Posted on September 20th, 2015
Breathe in, breathe out. Nine people crowded shoulder to shoulder. Spouts hang from their mouths, limp latex between pursed lips. They make eye contact over the saggy, posset coloured balloon and slowly imbue the sack with life. They stand in the square in front of Edmonton’s City Hall, by a war memorial obelisk, across the street from a myriad of hyperactive spin cyclists churning electric butter for charity. This is the first performance of Rachel Echenberg’s Nine, Five and Three a participatory piece in which observers cross the boundary between actor and audience to join the performer in an act of blowing up a multifaceted bladder of thick, pinkish, floppy material that reminds me of an oversized haggis, or a collection of distended udders.
Another breath. It’s a shared rhythm. The latex structure begins to form in the space between them. Despite nine mouths and nine minds and nine pairs of lungs, I only hear a single susurration. The balloon soon looks like a cloud of paler pink, and, as a breeze tickles the participants’ hair, pressure pulls within and without. Some of the participants close their eyes as the balloon swallows their vision in its pneumatic expansion, their intense concentration extending to their mouths where dozens of tiny fissures speak of muscles contracting in an effort to hold the spout in place.
Cheeks puff. Bodies spread apart. The balloon’s many independent contours coalesce into a landscape. The raucous fundraiser is forgotten, at least by me, as I’m drawn inward to the group’s collective breath. The latex structure is about the size of a large human figure, and it occurs to me that it bears a remarkable resemblance to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The material serves as an unbroken space between the participants, an indirect intimacy as the air between them (within the balloon) binds them whilst the air between them (outside, in the world) only serves to indicate their individuation, so that the further they step back, the closer they become, albeit on different planes. Some are almost absorbed by the latex structure, but they stand firm in their places since any shift would have to be accommodated by the other members of this supra-organism of breathing bodies and latex relations; no, they stand still, and in that stillness seek some balance between the pressures mounting within and without the communal lung, but they don’t stop breathing despite the wobbling and the blood rushing to their faces or the fact that every system has its limits.
Then it pops, with a shriek, and the soggy rubber returns to a formless hump, only now it’s in tatters. Rachel bends to collect her fallen udder, and the group stands stiller than the obelisk. A scattered smattering of leaves tumble through the air. Lips tingle, as do cheeks. The action melts.
Rachel Echenberg will be performing Nine, Five and Three again on Sunday at 2:00pm, location TBA. But if you swing by Latitude 53, I’m sure someone will be able to tell you what’s up.