Latitude 53 presents Visualeyez 2016, the sixteenth edition of Canada's annual festival of performance art, from September 19–24, exploring the theme of Kindness

Save the Date

Posted by Sam Power on August 25th, 2017

The artists have been confirmed and we are hard to work designing the schedule. Save the dates Sept. 26 – Oct. 1 for the 17th annual Visualeyez. And keep your eyes open for upcoming schedule announcements.

CALL to ARTISTS: VISUALEYEZ 2017

Posted by Adam on March 8th, 2017

The 17th annual Visualeyez festival of performance art happens from 17–24 September 2017 in the downtown core of Edmonton, Alberta, exploring on the curatorial theme of AWKWARDNESS.

Visualeyez takes place over a period of eight days and it is required that all invited artists are able to attend for the entire length of the festival. Artists experience the work of other artists; engage in discussion groups, meals and other activities that enhance the work of individual artists and the performance art community/network within Canada and beyond. Please visit visualeyez.org for the past festival information.

Latitude 53 will invite artists to Edmonton to explore issues around the curatorial theme of Awkwardness. Within this theme we are interested in proposals that address issues of social interaction, interpersonal phobias, clumsiness, mis-communication, and social isolation. Visualeyez is seeking submissions that will connect with Edmonton and Alberta residents and have resonance within an international dialogue. The festival pays a CARFAC artist fee, two-way travel and accommodations for all artists.

Proposals should include: a CV; artist statement; a detailed description of the work you wish to present and explore; and support material all sent as individual pdfs. Please also address how your develop, think, and explore your practice. You can include images, video, print or digital documentation of your work or as links, pdf, or image files. Only digital submissions will be accepted.

The deadline for submission is Friday, 19 May 2017, 2300h MST.

Submit proposals by email to: visualeyez@latitude53.org, with “Visualeyez 2017 submission” in the subject line.

Please be courteous of image size and materials that you are sending. Please ensure that attachments total to less than 10MB; if more space is required for time-based or intermedia work please provide a link via DropBox or a hosting service such as Vimeo or Youtube.

Artists shall be contacted by late June regarding the status of their proposals.

For information, please contact visualeyez@latitude53.org.


Visualeyez is joyfully supported in part by Canada Council for the Arts, The City of Edmonton, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, The Province of Alberta, the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, and Latitude 53’s members, volunteer and donors.

Situating Kindness: “Let Me Wash This Off Your Hands” by Christine Brault

Posted by Adam on December 29th, 2016

Leila Plouffe

At last year’s Visualeyez festival, the students of University of Alberta professor Natalie Loveless’s Fall 2016 seminar course “Ephemerality and Sustainability in Contemporary Art” (ArtH 456/556) responded to performances at the festival.


Montreal-based artist Christine Brault describes her practice as interdisciplinary and performance based research art creation. Utilizing relational aesthetics via site-specific interventions that rely on people, environments and contexts Brault seeks to “create an intercultural dialogue” through her own performative language which has developed through ongoing poetic and political research. Anchoring itself to Brault’s engaged and feminist practice in facing social inequities and aberrations of today’s world, she uses this language to evoke ritual related relationships to earth, human beings, their languages and transformations.

As I entered Latitude 53 Brault greeted me with a warm handshake and a “hello.” She explained to me loosely what her performance, Let Me Wash This Off Your Hands was going to be: she was simply going to wash people’s hands. We agreed to have a chat after the performance and left Latitude 53 to head to her location, a few short blocks away at Beaver Hills House Park or Amiskwaskahegan on 105th Street and Jasper Avenue. Amiskwaciy or Beaver Hills is Cree for the rolling upland region in Central Alberta, just east of Edmonton; Amiskwaskahegan or Beaver Hills Park is home to The Aboriginal Walk of Honour, and exists as a kind of oasis—the only green space along that section of Jasper Avenue. As Brault describes her work as site-specific and reliant on context, the placement of this piece is no accident and is in fact very important to how the content of this work is read.

Christine Brault performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Jack Bawden.

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On Chun Hua Catherine Dong’s, “To Begin”

Posted by Adam on December 27th, 2016

Jessa Gillespie

At last year’s Visualeyez festival, the students of University of Alberta professor Natalie Loveless’s Fall 2016 seminar course “Ephemerality and Sustainability in Contemporary Art” (ArtH 456/556) responded to performances at the festival.


Catherine Dong sets up her piece, To Begin, by presenting us with a very stark, white room, with three curious sets of objects inside of it. The first, a large rectangle formed from dozens of eggs; the second, a very large, orderly, stack of books in the middle of the rectangle; the third, a small white clock.

Dong enters the room, gracefully steps over the egg barrier and into the rectangle. She quickly glances at the clock and, bending over, reaches for the stack of books. Her fingertips fumble briefly with the edge of the bottom book, she tilts the stack backwards, and they slide into the curvature of her body. Then with a technique reminiscent of a practiced weightlifter, Dong hoists the books up, neatly fitting them under her chin. The books adjust again to her figure, which captures the obvious weight of the stack; she could not manage even one more book. Dong is at her full capacity.

Chun Hua Catherine Dong, photo by Adam Waldron-Blain

As she holds the stack, Dong’s initial passivity fades and is replaced by increasingly ragged breaths, the tantalizingly slow ticking of the clock, and an entire audience holding their breath. This first action lasts close to ten minutes, with every second passing by at a snail’s pace. Then, finally, with an ear-splitting crash, Dong’s muscles give out and the books fall to the floor. The stack falls wonderfully, splaying out all over the rectangle in every direction, displacing eggs, even breaking some—the yolks spilling out, bright yellow contrasting beautifully with the bare concrete floors.

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The building of Language In “Woven woven lost and found”, a performance by Linda Rae Dornan

Posted by Adam on December 22nd, 2016

Deltra Powney

At last year’s Visualeyez festival, the students of University of Alberta professor Natalie Loveless’s Fall 2016 seminar course “Ephemerality and Sustainability in Contemporary Art” (ArtH 456/556) responded to performances at the festival.

Photo by Sandra Der

Upon first meeting Linda Rae Dornan, I get the sense that she is mindful, seeking out a genuine place to connect. We sit at the table where she has already laid out items that she found the day before: pieces of cardboard, some silk flower rose petals, bits and pieces of paper, a pair of plastic glasses that had obviously been run over multiple times and left in the sun to oxidize, the lenses long gone.

Her prized find for that day, however, was a broken ski pole. She found it “just sitting there between two cement pillars. It was as though it was a gift, just for me!” The shaft of the pole is broken in two, a broom-like, splintered wound on one end. This broken pole has lost all its original usability. Stability. Now it seems to want to be transformed into something that sweeps things away. Things that are meant to disappear. How curious, I thought, that everything on the table was, at one point or another, meant to disappear. Ephemerality seems to be a theme in Dornan’s performance: the idea that things are not meant to last in their original form and usage. I wondered how theses items will be used in her performance. What meaning will be given to them?

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Go Easy on Steve, Steve

Posted by Adam on December 20th, 2016

Breanna Thompson

During the 2016 Visualeyez festival, the students of University of Alberta professor Natalie Loveless’s Fall 2016 seminar course “Ephemerality and Sustainability in Contemporary Art” (ArtH 456/556) responded to performances at the festival.

How do we perform kindness? How are things that feel “kind” sometimes really not that kind? Johannes Zits, in his performance Go Easy on Steve, Steve, explores the difference between acts of kindness and what it takes to internalize self-love, and he does this by using performance as a mode of directed discovery (during my interview with him he called it a “focused attention”).

Johannes Zits, photo by Adam Waldron-Blain

The paisleys and florals that sit in a pile under his bare feet, at the foot of his ironing board, waffle between abandon and possibility. These materials are loaded with projected importance as we follow Zits through his ensuing wardrobe transitions. The cottons and polyesters are no more facades to be adorned than they are a rug to stand on while ironing, patiently waiting to be the next costume for self-appraisal. Books lie flagged and highlighted on his desk, full of self-help potential, and a wall of illegible thoughts on paper are spotlighted beside a plinth holding what can only be precious stones, so often categorized as healing.

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I see You, I Recognize You: Linda Rae Dornan, Woven Woven Lost and Found

Posted by Adam on December 16th, 2016

By Daniel Walker

At last year’s Visualeyez festival, the students of University of Alberta professor Natalie Loveless’s Fall 2016 seminar course “Ephemerality and Sustainability in Contemporary Art” (ArtH 456/556) responded to performances at the festival.

Part One: Walks

As we are bundling up for our first of two walks, Linda Dornan tells me that she tries to get outside as often as she can. After all, an attunement to one’s surroundings, just like kindness, is something that is practiced; constantly developed. We are not looking for anything in particular, she tells us as we walk: what we encounter will be left up to chance, and as objects speak to us they will be collected.

On our walk, we chat about our daily lives, academic interests, and hobbies. We talk about Dornan’s artistic practice as something heavily process-oriented, and when the topic turns to sustainability and climate change, Dornan emphasizes the role of education as vital to any movement. Education, and more importantly, collaboration at all levels are what matter. Linda walks with a quiet focus, occasionally dropping out of step when she spots a color she likes in the grass, or a stray shoe in an alleyway.

Dornan’s re-attunement to her surroundings displays a particular kindness to objects normally overlooked and discarded. More than this, these are objects typically seen as a burden, and unpleasant to look at. As I walk with Linda, paying attention to the fascination with which she discovers lost objects, I am struck by the care that she demonstrates, treating these materials as friends and collaborators. Looking for the refuse of city life, picking things up that nobody wants, suggests the generative value of orienting oneself differently to the world; looking at our surroundings differently. An ecological derive, I can only anticipate our next walk together.

The day arrives for our next walk.

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Kalyna Somchynsky on Alexandria Inkster

Posted by Adam on December 14th, 2016

During the 2016 Visualeyez festival, the students of University of Alberta professor Natalie Loveless’s Fall 2016 seminar course “Ephemerality and Sustainability in Contemporary Art” (ArtH 456/556) responded to performances at the festival.

I walk east along Jasper Avenue on a brisk, windy September afternoon. It is September 23, 2016. As I approach the entrance to Commerce Place, abuzz with people from all walks of life, I see Alexandria Inkster dressed in white, seated at a small, wooden table across from a young woman. They are folding a piece of white paper together. The woman smiles as she sees me approach to take a seat on the concrete benches lining the building to watch. They have folded the paper into a long strip. Inkster folds one end. The woman mimics her. The paper unravels. Inkster keeps folding, but the girl appears to become confused as her fold won't stay in place. She keeps looking over at me and smiling, as if unsure of how to continue the exercise. Once frustrated, she asks if I would like to have a try, appearing reluctant to leave Inkster sitting alone. We switch seats, Inkster thanks the young woman and we begin.

Alexandria Inkster performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Adam Waldron-Blain.

Inkster and I make eye contact and smile at one another. She folds an inch of one end of the paper. I follow her lead and do the same with mine. I watch the rhythm of her hands. She looks at me intently, inquisitively, and then smiles once more. I imagine we are speaking through this folding process; the ebbs and flows of a conversation, nods of empathy, breaking out in laughter, listening intently, all unfolding through the movement of our hands and the communication in our eyes. Not knowing what to expect or how the performance will end I keep folding, and folding, following Inkster’s lead, until there is no paper left to fold. At this point Inkster takes a rubber band off her wrist, bundles up the folded piece of paper and hands it to me. “Thank you for the conversation,” she says, smiling.

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Day 3: Johannes Zits, Don’t be so Hard on Steve, Steve

Posted by Riva Symko on November 8th, 2016

See Steve line up his driver on the green. See Steve hit the golf ball. See the ball soar into the water hazard. See Steve berate himself: “Ack-gaaah! C’mon Steve! It’s not that hard of a game! So embarrassing.” Next, as per standard commercial narrative, it is suggested that the protagonist’s dilemma – his frustration – his self-chastisement – can be resolved via simple producer/consumer relations: if you can’t do it, buy it. And so as the scene pans out to show us Steve’s golf-mates awaiting their own moment on the green, the announcer chimes-in: “Go easy on Steve, Steve – that was the club’s fault”, and the Golf Town logo flashes onto the screen beside the tag-line: “TRADE IN YOUR OLD CLUBS – TRY ALL THE NEW ONES”.

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo and video by Adam Waldron-Blain

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Adam Waldron-Blain

…Cut to Johannes Zits (as Steve) standing, shirtless, on a pile of laundry in front of an ironing board in the middle of Latitude 53’s main-space gallery. He picks out a brightly printed blue cotton button-up shirt from the pile under his feet, and inspects it closely. Pulling off an indistinguishable piece of lint, he stretches it over the end of the ironing board, adjusts the collar and the sleeves, and applies the iron. Back and forth, methodically pressing out the creases, he shifts the shirt inch-by-inch over the board. Tipping the iron back onto the board, Steve gives the shirt a crisp shake, slips his arms through it, and fastens each button from top to bottom. Adjusting his shoulders a few times, pulling the left sleeve over his watch, and fixing the collar, Steve turns around to face a large, full-length mirror set opposite the ironing board. He peers at himself, scowls slightly, turns to the right, adjusts his collar again, turns to the left, scowls again. He walks back to the pile of clothes, chooses another brightly printed (this time red) cotton button-up shirt, turns back to the mirror, and holds it in front of his torso.

Finding this shirt equally dissatisfying, Steve returns it to the laundry pile, walks around to the outer side of a folding table standing to the left of the ironing board, and plucks a book from an unkempt stack on its surface. The book is heavily tabbed and notated. Steve pages through it, scanning for something – a chapter, a passage, a quote? As he begins to read aloud, it becomes clear the book is a self-help guide, and what Steve is really looking for is some guidance, direction, resolution to his incessant need to iron out every imperfection (real or imagined): “Make good decisions…bad decisions come from not caring enough…don’t be careless.”

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo and video by Adam Waldron-Blain

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Adam Waldron-Blain

Despite the fact that Zits’ Steve is reading these passages aloud, there is nothing explicitly interactive about Don’t be so Hard. (Zits as) Steve does not even allow us (the viewers) the satisfaction of acknowledging we are watching him, thereby inadvertently alleviating the innate awkwardness of our espial. Rather, both Steve and Zits are fully engaged in the task at-hand: self-criticism via dressing, and undressing/clothing, and more clothing. Visitors drift in-and-out of the gallery, some lingering in the seats lining each side of Zits’ performance. We are rubberneckers here – as though we are watching Steve at home in his bedroom, or his laundry room – waiting in anticipation to see what’s going to happen? But nothing really does – the cycle of Steve’s self-doubt repeats and repeats for, in this iteration, a full three hours.

It could be argued that all performative art contains an element of voyeurism in the way it transports the viewer outside of the quotidian, and forces a complex power dynamic between the spectator’s sense of self in the surrounding space, and the performer’s body and actions in the same space. But Steve’s actions/Zits’ performance is a guilty voyeurism. We should probably help this guy out of his rut – we all know he won’t really find what he is looking for in that pile of laundry. If only we weren’t so paralyzed by our own self-dissatisfaction. If only we weren’t just as critical of ourselves. If only we weren’t stuck in this audience/performer interstice with Zits.

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman.

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman.

At one point, Steve reaches into the pile of laundry for a second? third? fourth? pair of pants, pauses, then moves instead towards the table. This time, he retrieves a paper shopping bag with the American Eagle Outfitters logo emblazoned on the side. He pulls out yet another printed cotton button-up, inspects it closely, ponders the (still attached) price tag. He fishes the receipt out of the bag and holds it up to read and we can clearly understand that he still has the option of returning it. He appears to consider the shirt’s worth compared to his own worth, then slowly folds the shirt, and places it back into the bag.

In 1988, Stuart Ewen coined the term ‘commodity self’ in reference to what he observed as a new relationship between commodities (material objects carrying economic exchange value) and individuals. For Ewen, individuals living in Fordist North America during and after the 1920s began to recognize and form their sense of identity through the commodities they consumed.[1] This process of commodity-based identity formation has gradually intensified over the past five decades until today, when our sense of self is almost inseparable from the objects and services we buy. From this point of view, Steve is a physical manifestation of the commodity self described by Ewen – the ‘self’ Steve sees reflected in the mirror is contingent on the shirts and trousers he is trying on. Just like Golf Town can help their Steve become a better golfer with new clubs, Zits’ Steve cannot see passed his outfit to any other ‘self’.

Even I, as one of Zits’ viewers, can’t help wondering how Steve might look in the documentary stills of this performance – the ‘final product’ so-to-speak. Stacked in a grid, the photos of Steve pondering himself in the mirror could pass for one of VOGUE’s seasonal high-fashion runway collection reports.

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman.

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photos by Paula Kirman & Adam Waldron-Blain

For Ewen, the emergence of the commodity self was a direct result of corporate advertising’s ubiquitous extension into everyday life, and its promises of “freedom” and (American) “nationalism” for consumers.[2] Further to this, Jennifer Way has written that, today, individuals find their own value and meaning in the commodities they consume “by using them to establish, clarify, or change their identities and to communicate their identities as individuals and members of groups affiliated by ethnicity, nationality, region, religion, gender, sexuality, and generation.”[3] For example, Christians might purchase and wear gold crucifixion necklaces, business professionals connect to one another through their iPhone mobile devices, eco-conscious citizens drive hybrid vehicles, Steve visits Golf Town to improve his game, and Zits’ Steve likes to look good in a cotton button-up.

Steve is bound to his own indecisiveness, and stunted by an obsessive, performative quest for some ambiguously-defined perfection spurred on by the consumer cycle itself: need. buy to satisfy need. desire better. buy to satisfy desire. change one’s image/status/social group/etc. buy to reflect this. repeat. Steve tries to counter this by turning to self-help: “No more self-bullying about your appearance,” or, “You cannot earn worth through what you do”. But even the most sincere self-help is part of a larger industry – one that idealizes certain ‘types’ of behaviours, successes, lifestyles, and people as a very commercialized quest. Although this quest promises fulfillment, it also intentionally fails to deliver in order to guarantee itself capital perpetuity.

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman.

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman.

Every so often over the course of his ceaseless task, Steve picks up a fresh piece of clothing from the pile, and one or two small stones fall from the folds and bounce conspicuously across the concrete floor. Steve bends and picks up each stone, rubbing them between his hands to warm what we learn are actually “healing crystals”. He walks to his inspiration wall and reads out-loud a passage pertaining to the particular type of crystal (for example: “topaz: success, optimism, reduces procrastination”). Then Steve places the crystal in his ears, or in his belly-button, periodically adjusting them while he irons. The crystals function as part of Steve’s self-helping, but they also happen to be his closest connection to the outside, natural elements.

Zits’ larger body of work demonstrates shares an ongoing interest in exploring the divisions between our bodies and our environments. For instance, his 2012 Re-Dressing Landscape (performed at StFX Gallery in Antigonish, Nova Scotia) attempted to extend the performer’s bodies into the local landscape in a stripped-down, skin-to-elements walk, crawl, writhe, and brush through the sand and rocks of Arisaig’s beach, the coastal grasses at Chez Deslauriers, and the softwood forest lining the Pomquet trails. Along the journey, the performers took notes, photos, and video, and collected natural materials (sand, rocks, grass, branches) which they later brought into the Gallery to make what curator, Tila Kellman described as “a second nature”.[4] The crystals featured in Don’t be so Hard function like a second nature for self-hood itself.

In previous performances, Zits was explicitly reconnecting what are otherwise culturally-reinforced disconnections between the body and the landscape. Our clothes provide a literal barrier between our individual bodies and the elements. But we also detach ourselves from nature in more concealed ways – by commercializing it for resource production, or romanticizing it for adventure and mythology. Ironically, these divisions have been both naturalized and politicized. For Zits, “Considering nature as a body and as an active participant, ensures that it can be neither construed as a passive prop or backdrop nor adored and fixed in the realm of the sublime.”[5] Similarly, Don’t be so Hard de-naturalizes the relationship between commerce and our sense-of-selves.

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman.

Johannes Zits performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman.

As the evening wears on (pardon the pun), Zits’ face flushes – partially from the steam puffing and gurgling through the iron, partially from Steve’s unending dissatisfaction, and partially from the endurance of the performance itself. In fact, the entire gallery feels at least a degree or two warmer. “Learning how to be kind to yourself takes practice, motivation, and patience”, reads Steve as he continues to smoothe out the creases of self-doubt itself.

  1. Stuart Ewen, All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture (New York: Basic Books, 1988).
  2. Ewen, 30. Ewen places late nineteenth and twentieth-century American industrialization and commerce at the centre of his study. For him, the notion that individual progress and distinction can be obtained through consumption is the foundation of the ‘American Dream’, and even American democracy itself, 59.
  3. Jennifer Way, “Commodity Self,” Visual Arts and Cultural Studies Section, Encyclopedia of Identity, 2 vols., ed. by Ronald L. Jackson II (SAGE Publications Inc.: SAGE Reference). Retrieved May 23 2013 from: http://knowledge.sagepub.com/view/identity/SAGE.xml
  4. Tila Kellman as quoted in Richard MacKenzie, “Performance artist coming to Antigonish”, The Casket, August 15, 2012.
  5. Johannes Zits, “Don’t be so Hard on Steve, Steve”, http://www.visualeyez.org/festival-2016/artists/johannes-zits/, September 2016.

Day 1 & 2: Alexandria Inkster, We are in the folds

Posted by Riva Symko on November 4th, 2016

It is a blustery weekday afternoon shortly after lunch-hour in downtown Edmonton. Golden autumn sunlight is casting sheathes of warmth along the upper reaches of brick, concrete, and glass office towers. Alexandria Inkster – wearing white slip-on sneakers, white jeans, and a white cable-knit sweater – makes her way eastward along the north-side of Jasper Avenue like a striking, ghostly mime (with clear and serious purpose). She is carrying a heavy pile of white paper under one arm, and a wooden folding tv-table under the other. To her right, (handler/ photographer/ volunteer) Alice carries a matching set of folding chairs, and a camera around her neck.

The two of them pause just to the left of the 102nd Street bus-stop, unfolding the table and chairs like they are setting up an easel for a day’s worth of land(urban)scape painting. Inkster arranges the newsprint-sized stack of paper on the tv-table and places a large rock on top to prevent the already fanning sheets from blowing off into the street. She chooses one of the seats for herself and sits tall, upright, deliberate: unflinching, but relaxed. She stares straight ahead – part-expectant, part-lonely, part-stoic, part-anticipatory, part-meditative – but also open. Tucked ever-so-slightly into the alcove where the faded brick of the CIBC building juts out from the shiny granite façade of Commerce Place, Inkster is both on-the-street, and in her own space. The wooden chairs, the table, and Inkskter’s white clothing are framed by their own forms, looking and feeling like a Robert Rauschenberg White Painting (1951), while behaving something like a decontextualized White Cube.

Alexandria Inkster performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo & video by Adam Waldron-Blain.

Alexandria Inkster performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Adam Waldron-Blain.

A decade after they were made, composer John Cage described the White Paintings as “airports for lights, shadows, and particles…receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them.”[1] In a similar way, Inkster – with her table, chairs, and paper – gives us, me, you, and the people walking-by a landing-pad for all of the quotidian things, thoughts, and seeings that we are carrying with us down the street that day. I approach the table and Inkster asks me if I would like to join her for “a wordless conversation?” I say I would and take a seat on the vacant folding chair across the table from her. She explains the parameters of what seems almost like a pensive game: “To have a wordless conversation we need to maintain eye contact without speaking – our communication will be through our eyes. If we break eye contact, the conversation stops, but we always have the opportunity to re-establish eye contact.”

Although I have been looking straight at her eyes since she first mentioned “eye contact”, at some inexplicably defined point we have initiated eye contact in a more decidedly inaugural way and, simply by non-verbal consensus, I know that our conversation has started.

The content of the White Paintings “lies in the shifts in attention they require from the viewer, asking us to slow down, watch closely over time, and inspect their mute painted surfaces for subtle shifts in color, light, and texture.”[2] So too does this wordless conversation held via eye contact depend upon my own ability to contemplate on the moment itself. Given the theme of the week, I am trying to meditate on the idea of ‘kindness’ – I want to send warm, inviting, happy energy to Inkster. I have what I think is an ever-so-slight smile on my lips, and think about what it means to smile in/ with my eyes.

Inkster herself has written that kindness: “is a gift, an offering of sorts…a gentle touch, which may or may not be registered, accepted, or reciprocated, but is offered nonetheless…an invitation to form connections with the world one inhabits.”[3] So I think about how I am connecting to this stranger in a strange situation. At one point, a wave of sadness, or melancholia, passes over me – maybe that would happen in any performance, or circumstance, where human connection is the forefront of the experience. But I try to conceal it from Inkster as quickly as possible. I am also drifting back-and-forth between determining what messages and affectations the eyes in front of me are holding, and what uncategorized thoughts of my own are randomly interfering with the concentration required to truly decipher those messages and affectations.

Alexandria Inkster performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman

Alexandria Inkster performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman

I can only see it peripherally, but I know the pile of paper is there, and I know Inkster is doing something that resembles folding with a sheet of it during our conversation. I am aware of the paper, aware that her gestures with the paper seem repetitive, aware of the labour required by Inkster to fold the paper. As the performance goes on, I am mindful that it is becoming more and more difficult for her to fold the paper as its’ thickness increases. I can feel it billowing up onto my arms in the wind and I rest my hands on it to help keep it from blowing around. But, at the same time, I am resisting the urge to notice the paper. I am trying to not to contemplate anything but holding eye contact (and staying ‘kind’).

Alexandria Inkster performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo & video by Adam Waldron-Blain.

Alexandria Inkster performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Adam Waldron-Blain.

As one reviewer described, Marina Abramović’s well-known performance of The Artist is Present (2010) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was “largely about experience in time. Abramović’s goal was, essentially, to remain present, to remain ‘in the present’ for the approximately 731 hours and 30 minutes that the performance lasted. The work invited audience members to both witness and join in this present. A teenage visitor to the show was reported as observing of those who sat with Abramović in the work, ‘I think they lose all perception of time when they get up there.’ ”[4] But sitting in Inkster’s piece, I am actually more aware of time – aware of holding a gaze for a particular duration of time and wondering how long I can hold this eye contact. I think it is Inkster’s act of paper folding, in particular, that is grounding me in time, and keeping me on the street with her. Her repetitive gestures act like a metronome that ground us in the present of where we are and what we are doing. Where the perception of time, or even the perception of present-ness, might be the signature context of The Artist is Present (especially given it’s physical relation to the rest of the exhibition it is situated in, that is; Abramović’s retrospective), We are in the folds is about perception itself. Inkster’s modus operandi, here, is to “make art to precipitate an awareness of different ways of perceiving, and actively participating within, our shared and overlapping lifeworlds.”[5]

However, since We are in the folds is not completely stationary (Inkster with her table, chairs, and paper literally move – west down Jasper Avenue – as the day progresses), there is also something unfixed and unspecific about it. Inkster’s path is not random, and the locations (and the spaces they create) less defined, less significant to her action than that of Abramović sitting in the centre of an exhibition space at the MoMA. Inkster’s direction is as controlled and aesthetically minimal as the rest of her performance. She moves west down Jasper Avenue in a straight line, and she creates a space with every new stop along the way (an architecturally-absent, momentary gallery site).

Alexandria Inkster performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman

Alexandria Inkster performing at Visualeyez 2016. Photo by Paula Kirman

As the day progresses, Inkster also experiments with changing the parameters of some of her wordless conversations. At times, audience members participate with her in the folding. Inkster taking the lead and the viewer simultaneously mimicking her actions while trying not to break eye contact: starting at opposite ends of the sheet, both make a one-inch fold, press the crease, flip the whole sheet over, and repeat until the paper has become a pressed-spiral cube. In this iteration, the conversation is even more like a game, and the dialogue held less in the visual than in the act of folding itself.

At the end of each performance, Inkster gives the participant the folded sheet of paper held together with a rubber band. It becomes a sculptural record/remnant of an exchange. Our conversation(s) to be left in the folds of the pleated cube, “or to open up to the air to breathe.”[6]

  1. John Cage as referenced by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art online: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.308.A-C
  2. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art online, as above.
  3. Alexandria Inkster, We are in the folds artist statement: http://www.visualeyez.org/festival-2016/artists/alexandria-inkster/, September 2016.
  4. Abigail Levine, “Marina Abramović’s Time: The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art”, Hemispheric Institute, online, 2010.
  5. Inkster.
  6. Inkster.

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