Author Archives: Jenn Snider

Sky is the Limit: Aidana’s Uncommon Intimacies

November 7 2014

Written By Jenn Snider

Aidana María Rico Chávez, De la serie variaciones sobre el vuelo. El cielo [From the series on flight. The sky] PHOTO Henry Chan

Aidana Maria Rico Chavez enters the room whistling a happy tune. Hands clasped behind her back, she casts her eyes across the crowd. All facing toward the center scene where a blue gingham picnic blanket, a few mason jars, a skipping rope, and some cardboard lie waiting, the audience sits, smiling back at her.

Her mood is light, and her energy is special. Homing in on one audience member seated on the floor, Aidana drops to all fours and caresses this stranger’s face as if it belongs to a lover. Pressing her lips to skin, she begins kissing. Forehead, neck, chin, nose, cheeks, Aidana’s lips leave red lipstick smears as she goes, moving on to the person seated next. Kissing her way across arms and up shoulders, laughter ripples through the crowd as people jostle to get a spot in Aidana ’s intimate trajectory. Pausing only to reapply generous coats of red lipstick, Aidana kisses her way around the circle—down arms, across laps, up necks and across foreheads, loving noses of all shapes and sizes, eye lids, and ears. Making squelching smacking sounds every so often she kicks up her leg to indicate titillation and hints at a sort of reciprocation. No matter what, the sense is that these are uncommon intimacies, and Aidana has not just broken the ice she has melted it into a little festival puddle. This sensuous beginning has filled the room with an uncertain desire and eager people excited to see what else she has planned.

Aidana Maria Rico Chavez’s performance consists of a series of actions involving interrelation with human subjects as objects, and the poetics of objects as subjects. Serving as the connecting agent to aid in these relationships being uncovered, Aidana tries to remove the boundaries we place between our minds/bodies and those of the outside world. Her performance is titled De la serie variaciones sobre el vuelo. El cielo [From the series on flight. The sky] and with that in mind it seems that in some ways she has set no limits.

Aidana María Rico Chávez, De la serie variaciones sobre el vuelo. El cielo [From the series on flight. The sky] PHOTO Henry Chan

Aidana María Rico Chávez, De la serie variaciones sobre el vuelo. El cielo [From the series on flight. The sky] PHOTO Henry Chan

After finishing the circle of lipstick smeared greetings, and movements made with a spirit of innocence like that of an eager cat or dog, she stops to observe the crowd again. Asking for a member of the audience to stand, she bends and wraps her arms around him and levers him up onto her shoulder and walks around the circle with this human being on her back. As though this particular burden represents the artist’s capacity, her actions playfully traverse the space between audience and artist, like that of a clown or ringmaster who invites a child to join them in the center ring.

Aidana María Rico Chávez, De la serie variaciones sobre el vuelo. El cielo [From the series on flight. The sky] PHOTO Henry Chan

Returning him to his seat, she points to a pair of large boots on the feet of a member of the audience as her way of asking that they be removed and shared. Putting them on, they are comically too big yet Aidana wears them instead of her own. Next, pointing to a man standing in the back she gestures to his legs. “You want my pants?” he asks. Aidana nods, “please”. After the laughter dies down and the much-too-big pants are on, a belt is borrowed and she continues round the circle gathering a shirt here and a jacket there. Wearing these new borrowed skins and whistling, she pulls someone else from the audience for a short graceful slow dance just before she takes to the blackboard to write:

Yo no hablo ingles ella no habla ingles el no habla ingles ella no habla ingles no sotros no habla ingles yo no hablo ingles

translation:
I do not speak English she does not speak English does not speak English she does not speak English we speak no other English I do not speak English

Aidana María Rico Chávez, De la serie variaciones sobre el vuelo. El cielo [From the series on flight. The sky] PHOTO Henry Chan

These words provide an opportunity for us to understand Aidana’s actions as feats of connection. Without a common language in this context (she speaks Spanish), perhaps it is a matter of associating through symbolic action that gives Aidana her method of relationality. Redressing into her own clothes, Aidana places a string looped through a blank piece of cardboard around her neck. Picking up the skipped rope, she jumps and skips while the sign around her neck bounces, dances, and flaps. With each skipping sequence, she adds another blank sign. Four are added in total, all blank, and all label Aidana as a performer without access to a common language who nevertheless is using her body and her actions to work very hard to reach us.

Aidana María Rico Chávez, De la serie variaciones sobre el vuelo. El cielo [From the series on flight. The sky] PHOTO Henry Chan

Crouching down she retrieves a small plastic bird, and when she blows into it we realize it’s a bird whistle, and she is making it sweetly sing. Aidana hands the bird to an audience member and stoops again, this time to pick up a mason jar filled with corn syrup. Moving around the space and into the crowd, the jar is tipped and the liquid pours out onto the floor. Aidana leaves a sticky sweet trail. Pouring syrup into the hands of audience members, she licks their fingers. Giving the jar to another audience member, she points suggestively. “Just pour wherever?” the woman asks. Nodding, Aidana breaks out into a smile as the syrup continues to be dribbled and snaked across the floor.

Retrieving a second mason jar filled with syrup she gives it away too, and gestures for the same action to be followed. Standing back with the rest of us, Aidana watches the two women with the jars snake their way through the audience and around the objects on the floor leaving a trail of sugar syrup as they go. Despite the language differences, she has generated a resonant connective power, and it is mesmerizing: watching these two people express aspects of themselves in the particular ways they take to this impromptu task. So mesmerizing in fact that a minute later we all seem to collectively realize that she has gone.

Aidana María Rico Chávez, De la serie variaciones sobre el vuelo. El cielo [From the series on flight. The sky] PHOTO Henry Chan

Aidana had easily slipped away.

A game About Thoughts: they have knees, they move

November 6 2014

Written By Jenn Snider

Kurt Johannessen, About Thoughts PHOTO Henry Chan

Kurt Johannessen is at it again. This time he’s ready to play a game: a game about framing, a game about language, a game about experimentation. A game About Thoughts.

“But, this wasn’t a game,” you might say if you were also in attendance last Saturday afternoon to watch Johannessen present his performance lecture About Thoughts to partner the launch of his book by the same name, and indeed you would be right, in a sense. A game is, generally speaking, an interactive activity inclusive of notions of play, rules, and competition. “But, Johannessen didn’t use these conditions,” you might say, and again you would be correct, more or less. However, I’m suggesting the Johannessen’s presentation, which illustrates his ostensive definition for how ‘thought’ behaves, uses a narrative metaphoric visual framework to compose a sort of game with our assumptions.

His talk presents a take on the semiotic and pragmatic properties of a thought. Giving crude visual form to the thought as a something shaped like a droopy kidney bean, Johannessen speaks of little thoughts that grow into slightly larger thoughts, and how they cluster like islands in what he calls ‘thought bags’. That is where they live.

“There are lots of thought bags around,” Johannessen says, explaining that there are areas between the bags too, and that the bags have surfaces which are transparent so that those thoughts at the edge can be seen while others can stay deep inside the bag so that they can be hidden—something like a superficial thought that is apparent versus a sort of hintergedanken or a thought way in the back of your mind, so to speak, that remains unclear.

“Thoughts duplicate,” he insists. “After a little while they can migrate if they’re at the surface of the thought bag,” explaining how one thought can move to many bags if they are in the same room, and how thought bags can link up to share thoughts and build them together. There is a limit to this growth though, Johannessen says, called ‘maximum about’, where some thoughts can’t link up to become the same kind.

Kurt Johannessen, About Thoughts PHOTO Henry Chan
Kurt Johannessen, About Thoughts PHOTO Henry Chan
Kurt Johannessen, About Thoughts PHOTO Henry Chan

Moving on to the anatomy of the thought, Johannessen indicates on the diagram how the thought has legs, stomach, and knees (which are the most important part since the knees are what allow them to move around, stay flexible, and communicate). Johannessen explains that thoughts have teeth between their legs and that they are cannibalistic. This is normal, he assures us, and is accepted in thought culture.

There are stubborn thoughts, which he describes as the thoughts that haven’t been chewed enough which grow inside another thought. Those thoughts in a thought are a mystery to the thought that ate the thoughts, and that those thoughts in the thought can burst out of the thought which is confusing for the thought that ate the thought. The thought didn’t have a thought about the stubbornness of that thought. Once out of the thought, those thoughts will just mingle, hanging with other thoughts, acting as though nothing happened.

Thoughts who have been thinking for a long time grow big, and end up moving less, so they don’t stay flexible. They get slow and develop a disease called ‘Sofa Thought.’ Like a wart, puffy and soft, a sofa thought grows on a thought, is very self-important, and infects the host thought. The host thought starts to only think about resting. The other thoughts start using this thought as a sofa. They lay down on the thought which is a dangerous sign. A thought that lies on the sofa thought can get so comfy it can get absorbed.

Johannessen also describes thought ‘energy theory’ — the energy from other thoughts creates the coming into being thought, causing a thought to just appear. “POOF.” And he outlines his thought about thought ‘historical duplication theory’ — in the thought bag there is an area of the past. In that area, there will be an old thought — and how ‘future duplication theory’ for thoughts takes place is the future space of the thought bag, though this theory has fewer believers, Johannessen says, even though he has “confirmed this is true.”

“Are there any questions?”

Johannessen has shown us a thought-experiment about the definitions of things like thoughts, and it addresses the ways we use context to give meaning to words; a conceptual puzzle to demonstrate how the meaning of a word, such as ‘thoughts’, presupposes our ability to use it in a way that also explains what it is. In this way my use of the term game also lends an interpretative edge to Johannessen’s activity, challenging the use of the word game as he is challenging our conceptions of what we think it means to have a thought.

Kurt Johannessen, About Thoughts PHOTO Henry Chan

An edible experiment: Mendez Luna’s generosity and symbolic etiquette

November 5 2014

Written By Jenn Snider

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] PHOTO Henry Chan

There is a strong tradition of using the preparation and service of food in art as a method of connecting and enacting the power of social ritual and politics (think, for example of the well-known series by Rirkrit Tiravanija, which began in 1990 with pad thai, or the more recent A Party of Politics/The River Crab Banquet by Ai Weiwei in 2010). Certainly, food on its own is woven ritualistically, culturally, not to mention physiologically, into the universal human experience. In this way, food is already performative and in many ways theatrical, so when used in the creation of performance there is a natural convergence and a staging complete with tools, methods, and materials. Using food in performance can also come charged with a set of codified behaviours and social etiquette as well as certain notions of health and hygiene.

With all this in mind we move to Friday night of the festival, as Fausto Mendez Luna is about to present us with something a bit different. Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] is an installation-in-process in which Mendez Luna performs actions and incorporates objects that challenge the connotations of food (as I’ve explained above) in order to create a situation that operates unusually yet still maintains some of the symbolic coherence so closely tied to its preparation.

To begin Mendez Luna brings a bag of corn flour to the center of the room. Dumping enough onto the floor to create a significant mound, he brings over a pitcher of water and a second jug of oil. Using his heel, he makes a divot or bowl in the center of the flour, into which he pours some water, and then some oil. With pant legs rolled, he steps barefoot into the mixture, and begins to knead with his feet, squishing the dough between his toes. Watching this process, the texture and his relationship to the material is very earthen, like that of walking in sand. It also, of course, broaches the borders of food and the unsanitary. Labouring in circular motions, he continues to add more liquids and mix with his feet until a good sized ball of dough has formed.

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] PHOTO Henry Chan
Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] PHOTO Henry Chan

In his artist statement, Mendez Luna described the setting of his performance as akin to the laboratory within which he mixes substances in the production of signs. Here he has committed to the use of corn flour, gold leaf, and maple leaf as ingredients in his experiment of the gastronomic absurd, the latter a clear gesture of hospitality and cooperation to Canada. Moving from the center of the room to the windows and opening them all wide, Mendez Luna turns off the lights in the room and begins to slowly pull a long orange electrical cable that extends out the window. Gathering to watch, we see he is slowing dragging a bright light bulb across the yard outside. When the bulb unfortunately breaks, Mendez Luna does not stop pulling. When it finally reaches the windowsill he gathers it up, rearranges the scene and sets about preparing the next stage of his incongruous meal. Perhaps as an improvisational action, Mendez Luna moves to the floor with the broken bulb and gathers the broken pieces onto a platter and bathes them in delicious maple syrup to create a very tantalizingly painful side-dish. As I watch this I wonder how the lit bulb would have been used had it arrived in one piece. It’s worth considering, as without this triumphant moment of the reveal the action feels flat despite maintaining its entitled incoherence. Thinking it would have illuminated the dark room brilliantly and created dramatic shadows, I ponder this for a little while as I watch Mendez Luna prepare his next step.

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] PHOTO Henry Chan
Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] PHOTO Henry Chan

Standing at a table equipped with a hotplate, a spatula and towel, and a stack of gold leaf, Mendez Luna is rolling the corn dough into a dozen or so palm-sized nubs. Observing the artists movements and his calm and somewhat detached arrangement of his materials, I pass the time by considering the shape into which he has formed the dough, and wonder about its likely symbolism. Reminded of the shape used by artist Ana Mendieta in her series Silueta to recall the form of the body, so often presented in relief or absence within plots of earth to evoke issues of displacement, I wonder if in his performance, Mendez Luna’s private symbolism resonates with this association, but I find no other clues.

Finally, the smell of frying hot corn fills the room and steams rises off the cakes. Mendez Luna plucks each off the hot pan and presents it on a bed of gold leaf to audience members sitting nearby. He is methodical and delicate in his movements, and it is clear he is taking great care. This presentation of a roughhewn cake on a fragile gold leaf is a beautiful and unlikely sight. Each person who is given one of these strange and disjointed gifts cradles it carefully. Only one person ventures to try a bite. Mendez Luna does not instruct anyone any differently, and as he places the last cake on its bed of gold and lays the piece in the middle of the flour circle he speaks quietly and bows to indicate he is done. I’m left with many questions, but warmed by the generosity of his careful attention.

Berenicci Hershorn is watching time

November 3 2014

Written By Jenn Snider

Éminence Grise

Berenicci Hershorn, To Be And… PHOTO Henry Chan

Pulling back the grey curtain I step into the viewing area and find I am just a few feet away from her. Tucked into a small closet separated from the festival crowds, Berenicci Hershorn’s performing space is articulated by gauzy walls of plastic sheeting and the effect defocuses her from our direct gaze. Everything is cast in a haze; the light, the sounds, and her movements. Hershorn’s performance will last for three hours, so it is fitting that I find her gazing at a clock. With heavy lidded eyes and a serene expression, her body slightly swaying, in her hands are loose white feathers and down that one by one fly from her palms on an unidentified breeze. She holds them out as a dreamy offering, and the scene is as something surreal. Part reno, part domestic nest, the materiality speaks imprecisely and the air is ambiently feathered. Hershorn’s stillness is active, and it gives the sense that this tableau is about to tell us a half-forgotten story. When her body finally does move, it’s as rhythmic as the second hand, cyclical and methodical and unlikely to pause.

Berenicci is a 2014 7a*11d festival Éminences Grise. Over a period spanning more than 40 years, she has been producing unique solo and collaborative site-specific art. Her work incorporates performance, video, sound, sculpture, installation, and public art presentation. On the first night of the fest we cheered as she was presented an award by Clive Robertson (her co-honouree) as part of his performance. On day two of the festival we had the chance to hear from Hershorn about her artistic origins and practices in manifesting intention (see my post titled “Metonymic Intentions: Language sound body (Performance Art Daily).” Tonight, we have the chance to experience Hershorn’s latest performance, entitled To Be And….

Berenicci Hershorn, To Be And… PHOTO Henry Chan
Berenicci Hershorn, To Be And… PHOTO Henry Chan

The sequence of her movements is as follows:
She stands with hands full of feathers until they all blow away; she climbs the ladder to rattle a tray of delicate stemmed glassware perched at the top; back down on the ground she holds a red bucket and dips her hand in to grab handfuls of salt which she sprinkles on the floor as though seeding a field; she washes her hands and forearms in another red bucket of white powder and then plunges her hands into a third bucket filled with feathers; lightly grasping two handfuls, she returns to the clock. Repeat.

In speaking with Hershorn by email in the days after her performance, she tells me that there are many inspirations that resulted in the final image of her piece, which is a meditation on where the mind goes when it’s between life and death, and on the malleability of time itself. Of the sources that spurred her creative imagination to develop this particular work the strongest was an old photo she found of a man being slowly tortured to death in the middle of a public marketplace while everyone went about their business. In hindsight the positioning of Hershorn’s performance next to the busy festival bar, in light of the acknowledgment of this image, has a parallel that can’t help but be suggestive.

I sit on the floor and try and be with Hershorn for a little while. She’s in her own world, so the togetherness is proxemic only. In the rare moments when the adjacent bar is quiet, I can hear a low eerie rumble that I can’t identify as anything other than the sound of an ethereal distance. The plastic sheeting that encloses her space from both sides of the long closet has the effect of a sense suppressor. We’re probably just shapes of blurry incoherence to Hershorn. To us she’s a dark figure of focus, meditation, and spellbinding methodicality.

When performing private architectures, he prefers to linger, but not too long

November 2 2014

Written By Jenn Snider

Christian Bujold, In betweens PHOTO Henry Chan

I’m looking for Christian Bujold. It’s after 3 pm, and he’s scheduled to be performing but I can’t find him anywhere. Popping my head into rooms and looking down hallways, I turn a corner and nearly take a stick in the eye. He’s here, with his back to me, picking up a pile of plywood sticks each about 8 feet long. Slinging the bundle over his shoulder he turns and heads outside.

Watching from the second floor window, I see him on the sidewalk. He’s glancing around, and looks toward the park. Turning he instead heads down toward busy Queen Street. Swivelling his sticks he walks south and out of my sight. I decide I’ll try and find him later. It feels like, for now, he’d rather be alone.

(…)

There’s a trail. Broken sticks on the side of the road. I find Bujold pretty quickly. He’s not as hard to locate as I thought he’d be. There’s a small crowd and about five cameras documenting his actions, and in this moment his movement involves leaning his body onto plywood sticks that are jabbed between the sidewalk and his stomach and his face, visibly cutting into his upper lip. Both sticks are arched and bowed in support of his weight, and he’s holding the tension. For a moment I sense that the mood has shifted. It’s like he’s in his comfort zone.

Christian Bujold, In betweens PHOTO Henry Chan

I remind myself that I was going to stay away, so I cross the street to give him space. It feels weird being too close. Today, Bujold has been cagey. In speaking to him about his performance earlier in the day, he said he didn’t really want anyone to know what he’d be doing. Despite this, word got out anyway and a dozen people have gathered. But even though he’s in plain sight, there is still a sense that he’s trying to hide.

Hoodie up, Bujold stands on the corner of Shaw and Queen. He places one stick between his ear and the brick building to his left. These sticks are used by Bujold as a sort of architectural device, a way of extending himself to the city. Paradoxically, the sticks are simultaneously opening as they are obstructing; pedestrians have to walk out into traffic in order to give Bujold a wide berth. No one wants to invade the proxemics of his embodied articulation.

After each stick snaps, he picks up the bundle and moves on. Placing one stick to both his left and his right, he suspends himself between a pair of barren flower beds. Moving to the corner of a building to prop a stick against a security camera, he connects it to his forehead as if in challenge—do you want to see inside?

Christian Bujold, In betweens PHOTO Henry Chan
Christian Bujold, In betweens PHOTO Henry Chan

These plywood sticks place the artist in relation, physically manifesting the anxious tension of interacting. Bujold leans into the moment and hopes to hold it as long as he can before it breaks. Akin to a meditation, it is different in that his movement is rooted in the pragmatic. The tension is held but the material can never sustain. Despite all our efforts, the elegance of mutual support can always give way. These moments in life can’t last forever, he seems to be saying, so lets linger for as long as we can.

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