Saturday 16 February 2019

Campbellton, Caraquet & Moncton

Luc Charette, Chenapan, bandit sournois
Linda Rae Dornan, HELLO
Linda Rae Dornan, Brooming
Mathieu Léger, with match performance
Monelle Doiron & Denis Lanteigne, Une histoire anodine, un couple ordinaire
Mathieu Léger

This was our second weekend, with three venues. Monelle Doiron & Denis Lanteigne joined us for two evenings and Luc Charette for the third venue, Moncton. New performances to see, new audiences! Linda began the evenings with a greeting performance—while shaking each audience member’s hand, she said hello in a different language to each person. With 35 translations of “hello” memorized, she opened up a discussion of cross-cultural acceptance, pushing back against language (and cultural) prejudices, and fear of “the other.”  Her second performance combined building the book cover structures with the candles lit within and brooming wooden letters throughout the room, eventually surrounding the book covers. Again, with the overhead lights extinguished, the book “homes” glowed with ghost knowledge, surrounded with waiting letters.

Mathieu had a new performance with cast bronze bells of varying sizes which he slowly revealed, one by one, ringing each before placing it on the floor. The variation in sound echoing in the space was beautiful. The mini alphabet letters were slowly poured beside the bells and one laid on top of the letters. Mathieu backed away to the wall, standing silently. Quiet sounds are an integral element in Mathieu’s performance oeuvre, requiring us to listen closely, to pay attention. Mathieu again performed the match stick piece but with variations sensitive to the space. One of the pleasures of performing regularly on this tour is the chance we have to shape performances as they develop from place to place. What might work in one venue needs to be rethought in the next.

Monelle Doiron comes from a contemporary dance background, and Denis Lanteigne is a visual artist and photographer. Their collective, Les drôles de Moineaux, began in 2015. Their work creates structured improvisations, uses simple and repetitive movements, and incorporates linear, circular, or static space. Une histoire anodine, un couple ordinaire, the movement piece they performed over two nights explored a couple’s relationship, from rejection to fragile collaboration. At one point, Monelle tried to drag Denis by his legs in Campbellton but the carpet made that impossible. Barefoot at another moment, Monelle shadowed the slow slow walk of Denis, creating a tension in us, the viewers, of stalking or blindly following whatever someone tells you to do. Sensitive and insightful, their silent performance mimicked daily actions, exposing some of the hidden processes in any relationship.

We have a question and answer period after the performances. Discussions blossom, people ask questions targeting the heart of the works, such as, where do you get your ideas? How do you develop them? What is performance art is a common question.

In Caraquet, Linda performed the HELLO performance again and the Brooming work by itself. HELLO is cross cultural, gentle, giving a gift across languages, and a pushing back against language prejudices.  Brooming as an action by itself can be read several ways, such as pushing language around, dusting up old disagreements, owning your own language, or carrying it. Someone suggested the collecting of lost, misplaced or jumbled words, as in dementia.

The dance piece by Monelle et Denis filled the larger space of the Galerie Bernard-Jean. Choreographed by Monelle, they walked and ran, passing each other, using the space while drawn together like magnets, not touching, then being swept apart in a history of a couple’s relationship. A body inhabits a very personal story, reacting to the presence of another body, letting it live its own truth and this is what we are seeing. (Titre: Une histoire anodine, un couple ordinaire)

Mathieu placed various objects on a low circular table, a hammer, a watch, a compass, a flat marble board, two garlic cloves and a brown paper bag. Every small action helped to build a story from stripping the garlic buds and blowing away the skins, to pouring the alphabet letters (inside the brown bag) on top of everything. He turned the table regularly, changing the story, the direction of the work as we expected to be. His personal iconography is there in front of us yet the “answers” we crave remain partially opaque, open to our own imaginations, parallel to his.

There are people who saw us perform last year and returned again. It is wonderful to see their faces in the audience and to engage in long conversations about the art form, and about their art practices and their community. New Brunswick is a large province geographically, it takes five hours to drive from Sackville to Edmundston. Without an easily accessed visual arts education and gallery system, artists struggle in small communities from lack of information and contact. PERFform 19 Biennale reaches out to include these communities.

One purpose of performance art has been to expand art beyond the often conservative conventions of traditional forms of visual art such as painting and sculpture. For his second evening of performance with PERFform, Luc Charette’s work was called Chenapan, bandit sournois. He drew on a large white wall board, repeatedly ran down the gallery space before throwing himself against that wall, wore a mask like a madman mocking himself afterwards and hung a clock on the opposite wall.  In describing his performance oeuvre, he has written, “I materialize innocuous gestures, often zany, in order to question the notions of work within the framework of a creative activity.” The title translates into “Rascal, a sly bandit.” In this work, Charette assumed a character via a mask (as in his first performance in Caraquet), adding a piquant reference to a bandit, an art bandit?, who runs from the graffiti wall before discarding the mask and once again throwing himself at the art. The artwork withstood all pounding.

A thought: with another evening of Linda Rae Dornan’s Brooming performance done with more wooden letters added, the amount of letters could be easily doubled, tripled or quadrupled in quantity for the next performance. The action of brooming can be seen as “work” associated with house cleaning and the performance as physical language—letters, words, language constantly changing, rearranging and being pushed along outside of ourselves. The sounds of the wooden letters being broomed on the floor had a speaking quality and one viewer commented that they reminded her of bones...
The opportunity to refine one’s performances over the length of this tour is unprecedented. Mathieu has done this with his match performance and reworked the bells performance as well. The recurring use of the alphabet letters (mini pasta) covering various objects in his different performances speak of meaningful associations/memories for him, ones necessary to share. There is a sense of thoughtful pacing in the works, letting the audience breathe in the visuals, to make their own associations. Luc prefers to create a new performance each time he appears. Linda does both.

After five performance evenings we are definitely in the groove, rethinking actions, developing new ones, feeling free to experiment and expand our practices. With the four artists joining us in different venues this year, the diversity of performance activities is healthy and thought provoking. To quote Yoko Ono, “I thought art was a verb, rather than a noun.” And yes! We are verbs for art—active, live, performative.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Fredericton and Bouctouche!

Luc Charette, Pour nourrir les oiseaux
Mathieu Léger

PERFform 19 has invited four NB artists to join us on our tour this winter. The plan is to grow performance art throughout New Brunswick, developing PERFform into a strong Biennale. The first weekend of PERFform 19 at Gallery Connexion in Fredericton, Gillian Dykeman joined us, and at Société culturelle Kent-Sud in Bouctouche, Luc Charette performed. Galerie Colline in Edmundston was postponed to February 20th due to weather conditions. Oui, c'est Nouveau-Brunswick en hiver!

“Gillian Dykeman’s artistic practice is preoccupied with identity, class, feminism, and utopia. Through performances and installations that tensely operate between parody and sincerity, the artist works to reveal and critique the absurd conventions that sustain a status quo premised on patriarchy, greed, and social insecurity. REVOLUTION REVOLUTION harnesses the amazing energies generated in a room of people focusing together on a demanding task. What is the energy of capitalism? What is the energy of revolution? How do we better engineer our energetic outputs to formulate new ways of radically reimagine what it is we’re doing with our lives? Our life-force? Our love?” This is a quote from Gillian’s website. As the audience joined her in a strenuous physical workout, her statements and questions came to life, framing our participation as a shared desire for change, our bodies striving towards it. 

Both Mathieu Léger and Linda Rae Dornan created new performances. Mathieu with a poetic work where he placed an unlit match in his mouth and then tried to light it on people’s hands and the wall. The possibility of fire, light, a conflagration between two people, and the desire for warmth was all there. In his next piece several audience members were given white flowers to hold. He then slowly put mini alphabet letters in each flower. The pacing of each of Mathieu’s works was thoughtful and thythmic, no rushing, offering the viewers time to contemplate, be in the moment and enjoy.

Linda experimented with two actions—one was stacking book covers into home-like structures and placing a mini LED candle, lit, within each. In her second work, she reviewed files of papers, reading each paper, then throwing or crumpling them on the floor. Meanwhile, a soundtrack of minimal music played, two piano notes translating binary code to text. When the soundtrack finished, she pulled out her iphone and texted someone. Will coding completely replace words on paper? The book cover structures suggested the memory of the words lost, always at home with us. Each work referenced language and knowledge, seen through the lense of technology versus books/paper.

There was space in these works for the viewer to bring their own thinking, to expand into often metaphorical images. The next evening, PERFform 19 performed in Bouctouche, joined by Luc Charette. Linda combined the imagery from the previous evening into one longer performance, beginning with the files discarded onto the floor before building the book cover enclosures. When the overhead lights were extinguished, the “books” glowed from within with ghost knowledge you could say. The need to experiment, to “get it right” inspired the rethinking of these works.

Luc, wearing a full head latex mask of an elderly man, created a character who shuffled out and made toast. The longest making of toast ever! While waiting for the bread to toast, the character moved his chair, the table, rearranged everything, hummed, sang and waited, sometimes with tapping feet. Each toasted slice was placed in a baggy and when he had four of them, he rhythmically stamped them flat before gifting each to an audience member. Each slice of bread had a happy face dug out of it. Through this narrative and time-based performance work, Luc offered sustenance and advice through the eyes of wisdom. Titled, Pour nourrir les oiseaux, it was a gentle laugh at himself, a snapshot of how time is slowly filled post-career (retirement), a sharing of food, and a generous offering to be happy (mimicking the big M’s iconic happy face), revealing layers of social meaning.

Mathieu adapted the match performance to the gallery space as one of his performances, again paying close attention to small sounds, gentle movements. In his last performance of the evening, he extended the soundmaking with startling shakes of a cardboard box and its contents. He laid his watch on the floor and a 13 inch long marble plank on top of it anchored with two garlic cloves. A bronze headed hammer came out. Our expectations rose, expecting to see the garlic smashed peut-être. The hammer was wielded in the centre of the marble, smashing it in half, revealing the watch. Mathieu then covered the watch with the mini alphabet letters (pasta). Every gesture was focussed and contained, pulling us in before defying our expectations.

These works remind me of a quote of RoseLee Goldberg, the performance art organiser and curator from New York City: “Artists are glad to do something they've never done before. You won't find that kind of total daredevil mentality in another field.”