Durational art defines QCC’s Performatorium
by Gregory Beatty
Unlike their visual art colleagues such as painters, sculptors and photographers, who produce images and objects that are frozen in time, performance artists are kinetic in that they move through space and time. Sometimes the movement follows the conventions of theatre, with the audience sitting (or standing) as a group and watching as a narrative of sorts unfolds with a discernible beginning, middle and end.
There’s some of that work in Performatium 2014, Regina’s annual queer-oriented performance festival, says artistic director Gary Varro.
“The first night, I don’t want to say it’s more conventional,” he says. “But the relationship between performer and audience is more conventional and congregational. The audience will know what to do. They sit in one spot, looking forward at someone who’s doing something for 20 or 30 minutes.”
Varro describes the programming on the succeeding two days as being more durational — work that goes on for a while in front of an audience that comes and goes.
“For me, durational work typically requires the performer to be repeating something or doing something in a stationary state,” he says.
“It’s an unconventional form because with a lot of this work there’s no narrative. So you can come in and out of it as you like. People can view the work from different places. They can enter and exit as they wish. They can grab a drink and think on their own or talk with other people in a social space, then go back in.”
One piece by Australian Julie Vulcan called I Stand In is scheduled to last eight hours. Others stretch out over an entire evening. If the audience is up to it, durational work gives them an opportunity to experience an art work for an extended period — to observe it multiple times, reflect on what they’ve seen, and maybe compare thoughts with other viewers, then dive back in for more.
That led Varro to develop a loose theme for the festival tied to spirituality, transformation, ritual and transcendence.
“Some of it will be fairly trippy stuff for people, and I was interested in the idea of performance where it might not appear that there’s a lot going on,” he says. “But if you take the time to watch, listen, there’s a potential to be transformed or taken into a realm that’s outside reality.”
Another wrinkle at this year’s festival is that the durational artists will perform mostly in groups.
“It’s definitely a risk to be doing individual durational performances simultaneously,” says Varro. “All the artists are fine with it, for the most part. So we’ll see. As far as the audience goes, it seems like an interesting idea. I hope it works out how I see it in my head. And I’m excited to see how the audience will navigate the space.”
One final wrinkle at this year’s festival, says Varro, is that a lot of the work involves the body. “Performance is innately about the body anyway. The issue of nakedness comes up often.”
In the most dramatic example, the artist won’t be naked, but the 32 people who’ve volunteered to participate in the performance will be. That would be Vulcan’s I Stand In. On Jan. 17 at the U of R’s Fifth Parallel Gallery she’ll conduct ritual “corpse-washings” and create oil-imprinted shrouds meant to commemorate the many anonymous dead that we’re exposed to daily through mass media — be it through natural disasters, war, or horrific accidents.
When media report on these tragedies, there’s always a body count factor involved. By reenacting the ritual of how we treat the physical remains of people after they die, Vulcan inspires us to think more deeply about the root causes of many of those deaths such as poverty, militarism, environmental despoliation and ethnic and religious hatred.
Other artists are interested in exploring the intersection between humanity and technology.
“Arianna Ferrari often uses machines and technology to create soundscapes,” says Varro. “Here she’s doing a new performance where she hooks up an air compressor to her mouth and uses microphones so that the air flow into her body is amplified.”
Other works include Humboldt Magnussen’s Re Re Birthing in which the artist inhabits a cloth womb to reenact the act of being born; Sarah Hill’s I’m Fine where the transgendered artist will jump up and down in high heels for 30 minutes as a means of doing some serious venting; and Julie Tolentino’s Honey where she will accept through her mouth driblets of honey delivered by her male partner as a comment, in part, on consumer excess in our age of mass consumption.
The festival’s themes are all intended to be read broadly, says Varro, especially spirituality.
“It’s often connected to religion. If people go there, that’s fine. I grew up as a Christian, so I’m used to discussing spirituality versus organized religion.
“But I think they’re different things,” adds Varro.
“Spirituality can come out of people worshipping together in church, but not all Christians are spiritual.”
Performatorium 2014 venues include the University of Regina, Neutral Ground gallery, Artesian on 13th and the Artful Dodger. Visit www.queercitycinema.ca for more information.