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 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 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!
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.
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!
Posted by Cindy on September 17th, 2010
For those planning to attend Alberta Arts Days at the Jubilee Auditorium this Saturday, Visualeyez projects listed in the festival schedule will differ from the projects each of the artists will be doing during the rest of the festival. Don’t avoid coming to one because you plan to attend the other – Jennifer Mesch and Scott Smallwood’s performance on Saturday at Arts Days is something completely different from The Comfort Room, which they will present at Latitude on Friday. Chun Hua Catherine Dong’s performance on Saturday will be completely different from Hourglass, the work she is presenting in the gallery over the course of the festival! Contact Latitude 53 for more information, or just come out and see it anyway, goddamnit!