Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall Flowers at City Hall

Captain Vancouver looks over the community garden and gives out healthy eating tips.

Meanwhile, we are harvesting some zucchinis which will be raffled off at our school tonight.

Many plants have powdery mildew now, but the lupins don't seem bothered by it.

As I was pulling out the rotting tomato plants the chickadees kept flying to the sunflowers and plucking out seeds. Can you spot the chickadee in this photo?

These tall plants are mullein in the Aboriginal healing garden.

The amaranth is such a rich color.

A very soggy bumble bee is drying out in the sun in a cosmo.

Even the syrphid flies are a bit slow this morning.

The white garden is one of my favorite spots at city hall. Let's hope the sun sticks around and creates dry conditions for seed saving.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Good Morning Kurdistan: Poshya Kakl

Poshya Kakl - is one of the most progressive young women performance artists currently working in Kurdistan, Iraq. Kakl’s artwork deals with her living reality, and reflects systems of kinship, gender, religion, barriers and borders. Participating across borders and ignoring barriers, Kakl will be working with CHAOS from Iraq via the internet.
Broadcast via Skype (Source: Open Space website)

We had met Poshya via a Skype connection the day before, waving at her and welcoming her to the festival. The image was very blurry but we could tell she looked happy. I overheard Sinead saying that we may or may not be able to contact her at the time the performance was scheduled due to the unexpected power cuts she might experience. (O'Donnell is working to get a new computer for Kakl as hers is getting old and won't wok on a battery.) We were intrigued by the construction of a screen that would allow Sinead O'Donnell to project her skype connection with Poshya Kakl on the ceiling of the gallery. Red judo mats were places on the floor so the audience could lie down and look up at the ceiling. Threads of yarn hung down from the screen touching the floor.

Before the performance one of the curators read a letter the artist sent to the audience. In language that may have been translated by Babel Fish she explained that although we can touch the ground and the walls we cannot touch the gallery. Kakl would love to perform at the Chaos festival in the flesh but she is not allowed to leave her country. So we watch her from a distance in her bedroom in Kurdistan waiting for the audience with her face wrapped in yarn. Some of her family live in Vancouver and came to the gallery to see her perform. We all clapped to welcome them. (One of which was the toddler, the delicate little girl who had been so frightened by the plates crashing down in Sinead O' Donnell's performance.)

The image was extremely pixelated and painterly. There were technical difficulties that took a short while to sort out. As I waited I thought of myself as a younger woman in my small bedroom in a home in the middle of the prairies writing and sketching and creating the performances that would eventually unite me with a whole community of artists. I touched the yarn beside me that led to the ceiling and thought of the innocence of tin can telephones. The artist slowly unwrapped the yarn, revealing her young, pretty face which was still distorted beyond recognition by the veil of technology. It was morning in Kurdistan, so Kakl's day was just beginning as this performance marked the close of the evening's performances.

It struck me and my colleague Anakana Scholfield that in this situation the communication becomes a form of art in itself. It fits into the history of communications art, where as Heidi Grundmann points out, artists participating in Art's Birthday during the bombing of Baghdad: “The high-tech attack on Iraq demonstrated dramatically that telecommunications artists operate in the same space as the military to the artists participating in ART's BIRTHDAY 1991.” A recent documentary on CBC radio reminded me that there are still systems in the United States where people trigger bombs by remote control and then go home to hot dogs with their family. (If anyone can remember this reference, please let me know.) The artist who curated Kakl into this show, Sinead O'Donnell is fascinated with the idea of transgressing borders, which is by design a common theme in communications art. O' Donnell has a passion and a gift for linking disparate people in meaningful exchanges. In some cases she performs a proxy of Kakl, wearing a photographic portrait of Kakl over her face, creating a dopelganger of the performer in a performance site. Both artists are linked by their experiences of living in countries torn apart by civil war where crossing borders can be a life and death experience. Connecting Kakl's intimate private space to the public gallery creates a live event that left me hoping that some day I will meet the artist in the flesh and see her performing face to face.

A Mother You Can't Trust

Pauline Cummins has been making video and sound work since 1985. Her current interests are collaborative performance and process led video installation. She has shown internationally and her work is in the collection of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. She co-curated Locus Suspectus where the hidden comes to light’ and Terms & Conditions. Both exhibitions dealt with performance and video. (Source: Unbuilding website)

Pauline Cummins - Sound the Alarm, a 45-minute performance with sound and video elements. This performance deals with the question of power/powerlessness. It explores visually and aurally the feelings that attend the loss of innocence for the individual, and for a society. (Source: Open Space website)

Gertrude Stein famously said, “Considering how dangerous everthing is, nothing is very frightening.” Acts of violence and abuse against children are too upsetting to imagine. We read the headlines and watch fictionalized accounts of abuse but thinking too much about them would make us crazy. Part of transformative power of art is that is allows us to consider the terrible things humans do from a distance, thus preserving our sanity amidst chaos.

The persona of the performer, whom I call “Mother” was in parts Baba Yaga, the witch in the gingerbread house, and kali the goddess of creation and destruction. The artist cut gingerbread men out of slices of white (Wonder)bread and fried them in oil in two frying pans. At one point she handed out these crunchy greasy shapes to the audience. “You don't have to,” she says in a voice too calm, too reassuring. She managed to convey an ominous sense that she could have powdered the “little tings” with arsenic somewhere along the way. “It leaves a nasty tasty in your mouth,” she says. (Doesn't arsenic have a bitter taste?) “Mother” goes to her table and handles and considers some sharp instruments. Tools of creation and/or destruction.

Parts of the piece have an elegiac tone. At one point the artist unfurls a scroll of waxed paper and recites childrens' names. A woman comes up the stairs playing a somber composition on the trumpet. All the while we see a looping projection of found footage in which an ominous clergyman in black plays a little joke on the women posing shyly in front of the lens. He is sneaking up behind them and poking them in the sides with his fingers. The trickster avoids the gaze of the camera.

Near the end of the performance “Mother” pulls a bowl of water in between her legs as she sits on the floor against a wall. She pulls a wet pillowcase tightly over her head and wails. It is an image of torture. Since we have seen the images from Abu Ghraib, the pillowcase over the head will resonate as an image of torture of prisoners of war, but to associate this image with a child or mother is even more disturbing.

The trumpet player appears once more and her song begins to mimic and intertwine with “Mother's” wailing. A mother you can't trust. Pain begetting pain. Born astride a chamber of horrors.

Sandra Johnston Performs (with) INTENT

Sandra Johnston a visual artist living in Northern Ireland, has been making site-responsive actions and installations since 1994. Currently a Lecturer in Time-Based Art at the University of Ulster, Belfast, and previously (2002/2005) she held an Arts Humanities & Research Council Fellowship post, which involved researching the concept of “Trauma of Place”-exploring how artists can make creative interventions within spaces associated in public memory with violent events. This research was instigated in the post cease-fire political climate in Northern Ireland, and then extensively explored in many different international contexts. (Source: Bbeyond website)

Sandra Johnston - (with) INTENT - Johnston is currently developing a series of actions that reflect on questions of creative improvisation, paralleled with processes of judicial inquiry. In considering forms of evidence, a legal jury must consider “intent”- essentially an assessment of a person’s motives, or state of mind when committing to an action. During this performance a series of actions will be undertaken firstly as improvised and therefore unfamiliar acts, which are subsequently re-entered, the second time with a more developed sense of intent, or knowledge. (Source: Open Space website)

The innocence of improvisation, the responsibility of rehearsal.

Intent. Motive. The difference between first and second degree murder. The heat of the moment. The id. The ego. The libido. The superego. Conspiracy. Stalking. Road rage. Misogyny. Parole violation. Repeat Offender. Sectarian attack. Rape. First time. Juvenile offender.

The innocence of improvisation, the responsibility of a modus operandi.

Sandra Johnston's performance took place in an old Victorian courtroom in the Maritime museum. We were ushered into the room by the gallery director and instructed to sit anywhere in the room apart from the seats around the table of evidence. Most people opted to sit at the sides in the jury seating.

Did you plan the attack? Did you watch the victim? Did you make sketches, diaries? Did you share your goals and intentions? Were you looking for revenge? Did your anger and rage overflow? Were you out of control? Did you defend yourself? Did you fight for your life? Skin under fingernails.

Two tables were pushed together holding three heavy drinking glasses, a pile of folded grey shirts, a pen, and some sheets of paper. There were three glasses on the judge's desk. One held water and I couldn't see what was in the others although I was told later that one glass contained pig's blood.

Did you make sketches of the piece? Did you weigh the options? Did you make a mental map of your journey? Plan of attack.

The semiotics of the courtroom. The semiotics of performance creation.

The artist wore a black button down shirt and black jeans and bare feet. She stood by the table(s) of evidence and began to walk along the edges, wiping her finger along the surface. She collected dust on her fingers and then wiped them onto one of the sheets of paper, gathering the evidence. She cut her fingernails and collected the clippings on a sheet of paper.

Did anyone know what you were going to do? Did you intend to surprise your audience? Did you intend to surprise yourself? Have you done this performance before? Which images have you packed in your suitcase and brought from Northern Ireland? What is your performance DNA? What are your aesthetic prejudices?

The artist picked up two of the drinking glasses and slipped them onto her feet. She used her arms and upper body to move herself around the table and around the courtroom.

Gestures of supplication. Gestures of desperation. Lives in the balance.

The artist is silent. The gulls cry eerily overhead. The artist takes a drink of water from the judges table. She swallows some of the fingernail clippings. She put the fingernail clippings in her mouth and chewed on them. After reaching a point of exhaustion she slips her feet out of the glasses and walks over to the docket. She balances on the edge.

Swallowing the evidence. Biting her nails. She pushes her limits. She weighs her options. She is defining the performance in real time, but memories and intentions help to create its shape. Nature or nurture? Bad to the bone.

She unbuttons her black shirt and picked up one of the twelve grey shirts and buttons them all together one by one until she had a ring of shirts. She performs gestures with the shirts, looping them around on the end of the tables and dragging them to one side. She pulls the shirts off. She makes a ball of the shirts.

Twelve good (wo)men strong and true. Are you Catholic or Prozzie? Feminist or Mysogynist? Neutral or prejudicial? Forgiving or vengeful? Justice or Nemesis? Chemistry or Alchemy?

She takes several drinks of water. She fixes her gaze on the table of evidence. She weighs the evidence. She takes the glass of water and fixes the mouth of it to her chest, slipping it down her skin, through her bra down her belly through her panties down her leg over her foot and off. By now most of the water is leaked out but she drinks the rest. The bottoms of her feet are dusty. She pulls some of the fingernail clippings from her mouth and puts them in a glass of pig's blood.

She leaves the space.


Did we have a resolution? Do we need a resolution? A judgement. A decision. Did it all go according to plan? Will there be an appeal? Taxpayers money. Cut the arts. Cut the artist. Taxpayers money.

Conclusion: Everyone has the right to cross the street. Safely. Crossing guard, security guard, insecurity guard, Garda. Whose security is it anyway?

Was there a plan all along? Lack of divine intervention. Divine intentions. Human results.

Forgiveness. I forgive your humanity.

[These are my impressions of the performance and I apologize if I have misrepresented the piece in any way due to my memory and my version of how the events unfolded. LW]

Images that Cling

This is the sculptural remainder of Sinead O'Donnell's piece at Open Space. See the entry below for a description of her piece.

Scenes from a Collaboration: Mrs. O and Mrs. W are Two Big Mamas Riding High

A message from Ireland on how to make a proper cup of tea.

Some images from behind the scenes:

A teaspoon of the magic honey from Big Mamas' hive.

Prop table.

Warming up.

Rebar juices keep up our vitality.

The calm before the estrogen storm.

Anakana tries to get into the technician's pants.

Who can do a better cartwheel? Will it be the ninja technician or the milfy performance artist?

You call that a cartwheel?

Yay for Milfy!

Big Mama attempts to nap on the ferry, dreams of neurosurgery.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sinead O'Donnell at Open Space

Encountering a place's territoriality, frequently referencing Ireland, Sinead O'Donnell has been creating performance/installation/site/and time-based art since 1998. She chooses actions or situations that demonstrate complexity setting up confrontations between matter and memory, timing and spontaneity, site and space, intuition and methodology. Her work has been seen in Ireland, South America, Middle East and Eastern Europe. Support for her independent practice has been granted by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Socrates Erasmus, Arts & Humanities Research Council, and the British Council. (Source: Bbeyond Website)

We enter a white room in the gallery. The performer is dressed in a fitted black t-shirt and skinny black jeans with bare feet. This has become a sort of uniform for action artists who want to appear neutral and unadorned. She has black hair and a strong physique. She is embracing a stack of large white china plates. The technician is adding plates to the stack, a few at a time. The stack of plates grows until it reaches slightly above the performer's head. Suddenly one of the plates near the bottom of the stack bursts. The sound effect is like a gun shot.

A sound track plays a woman and a man saying the word “violent” over and over again. They are annoying mechanical-sounding voices. I resent the way the voices are directing me to read the piece. At her artist talk presented on Wednesday night we learned that some of O' Donnell's work deals with a history of domestic violence. There is no doubt we are seeing an image of a woman struggling with domestic violence. She regards the plates with a steady gaze. In having directed the assistant to add plates she has implicated herself in the creation of this situation. The plates stack well, and in some ways the porcelain column is quite stable, but we feel it could go off balance and tumble down at any moment the performer decides to let go of them. The stack of plates is the image of a spine, an adversary, a family member, a lover, an equal. The stack of plates is robust and fragile at the same time. The performer strokes the sides of the plates, always assessing the shifting gravity of the stack. At times her movement are tender and sensual, but always with the edge of her challenging gaze. It is almost as though she is thinking the words “I dare you.” She slowly rotates around the column. The sound track starts to distort in my brain and I start hearing other words: “prime one”, “mind one” and nonsense words that block out the original meaning.

I try to imagine what the performance would read like without the soundtrack. It would be a different piece I think because we would see the plates as less adversarial, and more fragile. The audience members react in unique ways. After several minutes a woman starts reading a paper, some people look away and others are riveted. I force myself to focus on the image. It is an enforced meditation. I start counting the plates. There are well over a hundred. I start looking at the positive and negative spaces in the image. As the performer rotates around the plates she starts to move closer in. The image become more intimate and my perception shifts the image of the column as an “other” separate person to being a symbolic dopelganger of the artist herself. I start to see the performance as an artist's inner conflict with a self-destructive side.

One of the references that comes to me as I'm watching the piece is the the video clip that Pauline Cummins showed of two women wresting with a window exploring the competitive relationships that females can have, particularly if they are trapped in a domestic living space with one another over a long period of time. I also though of Bergman's film Persona which contains an narrative of unease with a tense relationship between two women. In her pre-performance art years the artist secretly began photographing herself in her home, a site of trauma and domestic violence. She would take photos of herself inserting her body between spaces in the furniture in. In O'Donnell's current performance piece the woman seems trapped by her situation and we are watching her negotiate her survival strategies. She is strong and aware and she chooses her moment to let the plates fall. The crash is deafening. The spine is broken and inert. I snap photos of the corpse. The performer/survivor leaves the room.

It is challenging for a contemporary audience to stay with one image for a half an hour. We are used to the car chases and multiple cuts of today's television and movie narratives. We crave changes in the visuals, thousands of images bombarding our minds with sounds that caress our ears and convince us to buy laundry soap, luxury cars and hair dye. This kind of action performance is antithetical to that kind of media. It forces you to bring something to the piece, to meet it halfway, to give it your own challenging gaze. The viewer wrestles with the imagery. It is impossible to distance yourself from the action unless like the lady reading the paper you take a clear strategy to retreat and take your mind elsewhere. The performance could have lasted much longer. How long would the audience have stayed with it? How long would it take before the performer could not hold her position?

Letting go of the plates was a dramatic action of release. It was the climax we were waiting for. The sound of the crash cause a baby in the back room to begin wailing. We were relieved the performer did not step on the shards of the broken porcelain in her bare feet. We were relieved and released from the performer's embrace.

Chaos at Open Space

I have just performed a collaboration with Anakana Schofield called Big Mamas Riding High at Open Space in Victoria. Here's a description of the event from the gallery's website:

CHAOS brings an international group of artists together for a week of performance in Victoria. This is the second half of an exchange that saw a group of Canadian artists perform in Belfast with the support of the artist-run centre Bbeyond. These artists expose the absurdity and inflated expectations of the accelerated lifestyles we have come to accept as compulsory. Women, particularly European and North American women, who’ve been told that they can “have it all”, have become intimately familiar with the nature of chaos. The continual juggling of tasks and personas at work and at home has put women in a unique position to identify practical applications of chaos, not just as an intellectual construct. These women will explore the underlying structures and complexities of chaos by playing in it and with it.
CHAOS highlights the artists’ uncompromised perspective within a globalized context. The conditions of existence, both self-imposed and those beyond our control, stimulate a dialogue between the artists, their work and the audience here in Victoria.

Curated by SinĂ©ad O’Donnell, John G Boehme and Judith Price.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How Big is Your Zucchini?

It's been a pleasure to help look after the school garden this summer. Yesterday I decided it would be fun to measure the zucchinis so the students could keep track of the rate of growth. This one's about twenty one centimeters and the smaller one is thirteen. Wanna lay any bets for how long they'll be in ten days? I guess I should have measure the circumference as well.

One of our sunflowers fell over so I had to cut it up to put it in the compost. I had to bring out the big tools!

We've still got amaranth volunteering from last year. They seem to germinate every week.

The lemon cucumber plant is incredibly prolific.

The tomatoes are going to ripen soon and the basil is ready to be harvested and made into pesto.

These tomatoes are definitely indeterminant and I have begun topping them to contain the growth and trimming branches to give the plants some room and circulation.

We've got a bitter melon plant in here but it was slow to bloom and I haven't seen any fruit.

Here's what these "White Rabbit" tomatoes look like as they ripen. Just in time for school!