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

Day 7 – Marie-Claude Gendron – public/private space

Posted by Irene Loughlin on September 23rd, 2014

Marie-Claude Gendron enacted her performance in public space today, a method which carries with it its own particular challenges.  She tied herself to a remnant train crossing signpost with a roll of yarn and covered her eyes with a white cloth.  In conversation earlier she had talked about what she can’t see being infinitely more important than what she can see and her belief in the value of the imagination.  Her work is suggestive; through her actions and movements we are called to imagine a completion of the image.

Marie-Claude seems almost suspended in space as she hovers from the signpost.  The strong vertical movement of lines in her work find a resting place for a moment.  The platform of the boulevard from which she hovers functions as a strange, interstitial median that separates the converging movement of traffic.  The boulevard also functions as a furtive site where pedestrians wait illegally for a further break in the line of traffic, a gap through which they can impatiently cross.  It seems appropriate then, that Marie-Claude perches upon this object of architectural stillness above a site of busy activity in all directions, and blocks her vision while engaging in the repetitive act of unravelling yarn.  The ends of the yarn float in the wind as she proceeds to unwind the material.

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Marie-Claude Gendron    Photo: Irene Loughlin

The artist started this work with a similar aesthetic strategy to the previous day, a walk along a vertical line suggested by the environment and architecture of the space.  This time, there is a sense of encroachment inherent in the space where the city meets nature and vice versa along the deserted train tracks.  The liminal character of the site heightens her movement and we notice the change from dirt and grass to sidewalk, the approaching buildings, the busyness of pedestrians etc. as we follow her towards a highly trafficked street.  Interstitial places such as the one she traverses have been tamed and re-imagined through the neo-liberal lens of downtown development.  Condos line one side of the train tracks and a restaurant/bar is located on the other side.   As she did yesterday, Marie-Claude’s goal is moving towards a static ‘tower’ located at the ‘end of the line’.  Holding the heavy plank of wood, she struggles and tries various positions, balancing the wood both on her back and in front of her.

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 Marie-Claude Gendron   Photo: Irene Loughlin

The remnant train crossing structure is located in the middle of a busy downtown intersection.  As in many contemporary cities such markers are preserved for their ‘historic’ value which propose something beyond the monoculture that cities are all moving towards (if they have not yet already arrived there). These markers fall flat as effective replacements for a local culture which has generally been displaced via the pressures and strategies of economic development.

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Marie-Claude Gendron   Photo:  Irene Loughlin

Marie-Claude unravels a ball of yarn while onlookers and drivers watch and take photos.  A man leans out of his pickup truck as he turns the corner, and asks if she is ok.  We are not sure if she notices or hears him since she is blindfolded.  After about ten minutes of unraveling, the police arrive.  The police officer is actually quite nice and somewhat relieved I think when we explain that it is a performance art work for Visualeyez. Apparently there is a phenomena known as “stunting” going around.  Performance art used to be a solitary endeavour, with few referents.  Youtube has ruined that for us.  In any event, the police officer tells Marie-Claude to come down and find a safer place to do her performance.  He actually gives her a set of instructions!  I wonder if he has read the fluxus handbook.

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Marie-Claude chatting with the police officer regarding the nature of public/private space  Photo: Irene Loughlin

The officer wants her to do the work at a cafe and tie herself to a chair on a patio. But, he says, you must ask the owner first.   Marie-Claude engages him in conversation about what belongs to the city and what belongs to nature.  She asks, “Does that tree belong to the city?  If I pick up a rock does that belong to the city?” He answers yes to both questions.  Well, she has to get down because she’s distracting drivers and he will get in trouble with his boss if he leaves her there. Eventually she agrees and he offers her a lift down which is kind of a lovely gesture in the sunshine, somewhat brotherly.   I might say paternalistic but he’s too young to be a father figure.   He says that he has calls like this but usually its ‘mentally ill’ people.  Damn mentally ill people get blamed for everything.  He says he’s seen a lot worse from them.  In any event they offer to take away Marie-Claude’s plank and the other officer tries to put it in the police van but it doesn’t fit so he gives it back to her.  We talk together about the work and Marie-Claude mentions the policing of tension, what is permitted tension in our society and what is viewed as dangerous and must be stopped?  When I think on this, it seems that permitted tension is always related to capitalist production.  I am left with a final thought from Marie-Claude:  “A small gesture can do as much as a large one”.  I test her hypothesis against her performance and it works, as her materials and actions were quite subdued, but it was, however, the environment and the people interacting with her, which caused the spectacle.

Day 6 MORNING Research-based Practice

Posted by Irene Loughlin on September 22nd, 2014

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Day 6 Morning discussion on research-based practice  Photo: Irene Loughlin

This morning I posed a question as to what was the participants’ association to and understanding of research-based practice in relation to performance art.  Together we generally located the definition of research-based practice within academe, with which the artists present had some kind of relationship.  Some of us are completing our Masters degrees, some are teaching, and some of us went through an undergraduate or an art college program.  We talked about artists buying time in academia where resources and funding may now be found. Nayeon started off the conversation since I had talked with her briefly on this subject the day before.  She contributed that learning and knowing have traditionally been separated, and that it is often assumed that research comes first and is then followed by text.  We were all familiar with such pressures to conform through the structural process of grant or proposal writing.  Such applications largely demand that the artist has worked through the ‘why’ before the ‘what’ of the artistic project being proposed as a kind of intellectual and psychic projection of the studio work that they will produce.  However if we consider artistic studio practice as “the text” (the ‘what’ of creative work, where materiality is made manifest), then we must also acknowledge that creative practices often precede or conjoin with the research-based and theoretical underpinnings of the work.

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Soufia Bensaid  remnant object from performance  – measuring…  Photo: Irene Loughlin

We talked about the supremacy of quantifiable research which can overshadow the text/artwork, altering it and perhaps rendering it less meaningful or impactful.  I thought about the work of art ‘falling into place’ contextually within a socio-political framework, and how this process can happen many years after the work’s creation.  Is it not the same locating a work within an artist’s individual practice?  Some of us felt a resistance therefore, to the concept of research-based practice.  I suggested that research-based practice was perhaps a continuation of conceptualism which had maintained a hold on contemporary art since the 1970’s, and that research-based practice could be viewed as perpetuating a kind of status quo and a resistance of emerging/prior modes of knowledge and future hybrid forms, particularly those emerging theories that produced less concretized, diverse perceptions and understandings, as forms of under-represented ways of knowing.

Pam Patterson has worked with the subject of research-based practice extensively.  She asked us to consider the interstitial spaces (the in-between of theory/research and practice) as primary spaces of investigation.  I thought about a discussion of the work of Janice Gurney in graduate school, where the physically uneven spaces between two-dimensional images offered a pathway through meaning, pointing to a kind of topology of knowing.  We returned to the interstitial in considering Pam’s work, where the arrangements of bricks (in an earlier run through of today’s piece) called to mind a kind of aesthetic topography, an aerial view of what pockets of exclusion might be made visible through the methodologies of movement and the installaction work produced during performance in the gallery.

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Pam Patterson – Brick – formation through installaction  Photo: Irene Loughlin

For Marie-Claude Gendron who joined us last night, research work is synthesized through action, and we must learn to talk about the work.  What could motivate us primarily to learn to apply language to performance art in relation to experiences which are often ‘unspeakable’ (or those experiences that feel diminished through speech)? Marie-Claude suggests an answer: The motivation ‘to speak to/about the performance art work’ exists in the opportunity that opens for others who can then offer their responses through language.  We will therefore be able to engage in meaningful and previously unimagined exchanges.

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During her performance, Marie-Claude Gendron asks police officers, “What is public space then and what belongs to the city?  Can I climb a tree, pick up a rock?”  Photo: Irene Loughlin

Pam put forward that we could question our assumptions about research as manifested primarily by ‘talking’ and ‘writing about’.  She suggested that artists can play a new and integral role in academe by pushing what we understand research to actually be, and agreed with Marie-Claude that action is a valid mode of research.  In her presentation yesterday at the University of Alberta, Pam talked about the parallel practices of art and research working in tandem.  She added that as artists, if we are trying to change the way research is understood we must first articulate this change and that this in itself is a difficult task, as we are pushing against the weight of history.  Beau suggested that artists are also a relatively new presence in the academy, where we are often challenged to quantify the abstract, and to measure the worth of art in an era of an increasingly pressurized and conforming neo-liberal society. We agreed that to resist requires integrity.

Dwight Conquergood, Buzz Kershaw and Delueze and Guattari were cited by Gavin as theorists who have resisted such pressures and have narrowed the divide between research and artistic practice in a way that values the qualities of creative work.  He demonstrated snippets of these theorists sculpted language from whom we might take heart and inspiration, by quoting  ‘the rhizoidal approach’, ‘the plane of immanence’, and ‘the body without organs’.  A very full discussion, in which ‘talking about’ research-based artistic practice prepared me for the bodily experience of such concepts in Pam Patterson’s afternoon performance Brick.