During the course of the PERFform 23 tour, we have had hours of discussions with our audiences after presenting the performances. Curiosity about performance art, questions about the subjects and their contexts, and intellectual exchanges on many ideas have stimulated all of us. The five artists participating this tour, Angie Richard, Garry Sanipass, Jerry Ropson, Mathieu Léger and Linda Rae Dornan, offered performances about language, loss, respect, patience, history, idiosyncrasy, beliefs, permanence/impermanence and much more using their bodies and voices, some props and strength of purpose. The ephemeral and the permanent offer performance images which will continue resting in our memories. These are some of their performances.
Un Cadeau, A Gift
Linda Rae Dornan opened the performances with a work based on gift giving. Unpacking a container of objects onto a table, she spread a navy velvet cloth and placed stones, shells and other found objects upon it. A pen with ink bottle, small brown envelopes and a stack of handmade bookmarks followed while she hummed quietly. She put ink in the nib pen then lifted an envelope and read out a short history of one of the objects. “Cela a été trouvé à Blomidon, N.-Écosse. Nous avions pris un bateau pour la journée pour explorer la plage et trouvé les améthyste.” (This amethyst was found at Blomidon NS. We had taken a boat over for the day to explore the beach and find amethyst.) She took a bookmark, placed it within the envelope then placed one of the found amethysts in the envelope. Turning it over, she wrote, “Un Cadeau.” Shaking a glass container full of alphabet dice onto the fabric, she then chose a letter, asked whose name began with it (example: an A). She kept choosing a letter until someone put their hand up. Then she walked over to the person and gave them a gift, saying, “un cadeau.” This was repeated until everyone in the audience was given a gift. At the end of the performance, Dornan told the audience that her brother had had a heart transplant in February and this performance work was her way of saying thank you for his life by sharing her much loved collections. In this time of upheaval—wars, economic downswings, shortages, a world wide pandemic—it remains necessary to remember what we have to be thankful for and to spread some joy connecting to others. 15 minutes
Photography by Annie France Noël / PERFform 23
Untitled, Sans Titre
An open book sits upright on a holder like a recipe book, a folded sky blue raincoat, four tangerines, a small green watering can and a brush with dust tray line up on the floor of the gallery. Angie Richard knelt in front of them. She began peeling the tangerines, placing the peel on the blue raincoat, spelling out a word with the peel. BLEU. Every now and then she consulted the book as if it was a recipe book. The sharp smell of tangerine oranges filled the gallery space. She pushed the raincoat along the floor, the letters turned towards the audience then carefully placed the BLEU on the floor and donned the blue raincoat. Returning to the watering can, Richard knelt again, picked up a peeled fruit and squeezed its juice into the can, repeated this with each fruit, then stood and drank the juice, in effect, watering herself. Her final act was to slowly sweep the peels into the dust tray, one letter at a time. A sensorial performance, smell and sight (taste for the artist only!), where the blue and orange colours visually popped.
Angie has said when she was a child, her cousin told her, “It’s like we are all oranges, but you are a blue orange. (C’est comme si nous sommes tous des oranges, mais toi tu es une orange bleu.)” It was supposed to be a negative comment, but she liked the idea of being different from everyone else. And so we experienced a personal, dreamlike, orange and blue event, the artist continuing to follow her own path. Richard has said that the objects were all of personal importance—the recipe for molasses candy from her late maternal grandmother placed inside the Sleeping Beauty book in Dutch, found in the Netherlands, for example which was a touchstone for her. Last year, she had participated in a week long workshop, Performance Art Studies, led by BBB Johannes Deimling in Nijmegen, Netherlands which she found very inspiring and gave her confidence to continue making performance art. 15 minutesPhotography by Annie France Noël / PERFform 23
Mathieu Léger faced the audience with objects laid out on the floor at his feet— a pencil, a package of birthday candles, matches and two drumsticks. He left to retrieve a large white ice block, then stood holding it before putting it down. He put a birthday candle into the snow and ice block, and picked up a match to put in his mouth, moving it around as if he is silently speaking for a minute.
He lit the candle. It glowed beautifully. Picking up drumming sticks he played a short riff before getting on his knees and began to push the ice with a pencil in his mouth, sliding it slowly across the smooth gallery floor. At times, it was difficult to control the melting ice with just the point of the pencil which had to be continuously re-inserted as the block melted. A trail of water was left behind the glowing white ice as Léger slowly pushed it towards the audience, on his knees, up to the door where he dropped the pencil, stood and stared back at the watery trail. He walked back to the beginning, picked up the drum sticks, and stood quietly for one minute, then played a short drum roll before walking to the ice and blowing out the candle. Each action was unforced, each quiet moment contemplative, offering the viewers time to see and enter his space.
Moments of stillness are found in Léger’s performances beginning with Léger standing quietly in front of his performance objects. His performances on this tour layered onto the previous one in an archeology of meaning. In Fredericton, this performance used a large chunk of snowy ice and became extremely strenuous in a sloped hallway where the ice slid around and the pencil couldn’t get a firm hold. It was difficult to guide and the potential for failure was increasingly obvious. Even then, he struggled to accomplish the impossible, without backup or hope of success, until the performance ended.
In Campbellton, he tied his right ear to a large rock with brown string (cut to his body length), the candle lit on the rock. Slowly Léger pulled the block across the gallery floor, crouching down, stretching uncomfortably, moving the rock. He had to listen—the ear literally tied into this relationship with stone and flame—and work slowly with every expectation of disaster. The string could have gone up in flames or could have fallen from his ear, the rock or ice might have been impossible to move. The physical discomfort of the action was evident to see. Towards the end of the performance he inflated a balloon with deep breaths, then let it exhale bit by bit until, with the last air, he extinguished the candle. As viewers, we also held our breath, waiting for the balloon to burst, though it didn’t.
Air, fire, markmaking, relationships were referenced, all suggesting a poetic space, the tension between failure, disaster and success, the air we breath (potentially dangerous in the pandemic), and physical and ecological connections. His pacing is a slow rhythm, encouraging a re-wiring of our often frenetic brains in space and time.
Photography by Annie France Noël / PERFform 23
Mathieu Léger, Untitled, PERFform 23, Fredericton. Video by LR Dornan
Resting on a long table from the waist up, is a large female figure made of white plaster and cardboard. She resembles the Venus of Willendorf with exaggerated bosoms and a round spiky head. Garry Sanipass laid out a grid on the floor before the female figure with long strips of paper printed with latin words referencing the legal system.
Wearing a judge’s black robe, with shirt and tie, he then took her apart, grabbing one piece at a time—her arm, a shoulder, her head etc, with impatience. When all the grid sections were full of body parts, he stood back and divested himself of the black robe and tie becoming a non-authoritarian figure, the second character in his performance. He fell to his knees and openly mourned the destruction of the female figure. He then proceeded to carefully reassemble her, his distress at the violence done to her evident in the concentration and solicitude shown to each part of her being. With each body part assembled, Sanipass used clay to heal her wounds, to hold her together. He called out Mother, Sister, Aunt and Grandmother, all my family, while lovingly repairing the woman. The Matriarch, the Indigenous woman, was symbolically destroyed by colonial laws, lost but now has been returned with love, cared for, respected as community and cultural healing continues. 15 minutes
Sitting cross-legged on a cushion with a large basket of paper letters on her right, Dornan gently laid out dozens of letters in front of her while humming. Before turning 45˚ to the right, she sifted a handful of black soil onto the floor beside the letters. She continued to lay out the correspondence, turning four times in a circle, alternating between leaving black earth and golden sand beside the letters, and humming continuously. Once returning to her first place, enclosed in a circle of years of family and friends’s thoughts and words, she draped a deep wine coloured shawl on her shoulders and with black soil in one hand and sand in the other, outstretched to show the audience first, she then slowly sifted them onto the floor, the words and herself, connecting all to this earth and this place while singing the chorus of “Wild Mountain Thyme.” (and we all come together, to pick wild mountain thyme, all around the bloomin' heather, will ye go, lassie, go?) Encircled by decades of connections between family and friends, some lost, it was a circle of history, remembrance, contact and love, a reminder of connection after the pandemic. 12 minutes
Photography by Annie France Noël / PERFform 23
ESCHATOLOGICAL PAIN (& SUFFERING) IN SEVEN UNEQUAL PARTS - AN INCOMPLETE RECORD OF THE END OF THE WORLD - A JOURNEY THROUGH 'THE UNHOLY VALLEY' (A HIGHLY SCRIPTED EXTEMPORARY ORATION)
Jerry Ropson’s spoken performance began with “I have seen the end & it is actually quite pretty.” This performance is a soliloquoy by Ropson from his collection of found comments collaged together; text from Chat GBT and AI describing the end of the world; misheard, mistyped conversations quoted incorrectly; and putting things together that don’t belong together into an ongoing text work. We watched as Ropson paced, gesticulated, talked or yelled into a microphone, sometimes sitting, his voice swooping and whispering, the recitation’s rhythm continuous like an orator flooding the audience with word images and ideas.
He offered printed sheets of the text for the audience to follow along. The text was organized as a Prologue, a Promise, a Homily, a Liturgy and an Ending with “he saids, she saids,” quotes and stories, references to writers and philosophers, a mish mash of human thoughts. The printout itself is a piece of performance writing which Ropson says he often reworks on the go.
The table held the microphone and stand, and various objects on the surface and in front of the table which changed from performance to performance—dried fruit, a glass flask, strip of wood, black book, black dowels, ceramics for example. Once, he whipped a dowel hard onto the table, startling the audience, creating an emphatic scary sound. Near the end, he trumpeted a boat horn, then asked two audience members to hold a leather strapping while each played a mini piano as he called the performance out. Random composition and cut-up technique in writing has roots in the Dadaists and Surrealists, further developed in Brion Gysin’s and William Burrough’s works of the 1950s and 1960s, in John Cage’s music and writings, and in Kathy Acker’s writing (examples). It can create freedom from the narrative format, and possibly access a deeper meaning for the listener with its associative collection. For Ropson, everything is an ongoing process, the performance text can be shuffled, the performance changing to connect with the audience in ways other art doesn’t. “I have seen the end” were the final shouted words. Then silence. 25 minutes
With a large bouquet of colourful flowers in a red bucket before him, Mathieu Léger took one flower at a time and inserted it within his sweater around his neck as a large collar, or, until his head became part of the bouquet, itself a flower. He paused between each action, hands folded in front of him as he stared at the flowers in the bucket. Finally, he pulled a balloon out of his pocket, inflated it and deflated it, blowing the air out and take it back in. He then took some of the smaller flowers off his “collar” and placed them into the balloon which was then, again, inflated. Holding the balloon neck in his mouth, he lifted the last thorny rose and burst the balloon. We were not sure if that would happen or not so it broke the established performance rhythm and ended the work. The artist’s breaths have their own constant cycles, shared in this ecology, released via the balloon as were the flower’s regenerative seeds. Cut flowers are impermanent, yet flowers are a constant on this earth, enduring in their reproductive cycle as a necessary element of every biome. By situating himself as part of the bouquet of cut flowers it seemed that Léger affirmed their shared ecology and reflected his own mortality.
In the midst of so many visual actions, sounds have teased us, cued us to meanings, adding to the whole. Sanipass’ whispered calls like the wind reminding us of our family and community connections, Léger’s dragging of ice block and rock across floors, breaths and drumsticks riffing, Dornan’s fountain pen scratching out words, and her humming and singing, Richard’s gentle peeling and squeezing juice from tangerines, and finally, the non-narrative chorus/rant/speech of Ropson with mini pianos playing, boat horn calling and his vocal range. Some sounds are language in and of themselves, understood without words—adding a layer of meaning within these performances.