BULL, Hank

Donkey Tales, Burnaby Art Gallery 2017 PHOTO Courtesy of the artist

The Red Jewell, Another Thrilling Episode in the Timeless Saga, Donkey Tales, as Told in Shadow Play by Hank Bull, with Live Music by Bob Vespaziani and Arthur Bull
Tuesday October 2 9 pm

Introduced by Momo, god of ridicule, The Red Jewell follows Spinoza the Donkey and his companion Mad Dog on a quest for something they can’t quite put their finger on. Along the way they meet a cow, a captain of industry, a ghost and a tree. They cross a great ocean and venture into outer space before eventually arriving in Paris. Elements of the narrative are inspired by great donkey poets of the past, including Apuleius, Cervantes, Lolo, and Spinoza himself.

Hank Bull has been producing shadow plays since the 1970s. His performances have been seen across Canada, as well as in France, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Netherlands, Germany, India and Japan. He began by collaborating at Vancouver’s Western Front on a multimedia mix of film, human silhouettes, large puppets and live electronic music. He subsequently studied wayang kulit with the great dalang I Wayan Wija in Bali and researched traditional shadow theatre in India.


Hank Bull, The Red Jewell, Another Thrilling Episode in the Timeless Saga, Donkey Tales, as Told in Shadow Play by Hank Bull, with Live Music by Bob Vespaziani and Arthur Bull 7a*11d 2018 VIDEO Alan Peng and Jeff Zhao ©Hank Bull

Hank Bull, Reception of Electricity 7a*11d 2018 VIDEO Alan Peng and Jeff Zhao

Shadow Improvisation, Storm Bay 2018 PHOTO Courtesy of the artist


Performance, taking various forms, threads its way continuously through my life. I come from a family of musicians and preachers so, like all children, I took quite naturally to performance. But the life of the professional stage was not for me. I was more drawn to painting, sculpture and playing in bands. The late 1960s saw traditional disciplines crumble under the weight of the times, replaced by a free media mix. Paintings jumped off the wall and started running around in the street. The logic of high art came to a dead end. It was time to do “something else.”

The Western Front housed a blend of mail art, new media and collaboration that overflowed into cooking and gardening and everyday life. We invented histories, destroyed identities, built another world. Live radio performed this aesthetic in the space of politics. Then came experiments with telecommunications, network events, international exchange, travel, making new spaces for art.

The sayings of Robert Filliou can be useful guides. “The best work we can do as artists is to support the valid work of other artists,” and his most famous saying, “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.” I came to see life itself as a performance, one without any rehearsal, like the French understanding of the word performance, which has less to do with spectacle and more to do with effectiveness or efficiency, like the high performance of a racing car, or a cheese grater. Here is your chance. How well can you live your life?

When I found myself running a public gallery, Centre A, I thought of this project as an immersive, collaborative performance in which everyone—artist, viewer, funder, student, press and passerby, even the homeless people across the street—has a role to play in producing the work and constructing its meaning, a “social sculpture.”

Performance can fill a large space with little means. Radio as a time-based sculpture in space, for example. Global networks create another type of stage, with performers and audiences, readers and writers, artists and viewers all crossing the line, becoming each other. We live in a rapidly accelerating hothouse bio-culture, highly plastic, ready to transform itself or explode at any moment. The next revolution will be born of a spontaneous internal combustion of the human imagination.

Going backwards through time, we arrive at the radical meaning of performance as a manipulation of form; something that happens as per-form, through form, or as a kind of dance with form. Add mantic, and you conjure the ancient Greek soothsayer, the mantikos, predicting the future through divine madness.


— Hank Bull