Writing
This is a Queer Series

Welcome to the fall 2019 iteration of Performance Club where three queer artists take you into the heart of their processes, practices, and deepest fears. Through performance gatherings, readings, discussions and one workshop, these experimental forays into a hybrid form—somewhere between the academy and the studio—seek to provide an opportunity for you to contribute to, reflect on, and shine in the light of three innovative interventions into performance and being. 

In order to enhance the experiential proceedings that define Performance Club, we provide you, here, with this syllabus and course pack (even though this is technically not a course). All will become clear soon enough. 


Club Objectives 

This Performance Club will increase your ability to:


  • Compare and contrast various styles of performance
  • Discuss art with strangers
  • Critically engage with original live performance
  • Formalize the space between performance and learning
  • Enhance your conceptual understanding of performance
  • Enhance your conceptual understanding of clubs
  • Gain a deeper understanding of process and its centrality to performance
  • Develop confidence in your ability to communicate in a club setting
  • Understand the ways that performance is in conversation with the social and political forces that surround it
  • Laugh and then cry 
  • Retreat and then rejoin
  • Eat snacks and then eat more snacks
  • Embrace your inner queer


Required Reading: A Script, A Story, A Score

These Performance Club events are self-referential insomuch as each refers back to a previous performance, gestures toward a future performance, or imagines a related performance. 

Research, creative engagement and hands-on learning intersect in this multi-pronged approach to develop spectatorship that is aesthetically, socially, and formally engaged. As clubs, these events necessarily rely on collective meaning-making and shared interest in specific topics. Assembled here, in one handy volume, are all the printed materials required for your fully informed club experience. 

Take this syllabus home with you. Read it, review it, and come prepared to discuss its contents in an open and friendly environment. Extra points will not be given for talking at length. 


CLUB STRUCTURE

Attend Performance: September 10
Performance Club begins in week one with Book Club: snowflakes in the echo chamber by Moe Angelos. Moe’s performance contemplation of fragility, fear, and the flattening of knowledge in contemporary society is performed as a “sort of” sequel to her previous Performance Club contribution, entitled Queer/Play, which you will find published in this volume. Moe wants you to know that: “When you arrive, you should be aware that performance will take place and you may be a performer and/or in the audience. And there will be snacks.” 

Readings: September 6–11
Participants must read this introduction, plus the entry by Moe Angelos entitled Queer/Play, as well as the entry by Cornell Woolrich entitled Three O’Clock in preparation for the coming week’s club performance. 

Attend Performance: September 12
In week two Hope Thompson performs a conjectural interaction with the ghost of Cornell Woolrich to dissect the trans-historical connection between queerness and mystery. This conjuring is inspired by Hope’s work-in-progress play inspired Woolrich’s Three O’Clock, which is included in this volume. Hope hopes you know that: “You will be watching an interview with a deceased writer. I don’t expect you, necessarily, to know much about the writer.” 

Reading: September 13–18
Participants must read the entry by David Bateman entitled I Wanted To Be Bisexual But My Father Wouldn’t Let Me in preparation for the following week’s club performance. 

Workshop: September 14
Attend Death, Sex, & Macrame where there will be some macramé weaving. The workshop is not mandatory, but it is compulsory. 

Attend Performance: September 19
For the third and final performance of this series David Bateman, who wants you to know that he is “trying to configure new and current work as aspects of 35 years of creating performance, and the influences that continue to affect [his] ongoing performance work,” will delve into the ambiguities of gender and performativity to either enrich or confuse your previous views, depending on his current state of gender/mind. 

Participation
Each event happens only once, and while the events are connected they are not the same— interlinked, but unique. Participants are strongly encouraged to attend all Performance Club events related to the materials in this syllabus. Extra points will be given for initiating discussions that draw on material covered across the entire series. 

Grading
The grading scheme for participants will be fully self-regulated. If, however, you prefer to be graded by an experienced professional, please feel free to approach me at the final event. But, be advised, once you have been graded by me that grade will be considered final. 

This Is Not A Course, Nor A Show
How do we define the spaces between learning and viewing, between art and politics, between being and performing? These clubs seek to extend the reach of performance to find new forms with which to answer these questions and to pose many more questions along the way. The club format, likened to the traditional salon, can be seen as a default space of education, or as an open forum for creative expression. The club is always about engagement and in this club we hope you will find yourself engaged and embraced in a series of performances that are not just for show.

Writing
Curatorial notes from the 2003 Trans <---> Tech festival catalogue

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.

Writing
Francesco Gagliardi on Tanya Mars’ GOOD BUY!

Image © FADO, 2018. Photo Henry Chan.


Good evening,

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!

Writing
Performance Club 2: Commencement Keynote Address

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!

Writing
Searching for an Empty Signifier, or How to Read Vassya Vassileva’s Work?

“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.


Conclusions

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.

Writing
Intimate Distances (On David Khang’s Phalogocentrix) by Rinaldo Walcott

1.
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.

2.
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.

3.
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.

4.
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.

5.
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.

6.
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.

Blessed.




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.


Works Cited

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.



Writing
Cindy Baker’s Fashion Plate

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).



Works Cited:

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.

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

From Ironic to Iconic: The Performance Works of Tanya Mars
Edited by Paul Couillard
Design by Sameer Farooq/New Ink
2009, 286 pp. (32-pp. colour section) with index
Includes DVD documentation of Mars’ performance Tyranny of Bliss

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

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

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

To order a copy of this publication, please email info@performanceart.ca

Writing
VIGILANTES –the dream of reason creates monsters–

VIGILANTES –the dream of reason creates monsters–
Edited by Tania Bruguera
Design by Bill Pusztai
36 pp. (including 6 pp of b/w images)

Introductory text and performance descriptions by Tania Bruguera; as well as essays by Tagny Duff and Ein Manning.

VIGILANTES –the dream of reason creates monsters– is a small book reminiscent of a group of plane tickets in a travel folder that documents a series of liminal performances dealing with the relationship between ethics and desire. Produced in conjunction with the TIME ZONES residency curated by Tagny Duff, with internationally acclaimed Cuban artists Glenda León and Tania Bruguera.

During the residency, Bruguera commuted weekly between Chicago and Canada (first to Montréal and then to Toronto) using these trips as an opportunity to perform for the unsuspecting audience of her fellow travelers.

Bruguera describes VIGILANTES –the dream of reason creates monsters– as, “…a series of performances dealing with the relationship between ethics and desire; with the tension that can be found in a state of emotional vigilia, which is the state between being awake and asleep. Each piece will have several layers of appreciation, either from the position of the audience or of their level of boldness. These will be pieces that talk about the false strength and the hidden fragility.”

To obtain a copy of this publication, please contact us at info@performanceart.ca

Writing
Golden Book 6: Performance Club: The Syllabus

The sixth in the Golden Book series and essential reading for the performances presented in FADO’s Performance Club series, Performance Club: The Syllabus contains everything you need for your Performance Club 4–6 experience (including that pesky homework).

Designed by Lisa Kiss Design
72 pages


TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. This is a Queer Series
Introduction by Moynan King

2. Queer/Play
By Moe Angelos

3. Three O’Clock
By Cornell Woolrich

4. I Wanted To Be Bisexual But My Father Wouldn’t Let Me
By David Bateman

Writing
Arborite Housedress Script

Prologue

This is about a domestic love-affair between myself and advanced interior decorating technique. This is about the in-between of my placement, of my desire. Me, in-between: wallpaper valances, contrasting trim, kitchen islands, ferns.

This is about me, trying to make the look work; me, wanting it to all hang together; me, giving it that je ne sais pas; and me, getting the details right, the little things, the finishing touches.

Oh, oh and that feels so…hard.
Oh, oh, oh, and I’m so very…pointed.
Oh and yes and oh…I think I’ll… clean up a bit.


Introduction

I am so clean! I am so white! I’m so up, pro, up, pro, up on life!
‘Cause I’ve got a contract, a done deal, signed (clap), sealed delivered
And I’m his.
I’ve been chosen for the whitest, brightest smile.
I’ve been saved, because sin won’t stick to me.
I’ve been taken and it’s about time, too.
I’ve got this contract,
This marriage contract, signed (clap) to him in the big white robe,
Signed (clap) over to his slightly crucified but still attractive son,
And signed (clap) again on earth with ink on paper making me third-hand goods,
A-signed (clap) to a man in the flesh who mows the lawn.

There are so many things that I know, because he says so.
And he should know because he makes them happen.
The weather, that’s him.
American foreign policy, that’s him, too.
Natural disasters, prime-time programming, he does it all
His way.
A real self-starter, a self man-made
In his own image:
The weather, American foreign policy, natural disasters, prime-time programming,
And me.
Not bad, eh?
Not too shabby.
Kinda scary!
I mean, I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side, no.
Because the dark side of good is really bad.
I know, because I’m so good.
I’m so clean! I’m so white! I’m so up, pro, up, pro, up on life!


Marriage

Marriage is a lot like driving a car. Let’s say you’re going on a little trip, just the two of you. You pack your bags, jump in, and go. Now, how many of you are sitting behind the steering wheel? How many of you are actually doing the driving? That’s right, only one of you. There’s only room for one person in the driver’s seat. And what does he do? He controls the direction and speed of the vehicle. He indicates which way he’ll be turning and he toots the horn. In short he carefully maneuvers the car for the good and safety of all of the passengers. But that doesn’t mean that the co-pilot isn’t very important, too. When there’s two people in the car, she reads the map, finds the best radio station, provides pleasant conversation, and passes snacks to the driver. She has a very busy job, but she is not driving. In fact, what would happen if she reached over and grabbed the steering wheel? What would happen if she suddenly decided it was her turn? The car would go out of control, wouldn’t it? Even if she just leaned over to flick on the headlights, even that would startle the driver, and he might get into an accident. This shows us a very important point. When people don’t do what they’re supposed to do, when people don’t stick to their jobs, they end up hurting not only themselves, but others as well. Let’s take a look at Adam and Eve in the garden. When Eve took that apple, who was in the driver’s seat? And where did she end up driving them? You know where. Down a one-way freeway straight out of paradise. Eve took a wrong turn. But her big mistake was taking the wheel in the first place. Not only did it have serious repercussions for her, her family, and the entire course of human history, it also made Adam feel bad. Not only was it an extremely dangerous thing to do, it also hurt Adam’s feelings. And that’s not very nice, is it? It’s not very nice, and it’s not very smart. Because the driver can get in the car alone, and still start it up and make it run. He might get a little lost, he might not get any snacks, but he can still get up and go. Whereas the co-pilot, when she climbs into the car by herself, ends up spending a lot of time in the driveway, just reading those maps.


Bridge

The dark side of good is really bad.
I know, because I am so good, so clean, so white
That every dirty thought shows up bright-
Ly on my immaculate construction.
Every dirty thought can be read like an open book
Spelling what I want and how I want it, when.
Words you see scratched on bathroom walls.
Words you’re embarrassed to know.
Humiliating, needy words
Show up
On my complexion.


Romance Novels

My fantasies exist between the pages of paperback novels published every four days in fourteen languages for an average cost of $4.95…Canadian.
Reading Windswept Summer, Nurses’ Folly, or Indiscretion at Midnight
In Punjabi, Cantonese, or Cree
Is the only reason I can think of for bothering to learn another language.
Those foreigners, the way they speak,
It’s as if they’re always yelling.
But I’m sure that those languages wouldn’t sound so bad
Tripping from the lips of
Clark Cowell, Troubled Millionaire,
Whistled from between the teeth of
Flint Blackwell, Brilliant-But-Lonely Surgeon,
Or whispered by
Jon (that’s J-O-N) Johnson, International Explorer, Oxford-Educated, Hunk-A-Burning-Love, who has a Six-Figure Annuity and has Never Really Loved Before.
I know this is awfully liberal of me to admit
But if Jon Johnson was willing to take me
To his ancestral castle in the south of France,
Make love to me for hours every day,
And ask me what I think from time to time
I wouldn’t mind if he spoke Lebanese, or Zulu, or…French.
I really wouldn’t mind too much.
I wouldn’t mind a bit.


Fantasy #1 – Border Town Romances

Fantasy #1: Border town romances (twirl).
What makes border town romances so…special?
The meeting of culture? The mystery of difference?
The preciousness of each and every moment?
Or is it the pain of longing? The difficulty of talking?
The disapproval of one’s family and friends?
Perhaps it’s that they only exist in the present.
You probably won’t have time to discover each other’s personal habits.
Taking out a mortgage together just isn’t in the cards.
And across that border you have a better chance of being shot, than of getting pregnant.
It makes sex seem less risky.
It makes sex seem more fun.
It makes you feel that the border doesn’t really exist.
Your love is stronger than its walls.
Your love transcends all obstacles.
Your love is absolutely, positively unique.
While it lasts.
Oh, you know it can’t.
It’s impossible. It’s insane. It’s…O.K.
You have an out. An escape hatch. Fine print.
Because forever is really an awfully long time.
Forever takes too long.
And it all becomes the same after awhile:
On and on and on without end.
So, if you’re lucky, it’ll be tragic.
It’ll be epic, yet it’ll be quick.
Your love will be spectacular from start to finish.
And afterwards you can cry and cry, grieve and remember.
You’ll live with your memories
And you have more time to shop for other things.


Bridge

My fears in life are few and far between:
Saturated fat,
Communism,
And GRAVITY.


Sagging Flesh

A woman’s foundations are exceedingly important in an increasingly gravity filled world. This sneaky phenomenon—gravity—this downward pull that threatens my very concept of up and down, replacing it with lower, lower, lower; this force is actively conspiring against us for no other reason than spiteful adherence to some banal law of physics. It’s a bit of a downer, to say the least. As I find my flesh collecting in puddles at my feet, my nipples lolling in hard to find places like corners, under beds, beneath bric-a-brac shelves, constantly getting stuck in the hose of my vacuum cleaner. But the real problem is not the extra housework that these downwardly mobile body parts entail. I hesitate to admit it, but it’s true: my very real concern is that parts of my dangerously sagging self might end up in bad neighbourhoods. And what then? How could I fight? There’s no bleach strong enough to save my shimmering self. I could scrub and scrub and rub and rub, but those streets, those people will never know sparkling, lemon fresh, central vac, and snow white appliances. How could they? Their ways are uncertain and unsafe, not even aware of the dirt under their nails, the bacteria populating their surfaces, their skins dark and shadowy. They may be happy in their ways, but how could I manage among them? Surely no better than they among us.

These are the thoughts that keep me awake nights worrying, that stain my dress with rings of nervous perspiration throughout the day. For it seems not improbable that bits of my body might end up there, on the wrong side of the tracks. And therefore to continue to believe that the line between “me” and “them”, “same” and “Different” is firm and perky would be naive. Especially when the stretches and wrinkles in my skin illustrate how fluid my own borders are. So perhaps it’s alarmist, and perhaps it’s not, but I cannot sit idly by and await this prodigal fate. I must women my defenses and women them well; batten my hatches, and buckle and snap myself into underwear that binds and separates, having painfully evolved from lingerie to veritable architecture.


Bridge

My fears in life are few, it’s true,
But my fantasies can’t be counted.


Fantasy #2 – The List

Fantasy #2: achieving everything on my to-do list (twirl).
As I suck dirt into my waiting bag of empty, clean space
As I fill the interior of my open-plan, decorator-deluxe hollowness
I think of curtain stays,
Grid suspended pot racks,
Self-feeding electrical cords,
And other time-saving restraints.
I can’t get enough of this dirt.
Frankly, it’s just not dirty enough for me.
But I’m trying to make do, trying to make out
Tiny specs that have fallen between my cracks
That I can come to on my hands and knees
And rub and scrub until I slip in the grease of my own elbows.
The dust and the grime of this house are mine
Traces of my body that I massage
With brushes and sprays and an entire array
Of highly toxic germ fighting solutions
To the problem of “a woman’s work never really being done.”
It sounds like a small thing to get excited over — dirt —
But then we are expected to get excited over little things.
And this proof of my untidy, ever-exfoliating self
Tells me I am here
I am real in this world of gloss
The mess I feel is real.
I know it—it is of me—and it knows me
Well.
It knows my flesh.
It knows, and it holds me there,
Bent over sinks,
Arms deep in toilets,
Crawling across floors
Wanting the dirtiness of dirt.
Wanting to take back the dirt.
Take back me.
Take it in.
Suck it in.
Lick it in.
Be in dirt.
Be in me.
Come in me.
Dirtily.

But I want it, I want it, I want it. All. Instead of this scary get-down, show down, between none other, is there anything worse, than saturated communism, and sneaky, pinko fat?


Marriage Quiz

One: Question. What makes marriage so attractive?
Two: Bigger student loans? A good excuse to move out of your parents home? Wedding presents?
One: No. I mean, why did you marry? What led up to your decision to join together in holy union?
Two: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
One: But haven’t there been benefits to being a married woman?
Two: Could you repeat the question?
One: Let’s try another one. When I say, “To have and to hold…,” you think of….
Two: Strangulation? Suffocation? The correlation between ownership and theft?
One: When I say, “‘Till death do us part…,” you feel….
Two: Homicidal? Suicidal? Resistant to the concept of reincarnation?
One: You’re not trying very hard. We’ll try again. Question. What does marriage mean to you?
Two: Infinite compromise. Sacrifice. Selflessness. Losing oneself entirely.
One: That’s better! And who is the most important person to remember in a marriage?
Two: Me! Him? (pause) God? (bells and whistles)


Fantasy #3 – Lesbian Nation

Fantasy #3: lesbian nation (twirl).
Being a domestic goddess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Have you ever noticed that you can wash the floor in the morning, by nightfall it looks just the same as before you started? That you can do all of the dishes, and in a matter of hours someone has gone and dirtied them again? That children are little grime magnets, picking up all manner of stubborn stains and bringing them home again?

Well, I’ve been thinking. If I could get rid of my family, it would effectively cut my work load by 60%. And then I would finally have time to devote myself more fully to being a homemaker. Then I could start to get ahead in the domestic world. Make something of myself. Achieve those far off goals. Perhaps move up to a ranch style. Without PTA or connubial duties getting in the way.

And you know, I bet I’m not the only one. I bet there are hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe even millions of women who would also benefit from the absence of men and children in their lives. As it is now, think of all the wasted human potential. Think of how clean it could be, if we were all freed from the inconvenience of those to whom we are joined by blood and marriage. I, for one, would have more time to devote to the common good. I’d gladly spend a half-hour vacuuming the boulevard, and afternoon dusting a jungle-jim. I, and others like me, would getup our gumption and get out of the home to make the entire world a spic-er, span-er place. There’s no end to what we could acheive together. We could tidy up toxic waste sites! Redecorate urban decay! Sew some shoulder pads into the economy! Why it would be paradise! It would be sparkling! It would be the first lesbian, separatist nation!


Bridge

I’m so clean, I’m so white
I’m so crisp and hard and still and right
That every twitch and tremor I make turns out left or wrong
Proof positive of a strong predisposition toward voluntary hysteria.
I slice my palms on the creases of my dress.
Everything is so well pressed.
It’s a problem area.
I am a problem area.
This is the problem:


Conclusion

I am a domestic alter
Location of discipline, receiver of guilt
My lipstick (kisses palms) glows bloody
The wound in my side a testament
To the persistent pain of splinters
Chaffing me each time I try to move
In this bungalow that never fit
Right?
In the first place
There was Eve
Experiencing for the first time the downward pull
The long fall from grace to graceful A-lines
In no-stick, hi-gloss, easy-to-maintain finishes
To a place where everyone has the same blood-type: clean
And whiteness and Godliness
And might and right
And home and family
All tidily equal up
In a divine floor plan
Three bedrooms, sunken living room, patio off the breakfast nook,
Repeated over and over and over again
Tomorrow is another day
-Ly bread, our kingdom comes
Unlike me
In this straight jacket against desire
Where passion plays on TV
And we only communicate in clichés
Based on stories that only end badly
For me.

Writing
Exercise On Experiencing Ephemerality

The following performance exercise is by Marilyn Arsem. You can find it on page 192 of the new publication about Arsem’s work entitled Responding to Site: The performance work of Marilyn Arsem.



Exercise On Experiencing Ephemerality

In a course on documenting ephemeral work, I being by examining the reasons that we try to hold onto the past, as well as the ways that our memories are fluid and elusive. Early in the course I give this task:

  1. Chose a place nearby that you have always wanted to visit and see, but have not yet gone.
  2. Go there, taking as much time as you wish to explore and experience the place.
  3. Before you leave, choose one object to bring back as a souvenir. Only one.
  4. And finally, you must agree never to return to that place again.

Initially this exercise appears mundane, until the final stipulation of never returning is added. The most revealing part of the process is each student’s debate on where they will go, knowing that they can’t return. The ones that choose the place they most desire have the most intense experience, and those that play it safe and choose a place that has minimal significance for them have the least meaningful experience.

I designed this exercise in an effort to replicate the experience of making a performance or other ephemeral work, and the profound feeling of loss that can occur when it is over. In particular, I am interested in pointing out that this kind of work is not unlike one’s own life, in that you cannot return to the past, but only—and if you are lucky—save a relic or memory of it.

Writing
Notes on a High Tea

“I’m not sure where any of this is going but don’t throw any of it out.”
~Shannon Cochrane (heavily paraphrased)


Gallerist Paul Petro refers to my new association with Jeanne Randolph as a “forced mentorship.” He might be right. I’m not sure myself what this new relationship is. Given that Jeanne Randolph has been on my mind so much (I just mailed her a Christmas card) I started to think that I need to do a hard think and ask myself ‘what is it?’ Finally, a decent thought came into my head:

Performance as Lecture
Lecture as Performance

Not a new idea but I think my association to Jeanne / with Jeanne is a desire to move into 

Performance as Lecture
Lecture as Performance

I have tried. In 2015 The Belljar Café in Toronto gave me the opportunity to present a campy, one-off lecture / performance using the 1985 film “Desperately Seeking Susan” as a reference point. I decide to take it all very seriously. My Performance Lecture was entitled “States of Confusion, Amnesia and Loss of Control.” It went “okay”. Not great. Not bad. Certainly something worth re visiting one day. But I haven’t tried or been inspired to try another Performance Lecture

Lecture Performance since.

Moving into 2020 and 2021 I have been slightly re inspired to try my skills again—using Jeanne Randolph and her Performance Lecture style as a reference. In March 2021 I received a $4,000 grant from The Ontario Arts Council to reach out to Jeanne Randolph and use her as a catalyst for  my possible upcoming Performance work, ideas and inspiration. Ideas were tossed around with friends and the concept of a High Tea was decided upon.

On Sunday September 26th, 2021 from 11:30am–1:30pm at The Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, twenty-six artists gathered in The Purple Tea Room for a High Tea. Jeanne Randolph was the catalyst for this memorable event. For those who know me well—tea and sweets are not my thing. I probably had one or two sips of the stuff and foolishly ate too many sweets not fully remembering that I do not like cakes and things like that.

Looking back, was The High Tea a performance (maybe). Was I super pleased—yes. Would I organize another one? Probably not—one was enough. 

But rethinking The High Tea: was it a Performance? We as artists gathered not in a bar, not in a gallery, not in a performance space but we gathered in a formal room designated for and famous for a High Tea.

What have I been doing since The High Tea? 

Investigating psychoanalysis (and treading very lightly into the unknown). I find that once I sensitize myself to something (in this case psychoanalysis) it seems to be everywhere. People are talking about psychoanalysis, going back to school to become a psychoanalyst, seeing a psychoanalyst and on it goes….

The High Tea for me was thrilling. Thrilling? For me to be able to treat 26 people to something different, special and certainly not every day is thrilling.

Back to the Shannon Cochrane quote from above: I haven’t thrown any of this experience out and it is very true that I have no idea where any of this investigation (High Tea, Jeanne Randolph, Psychoanalysis) will take me but hopefully I will move the idea of Performance as Lecture

Lecture as Performance

forward.

Again, not a new idea but an idea worth pursuing in my own way.

December 5, 2021

Writing
La Dragu: The Living Art of Margaret Dragu 

La Dragu: The Living Art of Margaret Dragu (2002)
Edited by Paul Couillard

Book Design: Randy Gledhill
96 pp. text, 16 pp. photos and DVD insert, 5.5 x 8 inches
Price: $22.50 (plus shipping)

DVD includes the videos Cleaning and Loving It © 2000 and More Cleaning and Loving (It) © 2001, directed by Margaret Dragu and Paul Couillard.

Articles by Glenn Alteen, Paul Couillard, Andy Fabo, Debbie O’Rourke, Sarah Sheard; chronology by Brice Canyon and story and collages by Margaret Dragu.

Margaret Dragu is a 2012 recipient of a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. Margaret Dragu is a warm-hearted, fearless and indomitable spirit who has left her mark across disciplines and across the country. Dragu’s astonishing output of work spans back to 1969 and includes forays into theatre, film, video, writing, choreography and above all, performance art. She is perhaps best known for her work in the 1980s, including her long-running X’s and O’s series, which began with a solstice mega-spectacle in Hamilton in 1983 (X’s and O’s on the Longest Day of the Year) and continues with her recent, Improvisation for X’s and O’s. Her 1988 film project I VANT TO BE ALONE reads as a who’s who of the Toronto art scene of the 1980s, while her smaller, more intimate 1990s work has been produced and seen mainly on the west coast. 

To order a copy of this publication, please contact us at info@performanceart.ca

Writing
Remembering Tari Ito

Tari Ito

1951–September 22, 2021


Tari Ito was a Japanese performance artist, organizer, and activist whose work was featured in events across Asia, Europe and North America. She died earlier this year after a ten-year struggle with ALS—an enormous challenge for an artist whose practice was so intensely focused on body movement. She was greatly loved and respected, and many of us mourn her passing. 

I first met Tari in 1990, when she took part in a nine-city Canadian tour of Japanese performance artists, coordinated by Vancouver’s Western Front. She and fellow artist Haruo Higuma spent a week in Toronto, presenting solo works at A Space and also participating in an open “jam” session with local artists. As I recall, it was Pam Patterson and I, working as members of A Space’s performance art committee, who coordinated Tari’s and Haruo’s Toronto appearances. 

For that project, Tari was performing a work she called Memory of the Epidermis, which involved painting large panels of latex “skin” onto the gallery’s floor in advance of her performance. For the Toronto version, she had to improvise using skin she had already created when she could not find the right kind of rubber latex locally. One of her skin objects was a giant balloon-like rubber sphere, as large as her body, which she ended up pushing, bouncing and rolling around the gallery space before finally corralling it in a corner, all the while speaking to it in Japanese—later she told me her words were something to the effect of “What is this giant blister?” 

The work was visual, aural, and above all kinetic, expressing complex relationships and feelings primarily through movement. The rhythm and texture of the performance was varied, ranging from slow, careful gestures to repetitive, staccato motions, always seemingly in reaction to the elasticity of the latex, which could appear either durable or fragile depending on how it was handled. It did not matter that most of us could not understand what Tari was saying in Japanese as she worked with giant sphere: her tone and intonation, and above all her physical interaction with the wobbly figure, were deeply expressive. This visual and gestural communication was also evident in the performance jam, where several of us worked simultaneously without speaking, sometimes side-by-side, sometimes infiltrating or adding to each other’s actions and visuals, creating a striking series of images that I still remember, some of them as accomplished and polished as a finished performance work. It was a charmed encounter. 

The next time I saw Tari was a year later, when she invited me to Japan to take part in the Tajima Performance Festival, co-organized by Yoshimichi Takei and Kyo Hoshino through the auspices of a private group called Scorpio Project. This was the second (and final) iteration of the festival, which took place at the site of the abandoned Yaso copper mine in Japan’s Fukushima district. Billed as a performance art “camp,” the festival was a unique event that brought together performance artists, noise artists, video artists, and Butoh dancers for a week in the countryside, all of us bunking together on the floors of an old wooden schoolhouse. A group of volunteers prepared three meals a day for the participants, who numbered well over a hundred, and performances were self-scheduled using a large blackboard. Each day, artists who wished to perform would write down the time and place (e.g., the quarry, the dam, the schoolhouse grounds, the school gymnasium) of their project, and all of those not caught up in their own preparations or performances would form an audience. Events began each day right after breakfast and continued late into the evening. 

One of the events that Tari organized during the Tajima event was a discussion featuring Clive Robertson, who was then the National Spokesperson for the now-defunct ANNPAC/RACA (Association of National Non-Profit Artist-run Centres/Regroupement D’artistes des Centres Alternatifs). Tari had been deeply impressed by the Canadian artist-run network she discovered on her Canadian tour, and she was hoping that hearing about Canada’s artist network might inspire her Japanese colleagues to band together to create something similar in Japan. Much to Tari’s disappointment, the reception to this discussion was somewhat tepid. Rather than embracing the Canadian example as a possible model for artist-driven organizing, the response of those attending seemed to be that Japan should develop its own ways of organizing rather than looking elsewhere for inspiration. This did not deter Tari’s vision of a supportive artist network, however. Over the years she contributed to a number of feminist art groups, first as part of a collective called afa (Asian Feminist Art), and later founding WAN, the Women’s Art Network, followed by PA/F Space (Performance/Feminist Space). 

Despite her soft-spoken demeanour, Tari had a strident spirit of generosity. Not only did she introduce me to many local artists and even help me find other performance opportunities during my three-month stay in Japan; she also invited all of the Canadian artists who were at the Tajima festival to visit her home in Tokyo, where she lived with her parents. This kind of intimacy was unusual in Japan, where the usual protocol was to meet foreigners at a restaurant. The day of the dinner, there was a torrential downpour, and I arrived at her house completely soaked. She was insistent on putting me in her father’s pyjamas (the only clothes in the house loose enough to fit me) while she washed and dried my clothes. I was embarrassed, but grateful for her kindness. 

If Tari’s connection to Canada proved inspirational for her, it is also important to acknowledge that her presence also played a catalytic role in the development of Toronto’s performance art infrastructure. Tari returned to Toronto in 1993 when she was invited to participate in the Mayworks Festival of Working People by then-director Pat Jeffries, whom Tari had met on her earlier Canadian tour. After Mayworks, Tari stayed in Toronto to explore a romantic relationship with Pat, and she also developed friendships with a number of local artists. When it became apparent that Tari would be in Toronto for an extended period of time, Sandy McFadden, who knew Tari from her time living and working in Japan, suggested to me that we should organize an event for Tari. Here was an internationally known Japanese artist, living in our midst, and Toronto should have more of a chance to discover her work. 

This became the impetus for starting FADO. Sandy, Pam, Ed Johnson, Bernice Kaye and I met in my bedroom one summer day and formed an ad hoc collective to plan our first event, a presentation of Tari’s work. Through my involvement with A Space, which had set aside funds that it would hand out to groups organizing art events as part of its community outreach efforts, I was able to secure enough money to pay for the production costs and a modest artist fee for Tari. Tari wanted to do her performance in a large warehouse space at 1400 Dupont Street, which she had become familiar with from visiting the studio of visual artist Aiko Suzuki. Aiko facilitated a meeting with the building manager, and we were able to convince him to allow us to use the large, unfinished central hall—a huge space, 20 by 50 metres—for Tari’s performance. 

At the time, we had no idea of the trajectory FADO would take, how it would eventually transform into a funded artist-run centre for performance art, or how another FADO event initiated by Sandy, an international performance art festival at CinceCycle in 1996 co-sponsored by Le Lieu in Quebec, would inspire the development of the 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art. Still, this first project, taking advantage of Tari’s presence in Toronto, already laid the groundwork for what would become FADO’s signature production strategy: an ambitious, site-specific event, cobbled together on a shoestring as an act of faith and community-building. Had it not been for Tari, there likely never would have been a FADO. I am profoundly grateful for the auspicious beginning she provided. 

For her Dupont Street performance, Tari created a new work in her Memory of the Epidermis series, called FACE. One section of the performance featured a row of latex smocks hanging from the ceiling at intervals across the length of the space. Tari followed this line, stepping up to each one and draping it onto her torso until she was covered in a thick layering of skins. Another section featured a very large hanging sheet of latex, 4 by 10 metres, that she punctured and penetrated with her arms. Part of the genesis of these images, she told me, was an unlikely Toronto sight that had captured her imagination. She was intrigued by the telephone poles she saw on the street, covered with staples from guerrilla postering. She found these textured layerings fascinating and beautiful, and was struck by the way they gave evidence of a history of piercing, covering, and removal. For her, they were evocative of the rubber skins she created in her work, which carried with them the inverse outlines of the surfaces they had been painted onto. A video recording of both the preparatory process of creating the skins and parts of the live performance uploaded to YouTube is linked to Tari’s artist page on the FADO website. 

Soon after the FACE performance, Tari returned to Japan when her relationship with Pat ended. I wondered what it would be like for Tari returning to Japan, where being a lesbian—or even identifying as a feminist—could be an isolating experience. Tari’s response was to become much more overtly political and activist. In 1996, she “came out” publicly in a performance work called Self-portrait, which was eventually presented in 26 different venues, including Toronto, where she was part of the Rencontre festival organized by Sandy McFadden for FADO at CineCyle. For Tari, this work signalled a profound shift in her understanding of her art practice, which she realized could be used to convey powerful personal and social messages. Alongside her performances and visual art projects, Tari also began to actively develop and promote feminist and lesbian events, networks, and spaces that spanned beyond Japan’s borders to other Asian countries including Korea and Thailand. 

The last direct involvement I had with Tari’s work was in 2002, when Rochelle Holt curated an exhibition of her work at A Space. The opening night performance, Where is the Fear?, was co-sponsored by the 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art. Where is the Fear? was an openly lesbian performance with elements of audience participation that Tari developed in part as a response to homophobic remarks by then Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro. Tari presented this work in various Japanese venues as well as Toronto, noting in her book Move, “Sexual minorities live in fear of prejudice. Fear lies in the hearts of people who feel frightened of the idea that there are many different kinds of people in the world” (p. 109). 

Tari made several other visits to Canada over the course of her career, including an appearance at Montreal’s Viva! Art Action Festival in 2006 where she presented Rubber Tit. That performance featured a 2.5 metre-tall inflated rubber tit, which I like to think of as the logical progression of Tari’s “blister” from her early A Space performance. One of her final performances—after a four-year break from performing—was at the LIVE Biennale in Vancouver in October 2019, where she presented Before the 37 Trillion Pieces Get to Sleep, a work that Tari developed in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. For this work, curated by Makiko Hara for LIVE, Tari appeared in a wheelchair, and was then laid on large pieces of paper while assistants repeatedly traced the outline of her figure. Tari said of this performance, “The body losing its muscles nonetheless continues to live on. For this reason, I want to stay close to the memories of ‘my body and others’ that were forced into silence or forced to be silent.” A moving description of the performance by Katherine Chan, along with photo documentation by Alisha Weng, can be found on LIVE’s website

I had hoped to bring Tari to Toronto as part of the same tour, to present her work in the context of the KinesTHESES series. Tari wanted very much to return to Toronto, but her deteriorating health made including an additional venue impossible. I suggested that we could perhaps find a way for her to develop the performance remotely, using local bodies to stand in for hers, but such an approach did not fit her vision of the project. She understood her own disabled body to be a key element of the work. She told me that if her body had not been so profoundly compromised, working remotely might have offered an interesting challenge, but precisely because, as she wrote in her hesitant but poetic English, “I stare at the body that is stuck,” she felt it was essential for her to work with her own body, doing only what her own skin, bones, and muscles could accomplish in direct relationship with an audience. The closest the project could get to Toronto was when Pam Patterson’s WIA Projects featured a video installation of the work at Gallery 1313’s Window Box Gallery in early 2020, just as the world was beginning to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. 

I was sad not to have had an opportunity to work with Tari again, but I rejoice in her ongoing legacy—her performances, which moved audiences on several continents; her organizing and networking efforts, which brought together many artists over several decades; her championing of women’s and minority voices; and, of course, her surprising role in Toronto’s performance art development. And so, I would like to share with you Tari’s humble words from Move’s “afterword,” which seem to me very reflective of her spirit: 

“I believe that the joy of performance art comes from wondering what makes a particular artist engage in a certain action with all of their heart and soul. For this reason, it is actually when I am sitting within the audience of a performance art piece—rather than onstage—that I am the happiest” (p. 185). 

Surely, she shared this happiness with others through her own life and career. 


Paul Couillard, October 2021 

Writing
For the Disappeared

On the last day of the festival, November 2, 2014, Roberto de la Torre opened the final set of performances. It is safe to assume that most who gathered that chilly late Fall afternoon didn’t know what to expect from de la Torre. Having had the opportunity to speak with him a few days before the festival began, I knew a little about what he was developing and the issue his performance would address, but I did not know how his processes would unfold. Little did I realize just how poignantly de la Torre’s actions would manifest, and how timely they would be.

Roberto de la Torre’s works take shape as negotiations of complex and ephemeral situations, associations, and actions that frequently involve large groups of people. He focuses on social issues that occur in the local context, but his performances also regularly speak to global matters. He can often find intersections that connect the two realms of concern and collapse them into one for a moment in space and time. He is from Mexico City.

For those who have remained unaware, on September 26th, 2014, 43 male college students studying to become teachers were abducted in the southern state of Guerrero, Mexico, allegedly by local police at the instruction of a corrupt local Mayor. Taken while on route to nearby Iguala to participate in a protest over the lack of funding for their school Ayotzinapa – an institution with a proud 80 year history of educating Mexico’s political left, with a student body known for their tactical activism – the students identities were shared with the media, but initially other details were scarce. As days turned to weeks inquiry into the whereabouts of the students was framed as a recovery mission hoping to save them from their uncertain circumstances. Then recently, government investigators began to open their findings up to the public. What they have shared has shaken Mexican society. Already grieving, frayed, and beleaguered by over seven years of endemic violence at the hands of organized crime, tens of thousands have taken to the streets to protest.

At present, the understanding is that the students have been murdered, disappeared after being delivered by the corrupt local police to members of a drug gang; their incinerated remains potentially located as a result of arrests and interrogation. The outrage that has swept much of Mexico has become louder as waves of protest and public grief have continued. To write anything further on the unfolding story feels a surreal overstep in this context, and instead I’ve included links to several articles covering the investigation and Mexican citizen’s response over the last week.

NPR: “Confirmation Of Mexican Students’ Deaths Touches Off Protests”
The Guardian: “Protesters set fire to Mexican palace as anger over missing students grows”
CNN World: “Remains could be those of 43 missing Mexican students”
Democracy Now: “‘I’ve Had Enough’: Mexican Protesters Decry Years of Impunity After Apparent Massacre of 43 Students”

This tragedy has been told internationally by media as the investigation into the student’s whereabouts has continued to unfold. A situation so heart-wrenching and bewildering, far away geographically yet so close to home, despite following the story in the press, I confess I initially felt unprepared to address the complex nature of this atrocity in light of de la Torre’s performance. I’ve sat with the experience for seven days now, monitoring the media and pondering how to approach this post. For better or worse, the situation has come to a head. My suggestion here is that the feelings of anguish and dislocation that surround my personal response to this horrible story are intertwined with the artists own. I have arrived at a place where I must admit that there is nothing knowable that can be found to fully address this nonsensical and appalling act. And this is where we must begin.

Photo by Shannon Cochrane, 2014


de la Torre starts his performance slumped against the wall. Surrounded by the large festival crowd, he sits on the edge of an indoor plant box, and is in a state of despondency. His eyes downcast, de la Torre sighs, idly jabs his index finger into the soil, and proceeds to flick it onto the floor. As though conjured, he unearths a spoon.

Armed with this utensil, de la Torre stands. The spoon, an extension of his will to action, is plunged deep into another section of the planter’s soil. Out clatters another tool, a spatula trowel which he picks up to replace the spoon before continuing on. Before long, de la Torre’s exploration of the structures and architecture of the hall reveal a spoon, a trowel, a pair of long forks, and a rake. Pausing at each discovery as if to ponder his next step, de la Torre seems to be playing with the tangibility of his results and how they can be applied. With rake in hand, he heads outside.

de la Torre paces the sidewalk. In a growing state of distress and followed by the crowd, he moves to the lawn and begins to rake leaves aside. Intentional yet hesitant, de la Torre’s actions grow more vigorous as he scrapes and pulls the leaves away from the building. Seeing something, he drops to his knees.

With a plastic bowl now in hand, he moves on. With no apparent destination, de la Torre is not ambling but tracking. He puts his ear to the earth. He listens. This action transfers our awareness of his interests from the objects to the ways they can help him access something underground. We watch as de la Torre moves to the base of a tree and digs with the bowl. He quickly finds a silver ladle. He moves again. This time locating a metal spade, and we begin to see his progress. His tools are developing. They are better than they were before.

Digging beside the fence, he uncovers a shovel. We follow him to a large sandbox in the playground behind the festival building. Fittingly, it is a former school. For the first time we can see that de la Torre has posted the faces of the missing students in the windows of the classrooms. Dragging the shovel he drops to the ground. Lying flat, his ear pressed to the sand, he seems uncertain but he begins to dig. Gathering closely, the crowd circles de la Torre as he shovels wet sand.

He labours for a long time. His breathing grows heavy, and despite the cold, he sweats. Eventually de la Torre slows and for the first time, he speaks –“Fausto!” Calling out to his fellow artist and countryman, Fausto Méndez Luna, de la Torre beckons him to help. Together they uncover a second shovel but nothing more. Speaking quietly in Spanish, they move on. Another hole is dug. A third shovel is uncovered and de la Torre offers it to anyone willing to help. A fourth shovel brings yet another pair of arms. A fifth shovel is revealed and the numbers grow yet again. Eventually there are eight.

Together the group digs and the sand piles up. When they hit gravel at a depth of approximately three feet, de la Torre stops. Guiding this group away from the sand he lines them up shoulder to shoulder. He instructs them to bang their shovels against the concrete ground. As the rhythmic clanging rings out, de la Torre and Méndez Luna step onto the playground. In the dark earth they dig one last time.

Slowly de la Torre begins to pull items of clothing from the ground. Caked with soil, he lays them out, damp and dingy, across the play structures. Running, de la Torre holds a shirt over his head. Dropping to the ground he punches the earth. The sun is growing dim and the windows of the school glow brighter. A window on the top floor opens wide. Arms fling papers out into the sky. Scattering and floating, they fall to the ground. The clanging of the shovels heightens the intensity of this reveal, and the audience gathers to examine what has fallen across the playground. Photos of protests, huge crowds with mouths wide yelling out in dissent and despair, men and women holding vigil and embracing… these are the images of the current state of the Mexican people who have joined together to protest.

de la Torre rises to his feet, and signals. The shovels are silent, and all there is to be heard is the rustle of papers. For the disappeared…


This article originally appeared on the 2014 7a*11d Festival blog. Re-posted here with permission.

Jenn Snider is currently an MA student at OCAD University, where her research focuses on experimental art administration and exploring organizing as a performative practice. As an artist and curator, her work plays with tensions of collaborative meaning creation. She is a founding member of The Artel artist collective, and the former Director of Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre.

Writing
Sandra Johnston’s Ephemeral Monuments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Worked Cited:

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

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

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


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

Writing
Meridian Performance Description

In May 2001, I celebrated my 50th birthday, and if I live to be 100, it could be considered my meridian year.

I performed this durational piece on June 21st, 2001. It was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and on Ward’s Island Beach in Toronto, Canada, that day started at 5:36 AM and ended at 9:02 PM, a total of 15 hours and 26 minutes. During that time, I answered questions concerning 100 years, moving from the past into the future, from 1951 to 2050, ranging from personal to global concerns.

Starting at the east end of the beach at sunrise, I moved progressively down the beach 100 times, or, 12 feet every 9 minutes, until I ended at the west end of the beach at sunset. I carried 100 smooth lake stones, a pen, a timer, a trowel, and a ball wound of gray ribbons. The questions were written on the ribbons, and so every 9 minutes I unfurled the next year’s questions and read them aloud.

More than one hundred questions were emailed to me in advance by friends, family and strangers, from Argentina, Canada, Chile, Croatia, England, Germany, Korea, Macedonia, Portugal, Taiwan, and the United States.

The audience on the beach assisted me in answering the questions, and lively and intimate discussions ensued, often between strangers. The audience, which ebbed and flowed throughout the day, was made up of people who knew of the event and others who happened upon it while walking on the beach.

When we finished answering the question, I tied the ribbon to the back of the chair. I then wrote a private message on one of the lake stones that I was carrying, and buried it in the sand at my feet. I trust that the 100 stones will eventually rise to the surface and be found.

Those who could not attend were asked to be there in spirit, and to pay attention to what they heard at the precise time that the question was answered on the beach. Did they hear the answer? They told me of their experiences in later correspondences.

Writing Blue

Writing Blue is the smell of interpretation. Composed of materials that many "know", blueberry candy offers a flicker of nostalgia. Grounded in blue cypress like a hunch that comes from speculation, it is the lavender that offers overwhelming explanations.

Top Notes

blueberry candy

Middle Notes

lavender, mens shaving cream

Base Notes

hyacinth, blue cypress