Meditation on Mediation as Medium

April 12 2018

Written By Jenn Snider

In lens-based practices, and specifically performance art made for the camera, the lens is many things. Both a willing collaborator and stoic informant, the camera is an intermediary, bridging artist and audience. The camera is also a subject, elicited to act as an extension of both the image creator and the viewer. As a boundary-maker, the camera demarcates a site for the testing and breaking of limits: physical and conceptual limits of the body, of the frame, of the artist’s relationship to an audience, and of the audience’s awareness of life extending beyond the image—an image that is constructed by way of the gaze as both whole and partial.

Over the course of Fall 2017, the 7a*md8 series presented by the Toronto Performance Art Collective (producers of the biennial 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art) offered audiences a prismatic look at lens-based performance practice mediated by social media platforms. A unique departure for a collective with a history of presenting critical, live/in-the-flesh performances, 7a*md8 unearths fresh prospects at the intersection of performance and new media forms, in a context of remote access. The works, curated by 7a*11d collective members Golboo Amani and Francisco-Fernando Granados with the assistance of Shalon Webber-Heffernan, shimmer with histories and gestural patterns, echoing actions, words spoken, and images alive with the hum of engagement through the access provided through online platforms. The variety in the artists’ approaches, the urgent and raw nature of much of the production, and the vastness of a potential ocean of followers are just a few of the many facets of this series that extend beyond the lens.

Asked to write a parallel piece to comment on the curatorial framework of the 7a*md8 project, my approach has been experiential—to think through the elements of an experience of the collected works by revisiting them again as a leisurely viewer in contrast to the avid follower I was during their initial delivery. With much of the series now available away from the live streamed or otherwise time-ascribed context of their presentation, after review I’m re-convinced of two things: one, the collection presents a weighty and eclectic medley of works that together strike a discerning yet hopeful chord for a future of interdisciplinarity in performance; and, two, mediation is the key component when considering the interventionist and productive ethos of this series.

To mediate in the context of performance art is to act both generatively and disruptively. As a process of extending, connecting, relating, and intervening, mediation in performance art transmits and influences and augments elements through action and the body. Whether these elements are conventions or contexts, themes or ideas, objects or audiences, the alterations and maneuvers made along the way generate an essential tension that lives at the heart of the mediating process: a cascade of potentials between what was, what is, and what could be. The artists who use this tension can transcend or at the very least transform the immediate constraints of the medium/media they’re working with, such as performance for the camera shared on Instagram and live streamed/uploaded to YouTube. This use of tension as a bridge provides opportunities for artists and audiences to engage with unfamiliar and thought-provoking work in new ways, in this case the appropriation of the ubiquitous, often noisy, proprietary platform of social media.

By positioning 7a*md8 within the social media space, and linking production to the tools and technologies inherent to these platforms, the curators have invited the consideration of a politics of access—asking what it means for artists and audiences when any space becomes a venue, any time offers a performance, and distance away becomes no obstacle to engagement. By freeing the bounds of performance from time and space, as well as the cumbersome weight of the camera thanks to the technology of a smartphone, accessibility takes on a malleable character. Opening up to alternative arenas of practice and new experiences for artists and audiences alike, the politics at play here are also altered by the expectation that the additional layers of complexity will modify how artists and audiences approach the negotiation of creating/viewing the work.

But is it enough to suggest that the mediation processes in performances made for the social media-connected camera are contending with overlapping influences alone? Or, does the way that the lens, the performing body, and the sensory/social points of access for audiences intersect open up potential new avenues of creation and meaning? And furthermore, where the artist’s performance is mediated by their body, their environment, and their use of the lens, how significant is it that the technology behind the lens mediates so much of the view of the artist and the performance, the material, and the sensory experience for the audience? What is being altered, and what is staying relatively the same?

If there is a potential future for performance art that desires to disengage from the “pure form” of its origins and embrace new spheres, this intersectional, interdisciplinary approach to contemporary practice will need to address how critical intuitions can manifest amid the throng of mainstream commercial distribution streams. The distribution style of the online platform, and the scheduling of posts or particular algorithms determining the feed, mediates both the audience’s access/engagement and the artists’ realization of the work. These factors are already a hazy collection to theorize upon, let alone accounting for the complexity of the internet’s invisible borders that censor and filter for political control and/or economic gain. The impact of a global scale of mediation and its panopticonian entailments on the artists’ and audiences’ engagement is inherent here and must certainly be a factor to contend with in the wake of a post-social media, post-performance-artist-as-celebrity world.

With so much that is new, there are at least two facts that we can safely suppose will remain: one, once it reaches them, an audience will always internally mediate the work through their experience of it, who they are, and their understanding/what they bring to the moment when the work is viewed; and, two, all the active mechanisms and points of leverage of all this mediation will always be brought to bear on the artist. It is still the artist at the centre, and it is their decisions and their work which generate the engagement offered to their audience, and ultimately, the meaning and expression available for interpretation and negotiation. Regardless of the form of dissemination the artist is always the central factor of any contention. This is perhaps something that remains of the critical intuitions of the history of performance as it transforms in this mediated context: the possibility of an artist action as an arena of subjective articulation and representation that supplements and politicizes available images of bodies.

For audiences of performance on social media, versus live performance audiences, the artist’s performing body is simultaneously farther away and more available. Through social media, it is possible for audiences to situate their experience of the artist’s performance in ways unavailable in a live performance. Audiences are afforded new powers over the ways in which they interact with these works of art: a viewer can fixate, replay, and obsess over details with an abandon enabled by the fact that no one is watching them watch the performance. Emboldened by anonymity, they can comment, offering praise or criticism with a certain abandon. And of course, with an availability unencumbered by scheduling it is possible for a viewer to experience, engage, and interpret the works within this series no matter where, or when they are. One moment can be played in infinite repetition, or scrolled through. Yet, as that capacity for interaction is bound by the mandates of the software, all access remains mediated. Performance becomes content, content creates engagement, and all engagement becomes data tethered to the dynamics of the mysterious algorithms at play.

Forces of mediation move upon individuals making performance for the camera as acts of heteronomous negotiation to achieve an autonomous expression. That autonomous expression is multiplied and variegated by the distribution network of idiosyncratic, individual nooks of interpretation and replication that hibernate in the devices of each active participant. This perspective—or rather, the view that social media brings an interposed medley of perspectives—disrupts attempts to define human experience as one thing, one kind, or one way to be. In performance for the social media lens, if only one thing is certain, it is that meaning is aggregate. Everything else remains to be seen.

Jenn Snider ​is an arts administrator, curator, writer, facilitator/organizer, and multi-disciplinary artist. She holds an MA in New Media Art Histories from OCAD University where her research explored administration in artist-run culture as a practice of institutional critique. She is the Executive Director of the Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS), and sits on the Board of FADO Performance Art Centre, MANO/RAMO, and IMAA. Info on Jenn’s arts-based practice is available at

7a*md8 Live Stream archived compliation

December 21 2017

Written By 7a*11d

We are pleased to announce that an archived compilation of the 7a*md8 Live Stream event can be viewed below. Captures of individual performances can also be found on each featured artist’s information page (follow the links below).

Maryse Arseneault (NB)
Ali Asgar (Bangladesh/USA)
Ivanie Aubin-Malo (QC)
Jef Carnay (Philippines)
ee portal [Elyse & Emilio Portal] (ON)
Maggie Flynn (AB)
Romi Kim (Canada/Korea)
Russell Louder (PEI)
Freya Björg Olafson (MB)
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (Cuba)
Camila Salcedo (NS)
Selma Selman (Bosnia and Herzegovina/USA)
Liz Solo (NL)


Live Stream archived compilation; project made possible with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council

7a*md8 On Line artist interviews

December 9 2017

Written By 7a*11d

As part of our On Line social media residency project, each of the artists who participated was asked to provide answers to a series of interview questions:

1. Tell us about your practice in general and how it intersects with social media.
2. How did you come to use social media as a platform for artistic production?
3. How do you think the idea of performance gets activated by online interaction and social media?
How are you performing when you use the medium in your practice?
4. Who do you see as your audience when you create using online social platforms? Are there
particular interactions that are memorable or that have had a significant impact in your practice?

A compilation video featuring all of the artists’ responses can be found below. Individual responses are also accessible from each artist’s information page (follow the links below).

Natasha Bailey
Kiera Boult
Yolanda Duarte
Bishara Elmi
Nadège Grebmeier Forget
Jessica Karuhanga
sab meynert
Mohammad Rezaei
jes sachse
Syrus Marcus Ware

7a*md8 On Line artist interviews; project made possible with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council

Festival Bloggers’ Reflection

December 24 2016

Written By Jessica Karuhanga

A conversation between Jessica Karuhanga and Michelle Lacombe

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Images by Henry Chan

M. Having seen some previous editions of 7a*11d, what, to you, distinguished this one from other incarnations? Did it feel representative of the festival?

J. I have attended the last three iterations of 7a*11d so I will speak to these experiences. What I know of the festival is that it always materializes differently yet there are forces that are constant. These constant forces are the organizers. Much of this energy is unseen. I must also note the reemerging figures, like Margaret Dragu, who feel integral to the fibre of the festival. It seems to me that 7a*11d is like a constellation of sites extending and meshing through networks of affinity. The most recent incarnation materialized in several sites. The main site felt like a stage which framed movement in a very particular way and it was fascinating to see the different strategies artists utilized when working within these parameters. I witnessed how to bend a frame so to speak. Some gestures seemed more successful or creative than others. Moments I miss from the past are bound up in geography. The first 7a*11d I attended unfolded at a couple artist-run centres positioned across the street from each other [Mercer Union & the now-defunct Toronto Free Gallery]. Each evening following the performances we would move on to the bar to dance and drink. I felt I got the chance to meet more people. I met some of the loves of my life, actually. My position this year was different. I was employed by the festival as a witness and writer. I was present in a different way. It demanded of my body differently. I was coming from home versus being a visitor. Maybe let’s talk more about the site, where most of the evening programs took place.

M. OMG. SO. FRONTAL. But with some distance it is difficult to tell if this reading was exasperated by the performances, or if it really was simply the result of a rigid layout (chairs lined up in front of a demarcated performance area). For sure the space always frames the work (in some way), but can the performances not also reinforce or resist the space? As you so eloquently stated, bend (or build) the frame. I think there were two successful approaches we witnessed: artists who totally worked to reshape the main site and our relationship to it (such as Joseph Ravens), and those who simply embraced the frontal position with actions that were strengthened by a single perspective (Francesco Gagliardi). I guess a third category would be artists who chose to work off-site, an absolute refusal of the site. But even there, it is not so obvious to break the persistence of the frame. I recall being surprised at how stage-like the sidewalk had become during Tanja Ostojić’s performance in public space. Was it the crowd? The cameras? The woman holding the sign? The way the public cut across the corner in an arch to minimize, ever so slightly, the distance travelled? Her presence? Probably the mix of all of it.

As I was writing my blog entries I realized that I would sometimes describe the main venue as a stage, and sometimes as a space. What inspired me to write “stage” when describing some works and “space” when describing others? It was literally the exact same place. While I habitually switch up vocabulary to avoid linguistic repetition, I am certain the way in which I attributed the words was informed by the performances.

Did you find that writing made visible a way in which you were reading the work that you were previously not aware of? Like the way writing made me aware of this spatial binary I was using to read the performances. You talk about a different presence and it being differently demanding of your body, would you elaborate on how this may have changed your way of seeing the works?

J. I too have been thinking of how I moved between the words “stage” and “space” as a way to describe the site. Yes, part of this is a strategy to avoid redundancies.  There still remains a binary between this flat surface (stage) versus the vessel (space) that holds you. This holding can linger long after the initial art encounter transpires. The task of writing, a form of representation, was frankly frustrating at first. I wanted distance after witnessing. I generally need time to process or articulate the things happening in the site. It’s tricky. Usually with each art encounter I respond first from my body. I produce this way too. I follow my intuition.  After this I begin an attempt to grasp an element to pull me into the work. A work can be disarming or confusing at first, especially if I don’t get all the signs. I am trying to let go of this need. It’s a bit entitled to want things catered to you. Anyway I felt a bit strange at first engaging in a process of translating these felt/bodily responses into another form and for others to digest. Knowing it was for others. We were the so-called “Eyes and Ears”. I believe we were a pair of eyes and ears but we weren’t the officiates. I appreciated the reflective conversations that took place between the spaces of the performance. The witnessing that took place in the splits so to speak. The splits being moments of transition. Moments at the bar. Back to your question or highlighting when I said “I demanded of my body differently.” I think it’s the way an occupation can become a pair of shades, a layer or a filter. I had to distance myself a bit from the responsibility of being the “eyes and ears”. This is not because I don’t want to own a position or politic but because of what it demands of my writing. I wrote less fluidly, less freely at first because I felt anxious. I know this is silly. I know they trusted us. But, the site, the stage and space, was also such an intimate place. So I began my role carefully, writing generally and descriptively, and this grew into a writing that was awash in feeling.

Do you have thoughts on sight and sight lines?

M. I am not to sure what you mean. Like visibility? (Which is a word I use a lot but that I realize does not actually mean much!)… But I hear you. The role of being “Eyes and Ears” was heavier than I had expected also. Too authoritarian and too vulnerable at the same time. But I am totally proud of the work we did, and how we worked together.

J. I’m proud of us too! Hmm, I guess I was trying to probe or highlight a poetics and politics of seeing. That there are different ways of seeing and how this seeing, a sigh tline, is informed by a melange of things you bring with you as you bear witness.

(M. interjection)  YES!! This is a very interesting actually. I became really self-aware of the way in which I engage with performance, like what do I bring to it as an audience? What am I looking for? What am I disregarding? Where am I shutting down? I confronted myself with these questions because I was seeking some sort of “objectivity”—or at least some position and accountability—as a counterbalance to the weight inherent in communicating on behalf of and preserving for. I really wanted to be responsible. This constant critical self-reflection was exasperated by the talks. It was difficult to just be in the work. In the end, I think the exercise of blogging had less of an impact on the actual writing style than on my level of self-awareness in regards to the way I look at artwork. To be honest it feels a bit like a curse because, ever since, when I see performance, I am constantly trying to position myself in relation to it. I am over-thinking and I find it rather ungenerous as a position. So yes, the exercise has totally changed the way I look, or see myself looking, even more than the way I write, which I did not expect.

J. Yes. Totally. I like how you remark on the weight of our positions. Yes, I’m proud of how we worked together. I loved reading your reflections. The generosity in the depth of your response. There was a symbiosis of our voices that formed over the course of the week despite the fact we never met before this festival. I don’t identify as a writer per se. I struggle performing, owning and claiming this title. I remember you saying something similar one day when we had lunch.

(M. interjection) I agree. It is uncomfortable to self-claim the title of writer, particularly as it is not our medium, but after the work you did, we did, I think we can proudly add it to our list of skills! 

J. I wonder if the form of the blog, its looseness, eases the authoritarian aspects of writing? This could be nullified by the fact we are the only two voices on the blog. But, my personal blog, for example, is a space where I can write free-form and relatively carefree which feels very different from the pressure of things I’m commissioned to do. You have blogged more than me. How was this period of reflecting and writing the same or different?

M. This is actually the first time I have blogged. Other writing I have done has taken the form of short informal essays produced upon request. I enjoy the distance and the structure that characterize these types of writing experiences more than the looseness and immediacy of the blog. I never quite knew where to position myself in the blog. I am a Capricorn, I like form, even if it is to break from it. There is a comfort and confidence in the distance it provides.

J. My Rising Virgo and Virgo Moon appreciate hearing your sentiments around form. I need this grounding despite my Aries impulses. Anyway, for some reason I thought you had more blog experience than me. You seemed seasoned. Haha. Okay, I want to return to this exasperation your speak of. It’s not just panels that do this. I’m teaching performance art right now and in the beginning my students felt the need to explain everything. They would give these disclaimers or didactics. Before performing they’d be like, “Okay it’s starting now and it’s about ___.” It was totally endearing. But, it talks around the thing. I was like, “No, no, no—I need to move you away from this impulse.” The object, the gesture is the thing. Don’t translate it. The extra information becomes this veneer or covering. An obstruction. It totally thwarts the experiencing. I remember doing this once in my undergrad and my mentor being like, “Don’t make assumptions about what I do and don’t know. Everything I need is here.” That means so much to me now. What we were doing is different. It is a looking back. Hmmm.

(M. interjection) Wow, that is good mentor advice! And you are correct. Looking back is different, but I think you are pointing to a real similarity. There is something that is lost in both the students’ preemptive monologue and the post-performance over-thinking/over-explaining we were practicing in our writing. Like something is lost or suffers. A magic of sorts that fades when you get too close. Glow in the dark stars work like that. Look straight at ’em and they self-erase, but from the periphery of the gaze they glow like mad. This manifests itself very concretely in performance. For instance, I can be totally hypnotized by an artist tumbling around with bags of potatoes but the more I try to explain why it is fascinating to me, to capture and communicate its magic, the more it starts to sound like someone just tumbling around with bags of potatoes. Like the explanation of it distances me from the experience of the work instead of bringing me closer.

J. Throughout the festival I would tune into Margaret Dragu’s daily broadcasts, these lovely assemblages, which formed a new season of VERB FRAU TV. The exchanges between Dragu and her guests always transpired in the kitchen. You gaze in. I would play them as I would maybe a podcast. I would clean and putter and mostly listen. I felt permission to do so watching her stretch and do Yoga. Also because it’s how we move through kitchen spaces. For me this was markedly different from a pane which is more formal by proxy of its definition. How or what did these VERB FRAU TV sessions give to you? By give I’m thinking of the generosity both of us seem to seek or want out of an art experience.

M. Full confession, I didn’t actually watch VERB FRAU TV during the festival period… I couldn’t find the time for this type of listening/encounter within my schedule and instead spent my free time at the smoking bench (outside the hotel) chatting with artists as they arrived and left. But I am willing to assume that these two forms of encounter operate in a similar manner (though one inserts itself into your domestic life/routine, and the other takes you out of it). In both cases, we are seeking more casual, and perhaps fragmented, encounters (with the artist instead of the work). Human encounters. Points of connection that use discussion rather than review, analysis and re-articulation. These moments seem to collect in what you called the splits earlier on in this text. Around the stage and in the kitchen.

Let’s be honest. One of the most amazing things about performance is that the material is a person. The artist is literally right there being the work! So social forms of encounter (over a beer, in the subway, on TV), being in the splits, allow us to get to know the artists in causal ways that I feel are very important to the understanding of the work. Performance pulls from life so the more you know about someone’s world, the better equipped I think you are to locate the work. Opportunities to talk casually, to spend time with the artists, nurture in me a form of knowing that feels more holistic, constructive and relevant to echo back into the community than, say, my somewhat random and totally subjective personal opinion. Platforms like VERB FRAU TV and the less official smoking bench give us access to the person (who is an integral part of the work) and, as such, enabled me to expand my considerations into areas such as intentionality, vocabulary, context, community, culture, etc. This seems way richer as a starting point for writing, and a particularity of the discipline worth exploiting.

Having spent so much time reflecting on the work of others, I am wondering if and how this experience has changed your relationship to your own performances. For me, the experience really inspired a desire to be in action. Perhaps to assert myself as an artist…? Perhaps to distance myself from such a cerebral process…? I have performed twice since the festival and both times have been characterized by a refreshing sense of freedom and playfulness I somehow think it’s reactionary to the pressure I put on myself as a blogger. So, thankfully, it seems that the post-blog curse of over-thinking is contained to my experiences as an audience and not my posture as an artist. I know you performed in Montreal a short time after 7a*11d, was this informed or tainted by your experiences writing in any way? What’s next or what do you want to take with you/leave behind as you move away from this experience?

J. You were residing at the same hotel as many of the participants. I imagine you would have coffee together in the mornings and travel together to sites. I always want to prolong these casual exchanges. They can be so pure. I like how you describe these exchanges as echoes. To be honest that was missing for me this year. I didn’t have enough space reserves to unwind with the guests. When I’m witnessing I’m making judgements and taking notes. These are always gifts. A gesture or a device in someone else’s work might make sense of something else I’ve been processing in my mind. Some of these notations disappear. They are fleeting thoughts. So it was lovely to intentionally and ritually write down all of my observations. The process made me consider my movements differently. I’m not sure what’s next or what precisely I’ll take with me. But I’m ready to let go of some trivial fears.

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