Gustavo Alvarez's performance at Chapel Arts Oct 30/09
Monday, November 2, 2009
Of all the work that I was able to see at this year’s festival, this piece by Norico Sunayama invited the most direct participation. Visitors were able to not just gaze on a lovely woman wearing an impossibly large velvet gown (a spectacle in the way it nearly filled the cavernous gallery), but also we were invited to crawl and explore underneath the dress. Some cushions, books for writing, lavender scent, and velvet-swathed flashlights were positioned under the platform that supported, out of reach, the unclothed bottom half of the performer. Copies of the artist’s provocative statement were also set about in that boudoir-like space. Sunayama’s text made a connection between women’s lack of power to their dreams of skunks. Like most of the participants, I couldn’t put together the statement’s ideas with the work of the installation, but I enjoyed the weird memories it called up of my own skunk dreams. [And, I wondered to myself inside that red chamber, do Japanese women also dream of skunks, when the island is apparently free of that particular large rodent?]
With all of that time in the work and those many possibilities for participation and interaction (daydreaming included), the meanings became for me increasingly dynamic. This was a surprise, because one could say that each element used in this work (besides the skunk perhaps) is right now heavily determined and cliché. For me the mass of red velvet seemed opulent, gothic (even in a cathedral sense) and burlesque. Draped, it formed a chamber or boudoir or opera hall for secret meetings as well as extravagant theatrics. And of those operatic theatrics, the immobile and unreachable woman trapped at the top of an eternal ball gown seemed to materialize a persistent fantasy of the debutant whose emergent sexuality is so elevated it imprisons her within a fetishized trap. But with the opportunity to enter the underside of that trap, mobility and imagination seemed to break its worn-out spell.
The interior that we were invited into was a place to have conversations and reflect on our reactions by writing in a set of black books. Since those books had already been nearly filled during the exhibition in Toronto, we had an added opportunity for voyeurism. (From memory: “I just saw the mayor of Toronto! I wonder if he will come in here?!” “Yes, that’s right, I am in here too, and I like it.”)
This installation brought a large crowd of willing participants and observers from near and far. The Hastings street locals who are at times the most discerning about what is worth crossing the threshold for made enthusiastic and troublesome entries into the gallery while I was there, though I didn’t see any of them enter the installation. Sitting near the window, I could also hear exclamations of delight from women passing by outside: “O my god, I should get a dress just like that!”
Finally, the conversations inside “A Sultry World” included a discussion with Manolo Lugo about his performance a week earlier. I posted a photo here but I wanted to add more about it. Lugo’s performance of folding the entire household’s laundry (over the two-hour duration of the evening event) resulted from his becoming aware of how domestic duty offered a potential site for formalist artistic experimentation.
From what I saw of LIVE2009 this year there was more formalist experimentation and less participatory detourment than past years. But still it gave many of us in the city memorable opportunities to join in the minor spectacles with admiration, annoyance, side-splitting laughs and determination to make laundry and drapery come alive.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Margaret Dragu as Verb Woman was today concluding three days of "Performance-aktions about forgetting and disintegration of memory" at VIVO Media Arts Centre. I had the pleasure of assisting her with the final hours of these aktions and I managed to see a portion of her final performance. In it Dragu, assisted by Paul Couillard, performed the body's memorized, repetitive gestures, as those enacted by a body marked by advanced Alzheimer's Disease (folding, folding, stashing, petting). When I left, the two of them were sitting, making these motions, in front of the projection that Dragu had built over the previous days. In the video she was again enacting some of her vocabulary of verbs, this time in layers, beginning alone and then adding herself over top the previously recorded and projected image. For some of these videos, four Margarets were recorded, the latest one always a generation sharper than the previous, and most often more expressive (less bound to semantic meaning) than the last. Finally, a swirl of Margarets made a mockery (or a revelry) of the verb's demands. At times it called up for me the dance in the recreation room of the nursing home, after the feeding, the medicating, the bathing, the napping are done.
Curator Velveeta Krisp's accompanying text is an experiment in art writing that describes the development of Margaret Dragu's aesthetic of verb-based performance. In 200 (or so) short poetic lines, she works out some of the critical themes that have developed in Dragu's prolific past, including the arrival of Lady Justice and Verb Woman into her art repertoire and life.
So I sadly had to leave this site of loving remembrance and love for the gesturing body to hear about truth and reconciliation in the Vancouver art world. [Thank you Kika for reading those lovely bits about/by Spinoza while I drove us to Granville Island.] I have been surprised by freely offered references to love flowing through what I have seen at LIVE2009 [LOVE2009]. What a contrast to the urgent and uncomfortable talks this evening where artists were confronting and verbalizing a struggle to believe in the value of their work as artists (Speaking Truth to Reconciliation Forum). It makes all the more remarkable the joyful anarchic (see post re:Ferrer below) confidence that I have witnessed in these few shows.
And love is all over the meaning in The Politics of Romance, an exhibition of emerging artists at a new space, 221A Artist Run Gallery. This exhibition of three video installations curated by Debra Zhou opened last night with a set of performances curated by one of the artists, Francisco-Fernando Granados. The exhibition is fitting for LIVE2009 in that each of the three works picture the creators making performative gestures in front of the camera. It is romantic: Sarah Viscardi Harruthoonyan's Pure Fantasy is fresh beauty, a dream world fantasy; Francisco-Fernando Granados' The Dedication overlays desire and rejection with race-based anxieties; and then, Tara Arnst's Ocean Without a Shore materializes a slow transformation of a body shedding a socially-proscriptive identity. This show is an indulgence in a birth, death, rebirth drama, with subtle references to racialized subjectivity. I admire how integrated its politics are with the most personal of dramas. Each of the artworks in this small exhibit picture the body holding close, owning its experience of beauty, desire, and loss --despite histories of contested ownership, citizenship, emancipation, and power.
I managed to see a couple of the 221A performances, also by emerging artists.
Manolo Lugo performed a Margaret Dragu style of verb - he folded a mass of clean laundry, his and his partner's.
Zara Ackerman attempted a dialogue with more established artists through endurance bubble gum action.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
For all I know, it could have been Euskara (Basque) that Esther Ferrer was using to lecture us on the theory and practice of Performance Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Tuesday night. In some unknown tongue, she seemed to be describing a myriad of particularities and nuances in this art form, that is so difficult to represent, but that offers such a wealth of arguable meanings. It is pretty funny to picture a room full of Canadians trying to understand an artist's diatribe in a foreign language coming from underneath a white sheet! Perhaps she meant to suggest that no, we were not in fact listening, in the way that John Cage taught her to listen; or that the expert who she so masterfully created on the neo-neo-classical set of the former Vancouver law courts building (one of the VAG's performance venues) was in fact an expert of incomprehension. But Ferrar is in fact an expert at both presenting (performing) and listening (comprehension). The babel she unleashed on us was completely listenable and meaningful and joyful in the way she described anarchy in her iconic letter to John Cage (1991). It seemed to me to be a proposition that we had a choice in the linguistic meaning, aided by her playful timing and joyful gestures, funny in the way they disrupted her pseudo-authoritarian diatribe.
For me, anarchism shall always have a future, and a present, for the basic reason that I associate it with creativity... I am talking about creativity in the sense that it comes from rejoicing, from pleasure and it serves first of all the person who practices it, without paying attention to the consequences and without feeling obligations to anyone else. There is no "master" except oneself. 1991 letter to John Cage.
The resistance to master and authority, even in this mutable form called performance art also came up in her comments during the 'artists round table' led by Randy Gledhill on Sunday afternoon. In it she insisted that despite her long history and association with many great artists and producers of iconic works, she believed that people should not require this historic literacy when approaching performance art. She delights in essentially not knowing what performance art is and that it defies cogent explanation by others. Like others she is not interested in getting fixed, reproducible meanings across, but rather setting up situations for people to respond to a live, unpredictable action. She was able to contrast this situation with the time when she began to work as an artist during Franco's regime in Spain. At that time everything produced as independent art was read with a fixed meaning of political resistance.
Here in Vancouver we have a few issues right now with legislated meaning making, so thank you LIVE2009 for the trip back to some iconic moments in creative resistance.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Some highlights so far --
The crowd on Friday night was absolutely taken with the clown Booshmeeka (Pricilla Costa) as she set up the situation of a clown willfully rejecting her own props. Owing in part to the crowd’s high performance art literacy, Costa’s resentful clown made large the situation of being made to act something that is completely outside of ones self-understanding. Whose faces was she making?: an annoyed teen, inveigled upon to show up sober at a family dinner, in straight clothes?; or maybe we were seeing the look of artists being told that anti-celebratory messaging is now illegal, along with access to the downtown so that a couple of weeks of elite sports broadcasting can proceed? … gawd that was funny …
Joomi Seo and Heidi Nachtegaal’s first presentation of their experimental music-making was intriguing despite glitches (the projection was on the wrong wall). Again, I have the impression that the context made their work into something much richer than the thing they had rehearsed. It was an assembly of spiritual elements –synthesized organ, atonal singing and spoken word about a higher power or essentialist meanings about self (I think) with a flickering white orb projected to the side. Set within a raucous night of begging for arts money, cheezies & booze, flinging bras, boy-on-boy Cuidadito, and more, the Seo Nachtegaal composition was to me a very fresh experiment –an indulgence into a reflective aesthetic that perhaps folds minimalism over-top spiritualism.
And, I can’t tell you how great it was to see Velvis, the act resulting from **’s year or so of Elvis training. This King is lithe, smart and musical, born of her admiration and respect for well-crafted music, hard work and good looks (she features his early songs). Velvis, it is so great to have you back in action!!
[**October 21 - I should have know that the tribute artist's straight identity is never to be exposed... not even in blogs about performance art festivals. My apologies V.]
Everyone was impressed with Velveeta Krisp’s intervention at the Hastings Steam Bath on the opening night of the festival. She arranged to have the admission fee waved for women, a recognition of the restrictions of women in men-only saunas and bathhouses. [I missed it for the performance of taking my ethno botanist-wannabe son to hear Wade Davis give the Massey Lecture at the Chan Centre.]
This invitation to blog is offering me a new experience, that of watching a festival thoroughly. I have so far been a casual observer (and casual practitioner) of performance art. Shannon Cochran in her introduction to her Performance Festival Performance said that most people don’t have the experience of seeing more than a single night or event at a performance art festival. She aimed to demonstrate her love for the intense experience of following the arch of theatre within the whole event by re-performing choice gestures from last year’s 7a*11d Festival in Toronto. She described it as a ‘love letter’ to the artists and their art form.
That affection-inspired mimicry set up a (loving) readiness for the past that was needed to view Lee Wen’s The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps). In this work Wen’s body, which now carries the marks of scoliosis and early Parkinson’s, was animated by Stravisnky’s once controversial ballet score. At one point he used his wise body in a girl’s bright red halter dress to propose to the audience that he would like to be part of our revolution. And then, he slowly conceded to the futility of that proposition by eating the paper on which it was written. The dialectic of Wen’s hopefulness and futility was woven with tributes for the past (iconic references to Nam Jun Paik) and materials gathered in this place and time (the day’s paper, fresh milk and apples).
The following day in his remarks at the round table talk, Wen described replaying performances from the past as “working on an archive.” He talked about how a re-staging or referencing of the old in a new work was a way to make an archive of the past alive. His words were something like: “If it sits in a drawer of photographs it is dead. It is only alive when people talk about it or re-stage it.” He was in conversation with veteran performance artists Esther Ferrer, Lee Wen, Valentin Torrens, Glen Lewis, Chumpon Apsiuk, as well as younger but experienced practitioners Paul Coulliard, Shannon Cochran and Randy Gledhill. Ferrer made the distinction of performance art being a presentation of an experience rather than its representation, which is the state of documentation (video or photographs) of performance after the fact.
See you at Esther Ferrer’s performance at the Vancouver Art Gallery tomorrow (October 20 2009) at 7pm!
Thanks everyone! - Daina
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The 2009 LIVE Biennale of Performance Art has Started!
Below you can find our previous years activities/events and commentaries.
And, above, following this post, you will find the 2009 video blogs, reviews and up-to-date news.