Friday, October 31, 2008

Creative Resident Profile: Norbert Klassen (AJP)

Andrew James Paterson

Norbert Klassen has presented two performances at the 2008 7a*11d Festival (on Friday October 24th and also the following evening - the Saturday night). Both were distinguished by performance presence, deceptively informal but very precise pacing or timing, and a wonderfully perverse humour. Klassen was born in Duisburg, Germany in 1941, and has been living in Switzerland since 1964.

In the late nineteen-sixties, Klassen and a collective of performing and writing associates formed STOP F.T. (Studio am Montag),which only presented performances on Mondays since Monday is traditionally a “down” night in the theatre world and also so that collective members could work elsewhere on other nights in other capacities. The group would meet, discuss, and workshop; and scripts and/or performance directions would collectively emerge. The performances tended to range between twelve and twenty-four hours - they were partially scripted and partially improvised. Audiences were not expected to sit for the duration of the play - they were encouraged to stay for a while, leave, return, etcetera. Norbert Klassen describes these original plays as having a “dream narrative” - something may or may not actually be occurring. What is “real” and what is strictly in both the performers’ and audience’s imagination? He also refers to them as a “landscapes of human figures”. Sets and costumes were undertaken by all of the players, or at least as many of the players who made the commitment. Already Klassen and his colleagues in STOP F.T. were moving toward performance art, or at least in a performative direction.

Since 1979, Klassen has presented performances for performance art audiences, while still working as an actor and director in the theatre. In 1985 hr became involved in the Black Market International Performance Group. It seems that there are many version of the Black Market story or narrative, so Klassen stresses that he is presenting his version. He credits the founding of Black Market in 1985 to Boris Nieslony, who sought out performers and individuals whom he felt capable of working for considerable duration without script or preparations. Initially there were between six and eight performers (all male, which was not an intention). Later there were a dozen performers, both male and female.

The name Black Market of course suggests underground economies, illicit exchanges, and clandestine espionage activies and so on. Klassen describes the term Black Market as not being restricted to any economic realm. It is anarchic - people all meeting to work together and simultaneously respecting individual space(s). People trusting and letting go of egos for a collective good without some authority figure barking out commands or orders. Black Market is a space or mindset where people find partners and do so without rules. Video-documentations of Black Market performances have revealed parallel performances taking place within the same physical framework. Recorded from two different angles, one might think they were watching two different but parallel performances.

Norbert Klassen has great respect for audiences - in their ability to be selective, to retain visual and other information, and to form their own conclusions. He sees his performances (as well as his theatrical works) as being dialogues with audiences. For Klassen, an audience is never a mere convenience. Audiences are to be played with, to be allowed to help shape a performance. He is not a performer who is publicly withdrawing into some extremely private interior or trauma.

The vocabularies of art world and its exchange systems is a recurring trope in many of Klassen’s performances. It certainly was a key component of his first Xpace performance on the 24th of October. The materials and/or results of his performance were neatly packed into clear plastic boxes and ten sold to the highest bidders. But Klassen inverts and twists art auctioning and at markets. He invokes the Warhol maxim Art is What Sells (I also think of General Idea’s cunningly facetious “if it doesn’t sell, then it’s not art) only to reverse the buyer consumer roles. He offers to buy the multiple art works back, after having burnt the paper money. Norbert Klassen has presented this performance widely and internationally, this performance in which he uses acupuncture needles to mark his face, writes ART with blood into his upper left arm, stops the bleeding, and then sells his traces. Audiences overwhelmingly prefer to retain the art object rather than recover their cash investment.

Norbert Klassen does indeed have a rather casual, even facetious, attitude to money and materiality. He lives modestly and travels lightly, preferring not to accumulate too many inflexible possessions (although he is a voracious reader). Norbert Klassen as a solo performer and a member of Black Market International are highly respected on an international performance circuit. Exchanges between performer and audiences, and between citizen and citizen, are more important to him that material rewards or trophy souvenirs. Norbert Klassen will be up to something during the 7a*11d festival’s final day panel. I cannot predict what he will be doing, but I am quite fascinated by the possibilities.

Day 8: Thursday October 30 (EW)

We return again to XPACE, and there is something new in the gallery window to replace Alejandra Herrera's installation. It is a blue ceramic bowl and a pair of brown leather shoes, but they aren't for use tonight, so I will have to wait to find out what they are for.

When is a rock like an orange?
When Essi Kausalainen performs 'Untitled (Toronto)', a piece constructed of actions and rituals that became images. The colour orange dominated the performance but not Kausalainen herself, who was noticeably apart from her orange objects (rod, chair, ribbon, orange) in her blue jeans and white shirt. She created several stunning images, such as when she was crawling around the chair, carrying the rock on her back, bearing the weight of the world, as it were. A similar attempt with the orange resulted in disaster as it fell from her back, sending her sprawling. Another beautiful image came when, after taping one end of the ribbon to the pole and the other end to the rock, she rolled up the ribbon before kneeling with the pole upright, allowing the coiled ribbon to unfurl in slowly a widening spiral around her body as the force of gravity on the rock causes it to orbit its pole.

For a moment she sat with the rock on her head, biting into an orange -- it seemed as if she was making an homage to Norbert Klassen's work on Sunday the 25th. But instead she peeled the orange into a single long spiraling strip, and the visual similarities ended. Once freed, the newly naked orange and the rock were able to change skins, to assume the other's persona: the rock was nestled into the peel that was reassembled into orange shape, while the orange flesh was wrapped in the ribbon. The matter of the two objects became interchangeable; organic life and stable rock were the same. And yet, when Kausalainen repeated her ritual of action with her new rock and orange, everything was different, yet oddly the same.

She tells me that the piece was inspired by recent scientific discovery that the first light after the big bang was orange. She asked herself "What do we do with this piece of information that doesn't seem to make have any concrete sense?" And then she drew a connection with performance art: gestures and images that don't seem to make any sense, any impact on daily life until we stop to realize that it is part of the process that re-imagines the universal and whittles it down to the everyday.

The next performance of the night was Nenad Bogdanovic, who reversed the idea of gesture-as-image into image-as-gesture. Using a canvas suspended at its four corners by four volunteers, he began by painting the word 'NICER" in bright colours, and then systematically destroyed the image in a series of actions that could have been sponsored by dentists around the world.

At first he ate an apple, then vigorously brushed his teeth, spitting out the water and foam onto the first letter of his painting, N. He repeated this cycle with each subsequent letter, eating a granola bar, then a banana, then drinking a bottle of Coke and finally smoking a cigarette -- normal actions undercut by absurdity as he continued to brush his teeth. The canvas became a receptacle for the various tastes and textures in his mouth, while the image displayed and maintained the motion that Bogdanoivic imposed onto it: streaks implied the direction and force of his spitting, and the water pooled in the centre of the canvas, swirling colour together.

Finally, to add to the controlled chaos of the image, he lay on the canvas and performed a series of push-ups in the sodden expanse of paint and water, further rendering the painting abstract and unrecognizable. The artist's intention behind the piece seemed to be twofold: a statement on how performance and art permeated even the most mundane aspects of his life, but also a willingness to sacrifice the sanctioned in a search for the meaning of art.

Angelika Fojtuch was perhaps pre-empting Hallowe'en as she began her piece quietly in the small space at the side of the room, positioning herself and her unwitting assistant (whose name we later discover is Thom) in front of a table. Starting at the feet, she slowly wrapped the two of them together, and soon they were forced to hobble over to the front of the room in order to have more space. Thom was left holding the bag of bandages up for Fojtuch's seemingly disembodied arms as they continue to wrap bandages around the two of them until they formed a hybrid between the michelin man and an ancient Egyptian mummy. For the latter half of the wrapping phase, the artist was going entirely by feel as she had wrapped her head in the bandages and, in any case, couldn't move her body enough to see around her assistant.

The precarious balance of human relationships and co-dependency were inescapable connections for her audience, but it was interesting to note that Fojtuch was doing all the wrapping, continuing to perform this action alone even when it would have been easier for Tom to lend a hand. And this was mirrored in the unwrapping, where Fojtuch waited patiently for Thom to cut through and unwind all the bandages, including those he couldn't see, before she released her hold on him. Draw from this observation what you will about about human relationships, and who was in control (if either of them) in the process.

The final performance of the night was a test of strength and will for Éminence Grise Robin Poitras, who performed using honey as a medium. Her first act was to paint a giant X on the wall with the honey, and climb a ladder to embed the honey into her skin. After this, she moved her focus to the centre of the floor where a bucket full of honey and a pair of small ladders lay. She plunged herself into the bucket, letting it spill over and around her, a glorious basking in a substance that took upon the qualities of solidified light.

Like a prehistoric woman emerging from an ageless preservation in amber, Poitras stood in the honey and took up the ladders which she used as a combination of stilts and crutches. Holding her balance steady of a supreme effort of control, the performance became a ritual as she began to move painstakingly around the room, following the course of a spiral in an observance that marked the passage of time, steps of growth and the movement of the sun. Time seemed to have stopped as we watched her progress as, with each quarter circle, she stepped up onto a higher rung of the ladder. The honey slowly spread in pools from her body, embracing the floor and bringing it into the performance as if showing the effort the ground was displaying to hold her up. The scent of the honey, while not overpowering, definitely imbued the room as Poitras came full circle to the X and paid a silent, motionless obeisance before stepping down and time resumed again.


Day 8: Thursday October 30 (AJP)

Photo of Gustavo Alvarez by Henry Chan:

After enjoying a delightful tea with the performance artist Norbert Klassen, we trudged off to the subway entrance at Queen and University by the big shiny new opera house. I had hopped that Gustavo Alvarez was intending to perform one of his public actions in relation to the opera house, but it was into the subway that Gustavo and his portable audience entered.

Gustavo (Chabochi) retrieved a loaf of bread, with flamboyant pink icing forming facial images on top of the bread. He lay the bread/head down and began eating it - holding the loaf with his hands but not picking it up with his hands and then eating it. He ate like an animal - a dog perhaps or maybe a belly-dancer. He wore his signature yellow boiler-suit with no head gear today. After taking bites out of the loaf from both sides (and letting at least one train pass the platform) he got on the train and the performance-paparazzi followed.

Photo of Gustavo Alvarez by Henry Chan.

Suddenly Chabochi got off the subway train at the next station north - St. Patrick - and, as his followers followed him, he got on the next car before they/we could get on the next car. But he had informed Johanna Householder that his destination was the Museum station, with its hello we are now approaching the museum kitsch subway decorations - its “public art”. In this station, he placed the by now well-eaten head of bread onto the floor, knelt as if praying before it, and then resumed eating. Crumbs were by now accumulating in considerable quantity.

The artist began hanging black and orange plastic shields with shaped holes (some faces) around one of the station’s altars or museum-referent poles. The black and orange shields or flags appeared to have been purchased in some cheap Halloween-supplies store. Halloween or Sam Hain - Days of the Dead. The artist reached into his supplies-bag and retrieved first one small clay head sculpture, and then another. He placed the two heads on a black blanket, and retrieved twelve candles, which he spread about in the shape of a corpus. He scattered crumbs in order to provice flesh. He addressed the air and thus the commuters:

“For my dead. For your dead. For our dead”.

Commuters were stopping and wondering what was going on. Most stared for a bit and then moved on. One couple asked me if the man was all right and should they call 911. I informed this couple that calling 911 would not be a good idea, and I used the words “performance art”. They seemed okay with that.

Photo of Gustavo Alvarez by Henry Chan:

Gustavo Alvarez MusGus finished his meal and inspected his installation. He left it on the platform. Of course the 7a*11d contingent was documenting the performance evidence, but so was one stranger. Yes, the wonderful convenience of digital cameras and other modern technologies. Photographs preserve traces of events, and they also document the dead. Gustavo Alvarez will be performing at Xpace on November first, the day after Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead.

The evening’s programme at Xpace involved duration, options of continuing, formation of images, and a lot more. Serbian artist Nenad Bogdanovic presented Seventh situation for a nicer painting. A canvas was suspended on four support strings stretched across the gallery, each corner held by an artist-participant. Bogdanovic retrieved his squeezable paint-tubes one by one and made a word painting. N in black, I in green, C in red, E in yellow, and R in black. NICER. Then he ate an apple and then appeared to brush his teeth with something mysterious. Whatever the toothpaste was, it permitted him to spit out a fluid onto the canvas, adding drips and another layer of paint and smudges and artistic whatevers. Bogdanovic repeated this process with different foods, liquids, and stimulants (a chocolate bar, a banana, an entire bottle of Coca-Cola, and a cigarette, and more). He was able to spit out different colours. Actually quite impressive.

I thought he was going to keep spitting out paint/fluid until the word NICER had become completely abstracted. I did think of the infamous provocateur Jubal Brown, who once declared that Mondrian could benefit from another colour and thus vomited blue food colour onto a Mondrian canvas at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I also found myself remembering the Australian movie Man of Flowers, in which a “painter” snorts copious cocaine, spray-paints a multitude of colours on a canvas, rolls his girlfriend’s dog over the wet canvas, and then declared the finished work a masterpiece. Sure enough, after guaranteeing that the canvas was dripping and overflowing enough, Bogdanovic pressed his boy against the work-in-progress and revelled in the paint. He converted dripping paint into actually rather restrained smudges. He made a painting, and then took his art-work away with him. Off to the market, perhaps? Or at least to a dealer? I did wonder whether or not the artist would attempt to sell his latest painting.

There were no performances in the dungeon or basement this particular evening, but there was a short projected film by performance artist Robin Poitras. The black and white film was titled XO Skeleton, and it was appropriately titled. The dancer/performer wore black leotards visible underneath a white garment designed to accentuate the artist’s bone structure - designed to accentuate her stretches and contractions and contortions. And Poitras is a very good dancer who can twist her body into many different shapes - she is nothing if not elastic. Poitras performed a very different piece at the end of the evening’s programme, but that piece also involved stretching and contacting and serious concentration.

Gdansk-based artist Angelika Fojtuch’s untitled performance began quite out of the blue. I had been chatting with friends when suddenly I noticed 7a*11d committee members documenting something happening on the floor, against a table containing empty beer bottles and food trays. Angelika Fojtuch was wrapping audience-member Thom Sevalrud’s feet around her feet, with shards of white gauze or bandage. (One of my favourite typing mistakes already enters into play here - bandage/bondage). She kept wrapping and wrapping, and Thom was stoic and good-humoured. Up the legs, around the waists, around the chests, and the upper torsos, and the heads. She wrapped bandages around Thom’s neck and blindfolded herself. The two walked slowly - very slowly. They stopped against a wall, where more and more wrapping continued and continued. Audience members began to applaud and still Angelika kept wrapping. Well, why wouldn’t she? Until death do us part and all the rest of the ceremony, it’s known as commitment and also consent. I did think of Linda Montano’s and Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance (1983-84), in which the pair was bound together by an eight foot rope for a year on condition that they never touch. Well…Angelika and Thom were literally bounded and gagged to one another. They were, I believe, married. But eventually it became time (an arbitrary time) for Thom to be permitted to cut the bandages (the umbilical cord?) and then take the active role in de-blindfolding Angelika. The pair was introduced to each other, which was nice considering they were now free to get divorced.

Robin Poitras, the evening’s final performer, has also been one of the Seven Creative Residents who were being encouraged to develop and then present performance pieces in response to their working and living environments. The festival catalogue lists Poitras as presenting untitled: a work that draws on past works. Well, yes, that is true. But this performance was so much more than that.

As the audience re-entered the gallery, Poitras was on a ladder with a roller against a white wall. What was on the roller was honey. Sweet and very sticky honey. She was painting the letter “X”. In the centre of the gallery she had a bucket and a pair of stilts. Very simple - minimal and particular materials and/or supports.

She came down from the ladder, sat in the middle of the floor, raised the bucket and poured homey all over herself. It ran down her entire body and formed a major puddle on the floor. She remained still and never looked at the X that she had “painted” on the wall to her left. She slowly rose and mounted the stilts. She moved backwards through the puddle of honey and very slowly but steadily around the playing area she had defined, maintaining the necessarily perfect balance. She stopped in the centre by the puddle of honey and slowly climbed down from the stilts. She lay the stilts down, and walked slowly toward the wall to her right. Robin Poitras pressed a hand against this wall, and held it there. Then she withdrew the hand, revealing one very clear fingerprint. Then she exited. Her timing was perfect, as was her concentration. This was not a performance that could have lasted forever and ever. This was a performance that moved from here to here to here to there, and did not waste a second doing so. It had something to do, and it did it.

Creative Resident Profile: Chaw Ei Thein (EW)

Chaw Ei Thein: From the Outside

Her mural, Quiet River, has developed a lot of depth since the last time I have seen it. The faces bordering the image all have eyes and noses (and, pointedly, no mouths). They have ears on their outstretched hands, reaching to listen in on the events happening in the centre of the mural. The line of monks has become a crowd, and scenes of riot police have emerged. Any blank space is being filled in with beckoning, imploring handprints and eyes peering from the blackness.

For Chaw Ei the political has always been a part of her work, for when one's daily life is a struggle for freedom, themes of politics and of activism become inseparable from art. In her performance she holds a positive tone despite the harsh images depicted on the canvas, hoping that she is able to influence change in Toronto, if not in Burma. Her goal is to create discourse and discussion amongst her audience, to give them insight into the lives of the Burmese people while at the same time learning about local disputes with freedom.

Her current position outside the struggle is one that she hopes to use to good effect, noting that when inside a situation as oppressive as Burma's, where even basic life is constrained, it is often difficult to see a way out. When solutions have been tried and failed, it is difficult to move on. From the outside, she feels she is able to gain perspective by seeking out others' points of view, and able to learn from others' dealings with human rights issues and lost freedoms. From here, she can contact her audience directly, she can create physical connections, she can speak, she can inform.

Access to her audience is a crucial point of her art. As such, the work that she can do from the outside is important. Chaw Ei explains that before 1988, no one really knew about the situation in Burma. It was only after a series of campaigns that international awareness slowly grew, although even now, it is still largely an issue not given wide regard. But here in Toronto, she can spread the news to locals, to all the people affected by the festival and all the people in the community that have come to speak with her. Her perspective right now is that even if she can't find a solution, then at least she can share her her experience with the people; she can show them what it is to fear, and what it is to have freedom.

When I asked her how this piece would be different if it took place in Burma, she responded quickly: it would be impossible. She would be arrested and perhaps kept in prison indefinitely. If she had been secretive, showing the work only to friends and family, any media reports (including this innocuous blog post) would make her unsafe. In May 2005, Chaw Ei, co-performer Htein Lin and three others in their group were arrested for a public performance in a Yangon market, selling daily necessities and paintings at cheap prices, a performance that critiqued the government's unreasonable inflation. Even working outside of Burma, she felt for quite some time that she was not free to create, as the weight of censorship and caution followed her like a shadow. Until very recently she was concerned about her safety upon her return to Burma if she was making these critical, political performances internationally. She never met with media, and she felt herself not expressing as much as she could. But now, she has made a choice: she must do something. She is no longer concerned with censoring herself.

Whatever repercussions she may face in the future, she is willing to face. She does wish to go home, of course. But for the time being, while she still has recourse to create and work in the outside world, she will. When the day comes that her papers and passports expire, she will return to Burma. For Chaw Ei, although optimistic about her abilities to spread her words and performances, is under no delusions of the strength of her impact from the outside. She can see both sides of the equation, for although perspectives and audiences can be reached from the outside, one cannot always affect those left inside. Revolution, she feels, must come from inside, where once can truly touch and affect those directly underneath the shadow of the military junta. The difficulty, there, comes not from desire or intention, but from inability to create.

She and many others are living in this situation. Even if she travels to different countries, there is no escaping it. She has received many visitors from the Burmese community in Toronto, and for of them, the events that have happened in the past still affect them as if it were yesterday. This art, these works, spring from the physical experience that she cannot forget. Although hopeful, this quiet river is not a peaceful river. A river once bustling with promise that is now forced to keep silent. But the river carries along its banks ideals and dreams of hope.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Housekeeping by Lezli Rubin-Kunda (EW)

October 30 2008

On Harbord Street just west of Spadina, there is a small gallery that is housing another portion of the festival: a screening of some of Lezli Rubin-Kunda's recent video works. The screening contains three separate videos, of which two (Down to Earth and A Walk with Mask, Streamers and Sardine Cans) are documentations of live performances, while the third (Housekeeping) is collection of video poems musing on the theme of Rubin-Kunda's relationship to her home.

Housekeeping is a series of celebrations of and challenges to the ideas of home, security and inhabitance, in which the mundane meets the sublime in touchingly poetic vignettes that are sculpted from the very fabric of Rubin-Kunda's house.

A very short piece entitled 'reminder' depicts the artist leaning over from the roof of her house, laying out post-it notes onto the outer wall. And while the artist's commentary is about the constant, incessant presence of everyday life and its million and one things to do, she is able to transform the wall of her house into a mosaic of yellow paper against whitewash.

'a backyard pilgrimage' is another short that turns the mundane into the marvelous as Rubin-Kunda traverses the damp earth and foliage of her backyard, able only to walk on grapefruits she has scattered across the ground. Playing on notions of children's games and the need for protection from the outside world, she tries to maintain her precarious balance while at the same time sacrificing the citrus to her steps.

Perhaps the most bittersweet of the vignettes, 'a happy homemaker counts her blessings' shows Rubin-Kunda writing on a wall with her fingers and mud from the yard. She writes all those things in life that she loves. Her family, her home, the way the moonlight shines into her bathroom, eating breakfast on the patio, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette on the roof: the complexly simple things that make life wonderful. Yet after this positive recounting, the artists washes down the wall, and the words blur and fade, leaving only their memory behind. And yet life and happiness, while transient, are both able to linger despite the things that tries to erode them.

Tomorrow is the last day that Lezli Rubin-Kunda's work will be on display at The Fleishman Gallery at WonderWorks, so do stop by if you have the time. The screening is accompanied by still photographs and print collections of the artist's work.


Creative Resident Profile: Sylvette Babin (EW)

Sylvette Babin: the Art of Sound, and the Sound of Art

In a previous statement about her art, Sylvette Babin described herself as un être hybride, a hybrid being without a fixed discipline. Eight years later, the idea of hybridity, of being able to combine and draw from different media is still a positive facet of her art. She has created and choreographed art from a variety of different perspectives -- writing, video, performance, installation, visual art, and more -- and though at this point in her artistic career she finds herself leaning more towards performance, she states that the connections between different media are crucial, and not always able to be separated. Nor is it necessarily a valuable thing to be able to separate them, for she is adamant that she be able to use the medium(s) she feels is necessary to create her message. While in general she would love to be able to draw more heavily upon video and site-specific performance, unfortunately the time is not always available to her.

One theme she has found that crosses the borders of different media is the idea of art as an exploration of space and movement. Even within her canvas as a visual artist, she felt that the work's engagement came from its composition and the movement of the brushes, while installation and sculpture functioned as tableaux of motion, crystallized within space.

This theme of space-play is also tied to her ideas of sound-play, wherein she manipulates sound and its creation, changing the physical manifestations of sound. Despite having lost the use of one ear, Babin possesses an intuitiveness with sound. For instance, one of her first video installations was a series of three looped videos on fifteen monitors, in which she focused on the combined experience of sound and image together, creating overlapping layers of sound. A visitor to the installation commented on the polyphonic nature of the installation, which surprised and pleased Babin, whose world is purely monophonic. She states emphatically, however, that she creates sound, and not music. She listens to the sound of objects, hearing the notes within them; she plays with the natural capabilities of all objects to create sound.

This physicality of sound is one of the many things about it that appeals to Babin, for while image and text must always be processed through the mind to be understood, she is intrigued by how sound is interpreted first and foremost by the body and felt as a genuinely physical experience. The link between body and sound is a concept that she has explored in the 'Breath series' of performances around the world. Starting in a children's wading pool with a harmonica and a stove pipe-turned-amplifier, she ran around the wading pool, letting her breath flow naturally through the harmonica. By just letting her breath go, without trying to control it to produce specific tones, Babin tied the sound of the breath directly to its production by the body and to the visual image of her motion, linking the three into a single action. In Poland she performed piece along the same vein. Lying with forty pounds of grease stacked in cubes around her face, her only means of interaction with and awareness of the audience beyond the wall of fat was a single breathing tube attached again to a harmonica. In Italy this was performed with giant pile of tomatoes, in Germany with soil, and in France with ice. The sound of her breath filtered through the harmonica created a complex web of sound based on the speed and depth of her breathing.

Each of these performances, as well as her performance last week in the festival, is accompanied by a strong visual aspect that she feels is complimentary to the aural exploration of her work. In each case she feels that the audio would not work on its own but builds off the context of the situation to give it meaning, since the sound is created by action within the performance. However, she is unworried that the striking visuals of her performances will distract from the aural aspects, because the sound is often the first point of contact with the audience, as well as the most enduring. Babin feels that sound, in the context of her performances, should be organic/acoustic, for the act of creating of sound with the body is just as much a part of the performance as is the manipulation of it.

"The body is always there in performance. The body is the source of motion, the source of intention. Everywhere there is creation there is the body to create it." -- Sylvette Babin


Day 7: Wednesday October 29 (AJP)

Andrew James Paterson

I had been tipped off the Chihuahua-based performance artist Gustavo Alvarez (Musgus) had been planning a performance action starting at the bus stop by the Old City Hall at three o’clock. I get there early and nobody’s there. I think of checking out the City hall Library and checking my email for location and/or schedule changes, Then Gustavo shows up.

He is wearing his Made in Mexico yellow windbreaker and a head/helmet of sorts. It is a hat worn in wrestling and the colours are spectacular. An almost emerald green with bright yellow outlining the head functions - the eyes, nose, and mouth. Seeing, smelling, and talking/tasting. And other 7a*11d folks show up, and it becomes apparent that Gustavo’s performance will be taking pace on the street car. TTC tokens to the rescue.

Eight 7a*11d people get on the bus and move roughly to the centre of the street car. It’s quiet at first, and then Gustavo begins distributing the bells he carries in a bag. People check out the bells. Some of them begin ringing the bells. You can ring my bell oh yeah ring my bell. A chorus of ringing is taking place - nothing to stop traffic or the bus. But perhaps these bells have to do with the prematurely cold weather. Perhaps Gustavo is one of Santa’s elves?

Er, no. I don’t think so. Gustavo begins addressing the riders, quite angrily. “Exists Terrorism, Exists Poverty. Exists Money, Exists Bad Government. What do you think about that?” The TTC is a method of transportation lying somewhere between public and private. It is open to and thus dependent upon the public, yet it is a system which individuals agree to utilize on condition that they can ride that system and maintain relative privacy. The TTC, like public transit throughout the world, is intended to be neutral, and now the radical subjective has raised its voice. Except that the radical subjective is not alien to many of the transit riders. Terrorism, poverty, financial straitjackets, and corrupt governments are hardly alien to many if not most of the people on the bus. Except…they deal with these omnipresent conundrums in their own spaces in their own times.

Gustavo switches tone from negative to positive and cries out that somehow there exists hope. He stresses the suggestion that there is still hope, even though there is terrorism, poverty, material straitjackets and exchange systems, corrupt governments, etcetera. It is becoming too much for some passengers. A man accompanying a child informs Gustavo that he had crossed a line - that he has upset the child. The child is crying but not screaming and bawling - this is not an emergency situation. I have been on the Queen West street car before and heard domestic arguments via cell phone leakage as well as monologues that invade the relative privacy of the passengers. I have witnessed the police being called in to intervene and preserve silence on the public transit system. This doe not happen today. But perhaps it could have happened if Gustavo had travelled for a few more stops and continued to violate the uneasy silence that characterizes public transit. The contrast between celebratory (the ringing bells) and the accusative (the performer’s angry litany) was startling and potentially upsetting. Gustavo Alvarez de facto created what Hakim Bey has called a Temporary Autonomous Zone, or a DMZ. Outside of the law, outside of the state, and alive with its own highly visible and disputable contradictions.

Wednesday evening’s programme was not a series of live performances at XPACE; it was a relaxed evening of direct-to-disc performance documentations in the social space of the Gladstone Hotel’s Melody Lounge, in tandem with the Gladstone’s weekly “Granny Boots” series. In two sections, broken up by Ulysses Castanello’s DJing, the audience was treated to not only performance documentation excerpts but some events or actions staged for various cameras. Some works shown were by single artists and might have fit in with the 2008 7a*11d live programming, some were site-specific, some veered towards pranksterism and/or sight gags. Concurrent with the video-viewing, there was an “intervention” by performer Leanne Lloyd (who will be performing in tandem with Robin Poitras Friday afternoon outside the Design Exchange). The performer moved slowly throughout the bar dressed in an interestingly stitched original costume, eyeing the audience and other bar-customers. She was a Super Sexy CEO. She (and the festival) used the word “intervention” for her performance, which had been promoted not only within 7a*11d events but also on Canada’s Akimbo arts-promotional services.

Leanne Lloyd described her presence as an intervention. Gustavo Alvarez MusGus describes his public performances as actions. Are these synonyms? Are they cousins? I have heard “intervention” used to describe spontaneous or at least quasi-spontaneous interruptions of other events. Lloyd did not interrupt the screening, she didn’t particularly distract people from the ongoing programme, she blended into the evening’s ambience (which is not at all a bad thing to do). Her intervention was not confrontational - Alvarez’s public actions are confrontational, in the way that they can jolt an uneasy civility taken for granted in public space(s). When MusGus asks where have the memories gone and scatters memorabilia on streets and in parks, he is transgressing unofficial but entrenched divisions between what is private and what is public. Is he not making an intervention? He is certainly disrupting and problematizing daily routines and complacencies.

Photo by Henry Chan.

At the top of The D2d video programme, 7a*11d steering-committee member and performance professor Johanna Householder observed that most of the performances witnessed so far during the 2008 festival are exactly that - performances. Not “relational art”, or “spoken word”, or sight gags. Not “performative art”. This has, at least so far, been a festival of performance art. Bodies have been the fulcrum, even when the works are also rooted in sculpture or sound or even language. There have been works characterized by the formation of images (Norbert Klassen, Francis Arguin, Jason Lim… others), but the formation of images has not been the prime focus of these performances and thus they are arguably performances and not performative artworks. On the festival’s last Sunday afternoon, there will be a panel titled Terms of Engagement: Presence and the Performative. Panellists will include, in addition to Ms. Householder, Paul Couillard of 7a*11d (and up to recently of FADO), Helsinki’s Annette Arlander, and Grande Dame Tanya Mars (electronically possible from Paris, Francs). This should be a well-attended and well-debated afternoon event.

Gustavo Alvarez will be performing another action in public space on Thursday afternoon. The meeting place is outside The Opera House. Opera had traditionally been associated with well-dressed and well-heeled theatrical excess - those who dislike opera consider it ridiculous, and what exactly is wrong with being ridiculous? There is, come to think of it, something quite operatic about Gustavo Alvarez/MusGus.

Day 7: d2d at the Gladstone Hotel (EW)

Photo by Henry Chan.

October 29 2008

In her quest to become plant-like, this afternoon Sakiko Yamaoka performed the first action of a series entitled 'Wind from Sky' in a local flower shop, in which she set up a chair for herself and for any other participants who felt florally-inclined.
She commented that the experience was very surreal due the designed and artificial nature of the shop, and is interested to see how today's experience will compare to her outdoor action tomorrow at the corner of Queen West and Bellwoods Ave.

In a nice change of pace, the evening's video performances took place at the Gladstone Hotel. A longstanding tradition of 7a*11d, the d2d (direct to documentation) video show contained both deliberate video works and documentation of live performances that were unable to be held at the festival.

In my eye, of particular note were two pieces:
Enrico Gaido's and Alessandra Lappano's piece entitled 'New Orleans', in which the performer within the video is using styrofoam blocks to create a city-like structure in a performance akin to an IQ test gone awry. The shift in perspective at the end of the video lends a sense that something isn't quite right as all the pieces have been pulled away (seemingly by magic) from the table to land in a pool of water. As the camera zooms out, the viewer is left wondering which direction is up and how gravity has been defied.

In a completely different tone, Jess Dobkin's piece 'untitled (clown car)' brings new meaning to the phrase "like someone let out a clown car." With a concept involving a cardboard cut-out of a car held in front of a vagina full of tampon-esque clowns, the joke practically writes itself in a wickedly irreverent way. The attention to detail in rendering each clown with a different facial expression and costume is especially hilarious as clown after clown appears. In a world inundated with identity and gender politics, it's refreshing to see a woman having fun exploring the possibilities of her genitalia.

Live performances also took place tonight, as Ulysses Castellanos, of Sunday's 'Clown Torture Revisited' fame was a DJ for the night, and a guerilla action by Leanne Lloyd occurred across the space of the Gladstone. Lloyd, dressed in a beautiful costume woven out of white wool and straw, performed a series of endurance actions that both compelled and denied interaction.

Things return back to normal tomorrow with the regular 8PM performance at XPACE. As well, at 12PM Sakiko Yamaoka will be performing another plant action, as mentioned above, and Gustavo Alvarez (Musgus) will be performing at 4PM outside Osgoode subway station (the side closest to the opera hall).


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Day 6: Tuesday October 28 (Andrew James Paterson)

Photo of Francis Arguin (above) by Henry Chan.
Photo of Jason Lim (below) by Henry Chan.

Andrew James Paterson

Late in the afternoon, I found myself with idle time so I decided to check in on the Creative Residents working out of Toronto Free Gallery. Chaw El Thein’s mural - Quiet River - had been extended much further than what I had briefly glimpsed at late last week. A row of Burmese monks at the top of the mural gave way to monks with the same faces and tops of bodies, but without legs. Chaw informed me that quite a few Burmese people living in Toronto and also many citizens of the Bloor-Lansdowne neighbourhood had entered the Free Gallery space and conversed with her as she worked on her mural. Most of the Burmese visitors had responded to an advertised notice, and Chaw was pleased by the range of respondents. Chaw El Thein will be making a presentation next Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Glenn Lewis was choosing appropriate music for his upcoming presentation next Saturday afternoon. He had assembled four bags of litter or trash or whatever that he had collected during his two walking excursions previously this week. Lewis had thoughtfully left a note indicating that his garbage was not garbage.

After a goat roti in the nearby Vena Restaurant, I headed down to Xpace. The first performer of the evening was Quebecois artist Francis Arguin, whose presentation was titled Introduction to the body-orchestra. And it was an orchestral performance, although alternatively offhanded and then intense in its tone. His set was simple - a chair, a bottle containing water, a Styrofoam cup, and a non-descript bag containing probably something(s) mysterious. He sipped water from the cup, and then began slowly moving sideways in stage rather stiffly, not like a fluid dancer. He also began making motorific noises, like a car idling or waiting to make a move. He pointed a lot and used the pointing and the growling to create broken rhythms.

Photos of Francis Arguin by Henry Chan.

Then he reached into the bag, produced clear plastic tape (a commonplace in many performances) and some bug-eyed blue cardboard-like sunglasses (no glass). He sat down and began tapping his feet very speedily - creating express train rhythms. He toyed with his shirt, while I noticed that he was wearing yellow socks. He announced that his name was Francis, and that he might try to kill his name. Francis, not Francois or Frank. He announced that his name is Le Petit Shirt That He Wears. He took his shirt off revealing a red T-shirt was the letters spelling FRANCIS. Another identical shirt underneath also spelled his first name. Another not quite identical shirt said his name was FRINCAS. Not a clever anagram, but a reject typo. He picked up a can of something that he shook. It was paint.

Photo of Francis Arguin by Henry Chan.

Arguin held up cardboard sheets in which he had made holes resembling shapes. He held the first on against his white T-shirt and voila a table. Then he shook a can of paint which was revealed as being red. He’d pile incongruous objects on top of each other on top of the table (electric guitar, milk bottle, a river, an umbrella, and many more). He made a non pop-art T-shirt, which was a singular original. It could become a multiple if screened, but it could never be painted exactly the same way twice.

Photo of Francis Arguin by Henry Chan:

Another colour was necessary, so he produced a yellow object that may have been a fan or a hanger or a series of pyramids. He dropped little flying objects from this hanger, labelling them as things that fly from the sky. “Snow, bomb, rain, birdshit” He produced a clear plastic top and matches, lighting the martch, securing it with his left baby-finger nail, and then drawing an arc. He dropped the match onto the floor (oh dear, more fire), rolled up his trouser legs, sat back to audience with his feet on red cushions, and began slowly moving the contraption backwards. As he cleared a path through the cenre of the suinece, it became clear that this was a durational act that would not be followed or succeeded. And it was. Arguin had linked four of five or six movements into some sort of site, if not a symphony. The performance was not bombastic; it was on the verge of being precarious.

The second performer of the evening (main floor, no basement-dwellers tonight) was Singapore-based Jason Lim’s Last Drop. Sure enough, he had a series of clear glasses carefully laid sideways on the floor, with two bottles of clear water. He also had a pile of dessert-sized plates, and a leafless small tree. He selected four glasses, and placed them under the legs of the table. Lim stood several of the other glasses vertically, and began mounting the glasses into a quasi-pyramid. Two layers of glass on glass, and then one on the top. He poured water into the top glass and into those below it - without spillage. Almost magical.

Photos of Jason Lim by Henry Chan.

He moved the tree over beside the chair area, and lit a match. He produced small stickish objects that he lit and set burinig. They were odourless - they weren’t cigarettes or candles and, if they were incense, then they sure didn’t smell like any variety on the market. The sticklike objects were spread arounhd the tree - smoking and occasionally flaring. He grabed the clear tape and wrapped it around the tree and the chair, making almost an anti-Christmas sculpture for the almost deseted living room.
Photo of Jason Lim by Henry Chan.

Now he picked up the plates that had been waiting for him. He begain stacking plate on top of glass on top of plate, while using full glasses of water. He built an eight glass-high tower and it was perfectly balanced and secure.Then he played magician again with a full glass of water. He’d hold the glass until it seemed to slip out of his hand from pressure of duration, but then catch it safely. He repeated this gesture sixteen times. Eight glass tower plus sixteen safe catches makes twenty-four. Then he played close-up basketball with the remaining glasses, dropping them into each other with only minimal chipping. There was a lot of water to mop up on the floor, but negligible broken glass. Very impressive. Lin stated in the festival catalogue that Last Drop was intended to invoke sound and silence, fullness, and emptiness. The performance did indeed involve refurbishing and draining, and sound always threatened to break into the silence. But this performer retained control - accidents were never part of the equation.

Photos of Nicola Frangione by Henry Chan.

The final performer of the evening was Nicola Frangione from Monza, Italy. Frangione performs Voice in Movement - performance poetry or what some artists describe as “art dramaturgy”. He did not simply stand and read, he used his entire body. His words and his body were in beautiful synchronization - it was not as if one needed to cue the other. And he used pre-recorded music to set rhythms for his movements, his vocailizations, and the striking black and white images projected to his left. Roll text of translated excerpts segued into complex visuals. These images were of musical stanzas, of scientic images, and of words themselves as pictures, but they would become deliriously abstract in tandem with his hands and hips and feet. Nicola Frangione is a man with an idiosyncratic sense of rhythm and thus he understands the beauty of both screen-saving and auto-oscillation. Make a sound, make a picture, let it generate and regenerate and chase its own tail many times over. The fourth composition was almost eponymous with the poetic presentation: “vocecevovodce”. Voice this voice this voice etcetera - it consisted of sound alliterations of the word “voce “(voice!); “while poetry is bouncing, the poet is jumping.” And the projected images were mantric, and all in black and white. Colour was unnecessary.

Photo of Nicola Frangione by Henry Chan.

In the reference sheet that the artist thoughtfully had distributed to the audience, Frangione’s second composition “Ittoosang” is posited as a rather Cageian exercise. It is described as a piece for the listener, who is given a series of instructions to follow for a specific duration. Except…the sixth command states for “that pleasure’s sake you can avoid following these instructions. Frangione concludes his paragraph on this second piece of the evening with the following zinger:

“Instructions are always useful for those who write them while they are hardly useful for those who follow them.” Zen, or anti-Zen?

Nicola Frangione’s set was brief and fulfilling - he could have continued for a good deal longer and maintained both surprise and beauty. Voice in Movement was a multi-media performance, in the best senses of that overburdened and frequently reductive description.

Sakiko Yamaoka: Come With Me (EW)

Tuesday October 28th

This afternoon Sakiko Yamaoka led a small group of adventurers through the financial district of Toronto in search for 'The Best Place to Sleep,' a piece whose name changes to 'Come With Me' when performed with participants.

Yamaoka led us through a series of banks where as a group, we lay down to sleep in hallways, in front of ATMs, and near information desks. The actions became, for me at least, a tense experience of anticipation -- how long until someone would come to chase us away? The contrast of responses that we encountered was surprising. In some places, security guards ushered us out the doors almost immediately, while in a large TD, we slept beside the benches and potted plants and weren't disturbed at all. In an RBC along the PATH concourse, we attracted a flock of security guards who were on the verge of calling in the troops, while in a BMO, it was an employee going out on his lunch break that asked us to leave. The performance was actually cut short after an action the artist did herself in a CIBC, when a security guard followed her for some distance out of the building, asking her for contact information as other staff stood by with medical kits. Unsure of whether this was out of concern or suspicion, Yamaoka felt it was prudent to end the excursion.

In contrast to our guerrilla-style actions was our second action of the day, in a bank where we asked permission to perform. This action ended up being a lot longer, nearly five minutes, and I was inundated with the sounds of typing, talking and footsteps echoing down marble hallways. The beeping of the ATMs and even the sound of receipts being ripped up became unmistakably loud. The most surreal part of this particular action was when customers needing to use the ATMs were asking Shannon Cochrane, a festival-leader who was documenting the action, for permission to step around our sleeping bodies to access the machines.

Yamaoka has performed this piece in different contexts around the world -- in banks, museums, train stations and even lying in the streets at pedestrian crosswalks. She explained to me that the motivation for this piece was several. Physically, she is very interested in finding small breaks in space and time that she can fill, using actions that take up short moments of people's lives and fit into differently-sized spaces. In addition to this, she related a rather self-depreciating explanation of how she has given up hopes of achieving a lifestyle of luxury, believing that her art will never be part of the elite, institutional Japanese art market. As such, she seeks a way to access and impact the lives of the rich, even if it is just peripherally; she wants to force interactions with them to see what their lives are like.

For the next three days Yamaoka will be performing a separate piece, 'Wind from Sky,' at the following locations:
Wednesday October 29: Poppies, at Queen West & Dovercourt.
Thursday October 30: a variety store at the northeast corner of Queen West & Bellwood.
Friday October 31: a shrubbery patch at the northwest corner of Queen West and Crawford.
Based on a poetically illogical statement "A person is alive. A plant is alive. Therefore a person is a plant", she will strive to achieve planthood starting at 12PM each day.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Glenn Lewis' Creative Sweeping: Part 2 (EW)

October 27th 2008

For more images, visit

Despite the spattering rain and the wet sidewalks, Glenn Lewis performed the second of his Sweeping Statement walks this afternoon. The streets were cleaner today, and cleared of most of the fallen leaves -- in fact we encountered another sweeper (our third in as many hours!) today, forcing Lewis to be more creative with his garbage collection.

He spent a lot more time this walk negotiating barriers: searching through fences, under awnings and chains, into construction sites, beneath hotel steps, in decaying flower beds and even into recycling bins. The greatest physical barrier that presented itself was the sidewalk closure outside the Art Gallery of Ontario, causing Lewis to squeeze between concrete barriers and whirring traffic. But the sidewalks were sometimes just as difficult to traverse, Lewis' dustbin competed with baby carriages, pull carts and trolleys for real estate on the concrete.

In addition to increased resourcefulness, Lewis also took the name on the back of his jumpsuit (HOPE Engineering) to heart, showing the streets and all their inhabitants compassion. When he swept up sandwich wrappers, he would leave the stale food behind, offering it to rummaging pigeons; he stopped his walk several times to drop change into the cups of the homeless; he went out of his way to help people dispose of the garbage still in their hands.

Watching the expressions of passersby was particularly interesting. Most were unfazed by the events of the performance and continued on with their daily lives without even realizing Lewis was there. After all, though a little incongruous with his surroundings, a sanitation worker is hardly the most curious thing on the streets, especially given the number of them we have see so far. We did get significant portion of puzzled glances (most likely due to the valiant efforts of videography duo Annie Onyi Chung and Patrick Joseph Mifsud who doggedly trundled behind Lewis in a wheelchair-turned-camera dolly). Even fewer still were genuine smiles, although he did strike up the occasional conversation, and some people cheerfully donated the garbage they had on hand.

Photos (above) of Glenn Lewis by Henry Chan.

Returning to Queen and Dalhousie with a full container of somewhat soggy trash, Lewis had successfully collected enough material to begin work on the Abyssinian sanctuary that will showcase both the artifacts that he has recovered as well as the video diptych of the walks themselves, prepared by Chung and Mifsud. Stay tuned for Lewis' final performance at the Toronto Free Gallery on Saturday November 1st.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Day 4: Of Geese, Clowns and Audible Chopsticks (EW)

Photo of Tonik Wojtrya (top) by Shannon Cochrane
Photos by Henry Chan

Day 4 of the festival, October 26 2008

During this afternoon's performances, a great range of styles were presented to performance-seekers in the XPACE gallery as well as along Queen Street and Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Creative resident Gustavo Alvarez Lugo presented the first of his Introspective Actions today, striking out across Queen West and examining, burying and de-possessing his past. Little shrines are all that remain of his passing as he stopped at street corners to commemorate and leave behind those physical manifestations of self.

At the entrance to Trinity park, Tonik Wojtyra's 'Hush My Dear' maintained a place at a visual crossroad between peace, charm and parody. In full RCMP regalia, he sat dangling his legs over the edge of a stone wall that overlooked a tiny dribble of a creek. He sat unassumingly, with the quiet competence of an upright law enforcer, carefully cradling a sleeping goose to his chest.

Both mocking and supporting the Dudley Do-Right stereotype of the Mounties, Wojtyra replicated the genuine (if misplaced) desire to do good and pursue it doggedly until the goal is accomplished. Rocking the goose gently, stroking its feathers, and even shushing passersby whose conversations were too loud, he ensured that this Canadian symbol would get its sleep.

By dealing with these specifically Canadian emblems, (and not, say, a soldier cradling a mallard) he has chosen to create a two-dimensional, static image that exists outside our three-dimensional reality, highlighting the fact that in both Canadian geese and the Mounted Police, their currency as symbols have more cultural validity than their currency as wildlife and people. After all, Canadian geese are often thought of as pests and polluters, while the efficacy of the modern RCMP makes very little connection to its red-jacketed, horse-riding past. What Wojtyra presents to us is an image of an image, a parody of a parody, that asks us to judge the value of these symbols on their ability to hold our collective conception of nationality together, rather than to take them at face value.

Back in XPACE, the work of Martin Renteria, entitled 'Farewell', had already caught the eye of the audience. Slung over poles in the ceiling was a series of strings, three on each side of a white wooden dias. Into this visual puzzle Renteria made a dramatic entrance, wearing an assortment of mundane objects taped to his body and a headdress akin to an inflated jellyfish. He affixed weights to the ends of the strings: plastic bags filled with stones, water and clocks (the weight of earth, the weight of time?). From a green suitcase he removed... something, a wool-and-stuffing creature resembling a zombie octopus that he clipped to the ceiling. The dias he would stand upon was harnessed to a bright-eyed toy robot.

Above photo of Martin Renteria by Henry Chan.

Once finished his curious preparations, he began by clipping the other ends of strings to his wrists, an act that transformed into a labourious struggle the relatively simple process of untaping things from his chest and attaching them to the creature.

If I had seen just a photograph of this piece, it would have read like a visual guide on 'How to Make Found-Object Art'. But Renteria and his concentration of motion, his distillation of effort, possessed such a strong commanding stage presence that he imbued with tangible triumph a piece that would otherwise be a rather lackluster sculpture-creature. As such, his art takes its value from effort and intention, rather than the individual value of its component parts or the aesthetics of the packaging (a belief about which Paul Couillard was adamant when he refused to sell Norbert Klassen back his artifact box on Friday).

Renteria, finally finished his labour, sliced the ropes one by one and stepped down exultantly from the podium, free at last. He left behind what I understand to be a mobile, one of the whirling, multi-faced toys hung above a child's crib. A mobile made of labour, of napkins, cigarettes, crackers and ticket stubs. Is this piece a final farewell to the toys and trinkets of a childhood that can no longer pull him forward or protect him from struggling? Or a farewell to the moment, to an intensity of action that can never be exactly replicated again?

Above photo of Tomoni Adachi by Henry Chan.

After that, Tomomi Adachi added his vocal art to the myriad of strange objects in the gallery. With a microphone and a table full of gadgets, he filled the gallery space with three different elements: sound poetry crafted from his voice alone, improvisational soundscapes created by voice and playback machines, and even the sound of lunch.

The first sound poems were historical recreations of Japan's first sound poems, including Adachi's vocalization of a visual concrete poem. As well, we were able to hear some of Adachi's own compositions, including a set of variations that ranged from operatic solemnity to auctioneer-babble to hyper-onomatopaeia. After this, he created an improvisation for us by using a playback machine that distorted and looped his voice in different ways depending on how it was moved. Using various parts of his body as triggers, he interacted with the device in a fast-paced, cooperative battle between man and machine.

But the tour de force of his presentation, I thought, was his audio lunch. A kettle boiled water, and a package of natto was opened; the boiling water was used to make a cup of tea to accompany the sticky soy mixture. Also set up on the table were a series of electronic transmitters that turned physical stimuli into sound. Using sensors to monitor changes in temperature in the tea cup, motion in the chopsticks and pressure in his hands, Adachi was able to make his lunch an aural affair. Though it sounded like a cross between radio static, ground hum and screeching metal, it was fascinating to watch how the slightest movement would result in subtle changes of tone and frequency in the sound.

Above photo of Ulysses Castellanos by Henry Chan.

To finish the evening, Ulysses Castellanos played the role of the strung-out rock star to a T. Creating a death-metal pumpkin-clown nightmare that parodied itself, he embraced the underlying campy absurdity of horror and combined it with the campy absurdity of rockstardom. That a clown is a performer, just like the artist himself, was not lost on Castellanos as he took all three personae and debunked them down to their basic level: action.

Below photos of Ulysses Castellanos by Henry Chan:


Day 4: Sunday October 26: Outside and Inside (AJP)

Photo (above) of Martin Renteria by Henry Chan.
Photo (below) of Ulysses Castellanos by Henry Chan.

Andrew James Paterson

I was running early on my route to XPACE, where my intention was to hook up with Gustavo Alvarez and his walking series of public-space interventions. With time to spare, I decided to visit Tonik Wojtyra’s Hush My Dear at the west edge of Trinity-Bellwood’s Park (which I had intended to fit in later). I was able to locate the artist sitting wonderfully still on a rock formation, perched above a visible segment of Garrison Creek which still bubbles underneath much of the park and even nearby civilization. Tonik was dressed properly as a Mountie, holding onto a Canadian goose. He was in character and thus not speaking - he didn’t need to. My first visit to Tonik’s very still performance (so appreciated in the context of much of this festival’s sturm and drangish body art) was marred only by the overcast skies threatening rain. Upon my later return visit, the neighbourhood had been blessed by a sunny interlude and what was visible was a perfect postcard of Canadiana - nature, clear blue skies, the perfectly-dressed Mountie with his Canadian goose. Postcards are of course constructed as are Canada, Canadiana, Canadians, and also nationalities.

Gustavo Alvarez is one of 7a*11d2008’s Creative Residents (Norbert Klassen is another among seven), Gustavo has for a long time maintained a belief and interest in taking his performance art outside of museums and galleries, outside of anything that might be perceived as gated art-communities. He prefers to break down barriers between artists and citizens. And so he embarked on a series of public actions or perhaps interventions. Actions might be a better word, as intervention can often imply an outsider’s aggression or imposition. Street actions, if they attract attention visually, can gather people and also confuse people. The public is never a homogenous entity.

Gustavo Alvarez, accompanied by a smallish coterie, set out in a yellow boiler suit characterized by the logo MUSGUS, not the moose and the goose but moss and fungus, perhaps. He carried a birdlike cage with several corn ears dangling as he walked. He also carried an artist’s portfolio, several cases of various weights, and a lot of paraphernalia. At the first major intersection of Ossington and Queen, Alvarez stopped, made himself at home, and announced that he was born in Mexico City on November the first of 1971 and in that place his memories began.

At many more intersections and/or monumental sites, Alvarez would park, set up camp, and create an installation of sorts. All of these installations involved artefacts and objects specifically pertaining to the vocabularies of memory - whether being the analogue videotape tied around the newspaper boxes and bus stop posts at Queen and Ossington, the postcards spread around the bus shelter at Queen and Shaw, the paper trails buried under piles of leaves in Trinity Bellwoods Park, the fresco-like assemblage of little toys built in front of the park’s main gateway, and so on. As he progressed further east on the north side of Queen, he shifted his constructions to the street from the sidewalk. At Queen and Palmerston he created a collage of multiple objects and materials at the side of the street just before the traffic light. He was not installing in a parking space, but he was in a spot where an inconsiderate or just asleep-at-the-wheel driver could make a fatal mistake. Some concerned swerving was indeed taking place. The performer also upped the tension by wildly yelling “bang Bang!” Public art, or terrorism, or…?

When Alvarez reached the major intersection of Queen and Bathurst, He placed himself in the middle of the street-car track and began assembling the remainder of his belongings on the centre track, directly in front of the stop light and in the middle of the street. A northbound street car brushed safely by the artist, who had staked out a spot from which he could bend his body when necessary. There still was the careless driver risk, and it wasn‘t only the artist‘s coterie who stood concerned on the sidelines. Alvarez began reading rapidly and rabidly in Spanish from a book that he held, and then left the remainder of his belongings in the middle of the street while he crossed back to the northwest corner. Curious and anxious pedestrians were welcome to the souvenirs, or the memories.

Above photos of Martin Renteria by Henry Chan.

After spending more time with the wonderfully calm and sculpturally-sensible Tonik Wojtyra, it was time for late afternoon performances at XPACE. The first performer was Martin Renteria from Mexico City. His performance - titled Farewell - began with a minimal set consisting of evenly-matched dangling ropes on the north and south sides of a cubed white plinth of platform. The set remained the focus for several minutes after the performance was declared in progress, and why not. It was a good construction in itself and it set up a very striking entrance. Renteria entered wearing multiple small objects taped to his cheat and tip body, and also headgear designed from string and tape - his prime materials. A tape note resembling a hair net - that was his headgear.

The performer added and subtracted from the set. He added weights systematically and this maintaining a balance in the context of tension. He cantered his ropes and hung. He selectively removed the tapes and then the taped objects from his chest. He cut the ropes holding the weights slowly and sequentially. He removed the headgear, revealing a gorgeous bald head. Then he bade farewell, knowing that he was memorable. Martin Renteria exuded power while courting danger, and thus held a fascinating attention. I did find myself pondering, as I often do, relationships between performer/audience, top/bottom, bottom/top, and other dangerous binaries. Proscenium and raised performance can be both a placing of spectators in bondage and simultaneously a placing of performing self in bondage. There are codes and there are cues.

The second upstairs performer (there were none downstairs - too bad) was the Tokyo-based sound poet Tomoni Adachi. He was breathtaking - his breath itself was taking no prisoners and fearing no barriers. Tomoni Adachi divided his performance in two halves. The first half was performed standing, into a microphone with word-sheets on a music stand. A concert recital, and so much more.
Below photos of Tomoni Adachi by Henry Chan:

Adachi’s recited repertoire included: voice sound poetry form begun with “x” , by Hide Kinoshita; opus KI, opus ME, Rain, all by Seiich Niikuni, The Schwitters (as in Kurt) Variations and Sekan-no shu, by Tomoni Adachi, and an Improvisation.

The second half of Tomoni Adachi’s performance was improvised from electronically processed devices and electronically-altered household objects spread across a basic kitchen table. He had eternal delays and permanent reverberations and what-on-earth gizmos, devices that he could turn on and off with his body as well as with his hands. The dynamics were quite extreme, and I did worry about worsening my tinnitus. But the extreme dynamics goes with the territory. If one can’t take the heat, then one should get out of the kitchen. And miss a breathtakingly beautiful excursion into the so rational that it’s delightfully irrational and ecstatic.
Photos of Ulysses Castellanos by Henry Chan.

The last act - playing and pissing on the notion of “the headliner” was Toronto-based provocateur, Ulysses Castellanos. Before officially commencing his intended piece (Exercises in Failure Pt.3: Clown Torture Revisited), Castellanos increased the volume considerably from the already high levels of the previous performer. He did so with a twin-neck electric guitar (bass and six-string) and probably some sort of memory/echo device that permitted or excused repetition. He announced his intention to re-enact Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture while ridiculing the whole notion of himself being one who could do such an re-enactment and also laughing at the entire ides of anything resembling accurate or faithful re-enactments. Ulysses actually displayed considerable flair as a stand-up comedian - he was effectively obnoxious with good timing. Such was not necessarily the right but probably the only tone appropriate for a successful failure. He shut off the monster double-neck, chopped up a pumpkin so he could play pumpkin-head on top of clown, did some amusing monologues about clowns and how they do and don’t scare people, got into costume (confusing arms and legs), and projected two movies onto the wall behind him. One movie was a strobed-out DVD of The Night of the Living Dead; the other was a loop from some generic black and white horror movie or whatever. Castallenos jacked up the industrial music drone and re-enacted not only Nauman but possibly Throbbing Gristle as if crossed with shock comedy. It was truly post-ironic, and deafening. Finally, he cut the volume and recited the ridiculous lyrics of Stairway To Heaven. Ah, yes. The legacy of the twin-necked and two-headed monster.

As I walked home along the same street that Gustavo Alvarez had performed his series of actions, I saw only scant evidence or traces. His memories had been claimed, or perhaps they now entered into the present tense with their new “owners”. Memories are themselves paper trails - they have a way of losing and then re-finding their home, if not their original owners.

Performance rumour: expect guerilla actions

Opening night at 7a*11d featured a "bonus" performance. Could there be more unscheduled performances in the works? This enigmatic announcement started appearing on the wire services on Friday...

Just out of her woodblock print CEO at the Gladstone
Wednesday, Oct. 29, ’08, after eight

Bored with fashion week? Crying over crashing stocks? Addicted to Spankwire? CEO is one of four sex fantasy suits of the superhero and prostitute, Superwoman. Cunty Cowboy CEO says, “Look out Motherfucker, I’ll shoot you in the pants.” She is your dream and hers - in the elevator or stairwell, at the end of the hallway, over the boardroom table... until she’s had it... then she is just a jiggly secretary, bowing and bobbing, and curling up under the strain. CEO is a wannabe porn star who can’t get past the coffee table. Come and watch her go down at Toronto’s oldest and artiest boarding house, The Gladstone Hotel.

Scheduling Update - Sakiko Yamaoka

Sakiko Yamaoko will be performing Best Place to Sleep on Tuesday October 28, starting at 1:00pm at XPACE. The artist asks for your participation in the making of this simple and beautiful group action.

Please meet at the gallery at 1:00pm; the performance will take place at a nearby outdoor location.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Day 3: Saturday October 25 (AJP)

Photos of Alejandra Herrera (above) and Norbert Klassen (below) by Henry Chan.

Andrew James Paterson

Upon arriving at Xpace tonight there was a different installation in the street window. A row of wine glasses, a row of lettered glasses spelling out LA SANGRA TIRA, and a third bottom row of empty glasses. A performer - Alejandra Herrera - struck a pose in the centre frame. She was commencing a durational performance in the gallery window, one that an audience would return and return to and one that might well have been curious to other pedestrians.

A note on the gallery door directed people to a lot behind the nearly-adjacent Queen West Storage building. In the lot, artist Mahan Javadi has assembled an assembly of personal artefacts, canvasses, and significant belongings. His Project Zero: Space addressed efficiency and control. In an attempt to radically get rid of useless excess and bad memories and more, the artist intended to destroy fifty percent of the pile and scatter the remaining half to the winds or whatever. He had some good art books and other interesting objects among his garbage.
Photo of Mahan Javadi by Henry Chan:

As Alejandra Herrera drank more wine and began to lower her body in the window, a performance by Norbert Klassen commenced. Klassen had very successfully entertained me on the previous evening; so what would he do tonight? Would he attempt to top his most recent achievement? Since he had sold artefacts of his detritus and then burned the money in an outrageous fuck you note to art market etiquette and protocol, would be adding further insult to the polite surfaces of art and performer/audience exchange systems?

Well, yes and no. Tonight Norbert Klassen set up a simple kitchen table, hosting a fruit bowl containing an orange, a twelve-crate of eggs, and a pair of hammers. The performer entered back to audience and threw an egg against the white wall, creating yellow Pollock drips that remained on the wall for the entire evening. Then he sat down and played with two hammers - hitting one against the other. He did this in a military four four rhythm - Hep two three four for quite some time until he stopped on the two beat and held the pose. Then it was time to eat the orange.

Norbert ate the orange in something beyond real time - chewing for ages between bites. He kept attention here as a good performer can and should. Although he has (and does) worked in theatre, this was not so much good acting as simply great presence and purpose. Good performers can convince audiences that there is something happening beyond the everyday while simultaneously paying extreme attention to the everyday. Self-conscious and intelligent humans are also perfectly aware that eating is an action, a ritual, a performance.

The performer finished the orange, stared, and then barked out a series of declamatory commanding sounds. He pushed a crate around the table, making horrible industrial sounds alternating with scraping. He took a bottle of water from the red crate and peed with it. Then, after three more egg-related actions, he began painting on the oranges. First white, then black. Then the finished art works into the fruit bowl, which resembled a what’s wrong with this picture variation of a classical still-life.

Then the performer began to speak. He read from a series of cue-cards. What he read were directions for creating acceptable due to clichéd precedent performance pieces. “Explain Fluxus in five minutes or less, using simple props”, and so on. He read through several such instructions, and they were funny because the were accurate. They also bore considerable resemblance to his series of actions during the last at least half hour.

But then… more food. A vegetable this time - a lettuce. And why a lettuce? Because it is the most explosive of foods. One firecracker and a big bang. Thank you, Norbert.

As Norbert’s set and mess were struck, it was time to go outside and see Alejandra Herrera who now had wine dripping down from her mouth past her chin and onto her wardrobe and more. The Blood Pulls, The Blood Drips, The Blood. More blood and more wine.

It was now time for another downstairs performance, as there has been one every night. (Why not, as it’s a great space for those with spatial talent and vision.) Tonight’s basement performer was Jozsef R. Juhasz of the Slovak Republic, and his piece was titled A Possible Past. He awaited the audience in nothing more than a black jockstrap - he looked like a man who could mix business and pleasure. He had a pile of flour on a checkerboard table - something was up. Flour has, during this 7a*11d Festival, become some sort of trouble signifier.

And something was up. The performer cordially announced that he would be combining sound and pictures. Two film projections were involved, both from the same studio in the early days of magical moving pictures - the late nineteenth century. The first film was the durable proto-beefcake movie by Thomas Edison (the madcap inventor himself) - Sandow the Strongman. In tandem with Edison’s rather breathtaking voiceover, Juhasz semi-mimicked the film’s choreography, wearing nothing lese but the jockey shorts. Then he put on black clothing and another film- an early silent called The Kiss which featured the first man/woman kiss in celluloid history. A loop of the actress Sarah Bernhard sounded hilariously incongruous with the extended smooch.

Above photo of Jozsef R. Juhasz by Henry Chan.

Then the performer began to mix the flour with increasing abandon, like a kid playing with an ever-expanding sandbox. He not only mixed the flour on the table, he smeared it onto his head. Perhaps the mad scientist was putting on his thinking cap? Meanwhile, Sarah Bernhardt made way for an old-school 78 RPM record player and an appropriate 78 RPM record. Welcome to the roaring twenties, the Jazz Age and all that is big wonderful and modern. Actually the record was Clink, Clink, and Drink, by Spike Jones. The mad scientist also drank - there was a lot of drinking this evening, come to think of it. And the basement is the traditional laboratory site for the mad scientist. Or, at least the charming but somewhat dangerous uncle.

The next performance was by John G. Boehme of Victoria B.C. He walked over to an ironing board and began ironing a yellow dress shirt; He did this in at least real time. He produced a tie from his clothes basket but didn’t put it on yet. His outfit was business conservative. He wore suit pants. He was on a mission - to be a leading man, a player or a candidate? He was about to put the tie on, but no. He produced two ribbons and attached them to his lower chest, causing his rather large body to expand further. He was about to put the tie on, then he stopped.
Photo of John G. Boehme by Henry Chan:

The man didn’t smell right. He spritzed cologne (colgnizing himself?) not only in the usual places but all over his entire top body and on his very shirt. He spritzed underneath his appallingly goofy under shorts. He smelled fresh enough for at least a week’s excursion to Lord Knows Where. His intention was to mark territory. Then he tied the tie and donned the full suit. He was ready to make the rounds, to work the room.

Which he did. Armed with a roll of name tags, Boehme approached a man seated apart from the rest of the audience and asked the man if he could carry him. The man consented, they traversed the circle of the gallery, and then they exchanged names and agreed to be friends, parting company after the performer or candidate provided a mint. Then Boehme made a smiling approach to another audience member, this time a woman. Again around the circle and the same exchange process/system. It quickly became apparent that he was going to do this with everybody in the room, for the duration of the duration. He was going to carry the entire audience - the entire “community”.

Audience members became restless. Many didn’t want to be carried away, but they consented anyway. One or two didn’t. The performer did not challenge these naysayers. He was too smart a performer - too smart a politician - to make mountains out of molehills. For John G. Boehme did indeed resemble an insecure Republican senator (courtesy of my blogging colleague Elaine Wong) with an unbearable need to be loved. And he did make himself rather lovable, despite the suit and despite the overbearing colognization of the environment. After working the entire room, Boehme rolled out the roll of unused name tags, changed his shirt and shoes, and left smiling. He earned a big round of applause, a big round of applause for a big man indeed.

At the end of the evening, I was informed that Mahan Javadi’s performance had been stopped by the Fire Department and The Police. A neighbour had complained about the fire resulting from the burning paper and other garbage. The authorities, to their credit, quickly realized that they had been summoned to a performance. How could this not be a performance? After all, something was burning.