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14. - 18. Septemer 2009 / Montreal, Canada
as part of the VIVA! art action festival
in cooperation with studio303

final presentation: at the Bain St. Michel, Montreal

Isabelle Kirouac [ca]
Thérèse Chabot [ca]
Francis Arsenault [ca]
Céline Boucher [ca]
Valerie Sabban [ca]
Victoria Stanton [ca]
Anne Bérubé [ca]
Sylvie Tourangeau [ca]
Sarah Wendt [ca]
Sophie Bensaid[ca]

Food Step

text and drawings by: Karen Spencer VIVA! blog

the performance began with a table setting and empty chairs. one by one the performers came and took up their place at the table. a family dynamic. one chair was conspicuously left empty.

i always wonder, in these kind of situations, if this is an invitation for one of “us” the audience members to join in. a space is made for someone to enter. luckily i didn’t jump up and join the group, because later on during the performance this space was filled by a performer. this is out of sequence but i just want to comment on this particular performers presence. this was sarah wendt (i hope, if this was not you sarah, let me know and we will change the name.) she came to the table and sat down and put her stuff on the table. i think it was a cloth that contained a bag that contained various drawing utensils and small objects. she began to draw. sarah could have been anywhere, so casual and natural was her presence. she was probably the performer who acknowledged the other performers the least. i can’t remember if she even looked at anyone at the table. however, this is not to say she was disrespectful or out of place at the table. rather she took the position of the “aside.”

i happen to be a sucker for the “asides” in performance. of any kind. the person who is at the back of the band and never really takes center stage …this is the person i love to watch. and i loved watching sarah. not only was i fascinated by her small drawings, i was fascinated by this ability to keep and contain her very own singularity within this group. i also noticed that her pieces of paper were a perfect fit for the bain. the papers matched the tiles on the floor. attention to the details of the space where you are performing. i like that.

the other performer who manifested her presence in an “unspectacular” way was sophie “bensaid. sophie did not leave her place at the table for the duration of the performance. the only performer who did not, with her body, engage with the space or the audience. sophie, rather, sat and poured liquid from a wine bottle into a cup and then lifted the cup to her lips and took this liquid into her mouth and then spit this liquid onto the floor. the sound of liquid hitting concrete let us, the audience know, that sophie had “done” something. her mouth also bore the trace, a dark blue stain, of her repetitive action. also, from my vantage point (sophie’s back was to me) there was one sharp quick moment. without leaving her position at the table, sophie took a water bottle and without looking behind her, poured water onto the foot of valerie sabban.

apart from this one action, from what i saw, sophie performed a position of relative stillness. it was more the blue liquid trickling down to the deep end of the pool, that marked her presence. you might think that this position of relative stillness is “less risky” to take than that of attempting to engage the audience. less to fail at. but, in reality, it is often the position that requires the most centering and strength. how to be present with your being without “acting” or “entertaining” or “doing” anything. it is a way of giving your presence without asking for affirmation in return.

to go back to the beginning, the performance began with the performers arriving at the table. the only male performer, francis arsenault, put his chair down, left the interior of the pool and went to stand at the far end of the pool facing the audience and began to vocalize vowels, like: eeeeeeeeeeeeee. i can’t remember precisely his vocalization, what i remember more is sylvie tourangeau holding glass bowls up to her ears and gently and slowly rotating her wrists, as if to alter, ever so slightly, the sounds that reached her ears. i also remember thinking how nothing betrays us more than our vocals…and i had the sensation that francis had not quite found the right vibration of the energy he wanted to access. however, francis did not give up, and he continued and at one moment it felt the connect between his intentions and the sound emanating from his interior. and the sound was amazing. a sound that certainly came from deep within and had the quality of being not quite human. or not quite the sound we expect to come from a human. the sound reverberated in the large cavity of the pool, and then francis was gone and once again my attention went down into the pool.

at this point i think sylvie left the table and began to interact with the audience, but my gaze was directed at thérèse chabot who slowly took off her gloves and put them on the table. i love how in performance we can become mesmerized with completely ordinary gestures.

and how bizarre actions can be enacted as if ordinary. like thérèse slowly rubbing some wet mixture over her face. this performer has an accentuated sense of presence as well as timing. it was thérèse who at a certain point decided it was time to break down the fourth wall, that wall that keeps the actions on stage separate from the audience so we can view the scene but not be a part of the scene. thérèse did this by approaching the people in the audience and offering them a flower. the smiles and sense of gratitude from the audience who received this gift and this opening into the scene of the performance attested to an ability to go back and forth between the “sacred” world of performance and the oh-so-real world of those of us who are watching.

the performer who most actively engaged with the space, was, without a doubt, isabelle kirouac. this performer became more and more physical with her body and the space as time went on. the group performance as a whole had a slow feel to it. movement was deliberate and slow. isabelle began her sequence in synch with this atmosphere, but at one point offered a much needed sense of contrast to this ritualized movement through an almost frantic back and forth “sock skating” with a nose snort at each turn. i remember being thankful for this intervention at this time, as the heaviness created through the slowing down of movement had became oppressive. isabelle also used her body as a bowling ball somersaulting down the length of the pool to crash into her formation of water bottles arranged like pins in a bowling ally. and then isabelle did a remarkable thing. she broke out of her “character,” came and slumped in her chair and took a swig of water. she had completed her performance and now, although still on “stage” was as much a member of the audience as we who sat at the edge of the pool were. right away this breaking down of spatial boundaries between those who were performing and who were not gave a sense of fresh air and allowed, in my mind anyways, the audience to re-gather our attention and be present for the performance to continue.

and the performance did continue. sylvie tourangeau slid raw eggs into the water outlet holes in the pool. i had the secret desire that slyvie would just sit there and continue this “slightly subversive” gesture for the rest of the performance (she didn’t, for one thing she would have had to have more eggs.) but this is a performer who definitely knows how to engage with the audience directly, using her expressive face to speak to us and draw us into her orb. however…i think, in this context, as an experienced and amazingly generous performer, sylvie put the group before her own ego needs. within this group dynamic i had the sense that sylvie exercised restraint in order to allow space to other, perhaps less forceful styles to find their place. it made me wonder, a bit, how within such a small world, the world of performance, those performers with a highly developed skill set can also find their peers who will challenge and encourage them to continue to develop. in a certain sense i feel sylvie tourangeau has taken a mentoring position (and she is an amazing mentor) at a slight risk to her own development. like now she has to wait for the rest of us to catch up before she can be in the position of the mentee (but this is a story for another day…back to the performance.)

valerie sabbin did a performance using white sliced bread and kraft cheese slices. the white sliced bread, held in cardboard boxes was lifted from the floor (the box had started on the table) and taken to the open space of the pool and arranged as a grid on the floor with cheese slices between. naturally valerie lay down on the “bed.” the beautiful image of a stilled body on the floor, the sleeping artist, was especially striking as valerie was dressed all in white and just happens to have long dark hair. but for me valerie’s moment was when she began to gather the bread into her, hugging and squashing the bread into a mound of “flesh.” the physical action required to squish the bread and bring it into a solid form gave the performance an authenticity of movement that, for me, worked.

the performances of necessity, the output of energy required to achieve a desired result, whether this be digging a hole or mopping the floor with your hair, bring together the body of the artist and the material worked upon in such a direct and honest manner. you can’t fake digging a hole. either you are doing it or you are not.

and this engagement with an action to create something also became the point of departure for anne bérubé’s performance. fruit carefully wrapped in sheets of brightly coloured tissue paper and then placed in specific locations on the floor. the thing about anne is…her presence as a person in the world, works for performance. we want to watch her. the first time i saw anne perform was in “les yeux rouges,” a 24 hour performance festival curated by sylvie cotton. anne read to us. i couldn’t even barely understand french at that time, and i think anne performed late in the festival, after we had all been up all night. but i watched anne. the way she moved as she was reading, the particular sparkle that emanates from her eyes (i am not fabricating this, you gotta check it out) automatically attracts your gaze. i remembered her. you will remember her. its like she doesn’t have to work at performance. it is a given of her being. she is watched.

céline boucher. she sat still. in her chair. after a while she took out a celery bunch. and then after another while, and with great care and deliberateness, she stuffed all of the stalks, one by one, into her mouth. a powerful image. this was a solo performance performed with great humility and quietness. it almost happened imperceptibly. like how marks of violence often don’t manifest themselves right away, they can show themselves insidiously, slowly, over time, but once there you wonder why you never noticed them appearing.

and finally victoria stanton. the quiet one who sat still for the whole performance until the very end when she took her place. she altered the scale of things, stood on the table. and with an extraordinary sense of presence, she left her private space and thundered into the public. this thundering was performed with her eyes focusing directly on us. she commanded, without saying a word, our absolute attention. and she held it. and she held it and i could feel the tension mounting and we knew we were in the presence of something electric. this, this join between some source and the audience and the performer is absolutely the most incredible thing in performance. how with your body in front of another body you can bridge this energy and hold this energy within you and between you and the audience. it does not happen often, but when it does, this is performance. and this victoria stanton gave us.