Artist
Paul Couillard

© Paul Couillard. Duorama #129 (performance with Ed Johnson), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca, 2020. Photo Fausto Luna.

Canada

Paul Couillard has been working as a queer artist, curator, and performance art scholar since 1985. He has created well over 300 performance works in 26 countries, often with his husband and collaborator, Ed Johnson. Paul was the Performance Art Curator for FADO from 1993 until 2007, and is a founding co-curator of 7a*11d. His main areas of interest include site-responsiveness, building community, and addressing trauma through explorations of our bodies as shared vessels of sensation, experience, knowledge and spirit. He is the editor of the monograph series Canadian Performance Art Legends, and has been a lecturer at McMaster University and the University of Toronto Scarborough. He recently completed a doctorate through the York Graduate Program in Communication and Culture. His dissertation Rethinking Presence with a Thinking Body: Intra-active Relationality and Animate Form offers a meditation on presence from the perspective of a thinking body, integrating insights from continental philosophy, popular neuroscience, and interactive performance art practices.

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.

Artist
Irma Optimist

Finland

Irma Optimist has for a number of years been a prominent figure in Finnish performance. She has adopted Optimist as a last name to counterbalance the Finnish melancholy. She has presented over 160 performances since 1989 in Finland, USA, Japan, Canada, Germany, Austria, Poland, France, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Slovakia, Hungary, Israel, United Kingdom and Ireland.  

Irma Optimist is working at the Turku School of Economics and Business Administration as a senior lecturer in Mathematics (PhD), specialized in chaos theory.

Irma Optimist’s performances intend to disturb the logic of science. Part of her work is aimed at disentangling formal language and, in Optimist’s own opinion, a performance is, first and foremost, an intellectual process. Using optimistic mathematics, she wants to restore the symbols of food, love and sexuality, since the body has exploded due to the demand for desire, utility and energy. She is a real person, as well as a woman, who wants to show that her brain is as important as any other part of her body. She believes that her image is something of a combination of the soft and the hard, a bit of both. What she wants is to emphasize both of these sides in woman.

Her performance is influenced by time and space, by the temporality of presence, and its female optimistic lifestyle contradicts the static idea of art. Her performance lacks an absolutely fixed point. As a non-linear system it exists in the interaction between the artist and the audience; the relationship is complex. Western culture has sublimated itself through science, but Optimist’s performance reduces science back to corporality. She restores brilliant visibility or transparency to the politics of identity. What Irma Optimist looks like and what she is doing are just as true as her own self.

Artist
Pekka Luhta

Pekka Luhta is a performance artist and writer who lives and works in Finland. He has performed throughout Europe and in North America. This is his first visit to Canada. He writes of his work: “I concentrate on living art using my body as the most important instrument. The works tell about the situations in which I manifest my corporal thinking. Photographs, performances, videos, writings, drawings and paintings are the fragments of living experience.”

Performance
International Visiting Artists: Finland

FADO is pleased to present the Toronto premiere of new works by two Finnish performance artists, Irma Optimist and Pekka Luhta.

Irma Optimist and Pekka Luhta will present solo performance works that hint at a slightly surrealist sensibility, employing rapid-fire humour and high-impact visual imagery. These two artists use entertainment and surprise as elements to lead the audience into a world of serious thought and theory. For Irma Optimist, 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. Pekka Luhta’s prosthetic limb provides the departure point for setting up complex readings of cultural and social theory.

Irma Optimist has been a performance artist since 1989, producing over 100 works to date throughout Europe and in North America. She was last seen in Toronto in 1996 performing in FADO’s Rencontre Performance. In addition to her performance art career, Optimist works as a professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Vaasa.

Pekka Luhta is a performance artist and writer who lives and works in Finland. He has performed throughout Europe and in North America. This is his first visit to Canada. He writes of his work: “I concentrate on living art using my body as the most important instrument. The works tell about the situations in which I manifest my corporal thinking. Photographs, performances, videos, writings, drawings and paintings are the fragments of living experience.”

Irma Optimist and Pekka Luhta will also be in Hamilton on October 8, 2003 performing part of the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Sevenseason program.

This event is presented in conjunction with TRANZ < – – – > TECH 2003, Toronto’s International Media Arts Biennial. Artist travel support was provided by the FRAME (Finnish Fund for Art Exchange).

Performance Yellow

This fragrance opens us to the question, has the show started? It's winter, the theatre is colder than the street and the room is filled with people and all their winter smells: wet faux leather, down, too much shampoo, and beer breath. The atmosphere is a trickster. Am I late, am I early?

Top Notes

yellow mandarin, mimosa

Middle Notes

honey, chamomile, salt

Base Notes

narcissus, guaiac wood, piss, beer