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.


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.

Marie Claude Gendron 1 Irene_Loughlin

 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.


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.