In 2016, we invited Vancouver-based artist Margaret Dragu to create a daily livestream during the 11th 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art, which resulted in the production of VERB FRAU TV Season 5: 7a*11d. She loved it so much, she decided to return for our 2018 edition to interview a number of our visiting artists and colleagues for VERB FRAU TV Season 7. Season 7 is now available for viewing!
VERB FRAU TV = (streaming/screening) + (online/in-house) since 2011. VERB FRAU TV = proof anyone can be a TV station and/or a live streaming broadcast provider by using cheap $$$ low-fi & DIY technology. VERB FRAU TV = an invitation to perform and talk about making art. VERB FRAU TV = video art + reporting + performance + laughter + (often) yoga + cooking. VERB FRAU TV = rock’n’roll, + quick & dirty+ fly-by-seat-of-your-pants.
VERB FRAU TV: Season 7 = 15 artists reading texts that “drew them to the dark side”. VERB FRAU TV: Season 7= 15 artists reading texts that made them become artists… and sharing their stories about why.VERB FRAU TV: Season 7 = “finding the secret story of the artists” while they read their chosen stories. VERB FRAU TV: Season 7 = 3 Director’s Cut episodes from VERB FRAU TV: Season 6 LIVE! Biennale 2017 + 1 other Vancouver episode + 11 artists from 7a*11d Festival 2018.
VERB FRAU TV: Season 7
Andrew James Paterson — engages in playful questioning of language, philosophy, community and capitalism in a wide range of disciplines, including video, performance, film, music and writing. His recent publications are Collection Correction and Not Joy Division.
Arahmaiani – grapples with contemporary politics, violence, a critique of capital, the female body, identity politics and religion. Since 2010, she has been working with Tibetan monks in the Tibetan Plateau to address environmental issues.
Elvira Santamaría – makes interventions, exhibitions, process art, and durational performances that touch upon memory, change, transformation, entropy, catastrophe, violence, grief, regeneration that reflect upon her relationship to Mexico in the North American context.
Francisco-Fernando Granados – has a multidisciplinary
critical practice spanning performance, installation, drawing, digital media,
public art, community-based projects, writing, curating, teaching and cultural
Francesco Gagliardi – is a performance artist, writer, filmmaker, experimental music performer, teacher of drama/theatre/performance/philosophy and an absolutely fabulous cook.
Fiona Griffiths– is a teacher, choreographer, actor, clown, fitness professional, body worker and registered nurse. Her recent work was shown in On Display Global, an annual worldwide performance event to commemorate International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Golboo Amani – creates performance and social practice
work that expand sites of pedagogy to include the streets, backyards, homes and
public transit. Her work is critical of social systemic patterns offering
non-hierarchial pedagogical experiences that speak to collective agency.
Hank Bull– is one of the Eminences Grises of 7a*11d Festival 2018. Bull says, “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.”
Jinhan Ko– is an artist and writer. He is one of the founding members of artist collective Instant Coffee, a service-oriented group that helps to facilitate artists projects. Ko actively engages in a social practice that brings people together for performances, lectures, concerts, public art and other participatory activities.
KC Wei – explores the liminal space of music, video,
writing and curation to create “popular esoteric art that makes popular things
strange again”. KC explains, “There’s a political responsibility I feel in
making art. I want it to do some good in the world, be a space locally that can
feel new and out of the routine, that doesn’t need to become something other
Leena Raudvee– makes drawings, mixed media and visual exhibitions as well as performance often creating/facilitating space for other artists to make art with and around her, too. Raudvee deconstructs contemporary societal issues by exploring women’s bodies across speculative edges and in liminal spaces through research-as-process and doing-as-aktion.
Makiko Hara — Since the late 90s, Hara has curated
numerous exhibitions, art projects and festivals (in and totally outside of
museums and institutions) in Asia Pacific Rim. Her cultural aktions bridge the two continents through her conjuring of
opportunities for collaborative contemporary art practices.
Sandra Vida– is one of the Eminences Grises of 7a*11d Festival 2018. Vida describes her early performance and installation work as “claiming space and presence, literally placing myself within the frame… I search for alternatives; you might say my work is about alternatives. Working in artist-run culture (at the local, regional, and national level for many of my art-making years) sprang from the same impulse.”
Shaun Dacey – is currently the Director of The Richmond
Art Gallery. He has curated and produced exhibitions, educational initiatives,
off-site projects and residencies, as well as public and youth programming, for
many public and parallel galleries.
VERB FRAU apologizes to viewers & artists for a few sound boo-boos… but… VERB FRAU is studying with the wonderful artist Brady Marks… so … Season 8 [coming soon from Berlin/Copenhagen] will sound much better !!!
As a writer commissioned to report on this year’s 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art, this was the first time I had attended the entire festival. My focus as a curator and the circles that I navigate are mainly rooted in the visual arts, and my experience of the works is informed by my education and positionality as a cis straight Black woman, able bodied, Francophone, and a settler on this land. My curatorial practice focuses on the manifestation of healing spaces in the arts, as well as the ways in which art can galvanize communities to co-create pockets of collective care. Thus, my observations for this 12th edition of 7a *11d are deeply influenced by these framings/positionings. The word tender becomes the primary lens through which I deconstruct each performance—tender as a vessel for self-love and communal care, as a soft wound, as an offer. I consider this word as a grounding element to decipher the curated series of movements and stories.
This text is structured as a progression from narratives depicting various forms of intimate interventions to broader collective experiences. Over the writing process, this essay has taken the form of a compilation of short performance reviews, allowing space for each work to be remembered or re-acquainted with—ephemeral, a performance lives through the stories we share. Therefore, tender as a connector is a loose vessel for this observational account. The nuances of the word can be found in the ways in which I highlight certain gestures or details in the artist’s process. Artistic choices that connected the pieces together, such as the inclusion of rituals or ritualistic behaviour, were very present throughout the festival. Energy cleansing, religious or cultural re-enactments, repetition of movements, and the making of symbolic shrines developed into interpersonal and social transformative platforms. In addition, there was a palpable urgency to address the intrinsic failures of current dominant socio-political structures as well as to challenge naturalized belief systems. Lastly, I noticed a common desire from the presenting artists to design performances that are immersive via the use of space and emotional responsiveness. Actions such as tending, gifting, attending, caring, acknowledging, healing, mending, manifesting, labouring, and exchanging were often inherent to the narratives that were presented. These gestures give meaning to the various uses of the term tender, supporting it linguistically and visually. They also represent embodied spatial encounters and negotiations, in both the private and public spheres.
I want to warmly thank the artists for their generosity, for their time and for sharing their process and thoughts.
Mathieu Lacroix : Ci-après appelé « l’artiste »:
Ci-après appelé “l’artiste”: investigates the modality and the language intrinsic to the artist contract. Understood and normalized as an insurance of a fair exchange between the artist and an institution, this document weighs on one’s understanding of labour. Seated at a wooden table, Mathieu Lacroix opens a courier box in which a small stack of paper is concealed. He then proceeds to sign each sheet at the formal line: Ci-après appelé “l’artiste”:, standing as a symbolic stamp of professional status. Lacroix signs fifteen stand-in contracts, equaling the number of years practicing as a professional artist. But what makes an artist “professional”? How is one’s physical labour, discipline, creativity, and endurance legitimized and quantified in the art world context? How is one’s effort and the sacrifice highlighted, appreciated? This performance offers a platform to meditate on performance as medium and its transactional point of convergence. The work also demonstrates a desire to express the multidisciplinarity that is fundamental in conceptualizing a series of movements; in this case the artist is interested in drawing as a performative act (in a similar fashion to François Morelli, another of the festival artists) and the notion of limits in body art. After signing the contracts and placing them in a neat stack, Lacroix scrawls on a blank piece of paper, shifting the pace and rhythm of the piece with small, agitated gestures. The artist pauses to examine the newly produced artwork, seemingly dwelling on its properties. A second shift in intensity arises when the artist starts to crumple the last drawing into a ball of paper. With a crisply closed fist, he goes on to drag it on the ground while pushing his body, still seated, away from the table. With a progressively built tension and suspense, Lacroix moves across the room, between two rows of attentive observers. The narrowly focused lights highlight his tense body language. Arriving at the edge of a wall, he stands up, looking straight ahead, and takes a sharp pencil out of his pocket. He begins to softly poke the veins of his left forearm. The veins are contracted, and I am worried about what is to come. The artist is consciously toying with the public’s expectations and the idea of body art and the use of controlled self-inflicted injuries common to the genre. Most of the time, the injuries are employed as an effective and affective strategy to bring attention to specific issues. In this context, it is to bring the gesture to attention, and to question what are his limits as an artist. How far one should go to instill a long lasting impression, to offer a memorable performance? Lacroix doesn’t puncture his forearm, but instead pencils down his vein lines, taking the action of drawing to a visceral plane. After the performance, still stunned by the emotional build-up created by Lacroix, I introduce myself, look at his scratched knuckles and ask: how is your hand?
Erika DeFreitas: nothing ever so straight
nothing ever so straight is an object-based exploration by performance artist Erika DeFreitas that questions what possibilities lie in one’s relationship to writing as a rhythm, as a space, as the materialization and manifestation of things. What does it mean to name things? How is one relating to objects, and what are the dimensions that they take once valued, named, owned, or on a table in plain sight? Where does one situate themselves between the lines, in the silence between a period and the beginning of the next sentence? Seated in the middle of a dimmed room, surrounded by personal objects, on the floor, on stools, in a vitrine, and on the wooden table where she sits, DeFreitas delivers an adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s play, Objects Lie on a Table. Each featured object is in resonance with the play and the artist’s everyday life. Feeling a strong creative acuteness since her first reading of the text in 2015, she has been in communication with and channeling Stein’s energy. According to the artist, a past psychic séance with the modernist author enabled her to tap into a very peculiar creative flow. The artist’s revisions and performance could be interpreted as a footnote to the original text, expanding on what was overlooked by the author. For example the reference to the nuns, “Nuns ask for them for recreation. First a nun. Have you meant to have fun and funny things. Do you like to see funny things for fun.” The nuns, the characters opening the play, are mentioned once and then discarded. Therefore to foreground their presence, DeFreitas revisits the aforementioned citation and punctuates her reading with the rhetorical question: isn’t funny? Her creative undertaking reveals a deep understanding and a dedicated study of the work, a special care to Stein’s creation. In her labour of noting the gaps and omissions, DeFreitas allows for characters and objects that were overlooked to re-emerge. Attending to them linguistically and materially automatically reframes Stein’s established relationships and order of things, giving life to more than “what is there to see”. She invites the audience to carefully listen to the commas, the periods, the repetitions, to consider when capitalizing matters. “Let us capitalize black. black capitalized becomes Black becoming Black. Let us revisit.
Remember me. negro becomes Negro. Objects become when becoming subjects. Let us capitalize.”
Reading through her footnotes, at a rhythm that follows the pace of her heartbeat, DeFreitas proceeds to an exercise of naming and highlighting the oddity in the familiar and the familiar in the strange, confusing all sorts of ingrained knowledge or categorizations that are taken for granted. Each page she reads has only one sentence inscribed. Speaking softly, caressing the paper slowly, the artist weighs the meaning and the emotions that one sentence carries, versus one paragraph.
Thirza Jean Cuthand: Love Is the Only Socially Acceptable Psychosis
I read Thirza Cuthand’s work Love Is the Only Socially Acceptable Psychosis as an embodiment of the vulnerable process of tending, mending and holding one’s self. The piece starts with Cuthand sitting and undressing herself as an audio recording plays. The artist’s voice fills the room as memories flow, revealing deep-seated relational anxieties as well as moments of joy and release. The artist’s story begins in the late 1990s and runs to the present, in 2018. While sitting nude on a chair, facing the audience, she drips hot red candle wax on her breast and upper thighs. The melted wax sets, and is then gently scraped off with a hunting knife. These gestures are ambiguous, but give a sense of a controlled ritual that grants emotional exploration, of meditation. The ambiguity also resides in the association of pain and pleasure, which according to the artist was a nod to past investigation of sensuality and pain as a youth. After a few times of dripping and scraping off wax, the artist tends to the superficial burns with an ointment of oil and turmeric. These movements are repeated in a cyclical manner, echoing the various emotional states recounted in the anecdotes, ranging across ache, excitement, depression, passion, longing, and acceptance. Cuthand explained that a long time ago, when going through manic psychosis episodes, rituals such as the one presented on stage were very helpful in deciphering what was going on. In this performance, she recreates one of those rituals to link the experience of love with the actions of madness. The video projections showcased behind her also play an important role in communicating the described sentiments. The flat landscape of the Canadian prairies speaks to her first love in Saskatoon and this turning point in self-discovery when she connected with the queer community of the region. The rural scenery is followed by images of fireworks, which could be interpreted as the signifiers of sexual/romantic passions and relational entanglements during early adulthood. And finally the last image is a view of the earth from outer space, mediated by space station cameras, representing the possibility of multiple beings simultaneously experiencing similar emotions. This last image invites self-reflection, and its timing coincides with the artist getting dressed again. It is a very honest performance that highlights themes linked to queer love, desires and fantasies, and how they co-exist with mood disorders. The interlacing of a recorded journal and live performance complemented with projections provides a multidimensional viewing experience. While the progression of the audio component is linear, I would argue that the performative elements and the projected images ask the audience to re-evaluate the concept of time and space. In Cuthand’s meditation on love, moments overlap; they gravitate around each other.
James Knott presents… “The Apocalypse in Your Bedroom” Tour
Similarly to Thirza Cuthand, the artist James Knott puts on view their inner dialogues, carrying the audience through a series of emotional states, offering a multidimensional reading of time, with every component inhabiting its own spatial frame. Both performers leave their performance open-ended on a hopeful note, at a crossroad. James Knott presents… “The Apocalypse in Your Bedroom” Tour is an immersive performance that recalls in its aesthetic the 1970s pastiche and the flamboyance of glam rock. Its narrative structure emulates the pace of a musical or a video album. Recounting a tale of self-acceptance and resilience, Knott suggests that each song encapsulates a moment, stringing the whole piece together. Combining video projections, live singing, choreography, popular culture references, animation, and props, the artist produces a moving theatrical assemblage. The idea of the performance stems from the circumstances under which Knott was creating: “The Apocalypse in Your Bedroom” was conceptualized for their thesis exhibition when graduating from OCAD University in 2017. The anxiety to perform in an exclusionary system supporting exceptionalism through “artistic excellence” or “artistic genius” became the basis upon which the artist carefully built around the idea of failure, more specifically, the “queer art of failure”. What if there is a way of reassessing success? This inspirational proposition by Jack Halberstam centres failure as an act of refusal against current hegemonies and inequitable socio-economic systems. Halberstam suggests that success is a heteronormative capitalist venture qualified by social norms, standards of productivity, reproduction, and material wealth, in which one’s gain depends on the failure of another individual. His theory focuses then on the idea of failing often, and failing better as a counter-hegemonic option offering insights on navigating the world laterally, rather than striving for bottom-up pedagogy. Knott, who identifies as queer, uses performance as a platform to formulate alternative ways of being, moving laterally to exorcise binary formulations and social entrapments that do not cater to them. The psychological evolution put forward in Knott’s writing also discloses the trappings of cultural disarticulation in queer identities, shedding light on the emotional labour that comes with ever-translating one’s reality. This state of uneasiness is further noticeable in the laborious use of the props: the white wooden boxes that need to be rearranged every few minutes in order to fit the projections, and compose the right atmosphere. Presenting themselves as going against the grain, they find hope in patiently practicing self-love, even if it means to fail and start again. Furthermore, they suggest that the “re-stitching” of the self does not have to be an isolating exercise, as it can be accomplished with a loving support network.
Cindy Mochizuki: Tenohira
Tenohira is an intimate 8-minute performance in which a very special bond between the performer and the participant is cultivated. The performer’s practice is anchored in facilitating community building through storytelling. In many of her past multimedia works and performances, she has featured folkloric stories that were passed down from her ancestors. Her aesthetic choices are self aware of the ethical responsibility around how material and stories are shared. In this particular instance, the experience facilitated by Cindy Mochizuki and her stage assistants—whose responsibility is based on the role of kuroko (stagehands) in Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku puppetry performances—feels like an altruistic act of care. Tenohira means palm in Japanese, and the first gesture of this performance is a palm reading. Sitting across Mochizuki, the participant gives their left hand for a reading; and from there as a receiver of fortune, you are invited to welcome the spirits who work with Mochizuki to guide you. Invisible forces such as a symbolic incarnation of her grandmother, a water spirit based on Sujin, the god of water and the moon goddess (who is partially Yuki Onna and Tsukiyomi), support participants through their inner journey. From one ritual to another, I have the chance to think through my emotional needs, wishes and desires. The artist’s offerings are not only material, but also spiritual. It is an opportunity for intentional mindfulness, letting go of certain energies, and being fully present. Mochizuki extends her gift of prophecy as a conduit for communal care; she has confided that she wants this performance to be about gifting, as well as exploring the potentiality of the performative space as a platform for care. Her intentions are to take each person into her care, aiming to co-create a space of reciprocity and meaning-making via storytelling. Furthermore in the spirit of gift giving, Japanese sweets are offered, such as Wagashi (a type of confectionery made from lima beans and sugar) and tsukimi dangos, which are little rice flour balls served during the celebration of the Harvest Moon. I remember leaving the room alleviated, in that I had been tended to spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Moreover, I had the urge to return kind gestures, to fill the rest of my day with kindness. I believe that this is what communal care does, setting a motion that drives any recipients of care to give back.
Ayumi Goto and Peter Morin: Roaming
Facing each other, Ayumi Goto and Peter Morin were carefully fixing the gold leaves patched onto their arms. Though it wasn’t part of the performance, to me, witnessing this short moment of gentle thoughtfulness between close friends and collaborators set the tone for the rest of the piece. The performer’s engagement with the room and the audience was very spiritual and ritualistic in nature; it opened with an energy clearing of the space, a welcoming of new frequencies, an acknowledgment of the First Peoples of Turtle Island, and making space for ancestral presences. The premise of the work was a reflection on the spaces that our bodies occupy and what it means to intentionally situate one’s self, especially when travelling or moving elsewhere. Since both artists have recently relocated to T’karonto, there was an urgency to address those themes. T’karonto is a transient place for so many individuals, myself included. One of the questions that stayed with me from their conversation was formulated by Morin, and it goes along these lines: Ayumi, what is the best land acknowledgement that you have heard? While reading the Treaty No.13, the purchase of T’karonto between the Crown and the Mississaugas, and exchanging thoughts about their personal relationships to this land and the ones on which they first set roots (respectively Treaty 7 land and Tahltan Territory), the performers were preparing an offering. Seated across from each other, separated by a symbolic river (a plexiglass tank filled with water and positioned in the middle of the room), the artists underlined the central part of water in understanding and navigating one’s environment, and “the power of the water from the lake and the rivers in mapping the land, to create paths that transgress and live beyond human border-making”. Water embodies an important relational vessel that can’t be dissociated from land-based relations, and a receptacle for Indigenous knowledge. According to Morin “the container also speaks to how water remembers”. The viscerality of the performance was beyond the words exchanged by the artists, as each of the audience members was called to action through an embodied contract made out of some sort of artificial marzipan sheet. When asked about the idea of a bodily, ingested accord between the audience and the performers, Goto commented: “we wanted people to think about the insistence on a particular legal understanding of the treaty making process and to admit where it was wrong or failed Indigenous folks in the process of initial and subsequent signings. (…) otherwise, there is the more esoteric and visceral reading of swallowing the words and actions of others (Peter and my dialogue about land acknowledgments)”.  As words are dubious in written history of this land, the marzipan stamped with either a red salmon or a black crow presented an alternative—within their physicality these objects provided an alternative pledge, one that refuses the treaty languages. The crow and the salmon standing as symbols of engagement, both hold a myriad of references that speak to Goto and Morin; the salmon as a gifting entity, one that gives without asking anything in return, the crow as Morin’s clan crest as a member of the Tahltan nation, offering this crest to the audience, eating crow as a first step to humility. By eating crow and eating salmon the audience was gifted with new bases to start their building of territorial acknowledgement, and to be aware of the work needed to progress towards a decolonial future.
We all ate together because we are all in it together.
Barak Adé Soleil: a series of movements [Toronto]
Barak adé Soleil’s a series of movements [Toronto] is a work deeply rooted in love, one that attends, protects, acknowledges and most importantly amplifies more than one voice. The acknowledgement introducing the performance highlighted the urgency in recognizing the multiple ways in which bodies are connected to one another, and the importance of carving space for plural ways of being. To further emphasize his plea, adé Soleil requested that the members of the audience enter the theater in an order and pathway that was predicated on social access and mobility—pressing on socially constructed hierarchies and one’s attentiveness to able-bodied privileges. Adé Soleil’s movements examined various forms of actions from crawling, rolling, leaning, to using mobility devices, and ultimately standing. The artist’s connection with the public was meant to be multilayered; at times it was gentle and other times more confrontational, all while investigating the weight of different stages of verticality. Even while underscoring his bodily rapport with architecture and the public space, he also highlighted how one’s humanity and desirability can be easily dismissed through numerous societal intersections, one being disability. Adé Soleil also intentionally brought to the surface the violence of ongoing archival and cultural erasure. a series of movements[Toronto] is based on the seminal work of well-known Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker: Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich (1982). The footage in Reich’s notorious piece Come Out (1966), featured in De Keersmaeker’s choreography, originates from a too familiar story of extreme physical abuse and systematic anti-Blackness. Indeed the words “come out” were decontextualized from the infamous sentence by Daniel Hamm from the Harlem Six: “I had to, like, open up the bruise and let the blood come out to show them”. This gut wrenching sentence was a testament to the police brutality endured by Hamm and other Black males while being unjustly incarcerated—he being one of the eldest, nineteen years young. He had to take this intense measure, opening up a bruise, to reclaim his humanity and get medically treated for his injuries. Reich had access to this testimony in a facilitated exchange with the civil rights activist, writer, and curator Truman Nelson. By removing the context and applying auditory distortions to the words “come out”, the history was lost, and capitalized on by individuals who would further Daniel Hamm’s erasure from the collective consciousness—individuals such as De Keersmaeker. The appropriation by adé Soleil of movements from Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich and of techniques applied in the work Come Out was an attempt to take back what has been lost—a voice, a place in the collective imagination, legitimacy—while bridging the past and the present. More than fifty years later such narrative is still an intrinsic part of collective fear, loss and anger. Moreover, adé Soleil contracted an ASL interpreter to translate while he was reciting his revised version of the looping piece Come Out. He explained that sign language is a choreography in itself that has the power to amply what is linguistically difficult to communicate, and in this case it added a visual language to Black male experiences, in order to tap into embodied memory.
Sandra Vida: Vigil: Field of Crones with Lillian Allen, Anne-Marie Bénéteau, Cat Cayuga
Vigil: Field of Crones opens with Sandra Vida mapping onto the theatre floor the four cardinal directions with the aid of a compass. She then proceeds to sweep away conflicting energies with a besom, before casting a protective salt circle. A projection of a waterfall appears to further assist the artist in preparing a sacred and meditative space. A stool is placed at each cardinal point, and a cauldron is positioned in the middle of the circle. Vida disappears for a short moment and re-enters the room with three other women—Lillian Allen, Anne-Marie Bénéteau, and Cat Cayuga—in a ceremonial line. Dressed in grey and silver, they seem to belong to the same coven, “the Sisterhood of the Crones”. Once they all sit at their respective cardinal direction, Vida presents her partners, informing the audience about the bond they share. These four women, the crones, supported each other twenty-five years ago during the fight for the implementation of racial and cultural equity practices within Canada’s artist-run centre network. In 1993, the mother of Canadian artist-run organizations, ANNPAC/RACA—Association of National Non-Profit Artists Centres (ANNPAC) /Regroupement d’artistes des centres alternatifs (RACA)—unravelled due to a failure to fully commit to anti-racist initiatives and better practices to support racialized artists proposed by Minquon Panchayat. Each of them, Vida, Allen, Bénéteau, and Cayuga, occupied different positions at that time, but they crossed paths during their activism in restructuring and reshaping the artist-run cultural landscape. A piece of dry ice is placed in the cauldron creating a beautiful fog effect, heightening the mysticism of the performance. The archetype of the crone is important as a catalyst to reclaim the place of age-accumulated knowledge within the framework of institutional memory. Vida cleverly plays with tropes embedded in the distorted definition of the witch/crone by generating a mystic production, while inviting the audience to meditate on the legacy and ongoing invisibility of women’s labour in the arts. As institutional memory tends to easily forget and the intergenerational gaps deepen, it is crucial to recognize and name the people who have been and are still working against systemic barriers, ensuring a brighter creative future for all. More importantly, it is vital to enounce that past claims are very similar to present frustrations. The status of the crone is one to be reclaimed and appreciated. They have paved the way for emerging practitioners like me, passing the baton so that we can build on their legacy, and push for sustainable changes.
Standing outside on a chilly Sunday afternoon, the members of (F)NOR—For No Other Reason—Donna Akrey, Andrea Carvalho, Margaret Flood, and Svava Thordis Juliusson, assumed the positions of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as per Picasso’s seminal work. Painted in 1907 and exhibited for the first time in 1916, this painting has been analyzed again and again by art critics and scholars. In popular culture, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon signifies a ground-breaking approach to feminine forms and innovative techniques. Post-colonial and feminist readings that are critical of “primitivism”, cubism, and the role of the female subject are fairly new. This piece by (F)NOR articulated questions that I have kept to myself in art history classes, which resurfaced while watching this tableau vivant. Exhausted exposes the physical labour inherent in producing preliminary sketches on which a masterpiece is created. Apart from the speculation about their social status, the history of modeling as a profession as well as the relationship between artists and sex workers, I have not yet encountered the details about the ways Picasso contracted the sitters, their working conditions, and relationships among them. What were their names? How were they approached to perform in this way? Did they model for other painters? What was their compensation for their labour? How many sittings did they have to go through until Picasso was satisfied? For how many hours did they maintain their poses? Sustaining the same detached and cold stare as in the painting, the performers didn’t return the viewers’ gaze. Wearing colourful costumes with prosthetics to suggest the desired cubic forms, they appeared bound by their apparel, making the exercise harder. Moreover, their attire with contrasting colours made them simultaneously hyper visible and invisible. Their presence intrigued the passers-by, however their inactivity rendered them quickly unexciting, and thus their labour was easily dismissible—like the sitters featured in the Demoiselles d’Avignon. Assuming their respective poses, with time they grew more and more tired, they had to stretch and release muscular tensions, support each other to stand, rest their arms, legs, and necks to the point that they were no longer respecting their positions, but listening to their bodies. I stayed about 40 minutes straight watching them, standing. Each minute seemed like an eternity, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the stamina needed to perform for four hours, staring into emptiness. I wanted to stay as long as I could as an acknowledgment of the physical and emotional toil involved in this durational performance, and the erasure of the original sitters’ work.
Species. The term species is loaded, especially because of its interconnectedness with capitalist and present social orders. Spray painted in orange on a potted tree and later on the back of her black t- shirt, Louise Liliefeldt uses the word to tackle the tension between feelings of superiority and guilt, more specifically when thinking about the established relationship between humans and non-humans post Western Enlightenment. Although a great deal of the artist’s critique is focused on the Victorian values of humans versus nature, it also points a finger at how one’s humanity can easily be stripped for capital gain, and so one of the questions that Liliefeldt asks with this performance is: what do we do to what we think is lesser than us? The choreographed movements highlight this thought, more precisely with the focal point being the excessive pruning of a tree. A tree that has been created for the purpose of a controlled environment, manicured for an indoor space. The artist goes up and down a tall ladder, initially only cutting off dry leaves. Then she moves to the ones that are simply imperfect. At the end, it is as if it has become an ingrained behavior, an impulse that she can’t stop; even the good ones are discarded. To add to the uneasiness of this piece, she also utilizes stasis midway into an action, forcing the audience to pay attention, to be fully present, to witness each movement. Furthermore, a visually strong Christian symbol of discipline, guilt and penitence is added to reinforce the idea of redemption after the fact. In a darker corner of the room, an orange light glows; it is the same colour as the painted word “species” on her back and on the pot of the plant. Kneeling down, she flogs herself with a whip with leather fringes. Each time the artist passes another pruning stage, a sort of point of no return, she flogs herself out of guilt. The self-inflicted violence echoes the one permitted on the tree. Tiredness and ache are immanent in the piece, as the muscles are memorizing a demanding movement sequence, pinning down the tremendous length that goes into maintaining and sustaining a distanced rapport with nature. Who is physically maintaining this order with sweat and blood and who is it benefitting? Whose bodies are compromised when thinking about imminent climate change? At the other end of the visual spectrum, an ostrich egg, that was hung on the tree and later carried on her back, is finally entrusted to the care of the audience. We pass around the egg carefully, attentive to the desire to extend a tender gesture that was nonexistent in the space.
Arahmaiani: Handle Without Care
Buddhist chants from the Gelugpa sect (also known as the Yellow Hats) fill the theater with a reverent atmosphere. A powdery white circle has been traced in the middle of the room; a Coca-Cola bottle with a condom on its end is standing in the middle. Arahmaiani appears wearing a recognizable traditional Balinese gown, complemented by an intricate golden headpiece and a long meshed veil. Moving at a slow pace, she walks on the outer edge of the white circle while holding a few lighted incense sticks. In the background, images of individuals living in poor conditions in the slums of Jakarta are projected in a loop. The soundtrack transitions from solely mantras to a hybrid audio mix incorporating the musical piece Miserere mei, Deus, composed by Allegri, and the Islamic chant Al-Waqi’ah, from Al-Qur’an. By interweaving these diverse expressions of faith, she illustrates the close proximity and the complexity of cultural cohabitation in Indonesia, and how it extends in her life (as a Muslim Javanese, who embraces Buddhist principles and collaborates with Jesuit priests in Indonesia and Germany). One could also perceive the chosen soundscape as an indicator of the present electoral landscape, wherein religion plays a pervasive role in the presidential campaigns. The tensions arising from this political climate put at risk the well-being of many groups of individuals, notably the Chinese Catholic minority, women, and LGBTQ2S+ community. In a choreographed sequence drawing from traditional Balinese dance movements, the artist removes her veil and morphs into a defender/warrior who fights against invisible and yet omnipresent threats. The condom on the bottle is a metaphor conveying an attempt to contain the casualties of neo-colonial practices via global capitalist ventures, such as the massive deforestation and extraction practices for the export of goods (such as palm oil in Indonesia), the hegemony of popular Western culture and the tourism industry. Armed with a long blade called a keris or kris in Javanese and Balinese culture, she moves in circular motions. Then, from the shadows small army toy tanks appear, firing at her and the audience. With a decorative toy gun and a light sabre, the artist is now waging war against a visible enemy. Here, religiosity and mundane materialism are entwined as an inevitable social relation fuelling culture wars. Via this multi-media work, the performer invites the spectators to be attentive to the ones who are caught in between these systems and handled without care.
Handle Without Care was presented for the first time in Bangkok in 1997. Through this work Arahmaiani has amplified the voices of vulnerable communities with whom she has been living and working. Interestingly enough, the artist mentioned that since last year this piece has been in demand again, responding more than ever to the global socio-political climate. The artist has lived in the slums and villages of Jakarta and Yogyakarta, where she became an active and engaged community member. For the past decades, Arahmaiani has focused her energy on denouncing class, religious, and gender-based injustices as well as the cultural consequences of colonization, and subsequently the tourism industry in Indonesia. More recently, she has expended her socially engaged practice in the Tibet plateau, collaborating with monks and villagers emphasizing environmental sustainability.
Gustaf Broms: the unknown history of a forgetful amnesiac
The unknown history of a forgetful amnesiac investigates the ongoing legacy of the Cartesian mind-body dualism which informs the intellectualization and classification of the self as well as the limitations residing in the concept of being—existing as an entity that is fluid, belonging to earth’s biodiversity and universal energies. Broms suggests in his piece that the compartmentalization regulating Western thoughts and knowledge-making has induced a collective amnesia, one that perpetually forgets that nature is not a separated entity to exploit, tame, or romanticize. On stage the artist’s examination of his personal, and by extension our collective amnesia, begins in the enlightenment era. The room is silent and dark; Broms walks in with a silver metallic suitcase. He opens the suitcase and carefully lays out a piece of cloth, an assortment of glass bowls, flasks, beakers and a candle. Some of the vessels contain natural elements such as water and soil. The metallic suitcase is now suspended on a fishing line, swirling in the air. Projections featuring a night sky (filmed from the artist’s home) followed by a compilation of astrological and astronomical images of late 18th century encyclopaedias are reflected onto it and on the back wall. This setting immerses the spectator in an atmosphere recalling the private scientific demonstrations held during this period. A vessel with oil is lit on fire, and the fire is extinguished with water. His interaction with the organic components is contemplative, and literally playing with the tropes of dualism. The artist comments, “I look at the use of the elements fire, water, earth and air, as a way to have the work anchored in the organic/biological, as a starting point, before the intellect creates its abstractions, the symbolic existence of mind. The projection slowly changes to black and white images of the artist’s hand gesticulating, with a selection of imagery from dictionaries printed in the 1950s collaged onto them. To further his exploration, he rubs his face and hair into the mixture as if to make one with the organic material. An audio record sounding like a primal call to the self is playing. It appears as if his subconscious is piercing through the conscious, attempting to communicate forgotten knowledge. He responds to the call with a microphone, echoing the original source and creating another layer of sound. Broms pushes one step further into finding his way out of forgetfulness by refusing the language that has been an impediment to the re-imagination of the self; I AM MAN, I AM NAME, I AM NATION, I AM COUNTRY, I AM BODY, I AM BEING, I AM, I. After this segment, he moves to the opposite end of the room and dresses in a costume made out of natural matter such as dried plants. As he dances to exorcise the recollection of his limitations, and ceremonially invoke transcendence, he is momentarily transported to another plane, one that is distant from the spectators—perhaps there, he remembers his essence…
François Morelli, Mari usque ad Mare/ D’un trou d’eau à l’autre/ Piss and Vinegar
Mari usque ad Mare/ D’un trou d’eau à l’autre/ Piss and Vinegar was a Toronto adaptation of the performance Tidal Walk/Marche Fluviale presented at the VIVA! Art Action festival in Montreal. The work was conceptualized for the city’s 375th anniversary. For the first presentation of the work, Morelli chose six fountains that are markers of Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal’s ongoing colonial histories and genocide of its rightful custodians: Maisonneuve Monument, Vauquelin Square, Place Jean-Paul Riopelle, Victoria Square, Cabot Square, and Place Marguerite-Bourgeoys. In Toronto, Morelli played with similar themes and props. Eight fountains were selected with the aid of the 7a*11d team, tracing a path from east to west, echoing the Canadian motto Mari usque ad Mare, translating as From Sea to Sea. The use of the national motto questions our ocean areas of jurisdiction in ensuring national security, sovereignty and defence. Bordered by three oceans, Canada’s economy, environment and social fabric are inextricably linked to its coastline. Mari usque ad Mare was spelled in front of Toronto’s City Hall with sandals that he collected on a beach in Alibag, a city close to Mumbai, India. Altered by the sea water, hinting at their long journey, they exemplify a transcontinental interconnectedness, the ocean as a ruling global transportation system. The plural symbolism regarding water as a placeholder connecting global socio- economic histories become also a central figure of colonial encounters. Furthermore, the sequence “d’un trou d’eau à l’autre” is a subtle French wordplay referencing the Trudeaus father and son, and perhaps also today’s concern with the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA).
Starting at dawn on a rainy day at St. James Park, Morelli subsequently spent about twenty to forty minutes at each chosen site: The Dog Fountain, Commerce Court, Nathan Phillips Square, South African War Memorial, Glenn Gould Place: The Eternal Flame of Hope, Massey Harris Park, to finally arrive at Lisgar Park, across from the Theatre Center, at sunset. Each fountain/site was explored differently; the artist would survey the space horizontally and vertically, and sometimes wear a mask made out of a small beige leather backpack, rendering him beast-like. In his reflection, the separation of human and animal is also reconsidered and blurred, making room for interspecies connectivity. Morelli is interested in the ways in which one occupies space in connection with the histories embedded in the landscape and the surrounding ecosystems. During his travel from one site to another, the mask—resting on a crutch and pushed on a small cart—became an accomplice, a companion, a being to care for. As a final act, Morelli wore the leather mask and attached the crutch, which was extended with a paintbrush, around his neck. This elongated paint brush was dipped in piss collected throughout the day mixed with vinegar and bottled water from the oldest water source in Banff. This peculiar liquid worked as a medium to draw onto the ground in the dog park, interconnecting the elevated act of drawing with animal territorial markings.
Dariusz Fodczuk: publicly yet privately
publicly yet privately was an interactive and participatory art experience presented in three acts. Between each mise-en-scène, artist and 7a*11d collective member Tanya Mars would read instructions to the audience. Although we were informed about the expectations in terms of how to move in the space, it was never clear what was awaiting us once there. Each time, it was a surprising event, sometimes dependent on the audience’s interactions. The work was facilitated in a way that conveyed an orderly chaos, one that implied an active interconnectedness between all of the individuals sharing that moment at that time. The first tableau was constituted of five or six wooden tables on top of which objects such as bottles of wine, glasses, buckets, dishes, pots and pans, and other familiar household items had been piled. I believe that the arrangements were intentionally fashioned to look simultaneously precarious and imposing. Black ropes were attached to one leg of each table, and laid on the floor in a straight line. The idea was that members of the audience would pick up the ropes and pull on each of the tables. Thus, a number of participants came forward, each holding a cord and pulling the tables at the same time, but at a different pace depending on their constitution. With all of the items falling and shattering on the ground, it was an exciting event, and to be honest, it was very satisfying to witness an inconsequential destruction of goods. After this first piece, we were asked to wait in the hall for the second part. After this striking piece, one could only wonder what might await us in this round. Hidden behind the tables that served in the last performance, Fodczuk was aiming at the theatre’s walls, with a paintball gun loaded with white paint contrasting the black coloured “canvas”. Standing in the middle of the chaos from the first act, the crowd was left to make what they would of what was unfolding before their eyes. At first the intentions were not clear; it appeared as though the artist was aimlessly shooting the wall, when in fact the word LOVE was being spelled out, like a small relief in a disaster zone. The third act functioned as an emphasis to the previous tableaux, one that could only be accomplished with the viewers’ participation. The role of the audience members was ever active, fluctuating between performer, witness, and art medium. Directed to lie on the ground along with the sparse traces of the previous acts, we were invited to touch our neighbour on our left, either on their arm or feet. This orchestrated intimacy generated an awkward but amicable connection among a group of strangers. Fodczuk walked around with his phone camera on, the image projected on a wall, reflecting back this assembly of bodies as they gradually become one with the work itself.
Hank Bull: The Red Jewell, Another Thrilling Episode in the Timeless Saga, Donkey Tales, as Told in Shadow Play by Hank Bull
Introduced by the charismatic Momo, The Red Jewell, Another Thrilling Episode in the Timeless Saga, Donkey Tales was a shadow play presented by Hank Bull in collaboration with Arthur Bull, Bob Vespaziani, and Rhiannon Collett. Bull has been exploring Shadow Theater as a performative medium since the 1970s. At first it was purely practical, mainly used to render visuals for sound projects made in collaboration with Patrick Ready. Their exploration expanded to multimedia performances inspired by late 19th century Western shadow play. To broaden his knowledge and techniques he (and traveling companion Kate Craig) attended performances in India, Thailand, and studied in Bali under dalang (puppet master) I Wayan Wija.
The Red Jewell was a sort of delirious philosophy class, brushing on themes such as desire, free will, self-actualization, and the cogs of modern society. The viewers were encouraged to walk around the set and observe the inner works of the performance through all of its angles and finest details. Granting access to small gestures such as the handling of a silhouette, the facial expressions of the artists and musicians, as well as the transition of instruments for sound effects, eliminated the division between the performers and the spectators, making the stage an immersive moving sculpture.
The Donkey, the main character of this piece, belongs to a long line of literary and philosophical traditions wherein the quadruped is employed as an allegory for human nature. Exploring the power and entrapments of free will, he wanders, experiencing all sorts of internal dilemmas. For example, exhausted and starved, he succumbs to the pressure of choosing between two lush bales of hay, deciding to die of hunger rather than making a decision. Later on, he stands up against an abusive employer who coerces him into labouring for free. Finally, he decides to leave everything behind to pursue the quest for knowledge and pleasure with his loyal friend, the Dog. Boarding a boat on the open sea, they fall into the abyss, a liminal space, a “symbolic second death” as put by Bull. This moment in limbo is the point of rebirth; it is the prophecy of self-fulfillment. After passing through the abyss, the protagonist and his sidekick land in Paris, France, where the Donkey makes a flamboyant entry in the art scene through his brilliant panting, the Red Jewell. Through this tale, Bull offered an odyssey wherein live music, humour and absurdity intrigue the adult and entertain the inner child, carrying them to a parallel dimension, a magical elsewhere.
 Mathieu Lacroix in discussion with the author, November 2018.
 Erika DeFreitas in discussion with the author, November 2018.
 Erika DeFreitas encountered the play Objects Lie on a Table (1922) by Gertrude Stein through her participation in the group exhibition, Rehearsal for Objects Lie on a Table, curated by Emelie Chhangur at the Art Museum of Toronto in 2016. Pages of the play were shared via email on November 12, 2018.
 Ibid. In our correspondence the author revealed that although it was off by a few days, she picked a performance that related to the month that we were in and the kind of offerings that take place in the autumn.
 Ayumi and Peter found out that T’karonto means the “trees in the water”, and they were thinking about becoming the trees in the water. The gold leaf as a signifier of the season we were in, the autumn, the beauty of the leaves falling from the branches (our arms), gold as skin, as resources, as value, as a shining element. It was important that this gold skin fell off into the water, as part of their offering to the water and the land. It also signified the estrangement of putting a monetary value on a human-carved place for the signing of Treaty 13, and what it has led to (pollution, strange lines of travel). Ayumi Goto, email communication with the author, November 7, 2018 and Peter Morin, email communication with the author, December 17, 2018.
 Peter Morin, email communication with the author, December 17, 2018.
 Ayumi Goto, email communication with the author, November 7, 2018
 Peter Morin, email communication with the author, December 17, 2018.
 The story of the Harlem Six is a narrative of Black male teenagers and young adults—Wallace Baker, Daniel Hamm, William Craig, Ronald Felder, Walter Thomas, and Robert Rice—wrongly convicted for the murder of a white couple who were shop owners in Harlem. Daniel Hamm’s statement is from an interview he did with Truman Nelson after his first night in a police station for the little fruit stand riot, in 1964.To learn more about this story see James Baldwin’s article “A Report from Occupied Territory”, published in the Nation magazine in 1966.
 Nelson sought out Reich to help him edit several tapes with interviews featuring the Harlem Six, their mothers, and the police, in order to write The Torture of Mothers and support legal procedures. In exchange for his labour, Reich asked that if he found something interesting, he be allowed to use it for his art practice. The resulting sound collage Come Out was used to help raise funds for the Harlem Six’s retrial, but mainly became Reich’s big artistic break. See Brent Hayes Edwards, Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination (Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA & London, England, 2017), p. 246.
 Barak adé Soleil in discussion with the author, November 2018.
 Minquon Panchayat was a council composed (at first) of six regional representative member positions (later looking for more 8 more) within ANNPAC/RACA’s Management Committee, and these representatives were from existing collectives, organizations, or artists and cultural workers from marginalized communities. Their goal was to focus on offering to their constituency a seat at the table, to be part of the decision making within the artist-run culture. They deployed a strategy for institutional change via financial lobbying, programming, and renewing the national artist-run network with relevant institutions that sustain an anti-racist agenda. To learn more about their initiatives, and the impasse reached with ANNPAC/RACA as well as the subsequent initiatives, see Clive Robertson, Policy Matters: Administrations of Art and Culture (YYZBooks: Toronto, 2006), p.25-43
 Louise Liliefeldt in discussion with the author, November 2018.
 Arahmaiani, email communication with the author, December 11, 2018.
Over the last 21 years and 12 festivals, 7a*11d, Toronto’s International Festival of Performance Art, has presented performances in the streets, in galleries and storefronts, in repurposed schools and converted industrial spaces. This year the festival was housed for the first time in a theatre: the handsome new Theatre Centre multifunctional building on Queen Street West. However accidental or expedient it may have been on the part of the curatorial collective, this choice deeply informed the audience’s experience of the work: framed by this architectural and institutional context, the festival as a whole insistently raised the vexed question of performance’s complicated relation to theatre and invited a reflection about the impact of framing on live art.
Performance art’s obstinate determination to distinguish itself from theatre is evident in the many attempts to formulate a definition of the form precisely in terms of its opposition to theatrical conventions—think, for one, of Marina Abramovič’s dictate: “No rehearsal, no repetition, and no predicted end.” At the same time, the appearance, particularly from the 1980s onwards, of performance styles that deliberately adopt theatrical modes (such as the use of costumes and makeup, a narrative structure, the adoption of character-like personae on the part of artists) complicates the issue and calls for clarification: what exactly are the features of theatre that supposedly make it inherently antithetical to performance art? The setting of this year’s festival, and the specific ways in which it created trouble for a number of the works presented, offer a unique opportunity to reflect upon this question.
In ordinary language “theatrical” is often wielded as a term of abuse to describe something (a behaviour, a style, a mode of presentation) perceived as exaggerated or insincere: an excessive display of sympathy from someone known to be cynical and self-interested; someone’s loudly apologetic late arrival to a dinner party; an ostentatiously over-decorated room. Used in these contexts, the expression betrays a deep anti-theatrical prejudice stemming from an equation of theatre with the inauthentic that goes as far back as Plato. In art criticism the term has a somewhat more specific meaning and a history that can be traced back (as Michael Fried has shown) to the second half of the Eighteenth Century, when Diderot used it to characterize unfavourably paintings whose composition suggests a heightened awareness of the beholder—paintings whose subjects appear to be performing for the viewer, whether the performance is one of enticement, self-display, or coy withdrawal. In contrast to this “theatrical” style, Diderot championed paintings whose subjects—whether asleep, engrossed in a game of cards, or in the throes of a crisis—appear oblivious of being beheld. Interestingly, a prime example of this “absorptive” style was provided, according to Diderot, by the work of Jean-Baptiste Greuze, whose busy compositions of characters in heightened emotional states would be characterized, by contemporary standards and in the ordinary sense of the word, as eminently theatrical. According to Diderot’s reading, however, the expressive excess of the characters in Greuze’s paintings indicated their absorption in the dramatic event depicted and functioned to seal off the fictional world of the painting from that of the beholder. In Diderot’s sense, in other words, theatricality does not characterize an expressive quality, but rather a structural feature: the mode of address of the composition itself.
If it’s not already clear, the fact that this use of “theatrical” doesn’t imply an overall contempt for the medium as a whole becomes obvious when one considers Diderot’s long-standing involvement in theatre as a theorist, critic, and playwright. As a matter of fact, one of Diderot’s crucial contributions to the field, the idea of the “fourth wall,” is nothing but an absorptive device meant to correct the inherent structural flaw brought about by the proscenium stage: frontal address. It is, in other words, a way of evacuating “theatricality” from theatre itself in a structural— rather than stylistic—way.
Interestingly, in performance art, frontal address—even in the most extreme form of a direct engagement with the audience—has never been perceived as inherently “theatrical” in a problematic sense. In fact, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to take this kind of address as one of the defining characters of a certain style of performance art, where it signifies the very opposite of “theatrical”, suggesting instead a kind of unmediated authenticity. As it happens, long before the emergence of performance as an art form, this inversion of values—whereby the fourth wall convention, having exhausted its radical potential, becomes a “theatrical” trope, while a revised kind of frontal address becomes the signifier of (anti-theatrical) “authenticity”—had already taken place in the visual arts themselves. The culminant moment of this inversion occurred in Manet, where, in paintings like the 1862 portrait of Victorine Meurent or Olympia (1863), the very act of head-on posing was revealed, in Michael Fried’s words, as an “absorptive attitude”.
There seems to be, however, something about theatre that continues to trouble (and create trouble for) performance. This was evidenced, at this year’s festival, by the number of otherwise compelling works that were undermined, albeit in different ways and to different degrees, simply as a result of being presented in a theatrical context. Although it has nothing to do with frontal address, the troubling feature I’m trying to pinpoint, like the kind of theatricality decried by Diderot, is also structural, rather than stylistic, and it is perhaps best described in terms of a reliance upon framing devices (such as lighting and audience seating) that, though intrinsic to theatre, can have a hampering effect on non-theatrical work to which they are essentially extraneous. I’m thinking in particular of the works (the majority of this year’s offerings) that took place in the main space on the second floor of the Theatre Center. For the festival, the room had been stripped down to its naked walls and turned, quite literally, into a black box. A number of the artists, however, chose to reinstall audience seating. Although this is common practice even when performance is presented in a gallery, in a theatre space this decision often felt unnecessarily constricting and, in conjunction with lighting choices that sharply marked out the performance area separating it from the audience, imposed a kind of forced framing that is usually absent from gallery presentations, where ambient lighting functions to unify the space.
The adoption of such extrinsic framing devices greatly affected one’s reception of Erika DeFreitas’s not ever so straight, a performative iteration of the artist’s contribution to Rehearsal forObjects Lie on a Table, a show curated by Emelie Chhangur at the Art Museum of the University of Toronto in the spring of 2016 and based on Gertrude Stein’s 1922 play Objects Lie on a Table. In this iteration of the piece, DeFreitas delivered a text interrogating the oblique evocations of mundane household objects, nuns, and food, packed into Stein’s brief, dense play—as well as its jarringly offhanded references to “Chinamen” and “Negroes”. Parsed into short paragraphs and delivered with thoughtful relentlessness by the artist, the text had some of the opaque, incantatory character of Stein’s original. Displayed on small tables and in vitrines scattered around the space, a great many seemingly incongruous objects and assemblages (apples, ceramic figurines, a tape measure; thread spools surmounted by statues of the Virgin Mary; a candlestick sitting on a bottle) revealed themselves, in the course of the reading, as correlates of the idiosyncratic inventory of objects in Stein’s play. Individually and sharply spotlit in a way that sealed them off from one another, from the audience, and from the artist sitting at a table, DeFreitas’s queer domestic altars reminded one of a gallery display. This lighting choice, combined with a frontal seating arrangement, imposed a rhythm of viewing that (skipping from one spotlit area to another) didn’t serve the performance well and created for the audience the uncomfortable experience of watching a film made entirely of jump cuts.
A moving reflection on the loss of cultural memory, Sandra Vida’s Vigil: Field of Crones was created with the collaboration of a group of artists and cultural workers (Lillian Allen, Anne-Marie Bénéteau and Cat Cayuga) who, like Vida herself, have left a significant, if all too often unacknowledged mark on Canadian artist-run culture. Like in DeFreitas’s case, a stark lighting focus on the performance area and a seating arrangement that placed the audience in close proximity to the circle of light that sealed off the action functioned simultaneously as framing and barrier. The sharp separation of action and audience had the unfortunate effect of lending an artful quality to the slow-paced ritual enacted by the four performers, and it turned objects (stones, candles, a smoking cauldron) into mere props. The impression that the piece would have gained in power in a less tightly controlled space—a space in which the invitation to imaginatively participate in a collective ritual was not belied by such harsh framing—was hard to ignore.
Mathieu Lacroix’s Ci-après appelé “l’artiste”: interrogated the negotiations of identity as an artist in a heavily bureaucratized art system through a simple, precise, sequence of actions involving the signing of official-looking forms and the marking of the artist’s own body. A charismatic performer, Lacroix carried out the action with a seemingly effortless combination of power and grace. Perhaps in an attempt to comment upon the troubling effect of theatrical framing, Lacroix chose to push this effect to its most constricting extreme, confining the performance to a narrow corridor closely delimited on three sides by the seated audience and bookended by two sharp rectangles of light. Rather than functioning as a means to critically probe the problem, however, this choice had the effect of weighing down to the point of suffocation what could otherwise have been a fully successful work.
In all three cases, what seems to have gone wrong is the imposition of aspects of conventional theatrical framing upon work that has not been developed for the theatre. The effect of sharply focussed lighting, in particular, was that of watching the performances through a mediating device external to the work itself—an experience similarly frustrating to that of looking at performance documentation, where the work has already been framed and edited by someone else’s eye. By this I do not meant to invoke, on behalf of live performance, an ideal of immediacy and direct access, to which the medium can perhaps never truly live up. As Amelia Jones and others have persuasively argued, live bodies are, in a sense, always already mediated—always offering themselves, even in the most seemingly “immediate” and “direct” exchanges, as bearers of meanings that are in fact heavily inflected by representational codes. All live performance is always already framed through its own structure. There is a difference, however, between framing that is intrinsic to the work, and one that is imposed through an external apparatus of representation, such as documentary photography and video, or through an external context of presentation, such as, in this case, a theatre.
Paradoxically, the two works that most overtly deployed recognizable theatrical forms also suffered, albeit in different ways, from their placement in an actual theatre. A queer exploration of identity construction through the multiplication of selves and alter-egos, James Knott’s James Knott presents… “The Apocalypse in Your Bedroom” Tour was an exhilarating mash-up of live and recorded sounds and images, with a shadow show to boot. Cleverly eschewing the hollow narcissism that characterizes many works by artists of Knott’s generation tackling similar themes, the piece captured the viewers with its expansive generosity, often leaving them confounded as to the nature of what they were looking at and listening to—live-fed or pre-recorded, “real” or simulated.
Lala Raščić’s Europa Enterprise, EE-0, a poetic monologue using the myth of Arachne as a springboard for a feminist meditation on personal, political, and ecological transformation, showcased the artist’s acting flair with elegance and formal restraint. Placed inside the Theatre Centre black box, however, Knott’s self-consciously DIY maximalist tour de force ran the risk of being misread as unpolished multimedia theatre, while Raščić’s monologue fit almost too comfortably into its container, leaving the viewer with the perplexing feeling of having opened the wrong door and walked into an actual theatre festival. In both cases, one was left wondering how differently the piece might have played had it been allowed to carry out its take on theatrical conventions in dialectical tension with a non-theatrical space.
A number of artists were able to use the framing devices afforded by the theatre to their own advantage, successfully incorporating them into the structure of their work. In Love Is The Only Socially Acceptable PsychosisThirza Jean Cuthand repeatedly poured hot wax on her legs and arms and proceeded to remove it with the blade of a hunting knife. The silent, intensely focused action was accompanied by a large video projection of suburban and rural landscapes and by a recording of excerpts of the artist’s diary reflecting upon an episode of love and mania. The text was simultaneously intensely personal and easy to relate to, replete with brilliant turns of phrase—occasionally droll, always poignant—such as the wonderful: “I wanted to know how she felt, so I told her my feelings”. In this case, the chasm separating the performance area from the audience, and a more diffuse ambient lighting, functioned well to expose the artist’s vulnerability, framing the action as a publicly-enacted private ritual.
Multiple projections, dramatic lighting, and the room’s vast blackness also served well to frame the maximalist existentialism of Gustaf Brom’s the unknown story of a forgetful amnesiac in its impassioned play with archetypes of masculinity and femininity and its exuberant manipulations of primary elements—fire, earth, water, air.
In Hank Bull’s The Red Jewell a donkey with a philosophical temperament and extremely poor judgement nearly starves himself to death, falls under the power of a captain of industry in a top hat, escapes with the aid of a wise dog and, after an underwater journey as wild as an acid trip, discovers his vocation as an experimental filmmaker. A shadow puppetry show with live narration and musical accompaniment, the piece had its own framing device in the form of the screen on which the action unfolded. It ended, en abyme, with the image of the donkey and the dog looking at a shadow screen—a frame within a frame within a frame.
On the last night of the festival, Arahmaiani presented Handle Without Care, in which she addressed issues of globalization, consumerism, and the commodification of indigenous cultures though an acerbic ceremony orbiting around a totemic Coca-Cola bottle and involving a machete, flashing space guns, remote-control toy tanks, and an elaborate ceremonial costume. The effect of heightened theatrics that the dramatic lighting lent to the action helped to highlight the ersatz character of the ritual enacted by the artist, reinforcing one of the focal points of the work.
While these pieces managed to deploy certain aspects of the theatrical framing to their own advantage, it is no coincidence that two of the festival’s most successful pieces succeeded, at least in part, precisely because they put this framing at the very centre of the work’s content. In a series of movements [Toronto]Barak adé Soleil engaged with the architecture of the theatre by navigating the hollowed out main space on the second floor using a variety of mobility aids: crutches, a scooter, a manual wheelchair. In the central section of the piece, the artist lent his body to the recorded voice of Daniel Hamm, one of six African American teenagers arrested in Harlem and convicted of murder in 1965. Hamm, who was exculpated three years later, recounted how, in order to convince the police that he had been beaten up whilst in custody, he had to “open the bruise up, and let some of the blood come out to show them”. A section of Hamm’s recorded testimony was used by American composer Steve Reich in Come out, composed in 1966 for a benefit in support of the Harlem Six. Standing on crutches in the middle of the room, the artist fiercely wrestled with Reich’s composition, dubbing along with the looped segment “come out to show them” until the phrase’s pent-up pain and anger hatched its cathartic double: “come out to shoot them”. The piece, which had started in the ground floor lobby with the reading of a “c/krip” acknowledgment inviting the audience to explore the space with an awareness of the “diversity of bodies” in its midst, came to a breathtaking, drawn-out finale when the artist left the room and proceeded laboriously to climb down the emergency exit stairs on his wheelchair, before disappearing into the street crowd.
Dariusz Fodczuk’s publicly yet privately was a darkly humorous take on dramatic conventions, divided into three acts subversively engaging with three of theatre’s essential components: spectacle, character, and audience. Before each of the three short sections, the audience was asked to leave the space and gather in the lobby, where a series of oblique instructions, sent by the artist via text messages, were read out with humorous scepticism by one of the festival’s organizers. In the first act, tables laden with an array of objects (pots and pans, empty bottles and glasses, metal trays and kettles) were pulled across the space, as objects fell tumbling and crashing to the floor, producing an alarming cacophony of noises. In the second act, the artist, in camouflage fatigues, used a paintball gun to shoot the word “love” onto one of the room’s walls. In the third act, the audience huddled on the floor as Fodczuk, wielding a camera-phone, walked around collecting a live video feed that was projected on the back wall.
Both adé Soleil and Fodczuk avoided fixed seating arrangements and focussed lighting, encouraging instead a free flow of audience movement and opting for a diffuse ambient lighting that opened up the whole space to the interaction between the audience and the work. At the same time, both placed framing and context dead centre, insisting that we think about theatre as a set of conventions and as an architecture with social and political implications.
The first floor studio, with its sunken performance area and more modest size, didn’t present the same pitfalls as the main space: its unconventional architectural features, as well as the fact that it was used during the day to host the festival’s series of artist talks, evacuated from it, at least for this viewer, the overtly theatrical character that haunted the main space. Louise Lilifeldt used its low ceiling to create a striking image involving a fully-grown catalpa tree. Having methodically nipped off the tree’s dead leaves, the artist, climbing up and down a ladder, proceeded to clip with increasingly exacting zeal any leaf showing the slightest blemish. A slow-burning meditation on labour, the piece gained a troubling depth of associations through the identification between labourer and the object of her toil—both the tree’s pot and the artist’s own black t-shirt having been inscribed in white paint with the word “species” halfway through the action.
Ayumi Goto and Peter Morin’s Roaming used the intimate, informal setting of the studio for an affable conversation about ancestral lands and histories.
In the same space, Cindy Mocizuchi presented Tenohira, an immersive one-on-one performance in which the spectator was guided through a series of enigmatic actions involving palm reading, puppetry, and the tasting of sweet food. The experience was redolent of the quiet revelations one might receive in a dream: ephemeral, elusive, yet deeply affecting.
For the three offsite works in the festival, the question of theatrical framing naturally did not arise. At Sur gallery, over the course of three afternoons, Elvira Santamaría performed Salt Cartographies, a gorgeous durational piece about trade and borders and the shift between symbolic exchange and commerce, in which a large mound of salt, like a magical shape-shifting island, was slowly and continuously reconstituted by the artist’s breath.
For Mari usque ad Mare/D’un trou d’eau à l’autre/Piss and VinegarFrançois Morelli spent a day, from sunrise to sunset, visiting seven of the city’s fountains and carrying out a series of actions in response to each. A slow meditation on water as border and connecting medium, source of sustenance and site of waste, the piece also involved multiple layers of ephemeral “drawing”—whether onto an imaginary map of the city, by walking through it, or onto the actual ground, using water from the fountain of Nathan Phillips Square and a bagful of mismatched sandals washed up by the sea and collected by the artist.
In front of the theatre, (F)NOR (Donna Akrey, Andrea Carvalho, Margaret Flood, and Svava Thordis Juliusson) presented Exhausted, a tableau vivant of Picasso’s 1907 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, in which the collective, wearing awkwardly padded costumes to match the angular, disjointed body shapes in Picasso’s proto-Cubist painting, humorously exposed the labour involved in posing for the male gaze.
While interrogating throughout the week the choice to host this year’s festival in a theatre, one remained painfully aware that, in a city whose rampant gentrification has been causing a rapid disappearance of affordable spaces, these choices are never really choices. The kind of spaces out of which performance emerged as a genre in the late 1960s and ‘70s—abandoned industrial sites and public buildings, small galleries and underground theatres—simply don’t exist in the city anymore. The Toronto Free Gallery, for one, which co-hosted four 7a*11d festivals between 2006 and 2012, had to close its doors shortly after the last festival as a result of the usual combination of funding cuts and rent increases. Meanwhile, larger artist-run spaces such as Mercer Union (which also housed a number of the festival’s earlier iterations) have refashioned themselves on the model of more established art institutions. With programs decided years in advance and pristine spaces unable to handle the messiness of performance, this is a model that, while ensuring, at least in the short term, an organization’s survival in the ecosystem of contemporary visual arts, is also ill-suited to a lot of the work that a festival like 7a*11d has to offer. Although performance doesn’t always have to be site-specific, it remains the case that, as performances are forced out of the kinds of spaces in and for which they have traditionally been developed, questions of framing and context become, for artists and programmers alike, more pressing than ever.
When asked to write about the 7a*md8 On-Line residency series, I thought about my relationship to Instagram, how I addictively turn to it for a multitude of reasons: for art, for opportunities, memes, slapstick fails, flexes, callouts, for call-ins, to drag, to shade, to share, to shame, to comment, to like, to lurk, to learn, to listen, all going down or around the DM. She might collectively follow the trend of the meme, watch it deviate and distort; plucked out of context, at its height resembling an amalgam of subculture, shining with potential for further corruptions. What interested me about this project was how the participating artists might challenge and subvert our business-as-usual use of the app as a means of performative intervention. Sure enough, they offer up a shift in perspective. Existing simultaneously as archive and as a form of resistance, the project reminds viewers of how/when/why the camera and lens are un-neutral, and how online technologies inform our role as viewer, as spectator, as ally, as friend, and as participant.
Here, pals and other participants (past and upcoming at the time) praise and hold place for camaraderie, a performance for one another. A term coined by the late José Esteban Muñoz, ‘disidentification’ is a practice of performance and production that involves intervening in dominant narratives, and practicing (occasionally dangerous) subversions, so that a queer audience is considered and made space for, by another, for another.
In Coco Fusco’s fundamental 1994 text “The Other History of Intercultural Performance,” Fusco maps a history of the exhibition of human beings for the entertainment and analysis of European audiences. In a critique of the French-Romanian Dadaist Tristan Tzara’s appropriative practice, Fusco writes: “In the case of Tzara, his perception of the ‘primitive’ artist as part of his metaphorical family conveniently recasts his own colonial relation to his imaginary ‘primitive’ as one of kinship. In this context, the threatening reminder of difference is that the original body, or the physical and visual presence of the cultural Other, must therefore be fetishized, silenced, subjugated, or otherwise controlled to be ‘appreciated’” (9). This raises the question of who has been holding the camera and why the widely accepted and encouraged practice of fetishizing, marginalizing and colonizing bodies is important to consider when we investigate the construction of the gaze in art history and popular culture. Keeping these interventions in mind, the intimate gestures of regaining control of the camera and lens, the artists in 7a*md8 On-Line assert their agency, breeding space for exploration, for questioning, for workshopping and sharing. They unveil and showcase works in progress, impulsions, meditations.
sab meynert brings us into the calm flow of their process. Brisk strokes, interwoven with landscapes, hands drawing hands, hands pulling handmade paper taut, bodies of water and poetry; they ask us, (kin) “what amount of labour is required for growth?” They reassure us: “You may be feeling alone, but you are not – your company is just unrecognizable, for now.” On july 16th, sab tattooed a chrysanthemum on my shoulder. https://www.instagram.com/p/BlT4F1Unb25/?taken-by=sabmeynert
my forever derma-loot-bag adornment, beautifully steered, matching, intimately executed.
Karuhanga is introduced to us as Kelela’s “Bluff” accompanies her movements; soft rotations in her bedroom, disoriented by the stripe of her pants, ring fittings, shadow play against bedroom wall mirrors. Karuhanga moves as if she were tracing herself. (A virtual dance is a joy and a half but the real thing is a privilege http://www.thebeavertoronto.com/events/
Follow through and call back, jes sachse treats viewers to vignettes of gleeful, whimsical absurdities. Let us witness them sipping outta trophies, settling for “a good crescendo.” Take the pickle tub post, where the artist sits comfortably in the tub, a metronome propped up in the soap dish. This bath time, a time for gentle contemplation, (styll) tender moment of mourning. The artist bounces their wand-baton, snacking from pickles stacked inside a glass, blue bath water, and briny bubble beard, an ode to the beard they’ll never have & always be.
Jessica Chalmer’s 2008 text “Marina Abramović and the Re-performance of Authenticity” explores the phenomenon of re-performance. She states “re-performances are performances from the past […] brought to life again with the intention of rendering homage to their original context. Rather than comparing them to a theatrical revival, which implies mere repetition, performance scholar Peggy Phelan has compared re-performance to the musical practice of ‘covering’ the works of others” (25). Both Abramović and re-performance run rampant in the work of Mohammad Rezaei, predominately in meme format: the hauntings of embarrassing past works, starter packs, munchies and the potential for a fictitious art star writing career of Carrie Bradshaw. https://www.instagram.com/p/BZ_23HugGCv/?hl=en&taken-by=7a11d
Keira Boult’s residency serves us the tea of too-glam-to-call-mundane suburban life, peppered with neighbourhood shootouts and gentrification reads. Rezaei’s and Boult’s works are in conversation, and in playful competition, most notably in Boult’s humble brag screenshot of a follow from Ryan Trecartin. https://www.instagram.com/ryantrecartin/?hl=en
Before her residency began, Boult and I contemplated trolls, bait, and red herrings. “Allen Carfac” was a character I proposed to lurk in the comments, a hybrid of the former chain smoker Allen Carr and the Canadian artist fee lobby. “No one is more qualified to speak on behalf of artists than artists themselves” (Jack Chambers, CARFAC founder). This tanked in comparison to the highly controversial touque-shade gate clap back. See: https://www.instagram.com/franfergra/tagged/?hl=en https://www.instagram.com/p/BadSzp0D3b8/?hl=en&taken-by=7a11d
Category was: homage witty realness. (Winter edition)
Tongue-in-cheek in masking and revealing, Natasha Bailey illustrates the dynamics between audience and performer. Evolving from alt duck face to full-on crow realness, the piercing blue gaze of the artist confronts the viewer in an alarmed, frozen glance. She maintains this stare, fragmented, steady, across all of her posts. Yarned, darned, hidden and fragmented, Bailey’s peekaboo mix masks the mediums, the messages.
In Yolanda Duarte’s work, the artist shows us what she calls “visual epiphanies,” in which her students perform for her, for us. Bodies in black and white, fragmented points of view, collectively assemble to document traces of touch. Collective gatherings, stages of teachings, of learnings, of lessons. Markers dragging, guiding, gliding. https://www.instagram.com/p/BbOG7y1gjza/?hl=en&taken-by=7a11d
Staring back now, Nadège Grebmeier Forget’s work is rooted in the power and repercussions of the gaze. Well suited to the medium, the artist presents reflections, revisitations, revelations, summer-camp cacti mornings. The grain of the screen cap, baby wash and all the hands, cradling, render her reflections on anxious mornings. https://www.instagram.com/p/Bal1xiJj__j/?hl=en&taken-by=7a11d
She’s between it seems, the grass is greener, grainier, meaner on the other side of things. Split screen.
The final resident, Syrus Marcus Ware, offers an intimate gesture by reading to us. In his videos, he invites us into his research and practice, revealing the solitary, meditative methods behind the hand-drawn lines of his activist portrait series, educating viewers on black trans history through the vehicle of #blacktransselfie https://www.instagram.com/p/BcVORo1AdC_/?hl=en&taken-by=7a11d
needed reads: “Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party” and shout outs https://www.instagram.com/justseeds/
Ware sends us off with a finished drawing, a portrait of “M” who smiles back at us from behind him.
Muñoz wrote that “disidentification is a step further than cracking open the code of the majority; it proceeds to use this code as raw material for representing a disempowered politics or positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture” (31). Here, he suggests that artists can achieve this through the process of borrowing from prefabricated structures. Given the diversity of our platform, i suggest that we might bridge Muñoz’s musing with those of German artist and filmmaker Hito Steyerl, who writes in “In Defense Of The Poor Image”: “The poor image is no longer about the real thing—the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities. It is about defiance and appropriation just as it is about conformism and exploitation.” While the images and videos of the residency seemingly suit the classification of “poor” given their means of being captured, posted and/or reposted, we can look to how notions of circulation, remixing and revisiting are at play in the works of all the participants. What I take away as most striking, is the ways in which we are invited to peep this temporal tenderness: be it coy, poised, posed, staged. These impulses and impressions, from self-referentiality to quotations, through memories, works in progress, this archive and what I’ve written here are left open for reinterpretations, for revisitations, for resurrection.
Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics Vol. 2. U of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Delilah Rosier is an artist working and living in Tkaronto. Her practice consists of collages, drawings, photo manipulations and generating criticism and theory pertaining to queer theory, race politics and intersectional feminism within the landscape of popular culture. She is a graduate of OCAD University’s criticism and curatorial practice program, is one half of Masking Collective, has been profiled in C Magazine, Formally Known As Magazine and was the 2016 Recipient of the Won Lee Fine Art Award for her written thesis project entitled “Sissy Those Subversions: Disidentifications and Institutionalized Performativity.” She is currently pursuing her MA at York University in theatre and performance studies.
James Luna had a long and deep connection to Canada and he was a pivotal influence for many indigenous and settler artists, writers, thinkers and curators. His enormous legacy is evident—alive and well today in Toronto. We remember him as the Shameman who sold wetdreamcatchers. The angel with wings made of crutches and feathers in tribute to the many on his own reserve who had lost their legs to diabetes, a disease caused by a steady diet of colonialism. James Luna was the change that the art world needed. His conviction was that the art world could change, and that in turn could change the way people see. He was the change.
James Luna was born in Orange, California of Payómkawichum, Ipai and Mexican descent. When he was 25 he moved to the La Jolla Reservation where he continued to live and make work, while he taught art at the University of California, San Diego and was an academic counselor at Palomar College in San Marcos, California.
In 2000 James Luna performed American Indian Study’s (with its deliberately provocative misspelling) at the Joseph Workman Auditorium in the 3rd 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art. He also gave an artist talk at Innis College that was co-sponsored by CIVME and A Space. He returned for the 8th 7a*11d Festival in 2010 with Guillermo Gomez-Peña in La Nostalgia Remix, presented by Red Sky Performance and Toronto Free Gallery.