Wednesday, February 13, 2013

We Interrupt Our Programming Schedule for a Hammer Time Out

We performance artists are very dependent on archivists and writers to document the detritus of our work. This month I am very privileged to be able to hand some of that detritus over to a curator that I have great respect and regard for. He's going to write about my work for a book about performance artists in Canada. I thought I'd take the opportunity to post some of the documentation and my reflections here on the blog. I'll call these musings my Hammer Time Outs.

There are photos of my performance pieces scattered all over our home and on my computer. I am terrible at keeping track of the evidence that remains of my past work. I like to make work and then move on. One of the good things about blogging is that it has helped me to create a record of my process, and it is that process that remains most important to me, but I still do like to have some photographs, video, and text of the fixed points along the way.

When I look back at all those photos, I see them as mapping out a journey in the exploration of a female and feminist identity. I started making art in the hot days of identity politics and have continued to explore the nature of identity itself. When I was a teenager, I had a real identity crisis. I became overwhelmed at the choices I had ahead of me and the powerlessness to direct my own destiny. Much of my young performing identity was wrapped up in my life as a singer. Singing came naturally to me and I loved to perform. I have performed as a singer since I was seven years old. What was frustrating about the practice of singing was that it occurred in a very conventional, controlled environment. People told me how and what to sing. Furthermore, I was actually more of a visual person and my interest in the finer points of musical theory waned at a certain point. As a singer, I felt like someone else's puppet singing someone else's song. God, I HATE being told what to do that way! I wanted agency and I wanted to find my own voice, so I studied visual art and theater and I became a feminist performance artist.

I have used my vocal training as a singer and as a physical theater performer in my work all along, however it is more recently that I have a hankering to come back to a more thorough exploration of my singing voice. Now that I have over twenty years of creating performance under my belt, I feel I can come back to singing as a person with her own voice. And with the help of technology which can make sound more visual, I feel I can really get into it! Furthermore, I love to sing and use my voice. I miss singing intensely every day as I did from the ages of 7 to 20.

And so, as I come back to studying voice, I find my voice has changed and aged. I have some new notes at the bottom of my range and I've lost a few at the top, but it's nice to have some deeper, darker notes in the palette. I'm melancholy that my voice has changed and I can no longer memorize songs as easily as I used to. My brain has aged too, not to mention my eyes. (Time for reading glasses, ughh.) This weekend I took a workshop on yodeling and harmonic singing with Christian Zehnder and I discovered a whole new way of connecting to the voice and a new vocal palette. This was a very profound experience for me and suddenly I feel connected to my identity as a singer again.

Zehnder described the conventions of voice: you are either soprano, alto, tenor, bass; women sing above middle C, men sing below it. Then he said that that was confining the voice and he demonstrated his incredible range. Voice is more fluid than many people realize. It's the same with identity and gender. All my career, I've fought against the idea that a woman should be this or should be that. In a song I wrote for Reply Whore, my latest piece, I say "Gender is dynamic/so bend it bend it bend it." It's the same for identity. Identity flows, flowers, oozes out of us. It's natural to challenge the borders of your own identity while trying to contain and define it to remain sane! Women are not born, but performed. Thank you Simone de Beauvoir.

I look forward to exploring the voice (as I age) to see what possibilities for performance remain, and so my work in the Starling Cloud Choir is my way of sharing this experience with other people in a fun way. Singing and performing are natural expressions of the human spirit. Performing womanhood is exhilarating, frightening, challenging, infuriating... and I love it!

So these concrete pieces of evidence of the personas I have created and performed are points on a map in my exploration of identity. They are creations which say "This is what I am, but this is also what I am not." More on that later.

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