Yvonne Rainer, a co-founding member of the Judson Dance Theater in 1962, made a transition to filmmaking following a fifteen-year career as a choreographer/dancer (1960-1975). After making seven experimental feature films — Lives of Performers (1972), Privilege (1990), MURDER and murder (1996), among others — she returned to dance in 2000 via a commission from the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation for the White Oak Dance Project (After Many a Summer Dies the Swan). Her dances since then include AG Indexical, with a little help from H.M., RoS Indexical, a Performa07 commission, Spiraling Down, Assisted Living: Good Sports 2, and Assisted Living: Do You Have Any Money? Her dances and films have been shown world wide, and her work has been rewarded with museum exhibitions, fellowships, and grants, most notably two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Rockefeller grants, a Wexner Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, and retrospective exhibitions at Kunsthaus Bregenz and Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2012), the Getty Research Institute, L.A. and Raven Row, London (2014). A memoir — Feelings Are Facts: a Life — was published by MIT Press in 2006. A selection of her poetry was published in 2011 by Paul Chan’s Badlands Unlimited.
Somalia / Canada
Idil Mussa is a Toronto based, Somali-Canadian artist. She is most fascinated with how social and political movements inspire people to action and the ways in which those movements shape art and culture.
Natalie S. Loveless received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She also holds a PhD (History of Consciousness, UCSC) and an MA (Art History, Theory and Criticism, Tufts University). Previous curatorial projects include Participatory Dissent at Vancouver’s Western Front Society (2007) and Intervene! Interrupt! Rethinking Art as Social Practice at the University of California, Santa Cruz (2008). Also an interdisciplinary artist, her wall-drawing installations, performance actions and video works have been presented in festivals, galleries and artist-run centres in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Her son, Orion, is almost two.
Gina Miller is a visual artist who lives in Vancouver, Canada. Her recent work focuses on narratives surrounding growth: psychological, spiritual and physical. Family Tissues is Miller’s first foray into performance. Gina has a Fine Arts diploma from Capilano University (2003) and will graduate in the Spring of 2012 from Emily Carr University with her B.F.A. She is mother to thirteen-year old Hewitt, seven-year old Rupert, and six-year old Harper.
Japan / Canada
Yumi Onose was born in Japan. Yumi’s passion in traveling and learning lead to her study of visual arts and performance. She was invited to be artist-in-residence and exhibited in Poland in 2003, created art for contemporary dance piece Red Dream directed by Keiko Ninomiya in 2006, and exhibited Evolving Forms with Harvey Chan in 2007. She has performed in Something about Gender (2009), we see their work on friday and on saturday they respond to it” (2010) and 24h of butoh and it is not butoh (2010), all directed by claude wittmann in Toronto.
Bulgaria / Canada
Vassya Vassileva, performer and lecturer, is cuurrently working on her PhD in Visual Semiotics at New Bulgarian University, Sofia. Her previous studies include MA in Philosophy and Intercultural Studies, BA in Art Pedagogy at St. Kliment Ohridski University, Sofia. Since October 2004 she has been searching for the artist Friedrich Nichtmargen. Areas of interest: visual discourse and culture, contextual analysis, empathic reason, discourse ethics, mental mapping, geography of time-space formations, friedrichology, gargarisma, art as experience…
Irma Optimist and Pekka Luhta curated by Paul Couillard
For this installment of FADO’s ongoing International Visiting Artists series, we feature solo performances by two Finnish artists who incorporate digital media in the form of video projection.
Video has been a staple component of performance art since the technology became accessible to artists with the development of the Portapac in the 1970s. The refinement of projection technologies and the widespread availability and affordability of video recorders has accelerated the dialogue between these two time-based disciplines. What was once a complex and technically challenging relationship has rapidly become relatively commonplace, and the ability to accommodate basic video projection is now standard for most performance art producers.
Video’s strength is its ability to conjure up images that are not readily at hand: recording what has passed, moving through faraway spaces, or manifesting images that are beyond the everyday laws of physics and logic. By contrast, performance art’s strength is that it offers the opportunity for performer and audience to breathe the same air. In performance, the artist can respond spontaneously to the exigencies of the moment.
Contemporary artists have employed a wide range of strategies and have a variety of reasons for combining these two distinct forms. In the case of Irma Optimist and Pekka Luhta, two artists whose works inevitably rely on interactivity and improvisation as key artistic tactics, video projections become the fixed supporting player in an unpredictable larger action. The projections serve as an emblem to reinforce the underlying intentions that compelled the performer to engineer this unstable moment of communion with his or her audience.
While the two artists have distinct and highly individualized practices, they deploy a similar strategy that provides a coherence for their pairing in this series. Both present performance works that stage an intersection of the deconstructive impulses of intellectual or emotional energy (theory in process) with the reconstructive impulses of the material or physical reality of their bodies (theory in practice). They are fearless in their willingness to mine the charms and foibles of their bodies to provide metaphors that demonstrate, disseminate and at the same time problematize theoretical concepts.
For Irma Optimist, who leads a double life as a respected professor of advanced mathematics, female sexuality is the tactic of choice in her performance art works. Using various personas, from sex kitten to the mythical huntress Diana, she seduces, captivates and captures males within her audience in order to explain mathematical formulae. For Pekka Luhta, a prosthetic limb provides the departure point for setting up complex readings of cultural and social theory. Both present works that hint at a slightly surrealist sensibility, employing rapid-fire humour and high-impact visual imagery. A sense of fun generated in the moment where artist and audience come together cushions the later, deeper impact of serious thought that remains.
Devora Neumark’s interdisciplinary artistic practice includes live-art, durational performative interventions, sound and photography installations, public commissions and storytellings. In 1995, she initiated and co-organised (with Regine Basha) the international symposium “Visual Art and Jewish Identity: A Contemporary Experience” at the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, Montreal. More recently she initiated and co-organized (with Loren Lerner and pk langshaw) Public Art as Social Intervention…, a Montreal-based project held at Concordia University in November 1999, which included a symposium, artistic interventions and an extensive website. From 1995 to 1999 Neumark served as Vice President of Auberge Shalom…pour femmes, Canada’s first Kosher crisis intervention centre and shelter for women victims of conjugal violence. As a frequent lecturer, she has addressed a wide variety of audiences, speaking about engaged artistic practice, the authority of memory, formations of identity, and inter-generational violence and healing.
Kristyn Dunnion‘s dystopic Tarry This Night made CBC’s top 20 fall fiction list and Bitch’s November must reads. The Dirt Chronicles (also with Arsenal Pulp Press) was a 2012 Lambda Literary Award finalist and ALA Over the Rainbow selection. Recent fiction appears in The New Guard, Cosmonauts Avenue, and The Tahoma Literary Review. A performance artist and local musician, Dunnion’s provocative work incites critical questions about identity, justice, and power.
b. 1948, USA
Adrian Piper is a first-generation Conceptual artist and analytic philosopher. She began exhibiting her artwork internationally at the age of twenty, and graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1969. While continuing to produce and exhibit her artwork, she received a B.A. in Philosophy with a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Musicology from the City College of New York in 1974 and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1981. Adrian Piper produces artwork in a variety of traditional and nontraditional media, including photo-text collage, drawing on pre- printed paper, video installation, site-specific sculptural installation, digital imagery, performance and sound works.
A performance series for the start of times
Put together by Shannon Cochrane and Francesco Gagliardi
Joe Culpepper (USA)
Claudia Edwards (Toronto)
Vanessa Dion Fletcher (Toronto)
Nadège Grebmeier Forget (Montréal)
Marcin Kedzior (Toronto)
Mathieu Lacroix (Montréal)
Mani Mazinani (Toronto)
Sue Murad (USA)
Jehan Roberson (USA)
Cara Spooner (Toronto)
PLUS limited-edition placemats designed by Lisa Kiss, with drawings by Hazel Meyer.
On the Table Off the Table is a series of commissioned performance works engaging with the table as context, stage, and trope. Aspiring to aesthetic neutrality or demanding attention as a chosen object, the table reappears throughout the history of performance, at times taking center stage, at other times hiding in plain sight.
For this series, artists working at the confluence of performance art and a range of diverse practices—from writing to dance, from sound to magic—will create live work in conversation with performance traditions about, around, and on tables.
FADO Performance Art Centre’s first post(?)-pandemic live series, On the Table Off the Table also intends to provide artists and audiences with an opportunity to re-learn together how to inhabit the space of public presentation, rediscovering the solitary workstation as a place of gathering and play.
DETAILS & INFO
- There will be 1–2 performances each evening.
- Doors will open at listed times. Performances will start 30 minutes later.
- Mask-wearing for audience is mandatory in the performance space. Exemptions respected.
- Performers will not necessarily be masked while performing.
- Accessible washrooms are located on the 4th floor.
- Non-alcoholic drinks will be served, please eat your dinner before arriving.
Free. All welcome. Tell us you will be attending. Register on Eventbrite.
September 23 @ 7:00pm: Cara Spooner, Vanessa Dion Fletcher
September 24 @ 7:00pm: Joe Culpepper & Marcin Kedzior, Claudia Edwards
September 29 @ 7:00pm: Sue Murad, Mathieu Lacroix
September 30 @ 7:00pm: Mani Mazinani, Nadège Grebmeier Forget
October 1 @ 5:00pm: Jehan Roberson
Jehan Roberson’s performance is co-presented by Hemispheric Encounters, a partnership project supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Curated and presented by FADO in the context of the 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art
In partnership with L’Ecart Lieu D’Art Actuel
Do you have a special relationship with your sculptures? What if they were the ones performing? How would they do it?
This installation-performance is inspired by the Canadian investigative technique called “Mr. Big,” which allows an undercover police officer to obtain a confession from a suspect of a serious, unsolved crime. Led by shape-shifting characters, living sculptures, dual weapons and a televisual soundscape, M. Gros [Mr. Big] tackles identity issues relating to surveillance, infiltration, idea theft and copying; but moves beyond classic investigative games with a narrative that pays special attention to a contemporary art ecosystem.
M. Gros [Mr. Big] takes many forms. A performative version was presented at La Chapelle Scènes Contemporaines (Montréal), Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles (Paris), La Capella (Barcelona); and has appeared as an installation-performance at Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain (Montréal). In addition to being presented by FADO at the 7a*11d festival in Septeber, M. Gros [Mr. Big] will also be presented at la Biennale d’art performative de Rouyn-Noranda, Galerie d’art Louise-et-Reuben- Cohen (Moncton), Festival Actoral (Montréal, Usine C) and at the Théâtre du Trillium (Ottawa).
Reflection on M. Gros [Mr. Big] by Antoine Charbonneau-Demers
Geneviève and Matthieu bring me into their studio. They take my coat and hang it up. Monsieur Gros and Monsieur Gros are in the checkroom with a coat hanger, a cotton candy machine and a rope-knife. There is no shortage of evidence, in fact, that’s all there is; everywhere, evidence that an artist’s life is violent.
Crime often comes from within. Geneviève speaks over Matthieu, then he reproaches her for expressing herself poorly. They lay themselves bare. They love each other, and above all, they say the same thing. Two big babies, one united family. M. Gros is a story of appetite, of thirst, of excess, but it is also the story of a duo of artists who emancipate themselves. The large painting, they knocked it down because it oppressed them so much.
Since I have known them, I feel like taking everything from them. Sometimes, alone at home, I imitate Geneviève’s eloquence, I invoke Matthieu’s quiet strength. They are so big.
While they are discussing wiretapping, I record them. Geneviève confides to me that she dreams of writing an investigative script, but that she is unable to do so. Immediately, I say to myself: I will write one for them. I infiltrate their workshop, I will be inspired by their characters, I will slip into their skin. Then they say, “We’ll find the copycat artist, and if we have to, we’ll look for him among the members.” They set me up. That’s the beginning of Operation Mister Big.
7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art
September 6–10, 2022
b. 1985, Canada
Nadège Grebmeier Forget’s interdisciplinary practice unfolds via durational, live, live-streamed and private performances, which sometimes result in drawing, photography or installation works. In these performances, she models and hybridizes herself to defuse expectations of beauty and explore the effects (and affects) of the concerned gaze on the unfolding identity as it is observed and analyzed by others, including oneself. Seeking to confront desires and ideals (aesthetic, commercial, sexual, etc.) through an empowered and performative manipulation of her own image, she intrinsically questions the labour of making and becoming; including the ways in which performance (of self or art) can be documented, shown, disseminated or exhibited.
Engaged within both of Montreal’s visual and live arts communities—as an artist, freelance project coordinator, creative consultant or artistic director. She has participated in numerous events, festivals, panels, residencies, and exhibitions across Canada, the US, and Europe, and is the first performance artist to receive the City of Montreal’s Prix Pierre-Ayot (2019), awarded in partnership with the Contemporary Art Galleries Association (AGAC).
The duo Geneviève & Matthieu, from Rouyn-Noranda in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, started working in the late 1990s, blending visual art, performance, music and everyday life. Geneviève & Matthieu play on interdisciplinarity—happening, musical composition, performance art and installation—to create group performances and productions of social tableaux that are at times festive but always human.
Beginning in 2001, their discography includes five titles. Between the baroque, abstract expressionism and arte povera, their works have been presented over forty times in Québec, across Canada, the United States, France, Belgium and Spain. Actively involved in their community, Geneviève & Mathieu have been developing the artist-run centre Écart and the Biennale d’art performatif de Rouyn-Noranda for over 20 years.
The duo takes a critical look at past and current artistic movements: DIY culture, conceptual art and performance art. Through residencies, public dissemination and the experience of a body that bounces, transforms and blends into art, their works are constantly evolving. Propelled by the human spirit, their creative approach favours a living art that challenges usual modes of presentation through the change of the place, duration, and manner of exhibiting and performing.
Image: Jehan Roberson. Photo © Jay Bendett.
Jehan Roberson is a queer writer, scholar, artist, and memory worker using text as the basis for her interdisciplinary practice. Born and raised in Memphis, TN, Jehan’s work explores text as a site of liberation, place making, and historical intervention for Black peoples in the Americas. Her art and research have informed her previous work in archives and cultural sites such as the National Civil Rights Museum and the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, Kismet Productions in Chicago, and the Borges Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Jehan is a PhD student in English Language and Literatures at Cornell University. She holds a MA from NYU’s John W. Draper School of Humanities and Social Thought and a BA in English Literature with a double minor in Spanish and Journalism from the University of Missouri.
Mathieu Lacroix is a Montreal-based artist from Drummondville, Québec. He holds a BFA from UQAM in Montreal. He has recently exhibited at Clark Center in Montréal, Maison de la culture Côte-des-Neiges in Montréal and CIRCA art actuel in Montreal. He has performed in many locations, for example at 7a*11d, the International Festival of Performance in Toronto. His works can be found in the collection of La Ville de Montréal. Mathieu Lacroix has been invited to participate at the Off Biennale of Contemporary African Art in Dakar, Senegal, and he performed in a group exhibition at Dazibao, Montreal.
Mathieu Lacroix’s multidisciplinary practice comprises drawing, sculpture, installation and performance. The notion of the “sketch” is central to his work, employing it as both a conceptual approach and a literal technique across a spectrum of media, helping to subtly unify his wide-ranging intellectual and formal interests. He creates unusual environments borrowing from both the domestic space and the commercial. Lacroix’s interventions question the complex relationship between the individual and his environment, habits, and identity. His work touches lightly but profoundly on issues from many areas such as politics, economics, personal and collective identities, and perceptual experience.
Joe Culpepper is a magician, consultant and researcher. He is an associate researcher at Montréal’s National Circus School, is a member of London’s Magic Circle, and has adapted magic effects for Cirque du Soleil, Concordia University, and others.
Performance on Camera investigates the intersections between performance art and the camera. It is a two-intensive workshop hosted by the performance and video artist Rah Eleh. During the first day of the workshop, attendees can expect to do a series of physical exercises that will focus on character development, exploration and physicality. The second day of the workshop will be a lecture about filmmaking techniques such as framing and lighting.
Workshop attendees will be given the opportunity to create their own video that will be screened at 401 Richmond in FADO’s presentation and screening space at a later date (TBD). Attendees do not need any knowledge of performance or video production to attend, however a camera (phone or tablet cameras are acceptable) will be required for participation. Some knowledge of post-production editing is beneficial but not necessary. Attendees are welcome to explore a character they have previously developed or explore a new one. Participants will provide their own camera and any necessary materials (costumes, props, pen and paper are encouraged).
This workshop is offered for free of charge. Space is limited to 15 participants. Attendance is required on both dates. This workshop is in-person. Participants are required to mask in the co-working space and when social distancing is not possible.
Image © Rah Eleh, Oriental Drag. Courtesy of the artist.
Marcin Kedzior is a writer, journal editor, urban thinker, experimental dancer and educator focusing on critical theory and collaborative urban improvisations. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Art from Queen’s University and a Master of Architecture from the University of Toronto. He teaches interior design at Humber ITAL and architectural studies at the University of Toronto. He was on the winning team of the Nathan Philips Square revitalization and he has exhibited work at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, the Architectural Association, London and in numerous other venues. By considering both the construction and inhabitation of spaces as social performances of people and materials, Kedzior attempts to deal with the necessarily dynamic, improvisatory and contingent aspects of bodies, materials, plans and programs.
He is aided and inspired by warehouses of literary ghosts, tactical board games, scaffolding, shoelaces, John Cage’s experimental musical notation, railings, Simone Forti’s dance constructions, goat pastures, counter monuments, and shadows.
Artist-led embodied research project by lo bil
Hosted by FADO Performance Art Centre
While this is performance-artist-based invitation, there is no imperative to perform for others. Through presence and attending to what you wish to do, you are potentially helping others attend to doing something they wish to do. Artists can use the time and space in any way they wish, however it is important to note that this project makes space for different forms of movement to occur.
COMPASS is a cross between a studio, a gym, a playground, a library and something unknown that welcomes all kinds of action and participation from both artists and visitors.
We are seeking artists who wish to spend 2–3 hours between September 5–9 in a process of navigating shared space while engaging in their own performance practice. Each session will be very open for experimental approaches, varying levels of public interaction, and is intended as real-time embodied research. Each artist will discover for themselves the benefits and challenges of working in this way. Artists may choose to attend one or more sessions.
Date: September 6–9, 2022
Time: 11:30am–2:30pm, daily
Location: The Commons @ 401, 401 Richmond Street West
From September 13–16, a smaller group of artists from the first week will continue to develop the discoveries they have encountered, working towards a public showing on the afternoon of September 17. Artists involved in this second week of COMPASS will be paid a small honorarium for their participation.
We welcome proposals from artists who cannot be physically present at COMPASS sessions to connect via video call or to offer provocations for public to engage in. All contributions, whether in-person or remote, will be credited. Everyone from emerging to established artists are welcome to join. Artists are also welcome to drop by during the first week or the final showing to see what’s up and/or to participate in unexpected ways.
Join us for an open showing of COMPASS on September 17 @ 1:00pm–4:00pm.
If you would like to join COMPASS for one or more days, send an email to: email@example.com using the subject line: COMPASS / FADO and include:
your name and contact details;
which dates you would like to join us between September 6–9;
an artist statement or description of your art interests;
a short proposal of how you would use the space and time (not knowing is always a possible option).
This is not a review process. All proposals will be accepted. Asking for an brief outline of your proposal for the space and times helps us make space for everyone that wants to join in. Please note that the space will be open for anyone to join on any day.
With the participation of: Jacqui Arntfield, Ellen Bleiwas, Simon Fuh, Chris Mendoza, Dana Prieto, Matt Nish-Lapidus, Mehrnaz Rohbakhsh, St Marie φ Walker
Guided by five themed prompts, each dreamer-participant engaged at their own pace with short readings, various media and creative exercises that steered their performative responses. Intended to function as alternative embodied approaches to traditional research, each participant was encouraged to trust their intuition, lean into play and follow their feelings to experiment with the ephemeral and dream of alternatives to our current position. The project commenced in a collective action of rest in Toronto’s Queen’s Park, a historic site of protest and strikes.
The findings of each participant will be collected, collated and transformed into an alternative publication in the form of a field guide as a tool for score-based self-practice. Coming in September 2022.
Performing for the archive; the archive is a performance.
For Louise Liliefeldt’s Performance Home project, over the course of fall/winter 2021, the artist is taking a deep dive through her personal archive of materials, photos and videos documenting her performance practice over the last 20 plus years.
On the surface, the goal is to create a website that illustrates Liliefeldt’s practice, providing a chronological history for those familiar with her work and for new audiences. Behind the surface however is the endless work of sifting, sorting, accessing and editing that the archive needs from us. How does the performance artists make order from what is essentially ephemeral, chaotic and non-linear?
This project was partially funded by the Ontario Arts Council. The website design is by Kathleen Smith of 7Pirouettes.
Image © FADO, 2018. Photo Henry Chan.
My name is Francesco Gagliardi and on behalf of FADO I am delighted to welcome you to the opening of GOOD BUY! by Tanya Mars.
Saying that the person you’re about to introduce needs no introduction is usually a cliché, but on this occasion it’s just a statement of fact. If you’re here tonight you know Tanya, and if you know her you love her – or at least you want some of her stuff.
So instead of talking about Tanya I will talk about myself, and I will tell you about the first time I sat eyes on Tanya Mars. It was about ten years ago – at the Lower Ossington Theatre: just a few doors north of her old apartment, which many of you will remember. Seiji Shimoda was performing his then already famous table piece, in which he cavorted on and around a table for about an hour wearing no clothes. The piece was originally performed using a custom-built table, but by the time I saw it, it involved the use of what Seiji referred to as “indigenous” tables: tables found on site and somehow connected to the ecosystem of specific performance communities. At the end of the evening, Shannon Cochrane – then, as tonight, the wizard behind the curtain – thanked Ms. Mars for lending the table. She waved off the acknowledgement rather brusquely, shaking her head in a way that was soon to become familiar to me: a sort of modified hair flip, the last phase of an elaborate sequence of actions starting with her glasses repeatedly traveling up and down between the bridge of her nose and the crown of her head, and invariably getting entangled in her platinum blond hair. It was 2008 and she had just been awarded the Governor General’s Award in Visual Arts. I found her rather formidable.
In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that it was Tanya who lent the table, and not just because she lived next door: she sat (at her table) at the very centre of the city’s performance ecosystem. As I came to learn, if you needed something, chances were that Tanya had it. And, if she had it, she would lend it to you no question asked. A rotary telephone or a rotating tray, a yard of pink fabric or a pair of riding spurs, faux fur, real fur, fake eyelashes, thigh-high fishing boots or tap shoes, a thurible, a button in the shape of a gondola or a gondola made of buttons, two identical cocktail hats or five boxes of plastic bobblehead dogs.
Over the years, this extraordinary collection has grown while traveling from Montreal to Toronto to Shelburne Nova Scotia, and back to Toronto – aboard moving vans and cars, up and down elevators and flights of stairs, in and out of storages rooms, attics, and unfinished basements – in labelled and unlabelled boxes and plastic bags, or rattling inside containers that were themselves part of the collection: hatboxes, slide projector cases, 1950s Bakelite handbags hand-made by nuns behind the Iron Curtain. Over the years, out of this accumulation, Ms. Mars has built her performance worlds: the costumes, the sets, the props – her tools and weapons. You might recognize a clear-plastic umbrella from The Pursuit of Happiness, a toy baby grand piano from Tyranny of Bliss, silver shoes that have glimmered in several pieces since the 1960s.
But building worlds requires discipline and discrimination. Four buttons may not be enough, but six is one too many. The shape of the vase may be right, but if the weight is not, you can’t use it. Mixed in with the performance relics, still radiating the afterglow of their brief tenure as art objects, a lot of what fills the room next door is just stuff that has never been used. Not exactly refuse, but material waiting to be called to life – a sort of counter-image of Tanya’s world: the feathers that didn’t make it onto the hat, the five gorilla dolls discarded at the last moment, the gloves that would have been perfect if only they had been a brighter yellow. This shadowy double (the dark side of Mars, if you will) is not only revealing of an artist’s discernment and taste, but full of potential waiting to be activated. It was chosen and collected with care, it almost came to life and didn’t – but it still could. It lies dormant, waiting to be awakened from the uncertain repose of objecthood.
Like in every fairy tale awakening, it is always the sleeping princess, really, who awakens the prince. So listen to the murmur of the feathers, feel the golden fabric, let those turquoise slippers entice you: they might bring you places you didn’t even know existed.
Wake up, make sure you have the exact change, and GOOD BUY!
Thank you, it’s such a pleasure to be here tonight to help celebrate your recent success. Special thanks to Dr. Keith Cole – I’ve been a long-time fan of your work – and to the incredible Dean of the Faculty of Performance Art, Dr. Shannon Cochrane.
Tonight’s ceremony is a way to recognize the time commitment and efforts made by the graduates. We mark this occasion because we value these things: reading books, drinking wine, meeting in person to talk about books, and drinking more wine. Also, we celebrate the lost art of listening, which is more than half of what it means to communicate, is the secret to building relationship and community, and which seems to be the biggest casualty in today’s social media wars.
You’ve worked hard. With busy lives, it’s challenging to commit to a month of Tuesdays – to reading a very thick book, completing homework assignments, and showing up every week. It’s a very different impulse to share physical space with strangers on a king size bed in a motel room on Spadina Avenue, than it is to scroll comments online, liking stuff. Graduates, you chose to engage in meaningful dialogue in the flesh. It’s remarkable, given today’s technological advantages. In other parts of your lives, some of you teach. Some are students. But in this setting we follow a different social contract: this is knowledge exchange and we are all participating and learning. Some of you organized this project and others came strictly as guests – but we all performed roles. This is really exciting.
Specifically we honour a book written more than fifty years ago by Jacqueline Susann: a bestseller, blockbuster, and inspiration for the film we will be watching in a few moments: the Valley of the Dolls. Is it a work of art in the great literary tradition? Absolutely not. But it is more than mere commodity. You were asked: what does this book mean to us now? Is it still relevant?
For me to answer that, I need to take a step back in time. Please indulge me!
I was born and raised in a one-stoplight town at the Southern most tip of Canada.
We have tornados, organized crime, every Fundamentalist Christian movement imaginable, and quick sand. I barely made it out alive! Raise your hand if you’re from a small town. Shout it out! Okay suburbs, too, a different kind of soul death.
We have this in common: aspiration, desperation, desire. We abandoned local expectation to enter into a magical place – urban, fictional, where we could become someone completely new. Or completely Gay. Just like us, the main characters come from shitty little towns to The Big City. So far, how is this different from our own stories? Even Lyon, the fictional British stud, is actually from an isolated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, England.
We create Self and community. We continue to create, and then comes secondary wants: money, love, fame. Sometimes, we recreate a status quo: hard rules based on competition, insecurity, internalized bigotry, capitalist greed. Because somewhere along the line we try to make art for a buck in this Vampire Economy. In the Valley of the Dolls they get rich. The rest of us just get notorious. (if we’re lucky!)
Knowing this book celebrates high camp, I thought it would be fun to read.
The first half is the ingénue’s journey. Those female friendships reminded me of my own early years: surviving on stolen saltines, scissoring with a series of gorgeous roommates, and angling for free drinks at the bar. In the book there was a transition. The second half, that’s when things got rough. Saturn Return, People! By the end of the book, I felt a great despair.
I suspect reading this book as a woman is quite different than reading it as not a woman. Men make the rules and men benefit from them. Men also sacrifice a domestic or sustainable romantic life in order to play the game, but they don’t pay the ultimate price. What about Tony, you say? Privately perceived to be a damaged man, less of a man than others, he’s used much like a woman in this book. He’s a child man, almost equal to a woman. But his manager/sister never betrays him; he wins privacy and dignity, which is robbed from all of the females without exception.
The currency for most transactions in the book is female bodies. Oh there’s money money money. But women’s bodies, and ultimately their minds, are the collateral damage for fame and fortune. Or, for a simple escape from insufferable small town life.
Each beautiful woman in this book is a stand in for all those other beautiful women. They’re on billboards, magazines, movie screens, television. We read Jennifer North and think Marilyn. Sharon, Whitney. Anna Nicole. Reading Neely we think Judy Garland. Frances Farmer. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Rose McGowan. Anne Welles could be Princess Di, living a lie, wealthy and famous and starved for affection. Hungry. And if this is the outcome for the most culturally valued, famous, wealthy and privileged white women, what about the rest of us?
Professor Cole mentioned how Jennifer North’s death scene haunted him for years. For me the passages describing Neely’s incarceration in the sanatorium were terrifying. How many dissatisfied wives or reluctant girls or lesbians or latent witches or Indigenous or free thinking females were incarcerated just so, because they would not or could not play the limited roles allotted to them in their particular time? How many are still there now?
Is this book relevant? I don’t know what you decided in class, but I will say, sadly, yes. Because we can’t go one day without another famous entertainer stepping forward to talk about sexual misconduct or violence she endured during attempts to get work, maintain contracts, and grow a career.
Hell, never mind Hollywood. You might be amazed to learn as I did, that behind each little poem in practically any college literary magazine lies a blow job. A dusty, alcohol induced, sloppy, end of the night blow job. You can hardly break into the regional and non-glamorous world of Canadian literature without banging some old drunk. And for what? A royalty cheque that barely covers a month’s rent in any major city. Never mind the cost of the prescription you’ll need to clear up the STI that poet gave you! Is there no end to the sense of entitlement held by these bearded unwashed creeps? What exactly fuels their narcissism and desperation for artistic recognition? And more important, Who Cares!?
While in the asylum and afterward, Neely speaks about her changed body with the assumption that gaining weight is a death sentence for pleasure and affection. Lyon’s hateful words about her size are fuelled with a violence and disgust that leap from the page – from a page already soaked in violence and disgust! And isn’t he the first guy on top of her, as soon as she starts popping those diet pills again? Creep.
Even the richest woman in New York, in the world, goes to bed hungry at night, afraid of expanding her waistline.
So, what has changed in the past 50 years?
In many respects, not much. The demise of the women in this book is all too real.
Have we at least evolved with regards to this deep body shaming, this dismissal of unconventional female beauty and power? Can we – queers, activists, artists, witches, people of size, black, indigenous, trans and disabled people – can we break this mold once and for all?
YES Mother Fucker.
My kindest advice to the graduates:
Self medicate. Like the precious white women in this book. Pop your pills and dull your pain, buffer yourself from the injustice surrounding you.
OR wake up, and dismantle it, piece by piece.
Write your own scripts, your own plays and musicals. Start your own band, make your own film. Write your damn poetry and print it or publish it yourselves. Use your cell phones, for God’s sake, and maybe, if we stop taking selfies, stop skimming and scrolling and liking things long enough, we can even use them to take down the government!
Where will be fifty years from now? Who’s to say. But hopefully by then we can finally talk about the real main characters, the Dolls themselves. Pills for diets, pills for beauty sleep. Pills for heartache and physical pain and depression and grief, for the deep emotional wounds that will not heal. The benzos of 1960’s Hollywood may as well be the Oxys, Percs and Fentynal of the current western world. The dolls are everywhere. The Tabloid story that remains untold is the one about the wealthy, mostly-white men who make the dolls, who market and prescribe the dolls, and get even richer from the dolls. They are the ones whose reckoning shall one day come.
My final words to you, courageous graduates: (Donna Martin Graduates!)
Every Cock Counts. (Chanting with everyone!)
If you’re going to suck it, suck it good. But never forget what else you’ve got in that mouth: teeth. A toast to one day biting down!
Agnes Nedregård is a Norwegian performance artist based in Scotland and Norway. Her working practice is primarily based in live performance, while exploring a bodily language in other mediums like video drawings and sculptural installations. She holds a Masters of Fine Art from the Glasgow School of Art (2005), and has since showed her work in festivals, galleries and screenings in Europe, USA and Asia. Frequently she engages in collaborative practice with other artists, among these Scottish visual artist Moray Hillary and Brazilian performer Raquel Nicoletti. She teaches performance art workshops to students of art, film, theatre and architecture in Europe. Nedregård is the editor of Nordic Tantrum, a web magazine for Nordic performance art.
“The artist is the origin of the work. The work is the origin of the artist.”(1)
The past thirty or so years have been marked by a so-called ‘cultural turn’, which emphasizes cultural systems and their influence on the creation of meanings. This turn has also opened a new door for those in the arts to use multiple and interdisciplinary approaches to the production, criticism and reception of art. Of the many new terms and notions that the cultural turn has generated, questions of identity and its political, social and economic ramifications seem to have surfaced most powerfully. Identity thus has become a contested space and its role in political and aesthetic action(s) is seen as one of the pivotal questions of the so-called postmodern age. What, then, is the role of art in constructing and challenging identities?
Fado’s IDea series tries to address some of these questions by showcasing diverse performance practices by a number of national and international artists. One such artist is Vassya Vassileva, whose performance In Search of Friedrich Nichtmargen / From Uncreative Travel Book XXIII [Surface Area 510,100,934 km2 196.950.168 miles2] was presented in the context of the 6th 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art. Following the dates of the festival, Vassileva’s performance took place between October 19 and October 28, 2006, beginning with an initial public presentation at Xpace as part of the opening event, and unfolding to the general public through daily meetings at 5 pm at the Toronto Free Gallery. Vassileva’s work offered the audiences of the festival a particular way of thinking about performance and conceptual practices. Her work is a careful intermingling of conceptual and performance art that creates its own cryptic language and through that language challenges notions of art, identity, epistemology and artistic positioning.
As Heidegger’s quote from the beginning of this text suggests, there is a curious relationship between a work of art and its creator. As Derrida and Barthes suggested in the 1960s and as Heidegger seems to argue in his writings, the artist cannot be solely responsible for the work’s creation. The myth of the originary genius, the lonely artist, is thus rejected in favor of an idea that the work has a life of its own, influencing the artist. The artist and the artwork are therefore forever seen as imbedded in the historical, cultural and other environments which influence the creation and meaning of what we call art. Vassya Vassileva’s performance work brings these notions to the fore. In her practice, the artist constantly challenges her own positioning as an artist. She challenges the notion of the audience and opens up the meaning of her actions to a variety of interpretations. In this manner, Vassileva follows a long line of performance and conceptual artists who, since the middle of the 20th century, have been trying to reposition art and its often elitist identity.
The Lines of Sight
There is a famous episode in the history of performance art in former Yugoslavia when, in the early 1980s Tomislav Gotovac, a Croatian performance artist, walked along Ilica Street, one of the main streets of Zagreb (capital of then Republic of Croatia,) and did a public performance/action piece. The piece included him walking down the street nude, singing a famous popular song about Zagreb and kissing the ground that he walked on. A police officer came to him and arrested him for public indecency. However, when the artist was brought to the police station he was immediately released as the officials there understood that this was ‘art’ and the directive was not to disturb such occurrences. The police received information on what they should do if something like this were to happen again. And lo and behold just a few short weeks later a policeman was patrolling the streets of Zagreb and saw a man trying to climb a large pole. He carefully approached the man and asked him if he was an artist. However, the man replied that he was not. He was clearly drunk. The policeman said, “In that case, you are arrested.” This amusing incident is telling of the kind of reactions performance art practices, especially those done in public, can elicit.
I felt a similar thing was happening as I watched Vassya Vassileva’s first performance at Xpace. The room was filled with people. There had been several excellent performances prior to Vassya’s, and the atmosphere was quite high. However, there was also some confusion as the artist quietly stood leaning on the wall, holding in her hands a small plant placed in a bit of soil. There were no announcements or physical signs that something was happening. At a certain point people began to notice her standing there and started approaching her, asking about what she was doing. The answers were as puzzling as the performance itself: cryptic, short, and often in a form of a question. Vassileva is looking for someone I was told, she is looking for Friedrich Nichtmargen, an artist with whom she worked. But what does this plant have to do with her search? How is it supposed to help her? What is the point? These and many other questions were posed to the artist as she stoically stood there, her hands shaking from holding the plant, her eyes focused. She is trying to see how much the plant will grow.
Johanna Householder writes that “[p]erformance art seeks to investigate existing conditions, includes human presence, and questions the purposes, processes, apprehension, and experience of art; while making it”(2). In that sense Vassileva’s actions, not only on the night of the opening of 7a*11d, but throughout her subsequent public actions, included specific questioning of the position of art and artist in the specific moment. Playing with both critical theory and semiotics, Vassileva has built a multilayered practice which speaks about her own position as an artist, but also the meanings that are created through the act of involvement with the world around her. In Vassya Vassileva’s performances, every performative act is an act of its own negation. Not only is she in dialogue with the act of naming and identity, but she also questions the very possibility of art.
“Art’s double character as both autonomous and fait social is incessantly reproduced on the level of its autonomy. It is by virtue of this relationship to the empirical that the artworks recuperate, neutralized, what once was literally and directly experienced in life and what was expulsed by spirit”.(3)
Following Theodor Adorno’s critical view of art, we could argue that Vassileva’s performances are primarily acts of questioning and negation of art, and of specific social, cultural, political, and theoretical discourses. My written response to Vassileva’s work deals with three specific and very personal observations. First is Vassileva’s interest in negation – negation of art itself and questioning of the role of the artist. Secondly, I wish to look at the ways in which Vassileva’s practice engages the question of art as a social act, an act that is both a response to one’s own practice but also an act of responding to the Other, the audience. And finally I am also interested in the relationship that Vassileva establishes to the notions of epistemology, science and the discourse of reason.
In Search of Friedrich Nichtmargen
“Art has truth as the semblance of the illusionless.”(4)
We are sitting on the floor of the Toronto Free Gallery. Vassya is in the middle, using an upturned wooden pedestal as a desk. She is reading a series of questions, all of which have been compiled during the course of her stay in Toronto. The questions have been posed to her by various people she has met. Some of them are related to the performances and some are related to things that have happened in general. The list is long and the performance finishes as the list is apparently exhausted. Someone adds a couple more questions at the end. Vassya smiles. In a brief comment after the performance, Vassya adds that this was the ‘real’ performance (as opposed to all the performances done in the previous several days). Posing questions in regard to Vassileva’s work is not hard, as it seems that the practice she confronts us with demands them. The most obvious question of course is that of the relationship between her performances and the search for Friedrich Nichtmargen. He is a real person, perhaps, or maybe we would like him to be real. Vassileva never really discloses if her search is trickery, an illusion. What we find out from her proposal for the Toronto performances is that she has lost Friedrich.
“Me, Vassya Vassileva I am in search of the artist Friedrich Nichtmargen since Thu, 4 Nov 2004 14:42:37 -0800 (PST). Since I lost Friedrich I have been perseveringly looking for him. I cancelled my engagements in order to be able to search for all vestiges of evidence that Friedrich would inevitably leave behind himself. I am much grateful to all artists that support my effort to pursue the intricate working of Friedrich’s mind.”(5)
Friedrich is thus a premise for Vassileva’s search, but search in this case becomes an end in itself – or does it? The search is a particularly constructed process in which the artist engages in a variety of actions, or protocols, as she calls them. Each moment lived in the city is a search event meticulously recorded, written about and planned. Vassileva uses everything from texts, maps, mathematical equations to diagrams and notes to search for Friedrich, and each encounter brings new possibilities. However, the question of Friedrich’s existence – or rather, his disappearance – is never solved. And as Vassileva argues, Friedrich could be related to everything; he is an empty signifier. This notion of an empty signifier also puts Friedrich in the position of an empty centre around which everything else happens. Thus, he becomes everything and nothing. He is able to subsume all other meanings, and as Vassileva argues, he can be related to everything depending on who is initiating the search. By allowing Friedrich to become almost anything and everything, Vassileva also allows her practice to become more open to questioning.
In his now famous text “Aesthetic Theory”, Theodor Adorno argued that works of art are autonomous social monads which always carry within them specific kinds of tensions or contradictions which stem from artworks’ internal, or formal tensions, from their intellectual import, and from artworks’ and artists’ involvement with the socio-historical environment out of which they come and to which they react. These contradictions are telling of an artwork’s autonomous nature and are also the way in which art is socially engaged. That is, artworks become “the social antithesis of society.”(6) By their specific, and often cryptic formal language and what Adorno calls ‘truth-content’, artworks serve as a mirror to the capitalist/ industrial, instrumentalized society.
The notion of negation is key to such artworks and stems from understanding art as a constant questioning of itself, or as a negation of its own premises. Vassileva uses such a strategy of negation in her practice. By constantly proposing specific notions through her performances and then negating them – for example, when approached with a question about a specific action that she is doing, she will answer with a question that challenges the action itself – she establishes a dialectical dialog, a form of dialectical thinking which opens up the meanings of the work and allows a multiplicity of interpretations. Thus, her performances are in a constant state of flux, both innately connected to the audience and constantly eluding meanings, constantly in a game of non-identity. Friedrich Nichtmargen is therefore a perfect metaphor for art itself, or at least how Vassileva sees it. It is impossible to identify who he is, where he is, or why people are searching for him. The elusive nature of this person, his impossible, always-absent identity, is a metaphor for the fact that each artwork always leaves an unknown remainder, a part that can never be identified. Adorno would call this non-identical thinking, a way of thinking that does not impose a specific identity upon the object considered, but allows the object to always be different, strange, or contradictory. Art is therefore a repository of non-identical thinking, thinking in contradictions. It allows the object to always elude total understanding or reading. Vassileva insists that to respond to something, an artwork in this case, is to be aware of the limits of one’s response, of one’s immanent situatedness in the world and in a particular frame of thinking.
What Do You Think This Is?
“To put it simply: to respond is to be engaged with the others, to provide for a living discourse that involves and considers the limits of every interpretation, every naming, every description, the insufficiency of every mental concept we create in order to articulate reality.”(7)
Another important aspect of Vassya Vassileva’s work is her insistence on art as a social practice which acknowledges that each interpretation, each act of naming or describing, is insufficient and limited. However, each one of these acts is equally important in the artistic production as it displaces the common preconceptions around origin of the work of art and the artist’s role in it. Each of Vassileva’s performances in Toronto was intrinsically connected to the notion of audience participation. While standing at the bridge on Queen St. East, holding her small plant, the artist engaged in a vigorous discussion of what she was doing with several of us standing there participating in the performance. Moreover, as we participated in a philosophical discussion on the questions of usage of live objects (i.e. plants) in performance art, the passersby looked at us intently and transformed our conversation. The surreal scene on the side of the bridge, surrounded by traffic, noises and construction, created an environment in which every external reality (external to Vassileva’s initial action of holding the plant in her hands), every word we uttered, and every person who passed by, somehow altered the reality of the performance itself. The question is then who is the artist, and what is art? This is the very question that spanned all of Vassileva’s actions throughout her week-long stay in Toronto.
At the opening night at Xpace, audience members most commonly asked one question: What is your performance about, why are you holding the plant? And every time the artist would respond by asking a question: What do you think it is? This emblematic question seems to point to the heart of the matter, as it directly uncovers the centuries-long notion of the artist as the sole author of the work of art. For Vassileva, as for many artists engaged in performance practices for the past several decades, this question has always been turned back toward the audience, acknowledging the fact that the origin of meaning is never a singular event of naming or identifying, but a constant, ongoing dialectic of various naming and misnaming events, of identifications and misidentifications, of interpretations and non interpretations. Therefore, each performative act is a social act in which the Other is recognized and included. It is, as Vassileva argues, innately a living discourse. Almost forty years ago, Roland Barthes wrote “The Death of the Author”, which recognized the problematic of the author, arguing that by removing the author a text is freed from the imposed limit of singular meaning:
“Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the Author (or its hypostases: society, history, psyche, liberty) beneath the work: when the Author has been found, the text is “explained” – victory to the critic.”(8)
Thus, the text needs to be recognized not as what he calls a ‘teleological’ unity but as an unstable field where multiple writings and meanings clash. The reader, accordingly, becomes the focus of that multiplicity of writing, as the texts are geared toward the destination – the reader. Vassya Vassileva recognizes this in her work by turning the focus from herself and asking the viewer, or the participant, to interpret the action. Thus, the question posed to her ‘what is your work about?’ is immediately turned toward the viewer and the meaning is thus reversed.
Artists’ work is relational, and deeply involved with the audience recognizing that the meaning is always in between, always in negotiation and never closed. Therefore, Friedrich Nichtmargen is a perfect symbol, a perfect subject who always stays elusive to identity, open to suggestion, an empty signifier around which any and all constructions of signification are possible. And when Vassileva searches for Friedrich she is, in actuality, searching for the viewer.
In order to prefigure his local appearance I shall strictly follow his own rules of mathematical formalization while measuring the distance by my own
Vassileva’s performances are a mixture of planning, improvisation and experimentation. They are pseudo-scientific, pseudo-theoretical, philosophical and purely physical interventions that combine audience participation as well as total negation of audience presence. Her work is laden with subtle tensions and contradictions, actions that seem to lead to absurd conclusions. However, these tensions are a deep reflection of the socio/cultural milieu out which the work comes. One of Vassileva’s performances at the Toronto Free Gallery was an excellent example of such tension. She drew two circles on opposite sides of the gallery space. One of them was on the floor and the other on the wall. The small plant used in every performance was suspended over the circle on the floor by a piece of wire. The performance consisted of the artist walking from one side of the room to the other, seemingly measuring every step she took. There was an air of confidence, knowing and determination in her actions. As an audience member, I felt as if I was privy to a scientific, or alchemical experiment. In her later performances, the small plant on a piece of wire was manipulated by the artist in various ways. All of such action events seemed strangely familiar and yet cryptic. They seemed familiar because of Vassileva’s mimicking of the scientific discourse through positioning of the body and manipulation of the material. Furthermore, the cryptic element was there as an odd leftover, a signaling that this was not a scientific event, but an alchemical one. How does one turn thought into material? How does one make the plant grow? From day one, it seemed that Vassileva was trying to make the small plant grow. How can mind rule over matter?
All of these tensions are of course also part of everyday life, and are not perceived in such metaphysical or alchemic terms. Contemporary scientific discourse seems to be laden with notions of instrumentalized reason. The need to have power over nature – not just nature around us but also the nature within us – has become an overarching goal of genetic research, physics and biochemical experimentation. To know and to discover is to possess. Such a need has created bizarre, Frankenstein monsters, from the atomic bomb to the creation of cloned animals that can be harvested for their organs. It seems that there is no place on this planet that has not been overturned and possessed through human intervention. But as we have now learned, all such possessions come with a price tag. They are inherently contradictory. While on the one hand we create more gadgets, improve our communications, make our lives faster, we are also destroying the very home in which we live. Vassileva points to this contradictory aspect of Western epistemology by creating subtle, tension-filled actions which through their idiosyncratic qualities point to the absurd nature of the human need for development and possession. However, unlike science, art in this case mimics science in order to reveal its innate flaws. This is why Adorno stated that art is “the social antithesis of society”(9). Art is a mirror held up to society, a mirror which through its autonomous language can breach the possessive reason of mainstream discourses.
As Vassya Vassileva has elaborated in several of her responses and statements, as a writer or as an artist one is always primarily a responder to what is happening around her. Such responses are always situated and their meanings are never complete. And so I also have to submit to this observation, acknowledging that my own response to Vassileva’s work is only a limited, very personal and always biased view. As such it does not mean that it is any less true, as truth has nothing to do with responding to art. What becomes important is to always leave room for interpretation and free reading of the text. No one should possess the work, the artist least of all. This is perhaps the most important observation I can make both in terms of Vassileva’s work and my own writing about it.
I have tried to tease out three important streams of this extensive performance/ conceptual body of work. It is hard to write about a project such as In Search of Friedrich Nichtmargen, not because it is large but because it spans a variety of disciplines and contexts. It is a conceptual conundrum, and yet it also opens itself up to new interpretations. The reactions to Vassileva’s work in Toronto were multiple, from interest to confusion to irritation. From my own conversations with the artist, I have learned that she received dozens of questions and an equal number of readings – from understanding that her work is ecologically based to that it is purely conceptual. I guess all of them are right in a way, as this is what Vassileva would argue. Her quiet, pensive and very humble demeanor allows everyone to add their own two cents. This in itself is part of the work, as the artist puts herself in the position of a non-identical thinker, or an open signifier. Identity is a tricky notion; it plays somewhere between reality and illusion, and both the artist and Friedrich Nichtmargen whom she is looking for are opened. They play between reality and illusion, allowing the viewers to become participants, or artists themselves. Finally, as Vassileva has written to me in an email, “indeed when we write about other people or things we genuinely write about ourselves… as what we describe speaks about us far more than our direct confessions or reports on our own beings.”(10) And so I am adding my two cents to Vassileva’s work, my own participatory note, in hopes that it will contribute to the richness of the artist’s complex and ongoing search.
Bojana Videkanic is a PhD student at the Department of Social and Political Thought at York University, Toronto. Her background is in art history and fine arts, and her research deals with contemporary art practices, visual culture and cultural theory. Bojana teaches art history and visual culture at York University, Ontario College of Art and Design, and University of Toronto in Mississauga.
(1) Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. Albert Hofstadter Trans. and Intro. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2001.p.17.
(2) Householder, Johanna. “apologia.” Caught in the Act: an anthology of performance art by Canadian women. Ed. Tanya Mars and Johanna Householder. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2004.
(3) Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
(4) Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, p.132.
(5) Vassileva, Vassya. “Artist Proposition.” For Fado Performance Inc. 2006.
(6)] Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, p.8.
(7) Vassileva, Vassya. “Notes on Introduction: Performance Art Respondent Forecast #1.” For Mobius International Festival of Performance Art, Boston, 2006.
(8) Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Image, Music, Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.
(9) Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, p.8.
(10) Vassileva, Vassya. “RE: Hey there another question.” E-mail to Bojana Videkanic. 14, December, 2006.
On March 17 2007 David Khang performed with a beef tongue in his mouth, perhaps for the last time.(1) The performance, titled Phalogocentrix, was an experimental and experiential panoply of bodies, identities, histories and narratives – without voice – meant to evoke Relation. All the bodies belonged to Khang. I capitalize Relation following Édouard Glissant, the French-Caribbean writer and philosopher whose Poetics of Relation seeks to demonstrate human relation as always constituting both subject and object in an effort to forge a history of the subaltern that might produce a transformed reality of the past and the future. A past and a future that might impact new global orders of human life, transforming them even, in ways that we have not yet thought or imagined. Khang’s performance bears many connections to Glissant’s insistences on the means and the needs for transformative languages of our future, embedded in our past but not trapped by the past.
Phalogocentrix makes use of the body as a linguistic device and thus offers a language of unspoken histories, new vocabularies, and a re-verbing of the word and world to bring into conversation cross-cultural and cross-racial poetics. The performance attempts to manifest a kind of a creole language, more accurate of human contact than we sometimes are capable of acknowledging. While Khang dramatically re-languages the tongue by making a beef tongue into a prosthetic extension of his own, he also highlights the human as animal and re-centers the body in a cross-cultural language of cross-species survival. Through his use of a beef tongue, which lacks the capacity of (human) speech, Khang articulates the ways in which conduct and fashioning of the body constitute language. In this sense, Khang calls to attention the ways in which language and linguistics are not just cultural differences, but mechanisms of both distance and intimacy. The ability to learn the language of another, to perform it through speech, is in fact the learning of another’s cultural secrets – ethnicity then as a human invention is something that produces Relation in its distance and its intimacy. In Khang’s performance the body speaks a cross-cultural and cross-species language, which produces an intimate distance. This intimate distance is the lens through which cross-cultural and cross-racial identifications occur; and it conveys the power of a “strategic universalism” (Gilroy) to open a different kind of conversation about histories, genders, sexes, races, and so on – what we might call the categories of the human.
The bodily linguistics and language of Khang’s performance draw on what Glissant calls “ambiguous archives” (65) to produce moments of cross-cultural resonances meant to open a non-verbal conversation about our human connected-ness. Martial arts, break-dancing and yoga movements do not unfold as fully formed cultural entities, mystifying and closed as the sole property of various sanctioned ethnic groups. Instead such moves unfold and collide in partial performance providing a glimpse into our connected-ness and thus revealing and commenting on our investments in ethnic and cultural secrets meant to ordain our difference from one to another. Khang seeks to give us a bodily language of identification that can engage the difficult histories and knowledges of our present human terms of contact and conduct. Contrary to what might be assumed, that his performance is the failure of language, I would suggest that it is the exact opposite. The accomplishment of Khang’s bodily-language-linguistics is its ability to move us towards a confrontation with the modes of bodily conduct that prohibit us from verbalizing our Relation, one to another, on terms outside a history of inequality and injustice. Khang allows us to see and thus speak our Relation.
Khang’s performance is not a humanist performance under the terms of a European Enlightenment and modernity, which operationalized various categories of the human according to races and cultures and thus instated a practice of ethnicity as a vault of identity practice – as separation and thus a failed language of humanity which must be over-come for identification to happen. Khang’s performance refuses the discourse of mastery and domination, opting instead for what Houston Baker writing of the Blues calls the “deformation of mastery” (Baker). This different take on humanity or rather the species is only possible through an active and robust engagement with mastering form so that it might be deformed in ways that point to different points of view which are often neither heard nor seen. Phalogocentrix brings sight to the workings of writing and language that render cross-racial, cross-cultural and cross-species identifications difficult. The performance highlights the ways in which struggles to define a different conception of the human and thus the species require a fuller encounter with a wider range of peoples, bodies, histories. Khang’s performances thus signal a moment for the contemplation of a different conception of what it might mean to be human.
In Monolingualism of the Other or The Prosthesis of Origin, Jacques Derrida attends to the complications of language across a range of “performative contradiction[s]” (3). These performative contradictions, which can be most pronounced in the colonial setting, point to how speech acts are freighted with a history of violence that imposes categories of difference that label the colonized as sub-human. Incidentally, Derrida dedicates Monolingualism to Glissant. Taken with Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, the two texts offer a way of understanding Khang’s attempts at a non-verbal language scripted through music and body as sites for both escaping and referencing history, re-tooling a dreadful and violent past into terms that might be transformative of human potentiality to live differently. Khang, influenced by Derrida (while studying under Derrida at UC Irvine), eschews the mother tongue for a beef tongue, rejoining the animal-human link and its unspeakability. At the same time, he forces his viewers to identify with his efforts at the basest element of what it means to be human – which is what it means to be animal. In this way Khang is able to insert difficult histories for contemplation without immediately producing disagreement. The poetics of unspeakability, of the illegible scribblings and the kinetic moves of the body, produce a language that draws viewers in as it sets us up for a critique concerning, race, gender and sex.
The mother tongue is the problem that Derrida confronts in Monolingualism of the Other. In the colonial setting the language of the mother (or father) tongue carries the history of its imposition and its attempt to render the self unintelligible to the self and to others. And, yet the mother tongue becomes exactly that – a mother tongue. Such a tongue is always in tension with one’s sense of self, both aiding in the production of subjecthood and always producing the self as object. Thus the mother tongue becomes something that must be deformed, reformed and transformed. It becomes a language that one can only be in proximity to. It is in fact the notion of proximity that Khang makes excellent use of in his performance. Thus Derrida, writing of proximity in a slightly different implication states: “This gives rise to strange ceremonies, secret and shameful celebrations. Therefore to encrypted operations, to some words under seal circulating in everyone’s language” (33). I would argue that Khang achieves Derrida’s insights through his bodily language-linguistic performative speech acts.
Watching Khang perform Phalogocentrix in its kinetic expressions is to see and enter a dialogue concerned with how subalterns might speak to and with each other. But most significantly, to desire such a conversation is not to leave others behind. The brilliance of Khang’s performance is its interpellative call on the grounds of gender and sex to render those terms, and indeed their practices, strangely (un)familiar and in need of a serious engagement from a different place through another language. The unmaking of masculinity in Khang’s performance is one that draws on the ambiguous archives of race, sex and gender. In Khang’s re-working, masculinity is unmade, race is complicated in its history present and future, and sex is problematicised as a desire usually restrained, disciplined and normalized as other to genuine human intentions. The undisciplined disciplinarity of Khang’s performance points to the ways in which the human body performs conduct and is conducted based upon scripts invented and practiced even before our birth.
How does Khang do all this?
The importance of Khang’s performance lies not in its overall narrative, but rather in the points of access and various pushbacks that open spaces or crevices for thought to occur among viewers. These crevices constitute the spaces of cross-cultural and cross-racial non-verbal speech acts. In those speech acts, histories, bodies, races, sexes, sexualities among others are revealed as the sites and sources of possible and impossible conversations. The soundtrack made by Jason de Couto for the performance does a great bit of this work articulating histories of “black, white, yellow” and others, nation-bound and simultaneously pushing beyond such boundaries. The performance opens up viewers for individual and collective dialogues about our own situatedness in the dynamics of a conversation without words, as Khang’s body directs us to engage the accompanying collage soundscape/music. The gaps between performing body and soundscape invite contemplation of self and other constituted in histories but with an opening to a different kind of present and even future. It is in this light that I suggest that Khang’s performance is about the unfolding of a humanism not bounded to the Enlightenment project, but one that deforms such a project, recognizing its sometimes dreadful imposition on many others, in aid of pushing us toward better (yes better!) inventions of what the species might be.
Given that Khang’s Asian masculinity is always a suspect, lesser-than masculinity in Western conceptions of such categories, his invitation to dialogue about human categories is one of the ways in which he explicitly brings histories to his performance. The story of colonialism and continuing practices of coloniality loom large in the performance. To identify or disindentify with Asian masculinity is to engage in the process of what I have been calling intimate distances. The work of engagement or refusal is an acknowledgement of our Relation. In this instance the language of the body produces a linguistics of identity, which requires active engagement with the archive of masculinities, gendered understanding and performances that we draw on to make sense of and to perform and to recognize various masculinities. Khang’s body-language-linguistics brings history into the equation. In this particular instance the Asian-Canadian body speaks a history of racism – head tax, internment, labor exploitation. The body requires us to communicate with it through sight and sound, drawing us in and repelling us even when we must disidentify but still remain in Relation.
In one of the most systematic readings of kung fu and its circulation as an art form, especially in relation to cinema of the 1970s, May Joseph points to the frugality of the form. The body is the central element of kung fu’s practice of the self. Significantly, kung fu became popular as a global cultural style in the 1970s, especially in the former colonial world (for example Africa and the Caribbean) and among subaltern populations in the West like African Americans and First Nations/Aboriginals. Kung fu’s resonances can still be seen in the moves of break-dancers and in the names of many rap groups (Wu Tan Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Dream Warriors, one could go on). This cross-cultural sharing and borrowing points to the ways in which cultural difference always references an Other, is indebted to an Other and is thus always constitutive of Self and Other. The inheritances of coloniality allows us to both recognize such sharing and borrowing, as well as bury or ignore it in service of a cultural vault mentality. Khang’s performance unlocks the vault forcing us to grapple with the inheritances concealed but simultaneously poking out, but often not adequately dealt with as an element of the Self. Such an acknowledgement would be to articulate our Relation. I am suggesting that Khang’s performance takes us there – to our Relation.
The merging of kung fu, break-dancing and yoga movements points to languages of bodily practice that evoke Relation. These moves in Khang’s performance open the possibility of practicing the life of the species differently. Recognition of one’s self as continually engaged in a practice and performance of citation – one that might not always be legible – shifts how conversations might occur. For example, the calligraphic references in Khang’s performance to Shigeko Kubota points to both gender and history. Khang’s performance from 2005, (vag)Anal Painting, addresses a “language” of femininity and masculinity not to make them unquestioned but to open up the conversation about the ways in which our practice and conduct of gender shapes our histories of community-making. What is significantly highlighted by Khang’s performance and citation of Kubota is that community only comes into being through citation and reference, whether amicable or antagonistic. Khang’s performance draws on a history of feminized Asian masculinity in a manner that does not acquiesce nor refuse such a designation but rather “re-languages” gender and the body by displaying or performing “the economy of stereotype” (Morrison) in a move to spectacularise it and thus invert, if not overturn its implications. This difficult task produces a kind of gendered-non-gender – Khang stops being a category for a while.
To stop being a category might be the most utopic goal of a post-modern sensibility that seeks to unwrite the highly regulated system of human classifications across race, gender and sex. The transcendentalism that is implicit in moving beyond a category seems to suggest a certain kind of privilege to leave history behind. Khang’s performance is deeply indebted to histories of the specific and histories of the universal. The priestly atmosphere of Phalogocentrix (staged and performed in a church) might suggest transcendence of the religious kind. But I would suggest that Khang’s performance is entirely outside of the realm of religious transcendentalism. The reading of scripture (in Hebrew, Korean, and English), the Eastern religious references, the pagan references all point to other languages, other forms of conduct, other ways of practicing the body – or embodiment. Khang’s donning of the Religious in the performance acts as a kind of moment of not just communion, but rather communality from which collective contemplation might be possible. Thus religion is a kind of alibi for a better conversation to occur. The baptism enacted in the performance is thus the opening of the conversation rather than an end in itself. This inversion of religious practice and Khang’s syncretization of it across cultures again signals Relation.
Ultimately, David Khang’s Phalogocentrix performs the re-languaging of human selves or the species in an effort for us to offer ourselves a better account of the world we presently inhabit. The role that scribal figures, mostly men have played in creating and propagating languages, especially written as sacred texts of human expression and thus the rules and the law of human life is re-ordained in Khang’s performance. This re-ordination by Khang is meant to complicate and render less harmful the categories to which we currently confine human life and the species. Khang’s beef-tongue prosthetic wants to tell us a story of ourselves that we cannot yet speak but need to hear. This story is one of our Relation.
The Beginning and The End(2)
Dearly Beloved, We are gathered here tonight to bear witness…to share in the performative trace and impression of cross-cultural and thus human and universal re-making. We are here to share in intimate distances. We are called to bear witness to a performative otherness that requires we rethink our encounter with such otherness differently every time. In this encounter the performing body transforms both us and itself to reveal or rather to provoke in us the scripting and sculpting of the body, its legibility, its intelligibility, it many languages. This body will perform for us tonight both its re-writing and its writing, its interpellation, its refusal and its re-statement. This body will offer up as sacrifice, sacrament and history of scaring the scripting of and thus the unwriting of modes of reading that disturb and disrupt but do not close down nor inhibit conversation. Rather conversational kinetic proliferations will be provoked. This body will… (the conversation cannot be predicted in advance of the encounter)
The kinetics of the Brazilian martial art and dance form capoeira has resonances with many Asian martial arts. The cross-resonances of caperaria and Asian marital arts might at first glance act as an appetizer into a full menu of Black and Asian cross-cultural resonances and historical sharing. But it would be too easy to pinpoint the marital art dances of both cultures as the ground of common and thus shared cultural understandings, histories and even meanings. The seduction of similarity, even familiarity makes cultural sharing a canard of cross-cultural identification. Instead we might look for something else. What that something else might be is a legibility, a scripting of cross-cultural resonances which collapse, indeed morph into and secrete bodily effusions which in turn script and write narratives of togetherness and desire. Bodily excretions, which bind and unite. “Blood is thicker than water” but blood and water remain sources of immense cultural identification and disidentification. Blood and water are but tropes towards the rituals of life – everyday and fantastic, religious and profane.
David Khang offers us the body as a script, his body as a script. A script that writes and unwrites the self in and on his writing body, his excreting body. His body is the canvas and the ink that calls to attention the writing and unwriting that makes intelligible the deep resonances of things that work to create intimate distances. These intimate distances are not the markers and signs of otherness but rather the mirrored reflections of self merging into self. For the viewer the looking becomes a deformed mirror, cracked and piece together as yet another and different language. The fluid and liquid traces and impressions of blood, water, ink – marks left begging for language, for resaying and rewriting. These fluids do not offer the promise and the prospect of mimetic representation, but instead those fluids bind us in difference, yet uttering desires for coming together. The blood of this body…
Bodies, other bodies can spectacularize histories in their performance. The spectacularized black phallus makes sense in light of the missing Asian penis. While phallus and penis are not always the same for othered racialized bodies the non-relation of their relation provokes conversation. It is in fact the space in-between, the space between the move and its pause, the break but not the separation that in which the trace and the impression, the cross-cultural resonances, the production of language(s) and the communion of Afro-Asian dialogue begins. It begins not as antagonisms, as a looking over the shoulder but as a mutual desire to live beyond the too easy intelligibilities and legibilities of narrative being written, unwritten – languages spoken and muted – bodies marked and unmarked and the too easy assertions of recognizable similarity and familiarity.
David Khang remakes and rewrites, Khang opens up the space of his body to allow for the utterance of common feeling, scripted or written as a the intimate distances of human and cross-cultural resonances made unfamiliarly strangely familiar.
Rinaldo Walcott is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Canada Research Chair of Social Justice and Cultural Studies at OISE of the University of Toronto. He does research on the social relations of cultural production.
(1) Beef tongue was used for the first time by Khang in 2003-04, in the pair of performances Zen for Mouth (Track 16 Gallery, Los Angeles / Kezai University, Tokyo), in which he executed LaMonte Young’s Composition 1960 #10 to Bob Morris by “drawing a straight line and following it” with the beef tongue as a prosthetic paint brush. Since then, the tongue has been a recurring motif in several of Khang’s works, including: Linea Lingua (2004), Glossographia (2006), and Artifice of Sacrifice (2006).
(2) This section of the essay was written as a kind of liturgy by Walcott for the performance in Toronto to add to the performative sacredness of the setting, a church. It was an improvised response, maybe a collaboration with Khang’s ideas prior to the performance. The text was passed out to those attending the performance as they entered the church. It is added here as both a post-script and a signal of the beginning of my engagement with Khang’s art.
Baker, H (1984). Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Derrida, J (1998). Monolingualism of the Other Or The Prosthesis of Origin. P. Mensah (trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Gilroy, Paul (2000). Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Glissant, É (1997). Poetics of Relation. B. Wing (trans.). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Joseph, M (1999). Nomadic Subjects: The Performance of Citizenship. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Morrison, T (1992). Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay is a Montréal-born media artist. Since 2000 his video practice has brought together song, self-reflexive performance for the camera and lyrics from pop music as vehicles for examining the singing voice, multiplicity, the untranslatability of emotions into language and the ways in which emotional expression changes shape when mediated by technology and popular culture. His work has been exhibited both in film festivals and gallery contexts across Canada, Europe and East Asia. In 2004, the Plug In ICA organized Neverending Song of Love, a survey exhibition of his video works to date.
Through the wide picture window of the Drake Hotel’s coffee shop I could see Cindy Baker and Megan Morman sitting at a large harvest table. I walk by this window often, sometimes several times a day. Normally, this table accommodates tiny hipsters in trucker baseball hats with svelte lap top computers, nibbling on pencil tips (I sometimes wonder if this is their lunch). For two weeks in the summer of 2005, the normal patrons made way for a messy hub of alternative activity that was Fashion Plate. For the performance, the large table was covered with fabrics, notions, sketching paper, assorted drawing utensils and pattern books. At one end, Cindy was talking with unsuspecting patrons of the café as well as a few intentional performance art lovers who were curious as to what Ms Baker was up to (she has performed before in Toronto so there was some expectation and excitement about this performance). At the other end of the table sat Megan Mormon, Cindy’s partner and her assistant for this project, behind a sewing machine working with great concentration on a seam and juggling the duo’s receipt book used for keeping track of their fashion orders. For Fashion Plate, the audience was invited to design an outfit for Cindy. Some of the participants sketched a design for a single article of clothing and others created plans for entire outfits. Pattern books and fashion magazines were scattered on the table for inspiration. In her original artist statement, Cindy says she wanted the participants to come up with something from scratch: “translating what they like on their body to hers, or ‘sizing up’ the artist’s size, taste, and personal style and decoding it from abstract idea to 3-dimensional design”. The plans that the visitors made were given to the artist and assistant to sew and make into clothing. This project produced a total of 30 items of clothing over the course of 2 weeks and culminated in a fashion show. What is activist, practical and for some even interesting about this performance is that Cindy is fat.
My PhD dissertation is about fat activism and fat bodies. Furthermore, I headed up and worked with the performance and education troupe Pretty Porky and Pissed Off for 8 years.(1) I am ready to write about Cindy Baker. But this research, prep and experience did not wholly prepare me for what I found when I encountered Cindy and Megan at the Drake Hotel one hot summer afternoon.
What is striking at first with the performance of Fashion Plate is how much space these women take up in the café. It is noteworthy that their fat bodies and all the stuff that they’ve brought seem to mess up the space of the Drake coffee shop – who belongs and who does not. The amount of space they are taking up is relative to the context that they are located. One of my complaints about the Drake has been its clientele of “beautiful people”. You know the type – movie stars and fashion models – and the very body fascism that attends this type of crowd and the insecurities that the spaces occupied by those who fit into those kinds of body standards bring up for the rest of us normal, ugly, fat folk. When I first see Cindy and Megan through the Drake window – I think: Yes!! The fat girls are taking over the Drake. The presence of their active fat bodies temporarily transforms the meaning of that space for me.
The second striking element of Fashion Plate is Cindy’s fat body. The practical process of the performance demands that her fat body be looked at. People have to measure and consider her rolls and girth in order to create the patterns for the clothing that she sews. Some of them did the actual measuring. Others, who participated on a less active level, had to watch her get measured and move around. Cindy speaks about this secondary participation in an email conversation with me a few months after the performance:
“For those who didn’t actually make something, they were still confronted with watching others do this awkward dance with me, got to see the process of the garment’s creation, got to hear the conversations. I estimate that for every person that made an article of clothing there were 10 others that I had individual conversations with that covered a range of topics from body politics to women’s rights to performance art to fashion design, and way beyond. I really feel like just because someone didn’t make something, it doesn’t mean they didn’t actively participate in the project.”
The attention she got was obvious, as her performance space is lively and demands a lot of attention. She is undeniable.
Arguably the bodies of fat women are caught in a strange double existence of simultaneous invisibility and hyper surveillance. If they are regarded they are watched and judged and held up as examples of excess without subjectivity (think of the headless bodies of fat people, used to strike fear regarding obesity epidemics, that we are familiar with seeing on the nightly “news”). These are sneaky looks at fat bodies. One of the only other occasions that we “see” fat bodies in the media are in before and after shots for diet ads or television shows like “The Biggest Loser” or (the thankfully cancelled) “Fat Actress” which are about getting people out of the subject position of fat as quickly as possible. For Fashion Plate, Cindy asks the visitors to actually consider her fat body as a lived reality – not as a problem necessarily. Audience members engage with it and participate in it via clothing. I watch as visitors finger and look at the swathes of cloth and size up Cindy. Cindy’s body at time of performance seems to sit in the category (what we call in fat activist circles) as super size. She is a real fat girl – not just chubby or chunky or “feeling fat” as some of the smaller patrons in the café may “feel” and complain about regularly (familiar with the following question: “Do I look fat in these pants?”) Cindy looks, is, and embodies fat.
In her artist statement, Cindy talks about how this project gives people permission to look at her, and to practically size her up. The challenge for her is to be looked at in a manner that she assumes will be “critical”. Part of the purpose of this project is to get people to consider fat bodies outside of their normal framework. In a previous performance titled Glass Box, Cindy walked around in a giant clear plexiglass case. While the strategy of the performance was to draw attention to the vulnerability and protection of the artist, I can’t help but see it as the visibility and the erasure of the fat body as Cindy paraded through public spaces in a protective plexiglass box with sharp edges. Viewing her body through the box in the context of the mall, the street and the park was about allowing people to look at her and also about forcing the private experiences of the body into the public through this display. In Fashion Plate, Cindy is making people not only see her, but also think about her body in a more complex way. She employs the position of fashion model as a strategy to force her audience into a place where they are the artist/designer. By including the audience in this construction it means that they have to think about her body and the object they are creating with a sense of pride. What will provide a sense of accomplishment is if the clothing fits and Cindy looks good in it. Their mission was to make Cindy look beautiful. This is not a project that most people are used to taking on in relation to fat bodies.
Cindy’s performance is about making her body visible — literally forcing people to consider it. Baker’s excitement at the success of her performance comes from moments when participants figured out something about her body in relation to the clothing they were designing. She recalls moments when they may say something like “Oh! I get it, that crease goes way deeper than I thought.” For Baker, this represents “some honesty on both our parts, because we were both letting our guards down and being a bit vulnerable, one in displaying her body and the other in displaying her ignorance.” It is this ‘realness’ of reaction or the letting down of one’s guard that Baker is after with her performance. The outfits and the materials are all just a ploy for her to get to see small crumbs of people’s real and unfettered reactions to her body. One of her most favorite (and she adds horrific) moments of the performance was during the final fashion show, when some of the audience members could not hide their reaction to her body in a skimpy bikini. Baker says:
“[W]hen I came parading in wearing Leif’s bikini or some other skimpy dress, people’s gut reactions were painted on their faces. It was the one time where I felt like “Yes! Some honesty!” That’s what made it satisfying; there were lots of really supportive people and lots of positive reaction, and I felt confident, but the best part was that there was still visible proof that the problems I was raising through the performance really do exist, and that I hadn’t just created a bubble of support around me that shielded the rest of the world from having to deal with it at all.”
In retrospect, Baker talks about being surprised at how much her body was actually a part of the performance. It is as though her body in theory, in grant applications and performance proposals is nothing like her lived body in the moment of the performance. What gets lost on paper is the emotional experiences (both joyful and traumatic) that become much more poignant in the moment of performance. It seems as though Cindy’s performance forced her to see and be in her body in ways that she is not necessarily familiar with in public contexts.
Cindy did not anticipate that her work would be received by willing participants who were open to getting their hands on her body. In our interview she claims:
“…one thing I could not predict was that those who were willing to engage did so wholeheartedly, and were not afraid to get their arms around me, to wrap me in fabric, to hold things up to see how they’d look. I thought I’d be more of an active participant in the process than I often ended up being; in many cases, I was asked to stand, lift up my arms, turn around – to be a mannequin.”
While I could make the obvious connection between Cindy’s body and objectification, my experience at the performance suggested to me that there is more to it than that. Like Cindy mentions above, people were interested in engaging with her and talking with her as well as, for some, getting their hands on her.
Fashion Plate is a blend of performance and object-making. Baker claims that the most important part of the project is what happens between her and the people she connects with through conversation and negotiation. She wanted to find out about what she calls in her artist statement “the things that were avoided as well as the things that were covered. Each garment tells its own story, but it is the final product; the rack full of clothes, the finished collection – that has the potential to demarcate trends or reveal truths”.
Cindy was surprised by the kind of clothing that people were interested in designing for her. Rather than practical clothing (and this may speak for the kind of people willing to participate), people were interested in making what she calls “contemporary art clothing”. She says: “Instead of trying to make something that fit by selecting a simple design, they pulled out all the taffeta and the organza and made the most elaborate designs and really tried to make me into their diva.” This may be one of the ways that people are actually able to consider the fat body – as spectacle. Cultural theorist Mary Russo (1994) makes this point in her analysis of the articulation of female subjectivity by performance artists who use the grotesque. Basically, if our frame of reference for fat bodies is diva, clown, or freak show fat lady, this would explain why some of the clothing designed for Cindy emphasizes babyish or clownish characteristics. Russo and other academics that consider the fat body such as Probyn (2000) and Le Besco (2003) point out that one of the only ways to actually celebrate fat is to do it in a kind of over-the-top, carnivalesque, grandiose way rather than as “normal”(2). Trying to articulate fat as normal is actually quite complicated because of the meanings that the fat body is laden with. The case could be made that celebrating the fat body is a special occasion rather than an every day event. Still, sometimes a useful and practical blouse or trousers are way more important than a taffeta dress. In reworking meanings attached to fat bodies there is a fine line between clownishness(3) and dignity.
I understand the impulse to make and decorate a fat body like birthday cake. This has been a strategy of Pretty Porky and Pissed Off. The literal translation of “joy” attempts to celebrate the fat body given the visual tools that we have – we called it fat drag. In this way I am consciously utilizing Judith Butler’s early theories about gender and performativity in relation to drag culture, which highlight how gender itself is a copy. In Bodies that Matter (Butler 1993), she looks at how othered sexualities challenge gender fixity. By looking at concepts of the lesbian phallus and cultural phenomena like drag (through the film Paris is Burning) she critiques “normal” gender by looking at drag performances. Fat drag, I argue is a way of “doing fat” that emphasizes its constructedness rather than inherent givens. For example, Baker, by wearing a muu muu that is way over the top is donning the classic attire of “the fat woman”. She is marking her body as fat. She is performing fatness in a way that is “knowable” to the general population. However, when she sports a bikini, she is definitely stepping outside of the boundaries of what a fat woman is supposed to wear or how she is supposed to present herself. When she does this, she is subverting the fixity of fatness. She is shaking it up by subverting it and drawing attention to flesh and the constrictions of it in the same ways that drag queens and kings critique “normal” gender. Baker is challenging “normal” bodies and in effect using her body and her clothing line to demonstrate how “thinness” or “normal size” are also performed. Fat is not the imperfect copy of the proper body. There is no proper body, and fat is.
Performativity works to “produce that which it names” (Butler 1993, 2). That is, “naming it” is making and doing gender. Simply put, performativity theory claims that “saying” makes something come to being. More complexly, performativity is how the subject comes to know itself – it is how we are able to articulate “I”. Generated through speech act theory such as this, claiming “I am fat” can be revolutionary, while simultaneously hearing “You are fat” can be oppressive. Both statements can work to empower or oppress. Both statements are constitutive of identity. What happens when the fat woman asks the “normal bodied” person to design clothing for her? She, and they, are acknowledging that she is fat. Because of the unavailability of clothing in larger sizes, they must make clothing for her “abnormal” body that mirrors “normal” fashion in some way.
The complexity of Fashion Plate is that Baker asks participants to consider the fat body in relation to their own. Which means that I would like to ask some of Baker’s designers: Would you wear that dress to the party? Could you wear that shirt to a job interview? Do you think that Cindy conveys confidence and cool sexiness with what she is wearing? The answer is no to the majority of the outfits that were designed for Cindy. Crazy and beautiful – yes. Practical and usable by this fat bodied woman in her everyday life – no. This lack of practicality is an observation. It is not necessarily a failure of the project. It is the failure of people to engage with the practical realities of fat bodies. One of the main purposes of Fashion Plate was to get people to think about fat bodies in relation to their own (the majority of the designers were not super size). It is telling that given the opportunity to do this they designed clothes which are actually further away from probably anything they would ever wear in their own lives. I would argue that they did in fact consider Cindy’s fat body in relation to their own and when pushed to contribute to the creation of an object in relation to Cindy’s body, because of fat phobia, they made something that was really quite distanced from their bodies(4). It is the kinds of revealed truths that are found in the impracticality of her designed outfits that are the quiet success of Baker’s project from this fat activist’s perspective.
My own design contribution took into consideration some of my learned experience as a fat woman as well as my immersion in fat culture for the past 10 years. I know that fat girls have difficulties negotiating body visible areas such as swimming pools, fitness clubs, beaches and dance clubs. I wanted Cindy to have a bathing suit that was totally cute and that she could wear to the beach in a fat body – that means a top that could hold her boobs up and a bottom that covered her butt. I also considered Baker’s career as an performance artist and figured she could handle her midriff showing, so I made it into a bikini – arguably not practical, however – revolutionary for a fat woman to wear in public in my imagination.
In the research for my dissertation I interviewed 15 women who identify as fat and asked them to talk about how they move through the world in their fat bodies. One of the most cohesive findings in my research is that fat women have a lot of difficulties clothing their bodies. Furthermore, the experience of shopping is not positive. In terms of space, the clothing store, and more particularly the change room, are often sites of oppression for fat women. For many it is the location where they first learned they were fat and that fat is wrong – often seeing themselves through the disappointed eyes of a “well intentioned” mother or sales person. The clothing change room is a site of disappointment, anger and frustration. One of the elements that I find the most exhilarating about the Fashion Plate performance is asking “normally” sized bodies to consider a fat body and lovingly and excitedly dress it. I am/was also astounded at how Cindy bravely transformed the space of the Drake Lounge into a public change room. I don’t mean that she changed in front of people. She changed in privacy. But she paraded around in her fresh new outfits in front of the judgmental eyes (replacing the mean moms, shoppers and sales people). By doing this, Baker takes this seemingly universal fat experience literally out of the closet. Those who are able to take this idea in can access how profound this kind of feminist intervention is. Cindy turned that space inside out. As an audience member during the fashion show I felt terrified and triggered. I wanted to protect Cindy. I cringingly watched the Drake clientele either ogle or consciously ignore Cindy as she paraded through the hotel in her new tight and often skimpy outfits. We are not used to seeing the flesh of fat bodies in public in this way. The only time I’ve seen the kinds of corporeal realities that Baker exposed has been at the YWCA change room (a life transforming experience) and in spaces that have been marked by activists as fat positive by the bodies that are there and the performance that takes place.(5) The unveiling of Cindy’s outfits in the pretense that it was a fashion show (and it was) was actually quite a solemn affair. The smallish crowd that had gathered to witness Cindy’s performance tried to overcompensate with clapping and cheering but there was little interaction between the audience there to observe Cindy – “the converted” as she refers to them – and the groups of people who just happened to be in the space. But, according to Baker, this is truly what she wanted from her performance – some real reactions to her body. For many people the realest reaction was ignorance in all its forms – I’m not surprised and neither is Baker.
I am looking forward to Baker’s next endeavour, which promises to create an even bigger spectacle and will taunt her audience even more – denying them the opportunity to turn away. For the aptly titled: Personal Appearance: Performing Self Cindy Baker, she is constructing a professional mascot costume of herself. Similar to other amusement park and sports team characters, Cindy’s mascot will be cuddly, goofy and supposedly approachable. In her artist statement, Baker theorizes that the mascot will:
“function to erase social barriers and encourage physical contact and play, as well as the building of emotional bonds; it will therefore allow me further and more complex access to my study of people through allowing them to study me.”
Will Cindy’s mascot of herself be sweet or will it be monstrous? Hopefully, it will be both – my favourite flavour.
(1) “Pretty Porky & Pissed Off was not initially conceived of as a performance group. Rather, the group endeavoured to raise awareness in other ways, such as protesting, conducting educational workshops, engaging in group consciousness raising, and other activities. The group evolved, and in addition to these activities, they also eventually produced zines, held fat girl clothing swaps, performed street theatre, as well as more formalized performance work that could be classified as ‘cabaret style’, meaning it encompassed a variety of performance styles, such as monologue, dance, storytelling, singing and fat drag. While multi-faceted, the activist performance repertoire of PPPO’d is all geared towards one central goal: raising public awareness and consciousness about body issues and fat phobia”. (Pinterics, 2005 pp. 178-9)
(2) I would like to draw a parallel as well as underline the danger in normalizing outsider or marginalized identities and sexualities – and arguably occupying fat as a position of pride or even happiness is outside the mainstream ideals of loathing, fearing and hating fat. However, as is the case with most identity-based politics, fat activists have expressed fear of losing the radical politics based in their identiies with the homogeneity of normalness (Cooper, 2005). Think about the arguments by some queer activists against gay marriage, for example. The fear is that normalizing outsider identities in fact erases the very differences that make them unique and interesting or resistant in the first place.
(3) There is a historical legacy that has existed at least since the turn of the century which has associated fat bodies and fat people with clownish behaviour in white North America. This topic is considered thoroughly in at least two collections of essays by Braziel and Lebesco (2001) Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression and Kulick and Meneley (2005) Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession.
(4) This is not unequivocal. Some of the outfits actually looked like the people who designed them, for example, Paul Couillard’s muu muu, Vera Frenkel’s multi layered gown, Istvan Kantor’s neoism uniform and Leif Harmson’s bikini. Making Cindy into the larger doppelganger of these famous artists, offers an entire other psychoanalytically based essay about ego and creation – the desire to see the self blown up larger than life….
(5) Here I am thinking about fat cabarets like Chubbalicous (2001), Blubber (2001), Double Double (2002), Big Cindy [ironically titled in relation to the work of Cindy Baker but it was not originally titled with her in mind] (2003), No Lose (2004-5), and Chub Rub (2006).
Baker/Mitchell email interview, February/March, 2006.
Baker, Cindy, Fashion Plate artist statement, Fado website
Baker, Cindy, Personal Appearance: Performing Self Cindy Baker (unpublished)
Bazeil Jana Evans and Kathleen Lebesco, 2001, Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression. Berkley: University of California Press.
Butler, Judith, 1993, Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of “sex”. New York: Routledge.
Cooper, Charlotte, 2005, Plenary Speech at NoLose conference, Newark New Jersey, available at www.charlottecooper.net.
Kulick, Don and Anne Meneley, 2005, Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession. New York: Tarcher/Penguin.
Le Besco, Kathleen, 2004. Revolting Bodies?: the struggle to redefine fat identity. Amherst MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
Pinterics, N. 2005. Big & Bawdy Bodies: A Feminist & Cultural Studies Analysis of Fat & Frisky Performances. MA thesis, Mount Saint Vincent University.
Probyn, Elspeth. 2000. Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities. London: Routledge.
Russo, Mary. 1994. The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity. New York: Routledge.
In 2014, FADO is celebrating a milestone – our 20th Anniversary. To commemorate we are looking back to our very beginnings, and are proud to present Duorama #114, #115, #116, #117, #119 and #120, a series of performances created by FADO’s former Performance Art Curator and founding Director Paul Couillard, together with founding member Ed Johnson. Partners in life and art, Paul and Ed have worked together on the performance art series Duorama since 2000.
Playful, beguiling and often minimalist, these pieces explore notions of relationship, and draw on collaborative and competitive tensions that underlie all partnerships. Responding to site and examining cultural attitudes toward male intimacy are key elements of Duorama. Recurring themes revolve around shifting interpretations of what is political and what is personal. Many of the works can be read in terms of the current social and political climate surrounding gay culture, offering askance references to issues such as gay marriage, HIV-status, and portrayals of gay culture. To date, 113 Duorama performances have been presented at galleries, festivals and various events in Canada, France, Poland, Croatia, Ukraine, Belarus, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, the USA, Singapore, Ireland and the UK.
Starting with Duorama #114 presented in the context of the Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (where it is rumoured Paul and Ed met for the very first time), FADO hosts a total of six new Duorama performances between February and September.
Presented at the 35th Rhubarb Festival
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street
February 12, 2014 @ 6:00pm–9:00pm
Presented in the context of the LINK & PIN performance art series, LONG-TERM, which focuses on duos and long-term collaborations. Curated by Sandrine Schaefer and Adriana Disman.
hub14, 14 Markham Street
April 12, 2014 @ 2:00pm–6:00pm
Presented by Offthemap Gallery | With the Counterpoint Community Orchestra
St. Luke’s United Church, 353 Sherbourne Street
June 7, 2014 @ 7:30pm
Presented in the context of the exhibition Generations of Queer, curated by Lisa Deanne Smith
Onsite [at] OCAD University, 230 Richmond Street West
June 25, 2014 @ 8:00pm
Duorama #119 & #120 (plus post-performance artist talk)
Presented by Sunday Drive Art Projects in Warkworth, Ontario
August 24 & 30, 2014 @ 1:00pm
Sunday Drive Art Projects has brought together a roster of some of Toronto’s most active artist-run centres and collectives to present satellites in the beautiful village of Warkworth from August 23–September 6, temporarily transforming it into a hub of contemporary art.
Francisco-Fernando Granados is a Toronto-based artist. His multidisciplinary critical practice spans drawing, performance, installation, cultural theory, digital media, public art, and community-based projects. He has presented work in galleries, museums, theatres, artist-run centres and non-traditional sites since 2005. These venues include the Art Gallery of Ontario, Mercer Union, Art Gallery of York University, Gallery TPW, Trinity Square Video, Images Festival, NuitBlanche, Bunker 2 (Toronto), Vancouver Art Gallery, MAI – Montreal, arts interculturels, Darling Foundry (Montreal), the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa), MacLaren Art Centre (Barrie), Queens University (Kingston), Neutral Ground (Regina), Third Space (St. John) Hessel Museum of Art (NY), Berrie Center for Performing and Visual Arts at Ramapo College (NJ), Defibrillator Gallery (Chicago), Voices Breaking Boundaries (Houston) Ex Teresa Arte Actual (Mexico City), Kulturhuset (Stockholm), and Theatre Academy at the University of the Arts (Helsinki).
Istvan Kantor presents an Internationally Controversial Performance Art Gala, featuring:
NON GRATA: Storm Generation
Performance Art Network Group from Estonia / New York
3:00pm: Empty parking lot, 163 Sterling Road
7:00pm: The Theatre Centre Pop-up, 1095 Queen Street West
Burning Iceberg Performance (Noise Band) with Wesley Rickert / Kathleen Reichelt
Solo performance by Jessica Patricia Kichoncho Karuhanga
Jubal Brown (A/VJ Mashup)
“Around the name NON GRATA there have been different hushes and shushes for a long time. Already from the point of view of death of conventionalization of art it has embodied the horrible and unwanted disembodiment of human person, from which the meaninglessness of nowadays art, is pouring out. For those, whose world of arts starts from the point, where the art world ends, NON GRATA has been a liberator, the orphic gap in the seemingly unalterable course, which however betrays us, it is a cure from incest. The main point of the group is ethical – it is the image of primitivism, impersonality and experimenting creativity. The performances of the group take place according to the logic of avoiding codes. The presentations are physical texts, whose ways of orthography and reading are kept within the limits of real actions by the group members. Aesthetical and provocative challenges are represented in places, where the Art World doesn’t work.”
~NONGRATA, Art of the Invisible, Performances 2008-2011
Sponsored by FADO Performance Art Centre. Co-presented with SMASH (store & gallery). Technical support by 253569. Special thanks to the Theatre Centre and Castlepoint.
NON GRATA is an international performance group from Estonia with a floating membership. In Non Grata there have been more than 300 members during the last 12 years from all over the world. The main characteristics is anonymity in group work, ignorance of the local art world and mass media. Group has performed in Asia, Europe, South and North America with street actions, chaotic space and context specific performances, and long lasting ghetto marathons.
Project curated and presented by FADO Performance Art Centre
Workshop partners: Dancemakers & Public Recordings
Performance venue partner: AGO
Gallery partner: Gallery TPW
The Project: TRANSMITTING TRIO A (1966)
Over the course of a 5-day intensive workshop led by Sara Wookey – one of the few dancers authorized by Yvonne Rainer to “transmit” (to use Rainer’s own phrase) her works – a mixed group of dance and performance artists will learn several of Rainer’s dance works, focusing primarily on Trio A (1966).
Consisting of a 4½ minute sequence of movements that progress without repetition, phrasing, or emphasis and performed without musical accompaniment, Trio A (1966) is largely considered to be one of the originative works of the postmodern dance movement, as well one of the most influential works in the canon of 20th century dance. Rainer’s interest in task-based movement, the ephemeral, the un-spectacular, and rethinking the performer-audience relationship are characteristic concerns of both contemporary dance artists and performance artists.
The starting point for this project is the shared conversation between dance and performance artists around the distinctions between repertoire and reenactment, in particular consideration of how these modes of archiving in live art relate to the increasing interest in presenting performance art and choreography in the museum.
The results of the project are a series of presentations of Trio A (and other works in the Rainer repertoire) in a variety of contexts: a dance studio, a gallery, and a museum; as an open rehearsal, a single iteration, and a rotating relay.
FADO’s Transmitting Trio A (1966) project overlaps with Yvonne Rainer’s visit to Toronto where she will deliver an artist talk (Saturday March 21, 7:00pm) entitled Where’s the Passion? in the context of the AGO’s Radical Acts Unconference taking place on March 21. In addition, there are other activations to experience: Sara Wookey will be giving a lecture demonstration about Trio A and Gallery TPW presents a discursive series (March 20–28) curated by Jacob Korczynski and Kim Simon. Entitled, “…a container for mere possibilities that have not yet happened, a body in a state of becoming through time, or a structure for the expression of time as it moves both forwards and backwards at once.” the series responds to and thinks alongside the performances initiated by FADO, allowing the opportunity to see Rainer’s dance again within a constellation of conversations, readings and newly commissioned work.
THANK YOU. This project is possible because of the generous support of Dancemakers (Ben Kamino and Emi Forster) in making the workshop possible. Warm thanks to Public Recordings (Ame Henderson) in conceptualizing the project and helping to assemble the group. Thanks to the AGO (Kathleen McLean and Paola Poletto) for inviting this project into their activities. Thanks to the contribution of Gallery TPW as main host venue, and to curators Jacob Korczynski and Kim Simon for their keen thinking in organizing a series of discursive events in response to the project’s proposal.
Dance is Hard to See: Capturing and Transmitting Movement through Language, Media and Muscle Memory, a lecture demonstration by Sara Wookey
March 19, 7:30pm @ Dancemakers, Distillery District, 15 Case Goods Lane
Performance of Trio A (1966) by Sara Wookey
March 24, 7:00pm @ Gallery TPW
Open rehearsals of Trio A (1966)
March 22, 4:00–5:00pm @ Dancemakers
March 25, 7:00-8:00pm @ AGO, 317 Dundas Street West
March 28, 12:00-5:00pm @ Gallery TPW, 170 St. Helens Avenue
Presented by FADO Performance Art Centre in association with Progress: an International Festival of Performance and Ideas.
Conceived by Shannon Cochrane and Amanda Coogan. Performed with H. Mary Balint, Michelle Bourgeois, Alexandrose Dayment, Anselmo DeSousa, Catherine MacKinnon, Keli Safia Maksud, Mikiki, Ahmed Muslimani, Laura Nanni, Christopher Welsh, Sage Willow.
FADO Performance Art Centre presents Silent Dinner, an 8-hour performance in which a group of people arrive to the theatre space, set up a rudimentary kitchen, and then prep, cook and eat a dinner in shared silence, without communicating in their language of origin, in front of the attending audience. The performance is created with special guest artist Irish performance artist Amanda Coogan who is CoDA (Child of Deaf Adults) and 12 performer/participants who are a combination of Deaf and hearing performers and non-performers from Toronto.
Silent Dinner is inspired by a choreographic exercise devised by Canadian dance artist Justine Chambers entitled Family Dinner, and American artist Lois Weaver’s well-known public discourse practice, The Long Table. In Weaver’s Long Table (inspired by Marleen Gorris’s film Antonia’s Line, in which the dinner table continually extends to accommodate the growing community of outsiders and eccentrics, until finally the table must be moved out of doors), the rules of engagement allow those sitting at the table to participate in the conversation in whatever way they wish, without limit or restriction to access or content. Using the table as a structure to orchestrate a conversation around, this long table combines community interaction with theatricality. As a form The Long Table, “acknowledges the sometimes uncomfortable side of both private exchange and public engagement, while celebrating the potential for new forms of knowledge-making and -sharing”, while the rules (or rather, the helpful hints as Weaver calls them) state that there can be silence.
In FADO’s Silent Dinner, silence is transformed from a potential born of discomfort or newness, and transformed into the landscape in which indirect communication between people who don’t share the same language is negotiated. The dinner table becomes a meeting place for the intersection of culture and language (hearing and Deaf culture, English and ASL, performance as language) via a performance score employing the everyday activity of sharing a meal. Over the course of the 8-hours of the performance the performers experience, and the audience bares witness to, the many varied and complex layers of communication, compromise, and decision-making that are being performed through construction and deconstruction, art and food, theatre and everyday ritual, the performance of the public and the private. The table functions as both motif (in theatre the table is a prop, in performance it is material) and metaphor for community and connection.
Join us at 9:00pm for coffee, dessert and a post-performance Q&A with the performers of Silent Dinner. ASL interpretation provided.
FADO would like to offer a big THANKS to our friends and colleagues who have helped us and made this project possible, including Signs Restaurant and Rachel Shemuel, Nicka Noble, Jess Shane, Deanna Bradley-Coelho, Kerry Grandfield and Corene Kennedy and the 2nd and 3rd year students of the ASL-English interpreter program at George Brown College, and our team of trained professional ASL-English interpreters Amanda Hyde, Tara Everett, Shelly Nafshi and Silvia Wannam.
SummerWorks, in partnership with The Theatre Centre and a roster of Toronto theatre and performance organizations/presenters and companies including FADO Performance Art Centre, Buddies in Bad Times, Dancemakers, Why Not Theatre, Video Fag, and Volcano Theatre, brings the world to Toronto with Progress: an International Festival of Performance and Ideas, February 4-15, 2015.
Performance by Wit Lopez
With special guest performance by Amai Kuda et Les Bois featuring Y Josephine on percussion
Feminist Art Gallery (F.A.G.) and FADO Performance Art Centre are pleased to bring to you a PERFORMANCE CINQ A SEPT with FAG residency artist, Wit López. With a Special Guest performance by Amai Kuda et Les Bois featuring Y Josephine. ALSO, Wit and Amai will also be performing original music!
Wit López is a Brooklyn-raised, Philly-made, award-winning performance conjurer and pro-magicianatrix creating art out of the joy and fear of being alive. As a disabled and chronically-ill, nonbinary trans, intersex person of African American and Boricua descent, López’s visual and performance work uses absurdity to convey and challenge how they experience the world.
Amai Kuda et Les Bois have been featured in NOW magazine and on CBC’s Canada Live and Big City Small World, as well as performed at venues like the Jane Mallett Theatre, Harbourfront, The Rivoli, The Garrison, and festivals such as Luminato, Kultrun, Big on Bloor and Small World Music Festival. They have given workshops on music, decolonization, African cultural knowledge and percussion at public schools, universities, libraries and community centres throughout Southern Ontario, in the Caribbean and Europe. Their latest album titled AfroSoul Volume Volume III: Re’ was described by NOW magazine as a “tantalizing Afro-soul combo of folk, roots, desert blues and African continental music.”
Open invitation and free.
We can’t wait to see you.
Established in 2010. The Feminist Art Gallery (F.A.G) is—a response, a process, a site, a protest, an outcry, an exhibition, a performance, an economy, a conceptual framework, a place and an opportunity. We host we fund we advocate we support we claim. The Feminist Art Gallery (FAG) is our geographical footprint located in Toronto, Canada and run by Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue. Other FAG activities: We are DAG (in collaboration with Gigi Basanta): a micro funding program that has so far supported 4 feminist art projects in Canada including: Les Blues, Colour me Dragg, No More Pot Lucks, Her Jazz Noise.
Curated by Dainty Smith & Golboo Amani
PUSH.PULL is a six-month online series of interdisciplinary events examining emergent and intersectional developments in performance art and QT BIPOC cabaret. Curated by storyteller, producer and stage performer Dainty Smith and multidisciplinary artist Golboo Amani, PUSH.PULL highlights QTBIPOC cabaret performers at the intersections of live stage performance and radical political performativity.
PERFORMANCES by: Adrienne Huard, Anasimone, Babia Majora, Betsy Swoon, Cara De Melo, Cat Zaddy, Crocodile Lightning, Dolly Berlin, Gay Jesus, Imogen Quest, Ivory, James Knott, Johlene, Kimora Koi, LAL, Lucinda Mui, Lwrds, Mikiki, Ravyn Wngz, Suki Tsunami, Tanya Cheex, Tygr Willy.
SPECIAL APPEARANCES by: Perle Noire, Rania El Mugammar, Aggie Panda, Amber Dawn
PUSH.PULL presents three online Showcases featuring performers from across North America. Each showcase offers a diverse range of contemporary practices reflecting the theatrical, political and emotional range and depth of cabaret performance.
FREE Tickets for all showcases: Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
PUSH.PULL presents BARE
April 9 @ 9:00pm (EST)
Featuring: Suki Tsunami, Lady Ore, Crocodile Lightning, Gay Jesus, Ivory, LAL
BARE: A showcase of sensual exploration that reimagines and extorts the expectations of our own desires. Performances offering consensual and deliberate confrontations, challenging the idea of the submissive and passive nude. When skin is presented, when nudity is shown, who is vulnerable? Who is powerless?
PUSH.PULL presents TAUNT
April 23 @ 9:00pm (EST)
Featuring: Betsy Swoon, Dolly Berlin, Johleen, Ravyn Wngz, Lucinda Miu, James Knott, Anasimone
TAUNT: A show that celebrates the power of seduction; of intentional sexuality. A thread of rage runs though burlesque. Burlesque is unapologetically rebellious, it is where the feminine, self-love, sexual agency and manipulation are performed without shame or explanation. It is a place and space where we can all misbehave together and where we are taunted by sexuality wielded like a weapon.
PUSH.PULL presents TOPPED
May 14 @ 9:00pm (EST)
Featuring: Imogen Quest, Babia Majora, Cara De Melo, Tanya Cheex, Cat Zaddy, Mikiki, Tygr Willy, Adrienne Huard
TOPPED: Cautions, titillates and teases. The cabaret is a feminized, glamourous and glittered, a holy and sacred place. Moving and living through expressions of sexuality in its full scope of dominance and assertion, the performer toys and plays with gender, power, laughter, vulnerability, and seduction. In cabaret, we have the audacity to believe that our bodies are important, invaluable, meaningful and worth listening to.
PUSH.PULL includes a three-part speaker series inviting performers and cultural creatives to engage in conversations at the intersections of visual culture, sex work, performance and politics by recognizing cabaret as a site of cultural production and community engagement. We’ve also included a series of workshops led by professionals in the field, aimed at engaging audience participants and community members in immersive skill-sharing experiences deepening appreciation, interest and critical engagement with cabaret.
April 14: Speaker Series: Unusual Business: The business of being a showgirl
April 28: Workshop: Body Love with Dainty Smith
For more information about PUSH.PULL workshops AND artist talks, visit Aluna Theatre
PUSH.PULL is presented in association with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre & Aluna Theatre. Sponsored by FADO Performance Art Centre. Funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.
FADO Performance Art Centre was pleased to help support Bricks & Glitter for their online and in-person (socially distanced) 2020 festival.
Bricks & Glitter is a community arts festival celebrating Two-Spirt, trans and queer talent, ingenuity, caring, anger and abundance. We are a trouble of queers who believe in creativity, collectivity and practicing the future in the now. We are intersectional be default and critical by necessity. Our 2020 festival centres Black, Indigenous and racialized artists coming together to imagine a world worth living in—for all of us.
Ms. Nookie Galore, Franny Galore, Mikiki, leZlie lee kam, Tamai Kobayashi, Rhona Spencer, Buster Cherry, David Bateman, Jord Camp, DJ Xeynamay, DJ Mirass, DJ MXMSXY, DJ Pothound, Ivory, TravoyInTheFlesh, Mango Lassi, Drag King Sebastian, Pastel Supernova, Cat Zaddy, Midnight Wolverine, Billie the Kid, Namitha Rathinappillai, Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective, Mina Minou, Tygr Willy, Ola Minoul, Daddy Gambino, Kareena Pussy Couture, Sage Lovell, Thurga Kanagasekarampillai AND MANY MORE!
Bricks & Glitter 2020 was funded by the Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, FADO Performance Art Centre and Groundswell Community Justice Trust Fund.
How artists speak about themselves publicly lives somewhere between fantasy, biography, and history. This fragrance is showy yet vulnerable; a new light illuminates the artist and their work. You get to decide what is fantasy, biography, or history.
paper coming out of a printer, rose blossom
pink carnation, old lipstick
magenta peony, red plum