Louise Liliefeldt

October 28 2016

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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Elizabeth Chitty

Written By Michelle Lacombe

Daylighting Walks

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PHOTOS by Henry Chan

Despite actually arriving early, the first time I attend Elizabeth Chitty’s Daylighting Walks I manage to miss the introduction, which frames the action for participants. Consequently, I do not participate at all in the way that is intended. I chat the whole time, excited to see friends I have not seen in a while and thrilled by the coincidence of being in one of the only neighbourhoods I know in Toronto. While I enjoy myself, I can sense something is off as we quickly shuffle down the street in a broken line. No one attempts to fill me in but I eventually realize that my experience is not representative. I decide to go back, in part to participate in a more appropriate manner, but also to confirm if Chitty is offering the same trajectory each time.

My second attempt is not more successful. Late again. Regardless, I jump in and rely on information I have gathered from other participants and from Chitty’s artist talk to frame my engagement. I know to keep silent and to reflect on water as we move. Unfortunately, while others seem to fall into the work quite comfortably, I struggle.

Throughout the walk, my mind wanders constantly off subject. I find keeping silent in a group context isolating and difficult. Periodically though, Chitty stops to share interesting historical information about nearby shores and underground rivers, or to wait for the group to catch up. These moments re-centre me each time because they actively prompt me to consider what is not visible; the past, the underground, the group dynamic… Left alone, I just can’t stay focused. It’s not my strength. And my struggle is exasperated by the presence of the video camera and the microphone. The tech generates in me an unbelievable pressure to connect, to perform, to participate in a very specific manner that I feel is just not happening. I am one of those people. Consequently, I spend most of my time being very self-aware and frustrated by my inability (or refusal) to extract a meaningful experience or to produce content for Chitty to work with. I wonder if this would be considered a form of participation or not?

Daylighting

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We go outside, greeted by a soundscape of voices reflecting on water, rivers, land, etc. Gleaned and edited from the recordings taken during the walks, the voices effectively flow, becoming itself a wonderful form of watery movement. As I listen, I am pleased to hear that people connected with the walks and have generated such sincere and reflexive content. You should understand why.

In the distance, glowing blue lights call to us. The public makes its way up the street, moving in an organic mass that shifts as people join the movement or stray and stop along the edges. Eventually we encounter Chitty, who is walking slowly towards us. She is closely followed by someone holding a small piece of equipment that projects a video onto her long white plastic apron. The image appears to be a water treatment facility, a plant filled with pipes and vats. As we follow her, I get a better look at the blue lights that move around us. They are illuminated watering cans carried by two volunteers who snake their way up the street to wet concrete cracks whatever flora has pierced up through the ground

Both the voices and the lights are a beautiful complement to Chitty’s more stoic and rigid presence. The fluid soundscape recalls the past, both recent and distant, and the dancing lights that feed the ground playfully evoke depth and resistance to burial. As I move along the street, for the first time I am brought to think of what is gone (and our complacency in that erasure) and what is below us. Earth, seeds, rocks, and yes, water. Covered but not yet totally erased by the city. This is the walk I have been waiting for and the walk I feel Chitty was attempting to offer me earlier in the week.

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Sue Murad (with Vera Koshkina)

Written By Michelle Lacombe

Brush, Paper, Scissors

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PHOTOS by Henry Chan

I totally love to see a performance and, as I watch it, to realize that I have seen this artist’s work before. This happened with Sue Murad, who I had met in Chicago a couple of years ago at an event that was buried far away in my memory. The work she presented back then was different, but used a similar strategy of display and rearrangement that is clearly a part of her artistic vocabulary. I recognized her work immediately.

In the context of Brush, Paper, Scissors, Murad is perfoming with Vera Koshkina. However, from what I can tell, the work is still very much her own. Koshkina reads as an extension, a mirror or an echo, which works well with the form of the work. To underscore this relationship, they wear the same outfit, a cool urban spa look that is feminine without being too heavily gendered. This can actually be said of Murad’s performance in general. Simultaneously formal and playful, Murad’s treatment of (a type of) feminine subjectivity is refreshingly light.

As they enter the space, Murad hands a brush to an audience member and, as it makes its way through the crowd one curious interaction at a time, the artists take their place in the centre of the stage. Facing each other, they hold open the pages of a pamphlet containing an assortment of professional hair dressing supplies. They fold, rotate, and turn pages, pausing at regular intervals between each movement. The action is somewhere between a choreography and a demonstration, and, as they go through their formal game, we peruse the visual contents of the pamphlet: Small dressers, hairbrushes, aprons, make-up boxes, chairs, scissors, plastic capes, mirrors, chairs, scissors, spray bottles, aprons, curlers, plastic capes…

The pages are then laid out on the ground in two tight grids, and, using tiny synchronized steps, the artists work their way around the flat forms. Again, their movement follows a structure, though one that seems to leave room for interpretation; rotate, step forward, step to the side, rotate, step to the side, rotate, step forward, step forward, step to the side, rotate… While Murad’s and Koshkina’s execution is more delicate and reserved, it is impossible for me to not think of Bruce Nauman’s walking works on the perimeters of squares. I love those videos.

When their sequence of movements leads them to facing each other, the work shifts into its third choreography. Mirrored, they sit on the ground and remove their hairpins. Two small circular cut out images and two balls of hair have been released and rest in their respective palms. These objects then move back and forth between them, again using a series of regularly executed gestures taken from a bank of possible arrangements. The delicate objects moves from hands, to ground, to hands, to between fingers, to ground, to between fingers, to hand, eventually settling on the floor one on top of the other.

The artists stand up, take a pen from their pockets trace each other’s ears, move to the audience, and trace their hands. The action is delicate and intimate, and breaks from the more demonstrative quality of the previous three choreographies.

To close the work, they lay out the performing objects near the paper forms: brush, balls of hair, cut out paper circles, and scissors… (Where did the scissors come from? Were they also moving through the audience?). The arrangement is complete and they leave.

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Margaret Dragu

Written By Jessica Karuhanga

VERB FRAU TV Season 5: 7a*11d

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I have just returned from the kitchen with Michelle. We were guests on the last episode of the fifth season of VERB FRAU TV. Well, it was more of a follow-up to close the season. The idea behind our debrief was in essence to unravel and process what we had witnessed and endured the last couple of weeks. We wrung out our sponges of all the energies they had absorbed. Our episode was one of recovering and rediscovering. I have tuned in and out of the series over the last ten days. I play these videos as I wade through my daily tasks. I appreciate the intimacy. There is always something a bit melancholic as a festival draws to a close. Some of these contents remain with us. We process these ghosts. We try to draw from these elements. To translate our response back into form. There remains a reflection of something passing. Golboo Amani instigated the possibility of a blogger’s reflection with Margaret Dragu aka VERB WOMAN. During our debrief we discussed our own practices, symbols, archives, what has moved us, what has stuck like glue and the future. As our conversation drew to a close Margaret Dragu asked us to do a one-minute performance. She has asked all of her guests to contribute to the record in some capacity. A series of processes, sounds, arrangements and movements. Michelle and I begin by talking about the possible action. There is pressure and words and nervousness invariably get in the way. So we improvise dancing hand movements instead. First her hand. Now mine. Slow and elegant sweeps across the counter and beneath the frame.

mikiki ferrando elizabeth,  katebarry

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