Author Archives: Jenn Snider

Meditation on Mediation as Medium

April 12 2018

Written By Jenn Snider

In lens-based practices, and specifically performance art made for the camera, the lens is many things. Both a willing collaborator and stoic informant, the camera is an intermediary, bridging artist and audience. The camera is also a subject, elicited to act as an extension of both the image creator and the viewer. As a boundary-maker, the camera demarcates a site for the testing and breaking of limits: physical and conceptual limits of the body, of the frame, of the artist’s relationship to an audience, and of the audience’s awareness of life extending beyond the image—an image that is constructed by way of the gaze as both whole and partial.

Over the course of Fall 2017, the 7a*md8 series presented by the Toronto Performance Art Collective (producers of the biennial 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art) offered audiences a prismatic look at lens-based performance practice mediated by social media platforms. A unique departure for a collective with a history of presenting critical, live/in-the-flesh performances, 7a*md8 unearths fresh prospects at the intersection of performance and new media forms, in a context of remote access. The works, curated by 7a*11d collective members Golboo Amani and Francisco-Fernando Granados with the assistance of Shalon Webber-Heffernan, shimmer with histories and gestural patterns, echoing actions, words spoken, and images alive with the hum of engagement through the access provided through online platforms. The variety in the artists’ approaches, the urgent and raw nature of much of the production, and the vastness of a potential ocean of followers are just a few of the many facets of this series that extend beyond the lens.

Asked to write a parallel piece to comment on the curatorial framework of the 7a*md8 project, my approach has been experiential—to think through the elements of an experience of the collected works by revisiting them again as a leisurely viewer in contrast to the avid follower I was during their initial delivery. With much of the series now available away from the live streamed or otherwise time-ascribed context of their presentation, after review I’m re-convinced of two things: one, the collection presents a weighty and eclectic medley of works that together strike a discerning yet hopeful chord for a future of interdisciplinarity in performance; and, two, mediation is the key component when considering the interventionist and productive ethos of this series.

To mediate in the context of performance art is to act both generatively and disruptively. As a process of extending, connecting, relating, and intervening, mediation in performance art transmits and influences and augments elements through action and the body. Whether these elements are conventions or contexts, themes or ideas, objects or audiences, the alterations and maneuvers made along the way generate an essential tension that lives at the heart of the mediating process: a cascade of potentials between what was, what is, and what could be. The artists who use this tension can transcend or at the very least transform the immediate constraints of the medium/media they’re working with, such as performance for the camera shared on Instagram and live streamed/uploaded to YouTube. This use of tension as a bridge provides opportunities for artists and audiences to engage with unfamiliar and thought-provoking work in new ways, in this case the appropriation of the ubiquitous, often noisy, proprietary platform of social media.

By positioning 7a*md8 within the social media space, and linking production to the tools and technologies inherent to these platforms, the curators have invited the consideration of a politics of access—asking what it means for artists and audiences when any space becomes a venue, any time offers a performance, and distance away becomes no obstacle to engagement. By freeing the bounds of performance from time and space, as well as the cumbersome weight of the camera thanks to the technology of a smartphone, accessibility takes on a malleable character. Opening up to alternative arenas of practice and new experiences for artists and audiences alike, the politics at play here are also altered by the expectation that the additional layers of complexity will modify how artists and audiences approach the negotiation of creating/viewing the work.

But is it enough to suggest that the mediation processes in performances made for the social media-connected camera are contending with overlapping influences alone? Or, does the way that the lens, the performing body, and the sensory/social points of access for audiences intersect open up potential new avenues of creation and meaning? And furthermore, where the artist’s performance is mediated by their body, their environment, and their use of the lens, how significant is it that the technology behind the lens mediates so much of the view of the artist and the performance, the material, and the sensory experience for the audience? What is being altered, and what is staying relatively the same?

If there is a potential future for performance art that desires to disengage from the “pure form” of its origins and embrace new spheres, this intersectional, interdisciplinary approach to contemporary practice will need to address how critical intuitions can manifest amid the throng of mainstream commercial distribution streams. The distribution style of the online platform, and the scheduling of posts or particular algorithms determining the feed, mediates both the audience’s access/engagement and the artists’ realization of the work. These factors are already a hazy collection to theorize upon, let alone accounting for the complexity of the internet’s invisible borders that censor and filter for political control and/or economic gain. The impact of a global scale of mediation and its panopticonian entailments on the artists’ and audiences’ engagement is inherent here and must certainly be a factor to contend with in the wake of a post-social media, post-performance-artist-as-celebrity world.

With so much that is new, there are at least two facts that we can safely suppose will remain: one, once it reaches them, an audience will always internally mediate the work through their experience of it, who they are, and their understanding/what they bring to the moment when the work is viewed; and, two, all the active mechanisms and points of leverage of all this mediation will always be brought to bear on the artist. It is still the artist at the centre, and it is their decisions and their work which generate the engagement offered to their audience, and ultimately, the meaning and expression available for interpretation and negotiation. Regardless of the form of dissemination the artist is always the central factor of any contention. This is perhaps something that remains of the critical intuitions of the history of performance as it transforms in this mediated context: the possibility of an artist action as an arena of subjective articulation and representation that supplements and politicizes available images of bodies.

For audiences of performance on social media, versus live performance audiences, the artist’s performing body is simultaneously farther away and more available. Through social media, it is possible for audiences to situate their experience of the artist’s performance in ways unavailable in a live performance. Audiences are afforded new powers over the ways in which they interact with these works of art: a viewer can fixate, replay, and obsess over details with an abandon enabled by the fact that no one is watching them watch the performance. Emboldened by anonymity, they can comment, offering praise or criticism with a certain abandon. And of course, with an availability unencumbered by scheduling it is possible for a viewer to experience, engage, and interpret the works within this series no matter where, or when they are. One moment can be played in infinite repetition, or scrolled through. Yet, as that capacity for interaction is bound by the mandates of the software, all access remains mediated. Performance becomes content, content creates engagement, and all engagement becomes data tethered to the dynamics of the mysterious algorithms at play.

Forces of mediation move upon individuals making performance for the camera as acts of heteronomous negotiation to achieve an autonomous expression. That autonomous expression is multiplied and variegated by the distribution network of idiosyncratic, individual nooks of interpretation and replication that hibernate in the devices of each active participant. This perspective—or rather, the view that social media brings an interposed medley of perspectives—disrupts attempts to define human experience as one thing, one kind, or one way to be. In performance for the social media lens, if only one thing is certain, it is that meaning is aggregate. Everything else remains to be seen.


Jenn Snider ​is an arts administrator, curator, writer, facilitator/organizer, and multi-disciplinary artist. She holds an MA in New Media Art Histories from OCAD University where her research explored administration in artist-run culture as a practice of institutional critique. She is the Executive Director of the Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS), and sits on the Board of FADO Performance Art Centre, MANO/RAMO, and IMAA. Info on Jenn’s arts-based practice is available at sympatheticnervous.com.

Narrative engagement and the process of mattering

November 13 2014

Written By Jenn Snider

lo bil, The Clearing PHOTO Henry Chan

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To cap off the 2014 Festival Blog, Alison Cooley proposed that she and I (Jenn Snider) have a conversation about lo bil’s performance The Clearing, which took place all day Saturday November 1st, from 9am until 8pm.

By collaborating on the public archiving of a performance premised on the public sharing of a personal archive, we think this post nicely encapsulates the sort of tensions, exhilarations, and tangential connections we’ve enjoyed while on this epic adventure of textually documenting and discussing performance art. We hope you’ll agree.

A big thank you to the Toronto Performance Art Collective festival organizers, the volunteers, the audiences, the readers of our words, and most especially (and always) the artists.

Okay, here we go…

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lo bil, The Clearing PHOTO Henry Chan

ALISON COOLEY: Maybe a good place to start would be if we each describe our experience of encountering lo’s piece. We were on day four of a five-day festival and both of us had been spending our time (at the festival and at home and at night and in all of the hours surrounding it) trying to compulsively textually document it. And so at the point when lo started her piece, this whole question of the impossibility of the archive and of being true to the archive really resonated with me and with what we were doing, on a biographical level. I felt so overwhelmed with all of our writing, and in her work she was spreading out all of this writing that she had done over the years or that other people had sent her, and trying to surmount it.

JENN SNIDER: Absolutely. I definitely understand that biographical connection. In lo’s performance, I got the sense that in some ways she was trying to find the narrative, seeking something actively through the day that would bring all this material, this ephemera of her life, into the present moment or into her present experience. In a way, I felt like the task that we were doing (ostensibly documenting the performances) was immediately going to function differently in the context of that performance simply because of the meta-ish nature of archiving a process about an archive.

My first experience of lo’s piece was actually very jarring. Up until then, I had written each blog post by going through a process of locating myself in relation to the experience of the performance and the artist and the space and the audience and so on, and sorting out what I felt and what I thought, and sometimes those were very different things. With The Clearing this immediately changed. Over the course of the first few days of the festival I had been trying to be discrete. I would sit somewhere in the middle of the audience and take notes on my smartphone. I didn’t want to stand out as one of the bloggers— I wanted to blend in as part of the group. As the festival went on though, I felt a little bit more comfortable in the role, and more like “yes, I am the blogger,” but also, it became a matter of efficiency (typing on my phone was very slow), so I started carrying my laptop into the performance space. For the most part I didn’t feel that was out of place, but when I came in to watch lo’s piece, it was different. I sat down with my laptop and instantly felt very seen by her, as though I had declared “I am here to document you.” She spoke directly to me, as I later learned she was doing with other people who came in but I didn’t know that yet. The first thing she said was… well, she was talking to someone else when I came in, but then she turned to me and said, “I keep speaking out to the audience, but I don’t leave the action.” I wrote that down but felt sort of guilty that I had probably confronted her with my intention to record her actions vis-à-vis my obvious laptop.

AC: I’m trying to remember what my first experience was. I don’t think I had my notebook with me, at that point, but it was similar. There’s a bit of a parallel in this interesting way, because I think lo’s performance was so much about putting herself and her physical ephemera on show, and even to the point of letting the audience walk on it or dance in it, or pick up pieces, or read through the archive and sift through to find things that resonated with them, but you’re absolutely right— on the other side, especially because it was a durational work and there were so few people there as audience members during the time that most of the action was taking place… there were probably only about 10 chairs. But when I was there, she would routinely speak to the audience. Like, at one point she found a penny in the archive, and said, “oh! Here’s a penny!” and she recognized that there was another artist in the audience that was doing a project that involved pennies and she gave it to him for his project!

lo bil, The Clearing PHOTO Henry Chan

JS: (laughs) So many times she would find things in the archive that were actually connected to someone who was coming, or who had just left the room: other artists or friends that had come to see her perform. I thought that was pretty striking, too. The way she responded to the material that implicated others more directly.

This process she was going through, I like what it made me think of in terms of research and art, and how research can be art: this kind of broadening out of what art practice can be. It was performance and it most definitely resided there, but it demonstrated that pragmatic and conceptual space of artist-as-researcher— the practical action of making a thing: such as in that period of time when we were actively involved in searching the archive with her to find items to make a book, and then the importance of her reflective time: the thinking about and contextualizing what she was finding. This work was completely self-reflexive, particularly because it was all happening in a public space. It was like this empirically personal meaning-making-meaning-making-meaning-making— the entire time.

AC: Yeah! There are two things about this that are really interesting to me. One is the question of labour and artistic labour, and you and I have talked about this a bit in terms of administrative labour. In the culture of artists and arts workers, there is often the need to justify your labour in terms of research. But then also, the fact that much of that labour is very invisible, and there is sort of this economy of the arts where people who are not involved in the arts have lots of assumptions about our work in terms of career fulfillment. There’s the persistent idea that if you’re an artist, you do it because you love what you do, not because it’s urgent, or because you want to make a living. Or, “you shouldn’t think about it as work because you enjoy doing it.” And what is really front-and-centre for me in lo’s piece is the time and the labour that goes into extracting the material from a research process.

JS: Absolutely. The value hierarchies of labour in the arts and within arts institutions is an issue that gets spotlit from time to time in discussions about cultural economics. On one hand, the presentation of the issues are usually rightly addressing the ongoing matter of artists not receiving equitable pay for their work (or any pay in far too many situations), and then on another hand there are hidden or what you called invisible artistic labours that really don’t get discussed much. The work done by employees, volunteers, and interns in arts institutions that are ‘behind-the-scenes’ so to speak. The pragmatic doers who work in the spaces in between art and artist and audience and institution. There are gaps in acknowledging the value of those labours and labourers. Often the value of something like arts research is reified as outcomes-based… findings-based, rather than also valued as a creative process or practice. Other forms of arts institutional labour get overlooked as well, as you mentioned. A lot of so-called non-artist labour is in fact extremely imaginative and requires creative forms of engagement, such as the ways many arts administrators need to be flexible ‘on the ground’ with their practices and methods when working with artists within the institutional structure… it really is a question of why we recognize some forms of creative agency as artistic labour and not others.

It makes me think about the constraints that every art practice has. You’re always working within or against the conventions of your own process or of your discipline… plus the restrictions of time and space or whatever. Thinking about lo’s performance, I wonder how this version was perhaps different… and I think it would be so interesting to know how she has approached this archive-intervention and self-critique in other contexts. She came with a rigid-seeming schedule, and a unified aesthetic of fragments packed in banker-boxes. When I left the room the first time it was still in a decent state of order. There was a pile of boxes, and only one box had been opened, but it was still relatively neat. But when I came back a few hours later everything was in total disarray.

AC: I don’t think I ever saw it looking orderly. I didn’t see it in the morning.

lo bil, The Clearing PHOTO Henry Chan
lo bil, The Clearing PHOTO Henry Chan

JS: It was very orderly in the morning, but when I came back around lunchtime it was just Kaboom, stuff everywhere. People were walking on it, dancing on it, and it was an overwhelming sight. Just thinking about that transition from the order to explosion… the world is kinda chaotic, so any attempt to make art, have a practice, or basically do anything is constantly going to be contending with that potential chaos in some way. This human process of meaning making and questions about how we can do that authentically… oh yeah! That’s it, I had made a note about Gestalt (laughs). I felt that in some ways lo’s process was maybe reflective of the Gestalt approach to psychology which proposes that the mind makes wholes thanks to innate self-organizing tendencies, and is interested in how people can manage to have meaningful perceptions in the face of a world that is immensely chaotic. The Clearing is maybe an interesting example of that sort of notion, especially since lo used the archive to structure her memory-chaos. This impossible archive is one that can come alive.

AC: Yeah. To make it into a coherent narrative even though the archive inherently resists that kind of narrative. I’ve been thinking about that in reference to the whole festival, because, the experience of so many of the works that we encountered, and so much of performance art in general, is that things start out very methodical and then, at a certain point, entropy just takes over, and… (laughs). Basil AlZeri’s piece was a perfect iteration of that! He started out with this clean white shirt and this clean white table and everything was so orderly and he had a very regimented idea of what he was going to do and then all hell broke loose! I think performance art in general can be a really potent manifestation of entropy in the universe and in our lives. There are lots of other things performance is really good at, too. But that sense of all-encompassing entropy is unique to performance, as a medium, for me.

JS: I like this idea of trying to sum up the festival itself and failing marvellously because it can’t be done cleanly. Your Performance Art BINGO nailed it with so many of the kinds of things that might happen, and similarly what I was expecting was that there would be threads, thematic connections, that would emerge. I figured that I would be able to weave these into some sort of synopsis of the festival as a tapestry or like an art ecosystem or something, but no! I can’t do anything like that. It would be doing a disservice to what was presented, and what we’ve seen and experienced. Other than what you’ve said about entropy, which is totally right I think. There is a lack of order, and you can’t predict. So… I guess that is the summary, and that’s so beautiful.

AC: I ran into lo the other night and she mentioned something that had not occurred to me. She said that one of the people who had seen the performance had expressed a kind of shock at how personal her performance was, and said that they didn’t understand how she could make work that was so personal. And that person compared her work to Terrance Houle’s work and Nathalie Mba Bikoro’s work, in that they were all really personal. That struck me as a really interesting comparison, and I was wondering if you felt (as you said at the beginning of this conversation that you felt vulnerable or on display sometimes in your role as blogger) that her snippets that she chose to read and the reckless abandon with which she chose to read them, did you feel like that was personal? Did you feel like you were invading?

JS: Well, I guess it was obviously personal, but what I noticed was that I didn’t feel like an audience member when I watched her work. When I got involved and was participating or even when I just sat on the side I didn’t feel like I was watching a performance that had any separateness and therefore she seemed to be very vulnerable because she was so accessible. The sense was that even though she had done it before (this sort of performance with her archive), it did seem still that there was some flustered side to her because she didn’t know what would be found.

lo bil, The Clearing PHOTO Henry Chan

At one point she was reading something she’d picked up randomly and it was about her thoughts on pornography, and she got really embarrassed and defensive — “I don’t think about porn! I don’t write about porn! What is this? Pornography!?” She was clearly concerned about the insinuating impression this might be giving which she was obviously not comfortable with. Then she realized that the notes were probably for an essay she had been researching for a particular class, and then her body language and tone relaxed, probably because it made sense to her and the lens was one she was comfortable with…an impression she felt was appropriate, for how she felt she wanted to be perceived. So, I think she exhibited a desire to be seen but not to be judged, and to me that is very personal. It was like she needed to see and be seen in the spirit of generosity. It mattered what we thought. I didn’t feel it was self-involved, which is a critique that could be leveled at a work such as this, and that the reason it stayed clear of that was in her presentation. She made the difference because her presentation of herself was more about our engagement and presence and how we interacted. She was looking into people’s eyes and talking to them and wanting to explain and wanting to connect. That is what it felt like. So, of course it was very personal as an experience and that’s part of what it made it so good.

AC: I also didn’t get the sense that it was at all self-involved. What’s interesting is the way the work of constructing the narrative also desensitizes you. At one point when I came in she was reading about the dissolution of a few friendships and it wasn’t entirely clear what had happened but for whatever reason these people were no longer in her life. The way she read about it was very calm and collected, but it was inescapable that at the time those experiences must have been incredibly emotional. At the end, when she had done a costume change and had put on her dress and it was time for the presentation of the work, I found the fact that those personal moments of flusteredness or vulnerability or emotion or distance or confusion or realizations about not caring about something any more… the fact that those expressions kind of fractured this more official presentation was really helpful, because the piece, like you said, could have been very rote, but instead she made it feel like she was walking through it with us.

lo bil, The Clearing PHOTO Henry Chan

JS: She was making her archive come alive through her process for us, but it wasn’t like she was reliving it nostalgically, it was instead like she was observing, almost voyeuristically, her own life. She was playing, and playing with her own narrative. Maybe many people have had the experience where you find something you’ve written and you don’t recognize it, you can’t connect yourself to it.

AC: You’re not emotionally involved in that circumstance anymore.

JS: Yeah and that process… I don’t know. I don’t know what that is.

AC: I agree, but I want to avoid being romantic about it because she wasn’t romantic about it.

JS: You’re right, there’s no reason to make it a poetic expression. But it is somewhat of a phenomenon, isn’t it? Of memory and absence, maybe? But yeah, she wasn’t romantic. This was a process and she honoured that process, but was still a human about it. Contradictory, vulnerable, creative. There was flexibility. There were points when she would announce that she was off schedule, “we’re doing this now instead of this…” just because, and even though she didn’t need to share that explanation she did because it was part of honouring the process she had outlined. Making it known that it is important. That the process matters.

***

And, that’s a wrap for the 2014 7a*11d International Performance Art Festival Blog!
See you back here in 2016.

For the Disappeared

November 10 2014

Written By Jenn Snider

Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan

On the last day of the festival, November 2nd, 2014, Roberto de la Torre opened the final set of performances. It is safe to assume that most who gathered that chilly late Fall afternoon didn’t know what to expect from de la Torre. Having had the opportunity to speak with him a few days before the festival began, I knew a little about what he was developing and the issue his performance would address, but I did not know how his processes would unfold. Little did I realize just how poignantly de la Torre’s actions would manifest, and how timely they would be.

Roberto de la Torre’s works take shape as negotiations of complex and ephemeral situations, associations, and actions that frequently involve large groups of people. He focuses on social issues that occur in the local context, but his performances also regularly speak to global matters. He can often find intersections that connect the two realms of concern and collapse them into one for a moment in space and time. He is from Mexico City.

For those who have remained unaware, on September 26th, 2014, 43 male college students studying to become teachers were abducted in the southern state of Guerrero, Mexico, allegedly by local police at the instruction of a corrupt local Mayor. Taken while on route to nearby Iguala to participate in a protest over the lack of funding for their school Ayotzinapa — an institution with a proud 80 year history of educating Mexico’s political left, with a student body known for their tactical activism — the students identities were shared with the media, but initially other details were scarce. As days turned to weeks inquiry into the whereabouts of the students was framed as a recovery mission hoping to save them from their uncertain circumstances. Then recently, government investigators began to open their findings up to the public. What they have shared has shaken Mexican society. Already grieving, frayed, and beleaguered by over seven years of endemic violence at the hands of organized crime, tens of thousands have taken to the streets to protest.

At present, the understanding is that the students have been murdered, disappeared after being delivered by the corrupt local police to members of a drug gang; their incinerated remains potentially located as a result of arrests and interrogation. The outrage that has swept much of Mexico has become louder as waves of protest and public grief have continued. To write anything further on the unfolding story feels a surreal overstep in this context, and instead I’ve included links to several articles covering the investigation and Mexican citizen’s response over the last week.

NPR: “Confirmation Of Mexican Students’ Deaths Touches Off Protests”

The Guardian: “Protesters set fire to Mexican palace as anger over missing students grows”

CNN World: “Remains could be those of 43 missing Mexican students”

Democracy Now: “‘I’ve Had Enough’: Mexican Protesters Decry Years of Impunity After Apparent Massacre of 43 Students”

This tragedy has been told internationally by media as the investigation into the student’s whereabouts has continued to unfold. A situation so heart-wrenching and bewildering, far away geographically yet so close to home, despite following the story in the press, I confess I initially felt unprepared to address the complex nature of this atrocity in light of de la Torre’s performance. I’ve sat with the experience for seven days now, monitoring the media and pondering how to approach this post. For better or worse, the situation has come to a head. My suggestion here is that the feelings of anguish and dislocation that surround my personal response to this horrible story are intertwined with the artists own. I have arrived at a place where I must admit that there is nothing knowable that can be found to fully address this nonsensical and appalling act. And this is where we must begin.

~

de la Torre starts his performance slumped against the wall. Surrounded by the large festival crowd, he sits on the edge of an indoor plant box, and is in a state of despondency. His eyes downcast, de la Torre sighs, idly jabs his index finger into the soil, and proceeds to flick it onto the floor. As though conjured, he unearths a spoon.

Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan

Armed with this utensil, de la Torre stands. The spoon, an extension of his will to action, is plunged deep into another section of the planter’s soil. Out clatters another tool, a spatula trowel which he picks up to replace the spoon before continuing on. Before long, de la Torre’s exploration of the structures and architecture of the hall reveal a spoon, a trowel, a pair of long forks, and a rake. Pausing at each discovery as if to ponder his next step, de la Torre seems to be playing with the tangibility of his results and how they can be applied. With rake in hand, he heads outside.

Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan

de la Torre paces the sidewalk. In a growing state of distress and followed by the crowd, he moves to the lawn and begins to rake leaves aside. Intentional yet hesitant, de la Torre’s actions grow more vigorous as he scrapes and pulls the leaves away from the building. Seeing something, he drops to his knees.

Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan
Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan
Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan
Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan

With a plastic bowl now in hand, he moves on. With no apparent destination, de la Torre is not ambling but tracking. He puts his ear to the earth. He listens. This action transfers our awareness of his interests from the objects to the ways they can help him access something underground. We watch as de la Torre moves to the base of a tree and digs with the bowl. He quickly finds a silver ladle. He moves again. This time locating a metal spade, and we begin to see his progress. His tools are developing. They are better than they were before.

Digging beside the fence, he uncovers a shovel. We follow him to a large sandbox in the playground behind the festival building. Fittingly, it is a former school. For the first time we can see that de la Torre has posted the faces of the missing students in the windows of the classrooms. Dragging the shovel he drops to the ground. Lying flat, his ear pressed to the sand, he seems uncertain but he begins to dig. Gathering closely, the crowd circles de la Torre as he shovels wet sand.

He labours for a long time. His breathing grows heavy, and despite the cold, he sweats. Eventually de la Torre slows and for the first time, he speaks—“Fausto!” Calling out to his fellow artist and countryman, Fausto Méndez Luna, de la Torre beckons him to help. Together they uncover a second shovel but nothing more. Speaking quietly in Spanish, they move on. Another hole is dug. A third shovel is uncovered and de la Torre offers it to anyone willing to help. A fourth shovel brings yet another pair of arms. A fifth shovel is revealed and the numbers grow yet again. Eventually there are eight.

Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan
Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan
Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan
Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan

Together the group digs and the sand piles up. When they hit gravel at a depth of approximately three feet, de la Torre stops. Guiding this group away from the sand he lines them up shoulder to shoulder. He instructs them to bang their shovels against the concrete ground. As the rhythmic clanging rings out, de la Torre and Méndez Luna step onto the playground. In the dark earth they dig one last time.

Slowly de la Torre begins to pull items of clothing from the ground. Caked with soil, he lays them out, damp and dingy, across the play structures. Running, de la Torre holds a shirt over his head. Dropping to the ground he punches the earth. The sun is growing dim and the windows of the school glow brighter. A window on the top floor opens wide. Arms fling papers out into the sky. Scattering and floating, they fall to the ground. The clanging of the shovels heightens the intensity of this reveal, and the audience gathers to examine what has fallen across the playground. Photos of protests, huge crowds with mouths wide yelling out in dissent and despair, men and women holding vigil and embracing… these are the images of the current state of the Mexican people who have joined together to protest.

Roberto de la Torre PHOTO Henry Chan

de la Torre rises to his feet, and signals. The shovels are silent, and all there is to be heard is the rustle of papers. For the disappeared…

Maria Hupfield: While you were away

Written By Jenn Snider

Maria Hupfield, Partial Recall PHOTO Henry Chan

Back in 2012, Maria Hupfield performed Fixed Time as part of the 9th annual 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art. In that piece, Hupfield used her body as means to confront the ways memories interfere and/or aid in performance art documentation. She utilized strategies of oral storytelling alongside common everyday objects and craft materials to convey her ideas about the tensions present in how memories are gathered and archived. Hupfield’s process positioned visual triggers to support the imprint of particular memories and had the work documented with polaroid photographs which were subsequently sold to audience members.

Following the 2012 performance, one of the objects used in the piece was stolen—a bear mask. An unfortunate fact, this theft nevertheless created an opportunity for Hupfield to test her hypothesis. Flash forward to 2014, and Hupfield has come back; returning to the festival this year to gather any information from recurrent attendees, and query their memories with posters asking Have You Seen This Bear?

Maria Hupfield, Partial Recall PHOTO Henry Chan

Presented as Partial Recall, Hupfield came back in the hopes of recording audience member’s recollections of the 2012 piece. As a work in absentia, it is notable that the artist herself did not attend to the gathering of materials, electing to send a colleague in her place instead. With over a dozen contributors, oral histories and signed statements were offered in support of the historification of Fixed Time and the performance of Partial Recall.

Maria Hupfield, Partial Recall PHOTO Henry Chan

Among the aural fragments and the deep shallows

Written By Jenn Snider

Linda Rae Dornan,Calling the Cukoo PHOTO Henry Chan

At first blush, Linda Rae Dornan’s performance Calling the Cukoo exists at a crossroads of language, the body, and aurality. Standing in the center of the performing area she breathes a wheezing flow of partial words. With bright eyes, she emphasizes the nearly-there as an expression of potential in her communication. Dornan appears to resonate with a presence and express a texture of absence, often both at once.

She forms letters with her body.
She writes on the wall with a long stick:

Skin to Words
Words to script

Linda Rae Dornan,Calling the Cukoo PHOTO Henry Chan

Sounding the muse, Dornan meyowls like a cat. A small child in the crowd answers back spontaneously, instinctively playful and Dornan smiles. The personality, the person, lends a story to the performance; a narrative and a desire to connect all give sense. What we receive here is as it is in life, snippets and bits of shared meaning and opportunities that are fleeting. Understanding is naturally limited because our insight is defined as much by an awareness of what we are able to hear or see or feel as by what we do not identify.

Linda Rae Dornan,Calling the Cukoo PHOTO Henry Chan

Adding a giant plush red heart on her back like a burden, a backpack, a hunch, in this next phase she seems set on troubling when she hears and sees as interference. Showing us a quarter-split screen of people and their phones, texting, sexting… the habits and the fragments that resemble feeling are suggested as sets of expectations.

She writes on the wall with a long stick:

Encoded Text.
Alive
to
Being

Writing on her body and onto her plush heart, Dornan marks her arms and this crimson burden blindly, behind her back. In this symbolic act that reverberates with the suggestion of her body as an encoded text, a secret language of a life that goes on, Dornan is as resilient and defiant as she is playful and affectingly personal. Spinning a lasso made of braid, she rhymes:

“Don’t tell me what to do,
don’t set my parameters
by your own moral view.”

Linda Rae Dornan,Calling the Cukoo PHOTO Henry Chan

Singing along to a recording of her mother, Muriel, performing a rendition of the song “Gypsy Rover”, Dornan winds us into her embrace of a cut-out body of letters.

The gypsy rover came over the hill
Down through the valley so shady,
He whistled and he sang ’til the greenwoods rang,
And he won the heart of a lady.
Ah-de-do, ah-de-do-da-day,
Ah-de-do, ah-de-da-ay
He whistled and he sang ’til the greenwoods rang,
And he won the heart of a lady.

Linda Rae Dornan,Calling the Cukoo PHOTO Henry Chan

Speaking with Dornan later that day, I ask her about whether the past influences — namely her relationship with her late husband who was diagnosed with dementia, Pick’s Disease, which slowly took away his capacity to use formal language — were still present in this work. Of course, the answer was yes. Dornan reminded me that we never really leave anything behind. Commenting on the singular imagery in her performance: the single figure waving their arms, the lone shadow on the grass, her spoken phrase that referenced her surreal identity as a lone molecule, it feels ambiguous yet emergent that this is not a work about a relationship with another, but a relationality with words, sound, and herself.

Linda Rae Dornan,Calling the Cukoo PHOTO Henry Chan

Dornan’s performance demonstrated her ability to tell a story of love and life with missing words and sounds and pieces of phraseology that are imperfect yet as rich as a sonnet, as beautiful as a symphony, or as effervescent as a field of fireflies. With or without an elaborate context, sense can always speak where words are absent. Dornan’s performance allowed us to gain a sense of how we can find peace among the fragments and deep shadows despite it slipping though our perceptive fingers, if we’ll feel and if we’ll listen.

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