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.
Posted by Cindy on September 26th, 2010
It’s Saturday night and I’m still in Edmonton writing about Visualeyez. There’s just so much to say and I’m trying to be as thoughtful as possible, but it’s harder now that the artists are gone!
It’s not harder because it’s fading from memory, it’s harder I guess because I’d rather still be attending performances and talking with artists than buckling down and getting the hard work done!
Tonight, I’m taking a break from the writing to go to more performance, with Todd Janes. It’s an evening of sound art and live audiovisual works, featuring Clinker, Scott Smallwood (from Visualeyez 2010!), Comaduster, and Wayne Defehr.
Here are the details if you’d like to meet us there:
Stanley Milner Library Theatre
7 Sir Winston Churchill Square.
Posted by Cindy on September 25th, 2010
Arriving back at the gallery shortly before The Comfort Room by Jennifer Mesch and Scott Smallwood was to start, I have just enough time to be fitted with a bread dough baby sling by Alison Reiko Loader in the Culinary Cultures of the Kinder/Garden installation before heading into the performance space. Sitting on the floor with my new doughbaby slung around my belly, I stare up at The Comfort Room’s tables full of collections of inedible objects arranged like petits fours, hors d’oeuvres and pretty candies, and think about comfort, physical objects and things that pacify, things that lubricate pleasant social engagement and things that we want to be alone with.
I feel the bread warming up against my body and starting to rise, softening and growing and resembling my own soft belly. I am comforted by my baby dough and I am comforted by watching Jennifer Mesch put things in her mouth and I am disappointed when she spits them out, not because I wish she would have swallowed them but because I wish she wanted to keep them there. But her character is fighting with wanting them in her mouth, wanting to swallow them, wanting their weight deep in her warm belly, and trying not to be overcome by her compulsion to do so, trying to be “normal” and “healthy” and “good.”
Pica is the name for the disorder characterized by a compulsion to eat non-food objects. It’s also the Latin name for the magpie, after which the disorder was named, ostensibly because magpies are scavengers that will eat nearly anything. Strangely, there is another disorder named after the magpie, the “magpie syndrome,” which refers to the phenomenon of being irrationally or overly attracted to things that are shiny, colourful, new, or unobtainable. The comfort room set installed in the gallery oddly brings these 2 odd behaviors together; it is a collection of beautiful collections, an assortment of myriad attractive textures that do all seem like they would be perfect to put in the mouth.
So I think about psychological disorders, my own attachment to physical objects, my fears about becoming overwhelmed by “things” like those people on the hoarding TV shows and the horrific news stories about getting buried alive by a landslide of 50 years of newspapers. I think about the things I put in my mouth and how they make me feel. I remember what I sucked on as a child and I remember what I sucked on yesterday. I try to remember why I did it in the first place and why I did it again, and why I will do it tomorrow. I reach down to feel the rising dough against my skin and I take a deep breath, calmed by the physicality of the object that has become a part of me.
Jenn is occupying the space like a magpie, moving from collection to collection, running her fingers over and admiring her shiny objects, picking up handfuls of others and stuffing them in her mouth, turning in circles and rising and falling. Moving around the space, she seems to be playing as much as dancing with intention, and I imagine her as a bird that is surrounded by its favorite objects – giddy and awe-filled and overwhelmed – there not for sustenance as much as the compulsion to be there. It’s not just that, though; the human in her is also guilty, fighting against her desires and struggling to do what the brain says is right.
This comfort room, though appearing to be the place where a woman’s treasures are stored, where she can feel safe to do as she pleases and not be judged, is acting like more of a torture chamber, where all her comforting devices, her security blankets are laid out to look at but not touch – it is a room of control and self-denial, and I can see that in the movement, too (though more formally – now she is moving like a dancer thinks someone denying themselves would move). Then she puts something new in her mouth and she lets the new object move her.
The audio component of the piece, created live in response to Jenn’s movements, provides a lush soundscape reflective of her movements in the space and therefore helps evoke the fully realized environment of the comfort room. The sound also underscores the psychological weight of the piece and of Jenn’s movement, its’ creaks and groans and muffled shuffling calling to mind memories of sneaking into the kitchen after bedtime, vermin collecting rubbish and eating the walls, being warmed and lulled by droning heaters and rhythmic appliances.
The Comfort Room reminds me of Diane Borsato’s work Artifacts [in my mouth], where she went into museums and examined the collections by putting things in her mouth. Getting to know things by the way they feel in her mouth is, as the artist put it, is “a whole different way of knowing.” Come to think of it, this performance reminds me of several Diane Borsato pieces, including Warm Things to Chew for the Dead and Sleeping with Cake, works that attempt to uncover emotional knowledge of objects in hopes of applying them to our human needs. Food serves important emotional and psychological needs as well as physical ones.
Of course we develop emotional attachments not only to people and to food and to the things that are connected to or remind us of people, but to things and their “thing-ness,” their singularity. Because putting things in one’s mouth is comforting, (especially for those of us, like me and like Jenn’s character, for whom putting things in one’s mouth is comforting), getting to know objects by putting them in our mouths, licking them, sucking on them, and for some ingesting them gives us a completely different sort of emotional attachment and response than looking at things and recognizing their beauty, listening to sounds and hearing their music, feeling objects and appreciating their texture… It’s not always what something reminds us of that give them emotional power; things and how we interact with them are powerful in their own right.
Talking with Jenn after the performance, she tells me that she wasn’t sure ahead of time what she was going to do in the space. Did it even make sense that it was a “dance” performance? I don’t know anything about dance or how to talk about it, but in the end, I really connected to the content and to the improvisational nature of the work. If the artist didn’t know exactly what she was going to do before she got into the space and the performance started, then I think I can believe what I saw – that the things she put in her mouth made her move.
Posted by Cindy on September 23rd, 2010
Last night I went to the airport with Todd and Brette to say goodbye to the last out-of-town artist. On the way, I asked Brette about her suggestions for breakfast places in Regina, because every time I’m there overnight I never know where to go for breakfast in the morning.
She suggested a few key places, such as Stan’s Diner on Park Street, the Novia Cafe on 12th Avenue, the Abbey Restaurant and Lounge on Albert, and La Bodega on Albert for Sunday brunch. Now I’m excited for my next trip to Regina, and hopefully I can set up a breakfast date while I’m there!
As for now, I’m hunkered down with my pages of notes and my laptop to reflect on everything that’s happened since I’ve been here; there’s bound to be many more posts over the next few days while I catch up on all the amazing things I’ve seen!
Posted by Cindy on September 23rd, 2010
Now that the dust has settled on the Food Wars scandal, there’s time to stand back and reflect on the meals created by Mexican artist Manolo Lugo and Guatemalan born artist Naufús Ramirez-Figueroa.
These meals were so decadent and over the top it was clear the artists were earnest about competing for top spot in the hearts and stomachs of the audience!
This post will be updated later today to include photos, so come back soon!
Posted by Cindy on September 22nd, 2010
Last night, the remaining artists at the festival went out one last time with staff and volunteers, to Dadeo cajun/creole restaurant on Whyte Avenue.
In attendance were Beau Coleman, Alison Reiko-Loader, Vicki Wong, Robin Lambert, Brette Gamel, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Heather Challoner, Catherine Kuzik, Todd Janes, Jamie Hamaguchi and me! (You can see that though everyone is still having a lot of fun, some people are getting awfully exhausted by this point in the festival!)
Alison had been talking about trying to find a good Alberta beef steak while she was in town, but this was her last night. Someone suggested she go for steak and eggs this morning and a great conversation ensued about the best place to find steak and eggs in the not-too-late morning on a weekday in Edmonton. I enlisted the help of festival breakfasters Robin and Brette, who recommended Alison try Tasty Tom’s. After weighing her options (including the sleeping-in or getting up super early to do breakfast before her flight home), Alison decided to have just a light snack at Dadeo and go out for a steak dinner later in the evening. I offered to go with her.
Alison, Jamie and I walked around on Whyte Avenue for a few hours after Dadeo, shopping and browsing. Alison found a couple of antique cookbooks for souvenir gifts (oops; I hope her husband isn’t reading this before she gets home!) and we all found some really nice clothes and shoes which we couldn’t afford.
Then we went downtown to Lux, which had been recommended as a great local steakhouse. Walking in, we knew it was perfect! We made a beeline for the big old steakhouse-style booths!
We both had steak, and shared potatoes and mushrooms (and shared the amazing pecan fritters for dessert!)
We talked well into the night about art, food and our lives, and had to be kicked out when they were trying to lock up. Back at the hotel, Alison and I entertained each other with our favorite Youtube videos and funny picture websites.
Her best pick: Pinup Robert Downey Junior
My best pick: Selleck Waterfall Sandwich
It was hard to say goodbye, but now that there are no more pesky artist to distract me, I can get back to some real serious art blogging!
Posted by Cindy on September 21st, 2010
I’ve been writing for hours – responding to comments on the blog on my post about Brette and Robin‘s performance Show Us Your Edmonton!
I encourage all blog readers to spend some time reading the Show Us Your Adventures thread; there are some interesting questions raised and debated.
And if you haven’t yet, you should also spend some time with the podcasts recorded by the artists:
And their CBC interview:
My next post will detail the full menu from Manolo Lugo and Naufús Ramirez-Figueroa‘s Food Wars, along with several photos for your fond reminiscences (or wistful wishes) ! Enjoy the last day of Visualeyez!Next Page »