Thursday, October 22, 2009

Esther Ferrer's anarchy

Esther Ferrer berak bakarrik eta ZAJ kolektiboaren (1996an desegina) partaide moduan eginiko performanceegatik da ezaguna. 60ko hamarkadaren hasieran Taller de libre expresión izeneko ekimena abiatu zuen José Antonio Sistiagarekin elkarlanean. Ondoren burutu ziren hainbat proiekturen oinarria izan zen tailer hori. Besteren artean Elorrioko estola experimental batena. 70eko hamarkadatik aurrera artista plastiko gisa alboratua izan zuen ibilbidea berrartu zuen. Landutako argazkiak, instalazioak, zenbaki lehenen inguruan eginiko lanak, objektuak… Esther Ferrer website

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.

Lois Klassen

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