Arborite Housedress Script


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

Romance Novels

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

Fantasy #1 – Border Town Romances

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


My fears in life are few and far between:
Saturated fat,

Sagging Flesh

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

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


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

Fantasy #2 – The List

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

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

Marriage Quiz

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

Fantasy #3 – Lesbian Nation

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

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

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


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


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

Conjuring the Archive by Jess Dobkin

A Performance conversation with Jess Dobkin

In 2018–2019, Jess Dobkin received a Chalmers Art Fellowship in support of her current on-going research project looking at the performance art archive—her own personal archive and the archives of notable organizations and artists in the USA, UK, Mexico, Hong Kong and Canada.

Jess Dobkin approaches the archive as both site and material to investigate the lifespan and spirit life of performance art. Building on her ongoing research in international performance archives, she interrogates the relationship between live performance and documentation to explore the dynamic ways that performance can exist before and beyond the live event.

This performance conversation, Conjuring the Archive, will invite the audience to create a DEMPSEY AND MILLAN TALIXMXN, an energetic archive of the performances and projects of Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan. On July 22, 2019 a fire destroyed a warehouse in Winnipeg that housed the studios of more than two dozen artists. Shawna and Lorri lost 30 years of artwork, costumes, ephemera, books, equipment and materials. This TALIXMXN is an honouring of Shawna and Lorri’s archive and an offering of archival magic.


MONOMYTHS is conceived and curated by Shannon Cochrane and Jess Dobkin.
The series is presented by FADO in the context of Progress.

MONOMYTHS invites a diverse collection of artists, scholars, and activists to revise Joseph Campbell’s conception of the hero’s journey through performance art, lectures, workshops, and other offerings. This new assemblage of non-linear un-narratives proposes a cultural, political and social feminist re-visioning of the world. The MONOMYTHS perception of the universal journey dispels the notion of the lone patriarchal figure on a conquest to vanquish his demons—both inner and outer—in consideration of community, collectivity, and collaboration.

MONOMYTHS Stage 2: Refusal of the Call
What is Being Refused or Your Local Sky Tonight
By Shawna Dempsey & Lorri Millan

What is Being Refused or Your Local Sky Tonight is a new performance turn by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan. Part planetarium show, part rumination on Alice in Wonderland, the nature of rabbits and heroes, Dempsey and Millan deliver an off-kilter guide to the stars tonight. Collaborators since 1989, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan were catapulted into the international spotlight with their performance and film We’re Talking Vulva (1986/1990). Their humorous, feminist, and provocative works work has been exhibited in diverse venues as far ranging as women’s centres in Sri Lanka to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. To most, however, they are known simply as the Lesbian Rangers of Lesbian National Parks and Services.

This performance will be ASL interpreted by Sage Willow.

SummerWorks, in partnership with The Theatre Centre and a roster of Toronto theatre and performance organizations/presenters and companies including Aluna TheatreDancemakers, FADO Performance Art Centre, SummerworksThe Theatre Centre and Volcano Theatre brings the world to Toronto with Progress, an international festival of performance and ideas from January 14–February 7, 2016. 

Five Holes: reminiSCENT

Curated by Jim Drobnick and Paul Couillard

Cheli Nighttraveller
Clara Ursitti
Helen Paris & Leslie Hill
Millie Chen & Evelyn Von Michalofski
Shawna Dempsey & Lorri Millan

reminiSCENT, is the third instalment in FADO’s performance series, Five Holes, which examines the significance of the body and the senses. 


Pull Up To The Bumper by Clara Ursitti
Street intervention: September 18, no set times
Exhibition and limo tour: September 20 @ 6:00-9:00pm
Karen Schreiber Gallery, 302-25 Morrow Avenue, Toronto

Pull Up To The Bumper, by Clara Ursitti, occurs in a white stretch limousine, the acme of celebrity display and mobile partying. For selected performance-goers and chance passers-by, an intimate conversation and olfactory experience awaits as they cruise the streets of Toronto. The limo’s sensuous, private interior, complete with refreshments and other luxury comforts, is a chamber redolent with the spirit of seduction. In this gender reversal, a woman holds the balance of wealth, status and sexual agency as the artist inquires into the dynamics of stardom and urban prowling.

On The Scent by Helen Paris & Leslie Hill (with guest artist Lois Weaver)
September 19–21, please register to experience this performance
168 Simcoe Street, Toronto

On The Scent by Helen Paris and Leslie Hill, in collaboration with Lois Weaver, reconfigures an apartment with olfactory performances and interventions. Visitors journey through a series of visceral encounters that infuse the residence with heightened experiential potential. A trail of scents leads to stories and confessions wafting unexpectedly through the space and secreted away in compartments and corners. Reflecting upon the significance of smell in everyday life, this aromatized environment intensifies the role scent plays in identity, emotion, place and memory. Each performance lasts 30 minutes and is performed for 2 audience members. Please reserve your spot, there are a maximum of 40 participant spots in total.

Untitled by Cheli Nighttraveller
September 20 @ 12:00pm
Berczy Park, Front Street, Toronto

Cheli Nighttraveller’s untitled performance addresses racism operating at the level of the body and hygiene. Since the era of first contact, the so-called “odour of the other” has served as a pernicious means by which European colonizers stigmatized First Nations peoples. Reflecting at the edge of a fountain in Berczy Park, Nighttraveller recalls an episode in the life of Quannah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches, who once caused a stir by bathing in a public fountain. The artist will satirically confront the misconceived but persistent fiction of “cultural stench.”

The Seven Scents by Millie Chen & Evelyn Von Michalofski
September 20–21 @ 12:00pm–4:00pm
Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto

Inspired by the legendary exoticism and adventure of The Seven Seas, Millie Chen and Evelyn Von Michalofski provide an occasion for virtual travel with The Seven Scents. Cruise ship deck chair recliners face the waters of Lake Ontario and invite bystanders to lie back, relax, listen to a series of soundscapes and inhale the ambiance of distant locales. Like spa therapists, the artists will gently facilitate each lounger’s sensorial reverie. Distilling together sound and scent, romance and reality, the piece evocatively contemplates the fantasies of escape and the economic actualities of tourism.

Scentbar by Shawna Dempsey & Lorri Millan
September 20 @ 6:00pm
Karen Schreiber Gallery, 302-25 Morrow Avenue, Toronto

Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan’s Scentbar promises unique, personalized scents scientifically tailored to each client’s memories, anxieties and desires. Trained technicians will tally the answers to visitors’ scent-questionnaires and concoct custom-made perfumes in their laboratory cum parfumerie. Drawing from a top-secret odour palette, their potions transcend the use of scent for fashion or flirtation. These one-of-a-kind distillations connect the wearer intimately and olfactively to the complexities of the contemporary world—they are fragrances for troubled times.

Arborite Housedress by Shawna Dempsey & Lorri Millan

Co-sponsored by A Space and the Music Gallery

In Arborite Housedress, the pro/antagonist defends herself against racial and economic difference by clothing herself in the domestic architecture of the times: the house/dress is her shimmering, clean fortress and her prison. Throughout the piece she reveals her fears (such as gravity, or the fear that “parts of my dangerously sagging self might end up in bad neighbourhoods”) and her fantasies (border town romances, getting down with dirt, and the elimination of her family, so she will have time to devote herself more fully to being a homemaker). The wearable sculpture/costume has been exhibited at many art galleries and has been purchased by The Winnipeg Art Gallery as part of their permanent collection.

“Have you ever noticed that if you wash the floor in the morning, by nightfall it looks just the same as before you started? That you can do all of the dishes, and in a matter of hours someone has gone and dirtied them again? That children are little grime magnets, picking up all manner of stubborn stains and bringing them home again? Well, I’ve been thinking. If I could get rid of my family, it would effectively cut my work load by 60%.”

Arborite Housedress is one performance from The Dress Series (1989–1996), a group of performances that explore the dress as the female ceremonial costume and icon of femininity.  In these pieces, cloth is replaced by unlikely materials, creating juxtaposition, new meanings and upending expectations. All costumes fabricated by Dempsey and Millan.

For more information on this performance and the series, visit Dempsey and Millan’s website.

Shawna Dempsey & Lorri Millan

MONOMYTHS artist portrait, 2016. Photo by Henry Chan.


Collaborators since 1989, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan are among Canada’s best-known performance artists. They were catapulted into the international spotlight in their 20s with the performance and film We’re Talking Vulva. Since then, their live work and videos have been exhibited in diverse venues as far-ranging as women’s centres in Sri Lanka to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This Winnipeg-based duo has created installations (such as Archaeology and You for the Royal Ontario Museum) and books (such as Bedtime Stories for the Edge of the World, Arbeiter Ring Press). To most, however, they are known simply as the Lesbian Rangers of Lesbian National Parks and Services. Their humourous, feminist and provocative works have been acclaimed as “one of the high-points of contemporary Canadian artistic production” (Border Crossings Magazine). Performance documentation and artifacts are held in the collections including the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian History Museum, the DIA Centre and numerous university libraries across North America.

Artist Orange

Just as a performance artist uses their body as their medium, this is a fragrance composed entirely of the orange tree: fruit, leaves, bark, roots, and flowers. Artist Orange performs itself.

Top Notes

neroli, blood orange

Middle Notes

fresh orange juice, petit grain

Base Notes

orange twig, orange seed