Saturday, October 27, 2007

FUSE goes LIVE at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Friday Oct 26

The outrageously popular FUSE evenings at the VAG attract large crowds of young urban singles who experience art as a theme-backdrop for a singles' bar. FUSE evenings offer a jumble of divertissements including live music, art tours, shopping, line-ups, drinking, chatting; and the roaming of the 4 floors to view paintings, photography, sculpture and sometimes performance art.

Performance art's inclusion in FUSE is a mixed blessing. It offers performance artists an opportunity to show to a new audience/get out of the ghetto. That is a Good Thing.

FUSE is the first time the VAG has regularly included performance for many years (since the '70's?). This is also a Good Thing. Certainly, Performance Art (the literal poor cousin in the art world) is always grateful to dress up in her glad rags and be invited to the family party.

However, it is difficult for a performance aktion to get a more serious reading than as just "a happening", a moving mural or party stunt in the 6 hour evening of moving bodies more interested in eye candy and social intercourse than art. Generally, the more "successful" performances at FUSE are ones that directly employ the architecture of the court house or at least refer to social/class context provided by the "holy white space" of the museum -- historically Duchampian Anti-Art or more accurately anti-art-market or directly go down that road of social/aesthetic commentary. But not all performance art is about or concerned with this content, aesthetic or even art history so as an audience member one often feels one is viewing something in the wrong place and at the wrong time. I am remembering seeing Warren Arcand at a FUSE evening lst year perform a piece with a tree trunk, small axe, lavalier neck microphone, and multiple headsets for audience and ferverently wishing I could teleport the whole thing to a quiet space!

This performance artist/cultural worker had a bath, donned her brown velvet glad rags, took the two hour commute to FUSE and arrived at 7:00 pm. I snagged a little Roy Arden, Georgia O'Keefe, & Emily Carr while roaming the 4 floors inbetween watching 3 performance aktions -- a p'tit-aktion by Shannon Cochrane, a slice by Tanya Mars, & a full meal deal by Randy Lee Cutler.

TANYA MARS (Toronto, Canada) In Pursuit of Happiness
A trio of gals stood behind me as I viewed the tableau vivant by Tanya Mars' & Alissa Firth-Eagland. The audience-gals watched the performance and talked simultaneously with each other & their cellphones. "I think ... like ... it has .... like .....," said one gal to a cell-pal, "....something to do with .... like ... excess?" I would say so.

Mars, well-known for her tightly-constructed, lavish, epic, and iconoclastic large scale performance art events, used the rotunda and staircase to her advantage. A large beautifully decorated banquet table covered with thousands of dollars of state-of-the-art cakes was placed diagonally through the rotunda. Mars and Firth-Eagland were equally gorgeous -- perfect hair, makeup, evening, dress, stockings, heels. The stunning blonde and striking brunette posed with their cake slices -- wearing small cake plates as hats, lying down on the floor with cake slices on their bellies, posing on the grand stairs and recessed "windows" above the scene -- and very slowly they had their cake and ate it, too, never sharing with the audience. Security (as always on FUSE nights) was tight and strict. I walked forward and stood a foot from the table -- still too far away to stick my finger in a chocolate mousse cake that looked like a Holt Renfrew hat, although I thought about it -- and was politely but firmly escorted back to the crowd by one of the crew of young well-fashioned security.

Well-crafted (designed/imagined/constructed) performance art has an element of creating an image strong enough to stand on its own without interpretation/introduction nor manipulation or theatrical-pretending. Tanya Mars' living image of 12 hour cake eating at the VAG Friday evening and Iwan Wijono's aktion fire-lighting communal blood letters on the floor of Centre A Gallery are two such images.

More LIVE5: Tanya Mars Photo set

Shannon Cochrane (Toronto, Canada)

Unfortunately, I saw only brief moments of Shannon Cochrane's first aktion of the evening. Shannon wore an immense paper corsage as an hommage to Georgia O'Keefe and greeted each person entering the gallery with a handshake as she introduced herself. She was open, unassuming, and quietly engaging. Almost every person she greeted also gave her their name and shook her hand -- a very warm and personal moment. Johanna Householder describes Cochrane's constructs as "an instantaneous agreement that she extracts from the audience/participants".

Shannon provides social opportunities to crowds. At FUSE she quietly changed how the public viewed the gallery and the gallery-experience via greetings/hand-shakings. She has employed other strategies in other cities by moving and re-arranging crowd-control velvet ropes and providing badminton rackets to public assemblies. Seeing Shannon Cochrane "work the crowd" is to bear witness to a deft social animator who constructs a fun/warm event and at the same time deconstructs social intercourse.

More LIVE5: Shannon Cochrane Photo set

Randy Lee Cutler (Vancouver, Canada) Hors d'oeuvres

Randy Lee Cutler brought her alter-ego/personnae Hedda Cabbage into the 3rd floor legal chambers turned fake TV studio with the theatrical conceit of taping an episode of a popular cooking show. This provided Cutler an opportunity to present an animated lecture about the culture of food, landscape, and being "outside the work" (the literal translation of hors d'oeuvres). While pretending to cook up a soup stock made of carrots, red onion, a stick, garlic, her gardening shoes, and a new computer keyboard, Randy Lee chatted engagingly about the carbon foot print, fresh Pacific salmon and farmed Atlantic salmon, mushroom, Emile Zola, imagination and destiny.

There is a long history of cooking and feasting in west coast performance art so I was pleased Randy's assistants handed out tapas (one of smoked salmon/cream cheese, the other of wild mushroom and more cream cheese) to the audience. My favourite moment in the performance was Cutler batting her be-sparkled false eyelashes and "thanking" two young women who decided to leave two minutes before the performance ended. Cutler used the live moment well and turned it to her advantage. Cutler was not chagrined, annoyed, or non-plussed. You could see her consciously take time to be in the moment -- to hear, to see, and then respond. It was, in fact, a very sweet live performance moment that I savoured even more than the foreground presentation of lecture and food.

More LIVE5: Randy Lee Cutler Photo set

.... respectfully submitted by Margaret Dragu

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