Festival Blog

Serena Lee: Re-Tuning Cartography

Serena Lee, Layers Channels Paths History (photo Henry Chan)

Serena Lee, Layers Channels Paths History (photo Henry Chan)

Serena Lee begins Layers Channels Paths History by dividing the audience into sections of green, brown and “nothing.” The unexplained designation recalls Jane Elliot’s “Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise,” sets a political tone. Establishing boundaries between audience members, Lee has already begun to map out our relations to each other. Someone shoots “Woo green!” when Lee designates new compatriots for green. There’s the distinct impression we’re on teams now. The “nothings” look puzzled but a bit relieved. As latecomers join the group, Lee breaks mid-photoshop-tutorial to quickly assign them colours, and then returns to a peppy, youtube-style cartography workshop. Despite her use of photoshop, the fragments she works with appear ornate, historic. She briskly runs through the zoom function, the magic wand tool, the selection and deletion of map features, the channels/layers/paths/history sidebars, all the while commenting on the nature of cartography: speaks of her map’s elements in terms of economic “use,” introduces the compass and the cartouche (and their corresponding roles in trade and politics), the sense that a scroll suggests the map might just be unrolled like a carpet across territories.

Her educator persona breaks, briefly. Lee disappears briefly behind a movable partition. In a deeper tone, loaded with mystery and gravitas, she tells us a story. There’s a king, a prince, a map, a dagger. The king builds a wall and burns the books. (Is this the story of the Qin Empire? The details are too loaded with the conventions of fairytales to tell for sure.)

Serena Lee, Layers Channels Paths History (photo Henry Chan)

Serena Lee, Layers Channels Paths History (photo Henry Chan)

Serena Lee, Layers Channels Paths History (photo Henry Chan)

Serena Lee, Layers Channels Paths History (photo Henry Chan)

At various points Lee flits between an ink drawing workshop on an overhead projector (which, like the photoshop tutorial, takes on the clean eagerness of a corporate seminar), these bits of story, and something entirely more theatrical. She calls the “browns” up to the front while a projection of a robotic vaccuum cleaner on grass plays beside us. The white noise obscures her hushed tones, as she gives directions, drawing with pen on the palm of her hand. They’re the furiously-paced directions of a local trying earnestly to inform tourists of the best ways to get around a city—avoiding uphill climbs, watching out for that road that turns back in on itself—but soon the directions, like everything Lee has done so far, take on a futility. The crooked line on her hand loops back upon itself, jagged zig-zags cut it up and down. There are references to the city of London, but it’s unclear where the final destination is. Just “and then you’re there!” Half of the browns are sent away while the other half is instructed to march in place, and Lee belts “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in beautiful, dramatic, singer’s tones.

Serena Lee, Layers Channels Paths History (photo Henry Chan)

Serena Lee, Layers Channels Paths History (photo Henry Chan)

Earlier in her projected seminar, Lee had used overlapping mylar transparencies in green as a demonstration in how to fill in territory. Now, she does the same with brown. But instead of transparencies, she uses construction paper. She calls out for suggestions from the crowd: different shades of green? Now different shades of brown? Slowly, she obstructs her projection with brown triangles, until the projection is completely covered.

Lee’s narratives, which borrow the language of familiar circumstances, only to awkwardly twist their usefulness, are compelling in their incredible sense of storytelling about the world. But this world is not fantastical, removed. Lee’s world is our world, and I begin to wonder if the political implications of her stories (told obliquely through the comfortable territories of musical theatre, workshop, whispered directions, applause, and laughter) have been manifest in these media all along. What is the double-speak of the corporate seminar on networking in the arts, for example? Lee’s tongue-in-cheek take-down of the conventions of cartography is rather overt, and its jumps, its quick changes of character, its total comedic effect, convince us to come along for the difficulty of re-thinking territory. Alongside the cartography, though, comes the proposition that the social ways we come to deliver workshops, choose our teams, tell stories, also have in them the subtle re-tuning of our psyches.

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

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

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

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

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

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

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

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

Fausto Mendez Luna, Cocina incoherente [Incoherent cuisine] (photo by Henry Chan)

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

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

Nathalie Mba Bikoro: History’s Yearning

Nathalie Mba Bikoro, Untitled (photo Henry Chan)

Nathalie Mba Bikoro, Untitled (photo Henry Chan)

I can hear a whip. I’m unsure if it’s against the floor, or against a body, but I hear guttural reactions to it from outside the studio.

When I first enter Nathalie Mba Bikoro’s durational performance, it is her gaze, not the whip (which is actually a jump rope) that strikes me. Maintaining her direct and unwavering stare, Bikoro is skipping rope. Along the floor, she has laid out shot glasses of red wine in perfect rows. She spends the next three hours walking carefully between the lines of this grid, drinking, skipping, spitting, spilling, and humming. As Bikoro moves about the space, enduring the bodily tolls of drunkenness and over-exertion, she stumbles, brings herself to the ground, crawling instead around the array of shot glasses. As she skips her white tube top slips down, revealing a black bra underneath. The shirt has soon accrued a deep purplish stain across its front, like an amorphous liquid bruise.

Sometimes, Bikoro opts not to ingest the wine. Instead, she crunches on the clear plastic of the glasses, or runs them against the floor in slow, ever quickening, circular motions. The grind of plastic on linoleum produces the moving-too-fast rushing sound of wind in open spaces. Projections on two opposite walls behind Bikoro’s performance begin to play a series of clips of African artworks. I later learn they all come from Les statues meurent aussi (Statues Also Die), a 1953 anti-colonial film which examined the impacts of European collecting of African art and the commercialization of African identity. Even without prior knowledge of the film, it’s clear the clips demonstrate the kind of cultural genocide the museum has inflicted on African culture: footage from inside a museum vitrine catalogues the gaze of white visitors, slow scans of masks and figurines fill the frame, clips presenting White missionary work and scenes of contemporary Black African life are interspersed among these move removed museum views. Jazz plays. There are unbalanced moments of levity in the music as Bikoro’s attempts to skip grow more failing, and she trips over the rope dangling among her legs as she walks.

Nathalie Mba Bikoro, Untitled (photo Henry Chan)

Nathalie Mba Bikoro, Untitled (photo Henry Chan)

I notice there are thin pieces of fishing line that run from the middle row of shot glasses, over a pipe on the ceiling, and are taped, finally, to the chalkboard at the front of the room. It’s unsettling because I have been sitting just beneath these strings, unaware that they anchor some as-yet-unknown-to-me gesture. There is tension in the air above me.

Nearing the end of her performance, Bikoro slides herself into a chair in the corner of the room, and picks up two objects which had hitherto been facing into the performance space like airhorns. I see now they are electric breast pumps. Bikoro slides her tube top down and unclips her nursing bra, suctioning the funnels to each of her breasts. Soon, she begins to produce milk. The music accompanying the projections halts for a moment and all we can hear throughout the space is the rhythmic sucking of the device. Once Bikoro has two full bottles of breast milk, she fills the centre row of shot glasses (some of which still contain the dregs of her wine). She hums along with the music, and once it stops, she persists. Her humming fills the room, as she removes the collection of fishing line pulleys from the board, and tugs on them. The glasses lift upwards. Some tumble over the top of the pole. She lets them slip. Starts to pull again. The glasses drift upwards. Bikoro’s humming continues as the glasses uneven themselves. She pulls and releases, pulls and releases. Continues humming, passes the lines to a bystander, and leaves.

Nathalie Mba Bikoro, Untitled (photo Henry Chan)

Nathalie Mba Bikoro, Untitled (photo Henry Chan)

Bikoro’s performance is difficult to watch, and like so many at the festival, operates in a shady territory of performative harm to the body. But it also raises questions of intervention and trust that revolve specifically around the Black body. While we may not recognize or be triggered by the danger of Liu Wei’s fishhook or John Court’s mouth-led construction, we have existing frameworks for alcohol consumption, and some of those frameworks are racialized. And as an audience, we are forced to ask ourselves how much we trust Bikoro’s endangerment of her body, with colonial violences playing as a (literal) backdrop.

But Bikoro says her performance is about love, and I have come to believe that in her gestures. Bikoro’s love opens up in the tender spaces of trust, respect, care. It’s in the things that are timeless— the lactation that bestrides the boundaries of biology and culture. It’s in the humming, it’s in the milk, it’s in her will to urge her body forward.

Berenicci Hershorn is watching time

Éminences Grise

Berenicci Hershorn,To Be And…. (photo by Henry Chan)

Berenicci Hershorn,To Be And…. (photo by Henry Chan)

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

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

Berenicci Hershorn,To Be And…. (photo by Henry Chan)

Berenicci Hershorn,To Be And…. (photo by Henry Chan)

Berenicci Hershorn,To Be And…. (photo by Henry Chan)

Berenicci Hershorn,To Be And…. (photo by Henry Chan)

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

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

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

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

Christian Bujold (photo by Henry Chan)

Christian Bujold (photo by Henry Chan)

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

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

(…)

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

Christian Bujold (photo by Henry Chan)

Christian Bujold (photo by Henry Chan)

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

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

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

Christian Bujold (photo by Henry Chan)

Christian Bujold (photo by Henry Chan)

Christian Bujold (photo by Henry Chan)

Christian Bujold (photo by Henry Chan)

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

Blowing away the smoke and smashing the mirrors: troubling the trickery of capital H-history

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

When I enter the performance space, Didier Morelli is climbing the wall, rubbing the blackboard with his face.

Morelli: “John. John. You didn’t leave me a dry eraser. I’m having to use my face.”

He is removing the remnants of John Court’s festival performance from the board. His cheeks and lips are caked white and dusty. To get the few remaining marks high on the board he jumps and hangs from the edges by his fingers, swinging left to right like a pendulum. Continuing until all the markings have been removed/have transferred to his skin, he jumps back. He seems satisfied and grabs a fresh piece of chalk from the tray and turns to John once again.

Morelli: “Can I use your chalk?”
Court: “Of course.”

Writing on the board with his left hand, Morelli scrawls in messy, barely legible scratching the names of the following iconic artworks, historic legacies, moments, people and points in time which his performance will mark. Together these make up his arena of inquiry for this piece, titled White men making white smoke: more or less:

Hans Haacke, U.S. Isolation Box, 1983
Vito Acconci,
Seedbed, 1972, New York
Bruce Nauman,
Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square, 1967
John Baldessari,
I Am Making Art, 1971
Vito Acconci,
Prying, 1971
Vito Acconci,
Step Piece, 1970
Marina Abramovic,
The Artist is Present, 2010
Pope John Paul II,
“We shall destroy the program”
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

Using his non-dominate hand to write out these names has already undercut their influence, and our ability to misconstrue this as any sort of honour. This is not a list of his favorite things. With a quick flip, Morelli is in a hand-stand and his feet are against the board. Holding a piece of chalk between his toes he makes new marks and skews the words’ legibility even further. Morelli’s actions may not be precise but they are still exact—his outcomes are only relevant in light of how his actions are irreverent. Morelli is strategic in his dissent.

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Around the room are a variety of objects. Leaning against the wall is an uprooted tree, and within an area outlined by painter’s tape he has placed a mixture of items for work and play (including a puzzle, toy animals, an axe, and work boots), ways to clean (a small broom and paper towels), and food to eat (clementines).

Didier Morelli’s performance is four hours long, and throughout he engages his body in demonstrative feats of agility, endurance, play, and physical/psychological strength, and he spends a lot of this time alone. He stands on his hands to wipe the chalkboard with his feet. He lifts a heavy wooden box onto his chest, and then stays inside this box for over an hour. He scrawls the words ‘I Am Making Art’ in charcoal on the walls within the box which over time grows quite hot (a result of both Morelli’s activities and the heat from the single light bulb encased inside).

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

He stands on the side of his head. He sweats. He yells from inside the box at a video playing on a television outside. “We Shall Destroy… the Program!” he shouts, pushing against the walls so it lurches to and fro as though it contains a beast trying to break out. “We Shall Destroy… the Program!” he shouts again while the video of Pope John Paul II plays on a television set (I can hear sounds of the pope saying ‘wooooo, woooo’ amidst a murmur of cheers).

(…)

“Is anyone out there?”
Morelli, still in the box, is interested in eating a clementine. Asking if someone could please help him by fetching one, he reminds us he also needs it peeled since his hands are too dirty, and to please hand it to him in smaller pieces since it’s too large to fit through the holes on the side of the box. Several people oblige his request, and for a moment Morelli rests.

Morelli: “Mmmmm, these are so good.”

“Is the pope still on? I made this segment way too long…”

Morelli is interested in challenging norms. His actions in performance pose questions and offer critical perspectives on what is considered impossible, in time and in space. In this performance, Morelli is challenging certain primacies of performance art canon by demonstrating a form of absurd alternative leadership. Watching him for the first full hour, I was struck by what the images and actions conveyed about the difficulties of mounting a significant opposition, and how lonely being potential leader can be. For example, in one segment of his video “I Am Making Art, Part 2”, a figure is waiting in a public square filled with empty chairs, as though hoping to give a speech but no one is there. Flashing images on the screen next show a figure in a cage of unspecific dimension, and then the words “Pause, for physical transcendence.” I decide this is a good time to leave.

One hour goes by and I look in on Morelli again. This time I see that he’s out of the box and is now standing on top. A roll of florescent yellow stickers in hand, he’s caught in a loop of repetitively slamming the sticky circles onto a point of the wall in a defiant action of emphasis. This continues for several minutes before I duck out again.

Only a short while later, I poke my head into the room once more. A string of yellow stickers traces Morelli’s movements like some kind of day-glo bread-crumb trail down the wall, and around the room. Following this line with my eyes I find him, crouched down on the floor taking turns placing stickers on a toy piano. His playmate is a baby boy. They are teaching and learning together, and these stickers mark the way. To make it possible for others to follow, he has placed stickers on himself too. He’s not the destination. He’s just part of the process.

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Making actions and moving, building and breaking down. Later, I look in and see that at some point Morelli has dismantled the box. Later still, I notice he has lined up all his objects around the perimeter of the room, in a marching line. Perfectly placed and spaced.

As we near 10 pm, the festival crowd gathers to watch Morelli draw his performance to a close. We find him in the place where he started: wiping off the blackboard and all its names with his face.

Climbing and taking action to remove this history, he obliterates it to dust using a mixture of love and aggression. He finishes, and switches the lights off. On hands and knees he scratches a piece of chalk against the floor. Manufacturing new chalk dust and back lit by a single bulb he gathers it up. Then, pausing for only a second, he blows it away.

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Didier Morelli,White men making white smoke: more or less (photo by Henry Chan)

Catch-up

As we enter the final day of the festival (and Jenn and I scramble to document the works we’ve seen in the past day), I wanted to share my BINGO process. We have one square left!

It’s hard to quantify a lot of these things, so I’ve tried to go with the most straight-forward and literal possible definitions. Was Eduardo Oramas competing with himself? Were Ali Al-Fatlawi and Wathiq Al-Ameri in competition? Is Basil AlZeri’s competition with the clock enough?

I mean, so far, I’ve said no. But I may waver on that. I really want to shoot for a blackout, here.

photo 2 (1)

Small Signals for New Poetries

Ali Al-Fatlawi and Wathiq Al-Ameri, Vanishing Borders (photo Henry Chan)

Ali Al-Fatlawi and Wathiq Al-Ameri, Vanishing Borders (photo Henry Chan)

I have lost my notes detailing the gathering of small gestures which make up Vanishing Borders, a performance by Switzerland-based Iraqi artists Ali Al-Fatlawi and Wathiq Al-Ameri. I cannot sketch out the procedural building of a relation between these two, whose actions in concert and poetic counteraction with each other betray a profound relationship of sensitivity.

Some of the duo’s gestures are failing: as Al-Fatlawi pushes against a vertical chalkboard with all his weight, slipping on the linoleum floor, Al-Ameri sets off a cloud of flour in the middle of a table, pounding it with a meat mallet. Al-Ameri comes up against the same chalkboard-wall later in the performance, pushing a leg of raw meat like a plow against it.

Other gestures are instrumental: the creation of new tools for engagement. Al-Fatlawi mechanizes a cardboard tube he has rolled up into his mouth, forging a new sensory relation with breath. The opening and closing of his mouth triggers a rushing sound which fills the room, amplifying his exploratory actions (planking face-towards the exploded seeds of a handful of rush-stalks, cutting cardboard, imprinting over his heart with a crush of some blue sludgey substance). Al-Ameri duct-tapes a femur bone to his arm as a pathetic bludgeon.

Ali Al-Fatlawi and Wathiq Al-Ameri, Vanishing Borders (photo Henry Chan)

Ali Al-Fatlawi and Wathiq Al-Ameri, Vanishing Borders (photo Henry Chan)

Al-Fatlawi mentioned in a panel earlier this week that the duo’s practice operates in the space between politics and poetry. Their index of actions is resonant but oblique, moving but assured, sly and serene, suffered and veiled. There are moments of clear political symbolism (Al-Ameri’s helmet, whose crest is composed of scavenged bits of raw meat; or the performance’s scrolling projection of flags; or the duo’s alternating gesture to ingest or listen to small, dollar-store globes). At one point in the performance, Al-Fatlawi cuts a hole and sticks his head through a cardboard reconstruction of some document (a banknote? a government document? a fragment of the quran?) laden with Arabic script and decorative Islamic arabesques. The impossibility of my understanding this reference struck me, both as my own cultural failing and as a kind of insistence on the duo’s part, to incorporating concrete cultural signifiers, which may not reach out universally, but are certain to affect in pockets of the audience— particularly, pointedly.

What I am left with after Vanishing Borders is a catalogue of signals, cooperative but always only at the brink of meeting: fumblings for reconciliation.

Ali Al-Fatlawi and Wathiq Al-Ameri, Vanishing Borders (photo Henry Chan)

Ali Al-Fatlawi and Wathiq Al-Ameri, Vanishing Borders (photo Henry Chan)

Dispatch IV from Radio Equals

photo 1 (1)

claude wittmann’s performance, Radio Equals, has been reccuring daily at 3 pm, and was broadcast on 93.1 fm. The preceding is a short dispatch in response to today’s final session. wittmann’s final action, Landsgemeinde happens today (November 2, 2014) at 4pm.

She Was Just Like You

Francesca Fini, I was there (photo Henry Chan)

Francesca Fini, I was there (photo Henry Chan)

Francesca Fini’s performance space is a theatrical set. Her props and environment impeccably arranged, dramatically lit. Red, white and pinkare the scene’s characteristic colours. There is a bandaged white face on a table, a red suspended platform dripping a red popsicle over a fishbowl, an apron riddled with Eva Hesse-like protrusions. Fini monitors us as we enter. Although her hands are cuffed, her presence is commanding.

“They say cold preserves beauty,” Fini tells us, as she massages her face, neck and chest against an ice-replica of a face. She smashes it on the floor almost immediately. Inside the block of ice is the weight for a metronome, which she sets ticking. It cues a video composed of spliced 60s ad footage, top a livestream from a smartphone which looks down from the suspended platform. When Fini begins her frenzied licking of the popsicle suspended below the camera, her desperate and furious sucking motions and the bobbing of her tits in her pink party dress are streamed behind the distorted rhythmic clips (and, I later learn, broadcast online).

Inside the popsicle are keys to her cuffs. The progression unfolds. Slowly but surely, the tools of Fini’s performance become available to her.

Cue another projection: a red-lipped face on the white-bandaged head in the centre of the table, intoning a story as the clips behind play. A young girl (named Marley). Just like you. Dreaming of a fairy prince. He’s rich. They run away together. Big white horses with silver bridles. Elves (maybe owls?) carry her wedding train. The story repeats, distorts. She marries a big white horse. She wants to grow up to be a fairy prince. There was a big white girl. The words take on an eeriness, play backwards, get garbled.

Fini cuts into the top of the head, which is a cake. Shovels some mouthfuls. The projection becomes frenetic behind her. As she serves the cake to a few guests, she asks a series of questions: do you like it? do you like me? do you love me? do you want to marry me?

She downs milk with her cake, acquires a wedding ring at the bottom. she writes love in popsicle-melt and cake-goo on the series of protruding tampons (of course they’re tampons!) which adorn the apron. Putting it on, she flicks on a series of fairy lights. She stands in front, asks us to put on our 3-D goggles and watch as the haze of ad-clips, the fairy-tale story, and new animations of microbes, fish, and monsters grow to populate the film-decoupage, descending into a bitter discord.

Francesca Fini, I was there (photo Henry Chan)

Francesca Fini, I was there (photo Henry Chan)

At a basic level, I wrestle with the relevance of work like this— work which relies on the visual conventions of second wave feminism and on media images from the 1950s and 60s. This critique of a vintage lexicon of visual images can lack urgency and currency for me, drifting into the nostalgic territory and becoming the stuff of rockabilly culture and Mad Men-themed dinner parties. These images of housewives, little girls who dream of marrying rich, of tampons, party dresses, blenders, hair curlers, tinned food… none of them reveal. Rather than point to a way of re-imagining women’s contemporary roles, Fini’s video shows us a swirling hallucinatory pile of images we already know to be oppressive.

For Fini, this is entirely the point. Vintage pinups and the language of the second wave persist in contemporary consciousness. Whether or not we are bored with them (and whether or not we care to see them), they maintain a steady march through our collective white-bread history. Unlike before, though, they now operate at a level which straddles repulsion, nostalgia, camp, desire, homage, and politics.