Saturday, October 20, 2007

Participatory Dissent: Debates in Performance, Oct 18-22/07

Western Front Curator Natalie Loveless & guest curators Paul Couillard/Vassya Vassileva/Jeremy Owen Turner are presenting LIVE BIENNALE audiences with "an encounter between traditional forms of performance art (endurance/duration) and new forms of social practice and intervention".

Thirteen live artists (and as many artist-avatars-on-line-in-Second-Life) are creating performances in/around the Western Front & on-line. They are also participating in live and on-line panels, discussions & round tables at both the Western Front & Emily Carr.

The themes of Participatory Dissent are:
+ public intervention
+ alternative economies
+ limits of the body
+ cultures of fear in the post 9/11 era.

Friday, Oct 19th/07 (1:30-6:10 pm)
at the Western Front and ENVIRONS

I rotated through durational works by Paul Couillard, Roddy Hunter, & Second LIVE (on-line). I looked at Bitter Melon Council display and filled out their Bitter Survey. I had one-on-one appointments with Marilyn Arsem and Sal Randolph.

RODDY HUNTER (York, England)
Roddy was dressed in black shoes, black pants, black top coat and his head was totally wrapped in white gauze bandages. He sat very still with his legs crossed on a chair in the middle of the gallery. Symmetrically placed were two tables each covered with a tablecloth, a map, and a mound of white powder. Closer examination showed one map was of Vancouver and one of York. Behind Roddy were two slow loops of still images symmetrically projected on the gallery wall. The left images were images from Vancouver and right images were from York. A didactic broadsheet informed us that he and his wife took hourly cellphone images and sent them to each other during Roddy's residence at LIVE fest and while his wife worked on their move-in to their new home/city of York.

Roddy Hunter's performance exhibited as part of
Western Front's Participatory Dissent series, Oct 18-19/07

Roddy's aktions alternated stillness and body work with gravity by spending long periods of time sitting/standing followed by movemnets of falling (body parts and whole body). I particularly liked his durational moments of tension in stillness/suspension -- ie. holding his arm in the air for a long time before letting it "go" and his standing very very still with his arm extended just barely touching the wall like a blind man negotiating new territories.

Was his performance addressing the negotiations of being an outsider, separation from "home", and the constant re-definition of home through geographical or technological displacement?

I liked this piece.

[I could have watched it for a longer period of time and without the distraction of festival and multi-events -- but I can say this about each durational work in this festival and others. It is hard to "see" durational work in festival format.]

I am curious about Roddy's use of what I can only term as "costume". Was the black outfit an attempt at "theatrically neutral dress" or was it a uniform like that employed by artists like Black Market? Were the bandages a reference to classical absurdist theatre like "The Bald Soprano" and early Beckett pieces? First aid? Disfigurement? Hidden identity(ies)? Loss of self?

More LIVE5: To Roddy Hunter's 2-Day Photo Collection

Marilyn Arsem (Boston, USA)
Arsem creates single-viewer durational work because "I am particularly interested in implicating the audience directly. I use different strategies" ... [so the audience has] ... "an experience both visceral and intellectual."

My appointment with Marilyn Arsem was like visiting a psychic. She welcomed me and put me at ease. She had an array of oranges, tea, candles, and containers of coins/tokens that served as tarot cards or dice. Through chance (or fate) Marilyn and I lit candles, stood on chairs, and exchanged childhood stories.

I shall not tell you what we said as it was intimate. One-on-one performance art exchanges are in part investigations of intimacy and parameters of public/private. I have a deep fondness for this form of durational-relational work as well as its practitioners. However, I do understand critics and academics who dis-like it for its lack of "criticality" [NB: I maintain "criticality" is not really a word!] as the success of the art aktion is so dependent upon the individual-public not to mention that the process/product is invisible from the greater-public. This conundrum makes me like this form even more.

More LIVE5: To Marilyn Arsem's Photo Set (a documentation of a photographer's visit: lie on floor, candle light, water, look, silent)

Paul Couillard (Toronto, Canada)
My good friend Paul Couillard is a well-known and respected master of durational performances. His Western Front piece was a performance-investigation of a manifesto examining and researching his challenges around his identity as a WCGM -- a white, Canadian, gay male. I witnessed Paul perform two aktions.

The first aktion addressed "white" by his standing on a ladder in the front door lobby of the Western Front and using white paint to letter on a white wall the following:


Highlight the space between the
parantheses to reveal the text

The second aktion investigated the notion of being Canadian or a citizen by declaring that the stairwell of the Western Front had seceded from Canada and became the nation of AUTONOMA from 4:00 - 6:00 pm on Friday October 19th of 2007. Paul saw his role as being monitor (informing the public when they were entering/leaving AUTONOMA) and not as being the leader or governor. Quickly, there were heated discussions and conflicts with the public in the stairwell around rules, order, service, taxes, governance, organizational structures, & real/imagined aggressions by outsiders-of-the-stairwell. Utopia is so fragile!

I suggested AUTONOMA needed a national anthem that was short, anthemic and in a minor key. Luckily, a tall blonde man appeared with a harmonica in his pocket; he blew B-Flat, the crowd hummed it, and it sounded good to me. By the time I visited the Bitter Melon Council Display upstairs and returned to the stairwell, the harmonica player was playing the blues, the crowd had tripled, and a spontaneous party had broken out.

I have seen and followed Couillard's work for many years. It is complex, layered, committed, serious and often has a spiritual/ritual component along with social/aesthetic engagement. This new work is all that but also the first time I saw Paul as a playful prankster; he was also a non-judgemental and confident improvisationalist willing to let the good-natured silliness of the crowd be allowed to have its "day in court".

More LIVE5: To Paul Couillard's 4-Part Activation Photo Collection

Sal Randolph (New York, USA)
Sal Randolph is not rich but she has been giving away money (and art) in public settings for more than a dozen years. Sal's aktions are about creating communities and investigating the morality and power of transaction especially monied transactions.

This rich relational territory is also occupied by other artists who perform aktions that range from potlatching/trading all their worldly possessions; to investigating NAFTA/Free Trade Agreements by trading barcoded items from a touring 18-wheeler across three borders; to artists making their own currency and/or working towards banning currency. Sal seems calm, Buddhist and non-copywrite-worried about sharing this territory with other artists. She is engaged (and busy) creating real life and on-line communities investigating the territory of giving and receiving.

Because I had googled her previous performances, I knew she was going to give me the option to keep or give away a sum of money. I spent my two hour bus ride preparing myself to choose anxiously waffling between the two and yet unable to come to a conclusion. Like a little kid who wants to outsmart the genie's rules of three wishes by asking for unlimited wishes as one of the wishes, I asked Sal if I could choose both. She agreed, gave me an agreement to sign, took my photo and I took hers, and also gave me a beautiful small black notebook which I could write to her about what I did with the money and mail back to her. What a lovely gift. I love notebooks, snail mail, journals and a possibility for correspondence.

More LIVE5: To Sal Randolph's Photo Set

... respectfully submitted by Margaret Dragu


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