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 September 23rd, 2010
Last night I went to the airport with Todd and Brette to say goodbye to the last out-of-town artist. On the way, I asked Brette about her suggestions for breakfast places in Regina, because every time I’m there overnight I never know where to go for breakfast in the morning.
She suggested a few key places, such as Stan’s Diner on Park Street, the Novia Cafe on 12th Avenue, the Abbey Restaurant and Lounge on Albert, and La Bodega on Albert for Sunday brunch. Now I’m excited for my next trip to Regina, and hopefully I can set up a breakfast date while I’m there!
As for now, I’m hunkered down with my pages of notes and my laptop to reflect on everything that’s happened since I’ve been here; there’s bound to be many more posts over the next few days while I catch up on all the amazing things I’ve seen!
Posted by Cindy on September 22nd, 2010
Last night, the remaining artists at the festival went out one last time with staff and volunteers, to Dadeo cajun/creole restaurant on Whyte Avenue.
In attendance were Beau Coleman, Alison Reiko-Loader, Vicki Wong, Robin Lambert, Brette Gamel, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Heather Challoner, Catherine Kuzik, Todd Janes, Jamie Hamaguchi and me! (You can see that though everyone is still having a lot of fun, some people are getting awfully exhausted by this point in the festival!)
Alison had been talking about trying to find a good Alberta beef steak while she was in town, but this was her last night. Someone suggested she go for steak and eggs this morning and a great conversation ensued about the best place to find steak and eggs in the not-too-late morning on a weekday in Edmonton. I enlisted the help of festival breakfasters Robin and Brette, who recommended Alison try Tasty Tom’s. After weighing her options (including the sleeping-in or getting up super early to do breakfast before her flight home), Alison decided to have just a light snack at Dadeo and go out for a steak dinner later in the evening. I offered to go with her.
Alison, Jamie and I walked around on Whyte Avenue for a few hours after Dadeo, shopping and browsing. Alison found a couple of antique cookbooks for souvenir gifts (oops; I hope her husband isn’t reading this before she gets home!) and we all found some really nice clothes and shoes which we couldn’t afford.
Then we went downtown to Lux, which had been recommended as a great local steakhouse. Walking in, we knew it was perfect! We made a beeline for the big old steakhouse-style booths!
We both had steak, and shared potatoes and mushrooms (and shared the amazing pecan fritters for dessert!)
We talked well into the night about art, food and our lives, and had to be kicked out when they were trying to lock up. Back at the hotel, Alison and I entertained each other with our favorite Youtube videos and funny picture websites.
Her best pick: Pinup Robert Downey Junior
My best pick: Selleck Waterfall Sandwich
It was hard to say goodbye, but now that there are no more pesky artist to distract me, I can get back to some real serious art blogging!
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.
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 15th, 2010
So I’ve set myself up in the gallery’s reception area again. By now I’ve met all the staff I hadn’t already known, and I have been slowly meeting the festival artists.
There’s been quite a bit of activity in the gallery since I was here yesterday. Robert Harpin (Program Officer) and Alison Reiko Loader were working in the gallery all night, until Alison basically had to beg Robert to let her go to bed!
All kidding aside, Alison was singing Robert’s praises, moments before they left for Ikea to buy installation supplies, leaving the space quiet but for the muffled tapping of a million tiny keyboards as the rest of the staff (and me) work to get ready for the festival’s opening performance this afternoon at 2 pm.
Speaking of which, I haven’t met Chun Hua Catherine Dong yet but am excited about her performance this afternoon. I have a thing about artmaking that involves tweezers, and I am anticipating a lovely smell from the ink on rice! I’m a bit more trepidatious about the bananas; I really can’t stand eating them, but for Adina Bier‘s performance I plan to better myself by learning to appreciate the overwhelming smell of 365 bananas!
Apparently, straight off the plane, Naufús Ramirez-Figueroa told Todd Janes he needed to go to Todd’s house to bake a pyramid-shaped cake. Todd decided that Naufús should settle in to the hotel first. No word on how the cake will be baked, but I have a feeling I’ll be back at my Mom’s house tonight, artist in tow…
Oh! Adina Bier just walked in and we’ve already started bonding over our dietary restrictions. Food is already bringing us together!
Posted by Cindy on September 14th, 2010
I’m sitting in the reception area at Latitude 53, watching the staff buzz about busily in preparation for the festival, which starts tomorrow!
The schedule is still experiencing some last minute changes, and I haven’t yet seen any of the artists (though I’m told Todd is currently somewhere between the airport and the gallery with a carload of them!)
I’ve been sitting down with Alaine; she’s been getting me oriented to the blog and making sure I have all the permissions I need. There are bound to be a few speedbumps while we get up and running, but things seem to be going smoothly so far!
Please check back often for schedule updates; soon you’ll be able to download the complete schedule at the touch of a button (which will appear on this page soon)! Until then, you can check the “Schedule” tab at the top of the page to see the most up-to-date calendar!
I’ve just bought a brand new camera, and am excited to figure out how it works; bear with me once performances start while I figure out how to get the images off the camera and onto the blog!