Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is That a Canoe in Your Pocket?

Many of you will be crossing some sort of border to travel to this festival. Do you have the right paper work? Do you have the proper permits, the permission, the passport? Usually, I don't set off any alarms when I go through airport security. One day I beeped, or rather the metal-detecting arch beeped and the security guard waved his wand over my body. "Empty your pocket", he commanded, pointing at my left hip. Frowning, I rummaged around and pulled out a small square packet. It was a foil-wrapped condom. We both rolled out eyes comically at one another then got on with the business of travel.

Performance artists are renowned for setting up real and metaphorical alarms, pushing the boundaries of what is allowable behavior in public spaces. As cities grow in size and diversity we need more rules to keep a "civil city." Or do we? Rules and regulations take up a chunk of space in our local newscasts every day. Rules around smoking become increasingly prohibitive, as the debates continue to flare up and then smolder. Off-leash or on? Rules for dog owners in this city are among the most contentiously debated. In an unusual case of relaxing city bylaws, it was recently made legal for Vancouverites to keep honeybees in their backyards, after that activity had been outlawed in 1960's.

Vancouver's city workers have been on strike for over 12 weeks. The director of LIVE, Randy Gledhill got a surprising phone call the other day. It was from a city worker. Do you have your permits? "I thought you were on strike," he said. "There are still some of us still here," the officer replied. The phantom of bureaucracy rattles its chains. Now Randy's problem is to decide what he needs permits for. Do we need a permit for two guys to carry a canoe on their shoulders across the city? What if it was a couch? What if it was a very small canoe? Do you need to get permission for a performer to dig a hole in Wreck Beach? Children seem to do it all the time without much paperwork.

It's up to performers to test the rules-whether they are legal or unwritten codes of conduct. What is considered acceptable behavior depends on all kinds of factors including time of day, location and even time of the year. Celebrations like Halloween allow the public to push the boundaries of social behavior and blow off some steam so that order may be maintained again once the event is over. Our mayor thinks that giving out more tickets for jaywalking and not wearing a bicycle helmet will create citizens who are more respectful of the law. We scratch our heads as he scratches the surface of what havoc the cracked social systems have created for the citizens of our city. Welcome to Vancouver. For our sake, please break some rules.

Lori Weidenhammer

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