By Natalie Loveless
I’m meeting Michael Fernandes at noon at the Toronto Free Gallery. Today is the first of four days that Fernandes will be performing, from noon to 5 pm, locations TBA. As I walk along Bloor, I see him seated on a chain across the entrance to a car dealership. He stares into the street. There is something alluring about this image: solitary, lanky, long grey hair flowing. Tempted to approach, I walk on instead, giving him his space in case he is preparing for the performance. At 12:05, he’s not at the gallery yet, so I decide that maybe what I saw wasn’t actually preparation but was the performance itself. I walk back to the car dealership. Almost there, I see him walking towards me accompanied by a woman, a filmmaker he introduces as Barbara Sternberg, an old friend. Fernandes offers me some peanuts in the shell and we walk back to the Toronto Free Gallery together. On the way, Fernandes asks me if I know where he can find an Angelic Harp. The three of us discuss Angelic Harps for a while. Then Fernandes offers us each a fig and suggests that we go see the artist’s talk by the TouVA Collective. We agree. But first, he says, let’s stop for tea.
We go into a little tea shop and Fernandes treats. While we’re drinking he initiates a conversation about performance, value, scale and detail. We discuss the performance that happened last night and the talk yesterday afternoon. We then turn to the question of performance art and life: how do you see, represent, and disseminate work that has no iconic imagery? Work that is embedded in the everyday? The possibility suddenly occurs to me that, with no announcement, I am in the performance. That we have been performing—all three of us—the whole time. We finish tea. Walk over to the gallery. Listen to the talk. Gather together afterwards and reflect on the ways that it echoed the themes of our discussion over tea. We smile at each other. And so on. Each ritual constitutes a performance moment. Or does it?
Fernandes announces that he is going to Union Station to sit with karen spencer, and off he goes. Perhaps this is the next part of his performance for today, the next act. Perhaps these are all moments of performance, instances of Doing Things With Strangers—an echo of John L. Austin’s Doing Things With Words that I can’t but reflect on after TouVa Collective’s invocation of Austin yesterday. Subtle interventions into everyday life, each instantiating performance through an encounter with strangers—in this case, Barbara Sternberg and me. Or maybe I’m overthinking it and there was no performance at all today. As I follow Fernandes out of the gallery and prepare for the next part of my day, two festival-goers come up and ask: have you seen Michael Fernandes? Is he performing? Has he started yet? Of course, I don’t know what to say.