Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fuse Schmooze Confuse: Part I

Vancouver Art Gallery, Friday, Oct. 26

"People really dress up for it," I 'd been told. "There's cleavage everywhere. It's a bit of a singles scene." You think? Major Galleries across Canada are creating singles nights to bring the romance back into the art world with wine, women (i.e. cleavage), and performance art. This brings hundreds of people out to glam up and party down in a rabbit's warren of performance-filled rooms. If you're lucky, you can even get in to see one. Bio Boxes, which I've been trying to see for two years now was just about booked solid by the time we arrived at 8:30 p.m. We rushed around trying to find the room Randy Lee Cutler was performing in only to be told it was "sold out" Fuck that. Then, miraculously several "standing room only" tickets appeared in the form of Hedda Cabbage's business card (not to be confused with Hedda Lettuce who writes for City Food). We rushed back to catch the end of a musical performance, but by now it had finished. Fuck. By now I was frustrated with the whole schmozzle.

Of course Tanya Mars stole the show with "In Pursuit of Happiness". While we were sprinting in sequined skirts to see the elusive/exclusive performances, Mars sat sleeping with at the end of a long banquet table covered with a quantity of colorful

Her head had dropped down into the plate in front of her and I think she was really having a snooze. She and her fellow performer Alissa Firth-Eagland had been eating cake since noon. Both performers wore elegant black dresses; Mars wore a velvet jacket over her dress. The table was elegant too, in a surreal way with brightly colored cakes and red, blue, and yellow cloth napkins. In fact the cakes (over 18 of them, no two alike) and napkins seemed hyper-saturated in color. Many of the gateaux had been sampled, and plates of unfinished cake lay strewn between rolled napkins. Soiled napkins lay on the table and floor.

The performers moved like sugar coma zombies. Firth-Eagland was up the staircase holding a plate of blueberry flan and staring down at the table. As she walked down the stairs she did not acknowledge the audience and she certainly did not offer them cake. Mars suddenly raised her head in a semi-dreamlike state, revealing cake and icing stuck to the side of her face. With dignity, she used a napkin to clean herself up.

For days before the performance, people had been buzzing: "Will they stop us from eating the cakes? Are you going to give it a try?" I was determined to get a few bites, even if I had to wrestle for them. However, when I arrived, there seemed to be an invisible line drawn on the floor that was being enforced by gallery security guards. I chatted with one of them, a young woman in a black dress. "We need to keep people away from the table," she said. "Someone might move one of the napkins that's been dropped on the floor and interfere." One guy showed up with a fork. She sent him away.

I learned that it was the gallery who instructed the guards to keep people out, not the artists. Apparently this caused a discussion around whether or not it was supposed to be read like a theatre piece behind an invisible fourth wall or accessible to interaction and close scrutiny, like a piece of performance art. In the end, audience members (performance artists) broke through the invisible lines and hovered around the table. When they attempted to talk to the performers they seemed to be ignored or received glazed nods.

The women slowly cut pieces of cake. Looking distant and tired, they toyed with their plates. The piece was well-suited to the occasion and the architectural space.

It created a spectacle that could be seen from many angles and levels. The artist's commitment to the image was formidable. I became sick with vertigo as I watched from an upper balcony. By now Mars was lying on the floor with a (mango mousse?) cake on her stomach. She put the cake on the floor, cradling it and protecting it with her arms.

People in the audience discussed which cakes they would like to eat. I liked the look of the fruit mousse cakes as opposed to the fondant-encrusted gateaux. By the time I left to see Hedda Cabbage's show I saw Todd Janes sticking his finger in a cake and licking it. "He did it," I thought. "So will I."

Lori Weidenhammer

Part II is coming soon.

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