Archive for February, 2009

relational, durational and community based performance artists

February 25, 2009


Victoria Stanton is a Montreal artist whose practice includes relational activities that engages the public at various events, in particular arts festivals. Her performance are executed in a non-formal manner, where her audience is not necessarily seated or positioned as a ‘spectator’, but where they are an integral part of the unfolding of the piece and its meaning. In her work she expands the notion of art to include conversations and interactions with people where we would not normally view them as her audience in small where he has created the fictitious ‘Bank of Victoria’ in 2001 ( in which she is the CEO offering consulting on money issues of a broad conceptual nature. She is also a critical writer and has published books. One performance that caught my attention is that prepares cake or cupcakes and roves through the site offering the treat to her audience. This work came to her in response to her own food intolerances and by serving her audience cake she is able to enjoy these desserts vicariously and explore nuances of eating and indulgences. As people feed each other and eat with their hands they become part of this playful and interactive art piece that has been performed at many events since 2001. She bakes specific cakes and wears special outfits that fit the occasion. I found myself drawn to this work particularly for various reasons. Firstly, I also love cake yet I too suffer from food intolerances. After finally accepting that fact in 2003, I started a cathartic, yet comical healing process occasionally take on an alter ego, Cosmic Cupcake and feed people cupcakes at various events in celebration and recognition of sweet indulgences, of which I cannot fully partake. It is said, that if you have a brilliant idea, it is only because someone thought of it first and is already doing it. How many people in this world love cake, cannot eat it, so they make it a personal mission to bake it, where a fancy dress and serve to others so that they can personally still enjoy it?

“Let them eat cake.”
Marie Antionnette,

Perhaps these wise words had been misinterpreted.

Paul Couillard was born 1961 in New Brunswick and became a performance artist in the 1980s after quitting his government civil servant job. He is a writer, multi-media and performance artist who also is an arts organizer and curator. His work explores the body and its sensations, cultural and social identity and notions of shared universal experience. He has played a seminal role in performance art, particularly in eastern Canada and co-founded the performance art organization FADO in 1993 where he acts as art director. In Toronto, 1999 he curated a twelve month long series of durational performance art works by artists from the UK, US and Canada called TIME, TIME,TIME. The works ranged from 12 hrs to several days as artists expressed themselves through endurance, community-building, public/ private boundaries, ritual and transformation over the year leading up to the new millennium. His own piece, Trace Elements, was a 24 hr performance involving ritual and installation including spice stained fabrics done on Dec 21, the final day of the festival, that fell on Winer Solstice that.

Couillard seems to be a man that is passionate about enabling the expanding notion of what performance and experimental art is. His artist practice includes not only making performance art, but also creating frameworks for artists and audiences to connect and share in the collective experience of being the multi-layered human.

Paula Jardine has been one of the most influential community artists working in western Canada. She was born near Edmonton in 1956 has worked in Toronto, Vancouver and the Island. She began the idea of Public Dreams in Edmonton before bringing it to Vancouver where she conceived of the ideas for the lantern festivals Illuminaries and the Parade of the Lost Souls, among other celebratory events. She was also the first Vancouver community centre resident artist in 1994 with the Trout lake Resortoration project. Her most recent ongoing community festival is the Night of all Souls, at Mountain View Cemetary in Vancouver. This festival reflects a great deal of research and compassion with regards to death, vigils and grieving.
The work of Paula has had a large impact on my own work both directly and indirectly and I hold a great deal of respect for her. In 1994 she came and spoke at Emily Carr when I was a very young art student and she made a great impression on me of the possibilities of community based art. When I returned to Canada after living abroad for a few years I volunteered for Public Dreams seeking her out, only to find she had left the organization and moved to the island. Since then I have had the pleasure of working with many profound artists who had Paula has an instrumental force in their lives. She is a mentor of mentors, and far more than just an artist, she is a magician who inspires and unites the community spirit through art, ritual and celebration.


Shadow Play performances

February 14, 2009

Our FVIM 322 Video Performance class received an assignment from our instructor, Margaret Dragu, to work in groups to produce a three minute Shadow Play to perform in class on January. Shadow play is one of the oldest forms of performance and the first ever ‘projected’ image as seen in the Indonesian puppetry of Asia and the shadow dances and ‘lanterna magica’ of Europe. We were able to use our bodies and any improvised puppets or props to make shadows using a slide projector as a light source. We created sound using voice, instruments or pre-recorded sound track. We were asked to perform the play twice, the second time we did it silently and the audience photo documented.

First Shadow Play
The first scene began with a wire coil creature crawling from the mouth of a sleeping giant. The coil strolled and danced his way through dreamy landscapes. Dissolves of colours, forms and patterns created the world that the character played in. He finally crawled back into the giant’s mouth before he awoke. The little wire guy moved with a great deal of character and responded well to the stimulus of the environment. At times we saw a lot of the puppeteer’s arms and in those moments it seemed she was watching more the puppet than the action on the screen.

Pig nose and the police

Pig nose and the police

We were the second group and therefore I will skip to the third play. It began began with the puppeteer mostly in the shadows with something in his hand that he was holding inside the light frame. It slowly unfolded and grew into the head of a pig. Another character with a police mask entered the light and expressed an air of authority before his head became two. The focused tempo of the transitions was aided with live percussion in the background. The play ended with the pig face retracting to nothing but a snout. I really enjoyed seeing the puppeteers’ faint shadows outside of the lit up square revealing their manipulative presence.



The fourth and final group worked with screen from a dead large flat screened TV. It felt very experimental in nature as the screen prop deviated from the common approach to shadow puppetry. The simple accompaniment of the mini keyboard gave a electronic overtone and set the mood of the piece. One character seemed trapped in the screen and shrunken in distortion while the other character had some sort of power to keep her there. The dynamic between the characters expressed an inter-play of power. The casting of light and image being refocused in the screen was quite intriguing. The performers expressed some disappointment that the original screen they had worked with behaved entirely differently and made rainbows. Sometimes we have to accept that when experimenting in art it is impossible to recapture a moment of play.

Performance as an Artform

February 11, 2009

Performance is one of the fundamental ways that humans express themselves and has been part of all cultures through out time.  The idea of performance art is a relatively new concept that gained status in the 60s and 70s, that separates itself from theatre, circus or music which considered to be performing arts . In terms of form and conceptual approach it grew from visual arts where the object embodies the art form. In performance art it is the actions of the individual or group in a particular time and space that constitute the art form.

I choose to look at three examples that I felt approached the idea of expression through performance very uniquely and had different target audiences.

Interior Scroll, 1975

Interior Scroll, 1975

Carolee Shneeman is considered one of the first performance artist who worked mainly out of New York in the 60s to the present, although most of her seminal work was done in the late 60s and 70s.  She emerged in a time in North America when feminism in contemporary culture exploded onto the scene and women began demanding the right to represent themselves and their bodies in art.  Women bodies have been a popular subject in art, however it was mainly from the perspective of the ‘male gaze’.  Carolee Shneeman responded to this by using her own body as the object, often naked, to express feminine power, desire and sexuality.  Her performance works included body painting, mud, ritual, projections among other things.  The addressed many of our denied aspects and transgressive natures through her work and paid particular attention to the role of the vagina and vulva as sources of erotic energy.  She researched non-European and Indo Eastern sources of knowledge including the serpent coiling as part of our sexual energy.  One of her most famous works, performed in 1975, is the “Interior Scroll” where she paints herself and then draws a folded scroll of paper from her vagina and reads from it, representing the yoni as a source of interior knowledge.  Her integration of body into art was profound at this time because presented the female body as own powerful entity, not necessarily needing the the male gaze.



Flavor Flav was born William Jonathan Drayton Jr. March 16, 1959. Although he is generally known for being a rapper there are some components to his personality, image and career that make him a one of a kind performance artist.  He gained fame in the 80’s and 90’s with the band ‘Public Enemy’ where he didn’t just rap, he invented what is now coined as the hype man.   He jumped around with a gold grill on his teeth, crazy hats and a clock around his neck, “cuz time is precious”.
Flav in '85, beginning of his 'time based art' career

Flav in '85, beginning of his 'time based art' career

20 years of wearing the Viking helmet-that's commitment

20 years of wearing the Viking helmet-that's commitment

His work has been seminal to the hip hop culture and image.  He was a clown and not afraid to be freaky and make a fool of himself and he received a lot of attention for it.  He was comic relief for the Public Enemy main man, Chuck D, who delivered hard-hitting, authoritative lyrics expressing the injustice of the system on black people. “Fight the Power” on the album “It takes a Nation of Millions to hold us Back” is the best known songs and was included in Spike Lee Joint soundtrack for “Do the Right Thing”. Public E was one of the first highly political hip hop/ rap bands to make it to the mainstream and reach the ears of millions.  Flav’s comic relief made the sting of Chuck Ds intense lyrics palatable to the N. American public.  When Chuck D was asked “Has the media stereotype of a black person progressed since the beginning of the century and the days of the minstrels?” his answer was “Nope, not much difference to me, only that nowadays minstrels are broadcasted worldwide.”

Flav dropped out of the public eye for a long time as he struggled with a crack addiction, which he has been clean from since 2004.  He recently got a comeback on a reality TV show where he televised an affair he had with Bridget Neilson.  He later went on to host his own reality show called the Flavor of Love where a household of young hopeful beauties vie for his love, often to the point of degradation.  He has been hugely criticized for this show as it is said to perpetuate racist and sexist stereotypes, particularly towards other blacks.  The controversy around his show has generated a lot of dialogue and seems to contradict his previous work with Public Enemy (or not).  He was ‘honored’ on the Comedy Network’s Roast’em tribute where some of the top rappers and comedian flambasted him on every possible disgrace they could come up with.  Even though he is known for degenerate behavior it was very clear that he is incredibly well loved and respected in the entertainment industry.

Biotic Baking Brigade


“The pie is the limit” with this very creative and secret activist group that became known in the early 2000’s for throwing pies in the faces of Neo-liberalist figure heads.  They are actually an international group of activists, originally based in San Francisco. They sought to bring attention to globalization, environmental and social issues by humiliating CEOs, politicians and media figures whose actions were deemed somehow neoliberalist, selfish and greedy.  The main pie thrower, Agent Apple wrote a pie throwing handbook that outlined how to hit a successful target.  In 2001, from April fools day to May Day, was declared ‘Operation Dessert Storm’ and no press conference was safe from these pie-throwing activists.  Some the most esteemed recipients of a pie in the face included Milton Friedman (famous economist), James D Wolfenson (World Bank President), Andy Warhol (artist) and the presidents and CEOs of Enron and Monsanto.  Needless to say some of these activists received some stiff jail sentences for their pie throwing and almost all remain anonymous.

Bill Gates a la creme

Bill Gates a la creme