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

Jujubilee!

Posted by Cindy on September 19th, 2010

It’s been a really long day; the 10:30 am Saturday feedback session (what were they thinking?!) with Kelly Andres and Alison Reiko Loader was kind of a bust, but I had a really nice conversation with them anyway. I went to my Mom’s house and baked my bread baby, which to be perfectly honest had gone through a lot in the previous night. It had risen out of control, stuck completely to the baby sling and got “kneaded” back down in the process of scraping it out of its cloth carrier, rose again, stuck again PLUS dried out and formed a hard crust which I kneaded back into it, and never quite rose again to its former glory. You should have smelled it, though – the most powerful fermenting smell ever, that did not smell anything like bread, but like some kind of  a boozy brewery. It smells like bread now, though! I didn’t want to stifle my baby’s creativity, so I decided to let he go back out into the world, where she decided she feels most comfortable on display in the gallery with the rest of Alison and Kelly’s creations. I may be brave enough to try a slice tomorrow.

Then it was time for the walking tour of caribou X crossing‘s Miles of Aisles. I had assumed that this would be a live version of the audio tour, but in fact it was simply a mass participation in the audio tour; the artists were present only to guide the participants into the store and to observe. If I had known that this is what today’s scheduled performance would be, I would not have bothered going. But then I would have missed a couple of really interesting experiences that I would not otherwise have had; that of being in the store while a couple dozen others were wandering around absurdly like me, and more importantly of experiencing the tour as one of a pair. Jennifer Mesch and I went into the tour together, she playing the tour for Anne and I the tour for Julia. Compared to going on the tour by myself yesterday, this was far more satisfying, even though, bizarrely, the two tours did not ever have Jenn and I cross paths or interact.

But more about Miles of Aisles later! In the meanwhile, if you’re planning to take in Miles of Aisles during Visualeyez (or later; I assume there’s nothing preventing you from downloading the files and taking the tour anytime in the future), my advice is to find a friend who wants to go with you; it’ll only redouble your fun, plus you’ll have someone to talk to about it afterwards!

I just got back from Alberta Arts Days at the Jubilee Auditorium, where a whole Visualeyez contingent went to check out the art action, and more specifically because Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Jennifer Mesch and Scott Smallwood were performing. The event had a look like it had been going on all day and was winding down (which I think was actually the case); there wasn’t any food on the food table that I could eat, but I was completely wiped out and starving. Thankfully there were big bags of Jubilee-branded jujubes in piles throughout the venue. I ate one, took one for later, one for Megan, and one for a souvenir. Todd got one for me too.

I had little stamina left for to take in very diverse event and spent much of my time chatting in a quiet corner with Adina Bier, Jennifer Mesch, Todd Janes and others until Jenn and Scott’s performance.

By the end of the evening, Chun Hua Catherine appeared to have successfully proposed to every white man at the event, and was looking pretty love-drunk!

Foodback Session

Posted by Cindy on September 18th, 2010

I’m up bright and early today; even though I was blogging into the night, there’s no way I was gonna miss today’s 10:30 am feedback session on Alison Reiko Loader and Kelly Andres‘ work Culinary Cultures of the Kinder/Garden: it’s got a lot going on, and I’m gonna need all the help I can get in writing about it!

I have spent quite a bit of time in their installation, and have engaged with the work in every way they’ve presented options – eating the food cultures, getting hands-on with the work, watching the video projections, and even adopting a “doughbie,” wearing it all night. (more about that later…) I’ve engaged every way I know how, EXCEPT for talking with them much about the work. Yet.

So I’m counting on today’s feedback session to give me some “meat” for a longer post on their work.

Luckily there’s also a great blog about the project as well, which I’ve had up on my desktop for days but haven’t explored much yet. It’s not a matter of not being interested enough to explore the work, it’s a matter of finding time in the day!

But between that feedback session and the caribou X crossing live performance walk of their project Miles of Aisles at Sobey’s later this afternoon, I should have time to finish the post that’s been simmering in my brain for several days now about Randy Lee Cutler‘s Ask Me About Salt, and to get a good start on one for Alison and Kelly.

More soon!

Bread Baby

Posted by Cindy on September 18th, 2010

Tonight I adopted a bread baby. I wore it in a sling throughout the Comfort Room performance, and it was oddly comforting. In fact, I wore it back to the hotel and am now lying on my stomach on the bed, blogging with my new little girl curled up for warmth in the small of my back.

I opted to wear the “doughbie” under my sweater so as to allow it to benefit from being closer to my skin, so it’s really more like I am a surrogate dough mommy, yet to give birth. I mean, now that it’s on my back I’m not sure how I feel about what exactly it is, but it’s still comforting. I feel like I’ve made a real commitment to this dough, and am now trying to decide how and when and where to bake it. Naufus, and Manolo (who I finally met tonight) are busy working on the dishes for their Food Wars in another hotel (one that has  suites with kitchens) and they’ve invited me to stop by. I know Naufus has a lot of cakes to bake, though, so I don’t know that there’d be room for me! I might end up baking at my Mom’s after all!

Well, I have a lot of writing to do before I make that decision anyway, and the baby has a lot of growing to do before she’s big enough to pop in the oven! I’ll let you know how it turns out.

- I am great with bread dough.

From one performance to another

Posted by Cindy on September 17th, 2010

I just got back from the gallery, where I went to eat the lunch I picked up at Sobey’s after taking in caribou X crossing‘s Miles of Aisles – walk 1 (Anne).

And now I’m rushing off to see Randy Lee Cutler‘s Ask Me About Salt at 4 pm on Whyte Avenue (in front of Chapters).

I already have a backlog of great things to post about so I know it’s gonna be another long night for me, and that’s not including another evening of performances tonight at Latitude 53!

Quick note: Lunch included assorted Sobey’s sushi, Voss sparkling water, fresh raspberries and carrots in purple, yellow and orange! Tried some wheatgrass agar agar from Kelly and Alison‘s performance, which just gets more and more interesting! I plan to carry around a bread dough baby as soon as they’re ready to go; I give off almost enough body heat to bake a loaf of bread, let alone just let the dough rise!

Good morning!

Posted by Cindy on September 17th, 2010

I’m staring out the window of my hotel room, trying to convince myself that it’s not quite as lovely outside as my mind wants me to believe! It’s a bright sunny day; the perfect day for a walk!

I’m getting ready to go to Sobey’s to partake of caribou X crossing‘s Miles of Aisles!

It’s the first time I’ve used my iPod for anything like music or video, so I’m nervous about whether it will even work. It should be okay, though, right? How hard can it be?

I was up blogging all night but am surprisingly refreshed today and am looking forward to more great art and engaging conversation! I’ve got several pages of notes about projects I both have and haven’t seen, so hopefully this afternoon I will find time to sit down and do some more big bursts of writing. I also need to make time to eat properly! Today, in the interest of health and sanity, I will entertain any and all invitations for coffee breaks, lunches and supper dates! Unless it means missing Randy Lee Cutler‘s Ask Me About Salt at 4 pm, (which I missed yesterday) or Jennifer Mesch and Scott Smallwood‘s The Comfort Room at 7:30, which is only being performed once!

Wow; I’d better get going! Stop by the gallery sometime after 1 pm if you want to help make sure I’ve eaten something today!


My First Banana

Posted by Cindy on September 17th, 2010

Adina Bier performed her piece On Boulevard de Clichy tonight during the Rooftop Patio Launch Party for Visualeyez at Latitude 53. “Rooftop Patio Launch Party” was a bit of a misnomer; it was too cold to go outside, so the launch party was not on the rooftop patio. That doesn’t mean the evening was a disappointment, however! In fact, it meant that wherever partiers chose to hang out, they were in the midst of performance art.

Kelly Andres and Alison Reiko Loader were busy making edible culture in Culinary Cultures of the Kinder/Garden – from birthing fetal tomatoes to creating a “vinegar mother” to serving mint agar desserts in petri dishes, their space was bustling with activity and bursting with life all evening. This is one project to keep coming back to, as their work will evolve and literally grow over the course of the festival. Their performance doesn’t officially start until tomorrow (Friday), but they’ll be in the gallery from 12-5 every day for the rest of the festival.

Though she wasn’t scheduled to perform either, Chun Hua Catherine Dong couldn’t keep the participants away from the installation for her performance Hourglass. Everyone wants to help paint a few grains of rice black – just enough, it seems, to really grasp the overwhelmingly impossible nature of the task. By the time she arrived once the party was already in full swing, I’d heard from at least half a dozen people who wondered if they’d get in trouble if they started without her.

It was Adina’s project that really captivated the crowd, however.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about Chun Hua Catherine Dong’s work, I really respond to artwork that challenges the audience to take a risk, to make themselves vulnerable in a gesture of solidarity with the artist. For Adina’s project, I was prepared to simply NOT be nauseated by the bananas in the gallery, but I didn’t know if I would be able to give her any more than that.

For On Boulevard de Clichy, the artist dressed in a bodysuit made of “nude”-coloured sheer nylon, standing amongst 365 fresh bananas. With one banana (still fully encased in its peel) shoved into her brightly painted mouth and one banana in each hand, Adina Bier handed gallery visitors bananas. Signs instructed participants to peel and eat the banana, depositing the spent peel in her bodysuit when finished.

Borrowing the name for her project from the street in Paris famously home to the historic Moulin Rouge and other notorious cabarets of the period, Bier puts herself on display seemingly for the gratification of the crowd. Though Clichy was once home to  artists from Van Gogh to Degas to Picasso it is best known today for its strip clubs, topless cabarets and sex shops. As the artist stands silently in the gallery I wonder briefly if she is referencing the art history of the area at all, or simply the viscerally decadent sexual subculture. Then I remember that they’re hardly inseparable, and that the art scene at the height of Boulevard de Clichy’s heyday was a very hedonistic and indulgent one.

I watch some of the first people take their banana, eat it, and stuff the peel timidly into the arm of Bier’s bodysuit. Every new person to enter the gallery is offered an outstretched arm, banana in hand. Posted signs explain how the audience is to engage with the work, but it seems to me that the artist’s eyes are much more communicative than the posters. With them she pleads with each new visitor to help her; take a banana, please. Just one banana. I can’t possibly eat these all myself.

I’m reminded of the definition of performance art that requires the engagement of ‘bodies at risk.’ The artist appears so vulnerable and so much in need, and I can see that the audience recognizes this too. Almost every person I see in the gallery has taken a banana. Every new person that arrives at the party is dragged into the gallery by someone asking “Do you like bananas? You need to help.”

It has been less than an hour since she has started her performance, and I can see Bier suppressing a gag reflex constantly now. Eyes tearing, her banana-plugged mouth silently begs me to eat a banana.

I have never eaten a banana.

But finally I am worn down, at least as much by my sense of responsibility to the art and my commitment to engaging with the work as by the artist’s manipulation. I take a banana as I tell her that I have never eaten one before. I feel as though I am sharing a special moment with her, that we are both vulnerable and at risk in this moment. (I worry that she makes everyone else feel this way too; that I am indeed not special, that everyone who takes a banana from her believes that they are the only one, or that their banana MEANS something which the other bananas do not.)

Failing to understand how to open a banana and thereby destroying my first, Adina peels a new one for me and I take it, feeling ever more vulnerable in my banana-virginity against this world-weary apparent banana whore. Watching her strangle on her own banana-gag, I start to choke down my first ever banana and feel that I somehow understand what she is going through.

Managing to eat the entire thing without retching audibly, I wonder silently – If I write in the blog that I’ve never eaten a banana, will readers think it’s somehow significant that I’m a queer woman? It’s not, really. It’s not like I haven’t sucked my fair share of cocks. (My fair share being relative, I suppose, to the fact that I’m a queer woman. So maybe it’s significant. I guess.) My distaste for bananas has nothing whatsoever to do with their phallic nature and everything to do with their – well, uh, I’m not sure. I mean, it must be the texture, mostly. As a classic case of the orally-fixated, I certainly like putting things in my mouth, so it’s not that, that’s all I’m saying.

The crowd at Latitude is loosening up now. Banana jokes are flying. People are wondering if Adina’s jaw is getting sore. Partiers are showing off in front of their friends, conversation is getting louder and ruder. Yet, I don’t feel that Adina is any more at risk than at the start of the evening. While normally, I expect that performance art plus alcohol eventually leads to someone going home in tears (and I programmed performance art year-round for eight years), this crowd which has been protective of the artist from the beginning is getting, if anything, MORE protective. Sure, the banana peels are starting to be pushed deeper and deeper into her bodysuit, but now I see people taking their second and third bananas, against their own better judgment and the pleading of their stomachs. I talk to people who are hanging out shiftily in the back corner of the gallery, or unwilling to return into the gallery at all, who uniformly explain that if they look her direction again they’ll have to take another banana, and they just can’t handle any more. I talk to a woman who the artist has literally CUT OFF from the supply of bananas, fearing (after the woman’s 7th banana) for her health and safety.

So now I’m thinking about a performance I saw in Vancouver during That 70’s Ho at the Western Front. Curator Victoria Singh invited female performance artists born in the 70’s to remake or update work of feminist performance artists from the 70’s. During an evening cabaret, Maya Suess, reinterpreting Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, invited viewers to cut the clothing off her body with scissors provided for that purpose. It could have gone any direction, but the audience in this instance opted to treat the project like a dare. Instead of being shy or respectfully modest, or protective, each visitor took his or her turn to one-up the previous cutter. You cut off several inches? I’ll cut off a couple of feet! You cut off the portion of the dress covering her breasts? I’ll cut off the portion of her skirt covering her crotch! You cut off her panties? I cut off her shoes! You cut off her gloves? I cut off her hair! That work seemed to operate as a game, and the objective of the game was to see who could upset the artist. The challenge seemed to have been put to us thusly, and from reports I heard afterwards, we succeeded. I guess she didn’t really think people would take her up on her offer. Not really.

But it made me wonder (then as now) what does an artist do to make an audience behave appropriately in the context of their performance? What I mean is that in the performance I saw at Western Front, the project seemed out of control. In a way not intended by the artist. I’m sure that audience was feeding off of just that energy, the energy of a runaway performance. The artist herself now likely recognizes the power in that volatility and claims it as her own, though at the time, it did not go well for her at all.

Adina Bier, though, has harnessed exactly the response she needs to make On Boulevard de Clichy a success. Though there are still two-thirds of the bananas remaining, it seems quite a feat to have engineered the consumption of 125 bananas over the course of a few short hours, to wordlessly convince dozens of people to stop what they’re doing and eat a banana for art. Over the course of the evening, an entire party full of people have done their best to protect this plainly vulnerable woman from the great banana menace and yet, as the fog lifts and people start to realize what they have accomplished, there the artist stands, completely covered in banana leavings: bloated and lumpy, old and saggy, the banana bukkake princess of the world.

I still want to have a good talk with the artist once she’s had a chance to digest (so to speak) what’s happened tonight. She’s already decided that she won’t be continuing the project tomorrow; it somehow seems anticlimactic after such a concerted effort by such a large crowd. Plus, she’d have to make herself get back into that bodysuit filled with grey, mushy, cold day-old banana peels. I have doubts she could stand in one spot again for a second day in a row, but I should never underestimate the commitment of a performance artist. (I once programmed Kelly Mark, who did a piece called Smoke Break. She stood outside city hall all day, chainsmoking. As soon as she butted one cigarette out she lit up the next. From the minute they opened until the minute they closed, she smoked. I don’t remember how many packages of cigarettes she went through. Eleven? The first thing we did after the performance was head to dinner, and I listened to Kelly describe how taxing and toxic and nauseating it was to smoke that many cigarettes in a row. The very first thing Kelly did AFTER dinner? She lit up a cigarette.)

Anyway, I am curious to talk with Adina more about her work, and to see what she decides should be done with the rest of the bananas.

Chatting with her briefly after the performance tonight, Adina said that she is actively manipulating people into performing an act, which, (thinking about it symbolically), might be considered morally reprehensible. Out of all the people who interacted with her, only one couple took a banana, debated eating it, and then returned the banana to her, explaining that they “couldn’t do that to her.” Of course, they immediately understood the symbolism behind the work, which is not to say that nobody else did. It just means that they considered it seriously and applied it to their moral system before choosing not to engage. It seems to me that any of the other participants may have had a similar internal dialogue before submitting to the artist’s plea to take a banana, but acquiesced on the point that, in this setting, it is better to help an artist by engaging in their performance than to refuse to engage on moral grounds that are arguably spurious because the project in fact aims to address and challenge our relationship to those moral standards themselves.

- the banana cycle - gleefully taking a banana, happily giving back the peel, and pleading for more help.

Hourglass

Posted by Cindy on September 15th, 2010

The festival is officially underway now. Chun Hua Catherine Dong is busy painting grains of rice black in the project space at Latitude 53, gratefully accepting the help of any who offer as she tries to empty half the bowl of white rice, filling the other with black. It’s an overwhelming proposition. Staff and visitors take their turns for a few minutes at a time, sharing with Chun Hua Catherine for as long as it amuses them before getting up and moving on to more “productive” – and less daunting – tasks.

- The first few painted grains of rice.

While watching her perform early this afternoon, I heard her talking with gallery visitors about her name. I thought I heard her say that she asks Chinese-speaking people to call her Catherine, and asks English-speaking people to call her Chun Hua. I thought that sounded funny (funny ha-ha AND funny strange) so when it was my turn to sit down and paint rice I asked her about it.

She told me that she meant it as kind of a joke, but that she does say that to people, mostly to challenge them. She said that most art institutions she has corresponded with in North America automatically change her name to Catherine Chun Hua Dong, even though she has made a specific decision to use Catherine as her middle name and to use her whole name. Galleries have told her, when asked, that in North America, “we” prefer to put English names first.

In my own art, in almost every project, I hope to challenge the viewer. Sometimes physically; sometimes just conceptually or philosophically. But I totally “get” asking people to put themselves out there; even just a small gesture to show that they’re on side, that they’re willing to be a bit vulnerable in solidarity with the artist. Or to demonstrate their interest in learning, their openness to the project. So I told her that I would call her Chun Hua, and I spent the rest of my rice-painting time trying to learn how to properly pronounce the “Hua” in Chun Hua.

I have to say that aside from my affinity for her politics of language and communication with which I’m already aligned, I’m drawn to Chun Hua Catherine’s performance. Personally, I really enjoy taking on tiny repetitive tasks, and where I lack the gross hand-eye coordination for things like video games, I have great fine motor skills and my favorite fidgeting activity involves rolling things into tiny tight bundles. This, compounded with my fascination for tweezers, means I’ll be spending a lot of time with Chun Hua Catherine this week!

Rabbit Food

Posted by Cindy on September 15th, 2010

Okay, so I went out this evening to try out my new camera and make sure I could figure out not only how to get the images off the camera and onto my computer, but that I wouldn’t have any trouble getting them from my computer onto the blog!

This is a picture I took in the community gardens of a beautiful rabbit trying to have a nice quiet meal. MMMM purple cabbage! Bon appétit, bunny friend!

See you at the festival tomorrow!

(P.S. For those who’d like to comment – we know the comments option isn’t currently available, and we’re working on it! It should be fixed by morning!)

UPDATE! Comments now available! Post away!

a quiet dinner before the festival starts

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