Posted on September 17th, 2015
Beige. It’s the colour of colonial explorers, caucasian skin, and the ubiquitous box mall infrastructure of contemporary consumer culture. It is dull and lifeless, conformity writ large. Before anything else, Julie Laurin dons beige. Dressed head to toe in business casual beige (shoes, stockings, skirt, blouse, and jacket) she tugs her shopping cart down the steps of Latitude 53 and it begins.
Julie’s destination: The West Edmonton Mall. It’s about sixty blocks away.
The cart is an unwieldy dance partner. It shakes, rattles, and rolls along the sidewalk. Within sits a blanket, a purse, a paintbrush, an agenda from 1987, some markers, a bottle of water, and a bag of trail mix. Everything you need to cut across the city.
Julie asks for directions from a bus driver. The exchange is natural, even convivial. He tells her to head west.
At intervals, Julie leans on the cart. She rides it. She pushes the cart and she walks. And she walks. Julie looks like a local politician gone mad. She rights fallen signs along the road, plucks flags from the ground, and drags her cart through stones and gravel.
Megan Gnanasihamany (Latitude 53’s Administrative Coordinator) and I are following Julie, but we become swept up in the action. We become a part of it. The borders of the performance blurs as it expands, swallowing us whole. I cross the street to walk parallel to get some distance, and I start to see beige everywhere: the concrete, the stucco walls, the faces that pass us by.
Then I notice the cars. They scream by, an omnipresent river of steel and noise. These are the real observers of the piece. These people for whom a lady in beige with a shopping cart is but a snapshot.
For a few blocks Julie had a companion. A gentleman with glasses and a parka strolled beside her on his way home. They part at 124th St.
Earlier, Julie mentioned that she does not enact a persona. Instead, the costume helps her initiate the action. She called it, “comfortable.” A neutral tone, almost invisible, almost camouflage, until it’s uniform. Then it transmogrifies into a statement.
Meanwhile, the cart’s wheels squeal and jitter with a rhythm like the breathing of a failing marathon runner.
The gentleman with glasses said we still had another hour and a half to go.
She writes in her notebook. She stretches. She points two stop signs in different directions prohibiting either from being a clear signifier. She tries to implant an “Obstruction Ahead” sign into her cart. But it doesn’t fit.
The cycle of movement washes over me.
And the sea of cars. I lose count of the number of people who walk past without batting an eye, then turn, when Julie is past them. Gawking behind her back. Rubbernecking. And the cars drive by. The sea of cars.
She starts with beige, by donning it.
The meaning of beige as “grey and lifeless” reverses because of the focus on the colour and confirmation bias. The meaning collapses. The dead shell of the city seems almost natural.
Julie denies that it’s a persona. And while she walks that seems to hold. We talked as freely as the rest of the festival. Julie readily admitted that she was looking for some sense via her walk. It’s movement seeking sense; an internal goal married to an external one.
At MacKinnon Ravine, we look back at the city. We’re halfway there. It looks impossibly far away. Julie says that if we had this view at the beginning of the performance, maybe she wouldn’t have tried it. “See that tiny bridge in the distance?” she says, laughing. “That’s halfway.”
I push the cart for a bit and we talk. It’s so desolate. Our only company is a never ending stream of cars. And Megan says there’s less traffic than normal because a bridge is out behind us.
We talk about how people and distance help her make sense of the performance as she’s doing it. She mentions seeing people in one of those hamster-like above-ground bridges back downtown, and that moment brought clarity to her movement.
I notice that all the park benches have ads for realtors dressed just like Julie.
She had asked others if they wanted a ride. None assented. Later, she said: “Maybe it was me who needed to get in the cart all along.”
A concrete island runs between the road proper and a turn-off lane with street parking. Julie pushes the cart off the sidewalk and into this lane-way, then pauses. She mounts the cart and starts walking with her hands. A button pops off her jacket and rolls a little ways ahead. A car approaches from behind. Julie crawls over the pavement, one arm span at a time. She moves to the side and the car passes by.
Then she gets down and continues walking.
It isn’t much, so she heads inside. With the cart.
Julie pauses, not twenty feet inside the mall.
Beneath the twisting tracks of crayon yellow steel and empty, rocketing coaster cars, Julie lays out the carpet/blanket that was nestled in the basket of the shopping cart. It’s a wheel of fortune where the only marked space is “Bankrupt.” She smoothes out the wheel, rolls the cart to the centre, takes her shoes off, and climbs aboard. With knees tucked up and arms wrapped around them, Julie sits, still and silent, amongst the noise and chaos of Galaxy Land.
She waits; she sits. Then she’s done, for now.
Julie will be performing again today at 3:00pm. She’ll start at Latitude 53 then wander to no particular spot. She promises it won’t be as far as the West Edmonton Mall.