Sue Murad (with Vera Koshkina)

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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