Friday, September 18, 2009

Viva Viva!

So last night I THINK I maybe saw the best piece of art I will potentially see all year. Or at least, the best performance. But maybe art. But maybe performance….oh dear me. You see, the person responsible for the piece actually blew up my mind, so thinking has been a wee difficult since.

Picture it - Viva! Art Action’s second installation (installation being second time the festival’s been crafted together) and we’re all at Bain Saint Michel (5300 St Dominique) where the majority of the festival is going on. People are waiting for the first performance, from Belgium’s Gwendoline Robin, and I am thinking again about how much I dislike performance art in general.

Which is funny, because almost all of the papers I have ever written have been about performance, just by chance, and I find myself here at a performance festival, just by chance, and maybe I was on one of the selection committees, just by chance. But performance art is soooo annoying, and boring, and self-indulgent.

It also really isn’t. It also has this uber-potential, of the sort that Katamari has when it has gathered many objects, to reconfigure my sense of self or at least self-in-relation (which is likely what self is to a large degree) and make me stop breathing and change the ways in which or add to those that I spend time thinking of this and and and.

That said, a medium with such gobs of powerful responsibility and consideration is often one that suffers from too many people engaging with it, and engaging with it in shallow or less-than-thoughtful ways. I gotta say it, I think it’s true. And I think that, as an audience member, my role is one of active participant in a way that truly goes beyond what that mundane majority do when encountering art, which more-than-often includes myself. This requires a certain attentiveness that is at the best of times pretty draining and hard to find within oneself. Especially in my look-there-no-here-bam-bam-change-the-flickr-time-to-go-elsewhere culture.

But the stuff of the likes that Robin creates, executes, exhudes, helps surpass all of my issues of presence and of pretention or thinking-while-I-watch. She cuts through that dissonance like a knife, like the shards she broke off her rod of glass that she started her piece with. And let me say here and now that while I will describe her actions, that’s nothing in comparison to her actions themselves. Not one bit, not a whit, barely similar, almost opposite.

Imagine trying to describe a performance by your favourite musician. They played a bunch and they didn’t play a bunch. If you only use actions, you’re really not getting to the heart of the matter. Which you can’t really do, not just in words. Or else Gwendoline (I suppose) would have just written a little essay about her work and stayed in.

Basically, long and short, she came, she lit paper on fire, in her hands, and then a helmet, BOOM, on her head, after putting on coats and taping her neck (balaclava eyes staring out) and the coil on the helmet looking like a stove, spiralling round and round who would have thought that upon impact, the fuse wouldn’t just slowy weave its way to the centre of her skull no it didn’t there was nothing slow about it, she offered us no time to watch or ponder or panic she just

blew off her head.

And in doing so, she blew everyone’s head off as well. Trust me on this. I can attest, I have a mirror, what more can I say.

Gwendoline Robin knows about phrasing, and pace. The rhythm in her performance was of the kind that allows for momentum, breath, and a dissolving of outside concerns. One thing that makes much durational work seem overly this-or-that I think might be a lack of attention to phrasing. In this way, the body in performance, like the body in so much (music, physical comedy, dance) responds to space as much as it responds to mass.

There were 2 other performances that night, and you can read about some of it on the Viva! Blog, but to be honest, I needed to go home straight away after she had blown our collective minds. I would explain, but I doubt I need to. What else could you do? So much power, adrenaline and intention would have been enough in and of itself, but then I had to tend to my physical meltdown as well. Anything else would have been rash and impudent.

Of special note, Viva! has a 6:30 pm supper call every day during the fest, and last night it was beef stew (vegetarian options) and it looked seriously really good. Only $5, and a great way to hang out with folks/support the festival. Go go go! I will eat the stuff off your plate you don’t want.

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