1. Keith Murray is my dream girl.
2. Performance Art is not an impenetrable genre.
3. Wednesday Lupypciw is a fantastic gateway into the possibilities of silly and fun (but not effortless or redundant) performative craft.
4. I appreciate the toils of the body in pursuit of art. I appreciate accumulations, collections: patient pieces.
5. I definitely appreciate two French men wandering across an unknown city in period dress in search of video shots that will ultimately be masked away!
a) Also known as: sometimes the documentation is the idea. (see: Donald Abad
and Thierry Marceau)
6. Not all Performance Art is easy, but some of it is funny, (see Istvan Kantor)
7. Kids have the right idea! From now on, people should interact with art as children
do: Touch the Artwork, get confused, laugh, explore, climb on things, ask lots of questions, touch some more, stare, and then not remember until they’re older that this was a pivotal moment in their life. (see: Mark Lowe and Co.’s Bin 15)
8. During unique festivals like this, it’s worth going out of your way to see things, especially Artist Talks. Make time, especially if you’re feeling uninspired.
9. The most effective Performance Art must be seen in context. It is intimate when it needs to be, installational when it sees fit, exhibitionist, loud, painful, unofficial. It can be anywhere, anytime (like the woman who screams at people on the C-train and takes pictures with her cell phone camera).
a) “Life=Art=Life” (Istvan Kantor)
10. Performance Art appears to necessitate some degree of ego: one’s body is representational and charged with responsibility. Is this self-exploitive?
11. Interesting to consider the diversity of performances within M:ST – those in which the act of performing is essential (all the Gala performances) versus those in which the result is the motivator (almost everything craft-based; Suzen Green and Ryan Statz’s knitted business suit).
12. As anything, performance art has a vocabulary, a detailed language, and I would like to become more proficient at this language, to understand, and maybe even learn to participate.
13. Seriously, Keith Murray in a sequined lady-suit, full body glitter and a giant pink wig and beard is the closest I’ve recently come to enlightenment. Oh yeah, and he’s FROM THE FUTURE, YO!
Mountain Standard Time 2010 was an educational experience and a great success. One can only hope that, over the next two years between this festival and the next, we shall continue to expand our repertoire of performance art and go into M:ST 2012 with fuller minds and even higher expectations: for myself at least, the bar has been raised.
I have been thinking about this performance for a week now, and narrating it there are some aspects that I can speak to easily. There were two sources, one apparatus with knobs and keys that produced sound, and another with a looped measure of transparent film that produced images. The sound was immersive, soaking the space, steadying us. Pure light was treated in the projector to reveal previously hidden frequencies of colour, throwing them through the portal called a lens to dance on the white wall. We were all oriented to the tapered base of that triangle of light, some sitting and some standing. I vaguely remember spending the first half kneeling and the second half cross-legged, the posture of my upper body and the focus it represented anchored to the ascetic ache of both poses. The sound and the images layered steadily, building in intensity, and every so often one of us would crane our necks back to make sure Jay and Joe still existed. It finished, and after the applause I noted that everyone seemed as genuinely edified as I was. So much is clear to me.
But all the things that I can express for myself only point sublimely to something ineffable; something hiding in the vanishing point that I will never reach. In one sense the performance is an aesthetic experience complete in itself; there is nothing more I could ask of it. In another sense, as my senses were being inundated with greater and greater intensity, my sense of self began to fall away from me. A week later I think of Bodhidharma staring at a wall for nine years. I was hearing but not hearing, seeing but not seeing, and travelling without moving.
I think I will spend my whole life trying to go there again, and in that sense this performance will never be finished for me. If you were there did you feel something similar? Did we share something? Because this is all that I can say.
And the tiger dances away from me…
I get there 15 minutes into the performance – a significant amount of weaving has already taken place. Bleachers are set up to divide each team’s supporters (I sit with team Purple – they’re closest to the entrance). Teams call each other names for a little while (“stinky pinky” and “purple nurple” come up once or twice) and the audience joins in on the taunting. It’s a three-hour event, so the enthusiasm for trash talk ebbs and flows. The seriousness of the competitors, however, is steady – even when exchanging verbal jibes both teams continue to weave. I want to have a closer look at the weaving, looms are magical, foreign machines, but I’m not sure how to close to the playing field I’m allowed to go. After half an hour, I leave to check out the other performances in the Craft Off Series.
Back for the final stages of the competition, free-style weaving; the looms are stretched several metres apart; both teams continue to work meticulously. Team Pink is penalized for moving their loom back without permission – they’re instructed to look guilty and crestfallen for 90 seconds. I get distracted for a few seconds, and when I look back a member of team Purple is getting spanked by the referee’s assistant. After furious last minutes of weaving, the referee dons the spirit of impartial justice (a blindfold) and, surprisingly (Pink’s weave is, in my non-expert opinion, better looking), crowns team Purple winners. A two-step podium is brought and celebrations ensue. One of the contenders reveals to me later on that, despite knowing that the “competition” was not “competitive,” per se, it took her a few moments after the winner was announced to cool down and be friendly with her friends on the opposing team. I went up to inspect the weaving, afterwards, and heard other audience members seriously discussing, and questioning, the final outcome.
Lupypciw’s work sustains a palpable playfulness and irreverence (an irreverence aided by the chosen venue, the Glenbow Museum). The Ladies’ 500-Metre Challenge adopts sporting norms with seriousness and blends them carefully with “lady-ness.” Frivolous costumes, ambiguous rules, “unbiased” judgement, controversial outcomes, even rowdy audiences with loosely formed allegiances, were all incorporated into the event. The referee, played by Lupypciw, delivered all instructions and penalties with the certainty and assurance required of authority figures – though humorous, neither “lady-stretch” times nor 90 second penalties for using the word, “taint,” felt out of place – absurdity goes down easier with a good dose of authority.
The air outside of Eau Claire Market was cold, bracing, and charged; I could feel it keening with a potential that I couldn’t hear, drawing people to gather around a strange site/sight. It was a grain bin, but it wasn’t. To me it looked more like a battery, with two polarized ends. There was an anode connected to the earth via wooden pilings, and a yellow capped aperture, opened to the night air, which constituted a cathode. What was basically a projection of my imagination took the force of reality when I peeked inside the bin door and saw a variety of instruments, both utilitarian and musical, and three men enter the space at the clanging an iron triangle, ready to vibrate the air around them. Practical consideration for the possibility that the bin was suspended on a wooden frame and opened at the top to enhance the acoustic qualities of the space could no longer matter to me: there was the earth, the air, the medium, itself composed of a “casing” (the bin) and the “voltaic pile” (the performers), and us watching of course.
As the performance began, the entire crowd was shuffled away from the tiny doorway to the broad side of the bin, where the there was a sound board for mixing and a projector feeding video taken of the inside against the metal exterior. The first notes were like those of a tuning fork, sonar pings pulsing over the vicinity to find resonance with us. The sound entered my ears, danced through my bones, and set my feet to tapping. I could see others begin to sway unconsciously, entranced. We passed our vibrations along through the earth, through the wood, back into bin, and out through the top into the air again. After awhile, I was no longer conscious of the projection of either my imagination or the image from within. Instead, the light emanating from the side of the bin was formed by our circuit with the men inside, our potential for connection singing in colour and shining in sound.
In time the men stopped, left their tools behind, and came out to greet us: when the work is done it’s done. We received each other warmly, thanked them for their labour, and went about our business, each of us carrying those vibrations with us.
Brass stops unwinding, and stops reading. She stands and slips on a pantyhose mask with braided legs. Then she falls to the floor and begins to struggle into the barbed wire. Thorns snag on her clothes and mask, and scratches soon appear on her hands (the gloves are off). Images of soldiers come to mind – barbed wired across enemy lines intended to immobilize personnel, to disturb and disorient, to set up targets for snipers. Brass moves with difficulty, trying to get involved with as much wire as possible. Once she has crawled into the mess, she tries to crawl out. As she makes her slow, laborious exit she flattens the barbed wire with her hands and knees, reducing its volume. When she finally emerges, and is able to stand on her feet again, Brass reads once more, this time in her Native tongue, with more purpose this time, as though stating a manifesto. She lifts up the wire mass, drops it to the ground, and exits. The event spans about 25 minutes.
The directness of the comparison, between crawling through barbed wire and the Indian Act, is not shocking, and the physical pain endured does not elicit a great deal of wincing – the metaphor is not particularly imaginative nor captivating. But perhaps that is the point – the Indian Act exists much like Brass’ crawling through barbed wire; the faces that suffer from it, those pained expressions, are obscured just enough for observers not to feel the requisite dose of sympathy that would prompt an intervention. Suffering is obvious, and blood visible, but the face is hidden just enough to prevent discomfort from flourishing.
Within my own memory, this has been a good year for live cinema manipulations: Amanda Dawn Christie, a Sackville based artist, performed at this January’s $100 Film Festival, using crystals, prisms, mirrors and disco balls to manipulate multiple 16mm film loops. In March, Mia Makela, a Finnish live cinema artist taught workshops and performed at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at ACAD, using digital programs and sounds to affect video. Locally, there are constantly projects with live soundtracks in the works, (Calgary Cinematheque has the Alloy Orchestra accompanying 1927 silent science fiction film Metropolis in November), and I am a salivating idiot for all of these things. And so, when I heard Joe Kelly was going to be performing at M:ST with live 16mm animations and an improvised soundtrack by Jay Crocker, I was there like a hot streak, excited and ready to watch.
Manjello was performed by Joe and Jay last night at Truck Gallery, and we the audience were not disappointed. Jay’s ambient, reverberating, at times wet, and growingly frantic soundscape was delicious to listen to. Joe Kelly was fascinating. I’ve seen similar works by Joe in theatre spaces, but the gallery space, sans rows or seats, served as a disclaimer inviting the audience to explore, to shift their attention from front to back, to roam if they want to. We watched the images transform on the wall; we observed Joe dipping cylindrical stamps in acrylic ink and rolling it onto sections of 16mm; we listened to Jay Crocker fill the gallery with sound.
For me, projects like Manjello re-invigorate a lust towards the medium of film. At several points during the performance, the film caught in the projector, smearing the image across the wall: a testament to the mechanics of projected movement. Delivered with an animators respect towards the physicality of the moving image, the simplicity of this performance recalled the origins of cinema: and I, for one, certainly enjoy a good bit of celluloid.
Citation: Leighton, Tanya. Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader. London: Tate Publishing, 2008.
Earlier this evening I managed to miss Reona Brass’ Glossolalia: Speaking in Tongues. Disappointed in myself (and making the usual excuse about suburbia), I examined her leftovers: a tangle of barbed wire, ripped pages of The Indian Act strewn around a back corner of Truck’s basement space, work gloves, a pantyhose face-mask with braided legs. The fluorescent lights were on in the gallery. Was this what the performance looked like? I searched the remains as a detective would, mapping out the location of the perpetrator, the defendant, the act of violence. There was no blood – none that I could see, although there must have been some – and the artist herself was nowhere to be found.
While Reona has performed Glossolalia before, and Mark Lowe has previously banged on grain bins for various onlookers, these Calgary performances were new (as each performance is new: new audience, new space, new improvisations, new reactions, new materials…) I imagine re-performance as musicians see it: hitting notes, recalling melodies, re-creating something recognizable, and finding something new.
Several years ago, I chanced upon documentation of Mark Lowe’s original grain bin performance being screened at the Hop ‘n’ Brew. An honest to goodness farm boy, I imagine this performance was happening un-documented for ages before he managed to round up a bin and re-assemble it with a crew in the plaza outside Eau Claire Market. The space surrounding Bin 15 has changed into an urban landscape, just as Reona Brass has never unraveled barbed wire in the particular confines of Truck Gallery before. Has the detritus remained consistent? The sounds? The songs? And how did these acts begin? How will they end?
Having missed the flesh and blood performances today (until Mark’s performance again later this week) I am left with various documents of their passing: word-of-mouth accounts, photographs, videos, and leftover objects. Curiously, I’m enjoying the task of working backwards, piecing through evidence towards imaginary origins.
Although I will go out of my way to see Bin 15 live and in person during Mark Lowe (and Co.) performance on Thursday night… or at least, arrive in time to watch them pack up again.
“I began in performance art because it gave me the complete freedom to say whatever I wanted, and say it however I wanted to say it,” said Reona Brass last night during the M:ST panel discussion entitled Performative Art and Documentation. “Language is a critical component to why I do performance art,” Brass said, telling us a story about her family, about residential schools and losing language, about how her grandmother had 8 children, and all of them but her father were stolen, ferried away from their families and towards a different sort of education. A generation later, she builds on the trauma of her aunts and uncles to create a performative language, one of barbed wire and plastic, of confrontation and escape. In a sense, she documents vicariously experiences of First Nations people, tied by blood and stories, a desire to educate and use her body to instigate thought, and who knows? Maybe even change.
“I am a robot, a zombie and a vampire,” said Istvan Kantor, referring, in his own language, to his performance art practice – one involving decadence and blood. Sitting beside Reona Brass on the Performative Art and Documentation panel, Kantor could not have been more dissimilar from Brass: narrow sunglasses, pinstriped suit, chrome-plated teeth, a red arm-band and carefully whisped white hair. As a man obviously dealing in visual language, his appearance must be mentioned – an artist steeped in spectacle. “I really like revolutions,” he said, “I like blood, I like fire… I’ve committed lots of crimes,” he grinned and let the crowd laugh. Kantor has been creating performance art for decades, and Brass credits him with her early inclination towards the medium. We the audience, privately pondering the two Performance Artists before us – an earnest educator and a pleasantly demented “subvertainer” – could only rectify these outward appearances through the language of their work.
“Life is Art,” said Brass; Kantor scrawled “Life = Art = Life” across the whiteboard. “As artists we’re trying to make connections between things for other people to see,” Brass said, and for a moment we connected the two artists in their desire to create new languages, channeled through their bodies and out into the space between us: between you and me.
Can we understand? This is our first language: the language of our bodies. Maybe we don’t need to understand perfectly.
“In the beginning I felt that language was coming through me,” said Brass, “often I didn’t understand what it meant.” She smiled reassuringly, “don’t worry if you don’t understand everything. Just trust it.” Istvan Kantor reiterated, “it’s very important to confuse,” after all, “clarity is boring.”
Even before the first performance began, my interest was piqued by Chris’ kit: it is a Frankenstein of drums, cymbals, and doohickies, augmented at times by synthesized effects. What was even more impressive was watching it evolve over the course of each performance, every newly adapted facet simply another appendage of the beautiful creature of sound Chris becomes when he plays. And seeing all of this complicated, inorganic machinery interact with Rosanna’s own instrument, namely her powerful and sensuous body, the experience became synergistically greater than its parts.
It quickly became clear that this performance was about searching, about the sending and receiving of signals, and about the mutual acknowledgment of two people. You could see it in the spectacle: Rosanna marking a space with deliberate masterful gestures before erupting into a fury of steps, and Chris steadily and constantly rediscovering, tinkering, and recreating to complete the circuit of exchange. You could hear it in the sound: Rosanna made it clear that she speaks alternating between moments of silent potential and staccato explosion, Chris answering this excitedly with insistent chatter and subtle texture. So when Jay joined Chris for the second set, his unshod foot pressing pedals while coaxing a variety of stringed instruments to both sing sonorously and pulse rhythmically, I was swooning in the audience.
I feel grateful that this was my introduction to M:ST and to this kind of art in general , and that I could awaken to such an intense awareness of presence and connection. I’m told the former is the defining quality of performative art, and I believe that the latter is the goal of all art. Thus primed, I’m ready to discover what other epiphanies the festival has in store…
*(Many thanks to Jhernelyn Parinas for helpfully pointing out that Jay Crocker had to fill in for Thom Golub at the last minute, contrary to what this post’s first version indicated: my sincere apologies to the artists as well. In my defence I can only say that I was so affected by the experience that I must have missed Claudina’s introduction! Sorry!)