Johanna Householder is a multidisciplinary and performance artist. Her interest in how ideas shape and move through bodies and has led her often collaborative practice in performance art, video, dance and other media. As a member of the feminist performance ensemble, The Clichettes (with Louise Garfield and Janice Hladki), throughout the 1980s she helped establish lip sync as a viable medium for political critique. She has performed across Canada and at international venues for 40 years. She is also writes about performance and with Tanya Mars, she co-edited two books: Caught in the Act: an anthology of performance art by Canadian women (2004), and More Caught in the Act (2016). She is one of the founders of the 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art, held biannually in Toronto. Householder is professor emeritus at OCADU, where she has taught performance art since 1988.
We know that things and people are always forced to conceal themselves, have to conceal themselves when they begin. What else could they do? They come into being within a set which no longer includes them and, in order not to be rejected, have to project the characteristics which they retain in common with the set. The essence of a thing never appears at the outset, but in the middle, in the course of its development, when its strength is assured.
The day I looked up Laurence Sterne, I was following a reference that Warren Arcand had made in his proposal to Fado about the nature of the wig he proposed to wear in his performance: “…an action in a lard wig – it looks like a powdered wig, it looks like an enlightenment image – of a nation state en route (Looks a little like something Laurence Sterne wears – Tristram Shandy?)” (2)
The day after the performance of Melting Point: an Amusement, he suggested to a group of students that it was the image of this imprecise wig that had begun the process of making the performance. Arcand’s own wig I view now in relation to Sterne’s (indeed a well chosen example on which to model a lard wig for use in performance) and several other wigs that oversaw the enlightenment, the birth of commodity fetishism; the conquest of Canada, and its conversion into a/nother “nation.”
wig. 1, Laurence Sterne
Wigs are complex anthropological objects. Their referents abound, far too many of them to run to ground here: half-remembered historical figures, bad theatre, chemotherapy, masked balls, Hallowe’en, civic pride parades, aging dames, reenacters, and drag. One might argue that it’s all drag, a view that while correct is also reductive.T hough googling wig will lead you to Rupaul’s blog it may also lead you to Big Hair, a rich trove of an essay by Michael Kwass which discusses the historic importance of the wig as one of commodity capitalism’s first successes. The wig marked a transition “between courtly and modern forms of consumption,” and therefore, it may be argued, was one of the first modern objects.(3)
As such, the wig might be seen as a harbinger of the collision and “unnecessary conflict between the people of culture and people of nature”(4) [those with wigs and those without] which Arcand in his “amusement” hoped to resolve “in some measure.” And so I have followed the web of the wig as an envisioned object and Arcand’s process of wresting it from a dream world of images and centuries into a fully sensual realization. He wore it, of course, and by doing so “concealed himself as he began” to speak.
Digression 1: The ru/ole of the wig:
In 1624 Louis XIII went prematurely bald. He disguised this with a wig and started a fashion which became almost universal for European upper & middle class men by the beginning of the 18th Century during his similarly follicley challenged son’s reign. After 1790, both wigs and powder were reserved for older more conservative men, and ladies being presented at court. In 1795, the English government put a tax of hair powder of one guinea per year which effectively caused the demise of both the fashion for wigs and powder by 1800. In France the association of wigs with the aristocracy caused the fashion for both to evaporate during the terror of 1793. Wigs were made of horsehair, yak hair and human hair, the latter being the most expensive.(5)
Digression 2: Rousseau on the moral benefit of art
In 1749, as Rousseau walked to Vincennes to visit Diderot in prison, he read of an essay competition asking whether the development of the arts and sciences had been morally beneficial. Rousseau claimed that this question caused him to have a moment of sudden inspiration by the roadside, during which he perceived the principle of the natural goodness of humanity on which all his later philosophical works were based. As a consequence of this, he answered the competition question in the negative…(6)
wig. 2, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Digression 3: Rousseau’s vow
In the winter of 1751… Jean-Jacques Rousseau fell gravely ill. Bedridden, delirious with fever, and facing the prospect of his own death, the philosopher resolved to change the course of his life. He renounced “all projects of fortune and advancement,” including his new job, and vowed to spend what little time he had left in a state of “independence and poverty.” After his convalescence, Rousseau remained true to his pledge and embarked on what he called his “personal reform.” His first act was to change his wardrobe: “I began my reform with my finery,” he wrote. “I gave up my gold trimmings and white stockings, I took a short wig, I laid aside my sword, I sold my watch.” Later recounting the same episode, he stated: “I left le monde and its pomp. I renounced all finery: no more sword, no more watch, no more white stockings, gold trimmings, hairdo.” Instead, he wore “a simple wig and clothes of good rough wool.” … I invoke Rousseau’s reform, however, not only to raise its philosophical implications but also to make a specific sartorial observation. Although Rousseau renounced fashionable clothing and accessories, he did not jettison the wig. Instead, he abandoned his old wig to adopt a simpler and shorter model, the round wig, a gesture that raises a number of questions. Why, if Rousseau was intent on rejecting the artifice of le monde, did he not simply discard the wig altogether and wear his natural hair? Why opt instead for a different style?…(7)
The wig was at the centre (or slightly above the centre) of this performance, and it was, as I say, a lard wig. It had the light, fluffy appearance of whipped or shaving cream, but as it melted before the heat lamp fan set just to Arcand’s right, it gave off a fatty odour; that slightly greasy, stale scent recalling unwashed hair or a flat-top grill, but also reminiscent of the smells from the abattoir down at Niagara and Wellington, a few blocks away, which as downtown Torontonians know, envelop the heights and depths of malodourousness in the summer heat, the vapours of which can reach all the way up to the former shores of Lake Ontario above Dupont Street. It is the smell of rendering. Of rendering a nation-state by rending existing local multiplicities apart. This I believe is a subtext of Arcand’s wardrobe. As the wig melted it left rivulets of liquid, sparkles, and stars upon his cheeks.
Arcand stood (on stage at the Drake Underground) in front of a large canvas backdrop that depicted a vague landscape.(8) To his right was a heating fan, and he spoke into a microphone. He made some introductory remarks, seemingly meant to flatter his audience, in a manner that suited his dress – formally. For he was dressed not only in a wig, but in a frock coat and breeches, hose, buckle shoes, a foulard and I believe, a waistcoat with a blouse underneath. He complimented the dress of the Torontonians – “black on black, on black” an observation he promised to take with him and share with his fellow Vancouverians, whom, he mentioned, were “working with taupes on taupe.”
He then raised the question of voice: “with what voice shall I address you, I have so many.”
Digression 4: the question of voice …
[In Who Says What and The Question of Voice Denis Donoghue] studies some of the relations and discrepancies between an oral culture and a culture of print; and certain recent attempts to undermine the privilege of voice and the definition of presence in terms of speech uttered and heard…. Professor Donoghue pursues these discrepancies further; examines the rivalry of voice and text, the different rhetorics of authority… the question of tone…, anonymous and pseudonymous styles, parodic voices…. He examines the embarrassment readers audiences feel when they can’t ascribe printed words to any particular voice, real or imagined.(9) [my insertions and deletions]
Styles, tones and privleges, anonymous and parodic are the thought balloons hovering over Arcand’s head, so I veer from Rousseau’s troubling attachment to his wig to search the “question of voice.” The second site in the list leads me to the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab where questions of voice appear to loom large for web content writers who wish to enhance their own credibility. By this point the Google list seemed to be mirroring the narrative stream of the Arcand performance. The accomplishment of credibility is a necessary condition for the actor, but as proposed in the quote from Deleuze above, there is a paradox between credibility and dissembling in performance; between “being oneself” at the outset, or concealing the self to “project characteristics in common,” before revealing one’s essence.
All of this leads me looping back to Arcand’s nuanced question. One which he answered for us; “this voice is quite honest, I think,” a paradoxical and pivotal moment. Though accepting that the voice is honest, its assertion also draws upon a persona, that of the public intellectual (an idea Arcand mentioned in later correspondence.) The P.I. is someone who might enlighten and edify, who takes a position while amusing. But this notion, this figure – like the wig – is imbedded in a history.
I defend my digressions with wig 1:
Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; – they are the life, the soul of reading; – take them out of this book for instance, – you might as well take the book along with them.
Digression 5: The Public Intellectual
What we now identify as an intellectual is a twentieth century phenomenon that has its roots in a very specific constellation of incident, place and time – circumstances that continue to colour the social perception of what and who an intellectual might be. The incident was the Dreyfus Affair, France, 1898. An incident replete with military cover-up, charges of anti-semitism, counter espionage and an island prison, all with eerie parallels in our own times. Georges Clemenceau himself coined the term in reference to the outpouring of support from academic and literary circles following the publication of Emile Zola’s open letter, J’Accuse (which indicted the French military for fabricating the case against Captain Dreyfuss). This “protest of intellectuals” appeared in Clemenceau’s own radical newspaper.
In recounting this history in The New Criterion, James Piereson writes:
The term stuck as a description of academics and writers who are active in political causes. What was new and important about the protest was that the signatories sought to use their academic qualifications or professional achievements to suggest that their views should be given privileged standing in a political context. Their protest generated an immediate counterattack from conservatives who associated the term “intellectual” with disorder, treason, and abstract reasoning.(10) [my emphasis]
Disorder (or re-order), very ocasionally treason, and abstract reasoning are also the hallmarks of good performance so it is just that Warren Arcand might propose to inhabit the role of the early 20th c. public intellectual as a meeting ground for the 18th c. wig-wearing modern colonizer and empire builder (what were they thinking!) and the 21st c. Desiring Machine.
Nothing is so perfectly amusing as a total change of ideas.
Digression 6: “Is it not the case that we are the beneficiaries of a constant state of war?”(11)
In the brief Historical Account of 18th c. Canada from which the following excerpts were taken, there is no mention of Indian, Native, or Aboriginal persons or lands. It is barely possible for me to fathom the depth of disconnection which would cause this to be so.
The Peace of Utrecht (1713) gave Britain Acadia, the Hudson Bay area, and Newfoundland. To strengthen their position the French built additional forts in the west (among them Detroit and Niagara).
wig. 3, Montcalm
The decisive battle of the entire struggle took place in 1759, when Wolfe defeated Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham, bringing about the fall of Quebec to the British.
wig.4, unidentified withness to the death of Wolfe
In the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France ceded all its North American possessions east of the Mississippi to Britain, while Louisiana went to Spain.
The Quebec Act (1774), granted important concessions to the French and extended Quebec’s borders westward and southward to include all the inland territory to the Ohio and the Mississippi. This act infuriated the residents of the Thirteen Colonies (the future United States). In 1775 the American Continental Congress had as its first act not a declaration of independence but the invasion of Canada.
This period was also one of further exploration. Alexander Mackenzie made voyages in 1789 to the Arctic Ocean and in 1793 to the Pacific… George Vancouver secured for Britain a firm hold on what is now British Columbia.
From sea to sea to sea, between the Event which is the formation of the nation-state (the new World) through the processes of colonization, there is still the Body and the Trace,(13) the pre-existing (still existing) nations un-formed or deformed. There occured a psychic shift, and this is what I believe Arcand is revealing. In the process of realizing the nation of Canada, the Indigenous nations become at first imaginary and then (more violently) unimaginable to the colonizers.
At this point Arcand, having identified his speaking voice as “honest”, makes a sound into the mic for which there really is no word – it is a diaphragmatic vocalization somewhere between sobbing, cooing and panting – an abrupt break with the graciousness and control of his previous speech which invokes his body, the honest body, a Deleuzian desiring machine, “a machine of love, a machine of truth.”(14)
“Its so nice to be back in nature … with you” he says, at once indicating the quasi-naturalistic backdrop painting and our presence (as a body without organs), an audience.
But then he questions the authenticity of the chair which is also on stage. The silly chair insists upon its oneness. And so he must “do damage and violence” to this chair. He menaces the chair, and hisses at it. “We cannot let the chair continue as it is. We have needs…It is a time of war…don’t be afraid, in fact, it can be a beautiful thing.”
Our passion and principals are constantly in a frenzy, but begin to shift and waver, as we return to reason.
The time has run out on the wig. The tension between the persons of nature and the persons of culture is dissolving. The melting timing device of this performance has left rivulets of grease and glitter on his face and clumps of fat mixed with sparkle dust on the floor. Warren Arcand bids goodnight with a flourish of handkerchief and a blown kiss.
Lessons of wisdom have the most power over us when they capture the heart through the groundwork of a story, which engages the passions.
(1) Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.
\Trans*la”tion\, n. [F. translation, L. translatio a transferring, translation, version. See Translate, and cf. Tralation.] 1. The act of translating, removing, or transferring; removal; also, the state of being translated or removed; as, the translation of Enoch; the translation of a bishop. 2. The act of rendering into another language; interpretation; as, the translation of idioms is difficult. 3. That which is obtained by translating something a version; as, a translation of the Scriptures. 4. (Rhet.) A transfer of meaning in a word or phrase, a metaphor; a tralation. [Obs.] –B. Jonson. 5. (Metaph.) Transfer of meaning by association; association of ideas. –A. Tucker. (1) by Johanna Householder
My Japanese translator was killed. He was found stabbed to death in his university in a corridor, and the evidence found leads directly to the Iranian state. … The Italian translator … was likewise stabbed and fortunately survived. The Italian government took no steps.
– Salman Rushdie (2)
…translation is a treacherous business; states as well as artists seem to take interest in its attempts and invest in its outcomes. One would be foolhardy to attempt it without serious consideration. And yet we rush in, trying to figure things out — words, gestures — trying to fill in gaps, intuit, see through the wordage to the thoughts behind. We try to gauge accuracy in that most inaccurate of practices. We do try.
And so, trying and failing to find a word that meant precisely the same thing in French as in English for the title/touchstone of a cross-lingual project, curators Paul Couillard and Éric Létourneau decided to evade translation and its vicissitudes; evade by exploding. Pas de traduction! And shift the focus to the phenomenological, “… the title reflects how the practice of performance privileges direct action and shared presence as a way of expressing ideas and moments that are ephemeral and essentially untranslatable.”(3)
Now, I think it could be argued that translating actions into words and vice versa may possibly be the chief occupation of humankind and since Couillard and Létourneau, also decided to hire two writers to do just that, perhaps they are being a bit coy. We must note that from a global perspective the monolingual country is a rarity.
“PAS DE TRADUCTION dances among the ambiguities of what needs no translation, what cannot be translated, and what we refuse to translate, focusing on the interpretation process between artist, audience and location.” (4)
Ah yes well, we do try, but we fail. We cannot capture, we cannot ever capture what we saw, and how we felt when we saw it.
translation 6. (Physics) Motion in which all the points of the moving body have at any instant the same velocity and direction of motion; — opposed to rotation.(5)
Writer/moderators: Johanna Householder Sonia Pelletier
Pas de traduction programme about the artists
Constanza Camelo has set up a card table in a very small inner city park, Bellevue Park in the Kensington Market area of Toronto. It’s a sweet, damp summer morning and the park is just waking up. On one of the paths through the park she’s laid out the outline of her body in tape on the gravel, evoking the chalked outline that police make around a body. Dressed in a cheap plastic rain covering, she sits on a bench next to the bronze statue of Al Waxman..(6) She’s given Waxman a wrestler’s mask that looks like The Scream, but he’s pushed it casually back on his head. Constanza changes benches, gazing pensively into the park. She confronts Al and then takes his mask herself, placing it on the back of her head. The tape on the front of her raincape reads “artista.”
She kneels and reads from Al’s plaque: “Trust your gut instincts, there’s a lot to do down the road, there’s always more, in small matters trust your mind, but in the important decisions of life, trust your heart.”
Encountering this quotation earlier, Constanza had inferred the possibility of revolution. (Retroactively, I reflect upon the likelihood of Toronto commemorating a revolutionary in one of its parks.) And from this she divined (the roles of) the artist and the activist as possible positions for herself in a dichotomous world. Traces of the stains of colonization and post-colonialism emerge as she seeks to be understood in a “third language.” How am I perceived differently in each language and where does each perception place me temporally? Past, present, future … in the present, l’activiste est mort.
She crawls a bit further forward to a pair of boxing gloves. They’re Canadian gloves, red and white with maple leaves. She puts them on and immediately cuts several slits in them with an exacto knife. My guess is that she doesn’t really want to fight. She strides down the path to the body-outline and lies down in it. The tape on the back of her raincape reads “activista.”
She lies still for three or four minutes – long enough that the kids in the park start to notice her and come over. Abruptly she stands up, takes up the tape and strides over to her cardtable, where lovely plaster doves with red ribbons at their necks sit like prizes at the CNE.(7) The sign taped to one side of the table reads: El arma mas efectiva para matar el aburrimiento. The park kids are immediately at her:
– “Can I play?” “Can I play?” – “sit down.” – “Can my cousin help me?” – “of course.”… “This is my magazine… this is the most effective weapon to kill boredom.” – “uh-oh,” says skinny eight-year old “time’s gonna kill me! Can I do it at my nonna’s, its going to take an hour!” – “You have to kill time — we are here to kill time. ok?”
It’s WordSearch — in Spanish. If you win, you win a pigeon. If Constanza wins you have to answer two questions. You have to tell her your birthdate and your favourite way to “kill time.”
Constanza is drawing upon her own experience of boredom, of killing time, during her first months of exile from Colombia, eight years ago. She was in a country where and a time when she was out of language. Playing wordgames in Spanish, was a ritual of sorts, a bond to a language she had to relinquish.
Ten kids cluster around, kibitzing, “I’m the man,” “you suck,” with an outer circle of adults and audience, while the battles rage. It’s a good scene in the misty park. The feeling is open, generous, but with some tough competition going on. Killing time can be serious, and she’s activated them, inscribing “a temporary, utopian territory over the existing landscape.”(8)
We watch Constanza and her opponents, completely absorbed in their play, and then pick up our bikes to cycle down to the Scadding Court Park wading pool, where Sylvette Babin is attaching a megaphone snout to her face.
She’s got the guts of a harmonica clenched in her teeth, so when she stands in the wading pool and breathes the reedy tones issue from the homemade mouthpiece, a silver piece of stovepipe about eight inches long, duct-taped to her head. Inhale, honnk; exhale, tweeet. She’s dressed like the soloist of an absurd orchestra — a long black scoop-necked gown, which drags in the water as she starts to circle the pool. The effort of walking briskly through the filling pool labours her breathing. hoonnk tweeet hoonnk tweeet hoonnktweeet hoonnktweeet. She makes a chalkmark on the edge of the pool, then wades back in and starts running. Around and around, hoonnktweeet hoonnktweeet hoonnktweeet hoonnktweeet. Alternately running and walking in the filling pool, her dress dragging, making marks. In the background, a city pool with a couple of cold kids and a bored lifeguard. Eventually the misty morning coalesces into afternoon rain, and the lifeguard clears the pool. He comes over to the fence behind. Honk! Tweet! he shouts. The wading pool starts to empty, and Sylvette strides on, running and walking, around and around and around and around, grimly determined, very damp, her thick red braid uncoiling. Tiring, she take off the metal snout, but continues around, swirling the water down the drain, one note of the harmonica left… peeep peeep peeeep peeep peeeep.
“Is it Wicca?” asks a passerby (with all that counter-clockwise motion, one might wonder) “or performance art?” A public/private ceremony.
A few dozen yards away on the south side of the park, Sylvie Cotton has begun hanging loonies in a tree. She’s found a beautiful tree-shaped tree, a round ball of branches on a thick stalk, where someone has left some bedding underneath.
Sylvie’s arms are festooned with little clear bags, each holding a golden coin, there must be over a hundred. She decorates the low branches and then, given a boost, she climbs up to put some up high, almost out of reach, she climbs. It’s becoming a fairy tale, a childhood fantasy, the answer to our prayers… The Money Tree. It’s green and rich in the park, but it’s a wino park too and a cop on a bicycle questions some picnickers. He doesn’t come over though. Higher into the branches she goes. Robin Hood, the Easter Bunny. We can hear the noise of a car race(9) in the background. Sylvie climbs down and steps away. We love the tree. We wish every tree in the park could be covered in the same way every morning. Every wino could wake up to a branch full of money over his head. People walking through admire it, but they don’t touch. When we come back an hour later, ever last cent is gone.
The powerful attraction of this work lies not in its overt generosity (and surely it would be difficult not to see it as generous) but in the way we are the makers of the work (not authors) in a sense very like that of Gestalt dream analysis which asks the dreamer to position herself as every aspect of the dream: we are the tree, the climber, the viewers and … the money. We see ourselves as active participants in the economy of this work. And as Bruce Barber has discussed in “The Gift in Littoral Art Practice” this casts this work into a practice which he has called “donative” — a work which uses gifting to interpret the economics of an art practice. In fact three of the five performances in this series, Sylvie’s certainly, but also those by Constanza Camelo and Jocelyn Robert might be examined in this context. As Barber explains:
Claude Levi Strauss argued that “The automatic laws of the cycle of reciprocity are the unconscious principle of the obligation to give, the obligation to return a gift and the obligation to receive” (1987:43) But as Bourdieu demonstrates in his critique of Levi-Strauss’s structural logic of the (Maussian) law of reciprocity, in reality “the gift may remain unreciprocated” (98). … this realisation would necessitate that the givers themselves become the first targets of conscientization. But each cultural intervention, exemplary or not, engages “a logic of practice” that encourages an infinite variety of exchanges or gifts, challenges, ripostes, reciprocations, and repressions to occur. (These) examples of operative art practice have the capacity to creatively engage their public in conscientization and in this sense alone provide service of some social and cultural value. But in accordance with Bourdieu’s wry observation on the politics of giving and receiving these examples acknowledge also: The simple possibility that things might proceed otherwise than as laid down by the `mechanical laws’ of the `cycle of reciprocity’ (and that this) is sufficient to change the whole experience of practice and, by the same token its logic.(99) …Bourdieu’s logic of practice privileges individual agency, in all its unpredictability and contrariness, as the primary component of a generative model of giving (and understanding). Perhaps this logic of practice, like that promoted by Habermas himself “provides an alternative to money and power as a basis for societal integration.” (Calhoun 1992:31) And without an acknowledgement of individual agency within communicative action, that is of the potential for contrariety – the act of giving, the gift of food, the gift of labour, the gift of blood, and of life itself, would seem valueless. (10)
Sylvie speaks of her work as addressing distribution and infiltration and calls attention to the fact that “the human exchange” is the principal material of the work of art. “… desire or life itself becomes the real nature of the performance and gives the work its real quality of ephemerity and immateriality. My work emerges from issues oriented by the relation between social and individual needs.”(11)
Sylvie Cotton’s performance map Sylvie Cotton’s notes from the Round Table discussion #4
It was mentioned in the press release for these performances that “The title (“no translation”) refers light-heartedly to the traditional tensions between English and French Canada.”(12) Now probably this should read between English and French in Canada, as of course one of the sites of tension is what we call the places — both the province and the language — from which this “performance community” comes. We in “the rest” of Canada have been taught (by Armand Vaillancourt among others) to take pains in this particular translation — Québec and not French Canada — is the place these folks are from. PAS DE TRADUCTION!
Main Entry: trans·late Pronunciation: tran(t)s-‘lAt, tranz-; ‘tran(t)s-“lAt, ‘tranz- Function: verb Etymology: Middle English, from Latin translatus (pp. of transferre to transfer, translate), from trans- + latus, past participle of ferre to carry — more at TOLERATE, BEAR Date: 14th century 1 a : to bear, remove, or change from one place, state, form, or appearance to another : TRANSFER, TRANSFORM b : to convey to heaven or to a nontemporal condition without death (13)
Now Ed Johnson drives his van up into the park and starts to unload Armand Vaillancourt’s parade pieces. Cloaks, cows’ skulls, pieces of metal, a huge rope net, white flags on blue poles. People are enjoined to take up these emblems, some dragooned. Some grumble on the outskirts, not sure whether they want to be made into the spectacle. They are given green robes. Armand himself puts on a huge blue tarp cape, a black rubber skullcap over his snowy shoulder length hair and then a mask headpiece made from a cow’s pelvic bone. It has great bony protuberances that look like an owl’s ears. Passersby and audience are costumed in cloaks and put under the rope net. Istvan Kantor and his kids provide the core. Some have blank white flags. A decidedly medieval feel is developing; The Children’s’ Crusade, “Bring out yer dead!”, a morality play without the oxcarts. Armand instructs them to be careful not to poke each other in the eye with the cow skulls. Gradually the mass of the group takes shape, about twenty or twenty-five. A woman who had joined Darren O’Donnell’s Talking Creature(14) earlier in the day, is further exploited (no value judgment here – she was willing) as the central yellow-cloaked female principal. The shoes she’s wearing will surely give her blisters. Two strong men are invited to carry the poles from which hung metal plates. As they walk the plates clang together, summoning, announcing the procession.
Armand exhorts them to moan …”the torture, the exploitation without words of the planet, the earth… think about that and let’s concentrate, let’s not make sound while very superficial or out of context. I propose that you just play with your throat…. Oooowauggggghhhh…. Not maybe all the time….and some people could say ‘rape’ some say ‘war’ ‘democracy’ ‘false democracy’ build your own context.”
They walk from the park along Dundas St. to Kensington Market. In his massive blue cape escorted by the Jeanne d’Arc in yellow he has a commanding presence and can moan from his bowels. “We keep it serious, eh we don’t joke about it. It’s a serious matter.”
I had the impression that Armand was simply constructing a sculpture, a moving sculpture, and a kind of tableau vivant, the participants his raw material. It looks as if the Burghers of Calais have decided to protest the amalgamation proposed by the provincial government. For fifty years he’s been doing this. (He’s a pioneer in the field of art actions and performance manoeuvers, creating happenings and political protests in urban and rural Quebec since 1953.(15) )
So this is a generic march of gloom, which the marketgoers could construe in any way that seems appropriate to them. Accompanying them from a journalistic distance, I’m reluctant to interpret this image/event for the folks who think I may know. What are they protesting? ‘No translation’ I remind myself. Animal rights vegetarians? Pro-choice or anti-choice? Ban the Bomb? We don’t usually see religious penitents on the street except on Good Friday. Your interpretation is as good as mine.
Solemnly but gamely they trudge off, clanging and moaning. In its generic nature this runaway public sculpture is packed with contradictions, which I must assume that Vaillancourt, with his long history of community actions, understood. It reminds me of Robin Collyer’s photo landscapes in which all the signage has been erased leaving blank awnings and billboards: message = no message.
Night, route 47, Québec. Sometime in the 1980s. Rain. As Armand Vaillancourt nears the site of his studio and foundry he can see that something is amiss. Earlier that evening he had been at an official reception in Ottawa. The kind where artists, arts bureaucrats and politicians meet to ‘celebrate’ the arts. The kind of situation that Armand has frequently turned into a forum for symbolic action in support of his political views. He turns his car into the lane. He can see muddy ruts where large trucks have been in and out of the property. His enormous sculpture is missing.(16)
While all this is going on, something else has been happening on a performative level in town; another donative gesture, employing the act and the art of giving. Jocelyn Robert is going from shop to shop, distributing his CDs. He’s not going only to music stores though. He’s depositing his recordings to be found by unsuspecting shoppers on the shelves of a drugstore, the Dollar Value and the hardware store. He has 400 CDs to distribute. In Canadian Tire he stocked the shelves right next to a stockboy who took no notice. Éric, assisting him, opened up the boxes of vacuum cleaners and put a CD in each one.
Take home a new Hoover and get a complimentary recording of…..what? What will I make of this, my new vacuum unboxed, attachments idle as I sit in front of my stereo with a ‘whathe… Qwerty…fuckisthis’
The CD is one of a series the content of which is a multitrack accumulation, layering and building into a wash of exponential density.
Jocelyn Robert confesses that he is “preoccupied with the notion of imprecision as quality, fascinated by blurry pianos, hollow nerves, packaged gods, and the ambiguity between work and context, music and noise, object and site.”(17)
Although Jocelyn sees his gifts as “romantic strategies of despair” and not a provisional new economy he also sites his “refusal of public entertainment / gathering rules” which calls up the “potential for contrariety.” By enabling a private moment of exchange/experience, reaction or riposte, Jocelyn’s practice falls upon the littoral — the shoreline between the sea of individuals and the land of the social… The scarf is better than the bullet.(18)
Look how we can, or sad or merrily, Interpretation will misquote our looks…
— Shakespeare (Henry IV, Act.5, ii)
In conversation with the Paul and Éric, we learned that the title “Pas de traduction” came from the desire and then the inability, to find a word that had exactly the same meaning in English and French. (I am not convinced that the inability to find a common language-concept doesn’t have more to do with the contrarian proclivities of Messers Létourneau et Couillard.) I am also unsure which words were considered – we segued directly into a discussion of le mot, ‘performance’ and a discussion of translation vs. interpretation. However, it doesn’t matter, the starting point is always arbitrary — the theme and its sense, the meaning-making will out itself in the process, in the déroulement. Nevertheless we began with the notion of translation …
“He was one of that kind, it is easy to think, who to those he loved might give all he had, at once, without thought of gain.” “Yes,” she said. “Yes he was. He was one of that kind.” “Sometimes to give away is the only way to keep.” “Yes, it is.” “So then it was he who was truly the translator,” said Gavriil.
Remembrance Day is a new performance work by Johanna Householder created in collaboration with her daughter Carmen Householder-Pedari, and is presented as part of FADO’s ongoing Public Spaces / Private Places series.
Describing Remembrance Day as a counter-monument, Householder uses war movies as source material to pose questions about the transferal of cultural values, information and attitudes from generation to generation. The work will be presented not as a theatrical narrative, but as an installation in which audience members are free to come and go as they choose – in the words of the artist, “less … a definitive performance experience than … some proposals for experiences.” Remembrance Day continues Householder’s investigations into the cinematic texts of the late 20th century, and her lifelong obsession with the gendering of knowledge.
In this performance, the artist works with her daughter Carmen Householder-Pedari. Carmen Householder-Pedari is completing seventh grade at Winona Drive Senior School. She has appeared in a number of film, video and performance works by artists such as Janice Cole, Robert Lee and Wende Bartley and Roz Kalloo.
From time to time over the last ten years I have collaborated with my daughter to produce performance works which explore some ideas around the transference of knowledges which we do not normally think of as taught — how to respond to emotional stimuli, how to physically occupy space, how to convey information with your face, which things are important to remember, and how our expressions are evaluated by others.
Parallel to this exploration is a fascination with how we take the large, crude expressions of popular culture; the big emotions, the clichéd syntax, the cartoon physiology, and adapt these ways of being to our own less grandiose existences. This too is something that is transmitted, perhaps involuntarily, in the intimacy of the mother-child relationship.
Remembrance Day is a kind of counter-monument to the things that are popularly commemorated, in this case, actions against the backdrop of war. How do we compose our anxiety (or lack of it) at being temporarily ‘at peace’? Re-embodying the codes contained in a variety of war time films, the performers will plunder their mutual memory banks for instructions for heroes and rules to live and die by.
Remembrance Day continues a recent series of investigations into the cinematic texts of the late 20th century and a lifelong obsession with the gendering of knowledge.
Some of the ideas we develop are visual, some active, some audial. Performance allows us to approach an idea from a number of directions and with a range of processes simultaneously. And speaking of processes, I find now that I am less interested in a definitive performance experience than in some proposals for experiences. For this reason we leave the audience free to come and go, to circulate around the work — more like one would view painting or an installation than theatre.
Johanna Householder, June 2001
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?