ART TALKING WOMEN: a little history

ART TALKING WOMEN is a series of 10 -12 minute conversations with women artists about their creative process as well as their relationship with community and technology. The artists reflect the diversity in my communities of Richmond, Vancouver, The Eternal Network, The Art World, Parallel/Underground Galleries and Virtual Culture Centres of the World Wide Web. ART TALKING WOMEN is a cultural, political and pedagogical strategy to bring women artists, particularly BC women artists, into the forefront of international discussions of art and culture especially discussion about performance and new media practices.

ART TALKING WOMEN provides space for practicing women artists to talk with other practicing women artists. It explores how each artist makes art, what art means to them, and their relationship with technology and community. ART TALKING WOMEN thinks locally by reaching IN to BC women artists and acts globally by broadcasting their stories OUT to the international community
ART TALKING WOMEN began while CINEVOLUTION created my retrospective for Your Kontinent Festival July 2012 . The subject of Women and Technology came from our many discussions which lead us to interview artists Lorna Boschman, Eileen Kage, Tsuneko Kokubo and Dinka Pignon. We realized we had wonderful stories about each artist’s creative process as well as her relationship to technology and her community. Clearly, these artists were part of a much bigger story.

Our first season of artists were interviewed in my apartment, at my kitchen table, over tea and my home-made baking. Season two artists were interviewed in their studios, at live Google+ & UTube broadcasts with multiple projections, and during a walk-and-talk through urban gardens tended and employed by the artist as resource for art making. ART TALKING WOMEN will soon be subtitled into Chinese to reach internet cafes and mp3-mpeg download sites in China.

I strongly believe it is unwise to leave the discussion of art solely to the museum and academe. I am neither anti-academe nor anti-art market. Some of my best friends have a PhD. But the academe and art market provide only one way of viewing art and culture and they employ a specific language. Art and Culture making has MANY faces, MANY ways of seeing and MANY languages and it is our hope that ART TALKING WOMEN will provide access for the voice of these women artists to speak out and with the world.

M Dragu’s Musuem

Artist’s Statement, Featured Artist, Your Kontinent Film, Video & New Media Festival 2912, Cinevolution Media Arts, Richmond Cultural Building, Richmond, BC

After a recent collaboration with artist Francisco-Fernando Granados, I wrote him and said:

“You express my thoughts so well, like an echo from my heart.”

He replied:

“Barthes talks of ‘the joy of understanding and of being understood’ and this is what I feel when we make work and we converse.”

This kind of intimacy is what art and art-making is all about.

I am glad I abandoned myself to the collective gaze of Ying Wang and her amazing Grrrrrrrrl Gang who work for Cinevolution to produce the Your Kontinent Festival. Theirs is a Pan-Asian Gaze fromTaiwan to Hong Kong to Ankara to Brussels to Richmond. I learned so much about art and life by seeing my work reflected through their curatorial vision. It was revealing to see which of my works resonates with them: which work speaks to their lives as well as mine.

It was interesting to situate where we all were during key world events like 9/11, Tiananmen Square; as well as personal markers like when we first picked up a camera. I value our many art conversations in my kitchen: me and Cinevolution and then later the formal interviews we conducted with artists Tsuneko Kokubo, Eileen Kage and Lorna Boschman whom we interviewed on video about topics that arose from our explorations, research, conversations and tea parties…

As a working class artist, woman, mother, feminist, daughter of immigrants, former Burlesque Entertainer, former Teamster and general Hell-Raiser, I am grateful to be seen, heard and understood by the amazing WIMMIN of Cinevolution aka Your Kontinent . I am so grateful that these wimmin see me, hear me, understand me and want to share my work with you.

To be seen. To be heard. To be understood. Every artist and every citizen craves these things — more so if they live and make art in the margins.

M. Dragu’s Museum –the performance July 21st, 2012 — is my response to this art/curation/archive process with Ying Wang and co-workers. I plunder from my personal history/memory (ie. Actions/objects from 40+  years of performance history) and memories of others’ performances (ie. Actions/objects seen/known thru our shared performance art history(ies).

M. Dragu’s Museum is also my response to a long history of artists’ critiques of the museum/ gallery/academic history with a nod to the Guerilla Girls, Marcel Duchamp, On Kawara, Randy and Berenicci, General Idea and bpNichol.

Guerilla Girls gender & race representation in the art world

Dada Manifesto Shock the bourgeoisie

On Kaward – Date paintings

Randy and Berenicci – ruins, alphabets

General Idea – AIDS LOVE

bpNichol – The Alphabet Game

The Museum of Found Objects – Sameer Farooq & Mirjam Linschooten (accessed July 4, 2012 Facebook)

4. If a museum is generally understood as an “institution that houses and cares for [curates] a collection of artefacts and other objects of scientific, artstic, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing…” [“Museum” –Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Accessed July 15, 2011], The Museum of Found Objectschallenges assumptions about what constitutes the artistic or historical artefact and how their importance is defined or canonised by the historiographic, anthropological or scientific underpinnings of the museum. It reflects on history formalistically and insofar that the institution of the museum is itself a construct of a history that requires critical attention.

The text is: Endnotes: Annotations to the Museum of Found Objects which was published in Sameer Farooq & Mirjam Linschooten’s Toronto publication written by Haema Sivanesan curator and current Executive Director at Centre A (Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art), and past Executive Director at SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre).

What is Performance Art?

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By Margaret Dragu

All performance artists are repeatedly asked, “What is performance art?”

The question is both a joy and an aggravation. A joyous opportunity to, once again, search for a savvy-ful description of what is so important to us. And an eye-rolling moment of “not again, how can I possibly deliver an illuminating answer?”

Opposite feelings, at the same time true.

Multiple feelings, at the same time true.

Just as performance art is multiple and opposite, between and beyond.

There are the rappers, the wrapper-uppers, those who drag heavy objects or sit still for 12 hours a day, those who shove bananas up their bums, light their hair on fire, or slice/stab themselves and invite the audience to participate.

And now, in our global village circa 2012, there are artists like Iwan Wijono of Jojokarta, who resonates with local artists in creating socially engaged practices that integrate mind, body, and action, and explode our earlier definitions of performance beyond the usual Western-Eurocentric terrain of the Situationist, Surrealist, Dadaist, Fluxist, etc….

Richard Schechner (co-founder of Wooster Group NYC, editor TDR Drama Review) explains to performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña in his essay:

[that] “The ‘problem,’ if there is a problem, is that the field [performance art] ‘in general’ is too big and encompassing. It can be, and is, whatever those who are doing it say it is. At the same time, and for the same reason, the field ‘in specific’ is too small, too quirky, too much the thing of this or that individual (artist, scholar) who is doing the doing.”

Marilyn Arsem (performance artist, School of Museum of Fine Arts Boston) http://www.smfa.edu/facultymodule/view/id/42/src/@random4a83044d9a8b2/
says, “Often when I am asked to define performance art, I begin by asking the person to first define painting or drawing or sculpture. Even with familiar media, the task is daunting. One can always think of exceptions and complications…”
Paul Couillard (performance artist/academic/founder of FADO) http://yorku.academia.edu/paulcouillard says, “I have been asked this question so many times in the past 15 years that I have come to believe it is my life’s work to answer it. But this question cannot be answered with words alone. All that I know I have learned by doing, and so I have come to understand that the answer to this question must be inhabited, like life itself.”

Performance is live. Alive. Embodied. It requires the artist to be present in all senses of the word “present”. To forge a sacred trust with the audience (the community/the gathered). To be true in purpose and action. Performance is not theatre, which has its own sacred conventions and definitions. Performance is a tincture in the vein of a ritual or other symbolism acted in public with an open heart. The performance artist is the vessel — the witch, the shaman — creating solo or group actions that lean towards transformation for themselves and others.

Alastair MacLennan (performance artist, Research Professor in Fine Art School of Art & Design, University of Ulster, Belfast) http://www.vads.ucreative.ac.uk/resources/AMW.html replies, “A primary function of art is to bridge our spiritual and physical worlds… Art is the demonstrated wish and will to resolve conflict through action, be it spiritual, religious, political, personal, social or cultural. To heal is to make whole.”

Francisco-Fernando Granados (performance artist) believes it is “the moment words fail you” while Jane Ellison (Body Practitioner) says it is “Life, framed”.

Self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art”, 63 year old Serbian-born Marina Abramovic, says in Sundance documentary film chronicling her retrospective at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) that the constant question she experienced was, “Why is this art?” But as she has attained international fame, that question is no longer asked. “Now I am missing it,” Abramovic says.
… missing it…missing it…missing it.

628 words

Tiny Town

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“You should apply to Edmonton’s VISUALEYEZ festival,” suggested friends Paul Couillard (Toronto), Kirsten Forkert (Vancouver), and Tagny Duff (Montreal). When I was accepted, they were happy for me, assured me I would have a fabulous time, and also cautioned me it was “a small festival”. Did that mean the city was tiny, the gallery petite, the art scene miniscule? Or did they assume I’d be disappointed by anything less than hundreds of clamouring fans?

Founded and curated by Todd Janes, 2004 was the fifth annual VISUALEYEZ festival of performance & time-based art and it had a curatorial theme of TIME. In Todd’s emails, he expressed the hope festival artists would stay for the entire week, see all of the other artists’ works, be open to new ideas/experience(s), and participate in panels/round tables.
For me, the festival was an intense laboratory to make performance work while engaging in a 7-day discussion of time, duration, community and family as it impacts performance art practice.

SATURDAY MAY 22nd, 2004

Always a nervous flyer, I drank valerian tea on WESTJET that is the enthusiastic, denim-clad, non-union airline that appears marinated in Deep Irony as evidenced by flight crews’ sardonic tolerance of regulation French safety instructions. Landing in Edmonton, I was also nervous I might be walking into one of those performance festivals featuring artists practicing pig evisceration, self-mutilation and burning buildings. Instead, galerie latitude 53’s warm and helpful administrator Coralee welcomed me, whisked me to our seedy downtown hotel, and then straight over to Latitude 53 where I met festival artists Rasmus Jergensen (Norway), Darren O’Donnell (Toronto), Christine Stoddard (Vancouver), Mandala Collective (Calgary), Keiko Kamma (Japan), LR Vineberg (Montreal/Regina), and Manon de Pauw (Montreal). I knew Eric Léterneau (Montreal) and Julianna Barabas (Vancouver). Julianna and Christine were preparing a large spread of food for their performance. I was just in time.

I met Julianna Barabas a year ago in my girlfriend Susan Stewart’s art class at Emily Carr. Julianna had done the first tattooed lines for Seamline that is the making of a tattoo marking the anatomical anterior and posterior of her body. Prior to VISUALEYEZ, Julianna had performed 12 segments of this eternal marking. She was celebrating the final “splitting” of the body at galerie Latitude 53 on Saturday May 22nd. The 6-hour performance was a durational work in collaboration with her tattoo artist and attendant Christine Stoddard. This triad executed an epic ritual including the elements of pain, breath, attendance/witness, Victoriana, and also a signifying of major female passages – wedding, birth, and death. The performance action was full of pain, laughter, healing, breathing, and joy. The triad took breaks to eat, drink, and talk and were entirely comfortable in their bodies as well as the act of performance. Their combined focus on the action was tangible. Some audience members took turns holding Julianna’s hand through some of the more painful spots.

Julianna’s work embodied the essence of performance art: simple but complex. In other words, what appears to be a simple action has been chosen and executed by the artist to open both meaning and time.

Because Juliana had lived in Edmonton, her friends/neighbours/co-workers came and went during the more than 6-hour event. Even Julianna’s very pregnant sister (who gave birth to a baby boy 2 days later) and their mother came. However, it was other festival artists and gallery workers who stayed for the entire event. There was an unspoken need for us to bear witness to each other’s work. By 10:00 pm, sterilized and wrapped in saran wrap, Julianna was exhausted and transported to her hotel room.

SUNDAY MAY 23rd, 2004

Gazebo Park, the friendly home of skateboarders, street hustlers, drunks & drifters, is around the corner from coffee culture strip Whyte Avenue and ringed by four live theatres. Edmonton has an active (even throbbing) theatre and spoken art scene. In this theatrical milieu, Norway’s Rasmus Jorgensen presented clocks, mothers and been here before’s an hour-long performance cycle four times over two days.

Employing a hill of dirt, a tablespoon, and his very able body and voice, Rasmus enacted a classic birth/death/birth cycle designed to be a metaphor for art creation and the human condition. Using a child-like voice, he ran around the perimeter of the park begging passers-by to “come see my show” and then gave a frantic and fearful countdown
“2 minutes 15 seconds until showtime!” until the appointed hour. Punctually on the dot, he birthed himself out of the hill of dirt, grew from breast-sucking baby to rejected toddler, matured through existential crises, achieved a moment of tragedy digging for his dead mother in the hill of dirt, became and old man and died on the dirt hill when the cycle of waiting for the dreaded but inevitable “showtime” began again.

Driven by theatrical conventions and aesthetics, Rasmus’s work served as the festival’s exploration of the performance art/theatre boundary that is difficult to articulate and yet is always a component of the discussion by performance art practitioners at conferences, festivals, and panels. His piece could have been performed in any one of the four theatres surrounding the park and, in fact, it begged development into a “tour de force” honed by an experienced theatre director who would sculpt the beats towards a traditional climax and denouement.

I had been reading Extreme Exposure (an anthology of solo performance texts from the Twentieth Century), edited by Jo Bonnney, published by Theatre Communications Group, NY, NY, 2000. This American book encompasses four aspects of solo performance: performance artists that are monologuists/ranters (eg. Eric Bogosian, Tim Miller, Rachel Rosenthal, Guillermo Gomez-Pena); community theatre activists
(eg. Rhodessa Jones, John O’Keefe); poets (eg. Dael Orlandersmith, David Cale) and stand-up comics (eg. Whoopi Goldberg, Lenny Bruce, Moms Mabley). The early ‘80’s had more of this kind of performance art in galleries and nightclubs especially in America and England. Now, without the political and social context of the times, I see this work clearly as theatre but know it has contributed to the development of performance art.

MONDAY MAY 24th, 2004

Still thinking about my feelings about Rasmus’s performance and the Exposure texts, I talked with Darren O’Donnell of Toronto. Darren is a successful theatre playwright, producer, and director as well as novelist. He described himself as “frustrated by theatre” and was “more interested in the possibilities of performance art”. For four days, he based himself in Gazebo Park and asked people who gathered for his event Talking Creature to go out and invite strangers to come and converse with him and others in the park for unstructured and un-agendaed conversation.

I took the LRT to Gazebo Park to meet Darren’s public, other Visualeyez artists, and the park’s rounders/regulars including the native male/female street duo with smokes, shopping cart and booze that were fabulous performers 24/7. The man stripped to his pants, smoked, and danced to unheard music while the woman made puns (“I got a big heart – see?” as she held a purloined heart-shaped cookie tin to her chest and yelled good naturedly, “This is MY street — you all can GET LOST!” and then laughed.

I found it hard soliciting strangers. It brought back memories of my failed job attempts as credit card solicitor for The Bay and telephone market researcher for Lee’s Blue Jeans. Strangers I approached on Whyte Avenue thought I was looking for either money or sex. If neither of those, surely I must be a religious fanatic seeking their soul. The piba player busking on Whyte didn’t want to leave his position. Fair enough. Some people I invited to Talking Creature said “maybe” but didn’t show. It wasn’t a surprise that Darren (who is centred and outgoing) and LR Vineberg (who is a committed and compassionate individual) procured the most people followed closely by Darren’s mother. Darren designed this piece, in part, as a response to his mom’s unusual and intense but natural ability to solicit strangers and engage them in intimate conversations.

Christine Stoddard’s performance, The Hospital of Her Becoming, was a 5-6 hour installation/performance work shown in the gallery Monday and Tuesday. She created a cool and clinical space criss-crossed by saran wrap banners, fixed by white sculptural plinths, and accessorized by nail clippers, bandages, bowls of water, soap, spring water and rice cake-like sticks. Dressed completely in white, repeating body gestures around heart and breath, Christine would suddenly look out with the clarity of the dying just before they actually leave the planet. Her focussed yet non-theatrical look pierced the observer’s gaze. Her looking out did not feel manipulative or phoney. She re-enacted this gaze through ritual for nearly 6 hours as a way of processing/accepting death and dying in her life and in our lives like a priestess for our community. She wrote texts in nearly invisible silver ink on barely-there saran wrap including:

On this cold night the snow is failing blue
Soft points of lightness catch the sounds of silence.

Time slows to the pace of a fractured breath.

This is not a waiting room.

She aches with the deep hot of a bloody disease.

Heat in the middle of an ice stone.

Christine’s performance of waiting, grieving, clipping, cleansing and bandaging in the sci-fi/medical environment oscillated between the experiences of the patient with the caregiver. It highlighted the gap between sleep/awake and living/dead. I watched 3 ½ hours of her performance and during half of that time a retired Edmonton farmer who appeared unable/unwilling to leave the space joined me. Gallery personnel said he was an annual attendee to VISUALEYEZ but I thought of him as an angel/witness bringing life experience to the performance and moving it forward spiritually.

Monday evening was the first of two performances of Mythological Narrative by the Mandala Collective, a group of emerging artists and recent graduates of the Alberta College of Art in Calgary. They re-enacted an aboriginal myth as a musical theatre piece that was heavily costumed, scenic-set, and propped with far too many plush toy puppets. Being a hippie myself, I valued their environmental concerns, but their work, even viewed as theatre, needed more research, development and direction. And – what about the overhanging question of appropriating aboriginal voice?

TUESDAY MAY 25th, 2004

On September 29th, 2001, Eric Léterneau began Standard II and has performed it over 200 times in many cities around the globe. It is a one-on-one performance art work: the audience member chooses a spot for 3 minutes of silent meditation for a country
(selected in alphabetical order by Eric) that has suffered national or domestic violence. Eric is open to discussion and other “responses to his response” to the state of our precarious world. I had observed Eric preparing for some of these actions in Montreal
(a sealed storefront window) and Toronto (a seedy hotel room) and was intrigued but VISUALEYEZ was the first opportunity for me to participate. Eric and I scheduled an appointment right after Darren’s performance in Gazebo Park.

My country turned out to be Kiribati – a group of South Sea Islands between the American-dominated Marshall Islands and the French-dominated Bikini Islands.
He video-documents the location of the meditation (for me — a bench book-ended by
a 7-11/Roger’s Video and a protestant church) and by audiotape the 3 minute “silent” meditation (in my case the car/motorcycle traffic of Whyte Avenue). Eric was busy throughout the festival week with VISUALEYEZ artists and gallery workers as well as the general public responding to radio programmes and newspaper articles covering the festival. Loquacious and social, Eric found it easy to meet strangers in coffee shops and bars and bring them to the gallery to participate in his and other artists’ projects. This profound work is Buddhist and political while investigating performance art’s eternal question of public/private on a deep and personal level.

In the evening, I saw the Mandala Collective again. Their performance was followed by the first of the round tables – this one about performance process that naturally concentrated on the Mandala collective as we had just seen their work. Todd Janes, a nurturing curator and community-builder, helped the group introduce non-confrontational questions to the collective in a supportive way. Members of the collective said they were not taught performance art of its history at the Alberta College of Art and they appeared unaware of the critical discourse around the practice. The question of appropriation that transverses all disciplines was not answered by the collective in context of the discourse around the issue. Instead, two of the collective responded personally explaining they had lived in rural Alberta communities with extremely high percentages of First Nations people.

WEDNESDAY MAY 26th, 2004

I was lucky to be LR Vineberg’s roommate and able to talk with her about her creative process for I Will Not Remember the Details But I Will Know day & night, over organic salads with red wine, and while not-watching “Sex in the City” re-runs. We enjoyed rigorous discussions about performance, visual art and theatre. I was curious about her official and firm departure from theatre direction/production and film/TV acting to visual art and she was able to articulate the logic of her choices.

Lisa perched a comfy chair on a large mound of salt (preservation/history/the fate of Lot’s wife) and played a golden oldie radio station at a low but discernable volume on a small battered radio (more memory and memories of memories prismed through popular culture’s archives). She kept her back to us (learned from Sarah’s fatal flaw) and spent 4 hours drawing on the wall with graphite and telling us her personal stories.

Like General Idea’s mandate to approach fashion but never fall into it, LR Vineberg drew near to theatre without crossing over. A skilled storyteller and body-mover, she told the kind of stories we tell lovers, intimates and therapists. She talked and drew in an effort to divest her of the burden of personal history or as an attempt to move forward. Vineberg’s performance was cinematic, riveting, sad and funny. In fact, the experience of attending this performance was (and is) more moving and complex than my description can hint.

Later that evening was the second round table discussion. Todd asked leading questions about durational performance work, time, and our perception(s) of time. We talked about how that applied to the works we had seen so far and about more generally about this vibrant aspect of our practice seen nationally and internationally. There was a rigorous discussion about the pros and cons of documentation in performance art climaxing in LR Vineberg’s testimonial that word-of-mouth stories along with still photograph documents are a nourishing and vital part of our histories.

THURSDAY MAY 27th, 2004

For a few minutes every day, I visited Paperwork, Montreal artist Manon de Pauw’s performance/installation in the archive room of the gallery. However, on Thursday I sat in the room for over an hour. A ½ size video loop of Manon lying on a pile of papers is projected onto a floor that also has real papers cut to the same scale as the projection. Manon sweeps the pages slowly out of and back into order. We see the action in a smaller-than-life size but hear the action amplified louder than reality.

Sharply conceived and well executed, Manon allows her video personae to perform in her absence and therefore is able to execute durational work while not actually being in the building. Quite the trick! Anyone who has endured a repetitious office (or other) job can relate to the surface meaning of Manon’s performance/installation but it is her deft use of scale (actual/slightly smaller than actual), reality (real papers/projected papers), repetition, and point-of-view (aerial camera shot) that makes this work complex and gratifying. Manon was an articulate and very observant speaker in the round tables.

Later that evening, the festival travelled to Greenwoods Book Shoppe for Darren O’Donnell’s launch of Your Secrets Sleep with Me published by Coach House Press. A former Edmontonian, Darren pulled in an army of relatives and childhood friends as well as festivalgoers. He was an entertaining and frenetic reader as he shared selections from his book described as a “caffeinated novel” that serves as a “critique of power and politics” set after Toronto’s CN Tower has fallen into the lake.

After the reading was the third and final round table discussion about international approaches to performance art. Keiko Kamma of Japan spoke about the three historical streams of performance art in Japan. Eric Leternou of Montreal, Quebec reported on IAPO’s conference in Bandung. For me, this was the most informative of the round tables and made me want to travel farther into the unfamiliar geographically and in other ways.

FRIDAY MAY 28th, 2004

I spent the day shopping and talking about art with my new roommate Julianna Barabas. Julianna took me to Dot’s Fashion Liquidation Outlet — a place so infamous even the front desk staff of our seedy hotel knew of its notoriety for great deals: two dollars for a pink cashmere shrug, three dollars for a designer tee-shirt; if you are ever in Edmonton…

Because I arrived on the second day of the festival, I had missed Keiko’s first performance on Saturday May 22nd so I was happy she was scheduled to do another Friday evening. During our fest-week, I saw Keiko smoking cigarettes on the patio deck of the gallery, attending every performance despite a nasty SI/lumbar injury, and occasionally tangoing with her digital video camera in the parking lot. What was she up to? Someone told me she was also a psychic so I was intrigued. There is a small coterie of performance artists with similar concerns about psyche and chance (Sherry Higgins (Toronto), Tagny Duff, even Joseph Beuys had actions with his “little cards”).

Once Upon a Time in Your Life was an interactive performance about time. Keiko had a playful, visual, beatnik, and flux-ian joy infused in her work. She gave everyone an opportunity to play with time and our attachment/sense of time.

Keiko recorded audio/video portraits of everyone’s wishes (or imaginings) ten years hence and promised to send the evening’s portrait to us in ten years time.

Keiko asked small groups to close their eyes and count to 60. Several dreamy-eyed individuals felt one minute after, in fact, 2 minutes had passed. A speedy soul shot his hand up at 40 seconds. Only Eric Léterneau, a former CBC radio broadcaster, hit the 60 seconds of his internal clock with the analogue.

Keiko passed her hat full of hand-written fortunes including: moment, kiss, repeat, eternal, etc. but advised us she was not responsible if this was or was not meaningful in our future.

Keiko played an electric keyboard drone with her purse while projecting slightly scrambled video of her tangos in the parking lot, walks around the gallery area, and ascending the stairs. At first fractured and speedy, the video slowed and became more clear and less cut up until the audience viewed samples of the event in which they had participated. As a final performative gesture regarding time, Keiko scotch-taped up her title, credits and date and it was all over until we hear from her ten years from whatever we might call “now”.

SATURDAY MAY 29th, 2004

I made a performance called Rising. I spent eight hours making bread, teaching people how to make bread, and collecting bread stories. The gallery was awash in a video projection of three seasons of the fishing village where I live (Finn Slough, BC). The projection was large enough that gallery visitors could “walk up” the path to my house when they stood inside the cooking space with me. A very old friend I had not seen in 25 years dropped by, as well as lots more mothers, and some younger artists. They told great stories. It is an honour when someone gives you his or her story.

Coralee made and served vanilla earl grey tea while we waited for the breads to rise. I served curried lentil crock-pot soup while we waited for the bread to bake.

Julianna made a killer-bee batch of classic white French bread and she stayed with me the entire eight-hour shift only popping out to buy the chocolate for pain au chocolat.
Ted (a festival regular, scholar, and divinity student) blessed the bread before we broke and ate it. Coralee served red wine. We continued baking, eating and drinking for hours – even while the gallery staff set up for the closing party. Like a cross-fade, the party grew clearer and the baking grew smaller. Finally, we put the ovens away. The DJ took over.

However, there still may be a slice or two of the performance bread neatly saran-wrapped and frozen in galerie latitude 53’s freezer…

JUNE 4th, 2004

Back in real time, the festival is far away physically but still close to my psyche.
I describe VISUALEYEZ as a jewel of a festival – part laboratory, part festival, part retreat. It is small enough to allow safety, support and experimentation for visiting artists but public enough to meet a variety of local artists and general public.

Todd Janes creates a tribal community of festival artists within the larger community he and his co-workers create at Latitude 53 that is a mix of visual, theatre, and spoken word artists, DJ club dance/music scene, students, and various cultural workers and consumers.
Todd has the leadership and intuitive skills that I have more seen from feminist leaders inside women’s collectives. Performance art, time-based work and the development of community are very important to this artist and administrator. My friends were right to predict I would have a fabulous time at Visualeyez. A big experience in a tiny town.

Submitted with respect,
Margaret Dragu (Finn Slough)

The Bridge

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by Margaret Dragu

I don’t remember ever being afraid of the bridge.
I could be wrong about this.
I am, after all, a LIFELONG COWARD.
I am afraid of bats, spiders, and snakes. I worry that electricity is leaking out from electric sockets. I get seasick on moving docks. Ladders give me anxiety attacks.
And don’t get me started about my experiences on airplanes.
So it is pretty stunning that the bridge at the slough has never fazed me.

I had heard the bridge stories.

Apparently, almost everyone who lives at the slough falls off the bridge. At least once.
Tommy (the most respected, loved, & deeply missed Village Elder) used to drop by for tea with my partner Jim. They would talk about fishing, ecology, and politics. Sometimes Tommy told very funny stories about slough residents falling off the bridge. I laughed at all these stories but it never worried or stopped me from hauling food and other stuff by hand, by wheelbarrow, and by bicycle across the slough bridge. To and fro. Forward and back. Several times a day.

Even when Jim’s and my daughter Aretha was born, I never worried about the bridge. Playgrounds, super markets, escalators – yes – these were dangerous negotiations.
But not the bridge. Jim and I progressed from carrying Aretha in the infant front-carryall, to the backpack baby carrier, to the baby seat on the bicycle, to the stroller, and finally holding hands with Aretha the toddler as we criss-crossed the bridge again and again. Slough kids are nimble. They are sure-footed goats on the footpath that connects the houses. They are excellent tree climbers and generally really fit specimens. And they’re cautious about the bridge because they, too, are told all the stories about people falling off the bridge.

When Aretha was perhaps 3 or 4 years old, I dressed her in her new and favourite leggings made by our family friend Tsuneko. Stretchy white spandex with big red roses, green vine leaves, and tendrils. The kind of pattern you see on sofas or curtains. I remember those leggings very clearly. I dimly remember Jim wearing new sandals or perhaps it was new sunglasses. The next thing I remember is the door being thrown open and Jim standing in the doorway with Aretha in his arms. They were both coated in mud and dead leaves. Jim was frantic.

“One moment she was right by my side,” he said, “and then the next she was gone!
Not a splash. Not a shout. I didn’t know where she was. And then I looked down and she was in the slough. She just … fell off the bridge…” He had not looked to see if the tide was high or low. He just jumped in – feet first – into the Big Muddy– and gathered up our daughter and staggered to shore and ran home.

We gave Aretha a hot bath and dressed her in clean clothes. Then it was Jim’s turn for the hot bath. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and Jim looking like a man frightened out of his wits about what had just happened and what might have happened. I remember Aretha, though, looking like she had been on an exciting ride – a merry go round or whirly-gig – smiling and tired. It was a happy ending as there were no injuries.
Merely a pair of lost sandals (or sunglasses).

The story of Aretha Falling off the Bridge is now one of our family stories.
Each of us has told it so many times that perhaps by now Aretha cannot tell if she actually remembers it happening or she just knows the story so well (heard and told it so many times) that it is the story that is part of her personal history more than the actual event. Hard to say.

When visitors come to the slough and I walk them across the bridge, they often ask if the bridge is safe. “Oh yes,” I always say. “Totally safe. You see. The planks have to be free so we can pull them up so boats can pass at high tide. It is really a brilliant design.”

And it is a brilliant design. And the bridge is safe. In life one must always be careful.
In the bathtub. At traffic intersections. On ladders. Gravity is everywhere.

Personae Performance

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Performing with Personae: Entrée into Psychology and Politics
by Margaret Dragu (aka Lady Justice)

When a performance artist creates a persona or alter-ego it is very similar to having an imaginary friend as a child.

Psychologists used to describe children’s need for imaginary companions as a narcissistic self-absorption of unrealistic fantasies that should or must disappear by the age of six. Lately, the ability to create an invisible friend is more highly valued. Professor Marjorie Taylor, University of Oregon, thinks invisible companions help children solve problems (ie. Skip is scared of the monster under the bed!), shift blame (ie. Princess Pammy broke the lamp!!), or find a safe/secret way to communicate (ie. Captain Jay really really doesn’t want Uncle Ralph to baby sit!!!). Professor Paul Harris, Harvard Graduate School of Education, believes alter-egos aid children in “trying out alternate viewpoints, probing causal sequences, revising interpretations of changing situations—honing the capacity to take others’ perspectives”. Anthropologist Maurice Bloch, London School of Economics, says that an ability to imagine things and beings that don’t physically exist means humans have access to a form of social interaction unavailable to any other creatures on the planet. We can use what Bloch calls the “transcendental social” to unify with groups, such as nations and clans, or even with imaginary groups such as the Dead.

Shawna Dempsey (aka Talking Vulva, Lesbian Ranger) believes that her various personae “…let me do things that I can’t/won’t/am not comfortable doing. They are me but also larger than me. More exaggerated, stronger.” Anita James (aka Backlashie & Sugar Mendhi) calls her personae “freeing and powerful … they can crystallize, capture, and communicate a larger meaning”. Christine Stoddard (aka Lady of Manchester) explains, “When I perform I may well take on a character, put on some clothes I wouldn’t “normally” wear, but when I’m in it I never think of it as someone other than me. Just a staged version of me. I like the possibilities to be otherwise that a costume can offer… like a little worm hole into other parts of the self. A way to legitimate those other selves that in everyday dress don’t have the habit of appearing. I think I would struggle with being other on a regular basis but then again am I ever really myself? We are all, in a way, constantly becoming other, becoming different. Names, egos, costumes can be ways of harnessing specific potentials that slip by, disappearing in their constant shifting emergence.” David Khang (aka Private DYK & Dr. Decay) says his alter-egos as soldier and mad dentist/monk calligrapher begin with “… some small biographical node, then expands with research, becoming a hyperbole of the original.”

A slightly twisted version of the imaginary friend is the syndrome of subjective doubles in which a person suffers from the HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusion” \o “Delusion” delusion that he/she has a HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppelganger” \o “Doppelganger” doppelganger with the same appearance but usually different character traits, leading a life of its own, and sometimes operating as a harbinger of death. Perhaps Janieta Eyre is tapping into doppelganger lore when she constructs photographs of “double self-portraits” as if she had a twin. Janieta Eyre and her “twin” inhabit images that are beautiful, schizophrenic and disturbing.

Artists show their alter-egos in the photo frame because it reveals and hides. Cindy Sherman explained to the New York Times in 1990, “I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear.” Yet Man Ray’s portraits of Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Selavy reveal that androgyny, gender play and performativity have a very deep history inside the portrait frame. Carol Sawyer (aka Natalie Brettschnieder) created such a real persona that I frequently cited Brettschnieder as a historic Canadian performance artist before I found out she was really Carol Sawyer who says, “The clues to Brettschnieder’s fictional nature are there to be found but she is believable too — I am interested in the desire to believe but I don’t set out to lie, really. I link her story to other women active in the avant-garde between the wars. She is the disgruntled muse rising up for all misunderstood and appropriated female artists. The unknown soldier of performance art.”

Sawyer’s brilliant con-artistry is heroic because she re-claims lost female power through re-creating history. No wonder artists (through their kinship to a child’s need to create imaginary companions) have created so many superheroes, crusaders, animas, spirit guides, bande dessines, personalities and personae. Adrian Stimson (aka Buffalo Boy) reclaims history, subverts Hollywood through his parody of Little Big Man, and even wears wings into the after life. Morgan Sea Thompson (aka low-budget superhero Citizen Justice) is an endurance/intervention artist concerned with the environment, overcoming mass-media manipulation and making crafts out of garbage. Artists all over the world create persona/alter-egos and bring them to art galleries, books, videos, salons, site-specific venues, the street, nightclubs …

The frame e-x-p-a-n-d-s when artists enter television, radio, web-internet, and other technologies. Artists jump into these frames as pranksters, social animators, politicians and culture jammers. Christo & Jeanne-Claude work with governments, volunteers and media to build urban and rural environment sculptures (ie. wrapping Le Pont Neuf ’75-‘85, Reichstag ’71-‘95, & making a running fence in Califronia ’72-‘76). Suzanne Lacey (In Mourning and In Rage, 1977) made socially engaged performance for the media at Los Angeles City Hall as a feminist response to The Hillside Strangler and all violence against women. The tongue-in-cheek press conferences by General Idea & Guerrilla Girls in the ‘70’s – ‘80’s gave way to Servin/Vamos (aka Yes Men) who are culture-jamming activists practicing what they call “identity correction” by pretending to be powerful people and spokespersons for prominent organizations. They create and maintain fake websites similar to ones they want to spoof, and then they accept invitations received on their websites to appear at conferences, symposia, and TV shows.

Possibly the most public venue an artist can choose is to run for political office. In 1974, Vincent Trasov and John Mitchell designed/performed the ”Mr. Peanut for Mayor” campaign in Vancouver’s civic election. In 1982, The Hummer Sisters of Video Cabaret ran the ART Versus Art campaign to run for Mayor of Toronto. Whilst Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys ran for mayor of San Francisco, Pat Paulsen of Smothers Brothers TV show ran for president of the USA, and Cicciolina (spouse to Jeff Koons) was actually elected to the Italian parliament, I think the most persistent artist-intervening-in-the- political-arena is Lowell Darling. After a decade of environmental and media art actions (ie. sewing up the St. Andreas Fault and performing public acupuncture to cure heroin addiction in Vancouver’s Downtown East side), Darling ran for California governor in 1978. At present, he is not only running for president of USA but is encouraging all citizens of the world to run as well. Darling told Robert Atkins of Carnegie Mellon’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry,

“Conceptual art or whatever you want to call it is like alchemy. One of my kids recently asked why I wanted to run [for President] and I said that ideas become the ingredients that you need to create something out of nothing. I also used to say that to understand a problem, one had to become part of it. With a presidential run, there’s the danger of being consumed by the problem. When I ran for governor, I created a political portrait in reality. This time, I feel more like the paint than the painter. If America wants to be the artist that creates its President, we have to regain control of the materials. I’m running the art supply store and I’m waiting for people to come in and commission themselves to create a piece.”

Artists have been dressing up in funny costumes since Cabaret Voltaire in 1916. And artists have re-created or paid homage to these and other seminal performances as a place to respond and develop performance aesthetic. Cindy Baker (aka Cindy Baker) furthers performance art’s exploration in this area by travelling across the country in a professional mascot costume – as Cindy Baker. Cindy says, “By beoming a caricature of Cindy Baker, I nurture the myth of the character of that person/persona that I constantly examine and toy with through my own practice. By becoming Cindy Baker, I discover and unpack what makes me me – or, more accurately, what makes me appear to be me.”
Perhaps in some way Cindy Baker is creating her own imaginary and very best friend? This is an example of a rigorous imagination. Surely imagination is the key to art practice and political/spiritual change.

I am reminded of Professor Paul Harris’s observation after working with autistic children that

“if you look at children with autism and see how restricted their imagination is, you are forced to the conclusion that imagination is probably something that we can’t do without, and not something that we need to overcome.”