Author Archives: Jenn Snider

Eduardo Oramas’ very merry un-birthday

October 30 2014

Written By Jenn Snider

Eduardo Oramas, Felicitaciones / Congratulations PHOTO Henry Chan

Eduardo Oramas is already seated when we arrive. Settled and straight-backed at his desk, the artist is dressed in a dark suit with a silver-striped red tie, and he gazes at the door through which the large festival crowd comes. On the table, he has some fixings for a bit of a celebration. Felicitaciones / Congratulations is the name of this art-game, and so far the rules are unclear. There is a cake covered in candles, a drinking glass, and a 2-litre bottle of 7-Up. Around the room are other conditions that provide clues—a dozen balloons tied in a bunch at ceiling height, a pin-the-tail on the donkey poster taped high on the wall, and a climbing harness hanging from a hook.

Oramas’ face, mouth in a slight frown, registers as unimpressed. His hands, planted palm down on the tabletop, are shoulder width apart in that way that suggests control. Feet in black leather shoes are spread wide apart. Oramas is unmoving, and as such he is commanding. Oramas is watching, and he’s waiting for us all to sit down.

The tremors build slowly. This stern figure, it seems, is not as infallible as he first appears. When his right foot begins to tap, this tap-tapping grows more rhythmic. When the left foot joins, for a moment, he’s Fred Astaire. Then it’s the hands that twitch and flail, now the legs, and his arms too. He’s no longer dancing. There is no music, and this is no earthquake. Fully convulsing, Oramas’ body rocks the chair which has rolled away from the table. Shaking, rocking and horribly juddering the previously stoically firm man in the suit has aggressively transformed to a erratic shuddering body, with hanging head and drooping lips—it’s the kind of movement we might recognize as a seizure.

In his practice, Oramas creates endurance performances that focus on relationships between the body and its environment, specifically those that happen within the city. Incorporating improvisation and the interdisciplinary, Oramas is interested in how we can collectively build meaning and exceed what we know about our potentials.

Eduardo Oramas, Felicitaciones / Congratulations PHOTO Henry Chan

With a final jerk, Oramas collapses to the floor and is still. Breathing heavily, he lies there and slowly his heaving relents. Rising, he lights a cigarette from a mashed pack in his pocket, and begins again to play with our collective senses and sets of expectations.

He falls, this time gracefully with the cigarette in hand and his other stuffed in his pocket. With a sudden shift to a one-armed push-up, Oramas gives us a decent Jack Palance impression. Pinched between two fingers, Oramas’ cigarette burns. Lurching, he tries to grab a quick drag without losing his balance. Missing, his palm slams down in time to save the stance, smoke wafted into his face. He tries again but it’s no good. Falling often, he tries over and over again. Supporting shaking arms and legs, his hand won’t reach his lips. It’s an apparently impossible undertaking today, and this is maybe how we discover the most important rule of Oramas’ celebratory game: challenging limits.

Eduardo Oramas, Felicitaciones / Congratulations PHOTO Henry Chan

Pulling a bundle of string from his pocket, tied on one end with a red bow, Oramas gestures to the crowd. He parts them as though they were the proverbial sea. He needs them to make way. He’s got to try, and fail, to pin this tail on the donkey, twelve-feet up on the wall.

Next, he removes his jacket and shoes, socks too. Strapping on the harness, he takes a lighter from his pocket. It’s time to light the candles and get the party started. Placing the cake with burning candles at the opposite end of the room, Oramas returns to the desk and leashes himself to the wall with elastic restraints. He’s going to try and blow out those candles. He’s going to try very, very hard. We’re all going to cheer, chant and sing to encourage him. He’s going to fail here too, but that’s maybe just chance. Or maybe, again, it’s the point.

Eduardo Oramas, Felicitaciones / Congratulations PHOTO Henry Chan

Human endeavors are perhaps equal parts skill as gumption. Oramas has enough of both, but he also has limits. “It’s because you smoked,” someone obnoxiously offers from the crowd. Oramas smiles. Our bodies all fail us sometimes.

He’ll drink the two litres of pop, if the straps on his wrists will allow the glass to reach his mouth. Then he’ll sit and sweat in between sips, and we’ll hear his exhaustion and remember it when next he’s jumping high into the air to pop balloons one by one.

It’s been a grueling hour of games mixed with a salty sting, and when that last balloon pops and the room erupts, Oramas joins in on the cheers and applause. He watches us and we watch him. He is clearly spent, and it seems that his face is drawn a bit tight as it was before. Even his clapping feels a bit insincere. It could mean the artist is again in control, or it could be he’s too tired to smile. It’s hard to tell. The spectacle of it all undercut the simplicity of compassion. I was rooting for him to ‘win’, but maybe you weren’t. Maybe he can tell.

This artist has presence, or The Award goes to…

Written By Jenn Snider

Éminence Grise

Clive Robertson, The Award PHOTO Henry Chan

Clive Robertson works in mysterious ways. Or rather, his works trouble the mysteries of art as apparatus. This may as well mean the same thing. Over more than forty years, his combined impact on Canadian performance, video, conceptual, and community arts, and on the artist-run centre, has been enormous and in many respects (as stated last night) not as widely recognized as it should or could be. His CV reads like a historical chronology of Canada’s artist-run culture, only his comes with less drama and more behind the scenes intrigue.

Robertson is, as Tanya Mars so clearly put it last night, “really smart.” He’s also pedagogically inclined. As an educator of fledgling artists and scholars at Queen’s University in Kingston since 1996, in this capacity he has guided his students to perform (often for the first time) autobiographical works in the annual event Art Happens, now in its eleventh year. Outside the university, his engagement in community art and artist spaces through the lens of cultural policy has infused a sense of efficacy of support for artist’s rights that conveys what he has referred to as a ‘caring-through-governance.’ Having worked with Robertson on and off since 2004, I can say his collaborative style is performatively present and sensibly resistant. Robertson doesn’t suffer fools unless he has to. If he must, he’ll do it gladly.

Last night, Robertson performed The Award. Outlined in the distinctive Fluxus list, his piece was at once both a disruption and a deeply humourous deflection:

1. A collegial introduction.
2. The highlights reel.
3. The presentation.
4. An acceptance speech.
5. A small surprise ending.

Tanya Mars (Canadian performance art legend in her own right) was thrust forward into the spotlight to introduce her longtime colleague. Mars cued the reel and we got a taste of some of the work Robertson has produced in the past, including the piece Taschibosen – The Bridge, a performance about cultural tourism stereotypes exchanged between Canada and Japan, presented at the Scorpio Performance Festival (Tajima, Japan) in 1991. Another highlight: Ganser Syndrome, a.k.a. the ‘Artists Oath’, with Alan Robertson, Frances Leeming, Johanna Householder, Luther Hansraj, and Ric Amis, recorded at A Space (Toronto, Canada) in 1987.

When the lights came back on Robertson took to the podium to accept “The Award”. Pulling from his breast pocket a wad of folded papers ostensibly alluding to a lengthy acceptance speech, instead, he deflected.

Clive Robertson with Penny Hamilton via Skype, The Award PHOTO Henry Chan

His estranged sister, the “much younger” Penny, would be accepting the award on his behalf. Skyped in and pre-recorded, Penny’s face appeared on screen—“Congrats bro.” Despite their age difference, she said, one thing they have in common is how they’re always trying to help people. She was honoured to accept this award on his behalf for performance art, even though she admitted she was not totally sure what that meant.

Moments later, after the applause and laughter subsided, the lights rose again on Robertson at the podium. There was one Act remaining, the surprise ending; another swerving to refract the glare back onto our faces. Strategically moving within the hot singularity of the spotlight, he called up his Éminences Grise co-honouree Berenicci Hershorn. He presented her with a duplicate award, a clear cut glass flame trophy identical to his own.

Clive Robertson, The Award PHOTO Henry Chan
Clive Robertson, The Award PHOTO Henry Chan

Robertson, a master of the rhetorical manoeuvres, had disrupted our engagement again by troubling the honour he received all the while he graciously accepted it. We cheered, and perhaps we did so on cue. Though sometimes you can’t intervene the intervention, you can certainly enjoy yourself. And we did.

Congrats Clive.

Materializing swiftly, disintegrating nearly: Entangling insides with out

Written By Jenn Snider

It’s day one, late afternoon at Artscape Youngplace. Gary Varro, we understand, is inside one of the festival performance spaces, and for a little while we linger. We’re waiting for the doors to open. When they do, still we wait. There’s no reason, it’s just that there is no gesture of invitation. There’s no sense of urgency to enter.

Gary Varro, Soft Peak PHOTO Henry Chan
Gary Varro, Soft Peak PHOTO Henry Chan

Once inside, there is a feeling of calm, and it’s a pleasant scene. Large crumpled paper forms in white and metallic gold are strewn about the floor, reminiscent of familiar shapes (dry leaves, a frustrated writer’s floor, dirty laundry, deflated aluminum balloons). The space is waiting, or resting, or simply speaking in tones we have yet to hear. There is no movement, no sound. But this is only for a moment, and only at first.

The large paper mass at the back begins to crinkle and shift
[crackle] [scratch] [crumple] [crunch]
Inching forward, it rolls and reveals that it is more than it seems.
The room shivers, and the scene comes alive.

Gary Varro, Soft Peak PHOTO Henry Chan
Gary Varro, Soft Peak PHOTO Henry Chan

Soft Peak is the title of Varro’s performance, and it is four hours in length. Varro is, of course, the paper form, or maybe it’s vice versa. Hidden inside layers that fluctuate, undulate, furl and reach, the artist as armature is obscured. For all intents and purposes, he’s not really here. Instead, and perhaps because of this, the large paper form suggests both distance and closeness. Giving us an endurance enactment of an entanglement—or an ontological inseparability—the form and its relationship to space recall, at times, humour, and in others, vulnerability. Sometimes both border on menace. Often, it’s a dance between private moments of recognition, and a public spectacle of confrontation. Observing Varro as agential form is disorienting.

With movements that sometimes suggest one of those wacky inflatable dancing characters on the used car lot, or kids crawling inside a blanket fort, such silliness slides to sadness with only a change of speed. Always accompanied by a sweet din of material scratching as soundscape, the paper pulls, reaches, lifts, and sweetly invites an awkward grace. Sometimes the paper consumes other forms as a snake would eat its prey.

Gary Varro, Soft Peak PHOTO Henry Chan
Gary Varro, Soft Peak PHOTO Henry Chan

Seamlessly slipping from the natural to the uncanny, the form’s inherent indistinction is neither a complete subject nor a whole object. Resonant with what theoretical physicist/feminist theorist Karen Barad calls intra-acting agencies, or the processes of becoming and differentiating in relation, the forms flow and intermingle unendingly; responding to being made and remade in an interdependent series of intuitive insights.

Like the occasional moments when we connect to the world outside ourselves, every so often the layers of Varro’s form give way and deep inside we see a hand, a wrist, or part of an arm. Contrasting that, there are moments of stillness in form that nevertheless reverberate with the crunching sounds invisible to our eyes, but coming from deep within.

This materializing inside is the person, a body, but as quickly as it is there, it is gone, and even our most spectacular efforts to will the next inch of flesh to be revealed or conveyed just can’t break it free. Instead, we accept that waiting just below the surface of this form (and any form) is a vast potential that we simply can’t directly access. As observers on the periphery we can’t reach from the outside in, and this is okay. Using our senses we can feel the entanglements and tensions within. We can intra-act, materialize our touchstones and still get lost in the social spaces we create. We can recognize ourselves in the mysterious, and like Varro’s Soft Peak, disintegrate nearly but not fully, and with each new shape, try again.

A welcoming moment and a brief missive

October 28 2014

Written By Jenn Snider

Welcome to the 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art Blog!

Echoing the introductions by the other half of this year’s blogging-duo,
I’m Jenn Snider, an arts worker/artist/student/curator/over-caffeinated researcher based in Toronto, Canada. Alongside the fabulous Alison Cooley, I’ll be reporting, archiving, following, and absorbing all the physical flows and embodied phenomena presented at the festival. Between the two of us, we’ll be crafting this blog as a textually performative and (hopefully) informative repository over the coming days.*

7a*11d is once again offering an incredible array of performances by stellar Canadian and International artists. I hope you’ll be there for much (if not all) of what’s in store.

On this, the eve of the launch of the festival’s 10th edition, I’m interested in reflecting (as one does on anniversaries) on how the events that take place in this festival’s context don’t end when the sun sets, or begin when the clock strikes.

Last night, many of this year’s artists and festival organizers gathered to share a meal. Amidst the introductions, clinking glasses, and bursts of laughter, some of the artists casually discussed their work, and many spoke of their process and its evolving, refining, and emergent manners and forms. These snippets of conversation got me thinking about ‘the festival’ itself as a process… how it exists and appears as an ever emerging slippery set of experiences made of time and space on bodies, singular and in groups, of gestures and senses, language and light, and more (and more, and more). I wondered today about what will happen at the festival tomorrow, and how thrilling it is that we really can’t know what we’ll see or feel. So, I reflected on that, and I’ll probably reflect on it again in the coming days.

But last night, I found myself thinking about a particular marking of a moment (pictured below), when Johanna Householder and Angelo Pedari performed the ringing of our dinner bell. I guess I felt that, for me, the festival began when the bells reached their highest height and together we watched them fall, and heard them ring.

Tomorrow, or the day after that, or the next, maybe you’ll feel that the festival begins for you when you decide to move in its direction and contribute to its festival-ness.

See you soon!

*Also, check out Alison’s performance art BINGO, and play along!

Angelo Pedari and Johanna Householder PHOTO Jenn Snider
Angelo Pedari and Johanna Householder PHOTO Jenn Snider

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