two artists live and work as a couple, splitting their time between Lucerne, Switzerland and Essen, Germany. In addition to their performances as a duo, they organize an international festival each year in Giswil, Switzerland, as well as conducting performance art workshops on a regular basis.

As collaborators, Monika and Ruedi develop their performances in a symbiotic fashion. Rather than creating shared actions, they each build their own sets of gestures that they present simultaneously within a mutually agreed upon framework. Ruedi’s working method reveals a minimalist sensibility, inspired largely by his observations of people. He meticulously hones the structures of his art until they are reduced to what seems essential. Monika, on the other hand, whose process often involves extensive reading, likens the way her ideas develop to pregnancy: a mysterious gestation filled with uncertainty and expectation until a flash of inspiration suddenly bursts forth fully formed.

Creating work together as a duo benefits both artists. One obvious advantage is that they are able to explore ideas and discover understandings that might not have been possible working alone. Another significant factor, however, is the way in which their partnership helps to alleviate the letdown that often occurs after a performance, when the direct contact with the audience has dissipated. Ruedi in particular has spoken about how he often felt quite depressed and isolated after doing solo performances. Working with Monika allows the connection to the performance to continue without becoming nostalgic, since there is someone to review it with, and to offer another point of view.

Although Monika and Ruedi follow independent processes, they maintain an ongoing dialogue – before, during and after the performance – that requires an awareness and sensitivity to the other’s investigations and directions. Monika and Ruedi’s work together, as it has evolved, involves process-oriented performance actions that rely on improvisational elements within a predetermined structure. They seek a state of concentrated reflection that can generate or expose the intensity and complexity of the moments they share with an audience. Speaking about their performance workshops, Monika says, “We accompany the students, we don’t teach” (Movement Museum); and perhaps the same could be said of the duo’s performances. Monika and Ruedi seem less concerned with delivering specific messages than with providing each other and their audiences with an intensely present companionship while undertaking a series of slow, quiet gestures. What is evident in their work is an attention to communication as a form of ritual.

In his book Communication As Culture, James W. Carey, following the work of the American psychologist and philosopher John Dewey, notes two distinct understandings of the word ‘communication’: one, based on the notion of ‘transmission’; the second, on the notion of ‘ritual’. The ‘transmission’ view reflects an understanding of communication as a way of sending messages across some distance. The ‘ritual’ view – which, Carey asserts, “exploits the ancient identity and common roots of the terms ‘commonness,’ ‘communion,’ ‘community,’ and ‘communication’….is directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs.” (Carey 18)

At first glance, Carey’s use of the word ‘representation’ may seem misleading. In his definition, representation refers not to the translation of a referent into a code that can be transmitted from one location to another, but rather, to a grounding in the mutual affirmation – or, returning to Monika and Ruedi’s performance methods, in the concurrent yet independent discovery by artists and audience – of shared value. In this understanding, communication is that which manifests through actions of being and doing rather than that which creates or maps a particular path of connection. Monika and Ruedi’s work attempts to be communicative not by acting out roles that have particular predetermined or symbolic meanings attached to them, but by setting up conditions in time and space that will allow the performers and audience to discover what common set of questions become apparent. To suggest that Monika and Ruedi’s performances are ritually communicative, however, is not to guarantee a consensus of experience among all who are present. What is shared – and therefore communicated – is the willingness to test an action’s value, not a single or authorial interpretation of an action’s meaning. This suggests an alteration of Carey’s definition, since what I am describing is not so much the maintenance of a society in time as the production of a temporary social whole.

Part of what is at stake in making this claim for Monika and Ruedi’s work is a battle between whether performance art is better understood as ‘presentation’ – which emphasizes its qualities as productive, originary, live and a thing-in-itself – or as ‘representation’ – suggesting that it functions as a depiction or portrayal whose critical function is to reproduce a particular message or set of meanings. This tension – for one might reasonably ask whether either understanding can be ‘present’ without the other – forms one of the key and ongoing dialectics of performance as a medium.

Peggy Phelan has argued that to the extent that performances offer the live and shared presence of artist and audience as their essential material, performance as a genre is concerned with revealing subjectivity. Performances therefore rely on a metonymic function of the body; that is, the performer’s live body must stand in for or represent the larger concept of our subjectivity. In so doing, according to Phelan, part of what performance ultimately reveals is the incompleteness of the metonymic relationship, the fact that there is always something more required – the performance itself – to constitute and make visible this presence and being of which our bodies are only a part. What is brought into focus is a lack. She writes:

In performance, the body is metonymic of self, of character, of voice, of “presence.” But in the plenitude of its apparent visibility and availability, the performer actually disappears and represents something else – dance, movement, sound, character, “art.”… [T]he very effort to make the… body appear involves the addition of something other than “the body.” That “addition” becomes the object of the spectator’s gaze, in much the way the supplement functions to secure and displace the fixed meaning of the (floating) signifier. Just as [the] body remains unseen as “in itself it really is,” so too does the sign fail to reproduce the referent. Performance uses the performer’s body to pose a question about the inability to secure the relation between subjectivity and the body per se; performance uses the body to frame the lack of Being promised by and through the body – that which cannot appear without a supplement. (Phelan 150-151)

I agree with Phelan that in a performance, the spectator is generally watching something more than or perhaps even other than the performer’s body. When we watch a stage performer, for example, we might more precisely say that what we are watching is something we call ‘acting’ or ‘dancing’; we are listening not to the musician so much as the music being made. And in the case of many types of performance art work, the performer’s gestures often seem to come with the implicit directive, “Don’t look at me; look at what I am doing.” But I am not sure that this points us toward lack. Certainly if we understand communication according to a transmission model, then a performance may appear to configure itself as a mechanism that produces a set of signs of lived experience that cannot hope to reproduce themselves securely (across space) in the lived experiences of the witnesses-as-receivers. Approached according to a ritual model, however – and remembering that the performance necessarily includes the audience as well as the ‘performers’ – a performance becomes a set of lived experiences (through time) encompassing all of those who are present. Taken together, these lived experiences that we usually recognize as belonging to the individual body-bound subjectivities of performers and spectators also embody not only the performance, but also a (however temporary) social whole. Surely this is precisely why attending a live event is valued differently from viewing or listening to a recording or document. We gather together not so much to receive a particular message as to participate in its activation. In the space and time of the performance, the bodily lack we seek to address concerns not our individual subjectivity so much as our sense of belonging to a collectivity. Live performance, then, asks the audience to participate in the establishment, recognition, affirmation or maintenance of a social body.

This leads us to the question of what is meant by participation, particularly since the relationship Monika and Ruedi set up with the audience appears quite traditional. As the performers, they ‘do’ the actions. The audience members watch and listen. This suggests a role for the audience more as observer than participant.

Observation, a word whose Latin roots point to a notion of looking or watching, is often associated with a sense of detachment or remoteness. Vision as a sense has been linked to both passivity and impassiveness; it shows us a view that takes place somewhere outside of us, at a distance. At the same time, sight has been theorized as acquisitive and inflaming of desire. Against these understandings is a notion that hearing is more closely aligned with belonging, because we cannot ‘turn away’ our hearing as we can our sight. Hans-Georg Gadamer further links hearing to language: “Whereas all the other senses have no immediate share in the universality of the verbal experience of the world, but only offer the key to their own specific fields, hearing is an avenue to the whole because it is able to listen to the logos.” (Gadamer 458) In his view, hearing is the most ‘hermeneutic’ of the senses – relying on dialogue and interpretation to become meaningful. Gadamer’s thesis relies heavily on a correspondence between thought and words, and on a trust in the self-consciousness of language. Yet his ideas on the essential character of hearing seem unconvincing in an age when sound has become infinitely recordable. Digital reproduction, and the merging of sound and vision in contemporary technologies – think of MTV – have made sound a key component of consumer culture and a driving force of spectacle. Sound, like vision, appears immanently adaptable to a transmission model of communication.

What is evident in Monika and Ruedi’s work, however, is the potential for both hearing and sight to function hermeneutically. On the level of hearing, the performers begin with a request for silence, calling attention to listening as an active contribution to – and requisite element of – the performance. In this situation, silence should not be understood as an absence of sound, but as an enacted element of a dialogue. This active listening, undertaken by the performers as well as the audience, requires a silence that is both dialogic and interpretive – if not ‘speaking’ louder than words, it nevertheless constitutes participation within a ritual form of communication. And it could be argued that in Monika and Ruedi’s performances, hearing is at least as important as seeing.

At the same time, I would argue that the ‘seeing’ the performers seek to invoke is no less hermeneutic, dialogic or interpretive, nor is it less effective in contributing to ritual communication. Monika and Ruedi’s performances eschew the objectifying gaze of consumption in favour of a search for what one might call a sight of recognition. To do this, they rely on a number of key elements. Their actions are slow, rhythmic and repetitive. To watch what they are doing for an extended period of time, we must relax the fast-paced, acquisitive aspect of our gaze, and give up any expectations of sudden surprise. The performers’ manner is unassuming. The picture they create is unspectacular, avoiding any excesses of either sumptuousness or discord. Monika and Ruedi dress in ordinary black clothes, sit in ordinary chairs, and manipulate either their hands (in Fait-à-la-main) or small, visually unremarkable items (a stone turtle and an hourglass set in Silence). They do not appear to want to impress us with their physical prowess, or the virtuosity of their actions. Nor do they play a role; they act as themselves. The room in which the works are performed is equally unremarkable: neither cavernously large nor distractingly intimate. In other words, they do not appear to be interested in any of the trappings of spectacle.

The lighting in the space similarly guides us toward a particular way of seeing. In these performances, the bodies of the audience members are lit with the same intensity as those of Monika and Ruedi. The performers can see what we are doing as well as we can see their actions. So, like us, Monika and Ruedi become viewers. But they do not stare at us, nor are we encouraged to stare at them. Instead, our –that is, both the performers’ and the audience’s – focus is drawn primarily to the actions and objects that the performers’ hands display. This view is equally open to interpretation by all present, and the audience must work with the artists to make meaning from the events constituted or precipitated by what we are observing. We are all witnesses, coming together to experience these simple gestures as an event, to share together the time of the performance’s occurrence, to contribute our respective silences, and to collectively affirm the authenticity of the actions through our presence.

There is another aspect of the way in which we are called to witness, however, that I believe enhances its hermeneutic potential and at the same time nudges us beyond a feeling of lack toward the recognition of communion, of something held in common. This stems from the formal composition of parallel gestures presented in Monika and Ruedi’s work. The artists undertake simultaneous actions that are complementary, but not identical; attuned to each other, but oriented outward toward the audience. And because audience members witness two sets of gestures at once, we have a chance to experience a depiction that is not so much a mirroring as a doubling. There is of course always a ‘doubling’ in the relationship of one to another – of artist to audience, of me to you – as we are led to acknowledge our own subjectivity in relation to an other.  But what does it mean to witness this second doubling – that of the two performers?

The relationship between audience and performer may sometimes be understood as a process of ‘identification’ – the notion that audience members imaginatively place themselves in the position of the performer. This process of identification is often theorized as being linked to what Lacan posited as the ‘mirror stage’ – a developmental point critically tied to the development of the ego in which children ‘misrecognize’ their mirror images as being superior to their bodily selves. Laura Mulvey used this premise to help lay the groundwork for her theory of Hollywood cinema as perpetuating a male gaze. In relation to Lacan’s theory, she writes:

The mirror phase occurs at a time when the child’s physical ambitions outstrip his motor capacity, with the result that his recognition of himself is joyous in that he imagines his mirror image to be more complete, more perfect than he experiences his own body. Recognition is thus overlaid with mis-recognition: the image recognised is conceived as the reflected body of the self, but its misrecognition as superior projects this body outside itself as an ideal ego, the alienated subject, which, re-introjected as an ego ideal, gives rise to the future generation of identification with others. (Mulvey 9-10)

Certainly Monika and Ruedi do not offer themselves up as larger-than-life screen figures. The actions they perform could be done by almost any able human body. Their movements are simple, and minimal, leveling the relationship between the artists as ‘performers’ and those present as audience. Further, Monika and Ruedi’s comportment seems designed not to telegraph too much emotionally or symbolically – though it might be possible to read distinct personality traits into their respective rhythms, body positions or breathing patterns. But these aspects of the performance are not the only ones working against the possibility of the audience slipping into a desiring, consuming or misrecognizing gaze.

As an audience trying to reconcile the ‘doubling’ constituted by two simultaneous actions, we may begin by distinguishing traditional binaries – male/female; Swiss/German; logical/intuitive; mechanical/organic; heavy/light and so forth – and be drawn toward identifying with whichever qualities best match our self-understanding. But any close attention to these apparent organizing principles soon reveals a host of inconsistencies and contradictions. The binaries do not maintain their stability. Differences and similarities prevail: not one image, but always multiple and simultaneous ones, unified in the time and space of the performance, in the bodies of artists and audience, and in the actively constructed relationships among all of us. I can place myself imaginatively in the position of either of the performers, or I can try to take in the scene as a whole, but none of these positions remains static. The artists’ actions transform as they unfold – in response to each other, to the audience, to the environment, to the forces inherent in their individual trajectories – just as our focus as individual audience members shifts from one artist to the other, or to our own bodies’ roles in this active engagement with the moment. The performers’ doubling gives us an automatic and complex plurality of views, which challenge us to test our own ‘given’ understandings, and perhaps even our sense of self. We are thus led toward an interrogation of the secureness of our identifications and potential misrecognitions.

Notions of mirroring and identification are bound up with an affirmation of the validity of an individuated subject, understood in psychoanalysis as the ‘ego’. Indeed, the concept of misrecognition can only exist if there is a mutually agreed upon boundary of objective recognition. In arguing that the performances of Monika and Ruedi attend to the possibility of ritual communication, I am suggesting that the real ‘work’ taking place through the event of the performance is the opening up of a space in which those who are present can reconfigure their boundaries of recognition. I characterize this process, at least in part, as an individuation that is more collective than individual; i.e., this reconfiguration generates a temporary social whole rather than reaffirming the isolation of the alienated self. And perhaps not surprisingly, the mechanics of this process appear to me to operate outside the symbolic and imaginary orders that Lacan proposed were so essential to ego development. Ritual communication requires the situated time and space of the event – an idea affirmed by Gilles Deleuze.

A process of subjectification, that is, the production of a way of existing, can’t be equated with a subject, unless we divest the subject of any interiority and even any identity. Subjectification isn’t even anything to do with a “person”: it’s a specific or collective individuation relating to an event (a time of day, a river, a wind, a life…). It’s a mode of intensity, not a personal subject. It’s a specific dimension without which we can’t go beyond knowledge or resist power. (Deleuze 98-99)

Deleuze’s comments point to the significance of focusing on performance’s productive rather than representational qualities. They also suggest why it is useful to pay close attention to the ways in which Monika and Ruedi work. The time and space that they generate with their unassuming gestures is precisely the dimension in which it might be possible to “go beyond knowledge or resist power” in their institutionalized, monolithic and sedimented states.


Works Cited:

Carey, James W. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. London & New York: Routledge, 1992 [1988].

Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations: 1972-1990. Trans. Joughin, Martin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. (J. Weinsheimer & D.G. Marshall, Trans.) New York: Continuum. 1989 [1975].

Günther, Monika and Ruedi Schill. Artist talk at Viva! Art Action Festival, Montreal. September 26, 2009.

Günther, Monika and Ruedi Schill. Personal interview. September 19, 2009.

Günther, Monika and Ruedi Schill. Interviewers: Chris ‘Zeke’ Hand and Rachel Ni Chuinn. Movement Museum. CKUT 90.3 FM, Montreal. September 17, 2009. MP3 Download. “Movement Museum: Monika Günther, Ruedi Schill, Anne Bertrand, Pierre Rigal” Accessed on April 11, 2010.


Appendix:

The main body of this essay focuses on developing a theoretical understanding of the performer/audience dynamic I experienced as an audience member of Monika Günther and Ruedi Schill’s work. Although it includes details on the artists and their practice, and reflects my conversations with them, it could hardly be considered a review of the two performances hosted by FADO in September 2009. For those interested in a subjective description of the event, this ‘Appendix’ reproduces the notes I made during the performance.


Nonsense Group Photo of 111 Toronto Citizens by Yoshinori Niwa

A one-day performance workshop + performance experience

Nonsense Group Photo of 111 Toronto Citizens is a playful project in which the artist will gather 111 Torontonians for the sole purpose of taking a group photograph with a large format camera at a selected Toronto landmark or tourist location. Reminiscent of summer travels with family, this project is both a guerrilla intervention challenging the norms of “acceptable” behaviour on a public street corner and a hilarious group performance, documented in real time, elaborated by size and scale.

We need exactly 111 participants for this unique performative social experience. Bring your friends and families, everyone is welcome. Meet in the lobby of the 401 Richmond Street West building where we will organize ourselves, hear instructions from the artist, and venture out as a group to our photo location.

This workshop is presented in conjunction with the The Arts of Togetherness exhibition (July 11–August 23, 2008) at the Gendai Gallery, located at the Japanese Cultural Centre. The exhibition is guest curated by Milena Placentile, and includes works by Sandee Moore and Yoshinori Niwa. Thanks to community and presentation partners including the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, Manitoba Arts Council, Tani Miki and The Japan-Canada Fund.

© Yoshinori Niwa, Nonsense Group Photo of 111 Toronto Citizens, 2009. Photo Shannon Cochrane.

Book
From Ironic to Iconic: The Performance Works of Tanya Mars

From Ironic to Iconic: The Performance Works of Tanya Mars
Edited by Paul Couillard

Design by Sameer Farooq/New Ink
2009, 286 pp. (32-pp. colour section) with index
Includes DVD documentation of Mars’ performance Tyranny of Bliss

With articles by: Paul Couillard, Tagny Duff, Jennifer Fisher, Randy Gledhill, Nelson Henricks, Will Kwan, Paul Ledoux, Joanna Nash, Jennifer Oille, John Oughton and Pam Patterson, Andrew James Paterson, Kim Sawchuk, Dot Tuer

Tanya Mars has been a key figure in Canadian art since she burst on the scene in 1974 with her first groundbreaking exhibition, Codpieces Phallic Paraphernalia. Provocative and political, Mars has relentlessly shown us that the way to the jugular is through the funny bone, creating a series of compelling “three-dimensional pictures” that have made her one of Canada’s most acclaimed and important performance artists. This anthology offers a comprehensive look at her career, including a DVD with photo and video documentation of many of her major works.

“An innovative leader in the performance art scene here and internationally, Tanya Mars makes art that is courageous, humourous, operatic and original. Ironic to Iconic gives the reader a cogent and too little-known background to Mars’ career and her role in the development of performance art in Canada.”
~Jessica Bradley, curator and director of Jessica Bradley Art + Projects

Writing
The Cult of Delicate Glut: On Pleasure Addicts by Brenda Goldstein

Let us begin at the beginning. Glut is the primary word that comes to mind when describing the performative outputs of artist Brenda Goldstein. It must not, however overshadow the next.

DELICATE

Not delicate in the sense of subdued, fragile or frail. Rather: aerial, finespun, light as a feather. Brenda Goldstein is an artist whose practice takes on and picks apart layers of contemporary mythology: images of power are some of her favorites. In the case of Pleasure Addicts, she has again created a delicate glut of images. This output, like previous ones, asserts; the dominant media beast rolls over and shows its underbelly, rendering himself vulnerable, open, and submissive. But one does not get to scratch the belly of this beast by force. One must be strategic. Perhaps even a bit delicate. Pleasure Addicts is a messy hybrid. Goldstein developed this ten-hour multi-media performance project over a period of two years. Early on in the process, she consulted with other women artists who also work in performance. These artists were asked to develop a character in response to their own experiences as women. Throughout the development the focus moved away from these fictional characters and towards the crafting of honest responses to the contradictory and problematic imagery of women offered by contemporary spectacle. The group actually began with dance in music video format. They improvised with loaded objects together. They undertook a workshop with artist Misha Glouberman. After many hours of discussion and action, Goldstein scripted interactions for the performers to interpret based on the characters to whom they were drawn. These characters had now become individual persona devices for the ten performers to present in concert together during a festival of orgiastic excess in Toronto, CA at Toronto Free Gallery presented in part by Fado Performance Inc. While men have assisted in the creation of Pleasure Addicts, there are no men in this performance. The collective nature of this project bolsters its own feminist logic, structure and strength. It reflects working methodologies that Goldstein takes up regularly, and are the backbone of her creative process—research, consultation and collaboration. The simple act of collaboration among women artists towards a feminist project is a re-empowering one. Personal agendas quickly collapse and evaporate into a singular agency that defies traditional definitions of authority. These women have created their own world;one where they live, suffer the consequences of their mistakes, and die. They have each painted themselves into a personal corner, but not to be forsaken, forgotten. They have temporarily relocated to eke out an existence that embodies the very fears and limitations that underlie a shallow, delicate, daily sheen. Today’s the message is blended well: forceful and blasé, hot and cold, yes and no. “He’s just not that into you” is a line from a 2003 Sex and the City episode. In 2004, a consultant and writer for the show, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, teamed up to write a book with the same name. Just in time for Valentine’s Day in 2009, Warner Brothers released the movie version, featuring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson and a handful of B-list male actors as their elusive would-be paramours. The first sentence of the synopsis found on The Internet Movie Database summarizes the plot: “Since the age of 5, Gigi has been told that when men act like jerks, it means they like her.”

The marketing tagline is an equally paradoxical question mark for imaginary women to consider as they wait for the phone to ring:“Are you the exception – or the rule?” Like the Sex and the City line, the book and the title of the film, this question targets a general ‘you’ and imposes a judgment. Which category do you fall into? Is that your final answer? The story—women experiencing ongoing interconnected miscommunications with men—is subservient to the reinforcement of pop culture’s ethereal female (this person or group of people called ‘you’) whose inner wish is to be first in line to be satisfied with second-best, with a maybe. Pleasure Addicts uses this brand of marketing language, and its related concepts, images and tools to propose a closer look at the “real” story.

DEFINITELY MAYBE

On one hand, Pleasure Addicts is a messy version of feminine existence on a bad hair day. On the other hand it is life, or more accurately, actual lives lived out in front of our eyes. Its formal aspects and collaborative nature reflect a need today to continually redefine feminist expression. Our opponent (contemporary spectacle) is strong and pervasive. One compelling example of today is reality porn or ‘humilitainent’, a new phenomenon with a foothold in the Internet. For the tenth anniversary of Bitch Magazine, writer, Shauna Swartz was invited to provide her perspective on this developing form of pornography:

“In most places, paying for sex is illegal, that is, unless you document the transaction and sell the footage on the Internet. And if you show an attractive young woman, enticed by promises of cash, having sex with a complete stranger in a public setting—only to be kicked to the curb afterward with no pay and plenty of insults—chances are your porn site will be very, very popular…What distinguishes this new smut from its predecessors isn’t whether the action is scripted, but whether it’s portrayed as nonconsensual.”(4)

This coded documentation of what appears to be nonconsensual sex is wrought with questions. This web document shows part of a life lived by a woman. Swartz notably points out the link between this document and its creation. “The question of authenticity overshadows the sexual politics of why a woman might be willing to play the dupe, and any law-enforcement fixation on its social demerit misses the point that pop culture reflects the popular imagination at least as much as creates it.”(5)

In order for Swartz’ analysis to be useful in the reading of Pleasure Addicts, we must take it one step further. Yes, pop culture is a perfect machine. It absorbs popular imagination, brings it into being, and then even enables its dissemination and proliferation into the world. But what is pop culture capable of candidly saying about the lives of real women? Reality porn and He’s just not that into you (in all its iterations) are cultural events which present two aesthetic sides of the same wooden nickel: the women depicted have been handed the metaphorical supporting role with no time to practice their lines, let alone the opportunity to decline the offer. Assigned this obligatory part, how might one play it? As Nurse Feelgood, Pleasure Addicts prescribes a number of repetitive reactions to this question, to be taken in cycles over ten hours. Each image has its own aftereffect:

Check your Blackberry®

Eat/drink/sedate/stimulate yourself into oblivion

Pass out

Kill yourself or another, ideally your Frienemy

Redecorate

Do it again

…That’s Life

As an artistic mode, performance is a well-adjusted, rational response to our bizarre existence. Pleasure Addicts is powerful because it is what Dutch art critic Sven Lütticken might call a problematical fact of life: “…the performative spectacle gives birth to an ecological utopia in which all fundamental problems have been magically solved. But performance is not a solution or a promise; it is an obstinate and problematical fact. Only if we avoid presenting today’s culture of performance as a prelude to utopia and instead acknowledge its normative character, is there a chance of art performance instigating little ‘truth-events’ that highlight tiny fissures in the performative spectacle, and so raise the possibility of a more fundamental break with it.” (6) Goldstein’s formulation is not guiding us towards a utopia. At top speed, it is sending us careening off the bridge and into the glittering cold water below.

The more a moment is captured in images, the more that moment and those images become frozen in mass imagination. Those who witness the event have it burned into their retinas. Those who didn’t see the event have documentation (extensive or blurry) upon which they must rely. What does a ten-hour performative output like Pleasure Addicts accomplish more effectively than the slowing down and opening of real time? Perhaps Goldstein has offered us a spectacular breach: a few moments to regain consciousness, to come to our senses. Can we buy some time until the world has become a better place for women? We have ten hours.


Notes:

(1) In 2007, Goldstein and I co-created spin, a video installation which unravels the role of women in the crafting of history through three performances. For me, this collective production and presentation process was a powerful exploration of the particular risks, challenges and generosities involved when women work together on a feminist project.

(2) The Internet Movie Database, “He’s Just Not That Into You,” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1001508/

(3) ibid.

(4) Shauna Swartz, “XXX Offender: Reality Porn and the Rise of Humilitainment,” in bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), 318.

(5) ibid, 321.

(6)Sven Lütticken, “Progressive Striptease: Performance Ideology Past and Present,” in Secret Publicity: Essays on Contemporary Art (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, The Netherlands, 2005), 178.

Performance
Pleasure Addicts by Brenda Goldstein

Pleasure Addicts is a performance landscape, an all woman-carnival, a transmission from another media universe, where an evening of channel flipping is compressed into a single space. Pleasure Addicts explores the love-hate, inherently unstable push-pull nature of mass media conceptions of femininity drawn from celebrity culture, reality television, lifestyle programming, and run of the mill prime-time TV. 

PERFORMED BY
Aubrey Reeves
Brenda Goldstein
claude wittmann
Cathy Gordon
Yvonne Bambrick
Heather KeungJennifer Norton
Leila Gajusingh
Jesika Joy
lo bil
Maria Legault
Victoria Moufawad

The Pleasure Addicts performance was conceived by Brenda Goldstein after a year-long collaboration with Jesika Joy, Leila Gajusingh, Heather Keung, Jenn Norton, Aubrey Reeves and claude wittmann. Watch for our upcoming video Piece of Me.

Set and props: David Frankovich, Stephanie Chris
Video: Cabot McNenly
Make-up: Shawna Renee
Photos: Henry Chan

Pleasure Addicts is indebted to the support and assistance of FADO, Heather Haynes and the Toronto Free Gallery, and the Ontario Arts Council.

Performance
Not Waterproof by Julie Andrée T.

In Not Waterproof, Julie Andrée T. plays with the codes of representation and refuses all semblance of character. She exchanges the dramatic text for writing based on action. Subjected to a series of ordeals, pulverized and dirtied, her body becomes a dreamscape. In exposing her vulnerability, she quietly conveys the impermanent and ephemeral nature of our lives. Like an effervescent fraternal twin.

When performance-installation encounters theatre in Julie Andrée T’s work, the blend is unsettling and fascinating. Julie’s iconoclastic work is a hybrid of these two approaches in which dialogue, a series of actions and live images are gradually distilled into poetry. Disconcerting, moving and unclassifiable, the piece deploys an astounding transformation of the body by means of a metamorphosis of the stage landscape.

Conceived and performed by Julie Andrée T.
Lighting Design by Jean Jauvin
Sound Design by Laurent Maslé

Performance
International Visiting Artists: Israel

FADO Performance Art Centre is pleased to present new performance works from a trio of contemporary Israeli performance and visual artists, Yaron David, Karin Mendelovici and Meir Tati.

FADO invited Yaron David, curator and performance art event organizer, to perform a new work at FADO and to choose two other artists from Tel Aviv he was interested in bringing with him. The result was an intense 10-day working period in Toronto in which David, Medelovici and Tati worked together and collaborated on a new work. This performance, entitled BETI, is the culmination of a continuous and improvised performance and working process that began a month ago before leaving Tel Aviv. Combining video (documentation of the process, both indoor and out, starting in Tel Aviv and edited at the very last moment in Toronto) and live actions, the work of these three artists speaks to the loss of, search for, and the production of meaning in a fragile and chaotic reality, and the collaborative research of confusion. During their adventures they meet some people (one of them was a manicurist named Beti) and worked in a variety of sites and spaces.

Writing
Wall against Wall against Wall: Art and Cultural Boycott

I have taken on a rather horrible task: to discuss the matter of the campaign to impose a cultural boycott on Israel from a personal perspective of an artist and curator. In recent days I feel sorry for making that silly decision. What a headache. In fact, I considered writing a very short article consisting of only one sentence: “leave me alone, I wanna go away, take a rest from this dusty old screwed up Middle East, get some attention (well, alright, from those five people who actually show up to see performance art), recharge my libido and satisfy my curiosity, and let me assure you that I am a moral person and an advocate of human rights etc. etc.” But apparently that would not be enough, nor would it be the absolute truth: lately I am a bit tired of art and people, the libido is not doing brilliantly, and frankly, I’m not so sure that deep inside I’m a completely moral person as I would like to believe. Still, since I made the commitment, I will nevertheless try to wear a mask of analytic seriousness for a moment.

In the past few years I mainly travel to meet my own ignorance. The more I travel, the more ignorant I become. Cities and countries I have read about on the internet break down into countless states of consciousness. Conversations with people reveal to me the great contradictions behind concepts and presumptions. Meanwhile and simultaneously, the body functions in a framework of artistic convention – performance art. Deriving from an encounter (with another person, a place, a space), performance art always contains an element of potential breach, the ability to be immediate and move with unanticipated temporal conditions, or lose control altogether. The body transmits frequencies, not always clear even to itself, and these frequencies incorporate the accumulated psychophysical froth as it suddenly meets an unknown space.  And then I come back home, to Tel Aviv. In rare moments of openness, I also discover the ignorance of that which is right under my nose. An unfamiliar neighbor I accidentally run into shows me that even my own neighborhood, where I have been staying for ten years, is a lost Atlantis.

Tel Aviv tries to pretend it is a normal city. War always looms in the background, occasionally invading in the form of terrorist bombings. This country is a winding crack in a particularly dense historical vision. Anyone who seeks a concise lesson in an impossible assembly of clichés – on issues of nationality, religion, colonialism, utopia, conquests, holocausts, grotesque identities born of catastrophe, wars of civilizations and sub-civilizations and sub-sub-civilizations – is welcome to come here. The bottom line is that people are mostly struggling with themselves. In short, welcome to the Ghost of the West; to the drain hole of everything that refuses to become repressed.

As we know, that delirious seam likes to occasionally combust and display spectacles of mass killings that may have not reached their pinnacle yet. The effect on the artist, living inside this existence and taking part in all flavors of the contemporary global culture is  two-fold: first there is the tendency to covertly or explicitly encourage standard and easily-digestible political maxims that are either “pro-Israeli” or “pro-Palestinian”, as if this was a soccer match, in order to assimilate into the western, and particularly West European cultural arena; and secondly there is the threat of a cultural boycott – the application of which being thus far limited, though there is evidence of its gradual strengthening in recent years in indirect and camouflaged ways. On rare occasions, curators in conversation with me choose to boldly and frankly share the complexities of this issue (for example, Shannon Cochrane, curator of FADO, Performance Art Centre in Toronto, following the conversation with whom I am writing these words).

The famous cliché goes that “everything is political”. And that is largely true. But firstly and foremost, anything political is also emotional, psychological, and a reflection of consciousness trying to delineate separate identities by projecting onto some kind of an imagined “other”. There are those who still insist on conserving a position of relative sanity, and who aim to establish an artistic strategy that is not only influenced by the political but that mainly strives to radically expose the apparatus of consciousness behind the political – the same mechanism that always seeks to construct a separate and “just” identity in the name of some agenda. The resulting art does not really need, if it doesn’t wish, to commit to those readymade political and moral ideas at the price of over-simplification – especially in a place where reality is incredibly intricate. It illuminates an existence within a flawed and relative world, and perhaps, in rare moments, can mark a window to a dimension where those fortified boundaries of consciousness are blurred, if only in the slightest. At its best, this kind of art soberly testifies to its own limitations, out of sincerity and questioning.

And yet, reality: Israel-Palestine has a continuous reality of occupation and oppression of Palestinians, war with external Islamic factors, severe internal polarization and trampling capitalism. There is a silent majority busy with its daily survival, extremists and fear-ridden people of every type, alongside experimental cultural phenomena that are varied and surprising, and that reflect progressive post-national civil values. These contradictions often co-exist as a confusing whirlpool on the level of the individual. It is always interesting to discover, both here in Israel and anywhere else, people who deconstruct their own identities and who find out they are not complete saints nor complete sinners; people who know they are not absolute individuals, and that they are a part – whether they like it or not – of a system of social belonging, propaganda and counter-propaganda; that they live in a world of identities and murderous self-interests of every kind. Sometimes art is able to observe all this and generate a degree of distance, though small, where it can then meet all sorts of very imperfect people from many places in the world.

There are those who like their art attached to clear cut moral values. It’s their right. I try to focus on one rule only: dealing with representation. It is there that we are allowed to reflect each and every destructive and unresolved contradiction. At the end of the day, this is only a game of self-awareness. If this game works correctly and deeply, it does not lead to nihilism but to a state where people are sharing their limitations with other people. Ultimately, this process of exposure can evoke a new sensitivity. Inside this relative reality, it seems there is much to learn particularly from artists from conflict-ridden countries. The list of killings, occupations, exploitations, human rights violations and industries of intimidation under various justifications, is long and includes dozens of states. I wouldn’t want to boycott American and British artists following the mass killings in Iraq; nor would I want to boycott Russian artists following the killing of civilians in Chechnya and Georgia; nor Chinese artists following the occupation of Tibet; I would also gladly meet an Iranian artist, even if they support the destruction of the imperialistic Zionists – they would apparently have just reasons to think like that from their point of view. I would happily meet every artist from near and far corners of the Earth that I may have read a column or two about, without sifting through their moral values based on my own previous assumptions; they need not produce readymade anti-war clichés in advance (even if I myself have a personal preference to mingle with all kinds of lefties, some radical activists and some complete pacifists. There too, of course, paradoxical inner contradictions may arise – the demand for “freedom” that creates another wall and countless enemies).

Seemingly, most of the campaign’s supporters claim they only intend to boycott artists supported by Israeli public institutions, and not independent artists. Here too, when rummaging through the work of this or that person, one may find a deep ocean of a very impure reality. Like any citizen, artists everywhere support mechanisms of order and power with their tax money ; they feed at one point or another, directly or otherwise, on public funds and the local machine of economy – through systems of education, cultural production and distribution. Many cultural phenomena that carry a “subversive” value ultimately feed off, and perhaps not incidentally, the existing power structures – within which are the dialectics of both centre and fringe, conflicting interests, conservation of oppressive order and its undermining. Academic and cultural work with the apparent agenda of dismantling power structures is supported by public funds on one level or another. Even more radical fringe activity grows and branches out of that same food chain. Many paradoxes that are hard to swallow exist within this endless arena of brawl. There are some who think that to relinquish the public resource arena, in the name of some illusion of purity, is actually an act of desperate political nihilism. In short, the attempt to quantify and simplify these many complicated phenomena is a bottomless pit; it demands the willingness to sink in the depths of deep contradictions that the eye cannot easily see. Fans of purity could come down with intense paranoia. Sure, the debate on boundaries on this matter is necessary and healthy, only in many cases it may be best to expose it for its proximity to being shallow, arrogant and hypocritical; to perpetuating existing power structures in the name of the rhetoric of purity.

Of course one cannot be naive and deny the fact that everything is tied into a system of power relations. One might boycott Israeli artists and not those who come from international superpowers. Absurdly enough, this position debilitates those Israeli factors that still attempt, in the midst of a sea of fear and despair, to believe in a reality of an equal and secular civil society and in the possibility of ending the occupation; those same factors that conduct daily and fragile networks of civil collaborations and who express resistance to a forceful and deaf policy. The civil achievements made here despite everything cannot be taken for granted when blood still trickles down the streets, and there is far more delicate and sensitive work to be done in the face of the domineering extremes. Can the threat of cultural boycott drastically change the opinions of those who, thinking critically and compassionately, understand that the causes and reasons for war in history and in the human mind are plural and complex? Moreover, do these threats only intensify a state of deep-seated cynicism and nihilism? Will populist comparisons to Apartheid in South Africa help people understand the specifically profound circumstances of the nightmare they are living in, even as fierce critics of the state they are citizens of? There are many types of misery, oppression and tragic circumstance in the world, and here too God is in the small and inconvenient details. Those who think that boycott will contribute to a quick fix of the conflict are warmly invited to dip in this boiling concoction, the one that leaves little room for illusions of speedy salvation. Conversely, those who consider boycott part of a total ban on the existence of the state of Israel do not need this discussion. For them, we could end here, in mutual understanding. And indeed, there are those who think that people born in unjust locales must eradicate their very core and take personal liability, for example, for the outcomes of a bleeding Jewish-Christian-Muslim history and of oppressive colonialism. From these undoers of history, at most, we can politely ask for passports to kingdoms of pure justice.

Trying to simplify the situation in Israel is akin to trying to exorcise the demons of a many factored global conflict, and fetishistically focusing it on one point; it is a purist attempt at denying those, of all people, with the capacity to reflect the suffocating odors of this volcanic pit as a product of a historic nightmare with singularly entangled roots. Needless to say, many people have strong feelings for this story, because it reflects something deep that they connect with. In the cultural-artistic context, this uncomfortable discourse needs to remain open to interpretation. Humans do not choose to be born in certain places. Artists may at least try and give testimony of those places with their tools of expression. In the field of art, this is, most importantly, about the freedom to give conflicting testimonies.

Potentially, art can enter twilight areas that are difficult to address directly. Through this exploration, the deep symbiosis of narratives is discovered, the inseparable reciprocities. The barrel of blood is underneath all. Untwining the roots of catastrophe can cross many identities on the way to the futile attempt at locating some “Original Sin”. The “other” is always a nightmarish projection of a process of denial of self. Any attempt to remotely create a projection of ideas of sin and sacredness onto groups, to create a flat abstraction of “Israelis”, “Palestinians”, or any other group, creates more war. In reality, identities are dynamic things that include very many sub-groups and contradictions; they constantly fight and assimilate into each other in a kind of a destructive erotic impulse that creates new pairings. That is one of the greatest jokes on this planet, and it looks like we’re going to keep laughing until it explodes.

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is only a small test case for a much larger question to do with the cross-cultural encounter between identities in crisis in a wide cultural context. There is no specific characteristic here that relates specifically to performance art, other than one essential fact: performance art is a form that represents, above all else, a live and immediate communication, a breach, a process, becoming and being in conditions of unpredictable encounters. The mere structural principle of international performance art events assumes a political disposition, and is sometimes much more important than any political content in the work itself. One clear and obvious factor can be identified within this process: the more funding a body of art receives, the more pressure it faces to represent a “worthy” discourse. In that context, some emphasize the affinity between performance art events and cultural activism that deals with solidifying temporary international communities, usually at minimum financial means or any direct political dependencies. The conception of performance art as a low-means field that relies on the body alone, with no commercial value or serious public impact, usually allows in many cases for greater liberty. In this, the pressure on artists to produce a fashionable and defined discourse is clearly lifted. Ultimately, this is a recurring pattern in many activities of contemporary global culture networks, and we need not categorically isolate the performance art field from a wider context; it is already woven through with the elaborate activities of individuals in numerous systems – in the arts, academics, social-cultural activism and more.

When all is said and done, action that involves threats of boycott only forces people to find alternative ways, out of the understanding that the existing power structures had already been corrupt by positioning a wall against existing walls. Above all else, any cultural-political act with a spark of vitality deals not only with criticism but with establishing a new human reality; in a passing instant of willingness to forget all the hopeless and exhausting accountings of guilt, blood and body counts. So perhaps we – the imperfect people, infested with contradictions – may see something new, in the flicker of a moment, beyond the smokescreen. 


Yaron David (b. 1970, Israel) works in video and performance art. He is also a curator and is active in the performance art scene in Tel Aviv, working with and organizing events with PAP (Performance Art Platform) including a monthly performance event (2004-2007), as well as the ZAZ International Performance Art Festival (2007, 2008). He is a writer and freelance editor, working with museums and cultural institutions. David’s work has been presented at international festivals in Israel, Crotia, UK, Finland, Istanbul, Poland, France and at the National Review of Live Art in Scotland, among other events and exhibitions. This will be David’s first appearance in North America.

Performance
International Visiting Artists: Poland

FADO Performance Art Centre is pleased to present new solo live works from two of Poland’s most exciting, engaging and surprising performance artists, Dariusz Fodczuk and Arti Grabowski. We give them the moniker of the Polish Power Players as homage to the title of Dariusz Fodczuk’s on-going performance series entitled Tiny Therapeutic Theatre.

Polish Power Players and Tiny Therapeutic Theatre. Seems straightforward enough. As you read this you imagine yourself understanding what you might see at this event. Don’t be fooled. The titles are full of contradictions. Tiny Therapeutic Theatre is not tiny or therapeutic in a traditional sense. And it’s not ‘theatre’ at all. It’s large, loud, and attempts to—metaphorically—explode the theatre. Performance art as therapy… perhaps. Performance art as self-aware, embracing, and helpful… absolutely. The works presented by these two artists are gentle and abrasive, funny and disturbing, and combine rigorous action with engaged audience interaction. Come prepared for a whole new kind of theatre.

© Dariusz Fodczuk, Tiny Therapeutic Theatre, 2009. Photo Miklos Legrady.

Performance
Mothering by Moynan King

Un party pyjama avec des jeux de société, du chocolat chaud et des contes au lit avant de faire dodo.

Part visual art installation and part interactive performance, Mothering is a 4-day pyjama party complete with board games, warm ovaltine, bed time stories and the familiar touch of mother’s warm hand on your cheek as you drift off to sleep. Audience members are greeted at the door of the gallery, offered a flannel nightshirt and are gently encouraged to become a part of the installation itself. Exploring and confounding the line between audience and performer, Mothering recognizes the audience as significant in the art-making process. Just like Mom would.

Performed by
Moynan King
Nathalie Claude
Dayna McLeod

Thank you for helping me with the puzzle, thank you for not making me do my own dishes, and thank you for brushing my hair.

Your daughter, Miriam

Trop cool d’avoir trios maman.

Your son, Jerome

Of course you can bring your friends and stay as long as you want.

Love, Mom
E-Bulletin Green

This scent is an homage to the future; for things to come. Cut grass, string bean, coriander, and ivy diffuse a smell of ever-green, or the eternal return, however you decide.

Top Notes

cut grass, lovage, coriander

Middle Notes

string bean, fennel

Base Notes

ivy leaves, moss