Dossier : Brouiller les frontières

[Extract]

Straddlin’ the Divide

Those who move away from the conventions of theatrical reception yet remain within a validating structure, those who engage in the disruption of borders that divide art from life, those who take to the street (Pierre Beaudoin), the mall (Tagny Duff), the park (César Saëz), the broom closet (Sylvie Cotton): these are the ones who straddle the divide. The divide between theatre and real, art and life.

Being and performing. The performance of being. Within the festival fa3, art action actual, Beaudoin, Duff, Saëz. and Cotton work this division. And yet, how can a performance allow being to emerge without destroying the " act " of performance? Or rather, how does a practice of being emerge itself authentically into the space designated as performance?

From far to near/Pierre Beaudoin

My first instinct is to keep my distance and to watch from afar. The space demands a certain measure of distance, to approach too closely feels strangely transgressive. And so I sit down on a concrete block along the edge of the parking lot and watch.

While I sit politely, in the periphery, a young man walks towards Pierre, -an openness- or break in the smooth surface of the space is created. Pierre taking a small object out of one of his pockets, puts the object and a white business card (with the date: 04.05.01) into a plastic zip-lock bag, and gives this to the man. Not one to miss out on a gift I too approach Pierre and receive my object- a twisted rusted piece of metal. I am pleased to declare my status as spectator to Pierre. He is himself. We talk about the work, how his arm muscles are doing, if many people have passed. I am struck by his casual attitude, by our casual conversation - by our connection while the performance is in fact unfolding.

Pierre Beaudoin is in a vast grey concrete parking lot behind Place des Arts. The parking lot, littered with an accumulated trace of debris, is divided by the raised lines of swept dirt: bottles, metal, paper, and glass. Within this large rectangle of openness Pierre is investing the repetitive action of sweeping. He holds in his hands an industrial broom. He systematically sweeps discarded debris into straight lines. Every once in a while he bends down and picks up an object and places it within one of his many pockets. The body performs an action in the social, public, urban, territory and declares a presence as significant and as insignificant as any other. As I watch Pierre I am aware that a certain structuring of time is taking place that requires me to experience a sense of completion within itself. In the repeated ritual of his work there is no climax, it is one gesture falling upon another, each one with a sameness and a difference that layer upon each other a kind of acceptance of a passage into and out of time.

A levelling of hierarchies, and not from a position of power nor prestige, taking as he does the low-skilled manual labour of sweeping the debris, the unwanted, the left-behind material of previous events, significant or not. A labour that speaks of a past history when street cleaners swept, before the mechanically operated vacuum cleaner mini vehicles were engaged to suck up our accumulated debris.

And yet, here, the art frame imparts a value upon a non-skilled task which lifts the sweeping gesture into a different space and accords it therefore a different value. The recuperation of the neglected, whether physical labour such as sweeping or physical matter such as metal takes on a transformed value because of the validating structure of the festival. This is a performance, this is an artist.

Or ... this debris; chosen, selected, picked up, packaged in the zip-lock plastic bags, marked with a date in time, and given to those who approach, is a gift. From garbage into gift. Pierre’s performance is one of transformations; the periphery to connection, manual labour to performance, debris to gift. A transformation that balances upon an everyday labour and a singular art event, a transformation that straddles, balances, and creates a connecting presence.

Exposing our exposure/Tagny Duff

And then, there she is, in a red hooded sweatshirt with the word " emergency " in black type printed on her back. Hands stuffed into the pockets of her sweatshirt she faces Helena Goldwater. She is too close. Helena, also wearing a red hooded sweatshirt has the word " desirable " in black type on her back. The two women - bodies almost touching, hands in pockets, eyes locked, stand still. After what seems to be an extended bout of non-moving body confrontation the two women silently turn and walk away from each other. The " performance " is over.

She is too close. So close, in fact, that I distort, cover over, and do not see. She is too close to the raw potentiality that if let loose will create a state of "emergency". The body of one woman caught at the threshold of her desire for the body of the other woman. Lesbian desire. A giving to be seen not as spectacle, but as the intimate space that allows itself to be seen within the eye of the impossible. And I refuse to allow this image into my consciousness. And yet, memory, however, does surprise - and I "re-see" that Helena’s lips are slightly open and I "re-member" a sensation - the quick lick of the green flame, jealously snakes through as I see that I am not the desired one.

Tagny Duff performs in the Eaton Centre. The shopping mall. The space of orchestrated commodity exchange. Five performance tableau’s are performed on the hour, each one staged on a different level of the Eaton Centre. Each tableau is located and titled on a map in the booklet produced by Tagny to accompany the performances. The performances stake out the boundaries between that which can pass itself off as harmless (eating french-fries, taking souvenir pictures, standing still, feeding artificial birds, blowing soap bubbles) and that which underlines the very location where acceptable changes into non-acceptable. Surveillance is exposed as the flip-side to the "indulgence" of engaging in transactions within the luxurious private property of the mall.

If I had not received Tagny’s booklet at her artist talk I would have missed the presence of the camouflaged surveillance camera. However, being an informed viewer, I see that her performance takes place in the direct view of the self-same camera that we see pictured on the cover of the booklet. The performance, where "emergency" confronts "desire" is played out for this camera. No body gesture, no eye contact, no voice, reaches out to join the " audience ", and therefore we are constructed as witness’s to an event that is staged. It is a closed act, and we become, in a strange sort of way, a double of the camera which records.

Except. Except that we are flesh and blood, moving and breathing. We are the invited or the accidental and we hold within us the power to communicate, to speak what we see. And we see not only Tagny, but ourselves, as open to view. We are being watched from above. Watched. What is the exact feeling that hits us when we realise our position? Before the rationalisation that it is for our own good, our own safety, or the "oh well it doesn’t matter shrug of the shoulders". Is it fear, or maybe violation, or even intimidation? And then, it dawns on us, it is not us, or Tagny per se that is the subject of surveillance, but rather, this particular space that holds these particular objects. The camera is here for the object, the material stuff that is displayed to our eyes in the bid for exchange. The camera is to keep them safe from any harm that we might enact. Keeping the commodity safe for their owner. We are, as long as we perform as we should, irrelevant.

Tagny’s focus, so thoroughly fixed upon this mechanical and uninterested eye, exposes, through her persistent and consistent return to the camera (all five performances take as their subject the camera’s gaze), covert ideologies held in place through systems of power. The non-subjective, seemingly neutral eye of the camera is in effect nothing more than the lens through which authority in the form of "visible evidence", is played through. An authority which upholds the ideological presumption that man-made objects and man-constructed places are privatised, in need of defensive mechanisms, and that certain behaviours "disruptive" to the flow of commodity into money will not be tolerated.

Tagny makes this overtly evident, as in her description of her final piece :

" The last piece, In(ter)active, consisted of blowing soap bubbles at the surveillance camera while the sound of glass breaking projected into the space. (I invited the audience to join me in the act of virtually vandalizing the camera and surrounding space with our breath and soap). Security guards soon came and asked that everyone stop. At that point I agreed to end the performance and walked away. While I was leaving, a security alarm sounded throughout the mall, concluding the five hours of performance infiltrations. "

And so, Tagny disrupts. She rubs up against prohibitions from a governing authoritative mechanism that sustains an agenda to protect private property and the hallowed institution of commodity exchange, which as of yet, constructs and upholds the mythical fantasy of heterosexual bliss. (Just behind Tagny and Helena’s performance a large glossy poster shows a young heterosexual couple sitting snugly together staring out as us with a sultry expression.) She does not conform her actions to fit the undeclared commands of a covert system of power, rather, Tagny points towards these commands through an act of systematically disobeying codes of behaviour that have never openly been declared as such.

Found performance/César Saëz

He tells me this is an exploration, the beginning towards an unknown destination. The surveillance of the unknown performer.

César Saëz positions himself on the border of fa3, between the excluded and the included - as the validator/thief of the performance of the unknowing performer - and as the practising performance artist. A delicate position in that César questions the very ground that he, and every other performer within the festival, stands upon. Who performs, who watches, who is given the status of performer and why? Where is the frame situated that accords value to certain actions and who has the power to declare where that frame is situated?

During, in the same time span as the festival itself, César secretly follows and films one individual engaged in the daily ritual of living. The invidual is not informed that she is being filmed. If, by chance, the person notices that she is being filmed, César stops and informs her what he is doing. Permission is never asked, and thus, never granted.

This footage, each day being added to as another " performer " is captured on film, is projected within the framework of the festival. Projected not as a film that one sits down to watch attentively, but rather projected in the spaces outside of the regular program: either after or before the scheduled performances. The projections occupy a space where one feels a certain freedom to engage, or not, as in an extra, almost superfluous addition to the festival. My first instinct, to disregard the projections as being the one thing too much to watch, transforms itself as the festival continues. I want to watch these beautiful images, verging on the cinematic, that César has filmed. I experience frustration that I cannot lose myself in the experience of viewing. For here, any privileged view is non-existent; a body momentarily blocks my view of the image, a voice invades my space, my attention is distracted by movement. I do not become the voyeur lost in the object of my gaze, and yet, I become more and more engaged and more and more seduced.

Seduced by the performer who is unaware that her/his actions are being replayed, scrutinised, and devoured by mine and other eyes. The " performer " occupies the position of the unknowing object of my pleasure.

And although in our current ethics of viewing this position of being the unaware object of someone else’s look is associated with a loss of power and agency, César’s " filmmaking " allows an unfolding of the everyday movement to hold within itself a certain compelling power. The older woman buying groceries, the young girl trying to fix a bike, the middle-aged man conversing with friends. The camera seems to bestow upon the in-attended gestures that we perform a value. César’s camera gives and we sense both César’s skill and heart. The language of cinema is employed to frame the "nobody" as the "somebody". And yet we cannot collapse the power of César’s performance into an exercise of transposing the cinematic frame into the space of the everyday. For it is not movie-making — there is no budget, no make-up person, no lighting technician, no director. As César says, "this is real- it is live living."

And yet. The fact remains that these real live breathing people are unaware that they are first being filmed, and second being projected into a public space as César Saëz’s contribution to fa3. We and he are aware and this awareness alters our perception. Questions of privacy, appropriation, and authenticity cloud the image.

Do our commonplace gestures performed in the act of living already carry within then the potential of all that can, or ever will be, filmed, enlarged, projected and watched? Who owns the right to use our image? Legally, the ownership is granted to us, and yet we cannot see ourselves, we need the other to see us, to give us back to ourselves. The question of who owns our image throws us back into questions of self and other, for it is here, in this transaction of seeing and being seen, that we are at once separated and joined.

From near to nearer/Sylvie Cotton

I feel amazingly skinless. New-born. I am shocked by the intensity of sensations in the aftermath of the experience. I do not want to talk to anyone, or share with anyone what is still so fresh and imprinted in my body. I have been touched and I have touched. Two blinded strangers touching the body of the other.

Sylvie Cotton is unavailable for visualisation. There is no privileging of the spectral. She is inside a small dark room and the door is closed. We are invited to put on a pair of eye-goggles packed with cotton balls and enter this room alone. We are asked to be silent.

I put on the goggles and grope blindly for the door. The door is heavy and difficult to open and I become unsure of myself. I do not know what to do. Uncertain of my body, uncertain of what to expect in this unknown, unseen place. I have entered a different space and the codes are unknown to me. No-one guides me. I am alone.

Sylvie takes my hand in hers and leads me further into the small room. I remember my relief when I feel goggles covering Sylvie’s eyes (which I assumed are filled with cotton balls too). I am given a sense of protection and freedom through this imposed anonymity. Sylvie does not know who I am. And although I know who she is, I do not see her. I am startled by the intensity of the tactile relation: her hair, her skin, her breath. Our bodies explore each other, skin to cloth, skin to hair, skin to skin. Not all is smooth, nor without an awkward self-consciousness. When do I embrace and when do I let go of the embrace? When do I remove my body from this tactile pressure?

The physical closeness of the two bodies, the interdiction of speech, the enclosure within the small dark space, the non- seeing eyes: does this not recall the maternal uterine environment, the enveloping holding space? And yet, perhaps here, the differences as opposed to the similarities are sought. Two adults, both knowing, both independent of the other, choose to be sightless, to be speechless, to be in relation, the one to the other. One body welcomes, is the welcoming presence, for the other. And yet both are equal. There is no hierarchy. For although one is knowing, in terms of one has constructed the framework for the event to unfold itself, both bodies are equal co-authors of their experience.

The anonymous and the name - in the first instance, the anonymous, there is a boundless, a hazy dawn; in the second, the name, there is a membrane, a defining border. The name is a means of differentiation, a separation from the surrounding haze. A separation which brings value into play, in terms of how one " thing " relates to another, and as value comes into play social power exists. Value is a social construct. So here, for Sylvie, a requested anonymity, (we are not to speak, we are not to see) may be a strategy whereby social power is not only temporally side-stepped, but rendered irrelevant. The anonymous, the secret, - what is not known can not be regulated.

The experience is "out of bounds", given of itself for itself. There is no cultural prescription in place that says, " yes, this body may touch this body in this way in this place for this much time. " It is an enclosed haven devoted to encounter and gratification. A privatised space where the prohibitions of public space are transgressed. Transgressed yet not seen. The transgression takes place in its culturally allocated place, as though here, within the private realm, unseen, unexposed it is acceptable.

I imagine for Sylvie the experience was quite different - as each body is replaced by a succeeding body, a superimposition of touch upon touch until all sense of a bounded flesh is dissolved and the me and the we become one social body. A discourse that articulates both a heightened sense of boundaries; as through touch the contours of the body are given back, and a desire for complete dissolution; as bodies blur, spill into the other and rupture. So that at the moment where Sylvie contacts the contours of her own bounded flesh she also loses herself in a sea of ever approaching bodies that flow into her like the rise and fall of waves, each succeeding and losing itself into the other.

Art and life. In a way it seems ridiculous to even suggest that there is a divide between the two. And yet, historically, art has been investigated as a terrain of transcendence. Schaeffer, in following a trajectory from the xv111e century to our age clearly marks out this metaphysical investment. L’Art nous fait accéder à une "réalité" autre, en révélant du même coup la "fausseté" de la réalité quotidienne. And if the performance art from the late 60’s and 70’s was confronting this hierarchical distinction with the intent to nullify it, it seems that here, these artists have returned to this preoccupation. Returned differently. For now the interest lies not so much as breaking down the barriers, nor existing in the liminal space, but rather a belief in both at once. That art and la vie quotidienne are not contradictory terms. One can sweep and one can perform. And let us be clear in our articulation. For it is not daily life within the validating framework of art, nor art within the framework of life. Both remain free, neither being framed by the other. It is both life and art being held together, equal co-authors of one experience. The divide is straddled not because the space between demands, but rather as a body placement in which the joy resides in being equally grounded in both.

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