Posted by Cindy on October 4th, 2010
So last weekend I was sitting – hiding – in Sydney’s office at Latitude 53 while a wedding took place out on the balcony. It kind of felt like the performance festival was still going on, not because of some sort of cynical attitude on my part towards the spectacle of marriage, but because there was a nice big audience for the relatively intimate event, and half the people had cameras, and because they all clapped when it was over. I mean, and because it happened at Latitude 53 (duh). It got me thinking about performance art, as I had been for 2 straight weeks without a break. I mean, I’m a believer in the idea that it’s art because the artist says it’s so. But what makes it performance?
Visualeyez is great for presenting a breadth of performance practices and for testing the limits of what is considered performance. More even than the varieties of food-related performance this year were the varieties of ways in which the works were performed by someone – or something – other than the artists themselves.
Adina Bier performed – but passively – and asked the audience to be the active performers in her work On Boulevard de Clichy.
Culinary Cultures in the Kinder/Garden enlisted bacteria and other life forms that were as much the performers as Alison Reiko Loader and Kelly Andres.
Hourglass begged to be performed even in the absence of the artist Chun Hua Catherine Dong.
In Show Me Your Edmonton, Robin Lambert and Brette Gabel invited the intimate audience to be equal collaborators in creating the art.
caribou X crossing‘s Beau Coleman, Melissa Thingelstad and Matthew Skopyk had the audience of Miles of Aisles perform the work, though it was the grocery store itself that was on display. During the group tour, the audience had the great fortune of experiencing both the story playing on their iPods and the spectacle of the throng of other participants misbehaving in the grocery store.
Just about all the work was participatory, inviting viewers to share and contribute to the work.
Food Wars in particular invited viewers to share not just in the experience but in a meal prepared by the artists Naufús Ramirez Figueroa and Manolo Lugo.
In Ask Me About Salt, the very title encourages spectators to engage with the artist Randy Lee Cutler.
Comfort Room, the one performance where the audience was clearly the spectator and the artists Jennifer Mesch and Scott Smallwood the performers on stage, was a foil for the other projects, reminding us of the value and beauty of performance made to be watched and experienced.
Not only did I get to see all the performances and get to know all the artists, but I was also privileged to be at the gallery every day watching all the behind-the-scenes action, and I saw all the hard work that went into making Visualeyez a reality.
Before I leave the blog and go back to my life in Saskatoon, I just want to extend a wholehearted thanks to Todd Janes and the whole Visualeyez team, including all the staff and volunteers at Latitude 53. There’s no way I’ll be able to remember everyone’s names, but I’ll do my best. Thanks to Robert Harpin, Alaine Mackenzie, Vicky Wong, Sydney Lancaster, Russell whose last name I never caught but who did all the heavy lifting no one else dared to, Jamie Hamaguchi, Heather Challoner and Jacqueline Ohm all the other volunteers and all the board members who attended and volunteered at the events and everyone else behind the scenes that I never got to meet but who helped make the festival so amazing! (I’m talking to you, Sally Poulsen!)
And special thanks to all the artists! I’m really grateful to have had the chance to meet you and get to know you, and I feel like I made some really close friends. Those artists who I already knew I had the chance to get to know better, and I’m coming away from the festival enriched as an artist and a writer and a person.
Posted by Cindy on October 3rd, 2010
During Visualeyez, it was very important to me in my role as festival animator to experience all of the art as fully and wholly as I could; to not hold back or be shy in participating. Though I think I am often inclined, like all of us from time to time, to hang back and watch the bravest souls take the first big leaps, I was determined to be that brave soul every day during the festival.
So when it came to Miles of Aisles, a performative tour through a local grocery store produced by caribou X crossing (Beau Coleman, Matthew Skopyk and Melissa Thingelstad), I was in there like a dirty shirt. I downloaded the tours onto my iPod, which I had never used for audio or video playback before. I was really keen to take in what the project’s website describes as “an artist-led performance walk through Sobeys Urban Fresh (Jasper Ave & 104th St.) that explores the idea of ‘food as portal’.” This was going to be very untraditional theatre (even for Edmonton audiences who are fortunate to be blessed with some pretty amazing experimental theatre), but part of a tradition that’s growing in experimental theatre and performance art scenes around the world.
The project sounded interesting enough in its own right, but I was excited about Miles of Aisles partly because it reminded me of a performance work I never got to see when I was in Finland last year for ANTI Festival, a project called Wondermart presented by Rotozaza. Rotozaza’s thing is that they’ve invented a “new genre” of performance that they call Autoteatro – live art that is performed by the audience for themselves (and each other). In Autoteatro, there is not meant to be an audience outside of the performer; as the troupe describes: “the different tracks are synchronised and pre-recorded, meaning the participants are alone with each other during the experience, with no human input beyond someone handing them the headphones or sometimes pressing ‘play’. An Autoteatro work is a ‘trigger’ for a subsequently self-generating performance.”
Though Rotozaza claim to have invented this kind of performative activity, there are now other troupes and collectives working in similar types of audience-generated performance as well as not-so-similar choreographed public events. Improv Everywhere has made a whole career out of massive participatory happenings, for example. There are also genres of performance based in the theatre tradition but which take place onsite or over a walking tour, such as promenade theatre and site-specific theatre.
Of course, quasi-narrative work like Miles of Aisles also brings to mind the work of Janet Cardiff (and partner George Bures-Miller who sometimes collaborates with Cardiff on the audio tours). Rather than positioning themselves as “organizers” or “producers” of the work and the audience as the “performer,” Cardiff (and Bures-Miller) retain the role of the artist(s) in their works, and the audio tour is the unique venue for the artistic experience had by the audience. (The notion of ‘performance’ is of lesser concern to these artists.)
Cardiff has claimed to have invented the genre of the walking audio tour as art, which “use(s) the narrative and technical language of film noir to create lush, suspenseful sound… works.” Her particular tour style relies on the uncanny sensation created when overlapping the real experience of a space with a prerecorded reality of that same space.
Miles of Aisles captures some of that uncanny sensation, especially when it presents a “video path” for participants to follow; more than one of my fellow audience members noted how strange it felt to try to move out of the way of a person in the aisle only to realize that the person was on the screen of their iPod and was not actually standing in the aisle they were trying to negotiate. The ‘uncanny’ audio elements are less amazing in this work than in Cardiff’s; to be sure, Cardiff and Bures-Miller have spent their careers developing and capitalizing on complex audio-capturing and playback techniques designed specifically to generate the sensation of real life. (The audio elements of Miles of Aisles are great, by the way – the recording is clear and easy to listen to, and the sound effects are perfectly adept.)
Miles of Aisles also seems more aligned with Cardiff’s work than Rotozaza’s in its adherence to a narrative structure; caribou X crossing’s project for Visualeyez seems more concerned with the creation of a story that is being told to you inside a grocery store, and less concerned with the store itself, or what the audience is doing inside it. I’m not sure that the site or the audiences’ actions should be of greater interest to the artists than the story or the experience of it, I’m just interested to see what elements of the encounter have been privileged in this work and how that affects the audiences’ experience of it. But it does raise an interesting question about the structure of Miles of Aisles, as intended by the artists – is the audience the performer, or are the recorded artists the performers?
The project description does say that the artists are exploring the idea of ‘food as portal’ and that they want us to “to discover where (we) might be transported by food.” So if I approach this performance with the assumption that the grocery store and everything inside it is the portal – the mode of delivery, ie the movie screen – and NOT so much the venue of the performance – ie the stage – then I’m not the actor, but the audience, and the store/the food is transporting me to a place inside my head where the action is taking place. (Hmm. This line of thought merits further reflection…)
I want to describe my experience for those of you who have not and will not be able to do the Miles of Aisles tour, but since the files are still downloadable, and since the store is still there, and that’s really all you need to be able to participate (plus a portable media-enabled device and, well, the ability to get to the Sobeys on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton), its not too late! For those of you who still want to participate in Miles of Aisles, go HERE instead of reading on.
Before you go, I just want to tell you that I highly recommend taking a friend with you, one who has their own media device, who can play the other role (there are 2 sides to the story). If you can’t bring a friend, at least go prepared to do it twice, so you can play both parts. Or go with a friend AND do it twice! Then come back here, finish reading this post, and let us know how it went! (It’s bound to be a little glitchier for you than it was during the festival; no grocery store layout or selection of produce stays static for long, and things are going to get moved around the more time elapses between the festival and when you do the tour. I did the tour one last time myself on the day I left town, several days after the festival ended – more on that later in this post – suffice it to say things were already a little harder to navigate.
For everyone that wants to read about my experience with the work, read on!
Posted by Cindy on October 2nd, 2010
A couple of days ago, Edmonton food blogger Sharon Yeo made a great post about Visualeyez on her blog Only Here for the Food.
It’s great to read a take on the festival from someone who’s connected to the food world more than the art world, and it’s nice to hear that she really got into the art!
She’s not the only foodie getting into Visualeyez this year; as Sharon notes, Carla from the Junction Bar and Eatery stopped by to take in Food Wars by Naufús Ramirez-Figueroa and Manolo Lugo, and was conscripted into service covering the Guatemalan cake with fondant.
Food Wars brought out the best – and worst – in Visualeyez’s audiences this year, provoking thoughtful conversation, enthusiastic over-indulgence, pleasant dinner company, and yes, voter misconduct.
Posted by Cindy on October 1st, 2010
Every day of the festival when I arrived at the gallery, after plugging my computer in and dropping everything off at my couch-station in the reception area, the first thing I would do is check in on the performances in the gallery spaces. First I would look into the black rice bowl of Chun Hua Catherine Dong’s Hourglass performance to see how much work had been done since I was last there.
For the first few days, I was quite distraught at how slowly the work was going; it always looked like a few dozen grains had been completed but no more. Finally by the last couple of days of work, I could see that the grains of rice had started to pile on top of one another – she was far from covering the bottom of the bowl, but the bowl was also far from empty. The work pretty much went, in this way for the first few days, exactly as expected: a futile task earnestly undertaken, seeming never to get anywhere even as the artist spent whole days working.
As the week wore on, Chun Hua Catherine seemed to be in the gallery less and less, though I know that she was always working the appointed hours; the reason she seemed to be working less is that random people were working more and more – somehow this work had compelled people to come and paint even when the artist was not there – even when the gallery was closed. Catherine and I had a brief conversation about this. She told me that in her mind, the most successful performance is one where there is no performer at all. She was pleased and surprised at how this performance played out, that people were compelled to assist – to perform the work – even in her absence. I agree with her, and I think this project will give her a lot to think about in her broader practice, in ways that she may not have expected.
The second thing I did every day was to spend time in the Culinary Cultures in the Kinder/Garden space, to see what was new and what sort of experiments would be going on that day. Alison Reiko Loader (and, when she arrived a couple days later, Kelly Andres) worked all day every day in the space, and quite the opposite to Chun Hua’s performance which seemed never to progress, their space was constantly evolving, changing, and – ahem – growing.