Show us your adventures!

Posted on September 20th, 2010

At Latitude 53 at 7:30 tonight there’s a feedback session for Robin Lambert and Brette Gabel‘s project Show Us Your Edmonton!

I’m really excited about it because I haven’t had a chance to really talk with them about their project yet.

From what I can tell by reading their blog posts, they seem to be working really hard. I mean, I’m sure breakfast itself is not too much work, but it sounds like they’ve been sent on some pretty big adventures!

I’ve had a hard time figuring out how my job as festival animator can work with their project. I feel that my job is to experience the art, partake of the experience of both the artworks and the social life of the festival, talk with the artists about their work, and provide (through this blog) my take on things. My take on things is, obviously, going to come from my own particular point of view, and hopefully that point of view adds to the flavour of the performances to make for some stimulating reading, for people who couldn’t attend the events, people who DID attend and just can’t get enough, and for the artists themselves.

That said, Show Us Your Edmonton is a one-on-one performance that isn’t really conducive to audience members (or festival bloggers) tagging along. Plus, Robin and Brette seem to have been kept so busy on their daily adventures and figuring out how to make a podcast (not to mention seeking out technical support for making the podcast work and actually making the podcast) that they haven’t had time to attend many of the other festival events, which means less opportunities for interacting with them.

Which is why I’m excited for tonight’s feedback session, because it’ll be the closest thing I’ve had so far to personal interaction with the artists and the work. The only problem is that I still don’t understand how I will “animate” something I haven’t had a personal experience with! Oh, this job is much harder than I could have anticipated!

The thing is – the artists have blogs (Robin’s) (Brette’s) where they write about these daily adventures, post pictures and a podcast. These blogs are great, and I’m happy to share them with you (please, go!) but me writing about what I’ve read them say about their adventures sort of seems lame, especially in the absence of that personal interaction to inspire my take on things.

Basically, they’re animating themselves, and doing a great job of it! To be perfectly honest, I’ve read all the posts, but haven’t had a chance to listen to any of the podcasts. I’m sure the podcasts are just as awesome as the rest of the blogs, but better; maybe my job really is just to point people in the right direction.

I’ll let you know what I REALLY think after the feedback session!



  • hey cindy
    thanks for the post about our project! we are really excited about the talk back session. i think that the best way people can interact with our project is through our blog posts and by listening to our podcasts!! they are only about 7-8 minutes each and i have conveniently added these direct links for you if you are having a hard time finding them on our blogs.

    http://www.robinlambert.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Show-Us-Your-Edmonton-Day-One.mp3

    http://www.robinlambert.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Show-Us-Your-Edmonton-Day-2.mp3

    http://www.robinlambert.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Show-Us-Your-Edmonton-Day-three.mp3

    http://www.robinlambert.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Show-Us-Your-Edmonton-Day-four.mp3

    also if anyone is having a harder time understanding the whole scope of the project we were interviewed on the cbc:

    http://www.robinlambert.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/2010-09-17-visualeyez-breakfast.mp3

    • Cindy

      Thanks for posting these, Brette! It’s great to have the direct links on here for people to access easily.

      I haven’t had a hard time finding them myself, I’ve just had a heck of a time making time in the day to write the thoughtful creative responses I’ve been hired to produce, and haven’t often been able to make time to re-blog specific blog posts, media coverage or other festival promo, except when it was incorrectly stated on the schedule.

      Everything that is not art-writing, art-experiencing, festival-attending and art-talking has fallen by the wayside, including sleeping and most eating as well.

      Good luck on the CBC tomorrow; I look forward to hearing the summary/wrapup interview!

  • hi cindy…
    me, i am wondering if you could elaborate on this, your position here of being a “viewer” who does not get to “view.” this is an intense interest of mine, this “how can galleries support “furtive” works, or works that fall outside the visible realm.” although in this case it looks like the artists are assuming control of their own visibility, their own discourse. how does this affect you and the festival and the “visualeyeze audience” and who then is the audience of this work and why program works like this into the festival format? i think it is really important to enlarge the idea of performance reception beyond the traditional gallery/audience, and to proclaim that one person (or two) who are engaged with the artist are the legitimate audience, and that “more” does not mean “better.” i think visualeyeze has consistently programmed works of this nature within other more traditional formats. (yeah visualeyeze!) but in our era of production of stats(how many people did see the performance?)and visual legitimazation(show us the pictures)works that function outside of these frameworks are placed in a precarious position. i say we need to proclaim their value loud and clear!
    karen

    • Cindy

      Hi Karen,

      I’ve really appreciated your thoughtful feedback here; thanks again.

      The feedback session at Latitude 53 tonight just sort of started to touch on some of these issues; there was a lot of other ground to cover, and we didn’t get as in-depth into many of these issues as I’d really have liked. We (myself and some of the artists in attendance, as we discussed afterwards) felt fortunate that there was a feedback session for this project so that we had a chance to talk with the artists about the work. Issues of engagement and audience came up for us around this project specifically BECAUSE the artists were not around.

      To address your question about how galleries can support furtive works, my personal answer would be that they can make a concerted effort to support and program performance OUTSIDE the festival setting! The festival can be less-than-welcoming to site-specificity, intervention, quiet or invisible work as well as durational work that evolves over much longer periods of time. Festivals can easily fall into the habit of supporting “festival-friendly” work, and this is usually work that is concerned more with audience (being seen, new venues for completed work, greater exposure for the artist) and less concerned with experimentation, development of new ideas, and so on.

      This is not to say that Visualeyez is one of these ‘lazy’ festivals. I think it is overall very smart, thoughtful and engaging. Todd tries to bring in a broad diversity of projects, people and ideas, and is committed to fostering dialogue about the programming. His commitment to supporting a broad range of forms may sometimes cause hiccups because sometimes there is work included that does not easily fit into the festival format.

      I do not think that anyone should dictate what performance “should” and “should not” be allowed into festivals, however I think it is important to pay close attention to the stated desires and goals of the artists when deciding the best venue for presenting their work.

      I do not know how this specific work came to be programmed into Visualeyez this year (whether it was solicited directly or submitted to a specific Visualeyez call, for example) but I do know that I was very surprised to hear the artists at the feedback session tonight say that they “did not necessarily agree” that all artists need feedback. I would have expected that any artists interested in presenting within a festival would be specifically desirous of the opportunities for networking and sharing between artists that the festival setting provides. In the absence of a desire to interact with other artists, I would think a festival would be the last place an artist would want to show, since a solo presentation opportunity offers so much more focused support (financial, staff and gallery resources, time, and on and on) than a festival can.

      To clarify, though, as a viewer of this piece, I had just as much access to the work as anyone else who is witnessing it from the web – exactly what the artists has designed for us to see, but no more. I do understand that this is frustrating to some of the festival-goers (the work’s “viewers”) – highlighting again, perhaps, the awkward fit of this project into a festival setting.

      However, the frustration I voiced was specifically connected to how I as the festival animator could provide some insight or behind-the-scenes access to the work if I did not have access to anything at all besides the blog posts and podcasts that were made available to the world through their blogs. Not that I am incapable of drawing insight from an artist’s writing about their work – however, the blog posts and podcasts are hardly venues for the artists’ views from which I can draw inspiration; they are basically descriptions of what happened on each breakfast/adventure and snippets of their conversations. Plus, the writing I am doing as an animator and the writing I would do as a reviewer or the writing I would do if I was creating an essay about the importance of this work in the history of social engagement are completely different. A reviewer might expect to have access to talk to the artist of a work, an essayist might expect to have access to historical documents pertaining to a work, and I don’t think it’s out of line for a festival animator/animateur to expect access to either the artists making the work or the raw work in process during the festival itself.

      The artists have not been altogether clear (and I think that they have not quite reconciled this themselves) about who the audience is for the work. I have in these blog posts referred to the performances as “one-on-one,” but I didn’t come up with that description. The artists themselves have referred to the performances directly in that way (they refer to these as both “one-on-one” and “two-on-one” performances in their interview with the CBC), though in the feedback session they stated alternately that these were one-on-one performances AND that the main audience for the work is that which reads the blogs or may read the blogs in the future, the breakfast date being a sort of collaborator in the group. My reading of the situation is that initially the artists considered the breakfast date to be both the main audience and a co-creator of the work, a concept common in socially practice circles. Over the course of the project (and I’m taking this from what the artists said during the feedback session) their idea of who the audience was shifted onto that absent witness who would access the work through the blogs and podcasts. How this shift has affected the way the artists have come to think of the breakfast dates I’m not sure, but I think it’s an interesting question for further discussion.

      In terms of how this affects the Visualeyez audience, I think it’s fair to say that it leaves some confused and frustrated, especially those who wish to engage with the festival and its content as fully as possible. For others who cannot attend in person, I’m sure it is exciting that there is work available that is accessible to them.

      In terms of who the audience for this work is, I would say that it’s both the participant-collaborator and the person in the blogosphere, but that it’s not the festival-goer. (And yes, any one person can inhabit two or all 3 of those roles, but the performance is still not for them as a festival attendee.)

      I think blogs and websites, live streaming, video archives and all sorts of other technologies provide important means by which access to performance can (and should) be grown. I also wholeheartedly agree that more does not mean better and that engagement should be a goal outside of numbers but focused on quality. When I worked at AKA Gallery it was my personal crusade to provide quality opportunities for performance artists outside of the festival setting and I made a concerted effort to make these opportunities available to the types of performance and performance artists that would not easily find a home in the festival setting (often because of that disconnect with the concept of a large or captive audience.)

      Three specific ways that Visualeyez is successful in demonstrating quality over quantity (and successful in proclaiming the value of the work they do) are in:

      1. Providing high-quality opportunities for engagement and sharing between the artists (through meet and greets, dinners and other social occasions) that can spark shifts in thinking about work, ideas for new projects, new collaborative enterprises, and the sharing of specialized tools and resources

      2. Hiring a festival animator to actively pursue questions about the work, pose their own challenges/questions to the artists to give them new ideas and potential new directions to take their work, and provide stimulating discourse and alternate contexts for work to broaden the dialogue about the work within and outside of the immediate festival setting

      3. Organizing feedback sessions for the artists to gather information from the public and other artists about their project in particular, (to allow opportunities for the artist to learn about their own work and to get specific information on ways their project did an did not work so that it may be improved upon or considered when creating new works). For the audience to have their own questions answered makes the work more accessible/multifaceted and provides them a richer and more nuanced understanding of the work than they might have had otherwise, breaking down barriers to access and participation in performance art by a broader public.

      Unfortunately, regardless of the artists’ commitment to the performance and regardless of the high quality of the work, somewhere along the way during the festival, in my opinion, Brette and Robin missed out on all three of these key areas where festivals CAN (and Visualeyez DOES) provide extraordinary support:

      1. They were unable to or otherwise simply did not make use of many opportunities for engagement with the other artists in the festival,

      2. They were, for whatever reason, uninterested in attempts I made to connect with them and their work outside their blog posts,

      3. Again, for whatever reason, (while they were friendly and articulate in describing their project and interacting with feedback session attendees such as project participants, volunteers, family and audience members) they were very defensive to any questions posed by festival artists to the point of ignoring the actual questions and addressing perceived prejudices against the work.

      I think these 3 points must have a connected basis in some small factor which could have been prevented, can be prevented in the future, and which hopefully there is still time to correct during this festival. Latitude 53’s commitment to contemporary performance practices is too important to allow some misunderstanding or interpersonal hiccup to jeopardize the festival or its reputation, and the prairie-based performance community is too small to nurture mistrust and petty politics.

  • I actually think this is a very interesting project because of the non traditional audience it does create. Sure the original act or adventure is a intimate and private encounter between the artists and their audience member, but through the internet and the artists’ use of social media, blogs, podcasts and even radio (CBC) a very unique audience is formed. One that diverges so much from that which could normally be brought together under a more traditional context. The dynamics and dialogues that are created regarding public/private, face to face/online, passive/active audience or voyeur; is a really timely and interesting conversation. As private lives become internet fooder through twitter, facebook, etc. we increasingly become aware, or perhaps less aware, of the identity that we are constructing through our personal moments that are broadcasted indefinitely. I agree with Karen about quality over quantity approach to art making. If my work can reach one audience member and have an impact it is successful. I think this project is both successful in how it focuses on that individual interaction/impact (quality), yet also engages with an incredibly large (quantity) audience. It is also interesting in how it makes the audience both passive and active at once. I must be active to engage with and find the work, read about it, listen to podcasts, etc. But I can also be passive, voyeuristic, and anonymous at the same time by not commenting or entering into a dialogue with the artists online.

    • Cindy

      Hi Carole,

      I think it is an interesting project too, and I agree that a non-traditional audience is being created, though I am not yet ready to proclaim that this is the main audience for the work. I believe it is still important to privilege (or to consider privileging) the personal encounter as the main site of this performance, and the one participant the primary audience (or the audience that the work is created in the service of).

      Blogs and podcasts about the work, (just as books, magazine articles, and documentaries made by the artists would be) – and, following your own assertion that promotion produced by outside media outlets help form audiences, CBC radio interviews, Fox News exposées, gossip blog posts and 60 minutes Andy Rooney rants about the work also build audience for the work.

      People who see, hear, know about and are interested in or pay attention to any piece of media are an audience, for sure. The ways in which the nature of the “audience” is shifting in the contemporary western world (and global world and online world) are really important to get a handle on, as artists and art presenters.

      As I see it, in a highly mediated environment, quality is certainly the most important approach to artmaking, as quantity takes care of itself through online user-activated distribution channels, media networks and social networks – and it is the quality (or lack thereof) which will be visible to this multiplying audience. Feedback is be swift and blunt though not always constructive.

      These issues are, for me, sort of beside the point in terms of this project. I’d rather wait for the artists to sort out their own feelings about how this project went, and its evolution from its first incarnation in Portland: Who do they want the audience of this work to be? How should the work (or the presentation venue or context) shift to accommodate the needs of the work and where they want it to go?

      Regardless of the answers to those questions, the artists are obviously savvy at promoting their work and about finding audience. Shifting from a zine (produced for the project in Portland and originally proposed for he Visualeyez version of the project) to podcasts represents a step in the direction of quantity in the PRESENCE of quality, though the loss of intimacy from handmade book to online audio file is an issue I’m sure the artists will want to think about, conceptually, during their post-mortem on the project.

  • Hi,
    I have to disagree with the assessment that Show Us Your Edmonton is a one on one performance. From reading the blogs and listening to the podcasts, coupled with knowledge of the artist’s previous works, it would appear to me that the breakfast guest becomes a co-creator rather than an observer. Although the audience is not present in real time there is ample opportunity to experience the project through the above mentioned blogs, photos, and podcasts. I hope that as the assigned animateur you have the opportunity to review all of the documentation before trying to facilitate meaningful discussion on the project. I sense a slight tone of hesitation in accepting Show us Your Edmonton as a legitimate performance piece. One would hope that festivals such as Visualeyez would enthusiastically embrace projects that challenge the boundaries and definitions of performance based art.

    • Cindy

      Hi Jason, thanks for your input in this discussion.

      I don’t want to regurgitate what I just said in my above comments, but I’ll just reply briefly that the assessment of this project as a one-on-one performance is the artists’ and not my own, and is presumably also the assessment (or ONE assessment) of everyone who has heard the CBC Radio interview with the artists.

      Again, regarding the role of the breakfast guest, I think it is possible that they are a co-creator AND the primary audience; participation as an audience member does not necessitate passivity and relegation to the role of observership.

      I offer these as suggestions of possibilities for maintaining the direct social-engagement connection through this work which I believe to be inherent in the intent of the artists, however, I defer to their own assertion regarding the role of that participant in their work.

      You can rest assured that as festival animator I am committed to facilitating the highest-quality discussion on the project as I am able. That includes not only reviewing all of the documentation on the project, but actively talking with the artists (and the participants if I were to be granted access to them), attending feedback sessions armed with a list of thoughtful questions drafted over the course of the festival, and staying awake to respond to comments post-discussion from 11 pm until 8 am, or however late/early it will be when I finish this process today.

      This commitment has made it difficult to stay on top of all 8 projects in this year’s festival, but please be assured that for this project as well as all the others, my job will not be complete until I have offered each of them as thoughtful and engaged an “animation” of their work as I am able.

      I can assure you, not on behalf of Visualeyez for whom I am temporarily contracted, but as a member of the arts community that has traveled from another province to attend the festival religiously over the past 11 years that they do indeed “enthusiastically embrace projects that challenge the boundaries and definitions of performance based art.”

      As for me, I wonder if your reading of my analysis is coloured more by your (defensive?) relationship with the artist(s) and less by the content in my post. If you knew anything about me, my own largely interventive performative practice or my curatorial history (programming solo performance projects year-round for 8 years and acting as a passionate advocate at a national level for performance artists) you’d likely have a bit more confidence in not only my motivation but my ability to forward a thoughtful discourse on the project.

      I hope to hear your thoughts on this and other projects in this year’s festival; thanks again for taking the time to contribute.

  • carly

    I’m not sure if I agree with your interpretation of this performance piece being primarily targeted to an audience of one. The ‘audience’ or participant becomes part of the project, they act as the artist, and through these means this piece draws interesting parallels to more traditional artworks, at least as I understand it. As with many classical pieces, the audience is shown what the artist wants them to see. They are shown beauty in everyday life; the everyday is made exciting, enchanting even. That is the case with Show Us Your Edmonton. How else would I experience “Jerf’s” home? Or how would I be able to enjoy Edmonton via the LRT? These are things that are part of the everyday and are often overlooked, but hold wonder nevertheless. The participant would not be able to share this with a large audience, but through blogs, pictures, podcasts, and a feedback period, Brette and Robin have made this a possibility. They also invite you to become part of the work, instead of simply having a display to walk past, the viewer must actively engage with their presentation. This might be not the spoon-fed presentation that we have become accustomed to, but this work challenges us to explore an Edmonton that is truly important to someone, and I feel privileged to be granted some small insight into their lives.

    • Cindy

      Hi Carly,

      Thanks for your thoughtful remarks!

      Regarding the primary audience of the performance, please see my replies to the above comments.

      I am quite curious to see the outpouring of support for the notion of the blog-reader as the main audience of this work! I am wondering now if it’s in defense of the artists that these comments are being offered, if there’s a “blog-as-art” movement I’m missing or if there’s actually a resistance to the idea of the ‘performance for one.’

      I of course agree that all of the ways that this project is mediated creates access for new audiences, and that this is a good thing.

      I am interested to know how the artists will respond to these comments!

  • hi jason and cindy and carole,

    yes, i would agree the audience is those who view/hear the work online, or through the cbc show, and as well there is also an extended audience as participants talk to friends…

    i find visualeyez has been very supportive of works that function outside of the gallery/audience format(see especially visualeyez 2007 with tagny duff as animator.)

    but what interests me is the need for the structure of the host gallery/animator to adapt to this type of work…clearly this work does not require the gallery to establish an audience(as in advertise for a specific crowd to show up at a specific place to see “something”), nor does this work require the gallery to promote or disseminate the work, this can be done through blogging and other social networking sites – so in this sense the work does not need the gallery to function. but what i am thinking is more along the lines of what does this work need that a gallery can produce(other than an artist fee, which is not something to take lightly in any case, or legitimization as “art.”)

    its almost like this type of work is asking the gallery to rethink its status as space/audience provider and to perform something different. this “something different” is what i think you, cindy are grappling with in a very open and honest way, and as you are there living the adventure now, i wanted to ask you to think about this a bit and share with us about it because it is a different role and one that i do not really know the answer to.

    sometimes articulating in a group can help the process of figuring things out…maybe?

  • i agree karen, there is much of interest here to discuss! I do hope to “hear” more about how the feedback session at the gallery goes for those of us that can’t be there in person.

  • hi cindy,
    thank you so much for ll your work in commenting on this. i want to read it again to fully feely what it is you are saying…and this is kinda an aside, but i am remembering my own position as “invisible” artist at visualeyez(and other places) and my own reluctance to open the “performance” up to being purposefully viewed. partly this stems from the fear i had that what i was doing would be boring to watch…and partly because the very nature of an intervention changes when it is viewed by a knowing audience and partly because of the spontaneous nature of the project(i did not know where i would be, or when,) but in the end, the flexibility of visualeyez(aka todd) did enable me to “show” my work to the other members of the festival and to some of the audience members which was something i came to want to do as the festival progressed, and actually it felt almost necsesary for me to share the work…not because of pressure felt from the festival, but because of an internal condensation tht i felt if i didn’t share it i was going to …uh, crack somehow. so although i was not officially programmed, the flexibility of a small festival allowed me the opportunity for this outlet. however, since then i have been on the other side of things(being the festival blogger for viva! art action) and i remember how incredibly honoured i was when irene izquierdo let me follow her(from a distance for sure) as she went about her project one day. and although i am aware that for the artist feeling watched when doing this type of work is almost painful, i was surprised how much i received from this “allowing” by irene to enter her world. and that was what it felt like, an entry into someone’s world.and precisely because of this experience i now know that this type of work is not boring to view, that the sense of privilege the viewer …
    oh crap, i have to go to work,
    anyways cindy(and everyone else who added to this conversation), thanks so much for your insights and i hope one day we can blah blah about this more!!

    karen

    • Cindy

      Karen, thank you so much for contributing these thoughts from your own experiences! They provide some perfect comparisons with which I think we can compare situations to remind ourselves of the incredible diversity of performance work and the variety of issues connected to presenting it!

      I had not and have not considered Robin and Brette’s project to be an intervention, though there has been no conversation about it either way. If I had, I would have thought about my engagement with it very differently (but would still have been openly troubled/confused about exactly how I was going to do this.)

      It’s pretty obvious to me now that talking about this problem/confusion via this blog has been one of the most engaging ways I could have imagined to talk about this work, however I worry (I always worry) that a perception of hostility is what has led to the flurry of responses more than just a genuine interest in the topic of the post.

      I guess scandal sells.

      I’d love to hear more about you following Irene Izquierdo around, and about how you approached the festival blogging role in general. I’ve had a hard time explaining my job and articulating my role in the festival to some of the artists as well as audience members.

      • good morning cindy!
        the situation of blogging for viva! art action was very different than your experience at visulaleyez in that the festival format was very different. i often did not even meet the artists whose work i was blogging about…other than the off-site work programmed by skol, curated by me. and this aspect was separate in many ways from the rest of the festival in that it was approached half as a festival, half as a residency. the skol off-site artists met at my home for a shared meal, they also gave presentations of their work to each other at a later date, and we had a mid session touch base event, as well as the artists giving a presentation of their work to the audience in the gallery space…which the artists had the chance to occupy in some fashion, which they all did. we also had a closing event in the gallery where the audience was invited to come and see the work produced and to meet the artists involved. in this way i was pretty deeply implicated with their work and also highly supportive, so negotiating some kind of “spying” session was not as complicated as i think it must have been for you.
        for the blogging of the work performed in the bain st michel i did not have to articulate to anyone what i was doing…and i was so busy just doing the blogging that i probably did not think of what my role was or should be, i just jumped into it. however, i did feel that the blog should somehow be supportive and tease out little things(nothing too deep or theoretical) to add to peoples way of thinking about the work. i also wanted to make sure the artist were tagged and their websites were made known as a way to offer people a way of going deeper into the artists work as well.plus like you i thought the festival should be somehow expressed as well and the people who worked to create it. my way of blogging was subjective and really came from my own personal perspective which i tried to make evident(i also think you approached blogging this way)i think the blog is a great way to open a window and let fresh air in. it also forms a kind of document of a given space and time, which in turn is useful for those of us who are also trying to create a festival that is coherent. the way you have managed to generate dialogue is quite special cindy…i think you are a natural blogger…as long as you don’t burn yourself out doing it!
        k

        • Cindy

          Ha ha! Thanks, Karen! I think about the blog for this festival (conceptually) much the same way you talked about above. I really don’t know how I would have approached experiencing work that is meant to be interventive or invisible, though my impulse in terms of finding a way to talk about it on the blog would be the same; to think about how it connects with my life and/or my artistic experiences, to talk with the artists and then to write what those things spark for me.

          I don’t think I could be a blogger in my own life but I’m really happy to have this opportunity, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

  • Hey Cindy,

    Great discussion.

    I would be careful with notions such as the “main audience” for the work and artists “sorting out their own feelings,” as if we’re looking for some kind of definitive answer or end point to these projects or primary intention. I don’t think we’re talking about blog-as-art, either, but blog (and other writing) as just another place to encounter the work and to focus on sorting out what is the primary/secondary/tertiary intention is to get a little lost.

    I would also caution against pointing to what an artist says in a give context (CBC, for example) as definitive or, for that matter accurate. I think you have to call something different things in different contexts and stated intentions vary according to who you are talking to, and it’s not that you’re lying, but that when describing in it one context, a given intention/audience assumes the foreground, which changes in another context. what an artist says on CBC may be very different than what they say in an artist talk to a room full of practitioners – and so it should be.

    later. i’m about to step out, so i won’t be able to respond to any responses for awhile but will check back later.

    if anyone bumps into my mom, dad, sis, and bro (actor, troy o’donnell) over there, on the south side, please say hi.

  • Cindy

    Hi Darren,

    I appreciate your insights and especially your cautions. I definitely do not mean to make proclamations about what the artists believe and in fact was trying to avoid that.

    Three comments focused on what they thought was a faulty assumption about the artists’ intentions, and I first wanted to clarify that it was not my assumption that this was a one-on-one project but the artists’ own stated intent (stated in several contexts including the CBC).

    But second, though it is curious to me how many people want the work not to be read as one-on-one and I am eagerly waiting to hear more from them, I wanted to keep the possibility open that the artists actually do intend and/or see value in a one-on-one performance, because I do! I think the value in having multiple audiences cannot be underestimated, and this includes not only those diverse online audiences but artistic festival audiences and the more intimate personal connections as well.

  • cindy,
    i hope u get some sleep, but you keep posting interesting stuff that keeps me engaged so then i comment… i do admit to liking this dialogue you got going here! but really, i can only imagine how tired out you must be feeling by now.

    but the “blog as art” is an interesting trajet…one that i have to admit to employing. for me blogging(an art blog,) for example the blog i produced on the dream listener project, was a way for me to distance myself from the work and take on the role of a viewer (of my own work…weird i know) which in turn gave me a separate space, or rather, a space of separation between what i was actually doing(holding a cardboard dream) and the work as art. hmmm, that probably was not very clear, what i mean is for works like “show us your edmonton” that have a very fuzzy line between reality and art, or maybe i mean daily life and art(but it is not this either)…um. like when you are having breakfast with someone, you are having breakfast with someone…and you can “call” it art when you are doing it, but the bottom line is you are doing what you are doing and you are outside of any framing device other than your own mind(no gallery, no authorized audience…etc.) it is only through the blog, or the podcast that you get to distance yourself from the doing of it and place a frame around it so it can enter some other form of discourse. and sometimes this distance, this blog as a creation of separation between you and the doing of it, is quite essential to do almost daily, therefore the blog format is a good fit (as opposed to working in this manner and waiting a year or more and then posting the blog and the podcasts for instance(which actually would then make the work more furtive in the sense that no-one but the artist would be aware that this is being “framed as art.” but i am wondering brette and robin if this is partially true for you too.

    and now to answer a bit my own question of what a festival can give to work of this nature… i think work of this nature can engage and enter an expanded discourse and a working ground for dialogue because in the festival format you do get to share with real live people as opposed to the virtual of the blog…and as cindy noted because work of this nature is often programmed outside of festival contexts(partially because the festival format does have the embedded pressure to be “visible” in a given time and space)the chance to engage with the other artists and audience members that a festival does generate, could be viewed as a real plus.(can you tell i have a dream to program a festival of invisible furtive works….not likely to happen …but fun to dream about…)what i am trying to suggest is that space(and i think visualize has done this partially with the feedback sessions)be created(or this can even be time given…which means the artists know in advance that there is down time…)for meaning to be generated from the festival environment. i.e. real quality time be allotted for artists to engage with the blogger, with each other, with the festival audience, as a group that has come together to generate discourse. so that first of all the blogger is not running around trying to catch everything but actually has time to listen and engage, so that artists coming together know that part of their mandate is to engage with each other(or why bring all these amazing people together at one time?) this to me means that first of all artists themselves have to acknowledge the value of their coming together, to see that, yes work is done, work is shown and shared, but that also their engagement as professionals in the same field of expertise means taking the time out of their own work to engage with others …so maybe a day or two at the end of the festival needs to be programmed for these type of exchanges.
    (i just re-read what i wrote, and i am sorry for the preachy tone…but this is something i truly believe, that often in my experience(which isn’t vast by any stretch of the imagination) one of the saddest things about festivals is the lack of real engagement with the other artists or the people who have worked so hard to get you all in one time and space in the first place, and the audience that comes out to see and hear and discover just what it is you are doing. it seems we are all so busy preforming or running off to the next festival or our job or our other commitments that the festival as this amazing richness of talent and expertise and lived experience somehow gets slighted.
    THIS IS THE SPACE WHERE WE THE ARTISTS AND THE COMMUNITY THAT SUPPORTS US CAN GENERATE REAL DISCOURSE AS A COMMUNITY.
    what could be better than that?

    • Cindy

      Wow, Karen. What a great post. I’m so grateful that this thread seems to be taking on a life of its own, and I hope it (and the other blog posts) continue to generate dialogue once I’m no longer actively working on it.

      I can’t agree more about everything you’ve said here. I think Visualeyez has, more and more, tried to create spaces for social interaction between the artists, whether through arranged dinners, providing social space within the building for artists during down-time (a well-stocked kitchen and comfortable lobby/reception area, for example), pairing artists up in hotel rooms, and the formal feedback sessions of which there were several this year.

      All of these mechanisms require an active desire by the artists to engage and participate in this kind of engagement; I think there will be some artists going away feeling like this festival offered ample opportunity for connection with other artists, exchange and dialogue, but other artists (whether because of their performance schedule or travel dates or outside commitments or their expectations regarding engagement with the festival) may have felt there were not enough of these opportunities, didn’t think of these structures in the same way as ‘opportunities’, or just didn’t care to make use of them whether they were there or not.

      Obviously, every artist coming to a festival is bringing their own experiences, needs, critical framework and social context, and so there can’t be an expectation that everyone will automatically be prepared to use all of these resources in the same way. Something Visualeyez did last year that I think was missing this year is that they sent to artists sort of an orientation document that let them know (in short; my interpretation) what would be expected of them not just in terms of performance but participation and engagement.

      I also wanted to say that I thought the writing that Shawna Dempsey did about your performance at Visualeyez (in 2008?) was really lovely; she talked about what it was like to engage the artifacts of work without seeing it. By reading and talking with you and about the work, your intentions, the content of the piece, what you were attempting to do, etc, she weaves together a picture of the work that is simple and accessible but deeper than most casual observers (and probably most of the festival-goers and artists) would have had the opportunity to discover on their own.

      Now I have to go finish writing about all the other performances from this year while they’re still fresh and while people are still excited to read the festival blog!

      Thanks again!

  • Heather Challoner

    This is a topic that has already been explored to some extent, however, I would very much like rephrase various points and hear briefly from your perspective:

    Could you perhaps discuss why this piece should not be considered quite opaque (or alternately, if you feel that it is, how that aspect adds any sort of meaning/context to it from the perspective of the absent viewer).

    Also, I would be interested to read a brief synopsis of how you feel that the performance itself (totally disregarding any discourse that occurred as a result of it) affected you as the viewer. Or if it did not affect you at all, how you feel that it affected the performers on an artistic plane of experience.

    And, please share your perspective on/or argue against the effectiveness of what one might presume to be the intended naivete (both in composition and tone) of the blog component of this performance as an integral element of it.

    • Cindy

      Hi Heather,
      These are difficult questions to answer, and since they are so subjective, hopefully someone else who experienced (participated in/read about) the work will wade in here and offer their thoughts as well to provide a range of responses.

      First, I don’t think that work like this -(by which I am going to refer to work that I know from socially engaged practices/relational aesthetics, one-on-one performances and work whose documentation or access by a broader audience exists primarily as a blog) – must be or should be or is necessarily opaque. However, art whose process/evolution/genesis or physical manifestation is supposed to be a mystery to the audience can still be emotionally evocative or intellectually stimulating, through whatever access to the work the artist provides. Is this particular work opaque? Sure, in some ways. However, the artists might have opted not to write about the encounters at all, and then our access to the work would have been purely through talking with the artists or participants, or through our own imaginations. This would have made the work much different and interesting in its own way.

      As it is, this project is accessible to me through point-by-point descriptions of what happened, snapshots and audio snippets from the encounter. Talking with the artists about the work one on one and through the feedback session provided little other insight into these encounters than the descriptions did, and that is the puzzle I am left to ponder. The fact that the artists invited (or at least did not discourage from coming) their breakfast dates to the feedback session meant that they did not intend to (completely) limit the audience’s access to these people, and the artists encouraged them to share their experiences of the encounters.

      When it comes to how the work affected me personally, after reading the blogs and listening to the podcasts, I guess I feel like I learned a bit about Edmonton. The descriptions are cute and warm, and pleasant to read. Some of the contents of the podcasts are funny. In that way, they affected me in the way that I might expect to be by reading any similar blog, magazine or newspaper article about the “hidden gems” of a city, except that the artists’ posts do not contain the personal analysis usually included in this kind of writing.

      As far as the “naivete” you perceived in the blog and podcasts, I’d be reluctant to say that is intended in the podcasts since the artists are new to this technology. The blogs themselves are very simple; I’m not sure naïve is the right word. I’d certainly say they are without critical reflection, contextualization within the artists’ practices or artistic field, but since the artists have talked specifically about wanting to control how people can engage the work through what they have access to via the blog, I’d have to say this is intentional. I would have said that the content on the blog is truly secondary to the relational experience of the breakfasts and adventures themselves, though the debate on this thread is forcing me to rethink that opinion.

      I wonder, since this is only the second time the artists have done this project, and this time for longer than the first in Portland, if they are not starting to think about what else they want to include in their descriptions. Robin’s ‘final breakfast’ blog post in particular openly notes that all the posts are starting to sound the same:

      “Okay. I know that every time I have been writing one of these entries I have been saying the same things:
      • Breakfast was great! I love food!
      • Our guest was a super-duper person who was so interesting!
      • The adventure really highlighted the awesomeness about Edmonton!
      The thing is, all of these have been true….and are once again true. I don’t want to bore you (with) more repetition so I will try to sum today up nice and tidily.”

      If they plan to do more incarnations of this project, I’d be really interested to see how the writing itself might evolve. Since Karen Spencer references her own work above, I’ll use hers as an example: http://likewritingwithwater.wordpress.com/

      The descriptions she writes of her own ephemeral and undocumented performances are poetic in form and often make reference to her emotional states and evolution over the course of the project. The writing itself is satisfying as a creative encounter and the content is satisfying as an intellectually stimulating one.

      There are two key ways the artists’ blogs are not simply play-by-play descriptions of the events of the day, and these are what makes the work interesting to me. First, Brette’s writing conveys more emotions about her experience; usually of excitement and love. She is constantly toying with the idea of moving here; I might expect over the course of several versions of this project that this will happen over and over again, making her fall in love with every city; or perhaps as the project evolves, she will become more and more tempered, learning to appreciate each city for what it is but not becoming smitten quite as she used to.

      Robin’s blog is interesting to me because of the way he lists all the potential options for what their dates were considering sending them out to do that day before settling on one. Though the artists may insist that the decision was the participant’s own, I’m quite sure Brette and Robin’s reaction to each suggestion influenced the direction these adventures went on, and therefore considering what the artists did and did not do out of the options listed may provide some key insight into the work and the artists process/intentions. This aspect of the work in particular highlights several elements of the work that are at once problematic and at the same time situate the work firmly in a way that it has tried to be slippery and un-pin-downable.

      I am referring to the fact that the demographic of the participants is so similar not only to each other but to the artists themselves. This blog has not yet made much of the fact that the project was not opened up to the general public until after the bulk of the appointments with the artists had been filled, and until after the artists had arrived and the festival started, but it is a key point that both raised questions within the festival community (audience and artists) and caused some tension (people questioning why there was little opportunity for engagement with the project). There is no doubt that people would still have been disappointed not to have been able to fit into the artists’ schedule had the schedule been filled somehow through the festival itself, but I know there would have been less frustration.

      In past years, Visualeyez has programmed more than a couple of works where the artist puts an ad in a local paper or immerses themselves in a local online community to look for participants. These performances also manifested themselves initially as one on one encounters that neither the public nor the festival crowd (animator, staff, artists) were invited to. The difference is that when the festival guides were made public in these cases, potential for participation by anyone reading these project descriptions was wide open, and whether one engaged in that intimate way with the project or not, there was a reading of the work as accessible and interested in connection with the audience.

      Robin and Brette’s schedule was filled by them primarily though their connection to people who knew people who live in Edmonton via Facebook. Most of their participants were, in their own words, friends of friends. This fact, and the fact that it was filled in advance of the start of the festival gave the project a sense of closedness and insularity to the audience and the festival community.

      If this closedness had been intentional, I would expect the artists to talk about it in that way; rather than simply being defensive about their intentions, I would think they would have justifications for why they wanted to explore the project this way and there could be a productive dialogue about it. The insular nature of the work is quite unintentional, however, as the artists described trying to open it up, attempting to meet people through Edmonton’s Craigslist (which is apparently not very active) and considering other means before settling on existing Facebook connections. This unintentional closedness created tension especially when the blog posts revealed themselves to be little more than factual descriptions of events.

      On top of this is the fact of the participants’ and artists’ demographics being so similar – it made people read the work not as “Show Us Your Edmonton” but as “Show Us the Edmonton You Think We’d Like to Know.” How else could 3 ‘random’ strangers send the artists on trips to Edmonton parks? Knowing what I know about the demographic of Edmonton, they could have easily been sent shopping (to the mall or to Whyte Avenue or to the big box farms), to a sporting event, to a shelter, to an industrial area, to a construction site, to Chinatown, to a senior’s centre or or or or or… I agree that people choosing to participate in an art performance may already be inclined to be liberal-minded/left-leaning or artistic themselves, and I also agree that the artists’ own demographic is somewhat close to the demographic of the CBC (the remaining appointments with the artists were filled after their interview with the CBC which disclosed that they were still looking for participants) – however, (especially considering the artists were paying for breakfast), if the project had originally been advertised in the Edmonton Journal, or Sun, or other weekly or semi-weekly papers, as well as online places like Craigslist, Latitude’s own email broadcasts and website, I’m confident there would have been a much more diverse crowd for the artists to work with, and this, I believe, would have made for a much richer and more interesting project for the artists and for the audience.

      In the end, this work is interesting to me in the places where it is most problematic, and that makes the conversations difficult but ultimately, hopefully, fruitful.

  • Lori Weidenhammer

    Cindy,
    Thanks for taking this on. Whether or not an artist engages in critical dialogue is certainly their choice, but by far the most interesting choice would be to dive in there and participate in the critical dialogue. That’s my bias. Part of being in a festival is engaging in the critical context that the other performances create. It takes courage, humility and hard work to participate in the deconstruction of your own work. Visualeyez is a very performer-friendly context in which to examine one’s work.

    In terms of the piece being discussed I think there are two very distinct levels of audience engagement–unmediated live engagement and the engagement mediated by technology through the blogs and podcasts. On another level, the performers also presented a live feedback session which gave the audience another way to experience the piece in a mediated way.

    Why shy away from saying that the live component was two one on? Certainly, let’s call a spade a spade and say it was so… unless you count the servers and the other people in the cafes who on some level ended up being part of the performance.

    I am biased towards the live-in the flesh performance because in my experience that’s part of the essential act that defines performance art. I think the mediated experiences are interesting as well and certainly there is a live in the flesh person typing these words many miles away in Vancouver. But there is a time and space delay here, so I am but a ripple in the pond generated by the live performance(s).

    Anyway, that’s my two bits for now. I am off to perform at Open Space where there will be live performers and at least one performance as an internet broadcast, so these thoughts will be rippling the pond in my mind for a while.

    PS: I’m curious to know whether the audience members had to pay for their own breakfast. Those kinds of details interest me.

    • we pay for breakfast.

      sorry i just got home from Edmonton and this is as far as I’m willing to extend myself as far as a response goes. i thought it would be good to clear that up right away.the day is our treat. except for a cookie that was bought for us and two transit tickets that were offered to us to ride the lrt.
      i appreciate all the comments. and speaking only on my behalf (not robins) i think this is a lot to take in and it may take me a few days to collect my thoughts. i hope by then people wont have lost interest in hearing my response.

      • Cindy

        Thanks, Brette; I was just about to tell Lori that you paid for the breakfasts!

        I won’t have lost interest in hearing your response and I’m sure others won’t have either.

        Lori – thanks so much; these thoughts are very useful to the discussion!

  • Lori Weidenhammer

    Sorry, “two one on” should read “two on one”.

  • Wow. There has been an overwhelming response to this post specifically and our piece in general. I have come here a number of times to write a response but each time reading all the comments, I had no idea where to start.

    And so, I think I am going to leave this as a thank you. Thank you everyone for responding and taking the time to write. It has been enlightening.

    In the next week or so I will write a little something on my website regarding the work in general and some of the above questions specifically. I hope that you all find the time to check it out. And if you have any burning thoughts, feel free to contact me directly.