Latitude 53 presents Visualeyez 2017, the seventeenth edition of Canada's annual festival of performance art, from September 26–October 1, exploring the theme of awkwardness

Empty Orchestra

Posted by Amber on September 28th, 2012

The theme of loneliness for this year’s Visualeyez festival looks different now that I am back home, sliding back into my life and work as if I had never left.  When I arrived back in Toronto I felt like I had missed an entire season: the weather had changed from the bright warmth of summer to the brisk winds of fall and I wasn’t even here to see the change.  I missed it.

Now that I am home I find myself wishing I were back in Edmonton.  I am missing our morning discussions, the way we congregated in the kitchen, all piled together over coffee to discuss sweeping questions like what role does documentation play in performance, or how do we experience time and space in durational performances?  To check in with each other about how things were going, about what happened each day, and to take some time to consider how we felt.  I am missing Latitude 53: Todd, Tyler, Joanne, Adam, Kyle and Sarah.  I am missing all the artists: Stephen, Martine, Lily, Tanya, Adrianna, k.g., Heidi, and Gerry. I am missing chances not taken, and the potential to karaoke every night of the week.

Visualeyez as a festival is unique because it is designed to provide both a space for performance, but also a space for reflection and growth, a space to take chances and experiment. All of the artists are invited to stay for the length of the festival, and are also given the freedom for their performances to adapt and change: to the space of the gallery, in response to the other works that are happening at the festival, and to Edmonton as a city.  This time spent together: performing, discussing, talking, eating, walking, laughing, is crucial.

Loneliness is not just about feelings of isolation, emptiness, and missing intimacy in a crowd of strangers.  It can also be about missing the people that you feel connected to, about feeling threads tying you together, even when you aren’t.  It can be about finding the people who know you, and missing them because you can’t be with them right now.  When I arrived in Edmonton I found myself remembering places and people that I had experienced the festival with in 2007.  Seeing familiar spaces and remembering someone who wasn’t there with me was odd, these were spaces I had only ever been to with them.  Now I have more people and places to miss.

Loneliness shared: Adriana Disman

Posted by Amber on September 19th, 2012

Photo by Latitude 53

Adriana Disman’s performance on Sunday night closed out the festival with a glimpse into the question, what does loneliness look like when it is shared?  The actions that she performed were inspired by a series of loneliness interviews that she conducted over the course of the week, with each action referring to something that her interviewees said or remembered about their experiences of loneliness.

The actions were more abstract then in Disman’s initial performance (on Tuesday night), and could be found written on a piece of paper hung on the wall.  After each action was performed, Disman would cross the action off the list.  Interestingly, the actions in this performance felt much more personal then in the initial performance.  I spoke to Disman about the way that it had felt more like a personal working through then previously, and she commented that she felt a responsibility to the memories and stories that she now carried, and because of that responsibility was careful in what she revealed through her actions.

In a festival like Visualeyez, there is space for these kinds of working-throughs to occur.  Each artist is invited to stay for the entirety of the festival, and throughout the week we also have a number of opportunities to come together and share experiences, feedback, and to ask questions.  In this way, the pieces that are being performed have room to change and grow and adapt over the course of the week.

At one point in the performance, Disman opened up a space for visibility, inviting the audience to make use of the space if they chose.  This brought up an interesting question of what visibility looks like in relation to the theme of loneliness.  Many of the performances over the week involved a making visible: feelings of invisibility, of age, of strength, of personal ritual.  In the case of Disman’s performance, the sharing of the actual memories of loneliness remained invisible – it was less about a sharing of those feelings, and more about a way to share the load that we may carry by carrying them with us.

After her first performance, Disman described the feeling in her body as being like a party.  The lightening of that load, the letting go, was something she felt physically.  In some ways, this is what Disman intended to provide for her viewers.  The feeling of letting go, of asking for support, and for letting someone else carry the weight for a while.

Wish you were here: Lilian Gael

Posted by Amber on September 17th, 2012

All photos by Latitude 53

On Saturday night Lilian Gael performed the second part of her investigation at Visualeyez.  Earlier in the week Gael had been taking her investigation into the streets, and Saturday’s performance provided a synthesization of her experiences.  In our morning discussions we had some interesting conversations about visibility and invisibility.  The theme of loneliness automatically brings up different ways that we all move in and out of feelings of social anxiety and invisibility.  Gael’s performance brought up some interesting debate about what aged invisibility might look like.  The question of when being old begins was one that was asked a number of times.  What was most significant for me about Gael’s performance on Saturday was the way that she made her feelings of age explicit.  The parts of her body that she missed, the changes that she felt that not everybody could see, the change in how her body moved in and out of space was a courageous and emotional telling.

Performance art inherently involves the body, but it’s often a very specific body that is present.  Gael was able to bring us into her aging body through her telling of the changes she’s experienced (lips, neck, breasts, scars, knees, bush).  As the body ages there is more than mobility and vitality that we lose, and Gael made the way that those losses impacted on her apparent.  By bringing us so closely into her personal experience, I was able to connect more to the universal of old woman that she was attempting to portray.  Her movements were at once joyful, but also quite sad.  An offering of goodbye as we look to a future where it would be possible for Gael to not be here.  The most significant moment in the performance, for me, was when Gael explained that while I (as a young woman) eventually would know what it would be like to feel what Gael was feeling, it was likely going to take place in a time when Gael would already be gone.  Her dance and her story was a way of bringing me into that, of giving me a glimpse, of letting me share in these feelings with her now rather than later.  It was an invitation and a statement, saying I wish you were here.

Without destination: k.g. Guttman

Posted by Amber on September 17th, 2012

Photo by k.g. Guttman

In urban spaces the way that we move through space is often very destination oriented.  There is a very specific inhabiting of space that happens in urban centres, where our movement through the city is focused on getting to where we are going.  k.g. Guttman’s performance Escorte explores what it is like to give up your destination in order to go with someone else to theirs, making movement through the city more about a going with.  An ongoing performance, Escorte has been performed in a number of different cities, including Montreal, Vancouver, and Nantes.  The makeup of the different urban spaces has impact on the kinds of exchanges that occur in the work.

Unlike some of the other performances in the festival, the experience of Guttman’s Escorte takes place in the story of it.  It isn’t a piece where an audience can come and view at a set time, and neither is it one where a viewer can sign up to be escorted.  Instead, the piece is about chance encounters, and a shared experience outside of time.  In this way, the storytelling aspect of the piece becomes very significant.

The words that are used to tell the story are also really important.  The title, Escorte, was chosen intentionally for its referent to multiple meanings and contexts, and there is a shifting that happens where the chance meetings move between these multiple meanings, at once about the need for companionship as well as a desire to guide, protect and honor the stories and places that are shared with Guttman during the experience.

Guttman does not go into the destinations, but instead travels with people just to the threshold before leaving again.  Relating to the theme of loneliness, this brings up an interesting question of the limits of a relational performance.  Many of the people who Guttman has encountered express a feeling of loneliness, disconnect, and a desire to share their stories.  The bond that is built through the walking, through this sharing of an in between space has necessary limitations.  Interestingly, people seem to really respond to the idea of the piece. At Guttman’s lecture one woman expressed an interest in attempting to perform a similar action, thinking about what the piece would look like if the parameters of the exchange were to change, if it could be extended past the initial chance encounter.  For me, these limits provide an important boundary for the piece.  I see it being less as a solution and more as a momentary dropping out of time together, an offer to carry some weight for a while.  It’s not about following up with people later to make sure that they are okay – that would be something else entirely.  These interactions are not about building sustained relationships, instead they offer a moment to be present in a liminal space, to pause our journey from A to B and to spend some time together as if without destination.

I’ve got to break free: Adriana Disman

Posted by Amber on September 15th, 2012

All Photos by Latitude 53

What are the stories that we tell?  And what are the stories that we carry with us, holding them close to our hearts?  These moments that weigh us down, that we take out every once in a while to try on again and to see if they still hurt.  A lot of pressure comes from the things we carry with us.  I’ve been guilty of this in my life, holding tightly onto the things that make me feel most alone, sometimes going so far as to blind myself to positive things happening in my life because I am so concentrated on not letting go of any aspect of that past.  Who do we hurt the most, holding onto loneliness?  Can the telling of it help us to spread that weight a little bit, making it a little easier to hold?

Adriana Disman’s Tuesday night performance explored many of these questions.  An introspective performance, the piece was a way of processing previous actions she had undertaken and the effect that they had on her and her relationships with the people in her life.  The performance was both a working-through and a letting go.  The actions that were performed each responded to an earlier work Disman had performed, where she sat blindfolded and invited viewers to engage and act upon her body.  For viewers unfamiliar with Disman’s practice, the actions she was undertaking felt purposeful, even if the history of each wasn’t entirely apparent.  The viewers were generous with the ritual working-through as Disman went to individuals in the audience and acted on their bodies: a kiss on the cheek, writing on the hand, whispering in the ear, hands on a chest, a needle prick (offered and rejected), breathing together.  In between each action, Disman cut a piece of red thread wrapped around her hand and burned it over a candle in release.  The dénouement of the performance involved a stripping down and cleansing as Disman sang “I’ve got to break free,” and doused herself with a bucket of water.

During the performance, not everything was visible as it involved a combination of intimate exchanges and more public gestures for the group.  There was a level of intimacy that was maintained through this weaving in and out of public and private exchanges.  Sitting in the audience I found an interesting dynamic developed between Disman and her audience, where people vascilated from wanting to be chosen and not wanting to be chosen.  At the end of the performance there was an alternate exchange as audience members tried to collect from each other descriptions of what each of the exchanges entailed.

This performance was the first of two performances that Disman will be undertaking.  Where the first performance was meant to highlight and work through Disman’s own loneliness, the second will be exploring the concept of our loneliness.  During the festival, Disman has also been conducting loneliness interviews, asking people to share with her their loneliness.  Disman will be translating these collected moments into actions in a performance Sunday night (7:00–19:00 at Latitude 53).

On Being Seen: Lilian Gael

Posted by Amber on September 14th, 2012

Photo by Curtis

Over the course of the week Lilian Gael has been going out onto the streets of Edmonton to perform her piece One Old Woman Dancing.  In the work Gael confronts what it means to be an aging woman in contemporary North American culture.  The aging body confers very particular associations and a woman’s aging body carries with it a number of societal assumptions and stigmas.  What does invisibility in the city mean for an aging body?

Having recently turned 60, Gael discusses feeling strength in her years of experience and wisdom as contributing to how she moves through the world, and yet, simultaneously, experiencing an invisibility in how she feels she is seen in the city.  She describes being younger walking down the street and participating in a system of glances and exchanges: as a sexualized body, as a working body, or as a maternal body.  She comments on experiencing these feelings less now that she is older.  Instead she describes feeling a form of dismissal. Rather than being seen as a body with infinite potential she is relegated to the form of old woman.  Inherent in this feeling is a subjective response to a body’s usefulness, where an older body is one that has finished its living, rather than having life yet to live spanning in front of it.

Societally, North American culture seems to have fewer infrastructures available for an aging body to prove useful.  It often feels like our elderly have been stripped of their usefulness.  Rather than deferring to their experience, they are shifted out of sight into liminal spaces: forced retirement, a desexualization of the aging body, and lumping aging into concerns of ability rather than mobility.

As Gael moved through the city this week she used her performance as a space for collecting research from which she is building a cumulative response (taking place at Latitude 53 on Saturday the 15th of September at 18:30–19:30).  Her performance involved walking out into the city, transforming into the figure of an old woman by changing into a dress, and dancing in the street.  Some of the experiences that Gael describes having offer a profound look at how the dancing changed for her how she felt she was perceived by the people around her.  In multiple instances she found that while performing her dance she felt more connected, caught up in the flow of the city’s movements rather than in a space outside of that.  As well, many people in viewing her dance came over to her to express concern for her as an aging woman in the city: one woman, a female constable, told her that she had seen her from further away, and that she would be keeping an eye out for her and to contact her if she needed anything.  It is this concern that I find the most telling part of Gael’s transformation.  When Gael dances she is bringing her feelings of distance and loneliness into stark visibility, but while there is a kind of loneliness to her movements, it is a loneliness that is more bittersweet.  Gael leaves behind her threads of connectedness throughout the performance, she participates in glances, looks, and expressions of care.  She asserts her aging body as a body that is seen.

This body has a history: Heidi Bunting and Gerry Morita

Posted by Amber on September 13th, 2012

Photo by: Catherine Kuzik

On Wednesday Heidi Bunting performed Limbs at Beaver Hill Park.  Choreographed by Gerry Morita, Bunting interprets and improvises movements in response to a series of mannequin legs.  Over the course of two hours, Bunting moved with the detached legs from one side of the park to the other, performing a series of movements and interactions with the legs.  The legs themselves have a history, where many of them originally came from moulds of dancer’s legs.  The parts would have been named for the dancers that provided the mould.  At the same time, the parts seem impossibly shaped when held up and compared to Bunting’s body, the feet seem disproportionate to the legs, the hips incredibly high.  When taken out of context the legs provide a foil for Bunting to engage with, carrying them on her back or across her neck, balancing them one handed, or dragging them behind her.  The limbs move back and forth between disembodied mannequin parts to mirrors of Bunting’s own body as she bodily reflects on and responds to their placement.  She places them across the park, opening up space for performance that engages and interacts with the people in the space: both the audience that was intentionally there to watch as well as people passing by at the bus stop, working in nearby office buildings, and spending time in the park.

Morita’s choreography was also, in part, inspired by Bunting’s age.  As an older dancer her body carries scars and signs of age.  Bunting draws attention to her own legs by both mimicking the poses of the disembodied mannequins, as well as through repeated gestures that demonstrated great care for the limbs as well as her own body.  Bunting’s movements were slow but arresting.  Her gaze, catching and holding the viewer’s eye, was intense and had the affect of drawing the viewer into the performance.

The performance brings up many questions about aging in a body, and disability.  There were many moments in the performance that resonated with me as I watched.  One man in the park commented that without exactly knowing what was happening he felt connected to what was going on. He shared that he himself had struggled with disability and now, trying to reenter the work force he was finding that people were reluctant to consider him because of his age.  At another point in the performance Bunting placed a mannequin limb over the legs of a younger woman observing the performance.  When she went back over to her to take the leg back, the young woman offered it back to her, lifting it up and handing it to her.

The aging body is an intriguing place to begin a consideration of loneliness, because it also draws attention to the ways that living in a body that no longer responds the way that you want it, or the way it easily used to, can make the body feel like a cage.  Most significantly Bunting’s performance made me admire her strength of movement and presence in her own body.

Having Coffee with Strangers: Tanya Doody

Posted by Amber on September 13th, 2012

The anonymity I sometimes feel living in an urban city leaves me searching for connections – quick exchanges with strangers become more meaningful, from a smile on the bus, a compliment as I walk past, a shared moment of conversation.  Craigslist Missed Connections are full of descriptions of these moments after the fact.  Descriptions that express a longing to reconnect, an apology for feeling too nervous, self-conscious, afraid to approach, for letting the moment pass us by.  It’s difficult to approach a stranger, to simply reach out to them and start a conversation.

Tanya Doody is spending her time at Visualeyez having coffee with strangers.  Through an advance call put out through Latitude 53, Doody has offered to buy people a cup of coffee.  As with Missed Connections, the initial contact is happening online in advance, through an email that has been set up to receive acceptances of her open request.  These one-on-one performances take place in a coffee shop around the corner from Latitude 53.  Unlike some of the other performances that are taking place during the festival, Doody’s performance is not meant for a larger audience; instead they are intimate conversations that are happening between Doody and her coffee dates.  The content of the conversations aren’t being recorded aside from personal reflections that Doody is making about finding topics of common ground during each conversation.

When I met with Tanya my experience immediately felt different, in part because of our shared participation in the festival.  I was not exactly a stranger.  Over coffee Tanya and I talked about what its like finding a common ground for conversation with someone you don’t know.  How the tenor of the conversation might change if we had just met on the street instead of through the festival and she approached me with the offer to buy me a coffee.  We talked about using art as a way of pushing our own boundaries, of testing our limits, and of exploring situations that make us feel uncomfortable. Talking to strangers, making the leap to approach them, even if from the safe space of an anonymous email, is hard.

I shared with Tanya that I sometimes babysit the child of a friend of mine.  She’s fantastic with adults, showing no fear walking right up to them and asking them to give her their undivided attention, but she considers herself shy.  Once we were in the park together and she kept asking me to ask if some of the other kids in the playground would play with her.  Struggling with my own shyness in approaching strangers I tried to tell her that I felt shy too, thinking that if I could explain to her that if she and I both felt nervous in approaching other people, then it was likely the other kids felt just as anxious as we did.  Her response to me was to ask me on a scale of 1 – 10 how shy I thought I was, before solemnly informing me that she was an 11.  A young girl kept running past us and glancing our way, so I said hello and before I could finish introducing my friend to her, she had already blurted out, “Do you want to play with me?”  It seems that sometimes all we need to breach that gap between knowing and not knowing is a little push, someone else to step in and stand with us as we take that step.

If you would like to schedule a coffee with Tanya you can send her a message with your availability at coffeeconnect53@gmail.com.

 

Reflected and reflected: Stephen Mueller

Posted by Amber on September 12th, 2012

I read somewhere recently that nostalgia initially was considered a mental condition suffered by Swiss mercenaries when they had to be away from home and within unfamiliar landscapes.  It’s not hard to believe that that longing was thought of as a kind of sickness, the feeling of missing someone or some place can hit you hard.  But what happens when the person that you miss is yourself?

In Stephen Mueller’s work, Please Don’t Go (09:01 December 22, 1977 –                ) Mueller will be spending 6 hours a day confined in a case made of two-way mirrored glass.  Surrounded by reflections of himself, Mueller undertakes repetitive tasks over the course of the day, alternating between writing “I miss you” in Braille on rolls of paper, and cutting out each dot formed by the text and collecting them inside glass containers.  The rolls of paper that spill out the sides of Mueller’s confinement represent all of the paper that he has accumulated since starting this performance two years ago.  Each glass container holds all of the dots that he has cut.  The task itself is endless, for each line he is able to cut out over the course of the day he produces many more.  There is no planned moment at which the actions that he has undertaken will amount to enough.  So far, Mueller thinks that if he added up the hours that he has spent performing this piece it would amount to about three months of his life.

Speaking to Mueller about the piece, he mentions that the confinement and the actions he is undertaking are visual representations of what he feels like a lot of the time.  The piece is in some part a therapeutic way of organizing and cataloguing time, the feeling of constantly looking to both the future and the past, and never focusing on the here and now.  As he repeatedly writes “I miss you” he is speaking to his past self and the moments that he constantly returns to in his mind wishing that he could change them, to his here and now as he spends the days confined in the space literally missing what is going on around him, as well as the places, people and parts of his life that he could be present at if it weren’t for the performance.

The performance itself is spare, quiet, and meditative.  Sitting with Mueller, knowing that I could see him but he could not see me allowed for a close examination of what he was doing.  The thin piece of glass enclosing him gives the viewer freedom to go right into his space.  But while Stephen can’t see his viewers, he is aware of them.  He comments on how he feels connected to the people spending time with the piece, and how when viewers leave, he does miss them and the connection built through the shared viewing.

Viewing the piece I can see myself, my own attachment to my past and fears of the future reflected in his cataloguing.  I can see how nostalgia, this longing that is never about the now can be debilitating.  When I was younger I was in such a hurry to get to the point where life could actually begin, wishing away youthful moments in expectation of a later.  Now I find myself longing for who I was in my past, open and expectant that the things in my life were going to be better, stronger, not the same-old-same-old.  I see myself reflected, and reflected.

On being vulnerable: Martine Viale

Posted by Amber on September 11th, 2012

What does it mean to make oneself vulnerable?  There has been some discussion over the last two days of how, in taking down some of the walls that we put up to make ourselves feel more secure – walls taken down to fully experience/embody Visualeyez’ theme of loneliness – there have been some unexpected moments where this feeling of vulnerability has become more overwhelming then expected.

In performance there are so many aspects of the work that are outside of an artist’s control.  Is there going to be an audience? Will the audience engage? What will that engagement look like?  In some ways, having as few variables as possible in a performance should make the answers to those questions more manageable.  In other ways, taking down some of those barriers, opening up for a myriad of potential actions and leaving the performance open, can provide for unexpected richness and growth for a work.

In Martine Viale’s durational performance the parameters of engagement may become clearer as the week goes on.  Starting yesterday with a 6-hour performance, each subsequent day’s performance will be reduced by one hour.   Viale moves between moments of frenetic energy and quiet stillness over the course of the day.  From writing frantically on a roll of paper, balancing a ream of paper or a glass of water on her head, drawing, lying on the floor, or igniting pieces of thread, Viale alternates between the feeling of being balanced and unbalanced, stability and instability, holding both states simultaneously.

Coming from a deeply personal place of her own recent experiences, Viale discusses how she found herself having more strength then she expected or gave herself credit for.  Viale projects her vulnerability, makes it visible, and struggles with being vulnerable by herself alone in the room and in front of viewers.  While I was watching her perform yesterday I felt vulnerable myself in watching.  It wasn’t just Viale’s vulnerability that was on display.  The room seemed to hold both her movement and her stillness at the same time, and I found myself wondering if I was going to disturb her by entering the room.  The moments of stillness got to me, putting into perspective my own discomfort fidgeting in the face of her stillness.

While it may be daunting to enter into the space and confront Viale’s openness, it also allows for the potential for some very telling interactions between Viale and her viewers.  She describes a moment between herself and a male viewer where both felt comfortable enough to embrace their self-consciousness in facing each other. Viale describes maintaining eye contact while raising her shirt and drawing a house on her stomach.  She said in the moment she was able to embody the feeling of woman as house, an idea that echoes throughout many of her actions over the course of the day.  While the moment itself was one of self-consciousness, it was also one of few interactions over the course of the day where she was able to feel less lonely.

Within performance there is often an expectation on the part of the viewer that there will be some sign that the performance is occurring, of being able to tell when the performance is happening and when it isn’t.  Viale disrupts some of this expectation in her performance, by allowing viewers to bring their own responses to her actions, and to spend some time with her, being still and also not, together.

Martine will be performing all this week.

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