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Five Holes: Touched
Paul Couillard

Curatorial Statement by Paul Couillard

Five Holes: Touched is the second in a series of performances dealing with the five senses. The first part (Five Holes: I’ll be seeing you, A Space, 1995) used the device of a peep show to explore the sense of sight and the process of seeing. For Touched, artists are using the nooks and crannies of Symptom Hall to create performance installations that explore aspects of touch and our attitudes surrounding it.

Touch is arguably the most intimate and revealing of the senses, that, above all others, can moves us to ecstasy or shatter us. To touch is to ‘feel’. When we are deeply affected by something, we sometimes say we are ‘touched’. At the same time, to say that someone is ‘touched’ is to say that they are crazy. To give something one’s own ‘touch’ is to infuse it with a personal style, while to keep ‘in touch’ is to maintain contact. Human cultures are rife with taboos around the sense of touch – who, what, how, when and where we can or can’t touch – governing even the touches we give our own bodies.

The common thread among the 8 diverse performances works chosen for Five Holes: Touched include a fascination with the personal, a strong regard for the everyday – whether real or as a staged simulation – and a need to venture into the visceral in search of expression. The artists’ approaches to the sense of touch vary widely – Frank Moore’s hands-on sensual eroticism, May Chan’s handling of everyday foodstuffs in the simple act of cooking, Frank Green’s ‘scientific’ research process – yet each shares a vulnerability that seems essential to the nature of touch.

Artists were chosen both through solicitation and an open call. With the possible exception of Frank Moore – whose cerebral palsy has not doubt had an influence on his interest in touch as a vehicle of communication, expression and transformation – there was a curious lack of response from ‘heterosexual’ men. I believe this reflects how much the concerns with ‘the body’ in art and critical writing over the last 10 years, at least in North America, have in fact been the terrain of those who feel disenfranchised from what we identify as ‘mainstream’ culture. More than anything, however, I think the quality that binds all of these artists is courage. A willingness to enter and explore risky places – whether that means doing work that is quiet, physically grueling, or uncompromisingly simple – is universally evident. Performance is generally understood as a visual form, and to move to an exploration of the tactile demands a whole different approach from both the artists and the audience members who follow them on their journeys.

May Chan, a Hong Kong-born artist who lives and works in Kingston, documents her everyday reality with ‘story poems’ in which plain language is infused with a direct but affecting rhythm. In this work, May explores the associative and metaphorical meanings of touch – how, for example, by handling the foods her mother once did, she completes another link in a chain of touch that stretches back through history.

Frank Green, a U/S. artist based in Cleveland, considers how institutional structures, supposedly created to encourage our well-being, sanitize or even deny touch. The implications of this denial have profound implications for both our civil liberties and our physical and spiritual health. For this performance he is assisted by two other artists from Cleveland, Thea Miklowski and Holly Wilson, as well as several Toronto artists.

Three Toronto-based artists return from the first installment of Five Holes. Fiona Griffiths, whose work about touch reflects a background of research as performer (dance, theatre), body trainer, visual artist, surgical nurse and therapist, is on a hunt to learn the details of an internal void often triggered by touch, a touch that fails to acknowledge the one who is touched. Ed Johnson calls attention to the ‘gesture’ of touch, which begins long before contact, and how the way a touch is given and the way it is received can be entirely different things; one man’s hit is another man’s caress. Bernice Kaye continues her determined journey to strip away superflouous details – all of the bells and whistles that we usually associate with performance – to get at the essence of each individual sense.

Stefanie Marshall, also based in Toronto, has created a body of performance works that feature repetitive, ritualistic actions, obsessive use of everyday objects, and a fascination for pungent, musky materials. In this new work, she seeks to touch the silences that she cannot find the words to express – hoping, perhaps, to find language in the concrete physicality of objects.

Frank Moore – who lives and works in Berkeley with a performance ‘family’ that includes his wife, Linda Mac and student/colleague Michael LaBash – has spent a lifetime exploring the magic potential of touch. Since being “sucked into performance,” as he puts it, as, “…the best way to create the intimate community which I as a person needed and that I thought society needed as an alternative to personal isolation,” Frank Moore has become a powerful philosopher about art in general, performance art in particular, and their potential to shape reality.

Julie Andrée Tremblay (jAT) and David Johnston (jHAVE) of Montréal deal with the confusing nature of touch, understood so easily by our nervous system, but only through metaphor by our brain. The two artists will create an installation that evolves as the festival progresses, a changing passageway of sensual koans.


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