Posted by Irene Loughlin on September 23rd, 2014
So many things happened on Day 6 it proved impossible to keep up. Friday started with Nayeon Yang’s final instalment of her work in Edmonton’s Chinatown district which drew lots of attention. People engaged with the work, coming up to us and asking us what it was all about. I described the work to one group as a ‘moving sculpture’ which seemed to dispel some confusion. We distributed the postcards asking people to write to Nayeon’s family in South Korea with their impressions of the performance.
Nayeon Yang Chinatown, Edmonton Photo: Irene Loughlin
Nayeon continued her concentrated journey doing a loop of Edmonton’s small Chinatown neighbourhood. There was no difficulty at this point in smelling the liquid in the fementing pot, which wafted towards the viewers. I will now always associate the smell of vinegar with Nayeon’s work in Visualeyez. The vertical line splash on her clothing from the contents of the pot had become more pronounced over the last week and began to recall associations to dried blood or the rusty orange of a deep sepia ink or the application of iodine to the skin.
Nayeon Yang Photo: Irene Loughlin
Upon completing her walk, Nayeon sat down in front of the chinese zodiac square and washed her face with some of the remaining contents of the pot, signalling the end of this cycle of performances.
Nayeon Yang Photo: Sandra Der
In the early afternoon we accompanied Marie-Claude Gendron in her first performance for Visualeyez. She alternately dragged, pushed and kicked a wooden plinth forward down 106th St towards the impressive towers of Grant McEwan College, while carrying a large plank of wood on her back. The artist moved quickly and the performance assumed a processional quality.
Marie-Claude Gendron Photo: Sandra Der
Heading north, Marie-Claude arrived at her destination after a somewhat arduous and uninterrupted journey flanked by the viewers on either sidewalk and some passing cars. When she reached the college, she chose an epic modern archway under which she set down the plinth and wooden plank. She climbed on top of the plinth and held an object reminiscent of a silver ‘winning’ cup victoriously in the air.
Marie-Claude Gendron Photo: Sandra Der
Her arm became weak and she started to struggle with the object as she continued to remain in this pose. Eventually the object dropped loudly, and she dismounted and entered the college, carrying a mallet tied to a long piece of material. As we followed behind her, she walked quickly and quietly swung the hammer. We passed the school cafeteria and a viewer remarked later that this that it brought memories of Columbine. From what I’ve seen of Marie-Claude’s work in this festival, her work does definitely carry an unexpected weight of a potential danger which is never actualized. A young woman of relatively small stature, she moves quickly and decisively through the streets of the city and the architecture of the college claiming unquestioned authorship within this public space.
She exited the school, and standing outside we suddenly realized we were surrounded by glass windows. She began to swing the hammer over her head. Although she did not release it, we completed the action in our minds by imagining with horror the hammer being flung in the air and smashing into the windows.
Marie-Claude Gendron Photo: Sandra Der
I constructed a whole narrative that someone would get hurt while typing on a computer in the office tower, and an ambulance would have to be called. Did the festival have insurance to fix the glass? I feared these possible outcomes and shifted uncomfortably as if standing at a precipice. Several other viewers seemed to have a similar reaction. The artist drew our attention to the vulnerability of the architecture, that which we generally consider to be solid and controlled, or controlling. Her actions seemed to draw out the potential, hidden bodies within the buildings, calling them to make themselves known. During the performance we came to be aware of the architecture in a completely sensitized way, not as a place to pass through without noticing, but as a changing space dependent for its definition on the activity that it holds or contains.
We’ve all experienced ‘dead’ spaces of architecture where nothing goes on no matter what goes on, so its impressive Marie-Claude had created significant activity and spatial reflection in this work through her intervention in what was most likely theorized to be a ‘neutral’ space (evidence of this can be found in the beige tones prevalent everywhere).
As closure for this performance, Marie-Claude emptied her boots of sugar and sand, combining the left and right contents on the ground, leaving evidence that she had walked the space. This trace of the body becomes particularly meaningful when considering expectations in relation to gendered encounters with architecture. A gendered experience requires that there are various layers of visibility at work in the public realm in relation to our bodies – in public space, the female body, even when present, is absent. To leave evidence of a once present absence doubles this assertion of claiming public space in Marie-Claude’s work.
Beau Coleman drove myself and and Marie-Claude in what was the most efficient location scouting trip I’ve ever been on. Marie-Claude quickly chose a location for tomorrow’s performance on the ‘other side of the river’. Then we headed to DC3 Art Projects to experience the work of Blair Brennan, including a collaborative performance with Brian Webb accompanied by Allyson MacIvor. The work explored the subject of magic and the language and ephemera surrounding religious experience in Christianity.
Brian Webb (above) in collaboration with Blair Brennan DC3Art Projects, Edmonton Photo: Irene Loughlin
The bed of nails I think did not require being constructed during Webb’s performance as I thought the object’s presence was quite strongly felt in the exhibition already. The movement of Brian Webb rolling along the floor to the bed of nails and back again was a compelling image exploring these religious themes and served to agitate the divide between the audience and performer.
Brian Webb Photo: Irene Loughlin
Moving back to Latitude 53 for the Visualeyez Gala, we encountered Soufia Bensaid standing in the black box that she had used previously in the week.
Soufia Bensaid Photo: Irene Loughlin
Although earlier in the week she had drawn a weaving, unending line in the architecture of this space punctuated by large dots at the end of the piece, this time Soufia began by using dots which tapped against the walls rhythmically. After about ten minutes of tapping out a line of dots on the wall, she suddenly stopped and looked at the viewers. To our delight she then gave out pieces of chalk and invited us into the space to do the same.
The small alcove became packed with people all tapping out a dotted rhythmn. We were unable to created a rhythmic line as Soufia had done as there were too many of us, and the work evolved into the generalized creative chaos that is Visualeyez when everyone gets together to work on a piece. Surprisingly, the final result became something of a poetic, universal drawing, as eventually the tapping diminished and the work ended itself. The viewers also enjoyed documenting the trace of the drawing on their bodies.
Following that food, drink, dance, conversation. The stuff of life.
Visualeyez Crew (l to r): Pam Patterson, Nayeon Yang, Soufia Bensaid,
Todd Janes, Marie-Claude Gendron, Gavin Krastin. Photo: Irene Loughlin
Posted by Cindy on September 19th, 2010
When Todd Janes asked me to be the festival animator for Visualeyez this year, I jumped at the chance. Though I moved away from Edmonton ten years ago, I think I’ve missed only one Visualeyez festival. Sometimes it has been the lineup of artists that has drawn me back, and sometimes it’s the curatorial theme. Once I actually performed in the festival. But now, a decade later, I’m back to bring my expertise and my experience to bear in writing about the performances and the festival itself.
Though I am confident that I was hired for the right reasons, ultimately, I do find myself wondering:
Is it my knowledge of performance art, my skill as a writer, or my own body’s generous proportions – and its assumed relationship to a love of food – which landed me this job?
Of course, everyone has an intimate connection with food. Over the past decade, however, in addition to my close connection to this festival, I have developed a very troubled relationship with food. I mean, I don’t have a “problem” with food – (I like it, but not too much) – my body does. It keeps rejecting it. Every few months, there’s a new list of foods I can’t eat anymore. It complicates, for me, the whole “food art” thing. It’s not just social, it’s not all about connecting with other humans and about a humble gesture or a grand event. It’s a problem. It’s a negotiation. If I eat this now, what can’t I eat tomorrow? If I indulge today, how will I pay tonight? How sick am I willing to get in exchange for a fun night out, or an indulgent snack, or to make it easier on the rest of the people at the dinner party?
As a fat woman making performance art, I do work about body politics and fatness; I have to, since it will be read into my work whether I intend it or not. But I have never made art about food. Aside from being projected onto with the assumption that I eat too much, I consider fatness and food to be completely separate topics in my life.
But I know that I’m the exception and not the rule. A lot of body issue art centres on the topic of food, and conversely, a lot of food art centres on the body. Which is why I’m so surprised that in this whole performance art festival with a food thematic, featuring 14 artists from across the continent, there are no body diversity projects on the schedule.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s heartening, really. Maybe the body diversity and fat activist-related art movements have finally gotten beyond talking about food. Maybe when artists think about food as a topic these days they don’t automatically pathologize it. Maybe, partly due to the relational movement, food has become its own contemporary artistic thematic removed from body anxiety.
Whatever the reasons for their absence, I find myself longing for sisters-in-arms at this festival. Because this year Visualeyez puts the spotlight on food, it puts the spotlight on eating, and it presents opportunities for public eating. And for a fat person, eating food in public is a political act. (Even though I’m not upset that they’re not here, I still want to meet some fabulous fat foodies who’ll come to Food Wars with me today and eat!) I know Naufús Ramirez-Figueroa has made work about the large body in the past, and often makes great food as part of his performances, so I think tonight’s Food Wars performance will be at the very least a safe space for a conversation about fat positivity and eating as a healthy and emotionally affirmative act.
I performed in Edmonton last year in another festival, a queer arts festival whose theme happened to be body difference, and I actually felt a lack of body size difference in that festival. There much more than here, I was confused that a whole festival on the theme of celebrating diversity in the range of human bodies would have one token fat person. To be fair, there was pretty much also only one token transgendered person, one person of colour, a documentary about a drag king troupe that was admittedly pretty diverse and I guess not a lot of other artists at all. I suppose it comes down less to sensing a feeling of hostility towards these politics and more of a lack of awareness about them.
So when I talked with Randy Lee Cutler about her performance for Visualeyez, and when I heard the descriptions of it from people who attended the first performance, I felt a connection, as though I had finally found a kindred spirit here at this year’s Visualeyez, politically. In the absence of a formalized “body diversity” contingent at this year’s festival, Ask Me About Salt feels like my main ally at least in terms of my own artistic and conceptual interests.
That’s because Randy’s project sets out to challenge people’s perceptions about salt – the fact that it’s unhealthy, that we should be doing everything we can to reduce it, that it serves no healthy purpose, that it will kill us – sound familiar? It’s the same party line about fat; not just the substance fat, but the state of being.
Instead she provides scientifically germane information about salt’s many health benefits, especially more natural/less processed salts. She is an absolute fount of information about salt, its chemical properties and medical uses; its history, its literary references and allegorical meanings; how it has inspired oppression and sparked revolution. She not only wants to change people’s minds about salt and educate them about all the different ways the body needs it, but she aims to inspire people to reclaim salt, to become passionate about it and to stop fearing it.
Of course, this leads into a larger conversation about fear and how we have become and allowed our bodies to become controlled by fear and therefore controlled by outside forces – by governments who have controlled the salt trade, by the food industry that puts obscene amounts of refined sodium in our processed foods, by corporate interests who benefit from health movements both valid and artificially contrived, by the multi-billion dollar annual diet industry. Cutler’s project is a call-to-arms to reject what we are told, and to listen to our bodies. To be curious. To trust our appetites. To not fear our physicality.
Salt provides a powerful fortification against fear; it has been used throughout history in cultures around the world to ward off evil and is used in magic rituals and religious ceremonies to this day. Drawing on the sidewalk in salt, Randy Lee Cutler uses her magic powder to create images of the molecular structure of salt and its chemical makeup. Creating a protective circle around the performance, the artist makes a safe space for our taboo conversation and we share stories about salt. When people on the street stop to see what’s going on, Randy engages them in conversation about their own relationship to salt. I’m surprised at how long the people who stop stay to talk, at how interested people are in sharing their stories about salt. Salt is the artist’s great equalizer; everyone has feelings about and an appetite for salt. I watch these strangers take samples poured out of test tubes, hold their hand close to their face to inhale and lick the powders from their hands. I’m amazed at how the performance has drawn people in so intimately, how easily people can recount salt-related stories and how eager they are to share.
Salt still occupies the role of magic in the contemporary imagination. My friend Suzette, seeing the molecular symbol for sodium drawn out in salt on the floor at Latitude 53, was reminded of salt’s use in the television series Supernatural, to repel or trap ghosts and demons. Comforted by the magical protection of the space, she did have to chastise a festival volunteer for messing up the spell after he thoughtlessly walked through it when setting up a food table. Upon spilling salt, how many of us half-jokingly toss a pinch over our left shoulder?
In her salt-white denim outfit and salt apron, casting salt onto the street, Randy becomes the Johnny Appleseed of salt, encouraging and enabling people everywhere she goes to be self-sufficient by taking back control of their bodies and what they put in it. Offering tastes of exotic salts from around the world, she sows the seeds of understanding, preaching her gospel to anyone who will listen, opening minds and creating possibilities for diversity of flavour and leaving a newfound appreciation for the lowly substance.
With her mysterious array of salt-filled test-tubes she also becomes the salt shaman, casting spells in salt that help to make our bodies stronger, that increase our knowledge and grow our capacity for understanding. She brings history back to life in the body of salt, teaching a history of tyranny, subjugation and uprising. Her magic makes our taste buds more sensitive to the nuances in flavour, it paints vivid pictures in our minds and stimulates our appetites, making us excited for the possibilities opened up to us through salt.