An Interview with Margaret Dragu

Jordan King · Margaret Dragu Interview


This interview transcript has been edited for clarity.

Jordan King: Margaret Dragu, icon of performance art, Canadian icon, Canadian legend, I’ll try not to be overly or embarrassingly effusive. But I am so excited to be speaking with you about your work, your involvement with FADO Performance Art Centre here in Toronto, your career, some of your archival material that now lives at FADO. Can we start at the beginning? Can you talk a bit about how you emerged into the world of performance art in Toronto?

Margaret Dragu: Wow, well, geez, don’t forget, when I first started making performance art, it wasn’t called that, we didn’t have that name. That came later. I don’t know quite when we all started doing that, sometime in the ’80s I suppose. But it was called… we had stabs at calling it different things. But most of all, we didn’t call it anything. I mean, there was a lot of mushy boundaries of whatever it was we were doing. And we would often just call things… the work or the piece, “I’m working on a new piece.” Sounds like we were plumbers. And for a while that satisfied. There wasn’t any particular interest or demand to have any classification or nomenclature over it. But performance art eventually arose from there. Action, “hauntlung,” all these all these other words, were all possible too. I came to Toronto from MontrĂ©al. And I went to MontrĂ©al from New York. I went to New York from Calgary and I went to Calgary from Regina. So if you think of that as a bunch of little Russian dolls, that’s already so much action. Anyways, I did get to Toronto, which was ’73 or ’74. Somewhere in there, I can’t really remember. I came calling myself various things. Tom Dean used to call me an ‘art dancer’ in MontrĂ©al. Because I was a dancer, I called myself a dancer. And I did dance/think sort of things, although I did installation and a bunch of other things and video and film, and other things. I was working with artists. But my first discipline was dance and choreography. And so he called me an art dancer, which was kind of a good term. I left MontrĂ©al after also establishing myself as a burlesque artist as well as a dancer and choreographer in contemporary dance, as also a dancer working in an art gallery, which there was a lot of that happening in New York when I was there before I came to MontrĂ©al. So I arrived to Toronto, with a sort of, maybe a bit of a social entree to General Idea because of Tom Dean, and this MontrĂ©al, and a few of those connections from Vancouver, the early days of all of the Western Front people, plus all the people who went down into the United States into California. There was that crossover [from] File Magazine, they were all [into] you know, mail art, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda. The scene was smaller. You know, it was a different time. Now nobody even phones me out of the blue, people make an appointment [for] a phone call.

JK: Do you remember when people used to just pop over to your friends [place]? I don’t think of myself as that old but when I tell people things like this… they seem horrified that you would just show up on someone’s doorstep.

MD: Yeah, I mean, I had so few social boundaries, I had to learn all of those. I was an only child. I didn’t know anything. But I was learning them in an era where it was very loose, it was much easier. There was so much collective community, people were living in houses with six or eight people. There were people coming and going all the time. It was just such a different time. You could make a soy bean casserole and just roll into someone’s collective commune. It was seven o’clock at night, [you could] crack open a bottle of wine and party.

JK: I’m curious about Toronto at that time, and [w]hat your experience was.

MD: It seemed really uptight to me. I mean, they had already gotten more modern, I suppose. But it was Toronto the good, it was Hogtown, it was really WASP. It was so different than Montreal and New York. I mean, all of them were different from each other. But at that time, it was really different. Toronto is much more interesting now. You really want to be alive now more[so] than back then. [It’s] good. [Back then] was so stuffy and full of itself, like, you know, it really thought banking and the media and politics and everything. For English speaking Canada, it shone light out of its asshole. In Toronto, it was just so colloquial or parochial. All the “-ials,” it over time got much better with more immigrants and refugees [and] way more diversity. The world was also changing, but that real clamp of WASP power just had to ease a bit. I mean, I still feel it when I’m there.

JK: I think it still exist to a certain extent. And having lived in New York and having had a stint here [in Toronto previously]. And then having worked [remotely for a gallery] in MontrĂ©al… it’s fascinating to hear you say some of these things, some of which are still true today. Those mentalities that [continue to] exist in each of those places.

MD: [T]he province of QuĂ©bec is famous for its challenges with diversity and cultures, particularly around women’s issues, the head dress, etc. All these things are all a legacy from what French law was, that they are still interpreting and percolating through. It doesn’t come from nowhere. These tendencies or problems, [are so hard to get rid of. [A]nyways, I arrived [in Toronto]. It was the very beginning of the artist-run centre movement. So there was Niagara Artists Collective in St. Catherines going [on at] the same time as the Western Front in Vancouver, in the same time as A Space in Toronto. [B]ack then it was just those three. Quite quickly it grew after that, but that was what was there. I just immediately went to see General Idea, and hung out a bit and went to A Space and hung out a bit and just started making things again. There wasn’t really much of a public at that point, although I was very fascinated by publicity, etc. And delved into that, onto what all the terrors of that can mean. Nobody had anything to lose. I mean, the budgets were, you know, peanuts. And they were, again, just these very loose collectives. So you could wander in and say, “Hi, I’m here, I want to teach dance classes for artists to everybody every morning at A Space” and somebody in the office would say, “Gee, that’s a good idea.” You just start to say, “Oh, should we let people know?” there was no email or anything back then. They [would say], “Well, [s]hould [we make a] little poster? You know what, there’s a [printing] press downstairs, they just moved [in, called] Coach House, into the basement of A Space. Maybe there’s somebody down there who could do something.” It was all so primitive in a kind of way. New York was not much different from that either at that point. St. Mark’s Place was tiny.

JK: What would you say you were carrying with you in terms of your approach to performance at that point in time? Was there something you think you were setting out to do? [Or] that you remember feeling compelled to do that [you felt] was missing?

MD: I think I felt more alone as a choreographer in MontrĂ©al. And also, although I had some acceptance as being a choreographer, making visual art and also stripping. That whole thing had to be kind of reconstructed in Toronto. But what was interesting in Toronto was there was a whole community of people who were independent choreographers [who were] working on things. I had a built in community to fall into; 15 Dance Lab, Miriam and Lawrence Adams, Elizabeth Chitty, Johanna Householder, Louise Garfield, Lily Eng, Peter Dudar [there were] so many people who were working differently than me, but we were vaguely alike. We weren’t fitting in to dance. We hadn’t really started calling it performance art quite yet. But we were interested in video, art and installation, things were more visually based and we had a lot in common. The video truck which Miriam and Lawrence Adams took over at A Space for a while, the Hummer sisters all these things were all happening all at the same time, we were impacting each other.  So it was a very rich… In retrospect, I could see that it was a really rich time [and] it was a good thing to go to Toronto and find so many collaborators and people who were thinking around the same things as I was. Much harder was being a burlesque entertainer in such an uptight WASP community. This was a real hard sell within the artists community, [which] was still very WASPy. I felt other in so many ways. But that also changed. I mean, all these things changed. It’s just so… To harp on it isn’t fair, because it evolved.

JK: That’s how, I think, I first learned about your work was doing research on venues in Toronto. I read about a place called the Warwick Hotel.

MD: I don’t think I ever actually danced in the Warwick, although The Silver Dollar was part of the Warwick Hotel, [and I] had lots of friends there. I dropped in and out, it’s not like it was off my radar. But that wasn’t one of my clubs. I liked it [though]. There was a big benefit there [which] I organized for the Canadian Association for Burlesque Entertainers [but] I didn’t perform in that. [I]t was it’s not like I wasn’t there [it] just wasn’t one of my places.

JK: That could possibly be a Wikipedia error that I believed, and I know better than to believe what I see on Wikipedia. [E]ither way, I think that I [saw] that somewhere [and] I was really fascinated to read about performance artists [active] in sort of strip clubs, [in] burlesque spaces, this kind of thing. [T]hose [were] worlds that I’d come up in, in Vancouver in the 2000s, and know[ing] what a fascinating confluence [they could be]. Just today, I [had] some Hi-8 tapes digitized at V-Tape. I didn’t even realize we had documentation of a cabaret show that [some friends and I self-produced] in Vancouver in 2001. [It was] cabaret/performance art/[strip], all these things [blurred]. So to learn about this happening in Toronto in the 1970s, and then to learn about your work… I was really blown away.

MD: [That’s] I guess another example of that Zeitgeist magic, right? Nobody invents any of these things, right? I mean, we’re just responding to the times. [I]t’s all happening quite simultaneously. I was very much in a publicity spotlight, I put myself in that publicity spotlight without knowing anything, really what press can mean, at that point in time. People think I was maybe the only one, I was not the only one who was doing performance art and burlesque work at the same time and kind of wobbling between the two. But as I started to work, I got more interested in that and bringing what I used to say “I want to bring Yonge street into the gallery, I want to bring the gallery into Yonge Street.” [I]n fact, they were sometimes complete disastrous collisions, sometimes very uncomfortable collisions. Sometimes they were fabulous collisions and morphings. I liked getting to one point where there was not so much difference at some point in between what I was doing in both of those places, and within certain restrictions. [T]hat interested me. [T]here are times when I wanted everything to be completely compartmentalized. There were times when I liked everything to be morphing, then there were times when I thought I knew what I was doing. And now I absolutely know that I do not. I mean, at the moment, things are so liminal and morphing, and uncomfortable and confusing, and it’s great, actually! I used to really think I knew what performance art was for me, and that I really hated theatre and I really hated dance. I knew where I stood. Aesthetically I felt I knew what drove those disciplines in different ways. I could really feel it, sense it, and articulate it. And now I don’t and it’s great. It’s great. I got off balance [when I met] Justine Chambers who’s a choreographer [and] a multidisciplinary artist, known for being a choreographer and a dancer, but she does many other things, she operates out of here [Vancouver]. She’s what I call a talking/thinking/dancer. But a conceptual, modern dancer, more like performance art. [She] really knows critical theory and other very smart things, and has worked with many artists of many disciplines. And doesn’t do cornball contemporary modern dance, which I still hate. I still hate that, no problem. I really, really hate that. Look[ing] into the horizon line you think, “What are you looking at out there? And why are you waving your arms around and looking sad and out at the horizon line?” Just stop that shit. The same is true for stripping. Same is true for performance art. Same is true for painting. Same is true for everything. It has to be about something, [or] driven, it has to be juicy and succulent and about something. [Y]ou have to know what it is, it has to be really important, or, you know, go home.

JK: Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to be in those worlds, because I also think that because some of these social classes don’t exist in the same way as maybe they did in my memory when I was first coming up in my ’20s. Or that stripping and burlesque was seen as such a sort of low form of entertainment. I mean, it was seen as “You’ve made poor choices in life, you’ve ended up here.” That wasn’t my personal experience. But I was a burlesque performer in the pre social media era, the Neo burlesque movement I see as being very different than what burlesque was even 20 years ago, never mind 30 and 40 years ago. I have an understanding of the history of [burlesque], about the evolution from burlesque to then stripping, when it became possible to be fully naked on stage in some provinces. How did you dance between those worlds? And how did people treat you?

MD: Well, the lack of respect was just something that grew to be normal. Unless someone was other[ed] in another way, you know, so drag queen performers and transsexual performers and transvestite performers, all these people that you would meet in the nightlife, were colleagues and those environments were more friendly and easier than a straight theatre or gallery. It just took a very long time for all of those things to evolve. But the lack of respect is… was stunning. What’s interesting is it reveals that, particularly around sexuality, and morality and things that are highly controlled by government, and church and society, and communities and family, and all those institutions, they’re deeply threatened. They’re very threatened by something that they don’t understand. I was always amazed at the complete prejudice. I don’t know why it just seems to be something I had to learn every day, I suppose, [r]e-learn every day, was that people thought they knew what happened in strip clubs, or what stripping was or how women were performing, or how men were performing or how drag queens were performing. They think they think they know all this, and they’ve actually never even stuck their nose in. [T]hey really are keen on making a lot of laws and have power to make laws over something they know nothing about. [T]his just seems stunning to me. And yet, it’s so common. [E]verybody thinks they know everything about sex, [t]hey know everything about desire, they know everything about what people should be doing and is right and is wrong and what they should be doing in public bathrooms. For Christ’s sake, get out of public bathrooms, you right-wing Christian people! What is it with the bathroom thing?

JK: I’m going to bring it back to Toronto because I am really curious to understand how it is that your archival materials came to be at FADO and what the relationship with FADO was like. So not that we will necessarily recount the entire chronology of your travels and movement but I understand that you left Toronto in the 1980s for Vancouver, then in the 1990s is when FADO came into existence. FADO Performance Art Center, Paul Couillard, and Tanya Mars. I think quite early on some of your material does show up in the archive, at least as [FADO] having maybe brought you out to participate in a performance in Toronto in the 1990s. Even though you were no longer living in Toronto at that point.

MD: Yes, that’s kind of basically it. That was, you know, great. I mean, just to return to Toronto, after a big life change, and, you know, having a baby and all my work was so different. I left Toronto, somewhat bitterly and to come back and, and realize, “Oh, look, it’s already so different.” It kept being different, in a good way. They were welcoming and supportive. And again, it was just nice to connect, then I had, you know, certainly two communities and other communities in the world that I was connecting with, I felt very much part of a performance art community, I still feel that I am although we’re all feeling a little isolated, I suppose. But [it was] fabulous. There weren’t really any archives that were resting with FADO. Until at one point, Paul and I were working on a project, actually the one you’re interested in, the Cleaning and Loving (It) project. Once we wanted to do that, which was a bigger thing than most of the things we’ve done. He wanted to do a book, he wanted to do a performance, he wanted it to be a residency. We were working things out by mail back then, there still wasn’t a lot of email. We sent long letters to each other and I would send him copies of clippings that he dutifully saved, and you know, organized, all this all this stuff towards this project, [w]here he also interviewed me, he made a DVD. I mean, all of this thing was quite a long project, because there was actually two parts to it over a several year period. That’s it, I guess. Now that technology doesn’t even [function] anymore, right? I don’t have a DVD player on my computer or any of my computers here.

JK: I was able to watch Cleaning and Loving (It) on DVD in the FADO archives. It is so great as a performance to really dive into because there’s so really rich commentary in it. Can you describe it? And also maybe describe [what your intention was]?

MD: Yes, now this is quite a long time ago… memory… where art thou? As I recall, [there were] two sections of the performance. There were individual performances that I was doing in people’s houses and apartments, where I would clean and shoot the cleaning and do something with it. People kept asking me, “Why is that a performance? [To] just go into somebody’s house and clean their oven or clean their fridge or whatever.” But I was collecting certain kinds of narratives at the same time, for some of them. I was investigating, and I was also pushing what I thought one-on-one performances could be. They weren’t even in style quite then, that was later. After that lots of people did one-on-one performances in festivals where you could go and see someone in a hotel room and they would do a performance or you’d see someone one-on-one in a library. This is super common now [and] there were other people doing it. I’m not saying I invented it, I did not invent it. But at the time, I was very interested in how can a singular thing in a really private space be a performance. So anyways, that intrigued me and I had done parades before. Paul was interested in a parade.

I think he might only have known of the DWI Protest Parade that had been some years before Cleaning and Loving (It). [The DWI Protest Parade] was one of the years that the Pope had come or was coming or something because originally I was promised a bunch of policemen on horses with the parade permit that I [was issued]. And [then] the horses were all busy with the Pope or something. So I just had a policeman, which wasn’t actually the look I was [go]ing for. But that’s okay. I invited everybody I knew, I formed a union, which was a union of one. I [had] whole committees of people. I had a daycare committee, there were parents with children who [came], there was a whole bunch of people who had red [clown] noses for some reason, I don’t know why that happened. But it did. There was protest banners and flags and I made a petition. I did a bunch of striking in all the places that I went. I stopped working for as long as I could, which I think was maybe just a few weeks. And I went to all those places where I was working, and went on strike and protested and demanded to speak to the management to talk about labor issues. And I was actually very serious about almost all of them because at that point I was working a lot in theater. I went to see a lot of the theater people and to explain to them what I didn’t like about the form of theater, what I didn’t like about the labor conditions around theater. It wasn’t all goofy. An artist pal of mine, Sheila Young, made a beautiful cardboard crowd for me that open[ed] from a center seam, kind of like those decorated bells where they’re flat, and you open them up, and then they’re a [3-dimensional] bell. So that I could have a crowd of supporters with me all the time. But it flattened so I could carry it. And my protest flags, so I could get on the bus with a few of my protest flags and [with] the crowd. I [could] go to where I was protesting, and set up the crowd and have the flags and then start demanding to speak to management. Anyway, we started from Queen’s Park, and went all the way down past Richmond [St], stopping somewhere I can’t quite remember where for that DWI parade. After that, and all the negotiation [I] eventually went back to work with this new sense of clearing the air, about labor and aesthetics and stuff. Paul liked that and said, “Would you like to do something, I guess in response to that?” I said, “Well…” I don’t know how we arrived on the idea that I would do another parade. But we did. He took on the organizing of it, which was much harder because it was years later. He had to go to City Hall, he had to contact several council people to get support to get this parade permit. And in fact, there was another kind of snafu when we got there. There had just been a big protest with homeless people where there was a lot of violence against homeless people at Queen’s Park. So Queen’s Park was kind of locked down with barbed wire and more cops. Cops are a theme here. Everyone was extremely uptight about having another public event. So quickly after all of this, if people were beaten, I think there still was even blood on the floor. It was [as] if it wasn’t there, it was metaphoric, that there was blood on the steps of Queen’s Park. It’s because of that I decided, well, I better clean those steps like Mary Magdalene and that became a kind of art action I did in various ways. For other performances, for Lady Justice and HIV/AIDS issues, the morality of, “Out damn spot!” all these kinds of issues around blood and guilt and disease and judgment and all of that. [T]he ritual of washing, washing, washing. So that was just in situ because of what was happening politically in Toronto. It felt to me when I got off the airplane. We collected a whole bunch of people that w[ere] mostly artists, and artists who had children also came, Tom and Anne Dean and their kids were all there. We made flags, we had live music and I did a little solo which was also about laundry and dancing and other spontaneous things happened like one of the children just started… Tom had bought a big broom. So he swept all the way—that’s a nice, lovely task to do. That’s a really clean art task, “I’m just going to sweep Toronto clean.” So he just did that. Particularly up and down the ramps, he was really into ramps at the time. So he would find ramps and really sweep those ramps, and some of the children just started washing things. Because I also had big buckets of Lysol and gloves and stuff for the scrubbing of the steps, and a baby carriage that I was taking down as part of my parade thing. Some of the kids just started washing the mailboxes and park benches, the bus shelters and stuff like that. And other people just start in, just started getting into it. And we would have a little pause. I remember right at the AGO, I think Andrew Patterson [washed] that Henry Moore sculpture, it [was] just [one of] those things, you know, [we] weren’t like, “Oh,d we must do that.” But it’s those cosmic overlaps and serendipity, chance things are beautiful. I mean, you just need one clear idea and one prompt, you just have to let everybody find their way with it. Everyone was amazing, they were very responsive to the idea, I just had to keep them moving.

JK: It’s so beautifully documented. It’s quite fantastic to me that it exists because it really is a time period that not as much was documented. I’ve had great conversations with Shannon [Cochrane] about performance for camera and performance for video, the difficulties with trying to translate performance art in video, but I think it’s quite special that the video exists [and] there is documentation, there is a DVD and to really sit with it and to try to transport yourself to that period in time and to doing [work] like that. I think [it’s] quite spectacular. So there is this Margaret Dragu special collection at FADO. At some point in time you provided some of your archival material to Paul, is that correct? Or did Paul sort of put it together?

MD: Yeah, what FADO has is really just based on Paul’s and my correspondence. My archives are actually not… I don’t consider them to be at FADO. Those are just basically clippings. [T]hat’s what I sent him over time. I mean, there’s a few other ephemeral things, we found some very strange knitting in there, which was from another weird performance that was later. My archives are actually at VIVO, in Vancouver. That’s boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff. That’s posters and programs and photographs, and original photographs and clippings as well. But you know, all the original clippings, and all the archival stuff, videos, all that is at VIVO. [A]t one point, I just thought, I just can’t stand having this stuff under my bed anymore. It’s got to get out of here. I was just going to throw tons of stuff away. I thought I’m just going to put it in the garbage. I called VIVO and asked to speak to a technician and said, “How can I repurpose or safely dispose of all this old VHS tape, the cardboard? [D]o I have to take all that apart? What do I do with the tape and what to do with the plastic bits and like how do you do this?” He said, “Oh, there are places. I’ll call you back.” But he didn’t call me back. The people from the archive department, Karen Knights and Christa Dahl, called me about five minutes later and they said, “Don’t do anything. We’re coming over.” They came over with some gloves and some white boxes. I thought this is better than my wildest dreams and I mean they’re overwhelmed with the stuff they have to do, they really haven’t catalogued it and filed [it] and stuff like that. I mean, some has been but it still is a lot of stuff that needs to be done. I’m sure everybody who deals with archives says this all the time. Oh, there’s so much stuff to be sorted and labeled and done. But it got out of the house. Got out of the house—not house—but my little BC senior housing apartment here, and I was thrilled to get rid of it anyways. So the archives aren’t really at FADO. That is actually a misnomer. And I think Shannon wanted to get rid of them too. She had the same feeling. I think I did, “Let’s get rid of this shit.” I think she originally said, “Here’s this box, Paul [and] Margaret.” This was a while ago, before we did the videotaping for the toolbox for 7A*11D. She said, “Either, you know, take it or take what you want, I’m going to get rid of the rest and deal with it or organize it or whatever, do something with it.” She didn’t seem at all interested in it. Paul and I did and we laughed and laughed and laughed. It was so much fun to do. We just laughed so much looking at all that old stuff. And now here she is, she seems to be heading some kind of archive project. But I’ve also had a change of heart. I mean, I just, I used to say, you know dust bunnies under the bed, get rid of it, I don’t care. Or people would phone and say, “Oh, I saw this performance you did. I would like to redo it or do it as a version.” I’d say sure, go ahead. I had no interest. But over the last number of years, I’ve started to work with young, amazing artists who use the archive in a very creative and a very different way than what I imagine it’s not an homage, it’s not a redoing—its sourcing these things and creating very process driven creative fonds that go out to create new work that doesn’t necessarily look like the original at all, it is a different kind of way of looking at archives. So that’s Britta WirthmĂĽller, William Lockwheeler, Mikhail Prue, Felicity Taylor, and Justine Chambers. These are all people who work with archives in a very interesting, responsive way. I’ve had a change of feeling about it, it doesn’t seem just like dust bunnies anymore, it seems like just another source. It’s another language that you can, if you’re interested [in], that you can dip into.

JK: What’s interesting about it to me is that because now I’ve come to realize that there are these ten and twenty year cycles when it comes to culture, so that if you’re if you’re around long enough that you look back, say twenty years ago, and you sort of think oh my gosh, well look at how spectacular this was. Or if you’re somebody who’s coming up, and you are curious about what sort of legacies exist around the work that you want to do if you’re really going to actually go in and do you know, sort of proper research or appropriate research, then maybe you’re going to look at who some of the figures were doing the work ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago. Now that documentation still exists. In the 20th century, like in the 1970s, there just wouldn’t have been any documentation [of performance] at all, from twenty to thirty years prior in a recorded way it would have been so scant.

MD: That’s true. I can assure you when I was young, I had no interest in what older artists were doing whatsoever. Whether it was I mean, they just… I didn’t care. It was very much over 30—you’re a bore. What I’m doing—really interesting. What went before—snoresville. So I just felt oppressed and repressed by everybody, including Toronto The Good, that I just, you know, I hated a lot of things. I spent a lot of time being really angry and really hating things, not being interested. I’m an autodidact, and although people, some people my age who are autodidacts, there’s not even very many of us. Most of them that I knew were older and dead now. And it was easy for autodidacts to kind of take this high moral [road] of like, “I’m a real artist, because I did not go to school.” Like, “You are not because you’re teaching so therefore, you know, you aren’t an artist, I’m the real thing.” And that’s a luxury that no one has anymore. I could not do any of the things that I do if I was younger now. I mean, no. It’s just like, you know, loving that you’re the school of hard knocks from some combination of jazz dance and contemporary dance in burlesque clubs as your education and training. That idea is just not going to fly. Everybody has a Masters—you’re getting yours now. I would not be surprised, it would be amazing, if you got a PhD. Look at Alex Tigchelaar. I can never pronounce her last name. But you know her.

JK: It’s so interesting to hear you say that because there really was a time, even within my life where it was thought, those who can’t do art, or those who can’t really commit to art, teach. You were really seen as a failed artist, if you were teaching.

MD: Yeah, another opportunity for lack of respect, we just never seem to run out of these. But it’s also, my experience can’t be projected on someone who’s younger, the cultural framework is completely different. The finances are different. All of this is so different. When I first started teaching in and out of art schools and universities as either a guest artist, or occasionally [as] a sessional, I felt it was my duty to tell people, “You know what, you don’t need to be here, you can just leave this classroom and go out and start making art, get a few other friends who are with you on making art, get a studio start producing, support each other, you need a community, but you don’t need to have this degree.” And in fact, that’s… I don’t think true anymore. And it’s partly because we have a bigger population and there’s more competition. Everything is so much bigger and more crowded. It is a way of making it… I used to think of what curators did, as a way of gatekeeping, as a way of silencing and censoring. You have to deal with these university institutions, you know, they’re all trying to be more LGBTQ BIPOC understanding, but this progress is slow. There has been progress. I’m not here to poop on things. There have been some changes that are, you know, not enough. And still, we need more, but you know, thank goodness there are some changes. That’s one of the fallouts is [that] absolutely everybody has to have a doctorate. So that’s why I call myself a doctor. If you notice how I sign my emails “Dr. Dragu.”

JK: I have to admit I didn’t.

MD: It says Doctor Dragu MD, PhD, because MD is my initials. So since I already have MD awarded to me all my life, I’m just going to claim the doctorship.

JK: I guess to sort of close things up, [I’d like] to inquire about your feelings now, and your thoughts about people engaging with your [archival] material? And what is it that you like, what comes up for you around that with artists going to seek out your work, and your archive and to study it?

MD: Well, I immediately said yes to you, when you called and when Shannon called and said, “Hey, Jordan’s doing this project. She’s fabulous. What do you think?” And I thought, “Well, I might have time to reflect on that thing that’s from a long time ago.” But for me, I’ve had some very good experiences lately with people doing a very long committed amount of energy to the archives. I mean, for example, Britta and William from Berlin at age 70, took a solo from 1975 that Britta found from Danse Collection Danse archives, and spent time talking with me and interviewing me and talking and then we extrapolated a bunch of things. And she then replied in a personal way and did a performance. Justine saw that and then we invited her to also come on board and then we started to develop things and then we raised some money. And then we got the two Berliners to come here. And we worked for several weeks. And we developed this whole glossary and archive based on that solo in particular, but that whole performance at that time, and other contextual issues around it. They all replied, personally, we developed more stuff. And then we found this way of developing what we called an art generating machine that was these sort of 65 recipe cards that are the spinal column of the archive and we use them in different ways. [Th]ey did a performance, Justine and I couldn’t go because of COVID, but we did a series of performances for camera on video that we sent to them that they could use inside their performance audio recordings, a lot of audio recordings that were the same as—with the same title as the rest of the cards that were like long kind of thoughts for me, it could all be taken apart in different ways. We were just finishing the digital archives, just how I got to know Alex and Mikhail. That became a generative thing [which] was and has been, and continues to be very exciting. I’m always amazed and interested in what these very creative, fabulous artists can do with an archive. [W]hen I’m with them, I’m discovering new things all the time, I’m remembering and forgetting—I’m really good at forgetting. But I’m remembering, I’m forgetting. And we are creating new things together based on what’s exposed, what we share, that it becomes just a very intimate thing to do with someone. I don’t just hand something over and say “Goodbye,” which is what I used to say. I expect it to be an intimate dialogue, I see this as being [one as] well now [that] we’ve spoken twice. [T]he second time was more intense than the first time but even the first time was good.

I expect something will surface from our talking and looking at that performance [Cleaning and Loving (It)], or a series of performances or that particular thing that we’re looking at, that we’re calling, Cleaning and Loving (It), part one and part two. And that something will happen that we will decide, well, this is what we want to do. [It will b]e very urgent and very exciting. [W]e will make some art and what can be more fun than making new art with someone.

JK: I hope that for people who are getting a chance to listen, they’re fascinated to hear about your really like quite prolific career as a performance artist in Canada.

MD: If you were paying me by the pound, I would be rich. I have made a lot of stuff. I love making art. I mean, that’s all I want to do.

Artist
Margaret Dragu

© Margaret Dragu, NEW NORMAL an embodied novel: dusk 2 dark, 2019. Photo Henry Chan.

b. 1953, Canada
https://margaretdragu.com/

Margaret Dragu works in video, installation, web/analog publication & performance art. Spanning relational, durational, interventionist, and community-based practices, she has shown her work in Canada, USA and Europe. Dragu was the recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts (Canada Council for the Arts, 2012); the designation of Éminence Grise at the 7A*11D International Festival of Performance Art (Toronto. 2012); and in 2000, she was the first artist featured in FADO Performance Art Centre’s publication series, Canadian Performance Art Legends. Margaret celebrates 50+ years as a working artist. Her favourite art-making material is still the body despite or because of her bionic status as a grateful owner of two hip replacements.

Performance
Transmitting Trio A (1966) with Sara Wookey

Project curated and presented by FADO Performance Art Centre

Workshop partners: Dancemakers & Public Recordings
Performance venue partner: AGO
Gallery partner: Gallery TPW

PERFORMERS:
Aleesa Cohene
Ame Henderson
Andrea Nann
Francesco Gagliardi
Jon McCurley
Margaret Dragu
Martin BĂ©langer
Mikiki
Robert Abubo
Shannon Cochrane
Simon Rabyniuk
Sara Wookey

The Project: TRANSMITTING TRIO A (1966)
Over the course of a 5-day intensive workshop led by Sara Wookey — one of the few dancers authorized by Yvonne Rainer to “transmit” (to use Rainer’s own phrase) her works — a mixed group of dance and performance artists will learn several of Rainer’s dance works, focusing primarily on Trio A (1966). 

Consisting of a 4½ minute sequence of movements that progress without repetition, phrasing, or emphasis and performed without musical accompaniment, Trio A (1966) is largely considered to be one of the originative works of the postmodern dance movement, as well one of the most influential works in the canon of 20th century dance. Rainer’s interest in task-based movement, the ephemeral, the un-spectacular, and rethinking the performer-audience relationship are characteristic concerns of both contemporary dance artists and performance artists.

The starting point for this project is the shared conversation between dance and performance artists around the distinctions between repertoire and reenactment, in particular consideration of how these modes of archiving in live art relate to the increasing interest in presenting performance art and choreography in the museum.

The results of the project are a series of presentations of Trio A (and other works in the Rainer repertoire) in a variety of contexts: a dance studio, a gallery, and a museum; as an open rehearsal, a single iteration, and a rotating relay.

FADO’s Transmitting Trio A (1966) project overlaps with Yvonne Rainer’s visit to Toronto where she will deliver an artist talk (Saturday March 21, 7:00pm) entitled Where’s the Passion? in the context of the AGO’s Radical Acts Unconference taking place on March 21. In addition, there are other activations to experience: Sara Wookey will be giving a lecture demonstration about Trio A and Gallery TPW presents a discursive series (March 20–28) curated by Jacob Korczynski and Kim Simon. Entitled, “…a container for mere possibilities that have not yet happened, a body in a state of becoming through time, or a structure for the expression of time as it moves both forwards and backwards at once.” the series responds to and thinks alongside the performances initiated by FADO, allowing the opportunity to see Rainer’s dance again within a constellation of conversations, readings and newly commissioned work.

THANK YOU. This project is possible because of the generous support of Dancemakers (Ben Kamino and Emi Forster) in making the workshop possible. Warm thanks to Public Recordings (Ame Henderson) in conceptualizing the project and helping to assemble the group. Thanks to the AGO (Kathleen McLean and Paola Poletto) for inviting this project into their activities. Thanks to the contribution of Gallery TPW as main host venue, and to curators Jacob Korczynski and Kim Simon for their keen thinking in organizing a series of discursive events in response to the project’s proposal.

SCHEDULE
Dance is Hard to See: Capturing and Transmitting Movement through Language, Media and Muscle Memory, a lecture demonstration by Sara Wookey
March 19, 7:30pm @ Dancemakers, Distillery District, 15 Case Goods Lane

Performance of Trio A (1966) by Sara Wookey
March 24, 7:00pm @ Gallery TPW

Open rehearsals of Trio A (1966)
March 22, 4:00–5:00pm @ Dancemakers
March 25, 7:00-8:00pm @ AGO, 317 Dundas Street West
March 28, 12:00-5:00pm @ Gallery TPW, 170 St. Helens Avenue

Above: Trio A rehearsal with Yvonne Rainer. 2015. Photo by Henry Chan.
Below: Trio A dinner with Yvonne Rainer. 2015. Photo by Henry Chan.

Book
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: $25.00 (plus shipping, mailed free in Canada)
ISBN: 0-9730883-0-3

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

Performance
Cleaning and Loving (It) by Margaret Dragu

La Dragu’s Cleaning Oh Yes/Oh No List

GOOD
Automatic Dishwashers
Chamois & Cloth Napkins
Vinegar & Water
Saran Wrap
Some Bleach
Hot Hot Water & Soap
String Mops
Vacuum Cleaners

BAD
Smelly wet dishrags that aren’t hung out
Paper Towels & Paper Napkins (however, washing/drying and re-using is ok)
Glass Cleaners in Spray Bottles (however it is are excellent for chrome)
Hippie Rule of Baking Soda only is dumb
Greasy Dishwater
Sponge Mops (unless industrial)
Feather dusters are stupid except for photo ops

July 7, 2000

Dear Toronto,
Itz a dirty city and someone has to clean it up. After a week of private cleaning performances, I am sharing some of my CLEANING THOTS with all you Virgo wanna-bees. Andy hey, I am still available for some private cleaning performances—in your office lunchrooms before the Big Wall and Roll Parade—on Sunday July 16 at NOON at the Ontario Legislature in Queen’s Park. Sew, call me! Take my picture! Interview me! Your coffee cups will gleam!
~Margaret Dragu, The Cleaning Lady

Canadian Performance Art Legend and “international cleaning lady” Margaret Dragu invites Toronto audiences to participate in Cleaning and Loving (It). This performance art event is a celebration of small-scale community ritual and of Dragu’s long-standing love affair with cleaning and laundry. Already underway as a series of intimate cleaning performances for Toronto-based friends and colleagues of the artist, Cleaning and Loving (It) goes public on Sunday, July 16.

Rain or shine, join us for a warm and witty afternoon of festivities that begins with a “walk and roll” parade starting at Queen’s Park at noon and wending its way down to Vtape located near Spadina Avenue and Richmond Street West. People of all ages are welcome to show up on foot, in wheelchairs, on bikes, rollerblades or other non-motorized transportation. Feel free to bring your own favourite cleaning supplies and tools (buckets, mops, brooms, rags, scrub brushes, spray bottles, etc.) as your banner of choice, and learn the simple secrets of Margaret’s famous “Xs and Os” choreography.

Parade Route (start time 12:00pm)
Beginning at Queen’s Park, south along University to Orde Street,
west along Orde to McCaul Street, south along McCaul Street to Grange Park,
west and south through Grange Park to John Street,
south along John Street to the alleyway in between Queen Street West and Richmond Street West,
west along the alleyway to Peter Street,
south along Peter Street to Richmond Street West,
and then west on Richmond Street West to Vtape located at 401 Richmond Street West building.

The parade concludes at Vtape at 1:30pm, where everyone is invited to an old-fashioned ‘social’ that will include screenings of cleaning and laundry sequences from Dragu’s many performances, films and videotapes, plus plenty of snacks and refreshments.

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.

Over the years Dragu has tackled various issues ranging from love to labour to death, colouring the mundane and everyday with a spirit of celebration and a touch of the fanciful. Multilayered, sexy and political, her work is firmly rooted in the lessons of the mortal body while playfully engaging with images of glamour and passion. Adept in both solo and collaborative environments, she is a major influence in contemporary Canadian performance art.

Series
Canadian Performance Art Legends

Since 2000, FADO has been celebrating Canada’s senior performance artists with this multi-faceted series. Featured artists are asked to create a major new work, which is followed by a (text and video) publication documenting the artist’s history in performance. The series curator and publication editor is Paul Couillard.

Canadian Performance Art Legends has honoured:

Margaret Dragu
Cleaning and Loving It (performance, 2000)
La Dragu: The Living Art of Margaret Dragu (publication, 2002)

Tanya Mars
Tyranny of Bliss (performance, 2004)
From Ironic to Iconic: The Performance Work of Tanya Mars (publication, 2009)

Alain-Martin Richard
The Route to Rosa (performance, 2006)
Alain-Martin Richard: Performances, Manoeuvres and Other Hypotheses for Disappearing (publication, 2014)

Series Purple

An ode to FADO's history, Series Purple is composed of a collection of purple fragrance materials dating back to the Roman Empire. Dense, intense, and meandering, this fragrance tells us non-linear stories.

Top Notes

huckleberry, violet

Middle Notes

cassis, lilac, heliotrope

Base Notes

orris root, purple sage, labdanum