Vancouver – Artspeak | esse arts + opinions

Vancouver – Artspeak

  • photo : Blaine Campbell, courtesy Artspeak, Vancouver

[en anglais]

Norma, Brawl
Andy Livingstone Field, Carrall and Keefer Streets, Vancouver, February 24, 2010

In Vancouver on the evening of February 24, 2010, Canada thumped Russia in Olympic hockey to advance to the semifinals, effectively putting them back into medal-winning contention after a lacklustre start to the games. Throngs of people spilled out into the streets, jovial and exuberant. Strangers high-fived each other, men broke out into the national anthem, people donned flags over their shoulders, and faces were painted with a red maple leaf. Above the din of the crowds, the sound of helicopters circled like duelling mosquitoes, a telling sign of the massive police presence in the city.

Moving through the crowds was exhilarating and frightening; at any moment, something could go awry. After all, the difference between parade and protest, street party and riot, is a thin social line. In the midst of the cacophony came another sound from a nearby sport field: seven individuals in matching black uniforms with loudspeakers called out alternating cheers and chants. Straddling known forms of exclamatory public expression, their presence was deliberately ambiguous. Were they fans, security, or protesters?

This event was Brawl, a new performance work by the Vancouver art collective Norma, whose members are Vanessa Kwan, Diana Lopez Soto, Josh Neelands, Christy Nyiri, Pietro Sammarco, Erica Stocking, and Kara Uzelman. Set in the early evening on a sporting green in the centre of the city — a stone’s throw from major Olympic venues — and lit by dramatic bright lights, collective members occupied the field, rubbing up against the hockey-going crowds in a way that could not have been more timely.

The event began with performers dispersed on the field as the lights slowly came up. Converging into the centre, they yelled: “We’re number 2. Who the fuck are you?” With each new chant, the group moved into different spatial configurations. Their script was drawn from diverse sources, including popular film and comedy (Abbott and Costello, 1938; The Warriors, 1979; Remember the Titans, 2000; Rocky Balboa, 2006) and historical Vancouver riots (Free Speech Riots, 1909-11; Anti-Asian Riots, 1907; Bloody Sunday Unemployment Riots, 1935-38; Canucks Riot, 1994). This mash-up was both ironic and poignant — perfectly appropriate to the deep ambivalence felt living at the centre of a global spectacle. The Beckettesque performance finished with the cautionary words, “This is now an unlawful assembly,” repeated until their voices grew hoarse.

Can there be a brawl with only seven people? A brawl means to quarrel or make a loud, confused noise. Norma’s performance would indeed constitute a brawl, their yelling mixing with the general “brawlity” of the city in the moment when public spectacle became the norm. Their actions, though perfectly familiar to that context, were rendered strange through juxtaposition, repetition, timing and choreography. In this way, Norma’s performances are most successful when they appear simultaneously normal and deeply awry.


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