Doyon/Demers

October 30 2016

Written By Michelle Lacombe

Après Niagara Falls

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PHOTOS by Henry Chan

The first time I saw Doyon/Demers perform was only a few years ago. I was enthralled by their playful use of technology, their physically imposed loss of control, and their shared accountability in the work. Simultaneously absurd, corporeal and intimate, I find their performances to be like a romantic, messy and unpretentious relative to early Stelarc works. But more narrative. So not really like Stelarc, but definitely also representative of an approach to performance art that whimsically puts the body in dialogue with moderate risk and common technology.

When they walk out, Doyon/Demers are barefoot and each have a large metal megaphone structure projecting recorded soundscapes affixed to their heads. The heavy cones balance precariously, held in place by metal wires, carefully gripped handles, chest straps and neck braces. The look is a smart casual take on low-tech sci-fi, somewhere between a mad high school science teacher and a classy one-man band. The immediate absurdity of the scene is complicated by their intense focus on remaining upright. Their bodies quiver, careful not to unbalance their imposing headgear as they enter the space and step onto a thick black plastic sheet that covers the ground. Moving close to the center, they set down two metal watering cans and a small travel case. The gestures are slow and laborious.

They follow each other in uneven laps. It’s tense to watch but pleasant, like that time I found a live stream of a slippery patch of ice on a busy street. (When will they fall?…) Rather quickly, one of the structures tips, and the second echoes almost immediately. As their bodies bend, an abundance of small objects spill out. Bright plastic nozzles, colorful marbles, broken wine glasses and hard-boiled eggs litter the ground like confetti. They use their headpieces to carve a path in the colorful clutter. The stakes have just been raised.

After some slight readjustment, they are upright again and the soundscape shifts to the calls of Canadian geese. Too focused on the movement, this is the first and only sound I actively register. Probably because I find it to be a hilarious complement to them moving across the space to kick the shelled orbs, their attention shifting suddenly between balancing the sonic headgear and avoiding the countless treacherous objects strewn about the floor. Audience members gasp when their bare feet, seeking out soft shells, step on hard plastic and sharp glass. They stop roaming and the sound changes. Four thick bars of soap are arduously removed from the travel case and sandwiched between two scrubbing pads. The watering cans are retrieved and, as they wet a section of the tarp, one of the handles snaps. Things begin to feel increasingly out of control. Nevertheless, they attempt to stand on the their make-shift low-rise stilts. The stakes are raised again.

When they do get atop them, it is not for long. We watch them struggle to get in position and attempt to glide across the wet tarp. Despite the help they offer each other, neither gets very far. The tension in the room is palpable. Their increasing effort and the persistent menace of stepping on the painful detritus overshadows the absurdity and humour of the scene. A member of the audience gets up to remove a large piece of glass from their surroundings but it only highlights the countless other pieces scattered in the mess. I am simultaneously absorbed and unnerved.

Eventually the soundscape changes and, clearly drained, they move into their closing arrangement. Facing each other, they bow so that their amplifying cones meet and project their final sounds into each other. The courtship display has come to a close. We exhale and revel in the thrill.

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Cindy Baker

Written By Michelle Lacombe

Crash Pad

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PHOTOS by Henry Chan

Cindy Baker has been occupying OCAD University’s Anniversary Gallery for three days. The space itself is a small glass room with a carpeted floor inside a slightly larger room with white walls. Offering two spatial perspectives on the work, the context is odd but appropriate. From a hallway, you can look through a set of open doors to watch Baker in her aquarium. Or, you can enter the gallery and inhabit the space with her. Both offer a radically different encounter with the work.

It is difficult to write about this kind of performance because the experience of it is so largely informed by what the viewer brings to the work and their willingness (or not) to engage with the artist in the absence of a clear prompt. In light of this, I go to visit Baker on a few occasions. This time, I decide to first take a look from outside the glass box. I am greeted by a charming 7a*11d mediator who introduces the work to the curious who stop and peer through the open doors. From a distance, I watch Baker lying in her bed, alone in the room. Two people discuss the work with the attendant, reflecting on their relationships to the themes of sleep and unproductivity. Despite how on topic their discussion is, I get the urge to leave them and enter the space. I recognize that this desire is partially protective, partly demonstrative. For some reason, it is bothering me that we watch from the comfort of the hallway. It feels disproportionately safe for the work today.

I enter the space and sit close to the door, next to the puddle of pills. I can’t tell if the quantities are dwindling but they are definitely getting more scattered. I scan the room for more changes. Her cane has not moved but her suitcase, in the opposite corner, is ajar. I think she is sleeping. I quietly wait.

Last time I was here, Baker was lying on the ground on her comforter next to a body-sized round mattress. Although it felt a bit staged and awkward, I engaged Baker in some small talk. I couldn’t help it, I know her. When I finally settled, she stood and walked to the mattress, pulling the blanket onto the foam stage. She lay her chest onto the soft surface and loosely tangled herself in the comforter as she lowered the rest of her body. Face down, she caressed and gripped the edge of the mattress. The movement was dreamy and sensuous. Her nails were painted to match the pattern on the comforter. Nice detail. People came and went while she lay there, few staying for more than a couple of minutes. Then, as Baker was rolling very slowly amongst the fabric, a group of students showed up. They sat uncomfortably along the walls and watched, never saying a word as Baker went though a series of actions for them, a settling of sorts. She raised and walked around the edge of the mattress, then on the edge, foam buckling with each soft step…. She swallowed a selected handful of pills with some water…. She took her cane and poked it into the mattress, letting her weight balance on top of it… She lowered herself like before and lounged languidly… Though still casual, the movements seemed more playful than before. I left her with the crowd.

This visit, sleeping is the only action I encounter. Careful not to wake her, I reflect on the vulnerability that is tangible but that I did not expect. When a person comes in, looks around and leaves, I wonder if I am accompanying Baker or watching over her. Either way, I do not leave her side until the hallway is empty, bound to some sort of responsibility I find difficult to shake although I can’t totally understand it.

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Johannes Zits

October 28 2016

Written By Michelle Lacombe

Body Traps

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PHOTOS by Henry Chan

All week Johannes Zits has been crafting his performance object at the Theater Center café. His presence is casual and welcoming and because I return to the site almost daily to see the 7a*11d panel discussions, he becomes a reliable social anchor. He greets me and other festival regulars with a smile and small talk while he patiently stitches sleeves to inseams to cuffs to waistbands. The mounds of used clothes hidden under his worktable shrink imperceptibly as individual garments are assembled into a large tapestry that we can only see a few square feet at a time. While I can’t say that this facet of the work was crucial to my experience of the final performance, in the context of a festival edition characterized by a program of events scattered throughout multiple sites, Zits does become a comforting presence, a common thread in a packed schedule of change and movement. In my experience, this part of the work is therefore less about endurance and physical work than it is about emotional labor and hospitality, the generosity of making process visible, and the desire to connect to a punctual community that is often fragmented by competing programming.

When I do sit with him, we talk about the work and its relationship to his wider practice. He is constructing the tapestry in such a way as to preserve the volume of the garments, which remain wearable, though bound. This detail demands that he insert his hands into armholes and up pant legs as he constructs his object. Although these small gestures are currently executed in a purely functional manner (the same way anyone’s do when they mend or alter old clothes), his movements in and out of the garments offer a subtle preview of the upcoming performance.

Before we see Zits enter the space, bundles of what I assume to be the clothes that hid under worktable are thrown out of the artists’ lounge. Zits emerges nude and concentrated on the task of moving the heavy bundles, which leapfrog across the lounge space and to the stage, where Zits lays them out at regular intervals. “Enjoy” he says. His hospitality continues.

The introduction is playful and the soft mounds call to us. Some audience members leave their plastic chairs to rest against them, others pull them apart to explore the contents. All the while a soundscape of top 40 muzak, muffled voices and clinging cutlery plays. While I don’t feel like I am back at the café (I can’t even tell if this recording is from the café), I do sense the same casual and friendly atmosphere. It is the sound of pleasantly sharing space with strangers, a reading that can be extended to the actual performance as well if you see clothes as extensions of people.

Zits removes his twisted tapestry from one of the bundles and works his way through the object, exploring his body’s relationship to it. As his body slides in and out of garments, he pulls the weighty textile around the space with him: Pink shorts, a golden orange polo shirt, a red striped dress shirt, a pale blue hospital gown, a gray sock, a purple bra with white edging, floral patterned shorts, a long navy velour dress… At times the clothes are worn, at others they simply contain the body, which works to find space in them. While the action recalls movement-based dance practices, it is clearly exploratory in nature. A pair of plaid shorts are pulled on and rip.

Eventually the tapestry is fully laid out and Zits carefully extends each sleeve and hemline along the edge. From a pouch surprisingly sewn into the piece, he pulls out a necklace and a few other small items that I cannot identify. He puts on the necklace, lies on the ground next to the textile and clothes himself with the precious objects, laying them carefully on his naked body.

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Louise Liliefeldt

Written By Michelle Lacombe

What Does it Mean to Forget?

Despite the countless talks and panels addressing the relationship between performance art and the museum I have attended, as I sit in the Art Gallery of Ontario to watch Louise Liliefeldt perform, I realize that this is actually the first time I have seen contemporary performance art in a major institution. This context has a serious impact on my experience so I will digress a bit.

Even in the best of conditions, I have a somewhat hostile relationship to the museum and generally don’t think it is the place for performance art. I’ll admit that this opinion is ideological, a gross generalization and, at that, one that says more about me than the institution. Clearly, the museum can be a site, a context, like any other. But I doubt it.

So, as soon as I enter the space, I struggle. The context tells me that I should sit down quietly along the edge of the room but I want to get close to better inspect the performance’s elements. I cannot be sure what Liliefeldt wants. While durational performance does not typically relegate the public to a specific perspective, contextual protocol prevails and instead of roaming through the space to better understand the relationship between the scattered objects (a glass filled with red liquid, rolls of masking tape, a timer…), I make my way to an empty spot against the wall. I reassure myself that as the work unfolds, the information will be unveiled, yet my urge to get closer does not dissipate. Throughout Liliefeldt’s performance, only one person leaves the margins to walk though the space to get a closer look. For the entire time she cohabits the work, I am incredibly jealous of her bravery. I feel like the context imposes a frustrating distance between me and the work. Proximity, I learn, is something I value in performance, something that I have come to take for granted.

When I have settled in my place, Liliefeldt is sitting in a very commanding hand-carved wood chair. There is another body lying on the ground close to one of the walls. I stepped over it when I arrived. These two bodies are complemented by a silhouette traced in a thin black line on the back wall of the space. This mark, a ghost body, will multiply. But first, Liliefeldt changes her shoes, walks over to the laying body, grips its feet and drags it laboriously across the room and into a spotlight. The body softly contorts and comes to rest. Liliefeldt traces its outline in masking tape. This exact series of actions will repeat throughout the piece, becoming a chorus that bridges one act of mark making to the next.

In addition to the silhouette already on the wall (and the ones accumulating on the ground in tape) four more drawings are made in the space. All are portraits. The second and most abstracted, emerges when Liliefeldt gets on her hands and knees in the middle of the room, sips thick red liquid from a plastic cup, then, moving her body in contorted arches, lets the liquid drip from her mouth into a puddle on the floor. The third portrait occurs when Liliefeldt eventually returns to the wall. Because durational work is often built on cyclical repetition and accumulation, I expect a new silhouette to be traced. Instead, the artist pours red liquid onto her hands, positions herself facing the wall with her hands above her head and lets the weight of her body drag to produce two violent red lines. This body is unquestionably a reproduction of Anna Mendieta’s Body Tracks. I think back to the other actions and begin to retroactively connect them to Mendieta’s corpus. It is not so difficult. The fourth and fifth bodies are textual ones, two quotes capturing an exchange between an anonymous “him” and “her”, interrupted by another pause in the chair.

He said I’m going home

and she said you are home baby

Having given disembodied voice to disembodied bodies, these portraits close the action.

Liliefeldt then grabs the lying body and drags it out of the space. Ironically, now that the artist is absent I can finally get a closer look of the traces and bodies she has left behind. But maybe this is not so ironic considering that museums are places for the dead.

Mikiki

October 24 2016

Written By Michelle Lacombe

NSA

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PHOTOS by Henry Chan

Mikiki’s work is difficult and demanding for its audience. It is the kind of performance that challenges visibility, being as much about how your body responds to what you see as what you see, or don’t…

When we come into the space Mikiki is piling raw cabbages into a pyramid in the corner, using a green tape that accentuates the fleshiness of the vegetable. They pull down their pants, raise their shirt and lay their exposed torso on the mound. The sound of the waxy leaves rubbing against each other under the weight of their body is striking. After some time, they rise and walk over to a few gathered jars of sauerkraut. One by one, they empty the contents into Ziploc bags, first shoving their hand into the glass jars to pull out fist-fulls of soggy preserved cabbage and then emptying the jar’s remaining juices into the bag. They move their hand in and out of the vessels in the same manner you push a hand into a body and by the second jar, the sound of skin against wet glass is combined with the pungent smell of sauerkraut. The cabbage, in both forms, is or was a lover.

All but one of the sealed bags are lined up on the tabletop and Mikiki moves to the pile of books and movies on the other end. I notice, and appreciate, that the spines are covered in the same green tape. Mikiki has clearly chosen not to give us access to everything, perhaps for the sake of privacy, or intimacy. Regardless, this will be a recurring strategy in the performance. A number of key actions will be sheltered from our gaze, and reserved for the artist. I get it, and don’t mind the loss of meaning it risks. This is clearly not about us. One by one, the books are put into plastic bags and a bag of sauerkraut is poured on top of the protected pile, left to slowly drip throughout the rest of the performance.

Back at the sauerkraut side, Mikiki slides their hands under the wood table and pulls out the medical equipment they will use to remove a vial of blood from their left arm. However, their back is to us the whole time. We do not see them draw blood so much as we deduce the action from the tools, gestures, and the flash of red. After squirting the blood into their eyes, they stand in the centre of the room with thin red lines running down their face and direct all their attention inwards. While I can’t be sure exactly what is going on, it fascinates me in its gestural minimalism and inaccessibility. It is hypnotizing. Or maybe it is them who is hypnotized. Someone in the audience passes out. It’s evocative to watch but not easy.

Back at the book side, Mikiki again sits, grabs a hold of the corner and lifts the table. They slide their hands under the wood surface and pulls out a long turquoise dress they will let slowly settle in a pile on the bags of preserved cabbage. The first act comes to a close.

Mikiki takes the mic and proceeds with the lecture phase of the performance. It’s casual, less of a seminar than a very informal, although somewhat confessional, monologue. Something about their complicated feelings about Hakim Bey’s pedophilia, about being an apologist, about nihilist self-sabotage, about political movements… My notes are shit, the scribbles of someone paying attention and being in the moment. Sorry about that.

Finally the video Mikiki has made, a slow-motion shot of the bathtub drain during an enema, is digitally located and screened. More blood goes into their eyes and they retake position in centre-stage. Then we are asked to leave so that they may finish the performance by themself. I put on my coat to go outside and let them finish this third and last act alone.

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