Storytelling is a metaphorical expression that bridges language and cultural barriers. In her performanceêkâya-pâhkaci (don’t freeze up), Cheryl L’Hirondelle develops a lexicon using her body, linguistic rhythm, and evocative visual imagery to transmit intrinsic understandings of hospitality, narrative and sexuality.
The performance began with an offering of bread and tea as an invitation for the audience to join L’Hirondelle on the woven blankets in front of her temporary residence, a large white tent located in the Epcor Centre. As spectators gathered on the blankets, she began to engage viewers in conversation but because L’Hirondelle was speaking in Cree, a language in which very few Calgarians are fluent, she was greeted with a wavering ‘yes’ or an unsure nod. So she began to teach us Cree by pointing at the bread then saying the word in Cree. After that, she went around the circle gesturing towards the Cree syllabics that were neatly written on her hands, wrists, and upper thighs , using them as a means to investigate similar marks on the spectators bodies. When someone would show her their tattoo, L’Hirondelle would write the Cree word for the image on their body with a make-up crayon. Then she entered her tent and stitched the opening shut.
The tent lit up and the raucous but vaguely melodic sound of a car horn bellowed through the PA system. As the shadows showed L’Hirondelle removing her clothing, recorded voices of Cree Elder storytellers were heard over the horns. L’Hirondelle began to chant to the tempo of the story. The silhouette of her gyrating hips danced across the illuminated tent in perfect cadence to the rhythmic chanting that resonated through the black speakers. At moments, the shadow would sharpen, revealing a belt of jingling keys or long tubular shapes that emitted a haunting whir when spun through the air. She looped the sound with an effects pedal, layering the Cree chanting with various sounds derived from instruments and plastic toys. Far from cacophony, the harmonious congregation of sound filled the circular balcony near The One Yellow Rabbit Theatre box office, attracting Motel theatre patrons as well as spectators in passing.
As the elaborate sound collage developed into a solid rhythmic repetition,L’Hirondelle began to push coils of ribbon through several slits that were cut into the front of the tent at head level. Starting from the viewers right side, the dark colored ribbon slipped through the slits then flowed to the ground. After all the ribbon had unfurled L’Hirondelle’s voice belted out over the echoing chant in melodic undulation. The orange of her skin glowed against the surface as her palms pushed against the face of the tent, causing the surface to vibrate and pulse.
She opened the tent, unveiling a plethora of brightly colored plastic toys, wires, microphones, and other sound equipment. Dressed in a revealing nude colored leotard with protruding plastic red nipples and a little red leaf shape in the pubic area, L’Hirondelle poked her leg out of the tent and gave it a flirtatious twist. Microphone in hand, she engaged the audience with an interactive chant (“I say ‘Shagga’ you say ‘Nappi’”) followed with more flirtatious and sexually charged gestures towards members of the audience.
Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s practice and lifestyle incorporates the Cree worldview (nêhiyawin). As a musician and an artist, her way of life is nomadic. Having explored the tent motif with performance in the 90s, L’Hirondelle is revisiting it with further travels and an increased knowledge. “Performance has always been a means to articulate something that does not have a language,” said L’Hirondelle. Aesthetic and harmony became the elliptic metaphor that bridged the cultural and language barriers in new media story-telling.
Posted by Jasmine Valentina
Photo credit: Erica Brisson
On the last day of the festival (Friday, October 17, 2008) Mireille Perron’s art history class including myself, ventured down the hill from the Alberta College of Art + Design to the 809 Car Port in Sunnyside where artist/ environmental programmer Kelly Andres was stationed with The Urban Habitat Laboratory. The UHL is a self-sufficient, sustainable and mobile apparatus from which Andres collects sound specimens from trees and plants in urban environments.
Moving slowly through the neighborhood streets, Andres gathers audio samples with her laptop, powered by a solar panel on the back of the mobile laboratory unit. After the samples have been obtained, she constructs them into a map. “An artist’s job is to be critical of [their] space,” says Andres, who spends her days steadily observing a single location in plant time (which is much slower than people time). By practicing audio cartography Andres creates new and innovative ways for the audience to not only reconsider how urban space is constructed, but also causes them to re-evaluate their relationship with plants.
As she was explaining the process of collecting the noises and voices of the trees, we became increasingly curious to find out exactly what sort of noises a tree could make. Andres led us into the back ally behind 809 to find a tree but surprisingly, there were very few large enough so we settled on a dead tree stump protruding from the cracked black pavement of an apartment building parking lot. Andres gently placed the contact microphone on the side of the tree stump and carefully wrapped an elastic bandage around the stump to secure the microphone. She then passed around headphones so each one of us could take a listen.
While one woman described it as sounding “like [her] husband’s stomach,” I maintain that a dead tree stump sounds like organic static with a pulse. The static very well could have been blamed on microphone interference however it was difficult to decipher if the low pulsing sound beneath the static was coming from the tree or from Andre’s fingers that were firmly pressed against the contact mic.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this experiment was not just listening to the rest of the world through a deceased stump but the fact that such large group was gathered around the stump, fully willing to listen.
Photo credit: Noel Begin, 2008
Posted by: Jasmine Valentina
After flipping through the festival program, one of the performances that I was most anxious to see was Cindy Baker performing Cindy Baker.
As a child raised by fast paced digital simulacra, I have developed quite a keen taste for cartoons, camp and hyperbole. Having the opportunity to meet a real life cartoon, or rather, an amplified mascot version of a real stranger was similar to a comic book enthusiast/avid collector of super hero paraphernalia suddenly becoming Citizen Justice. When the festival began, so did my quest to find Cindy Baker.
Every day, I dressed in my super secret espionage ensemble (which happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to my everyday attire). Every morning as I left my apartment to embark upon my daily adventures, I approached my final destination in my super secret espionage walk that I like to call the panoptic strut (which involves walking and spinning in full circles simultaneously). It was imperative that I didn’t blink as I anticipated that at some point I would spot Cindy Baker out and about, performing ordinary Cindy Baker activities… whatever those may be.
Then finally it happened!
I was sitting on the floor in the EPCOR Center, deeply engaged in Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s êkâya-pâhkaci (don’t freeze up), when suddenly out of the corner of my non-blinking eye, there she was. In all of her disproportionately important grandeur, Cindy Baker made her appearance and then… she just stood there… as a spectator.
This merging of the spectacular with the anti-spectacular may seem anticlimactic after days of suspense and waiting. However, I will admit that I did not realize that I had been gawking at Cindy Baker in all her glory for a relatively long period of time until a flying insect decided to make a cave out of my mouth, snapping me back into reality. It was at this exact moment that the five year old child inside of me began to comprehend the problem with staring. I began to make connections to the suit representing the actual person inside the suit. While her felted eyeballs behind the oversized glasses were not looking into mine, her wide grinning mouth was pointing right at me. Could Cindy Baker see me staring at Cindy Baker through the black mesh of her open mouth? I finally blinked and refocused my gaze on L’Hirondelle’s ethereal tent in front of me. Perhaps this was the purpose and antithesis of Baker’s performance.
Performing the self, especially an exaggerated representation of the self, brings issues of body politics to the forefront. The active spectator isn’t asked to just critique a work of art but also to critique the body of the artist. While the mascot costume of the artist evokes jovial laughter and pointing at the absurd, it discreetly calls attention to the way some people interact with human beings whose bodies do not represent popular culture’s notion of a normal body.
Photo Credit: Erica Brisson, 2008
Posted by Jasmine Valentina
As a festival blogger for the fourth biennial Mountain Standard Time Performance Art Festival, I spent the last two weekends traveling the QE2 down to Lethbridge and Calgary, respectively. Living in a festival city where the peak of festivities has just finally come to a lull, I find myself in yet another festival, but one of an entirely different atmosphere.
Down in Lethbridge, where the new media reputation precedes its windy coulee corridors, the festival included in its programming the world premiere of local artist David Hoffos’ Scenes From a House Dream. Taking up both floors of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and maximizing a full three weeks of install after five years in the making, the exhibition drew out the close-knit arts community and plenty of visiting onlookers wanting a sneak peak before its national tour kicks off at the National Art Gallery of Canada.
Nothing seen during the day on a dead walk through the town would prepare for the night. While walking around looking for the elusive Trap\door artist-run centre, I eventually stumbled upon it in the basement of the Trianon Gallery, where emerging Canadian artist Andrew Taggart opened his latest exhibition. Taggart, who is currently completing a unique joint MFA in Norway with his wife (who as it turns out I knew from a stint during an arts festival in Edmonton), was surrounded by friends and family who drove down from Calgary. Although not part of M:ST programming, but just serendipitous timing, they shared similar minded audiences who would otherwise remain alien to one another.
The other two performances that night included Calgary-based Angela Silver, who punched the carbon-paper-lined entrance corridor with red Everlast boxing gloves customed with an electric typewriter set across its knuckles. The corporeal execution of imprinting text has been an ongoing investigation for Silver, especially in terms of text and its function in society and the evolution of tools used in the creation of text. Although the performance itself was quite nonplus, the marks left by the carbon paper created a hieroglyphic chart in the liminal space between the gallery and the street.
The other performance took place in the Parlour Window space, the front window display/gallery of Hoffos’ studio space that sits on top of an original opium den just a few blocks off the main street. Performed and arranged by Calgary-based Wednesday Lupypciw, whose family tree traces itself back to Lethbridge, she pays homage to her mother in the form of a living tableau as she plays out a teenage scenario filled with Ouija board spooks and mimed telephone conversations that echo back on a video loop.
I would next run into Lupypciw during the Adrian Stimson performance in Calgary and again at the Glenbow, where she was volunteering for the Movement Movement’s “Run the Glenbow Museum.” I also ran into Cindy Baker, Renato Vitic and others, as the festival rolled on over a course of two weeks and two cities. Artists and administrators turned volunteers and spectators, as expected, but the audience throughout both weekends grew beyond the same handful of consistent faces, with many new individuals trailing in and out for each event and performance regardless of the overall umbrella festival mentality.
Part of my personal burnout for festivals is the excuse it has to show weaker works alongside one or two headliners, simply spanning both time and space as encouraged by the recent increases to festival funding that privileges the idea of presenting culture rather than its creation. Each M:ST event, unique on its own and strong enough to draw a respectable audience—which may have been happenstance, with several other arts conferences on the go—nevertheless pulled audiences from across the board. The festival did not boast itself before the work or its artists, but emphasized each work in its own rightful merit and critical context that can and should proudly stand on its own and be discussed within a consciously programmed festive atmosphere.
*First published in Vue Weekly, October 16 – 22, 2008
Posted By Amy Fung
So as (less than half of) Canada voted, I walked the core, trailed by attentive audiences. I found myself fighting against the frustration of the grid system, attempting to walk a circle in the city but failing to find many possibilities to curve. Easy as it is to navigate, I definitely found myself missing the grace of arcing roads and bulbous pedestrian zones. Saying that, I thoroughly enjoyed the walks, each time finding a new richness to the sound environment here, each time learning a new way to reshape it with my kit. Yes my kit, that small backpack, trailing wires out of it wrapped around my chest, mobile phone in hand, black beanie on my head… I was pretty much modelling this seasons suicide bomber look. Wouldn’t normally have crossed my mind but it turned out that on election day my route took me through the conservative party conference hosting a certain Stephen Harper. Reaching the top of the steps into the Telus centre I found myself confronted by about 7 armed security guards (and judging by their size, possibly ex-ice hockey players). Luckily I managed to get past unscathed, save for a few stern stares and some nervous walkie-talkie action.
At this point I should also say thanks to Kari McQueen from EMMEDIA who ushered all the walks, herding participants with grace and avoiding blisters along the way.
Now I’ve never really thought of myself as a misanthrope, but I love to see empty cities. Those cinematic shots of deserted streets make me love both good ( 28 Days Later, The Last Man on Earth ) and barely passable (Vanilla Sky, I Am Legend) movies. Right now I feel like I’m living the dream and it’s not the best timing!
I’ve arrived in Calgary to perform ‘Sounds From Above the Ground’.. a work that asks how we deal with urban sound environment, how we place ourselves when the sounds we make are drowned out by the city noise… unfortunately I’ve arrived on a Sunday followed by Thanksgiving Monday, so there is a real absence of noise and it’s making it hard to rehearse the work. On a personal level I love it though, the lack of heavy traffic and busy restaurants make it possible to hear further than usual, and my ears are constantly alerted to things that I probably would have missed. I hear cans being thrown out from a half open garage door as someone searches through bins… Shopping carts trundle past on every street, weighed down with all those things that we threw away or abandoned… It’s like watching a melancholy recycling service.
I imagine tomorrow the streets will refill, and so today I’m heading out again to grab those last moments of hearing the often missed details.
Posted By: Duncan Speakman
As I walked over to the Grand Theatre from the hotel just after 5 o’clock on a Saturday early evening in downtown Calgary, I could not find one single coffee shop open. Less a gripe than it is an indicator of the street life in the city, the walk over echoed the advice from the desk clerk that shared, “Oh, that’s too far to walk. It could take half an hour. You should drive.” Walking is a void mentality in Calgary as it is in many other centres, but time and time again, I find that a city without pedestrians is simply not a city at all, but a spectre of activity with little heart or heed. And so to walk, especially in such a city, becomes a constant intervention.
A small troupe of individuals gathered before artists Renato Vitic and Kay Burns as the tour got underway. Looking like he fell out of the Looking Glass, Vitic and a traffic vested Burns led us around downtown Calgary–which was not so ironically deserted save for the participants of a Zombie Walk, where one of them shouted, “That’s great of you guys!” and in doing so confirmed the fact that ordinary walking is actually odder practice than pretending to be a walking zombie.
Walking in a procession, whether we were tied together (as we were at several points) or as individuals traversing the city grid, shocked stares from faces inside of cars and restaurants gawked at the spectacle of people actually walking along the city streets. Save for Vitic and Burns who were visibly different in attire, I believe it was the sheer number (which was maybe 20 – 30) that caused the perplexed faces that made me feel like an alien. With walkable streets, even Stephen Avenue where the street is shut down from traffic on the weekends, almost barely anyone walked with or against us through the core of Calgary. As discussions of walking unfolded over public spaces, enforced structures, and exercises in socializing the act of urban walking, what I feel was lost was the premise that walking in any urban centre is by its very nature a solitary act. It is hard to decipher in a deserted downtown that urban walking’s greatest pleasure is to lose one’s self in the anonymity of the city, and that strung together with a bunch of strangers, we are still very much alone in the guise as a spectacle. But highlights from the walk included:
– a run-in up in the plus 15’s with dance choreographer Melanie Kloetzel’s troupe of dancers that cleaned and alienated our interactions with liminal spaces
– Citizen Justice (aka Morgan Sea) sling shooting gummi bears at us from above Milestone’s restaurant
– And standing in the far side of the bowl in Millenial Park as Vitic and his spray painted gold bullhorn read aloud Cindy Baker’s essay/manifesto about the isolation of regional contemporary art practices to our diminishing group of shivering walkers, often drowned out by the rolling slide and heavy landing of a few skateboarders in the otherwise empty park.
Photo credit: Erica Brisson, 2008
As the alter ego of Saskatoon-based performance artist Adrian Stimson, Buffalo Boy has played up the postcolonial identity of Aboriginal culture by sending up an over the top sexual parody of Buffalo Bill (Cody)’s Wild West show.
Dressed from head to toe in a crude mixture of flamboyant Western wear from a silver sequined cowboy hat to heavy rouge, fishnet stockings and traditional hides, Buffalo Boy subverts his sexuality as the one desiring. The comparison to Kent Monkman’s Princess Eagle Testickle is inevitable in concept, but their respective executions are entirely different.
Meant as an end to the character of Buffalo Boy (2004 – 2008), The Battle of Little Big Horny begins with a Procession, with six pallbearers bringing in Buffalo Boy’s coffin. An Irish Wake follows with shared shots of Bushmills along with an abridged version of James Joyce’s “The Dead” printed on the back of the funeral programme. The clustering of cultures and aesthetics does not end or explain itself as Civil war songs, disco, world techno, and June Carter play out over a video montage of suspects who may have led to the death of Buffalo Bill. From a headmistress with nipple tassles to Belle Savage (collaborator Lori Blondeau) to other characters that Buffalo Boy speaks back to in an exchange of stage to screen, the performance as a whole lacked an affect for the death of Buffalo Boy. There was neither awe or sadness as Buffalo Boy played out his part and transgressed his prairie earth. The body moved in a stiffness that did not appear as either ironic or intentional. Whether indifference was actually intended, right up to the ceremonial hammering in the nail of the coffin, the piece can only be best described as a transitional work that was neither here nor there in the life and death of Buffalo Boy.
Photo credit: Erica Brisson, 2008
Posted by Amy Fung
The Movement Movement, aka Jenn Goodwin and Jessica Rose, in their power lycra onesies led a swarm of collaborators through four laps of the four floors in the Glenbow Museum.
Somewhere between a marathon with cheering supporters in tow and the act of herding sheep through the moraines, running the Glenbow over the course of 45 minutes situated itself as a live work of art amongst the walls and rooms of contemporary and historic objects on display.
As the swarm stretched itself out in the lobby, mostly dressed in full running gear, rules were established to follow the lead of the person in front as the route was carefully pre-planned with respect to the exhibitions. With first aid standing by, the group of close to 100, twisted and turned through the museum and ran up and down the flights of stairs with passersby often trapped against the walls waiting for the train of smiling joggers to roll by. The circular flow of the Glenbow lent itself to a vortex of sorts, as turning each corner you once again saw and heard the troop come stomping by in a consistent pace that was probably more akin to a brisk walk than a run.
Creating temporary public art works, or sculptural formations as they call it, Goodwin and Rose have led packs of public participants through the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Alternative Art Fair as exercises in social change. (A film will be made about the ROM run). Their impetus is not just a double entendre on “running” a major art institution, but public empowerment through socialization: mobilizing a collective of ordinary citizens to be both the subject and the concept–if even temporarily–of our cultural institutions.
The question they consistently pose is: if we can run a museum together what else can we run as a social body? The general public is discouraged from running in public spaces such as museums, or libraries, or other formal, but inherently social spaces meant for use by and for the public. As we are socialized to “behave” in public spaces, do these spaces still remain as public domains and what is to be public versus private? Although this was carefully planned and executed with the Glenbow’s full cooperation, The Movement Movement idea can certainly grow to intervene itself into various spaces that equally need the presence and participation of a conscious and active social body.
All photo credits: Noel Begin, 2008.
Amy Fung is the author of www.prairieartsters.com and although she did walk briskly through the Glenbow, it was only by happenstance.
David Hoffos is a wizard. After walking through the darkened corridors containing the completed Scenes from the House Dream (a series spanning five years of dreams and construction), after becoming implicit in the master illusionist’s reflective theatrics, I can only surmise that Hoffos is nothing short of a man in touch with a wholly other realm of being and consciousness.
In the perpetual night time of Hoffos’ world, in the recesses of dream time, abbreviated narratives unfold and repeat in estranged landscapes and familiar actions. A young man wheels his bicycle down a deserted suburban street, away from the distant fireworks that loom and dissipate over this sleepy hamlet of a town.
Framed within tiny enclosures, the narrative within the scene are the boy and the fireworks, which both are projected onto the elaborate 3D infinite diorama from monitors just behind the viewing audience. The projection of light, or arguably the carefully measured refraction of light, creates a ghostly holographic effect. Only the strangest and most confounding illusion is the containment of light within the double-sided mirrors within most of the dioramas. In the ship dock scene, where a handful of docks turn into an endless mirage, a single yacht appears floating in an endless lap of water, while a man (coming from another screen) appears restless on the deck of the vessel. The overall affect creates a terrible soothing rhythm of awe and speculation — a tumble down the rabbit hole of optical logic and finding yourself beyond the comfort of anything you know.
Revealing nothing by revealing all, there is one frame that lets you see the man behind the curtain, so to speak. The back of all the dioramas are revealed with each of their specific sound and light set ups. That in itself is already a stellar peek into the workings of the illusion, but down on the ground directly opposite of the space, there lies a subtle hologram cutout of a white cat. Resting on all fours with a slight turning of its head and swish of its tail, it can only be presumed that the cat is Hoffos’ own, a fixture behind all of illusions and a constant mate in the studio. Cutouts of a woman also appear throughout the show, often in corners, appearing as a life size shadow with sporadic movements that perpetually startle the passing viewer.
Turning the concept of a voyeur inside out, the highlight for me personally was the live feed at work in one of the last scenes. Peering into a decadent house, with a slightly ajar bedroom door that makes you crane your neck to see more (and what you find is a another door with a mysterious stair case leading elsewhere), you look through this highly decorative room only to see moving figures milling about outside its large French window. They are standing in a small group, huddled to see into something, and suddenly you recognize one of their jackets as something you recently saw within this very space. Is it one of the artist’s friends who wore the same jacket and came for the opening night? Only being there with a friend, who turned around to look, I could see her face behind the French window. I ask her to wave away from the scene, and she is suddenly waving at me through the window. In this Lynchian moment of time collapsing space, or space collapsing time, there is only a horror-fueled glee running through my veins in this darkness.
Revolving around the intimate dream-filled nooks of a house, a Bachelardian concept of the poetics of space, particularly of the house and home, this presentation is a feat of decentering both the viewer and the work of art until they are fully realized as one participatory interaction of being.
As a practicing artist for over 17 years and a graduate of the University of Lethbridge’s BFA program, Hoffos’ world premiere in his home town marks a significant moment in his career. Scenes from a House Dream will begin a national tour starting next fall at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa.
All images from David Hoffos Scenes From a House Dream, 2008
Amy Fung is the author of www.prairieartsters.com