Posted on September 20th, 2015
- a man standing in a drape at the corner of Jasper Ave and 103 St for an hour, then building a structure with the drape and a stick
- a man standing under a sheet in front of the Baccarat Casino (beside the bus stop, in front of the parking lot) for an hour, then building a structure with the sheet and three sticks
- the same man within the gallery space: lofting sheets upon the floor, tilting things over until they crash, bending sticks until they break (against the tension of trying to lift a chair draped in a sheet, against the tension of his shoulder wedged up against the ceiling), and huddling beneath the drape while coiling his body around a stick and snapping it in his embrace
used in a sentence: In/Side/Out/Side, by Christian Bujold, is really two different performances, one nested within the gallery space and the other exposed to the elements of urban Edmonton.
Beneath both sheets is an iron pith of ambiguity. One I dare not try to bend or break. Therefore, please take this as an attempt to spear a wriggling fish while keeping it alive; or better yet, bottle the wind.
Outside, Christian stands erect under a sheet in the streets of Edmonton. At one level he is a ghost, both the cartoon figure and the null entity. At another, he is a focal point for interactive energy; an invisible force field intermingling with all in sight regardless of whether they consciously interact with the blank canvas he presents for them, or attempt to vigorously ignore his presence. Or he’s a disruption, or a political statement, or a weirdo, or an artist. He can be anything, beneath that white bolt of cloth. This makes his performance tremendously vulnerable to interpretation, to articulation, to any attempt to spell out that which is better left mysterious and strangle it in the process.
That vulnerability corresponds to his state. He cannot see. He can barely hear what’s around him. He is enclosed within a stark shift of unseeing non-colour. He is cut off. He cannot react. He cannot move. When an irate woman declares her desire to kick him in the balls, all he can do is slowly reposition his hands in front of his groin, careful not to disturb the silhouette.
The choice of site reflects each of these different layers of interpretation. Superficially, there is a large metal statue that resembles the shape of Christian beneath the sheet. So much so that one passerby thought the performance correlated with plans to erect a new, figurative statue in place of the folded metal wedge. (Y’know, like how the statue of some general is revealed by whipping off a sheet.) Aesthetically, the space provides more than enough wind to billow the sheet in a number of transfiguring patterns of warp and waft. In one particularly beautiful moment, two wings veer in the sheet via oh so fluid movement at the exact time that a man watching in a van drew a tissue to blow his nose. Politically, he is in front of a bank and a casino, both vaults of a different order, both places that take our money, and yet the model of citizen inhabiting each area (just a brief walk from one another) constituted two very different slices of the public pie.
The intervention made me extremely nervous on Christian’s behalf. Every time someone walked or biked too close, my stomach knotted. I kept far away, because when you stand near a dude under a sheet jotting down notes people treat you like an interpretive station, and I didn’t have any answers to satisfy them. But by being far away, had anything happened, it would have been too late to act. So I clench, as Christian stands, while the wind is made manifest and material by billowing the sheet.
Once an hour passes, Christian bends and descends, first at the hip and the knees, then his back curves like a plant-eating dinosaur. He continues to descend in one fluid exchange to the earth, in a position that could be prayer. Lower still, and the form disappears in a hump of bleached bright. He scoots out the back, pushes the hair off his forehead, and erects a structure using the cloth and long wooden sticks. At the first site the structure resembles a flag, braced against the empty metal basket bench. The second, a tripod of bent tension with a mound of cloth in the middle.
Late that night, the latter structure still stands.
Inside is a different story. Christian sits on a chair unaware of the crowd forming around him in the relatively tight quarters of Latitude 53’s front room.
When he rises, he breathes. Intentionally, at the audience. He shoves every last atom of air out of his lungs, bending in pain, as though he were trying to collapse his diaphragm. He lifts one sheet and lofts it into the air, as high as he can reach, before letting it settle upon the ground. Ridges run along the sheet’s surface, slowly deflating as the fabric hugs the concrete. When no more air is left beneath, Christian rises and lofts it again, two hands stretched high. Then the sheet descends.
He drags a deck chair, no, an entire stack of them, ten high, into the centre of the room. He presses one finger against the stack’s arm and implies an ever-increasing pressure upon it. His finger bends. The tower leans. So slowly. Such a minute amount of force. It hangs. His forearm is tense — then it falls, crashes to the floor. The room jumps and he smiles with relief.
He moves to the thermostat and turns on the intake fan that’s cut in the wall about ten feet off the ground. He tosses a sheet with the same lofting motion, up, up, at the rumbling hatch, until it sticks. It looks wet, sheer, like a sudden white umbrella sprouted from the wall.
The other sheet is draped over the chair he was sitting in. Braced under his arm, two long wooden sticks are stuck beneath the chair. He tries to lift it up and it comes, slowly, until it topples to the left. But he refuses the chair’s obsequious ties to the floor. He strains, elbows locked and kneeling on his haunches, brought down to the level of the chair, straining along with the bent sticks until the chair lifts a few inches off the ground and the poles snap and Christian falls back with a simple, “fuck!”
Now he takes the finger and places it against the ladder, pointing it towards the middle of the room. The movement is quicker than the stack of chairs, it hits the point of balance and hangs. You know it’s coming, but it’s a surprise either way when, after a few moments of suspended animation, the ladder clatters to the floor.
He starts fluffing the sheet again, waiting for the last remnants of air to remove itself from the deflating landscape.
He tries the chain for the garage door and finds that it obeys. But when the door is wide open and the evening air comes in, the wind misses its cue, so Christian slides the door shut.
He crawls beneath the sheet. The chain rattles, and he breathes. The sticks lay as an easel. After it sounds like all the air has escaped his lungs, Christian rolls and gets up, retrieves a new stick, spears the sheet, lifts up the lump of fabric and holds it aloft, pinning it against the ceiling. It’s wedged with his hand and he moves to get it atop his shoulder, but he loses the necessary pressure, and it bends, snapping under the weight of the clotted sheet. He gets another, fits this one into his shoulder, and stretches. He arches his back and flexes, getting up on his tiptoes to force the stick, to bend it, and, ultimately, to snap it off halfway.
He takes a longer shard of wood, holds it up like a staff, and drapes himself and the stick under a sheet. All we can see are his feet, which wrap around the stick. Beneath the sheet his body contorts around the stick, like ivy wrapped around a mighty oak. Except this vine pulls, and the stick snaps again and again. From each point of contact the human skeleton embraces and destroys the piece of wood. Hidden, he crushes the pole to splinters, and falls over with it. Bereft of staff and stave, Christian goes to the chair he tried to lift, sits on it after tugging the sheet off, stands, and says: “Thank you very much.”
When Christian speaks about what he’s willing to speak about regarding his work, he is exceedingly articulate and honest. But there is a well-defined limit beyond which his elocutions shall not pass, because he is well aware of the cognitive kill switch inherent to so many words or phrases. And yet he utilizes a linguistic metaphor in constructing his sequence of actions.
Christian has a vocabulary of actions that he employs within the gallery space in a sequence unseen, even by him, until the point of manifestation. Before the action emerges from him, bubbling from to the surface, the look on his face is terrible to behold. He is lost. Utterly lost, as though all light and warmth was drained from the world. He is open to that lack, to the total incomprehension to what comes next, because otherwise it would be scripted. It would be something false. Just because you have a vocabulary doesn’t mean you know what to say next. Until you do.
Consider his action with the stack of chairs or the ladder. The weight hangs in the balance with but his index finger lightly tipping the axis. And it holds. In that moment, it really could go either way. A few times, his finger leaves the object in equipoise and it floats in a space that is neither balanced nor falling. It isn’t until the tip and the teeter, the careen and the crash, that the completed collapse has occurred. Until that very instant, it is naught but sheer potentiality, and in that null space of “not yet but maybe,” the action is precious, intangible, and unimaginably vulnerable.
So too is the performance. So too is the wind. So too is life.