Acts of Transfer

Carole Itter "Chicken Stories"
Carole Itter, Tribute to Chickens: Performance, 1975
Red Angel, Gathie Falk, 1977
Gathie Falk, Red Angel, 1977
Performance by Charlotte Hildebrand (1977)
Charlotte Hildebrand, Untitled Performance by Charlotte Hildebrand, 1977
Performance by Barbara Dilley and Arawana Hayashi (1977)
Barbara Dilley and Arawana Hayashi, Untitled Performance by Barbara Dilley and Arawana Hayashi, 1977
Still from "Modern Love" (1978)
Constance DeJong, Modern Love, 1978
Demo Model (1978)
Elizabeth Chitty , Demo Model, 1978
Fern Friedman, Deborah Slater, Terri Hanlon (1978)
The EVA Sisters, What House?, 1978
Meeting Points (1978)
Sanja Ivekovic, Meeting Points, 1978
Still from "Oh Yes, Oh No" (1979)
Jane Ellison and Eric Metcalfe, Oh Yes, Oh No, 1979
Still from "Aboutabout" (1979)
Jane Ellison, Helen Clarke, Peter Bingham, Aboutabout, 1979
Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione (1979)
Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione, Futurist Sound, 1979
Peter Ryan, 1979
Jane Ellison, Michael Brodie, Peter Ryan, MOVEMENTARTS, 1979
Jill Kroesen, "Excuse Me I Feel Like Multiplying", 1980
Jill Kroesen, The Original Lou and Walter Story and Excuse Me, I Feel Like Multiplying, 1980
Lily Eng, Honey Novick, "Missing Associates", 1980
Lily Eng, Missing Associates, 1980
Still from The Bridge (1981)
Paula Ross, The Bridge, 1981
Marie Chouinard, "Marie Chien Noir", 1982
Marie Chouinard , Marie Chien Noir, 1982
Still from "Plato's Chair" (1983)
Rose English, Plato’s Chair, 1983
So Much I Want to Say (1983)
Mona Hatoum, So Much I Want to Say, 1983
Mona Hatoum, "Bars, Barbs, and Borders - The Negotiating Table", 1983
Mona Hatoum, The Negotiating Table, 1983
Jerri Allyn (1984)
Jerri Allyn, Love Novellas, 1984
Variations on Discord and Divisions (1984)
Mona Hatoum, Variations on Discord and Divisions, 1984
Joolz Denby (1985)
Joolz, Joolz Live in Gangland, 1985
Margaret Dragu (1986)
Margaret Dragu, X’s and O’s for Canadian Pavilion, 1986
Repression, the Sleeping Maiden (1987)
Judy Radul and Andrew Wilson, Repression, the Sleeping Maiden, 1987
Anna Banana and Ron Brunette (1987)
Anna Banana and Ron Brunette, World Series, 1987
Inside / Out (1988)
Cathy Quinn, Inside / Out, 1988
The Body of Knowledge (1988)
Judy Radul, The Body of Knowledge, 1988
Jill Rosenberg (1989)
Jill Rosenberg, Bald, Doubleditch, Poking Grey Matter, 1989
Tari Ito (1990)
Tari Ito, The Memory of the Epidermis, 1990
Melt (1991)
Judy Radul and Andrew Wilson, Melt, 1991
Swan Song (1991)
Nancy Barton, Swan Song, 1991
Paulette Phillips (1991)
Paulette Phillips, Fear of Lying, 1991
Yvonne Parent (1991)
Yvonne Parent, Interviews with Yvonne Parent, 1991
In bocca al lupo (In the Mouth of the Wolf) (1992)
Rita Mckeough, In bocca al lupo (In the Mouth of the Wolf), 1992
DB Boyko (1992)
DB Boyko , Amphibious Tales, 1992
Tanya Mars (1993)
Tanya Mars, Mz. Frankenstein, 1993
Deborah Dunn (1994)
Deborah Dunn , Pandora’s Books, 1994
Sa (1994)
Dana Claxton, Sa, 1994
Kazue Mizushima (1995)
Kazue Mizushima, Eve of the Future, 1994
when I turned three I had two younger sisters, now I am 39 (1994)
Jill Fraser, when I turned three I had two younger sisters, now I am 39, 1994
Lori Weidenhammer (1995)
Lori Weidenhammer, Goodnight, Aubergine, 1995
Centre of the Universe (1995)
Joanne Bristol and Carla Marie Powers, Centre of the Universe, 1995
Laetitia Sonami (1996)
Laetitia Sonami, Untitled Performance, 1996
Untitled Performance (1996)
Cathy Sisler, Untitled Performance, 1996
Yu Gu (1997)
Yu Gu and Gu Xiong , A Girl From China, 1997
An Incompleat History of Voice (1997)
Carol Sawyer, An Incompleat History of the Voice, 1997
Stuff (1998)
Nao Bustamante and Coco Fusco, Stuff, 1998
Tales for a New World (1998)
Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan, Tales for a New World, The Short Tale of Little Lizzie Borden, The Headless Woman, 1998
The Headless Woman (1998)
Shawna Dempsey, Lorri Millan, The Headless Woman, 1998
Lori Blondeau (1998)
Lori Blondeau, COSMOSQUAW, 1998
Alison Knowles (1999)
Alison Knowles, Untitled Performance (Newspaper Music, Shoes of Your Choice, Bean Snow, Celebration Red, Onion Skin Song), 1999
Manon Labrecque (2000)
Manon Labrecque , Untitled Performance, 2000
Still from Liminal Acts (2002)
Sharon Alward, Liminal Acts (Contemporary Ritual Series), 2002
Linda Montano, Lana O’Keefe, Jean Smith (2004)
Linda Montano, Jean Smith, Lana O'Keefe, Absent/Presence, 2003
Linda Montano (2003)
Linda Montano, Respecting the Endocrine System, 2003
Rebecca Belmore (2003)
Rebecca Belmore, A Simple Truth, 2003
Cindy Baker (2004)
Cindy Baker, The Gallery Director, 2004
Lori Blondeau and Adrian Stimson (2006)
Lori Blondeau and Adrian Stimson, Putting the WILD back into the west: starring Belle Sauvage & Buffalo Boy), 2006

Carole Itter, Tribute to Chickens: Performance, 1975

A Tribute to Chickens: Performance (1975)
Duration: 59 min 36 sec
Format: ½” Open Reel

ACT III: Readings + Monologues

Chickens, eggs, and nests are an ongoing theme for Carole Itter, who began exploring them through collage, sculpture, writing, costume and performance after renting a cabin on a chicken farm in Robert’s Creek, BC in the early 1970s.[1] Itter’s Tribute to Chickens: Performance took place in 1975 in Western Front’s Grande Luxe Hall. In it, an array of activities and props create a lively installation: a child-size soft chicken sculpture rests on a nest, scrambled eggs are served to the audience, an artist lies on the ground inside Itter’s Raw Egg costume, and Itter’s mixed media Chicken Box assemblage sculptures are mounted on the walls, one resting against a table leg. The room is full of enthusiastic children and their parents. Itter enters the stage wearing a homemade chicken costume performing wiggling, feather-ruffling, claw-scratching, and beak-pecking movements. She then begins to read a series of “chicken stories” about stealing eggs, written from the perspective of the chicken. Of the many other concurrent activities taking place in the hall, parents play egg toss, children climb on the stuffed chicken sculpture, the Raw Egg slowly slides along the floor, and an egg-shaped sign is made and installed on a wall reading: “Two Dozen Eggs.” In the second reading, Itter is no longer dressed as a chicken. She sits down at a desk and reads a text about the growth of her daughter and her experience as a mother. Despite the many children in the hall, the content and language of the readings are better suited to an adult audience.

Carole Itter is a revered artist, writer, teacher, filmmaker, sewer, and performer from Vancouver. She studied for a year at the University of British Columbia before enrolling at the Vancouver School of Art in the 1960s where she studied with friend and mentor Roy Kiyooka.[2] Itter’s multidisciplinary approach to art-making carries social or political weight with sensitivity and care. Collaboration has also been an important part of Itter’s practice, especially with her late partner—the jazz musician, writer, and artist Al Neil. Up until 2017, Itter and Neil occupied the Blue Cabin, the last remaining shack from a squatters’ community that existed along the North Shore of the Burrard Inlet in Vancouver.[3] The Blue Cabin is now being converted into a floating artist residency in consultation with Itter.[4] In 2017, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Visual Arts.

1 – Itter, Carole. “Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties Interview / Carole Itter with Lorna Brown.” Interview by Lorna Brown. Vancouver Art in the Sixties: Ruins In Process. 2009. Accessed April 2018. http://vancouverartinthesixties.com/interviews/carol-itter.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Smith, Janet. “The Blue Cabin Receives Funding to Help Turn It into a Floating Artist Residency.” The Georgia Straight, January 26, 2017. Accessed April 2018. https://www.straight.com/arts/861031/blue-cabin-receives-funding-help-turn-it-floating-artist-residency.
4 – “The Blue Cabin.” Grunt Gallery. April 25, 2017. Accessed April 2018. http://grunt.ca/the-blue-cabin/

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Gathie Falk, Red Angel, 1977

Gathie Falk - "Red Angel" (1977)

Duration: 11 min 28 sec
Format: ½” Open Reel

Original Archive Entry:

A musical discourse in Rondo form between a woman, 5 parrots, and a washing machine. This was a re-production of one of Falk’s famous performances done at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1972 but never recorded.

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Charlotte Hildebrand, Untitled Performance by Charlotte Hildebrand, 1977

Charlotte Hildebrand - [Performance by Charlotte Hildebrand] (1977)
[Performance by Charlotte Hildebrand] (1977)

Duration: 55 min 16 sec
Format: ½” Open Reel (black and white)

Original Archive Entry:

Work is a dance performed during Hildebrand’s artist residency at Western Front.

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Barbara Dilley and Arawana Hayashi, Untitled Performance by Barbara Dilley and Arawana Hayashi, 1977

[Performance by Barbara Dilley and Arawana Hayashi] (1977)

Duration: 34 min 14 sec
Format: ½” Open Reel (black and white)

Original Archive Entry:

Performance by Barbara Dilley and Arawana Hayashi

Workshop. Performance at Scottish Auditorium. New dance works from Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

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Constance DeJong, Modern Love, 1978

Constance DeJong - "Modern Love" (1978)

Duration: 36 min 19 sec
Format: ½” Open Reel

ACT III: Readings + Monologues

Modern Love is a reading by Constance DeJong of her novel by the same name. The publication Modern Love (1977) compiled writing from 1975-1977 and began as a four-part series of self-published chapbooks that were designed, printed, and delivered by DeJong herself.[1] Modern Love was published by Standard Editions, a press co-founded by DeJong and Dorothea Tanning after the two met in Paris through Tanning’s niece.[2] Artist Jill Kroesen assisted with the text layout for printing and the first reading of the novel took place at The Kitchen in New York on a double bill with Kathy Acker.[3]

This performance at Western Front took place the year following the book’s publication. The set in the Grand Luxe Hall is minimal: a stool lit under a white spotlight. DeJong reads excerpts from the book in a slow captivating drawl, occasionally retreating to the shadows. Eventually she walks over to the piano at the edge of the illuminated stage, and while the piano is never played, it is used as a site for DeJong to sit down and rest her script, taking repose from the spotlight.

In DeJong’s text, narratives, characters, and events seamlessly slip in and out of sequence, rendering time fluid and non-linear. The stories are recounted by alternating characters and from various points of view, including those of an unnamed female narrator, a man named Rodrigo Cortes, and two women named Charlotte and Fifi Corday. A pre-recorded audio clip of a documentary narrator (David Warrilow from Mabou Mines Theatre) retells the story of an old mansion built by the ocean in Oregon.[4] The reading is inter-spliced with music clips by The Chanels, Bob Dylan, and a commissioned work by Philip Glass titled “Modern Love Waltz.”[5] The musical addition adds a nostalgic and forlorn tone to the reading, while the filming style, documented by Kate Craig, mimics the undulating rhythms and rests of the performance.

The strong emphasis on stream of consciousness, the unabashedly personal, and the use of projection as a narrative device is frequently used by DeJong, just as it is by her contemporaries, Kathy Acker and Chris Kraus. Over the years, DeJong has made many variations of Modern Love, including a radio play.[6] DeJong is an active artist, writer, and performer based in New York where she continues to make and exhibit work. In March 2017, Modern Love (1977) was re-issued by Ugly Duckling Press and Primary Information.

1 – DeJong, Constance. “A History of Modern Love (as Told by Constance DeJong).” Ugly Duckling Press. March 29, 2017. Accessed April 2018.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Ibid.
5 – Ibid.
6 – Ibid.

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Elizabeth Chitty , Demo Model, 1978

Elizabeth Chitty - "Demo Model" (1978)

Duration: 21 min 26 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

ACT II: Movement Arts

“…Demo Model is…a demonstration of varieties of communication (an inventory of codes, semiotic analysis), with and through diverse technological devices as well as the performer’s body being both transmitter and receiver; its fragmented ‘narrative’ carried by these various codes.”

– Philip Monk, Is Toronto Burning? 1977 | 1978 | 1979 Three Years in the Making (and Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Scene, Art Gallery of York University, 2014.

Elizabeth Chitty is a Canadian interdisciplinary artist born in St. Catharines ON in 1953 to parents who came to this territory from England in 1951. The territory on which she resides has been the traditional hunting ground of many nations, most recently Chonnonton, Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabeg peoples. Her father worked in the foundry at General Motors and at home worked with wood; her mother taught vocal music and speech arts at home. After graduating with an Honours B.A. in Fine Art, Modern Dance Major from York University in 1975, Chitty spent her early career in Toronto and Vancouver where she was associated with 15 Dance Lab, A Space and Western Front among other artist-run centres. She returned to the Niagara area in 1988 where she has lived since.

Chitty’s artistic practice is interdisciplinary, both in terms of relationships among art media and with other disciplines. It is her intent that her works offer multiple points of entry for public engagement with contemporary art and social discourse. She asks: What does it mean to be in a body, in this place, at this time, with others?

In parallel with her work as an artist, she has played many roles in the arts including serving as Executive Director of national, provincial and local arts service organizations and in a key role developing the first municipal cultural policy for the City of St. Catharines. Chitty taught Creative Process at School of the Toronto Dance Theater for 16 years, practising a pedagogy built on her training as a mediator and facilitator. Her social justice work includes consensus-building (see echittyconsultant.ca). She also worked as a labourer in the horticultural industry as necessary and raised a daughter.

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The EVA Sisters, What House?, 1978

Fern Friedman, Deborah Slater, Terri Hanlon (The Eva Sisters) - "What House?" (1978)

Duration: 38 min 48 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP (black and white)

ACT II: Movement Arts

What House? is a theatrical dance work that follows three working female waitresses played by performers and dancers Fern Friedman, Deborah Slater, and Terri Hanlon, a.k.a. the EVA Sisters. What House? is comprised of multiple short segments that dramatize the labours of the hospitality and service industry. The piece integrates various props (a tea trolley, dishware, menus, serviettes), movements (setting up, preparing, folding, serving), and social interactions (gossiping, ordering, day-dreaming, complaining) associated with the profession. The mechanistic choreographies already present in such labour are echoed in the varied rhythms of the performance. Although it is possible to make a psychoanalytical analysis of the work and its many symbols, the strength of the performance lies in its early critique of gendered labour and performativity. The following excerpt describes the entirety of the performance work in more detail:

What House?, a series of eleven sections lasting one to three minutes, is about waitressing, work that many artists do to support themselves. The eleven sections overlap, making it impossible to tell where one begins and another ends. The audience shifts its attention as new information is introduced and other information is displaced. An example of the overlapping action in this work is described: Three women are talking together, folding napkins…two women leave…one woman places a napkin blindfolded over her eyes…she tells waitress stories as she folds more napkins…the other two women re-enter…one woman takes off her blindfold…one woman pretends to hang check stubs on a spindle…another woman leaves the room…the real check stubs are falling from the imaginary spindle to the floor…another woman pretends to hang check stubs…a backward bell rings six times…the woman hanging the first check stubs leaves the room…the space is vacant…another woman enters…the bell ringing stops…two women enter…one woman is at the microphone saying ‘oh,oh,oh,oh,a-oh,a-oh,a-oh,a-oh,a-oh,’ and gradually becoming hysterical…another woman balances plates in her arms, spinning and whirling with them, a kind of live tea cart…a machine sound cuts in…the plates drop…one woman picks up a blank guest checkbook and begins to write…another woman mirrors her…one waitress begins talking…the other woman mirrors the other two…the tape ends…the two standing figures read columns of active and passive verbal constructions beginning with ‘I am walking, I am walked on’… the other waitress is balancing plates…a wirewhip tape loop begins…fifteen plates fall to the floor…a plate rolls across the space…two waitresses leave…one woman does a dance with two teapots responding to the rhythm on the tape loop…one waitress says ‘oh, no,’ going from a mundane exclamation to a sensual inflection…the figure on the left becomes more sexually involved with her guest check pads…the figure on the right transforms the blue-veiled contents of a discarded vacuform container into an altar where several creamers adorned by folded napkins are placed. The action of the performance continues in this overlapping fashion.[1]

1 – Barry, Judith. “Women, Representation, and Performance Art: Northern California.” Edited by Carl E. Loeffler and Darlene Tong. In Performance Anthology: Source Book of California Performance Art, 454-57. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Last Gasp Press and Contemporary Arts Press, 1989.

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Sanja Ivekovic, Meeting Points, 1978

Meeting Points

Duration: 23 min 48 sec
Format: ¾ ” Umatic

Original Archive Entry:

Performance by Sanja Ivekovic.

Artist-in-residence. Special production, combined with a performance in the gallery, in which the audience was recorded on a surveillance camera. Co-sponsored by Video Inn and Pumps.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Jane Ellison and Eric Metcalfe, Oh Yes, Oh No, 1979

Jane Ellison, Eric Metcalfe - "Oh Yes, Oh No" (1979)

Duration: 9 min 38 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT II: Movement Arts

Jane Ellison has been a critical participant in Western Front’s multidisciplinary experiments merging art and life. As one of Western Front’s early artists, Ellison is also the sole dancer to have contributed to its activities. Over the years, Ellison has collaborated with many artists, musicians, dancers, and choreographers, and continues to teach out of the studio of EDAM Dance which has been located at Western Front since 1982.[1] Ellison began teaching exercise dance classes at the Front as a means to make a small income, as well as process what she was “learning about and interested in” by way of teaching and researching it through the body.[2] The class eventually developed the multifarious monikers “Boing Boing,” “Boing,” or “The Boing” at the suggestion of fellow peer and dancer Margaret Dragu, illustrating Ellison’s love for playful and organic processes.[3] While some may consider Ellison’s class a performance,[4] hers is undoubtedly a praxis that seeks to create conditions for participation, improvisation, collaboration, and emergence using the body and its many abundant expressions as a form and mode of research.[5] The loosely guided, meditative format of the class incorporates the practice of finding presence and freedom within oneself: one that is open to a continual unfolding and processing.

As demonstrated by her presence in Oh Yes, Oh No (1979), Aboutabout (1979), and MOVEMENTARTS (1979) on the Acts of Transfer timeline, Ellison is a frequent contributor and familiar face in Western Front’s archives. All made in the same year, each work uniquely demonstrates Ellison’s range of skills and interests while maintaining choreography as its foundation.

The first work, Oh Yes, Oh No (1979), is a performance collaboration between Jane Ellison and Western Front co-founder Eric Metcalfe (“The Tootaloonies”) that explores themes of consumption and desire through humorous object comparison. Fourteen brown paper bags are lined up in two rows on the stage. As Ellison and Metcalfe move down the rows and investigate the contents, one by one, it is revealed that each bag contains a consumable commodity. These include: a newspaper, reading glasses, cigarettes, a mascara tube, a tie, a bottle of Pepsi, a bottle of Coca-Cola, a bracelet, an oil can, a condom, a soiled women’s serviette, a green apple, and a red apple. Mimicking the style of a TV commercial, Ellison and Metcalfe, with objects in hand, turn towards the camera to evaluate each object with an exaggerated “Oh yes!” or “Oh No!” The connections made between the objects gradually become more gendered and sexualized until they reach the end of the row and the final object is consumed. Oh Yes, Oh No (1979) can be found here.

The second work, Aboutabout (1979), recorded days after Oh Yes, Oh No (1979), is another collaborative work by Jane Ellison, this one with dancers Helen Clarke and Peter Bingham. Both Oh Yes, Oh No (1979) and Aboutabout took place as part of the Living Art Performance Festival, an ambitious multi-day performance event that occupied many spaces across Vancouver for live performances to occur and “performance tapes” to be screened. Aboutabout is a live work that animates a hollow papier maché sculpture so that it resembles an insect-like organism or breast. Three white figures in full bodysuits, hidden underneath the carapace, move about the stage in clumsy unison, trying to manoeuvre their shared form. A soundtrack plays the country bluegrass folk tunes by Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens, “The Custom Made Woman Blues” and “Don’t Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There.” The performers eventually separate from the shell, roll around freely, bump into each other, and stand up. They wiggle sporadically to shed their skins, extracting their heads and arms from their bodysuits. Fully released, they move in unison, then move each other, as if learning how to function both individually and collectively. Heads, hands, fingers and tongues gesture with curious exaggeration, exploring new body movements. Aboutabout (1979) can be found here.

The last work, MOVEMENTARTS (1979), is an early example of collaboration between media and dance. MOVEMENTARTS was the name of both a series of dance classes hosted by Western Front and Vancouver Community College from 1977-1982 exploring movement, mime, and contact improvisation, as well as a series of solo dance works by Jane Ellison, Michael Brodie, and Peter Ryan that experimented with the choreography of the camera. The recorded documents play with movement, time, framing and illusion, and signify the convivial and technically experimental atmosphere of the time. An excerpt of Ellison’s MOVEMENTARTS (1979) movement studies can be found here.

1 – EDAM is an acronym for Experimental Dance and Music.
2 – Ultraviolet (Interview with Jane Ellison)—Project Rainbow. Produced by Project Rainbow. Featuring by Jane Ellison. 2013. Accessed April 2018. https://front.bc.ca/events/past-is-prologue-project-rainbow-screening-and-talk/.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Ultraviolet (Interview with Hank Bull about Jane Ellison)—Project Rainbow.
5 – Ellison, Jane. “About Jane.” Jane Ellison Classes. Accessed April 2018. http://www.janeellisonclasses.com/about-jane/.
 

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Jane Ellison, Helen Clarke, Peter Bingham, Aboutabout, 1979

Helen Clarke, Peter Bingham, Jane Ellison - "Aboutabout" (1979)

Duration: 7 min 55 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT II: Movement Arts

Jane Ellison has been a critical participant in Western Front’s multidisciplinary experiments merging art and life. As one of Western Front’s early artists, Ellison is also the sole dancer to have contributed to its activities. Over the years, Ellison has collaborated with many artists, musicians, dancers, and choreographers, and continues to teach out of the studio of EDAM Dance which has been located at Western Front since 1982.[1] Ellison began teaching exercise dance classes at the Front as a means to make a small income, as well as process what she was “learning about and interested in” by way of teaching and researching it through the body.[2] The class eventually developed the multifarious monikers “Boing Boing,” “Boing,” or “The Boing” at the suggestion of fellow peer and dancer Margaret Dragu, illustrating Ellison’s love for playful and organic processes.[3] While some may consider Ellison’s class a performance,[4] hers is undoubtedly a praxis that seeks to create conditions for participation, improvisation, collaboration, and emergence using the body and its many abundant expressions as a form and mode of research.[5] The loosely guided, meditative format of the class incorporates the practice of finding presence and freedom within oneself: one that is open to a continual unfolding and processing.

As demonstrated by her presence in Oh Yes, Oh No (1979), Aboutabout (1979), and MOVEMENTARTS (1979) on the Acts of Transfer timeline, Ellison is a frequent contributor and familiar face in Western Front’s archives. All made in the same year, each work uniquely demonstrates Ellison’s range of skills and interests while maintaining choreography as its foundation.

The first work, Oh Yes, Oh No (1979), is a performance collaboration between Jane Ellison and Western Front co-founder Eric Metcalfe (“The Tootaloonies”) that explores themes of consumption and desire through humorous object comparison. Fourteen brown paper bags are lined up in two rows on the stage. As Ellison and Metcalfe move down the rows and investigate the contents, one by one, it is revealed that each bag contains a consumable commodity. These include: a newspaper, reading glasses, cigarettes, a mascara tube, a tie, a bottle of Pepsi, a bottle of Coca-Cola, a bracelet, an oil can, a condom, a soiled women’s serviette, a green apple, and a red apple. Mimicking the style of a TV commercial, Ellison and Metcalfe, with objects in hand, turn towards the camera to evaluate each object with an exaggerated “Oh yes!” or “Oh No!” The connections made between the objects gradually become more gendered and sexualized until they reach the end of the row and the final object is consumed. Oh Yes, Oh No (1979) can be found here.

The second work, Aboutabout (1979), recorded days after Oh Yes, Oh No (1979), is another collaborative work by Jane Ellison, this one with dancers Helen Clarke and Peter Bingham. Both Oh Yes, Oh No (1979) and Aboutabout took place as part of the Living Art Performance Festival, an ambitious multi-day performance event that occupied many spaces across Vancouver for live performances to occur and “performance tapes” to be screened. Aboutabout is a live work that animates a hollow papier maché sculpture so that it resembles an insect-like organism or breast. Three white figures in full bodysuits, hidden underneath the carapace, move about the stage in clumsy unison, trying to manoeuvre their shared form. A soundtrack plays the country bluegrass folk tunes “The Custom Made Woman Blues” and “Don’t Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There” by Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens. The performers eventually separate from the shell, roll around freely, bump into each other, and stand up. They wiggle sporadically to shed their skins, extracting their heads and arms from their bodysuits. Fully released, they move in unison, then move each other, as if learning how to function both individually and collectively. Heads, hands, fingers and tongues gesture with curious exaggeration, exploring new body movements. Aboutabout (1979) can be found here.

The last work, MOVEMENTARTS (1979), is an early example of collaboration between media and dance. MOVEMENTARTS was the name of both a series of dance classes hosted by Western Front and Vancouver Community College from 1977-1982 exploring movement, mime, and contact improvisation, as well as a series of solo dance works by Jane Ellison, Michael Brodie, and Peter Ryan that experimented with the choreography of the camera. The recorded documents play with movement, time, framing and illusion, and signify the convivial and technically experimental atmosphere of the time. An excerpt of Ellison’s MOVEMENTARTS (1979) movement studies can be found here.

1 – EDAM is an acronym for Experimental Dance and Music.
2 – Ultraviolet (Interview with Jane Ellison)—Project Rainbow. Produced by Project Rainbow. Featuring by Jane Ellison. 2013. Accessed April 2018. https://front.bc.ca/events/past-is-prologue-project-rainbow-screening-and-talk/.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Ultraviolet (Interview with Hank Bull about Jane Ellison)—Project Rainbow.
5 – Ellison, Jane. “About Jane.” Jane Ellison Classes. Accessed April 2018. http://www.janeellisonclasses.com/about-jane/.
 

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Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione, Futurist Sound, 1979

Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione - "Futurist Sound" (1979)

Duration: 46 min 55 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT II: Movement Arts

Anna Banana (née Anne Lee Long) was born and raised in Victoria, BC.[1] The origin of the name “Anna Banana” is accredited to her friends at the free and experimental New School in Vancouver when she was teaching back in 1968.[2] After falling into a box of bananas in 1970, Anna Banana accepted the moniker and later adopted it as her legal name in the year 1985.[3]  Banana has worn many hats as a curator, writer, and former public school teacher, but she is perhaps most well known for her work as a performance artist and independent publisher. Presenting dynamic public events like “Banana Olympics” (1975), “Going Bananas Fashion Contest” (1982), and her extensive involvement with the International Mail Art Network (IMAN) and the Stamp Art movement, humour and connectivity are common strategies for Banana that allow her to “challenge authority and engage the audience in a creative act.”[4] Other notable publication projects include: the Banana Rag newsletter (1971), VILE magazine (1974) with Bill Gaglione, International Art Post (1988), Artistamp News (1991-1996), and the Artistamp Collector’s Album (1990).[5]

In 1973, Banana moved to San Francisco where she became involved with the Bay Area Dadaists, a group “interested in Dada, Fluxus inspired events, situationist provocations, mail art, rubber stamps, and self-publishing.”[6] The group is considered to be a precursor to the alternative music, social and zine publishing scenes that would emerge shortly after in the Bay area.[7] Bill (William / “Picasso”) Gaglione was one of the key figures of this movement, and his engagement with Mail Art remains ongoing.[8] Banana and Gaglione’s shared interests allowed for a creative and collaborative partnership to flourish throughout the 1970s. Banana performed Dada Sound Poetry and Italian Futurist Sintesi with the Bay Area Dadaists, and in 1978, Banana and Gaglione debuted Futurist Sound on a European tour, performing the work in thirteen different countries and twenty-nine cities. The program was then expanded and re-titled “Toward the Future” as they travelled through another fourteen cities, and finally, across Canada in 1980.[9] The performance of Futurist Sound at Western Front took place in 1979 as part of the Living Art Performance Festival: an ambitious multi-day event that took place in a variety of venues across Vancouver, and was comprised of live performances and “performance tape” screenings.

Futurist Sound is a re-enactment of fourteen Futurist sintesi: short plays considered by Banana and Gaglione as “the forerunners of contemporary performance art”[10]. These short plays were debuted at Futurist-style theatrical events known as serate, evenings that typically presented provocative performances and noisy instruments as a means to provoke, stir controversy, and challenge traditional modes and social customs of theatre. Considering that the original sintesi acts were created in the 1910s and 20s, and Banana and Gaglione’s performance in 1979, the anachronisms found within the performance’s content are plentiful. Today, the Futurists and their leader F.T. Marinetti are notorious for their nihilistic views and misogynistic stance towards women,[11] a reputation that makes the viewing of Futurist Sound uncomfortable at times. Many aspects of the performance, however, are highly entertaining: presenting dynamic experimental readings, nonsensical acts, and expressive acting. As a series of “recreations,” the likeness of Futurist Sound to the original sintesi performances can also be queried: Have the artists altered the script? Used alternative props? Produced their own choreography? Switched gender roles? The full extent of their intervention in the original Futurist script is left intentionally ambiguous, exemplifying the adaptability of the serate form.

Sintesi (in order of appearance)
“Negative Act” – Bruno Cora and Emilio Sentinelli
“Sounds” – Francesco Canguillo
“Waiting” – Mario Dessi
“Vowel Refrains” – Francesco Cangiullo
“To Understand Weeping” – Giacomo Balla
“Bachelor Apartment” – Umberto Boccioni
“Education” – Angelo Rognoni
“Parallel Piping” – Paulo Poussi
“Disconcerted States of Mind” – Giacomo Balla
“Alternation of Character” – Gina and Bruno Corra
“Colours” – Fortunato de Perro
“Silences Speak Amongst Themselves” – a radio syncrocy [sic] by F.T. Marinetti
“Faced with the Infinite” – Bruno Corra and Emilio Sentinelli
“States of Mind” – Mario Calle

1 – MacMillan, Misty-Dawn. “Readers Advisory—Anna Banana.” Artexte, 2011. Accessed April 2018.
http://cargocollective.com/mistydawnmacmillan/Anna-Banana
2 – van Burden, Zora. “Anna Banana.” In Women of the Underground: Art: Cultural Innovators Speak for Themselves. First edition. San Francisco, CA: Manic D Press, 2012. Accessed 2012.  
3 – Mail Artists Index. November 27, 2007. Accessed April 2018. https://mailartists.wordpress.com/2007/11/26/anna-banana/.
4 – Ibid.
5 – Lomholt Mail Art Archive. Accessed April 2018.
http://www.lomholtmailartarchive.dk/networkers/anna-banana
6 – Held, John, Jr. “Before Punk and Zines: Bay Area Dada.” Before Punk and Zines: Bay Area Dada. March 21, 2010. Accessed April 2018. http://stendhalgallery.com/?p=3504.
7 – Ibid.
8 – Mail Artists Index.
9 – van Burden, Zora.
10 – Anna Banana describes the form of the sintesi at the introduction of the Futurist Sound performance.
11 – Article #9 from the Futurist Manifesto by F.T. Marinetti states: “We want to glorify war—the only cure for the world—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.” From Marinetti, F. T. The Documents of 20th-Century Art: Futurist Manifestos. Edited by Umbro Apollonio. First edition. New York: Viking Press, 1973.

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Jane Ellison, Michael Brodie, Peter Ryan, MOVEMENTARTS, 1979

Michael Brodie, Jane Ellison, Peter Ryan - "MOVEMENTARTS edited work tapes" (1979)
Jane Ellison - Excerpts from "MOVEMENTARTS edited work tapes" (1979)

Duration: 9 min 38 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT II: Movement Arts

Jane Ellison has been a critical participant in Western Front’s multidisciplinary experiments merging art and life. As one of Western Front’s early artists, Ellison is also the sole dancer to have contributed to its activities. Over the years, Ellison has collaborated with many artists, musicians, dancers, and choreographers, and continues to teach out of the studio of EDAM Dance which has been located at Western Front since 1982.[1] Ellison began teaching exercise dance classes at the Front as a means to make a small income, as well as process what she was “learning about and interested in” by way of teaching and researching it through the body.[2] The class eventually developed the multifarious monikers “Boing Boing,” “Boing,” or “The Boing” at the suggestion of fellow peer and dancer Margaret Dragu, illustrating Ellison’s love for playful and organic processes.[3] While some may consider Ellison’s class a performance,[4] hers is undoubtedly a praxis that seeks to create conditions for participation, improvisation, collaboration, and emergence using the body and its many abundant expressions as a form and mode of research.[5] The loosely guided, meditative format of the class incorporates the practice of finding presence and freedom within oneself: one that is open to a continual unfolding and processing.

As demonstrated by her presence in Oh Yes, Oh No (1979), Aboutabout (1979), and MOVEMENTARTS (1979) on the Acts of Transfer timeline, Ellison is a frequent contributor and familiar face in Western Front’s archives. All made in the same year, each work uniquely demonstrates Ellison’s range of skills and interests while maintaining choreography as its foundation.

The first work, Oh Yes, Oh No (1979), is a performance collaboration between Jane Ellison and Western Front co-founder Eric Metcalfe (“The Tootaloonies”) that explores themes of consumption and desire through humorous object comparison. Fourteen brown paper bags are lined up in two rows on the stage. As Ellison and Metcalfe move down the rows and investigate the contents, one by one, it is revealed that each bag contains a consumable commodity. These include: a newspaper, reading glasses, cigarettes, a mascara tube, a tie, a bottle of Pepsi, a bottle of Coca-Cola, a bracelet, an oil can, a condom, a soiled women’s serviette, a green apple, and a red apple. Mimicking the style of a TV commercial, Ellison and Metcalfe, with objects in hand, turn towards the camera to evaluate each object with an exaggerated “Oh yes!” or “Oh No!” The connections made between the objects gradually become more gendered and sexualized until they reach the end of the row and the final object is consumed. Oh Yes, Oh No (1979) can be found here.

The second work, Aboutabout (1979), recorded days after Oh Yes, Oh No (1979), is another collaborative work by Jane Ellison, this one with dancers Helen Clarke and Peter Bingham. Both Oh Yes, Oh No (1979) and Aboutabout took place as part of the Living Art Performance Festival, an ambitious multi-day performance event that occupied many spaces across Vancouver for live performances to occur and “performance tapes” to be screened. Aboutabout is a live work that animates a hollow papier maché sculpture so that it resembles an insect-like organism or breast. Three white figures in full bodysuits, hidden underneath the carapace, move about the stage in clumsy unison, trying to manoeuvre their shared form. A soundtrack plays the country bluegrass folk tunes by Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens, “The Custom Made Woman Blues” and “Don’t Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There.” The performers eventually separate from the shell, roll around freely, bump into each other, and stand up. They wiggle sporadically to shed their skins, extracting their heads and arms from their bodysuits. Fully released, they move in unison, then move each other, as if learning how to function both individually and collectively. Heads, hands, fingers and tongues gesture with curious exaggeration, exploring new body movements. Aboutabout (1979) can be found here.

The last work, MOVEMENTARTS (1979), is an early example of collaboration between media and dance. MOVEMENTARTS was the name of both a series of dance classes hosted by Western Front and Vancouver Community College from 1977-1982 exploring movement, mime, and contact improvisation, as well as a series of solo dance works by Jane Ellison, Michael Brodie, and Peter Ryan that experimented with the choreography of the camera. The recorded documents play with movement, time, framing and illusion, and signify the convivial and technically experimental atmosphere of the time. An excerpt of Ellison’s MOVEMENTARTS (1979) movement studies can be found here.

1 – EDAM is an acronym for Experimental Dance and Music.
2 – Ultraviolet (Interview with Jane Ellison)—Project Rainbow. Produced by Project Rainbow. Featuring by Jane Ellison. 2013. Accessed April 2018. https://front.bc.ca/events/past-is-prologue-project-rainbow-screening-and-talk/.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Ultraviolet (Interview with Hank Bull about Jane Ellison)—Project Rainbow.
5 – Ellison, Jane. “About Jane.” Jane Ellison Classes. Accessed April 2018. http://www.janeellisonclasses.com/about-jane/.

 

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Jill Kroesen, The Original Lou and Walter Story and Excuse Me, I Feel Like Multiplying, 1980

Jill Kroesen - "Original Lou and Walter Story = Excuse Me I Feel Like Multiplying" (1980)

Duration: 60 min 17 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT III: Readings + Monologues

Jill Kroesen emerged out of the avant-garde music and art scenes in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. Kroesen studied at Mills Centre for Contemporary Music in Oakland before moving to New York in 1974 where she worked at The Kitchen and became involved in the avant-garde music scene.[1] Kroesen studied closely with artist Robert Ashley and performed in his “television opera” Perfect Lives (1978-1983), touring with the performance troupe throughout Europe.[2] Ashley became an influential figure for her work which merged visual art, theatre, and music to critique contemporary social structures and political events.

Kroesen’s performance at Western Front is a scaled-down reenactment of two performances: The Original Lou and Walter Story and Excuse Me, I Feel Like Multiplying. In other variations, more elaborate set designs and props as well as ballerina dancers, musicians and actors appear onstage with Kroesen. At Western Front, Kroesen performs solo with a more simple set: a grand piano, a microphone stand, and a circle drawn on the floor containing pyramid sculptures with pointed red tips. The Original Lou and Walter Story was written in 1978 and offers an insightful view into an imaginary sci-fi society created by the artist. The story is told from the perspective of “Lou,” a farmer who lives in a house with four other farmers in a town belonging to the “Sodom Union.” Only men are permitted to live in the town, whereas the women, once they reach 14 years of age, are segregated to the outskirts of town to dance. The “Share If” regulates the farmers with his wife, the only woman allowed to live in the town, and for whom it is illegal to do anything but cook roast beef. The farmers take care of sheep, grow and give away potatoes so the sun won’t fall down, and generally take care of each others’ happiness—so much so that they even hold meetings as a part of the Sodom Union to make decisions about daily life and to ensure everyone is having fun. Throughout the story, the Sher If intervenes as a controlive authority figure who thinks the farmers are “perverts” and punishes them for having fun by taking away their sheep and arresting them. Another phenomenon that occurs in Kroesen’s society is “abnormal love”: something she describes as “a consuming, unrequited crush…[that has] a debilitating physical effect–you literally fall apart.”[3] To deter these effects, members of the society must go to a place called “Disappeared.” Lou experiences “abnormal love” twice: once towards a fellow farmer, and another time towards a mysterious stranger named “Lee You” who arrives in town and teaches everyone how to tap dance to enter the “Mysterious Spot.” The first time Lou returns from Disappeared he loses his “thing” and becomes a woman. This becomes the primary conflict of the story as Lou attempts to evade the Share If and subsequently, expulsion outside of the town.

Kroesen embodies Lou and retells his story with the earnest seriousness and imagination of a child. Lou’s monologue is punctuated by moments when Kroesen wanders away from the microphone to sing and play the piano, offering blues variations to express the emotional states, thoughts, and observations of the various characters in the story, recalling the form of a musical. Despite the illogical, dream-like, and surreal narratives that can be demanding at times to follow, Kroesen’s commitment to her characters sustains the viewer’s curiosity about her projected fantasy world. Kroesen offers a world where gender is fluid and happiness and care for one another is prioritized, and yet, in the plot, “abnormal love” only occurs between two characters of the same sex, and who are consequently banished to Disappeared.[4] The intention behind this narrative choice is left open-ended for the viewer to speculate and draw their own conclusions about.

Critiques of dominant structures are a recurring theme in what Kroesen calls her “System Portraits,” manifesting as “socioeconomic, sexual, and gender politics through funny, ramshackle, and chaotic performances.”[5] This is evident in the artist’s second performance, Excuse Me, I Feel Like Multiplying. The work is a soap opera of the Cold War that satirizes political negotiations in the form of a love triangle conflict between two women personified as the USSR and America, and who fight over a boy named “Raw Material” portrayed as an underdeveloped country. The three characters are eventually dominated by another woman, “The Virus,” who, like the superpowers, also “feels like multiplying.”[6]

In 2013, Kroesen had an exhibition at the Whitney Museum called Rituals of Rented Island that placed her work alongside other performance artists working out of Manhattan during the early stages of her career.[7] Kroesen eventually took a break from the art scene in New York to do film and archival work. She now lives in the Southern California desert where she operates a small hotel.[8]

Credits
Set design: Jared Bark

1 – Scott, Izabella. “I Feel Like Multiplying: In Search of Jill Kroesen.” LiTRO Stories Transport You, November 25, 2015. Accessed April 2018. https://www.litro.co.uk/2015/11/67237/.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Banes, Sally. “Kroesen’s American Dream (Jill Kroesen).” In Subversive Expectations: Performance Art and Paratheater in New York, 1976-85, 64-68. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1998.
4 – Ibid.
5 – “Jill Kroesen: Collecting Injustices, Unnecessary Suffering Jul 27–Jul 31, 2016.” Jill Kroesen: Collecting Injustices, Unnecessary Suffering | Whitney Museum of American Art. Summer 2016. Accessed April 27, 2018. https://whitney.org/Exhibitions/JillKroesen.
6 – Banes, Sally.
7 – Scott, Izabella.
8 – Ibid.

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Lily Eng, Missing Associates, 1980

Lily Eng - Excerpt from "Untitled Performance at Western Front" (1980)

Duration: 59 min 10 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT II: Movement Arts

Lily Eng is a Chinese-Canadian dancer and teacher based in Toronto, Ontario. During her time at Western Front, she visited with close collaborator Peter Dudar, who filmed the documentation of Eng’s performance. In 1972, Eng and Dudar formed Missing Associates, the first experimental choreography project working out of Toronto and Canada at large, until 1982.[1] Rather than perform in traditional theatres, Missing Associates performed primarily in Toronto galleries such as A Space, 15 Dance Lab, Mercer Union, and ARC, a move that contributed to the rise of the term “artist dancer”[2] to describe the interdisciplinary and innovative performance/dance activities occurring within this region.[3] Eng and Dudar also toured extensively across North America and Europe, sharing their experimental practices outside of Canada for the first time.[4] In 1977, Eng, along with other affiliated members from the Centre for Experimental Art and Communication (CEAC), were invited to participate in Joseph Beuys’s “Violence and Behaviour” workshop at the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research in Kassel, Germany.[5]

Eng grew up in Lind River, a small town in northern Ontario where her family operated a Chinese restaurant.[6] When she moved to Toronto at the age of 10 with her mother and siblings, Eng took up gymnastics and worked as a teen model. While auditioning for a role, she was scouted by Elizabeth Swerdlow, her future dance mentor.[7] Swerdlow encouraged Eng to study classical ballet, modern dance, and German expressionist dance, though Eng notes that her Kung Fu training and apprenticeship at Hong Luck Kung Fu were also particularly influential, inspiring her to begin experimenting with the convergence of Western and Eastern practices.[8] Missing Associates also provided a space for Eng to explore these interests by examining “human behaviour, the body, and its relationship to the environment through a structural approach to improvisation and experimentation.”[9] Eng explains her philosophy behind improvisation: “I need to feel that something new is emerging from the flux of choreographed movement and unleashed emotion. I re-evaluate myself non-stop. But I can’t be anticipated. I can be wild one instant, and quite elegant the next.”[10]

At the time of Eng’s performance at Western Front, she was beginning to experiment more with improvised solo works. In the absence of a soundtrack, Eng uses her body to make contact with the surface of the floor and to generate noise and effect, rooting the performance in a confrontational and physical exploration. Occasionally she speaks in playful verse (“one two buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door”) and makes animal noises: hissing sounds, low growling, heavy breathing. She mimics the movement of animals, gesturing like a bird and baring her teeth like a dog. Her martial arts training materializes in various energetic movement sequences.

Eng’s performance at Western Front also features spoken word performer, verse poet, and scat singer Honey Novick who performs a solo reading set, as well as a collaboration with Eng titled “An Ode to Missing In Action,” which appears at the end of the tape.

Credits
Dance: Lily Eng
Vocals: Honey Novick
Video: Peter Dudar

1 – Dudar, Peter. “Peter Dudar—Missing Associates Collection.” Peter Dudar—Missing Associates Collection. Accessed April 2018. http://peterdudar.com/missing-collection.html.
2 – “The term “Artist Dancer” was coined in the mid-1970s by Lawrence Adams to describe the work of Susan Aaron, Lawrence Adams, Miriam Adams, Jill Naomi Bellos, Elizabeth Chitty, Margaret Dragu, and Missing Associates (Peter Dudar and Lily Eng).” Dudar, Peter. “LILY ENG High Concept Choreographer AND TORONTO’S EXPERIMENTAL DANCERS, 1972-1987.” Graphic Exchange Magazine. 2011. Accessed April 2018. http://www.gxo.com/LE.php.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Dudar, Peter. “Peter Dudar—Missing Associates Collection.”
5 – Poon, Coman. “Lily Eng: Real Asian Canadian Woman Warrior.” Reel Asian International Film Festival. November 10, 2011. Accessed April 2018. http://www.reelasian.com/festival-archives/lily-eng-real-asian-canadian-woman-warrior/.
6 – Ibid.
7 – Ibid.
8 – Ibid.
9 – Ibid.
10 – Dudar, Peter. “LILY ENG High Concept Choreographer AND TORONTO’S EXPERIMENTAL DANCERS, 1972-1987.”

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Paula Ross, The Bridge, 1981

The Bridge (1981)

Duration: 25 min 17 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

Original Archive Entry:

Work is a single channel video production of a dance choreographed by Paula Ross for Concerto for Cello Orchestra by Gyorgi Legeti and Variations in F by Anthony Braxton.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Marie Chouinard , Marie Chien Noir, 1982

Marie Chien Noir (1982)
Duration: 46 min 34 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

Artist-in-residence. Special Production. Shot and edited by Michael Brodie. A presentation of three solo works: Mimas Lune de Saturne (1980); Plaisirs de Tous Les Sens dans Tous les Sens (1981)’ and Marie Chien Noir (1982). Her works have ranged from 90 seconds to 90 minutes and include performance, choreography, film, drawing, installation and text.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Rose English, Plato’s Chair, 1983

Rose English - "Plato's Chair, Part 1" (1983)
Rose English - "Plato's Chair, Part 2" (1983)

Duration: 1 hr 27 min
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT II: Movement Arts

Plato’s Chair is a performance work by UK artist Rose English that toured extensively throughout the 1980s, receiving many acclaimed reviews.[1] This enigmatic tour-de-force is a demanding, contemplative, and captivating performance in two parts that also serves as a demonstration of English’s technical virtuosity as a trained stage actress.[2] Plato’s Chair borrows from many theatrical methods and motifs, including the use of monologue, entr’actes, props and costumes from the artist’s previous performances, choreographed and improvised movement sequences, and dramatic emotional expressions, all of which are reinvented and repurposed throughout the performance.

In this work, English continuously makes references to past, present, and future performances, raising philosophical questions about death, the soul, and the void,[3] while insisting that she may or may not be referring to these subjects. Everything that occurs in the performance is a shadow of something else, and, as the title suggests, Plato’s Chair exists in its ideal form not as a physical manifestation, but within the realm of the subject’s mind. Consequently, many of English’s efforts are subjected to delay and repetition, restrained by performance art’s essential existence in the present.

Choreography functions as an important device in the work to supplement some of its more conventional linear narratives.[4] Movement, in its most fundamental and basic form, serves to propel the performance forward, indicating a change or a development in the scene. For the viewer, such spontaneous movement sections offer some motivation to keep the show going, especially when there is “no topic,” as English suggests. Throughout the piece, the artist’s requests for a “short bit” or a “long bit” invite an audio clip to play from the opera Carmen, Act 1: Entr’Acte. During these sections, English walks around the stage, deep in contemplation, or else runs around in circles, dances like a ballerina, and thumps her chest. The straining of the performer to undertake these various forms of physical and intellectual exercise eventually mirrors the endurance of the audience as they are confronted with philosophical dilemmas of immanence and opacity, perpetually refused the escapist experience they may have been expecting. English’s use of exaggerated breathing heightens this effect. As artist Judy Radul describes, “sometimes she uses the mike [sic] for her anticipatory inhalation, then puts it down for speaking. The impulse to act or speak is acknowledged whether it is followed through or not.”[5] The self-reflexive nature of the performance also exposes and challenges conventional representations of female characters.[6] Picture the artist Rose English wearing a tiara and dancing like a ballerina,[7] contrasted by displays of her carrying a log, cocking a rifle, wearing Mickey Mouse ears and a horse’s tail and hooves. Throughout the performance, English commands the viewer’s attention by veering in unexpected directions to create a sense of discomfort.[8]

Credits
Video: Kate Craig
Sound: David Kelln
Audio clips: Jane Ellison

1 – English, Rose. “About Rose English.” Rose English Performance. Accessed April 2018. http://roseenglishperformance.net/About.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Straine, Stephanie. “Five Artworks from Tate Liverpool’s Keywords Show.” TATE Liverpool. March 17, 2014. Accessed April 2018. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/five-artworks-tate-liverpools-keywords-show.
4 – Burt, Ramsey. Notes on a Return. Edited by Sophia Yadong. Hao and Matthew Hearn. Sunderland, Eng.: Art Editions North, 2010. Accessed April 2018. https://www.dora.dmu.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/2086/6308/Revisiting%20Plato%20paper%20v1.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
5 – Radul, Judy. Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front. Ed. Keith Wallace. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993, 214-215.
6 – Ibid.
7 – In 1980, English a psychoanalytical feminist article titled Alas, Alack: The Representation of the Ballerina on the fetishization of the ballerina in the Romantic era ballet tradition, published in a special women’s issue of New Dance magazine.
8 – Rideal, Liz. “Plato’s Chair.” Performance Magazine, September/October 1984, 7. Accessed April 2018. http://www.performancemagazine.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Performance-Magazine-31-Sept-Oct-1984.pdf.

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Mona Hatoum, So Much I Want to Say, 1983

Mona Hatoum - "So Much I Want to Say" (1983)

Duration: 7 min 37 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

Original Archive Entry:

Special production. Performed live for Wiencouver IV. A series of still images unfold (one every 8 seconds), revealing the face of a woman with male hands clasped over her mouth, filling the screen. The hands repeatedly gag the woman and obscure parts of her face sometimes covering it completely. On the soundtrack repeated over and over again are the words So much I want to say.

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Mona Hatoum, The Negotiating Table, 1983

Mona Hatoum - "The Negotiating Table" (1983)

Duration: 20 min 12 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

Original Archive Entry:

From Whispered Art History:

The first of several visits by Hatoum. The performance took the form of an installation. Under a single light, the artist lay on a table, immobile, covered in entrails and completely wrapped in plastic, accompanied by the sound of radio reports on the state of affairs in Lebanon after it’s invasion by Israel. Previously titled Bars, Barbs and Borders.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Jerri Allyn, Love Novellas, 1984

Jerri Allyn - "Love Novellas" (1984)

Duration: 50 min 37 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT III: Readings + Monologues

Love Novellas is a series of eight “audio portraits” by artist and educator Jerri Allyn.[1] It was presented as an audio art installation at Franklin Furnace in 1983 and was published as an artist book and cassette tape.[2] For the performance at Western Front, Allyn performs a selection of excerpts from the book in a modest scene: a red curtain and an open grand piano provide a backdrop to the single spotlight and a mic stand at centre stage. Allyn enters from the side, wishes the audience “good evening,” and reads until a short intermission interrupts at the halfway point. From the start, the reading is made to feel estranged by Allyn’s playing of a pre-recorded tape of the same reading in tandem with the live performance. The two voices run parallel to each other and sometimes overlap, competing for the viewer’s attention, and coming in and out of focus. The subsequent echoing effect is mildly disorienting, oscillating between stream of consciousness and scripted speech. At different points throughout the reading, each voice has an opportunity to stand alone, and complementary sound effects build a cinematic tone.

Love Novellas is recited from the point of view of a queer female character, aged 31, who is living in New York and suffering from a broken heart. The text has an informal conversational quality to it, despite moving at a frenetic pace. The script is peppered with humour and covers a vast array of serious subjects, retold through lived experiences and anecdotes, including marriage, political apathy, war, love, death, feminism, vegetarianism, smoking, waitressing, workplace harassment, and queer life. Issues around women’s labour, sexual harassment, and queer subjectivities are a recurrent theme in the artist’s work, as well as their relationship to the construction of identity, the performativity of language, and the representation of violence.

One of Allyn’s most notable projects is her participation in the collaborative performance group The Waitresses (1977-1985), which she co-founded with artist Anne Gauld.[3] The two met in 1977 in the Women’s Building at the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW) in Los Angeles, and assembled a group of women with waitressing experience to “[focus] on five issues: work; money; sexual harassment; food production; and stereotypes of women/waitresses—mother, servant, sex object.” [4] The group staged events in public spaces such as restaurants, galleries, labor conferences, parades, buses, and in the streets “as ethnographic studies of women’s places in history.”[5] Allyn continues to be active as a community-based artist with an interest in public engagement and collaborating in and across art settings, academia and other communities.[6]

1 – Allyn, Jerri. Love Novellas: 8 Audio Portraits Artist Book and Cassette. New York, NY: Printed Matter, 1983.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Allyn, Jerri, Anne Gauldin, Suzanne Lacy, and Marlena Doktorczyk-Donahue. The Waitresses Unpeeled: Performance Art and Life. Los Angeles, CA: Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design, 2011.
4 – Ibid.
5 – Montano, Linda M. Performance Artists Talking in the Eighties Talking in the Eighties. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.
6 – Allyn, Jerri. “Jerri Allyn.” Jerri Allyn. Accessed April 2018. https://allynjerri.wordpress.com/.

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Mona Hatoum, Variations on Discord and Divisions, 1984

Mona Hatoum - "Variations on Discord and Divisions" (1984)

Duration: 29 min 13 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT II: Movement Arts

Live action with hood, knife, bucket, scrubbing brush, red paint, table, chairs, plates, raw beef kidneys, newspapers. First performed at ABC No Rio, New York, on December 2, 1984, with additional performances at A.K.A. Saskatoon, Western Front, Articule, Forest City Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Windsor, 1984-1985.

Variations on Discord and Divisions begins in silence. Wearing coveralls and a black balaclava, a barefoot Mona Hatoum crawls slowly across the floor of the Grand Luxe Hall between seated rows of spectators. The stage is covered in newspaper and plastic, and makes a crinkling sound as she moves over it. When she finally arrives at her destined position below a hanging bucket, she stands.

Whether spreading the liquid red contents of a bucket over the stage, or attempting to sit at a table only to repeatedly fall to the floor, Hatoum proposes a sadistic vision of human effort. Each variation confounds the supposed task at hand, yielding only further chaos, mess, and difficulty. Her careful but indelicate flops and swooshes use her full form and coveralls as an anonymous agent. With actions that mount in intensity (climaxing with the appearance of a knife and the serving of raw kidneys), the performance generates a sinister and dangerous space of conflict. Her performative gestures are later joined by a sharp sucking and crackling sound, a morse code-like tapping that grows in volume until the lights finally go out. Channels flip on a projection screen. Sounds of newscasters can be heard, alongside images of protests. A headline reads: “35000 people have been the victims of death squads since 1980. 1500 people have been butchered in cold blood in Nazi-like fashion…Twin refugee camps, one vast devastated morgue…Vicious immorale…Oppressed people…Famine, worse than ever.”

Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1952. During a visit to London in 1975, conflict broke out in Lebanon, preventing her from returning home.[3] The profound experience of her exile and dislocation continues to resonate in her work, in which she frequently points to “hostile realities, war, destruction” and “the forces of oppression and resistance to these forces–cultural, historical, economic and social.”[1] Hatoum began her career in performance art in the 1980s, visiting Western Front in 1983, 1984, and 1988. During this period, her primary medium was the body, which she used as a site to explore themes of voyeurism, violence, and oppression. Since the early 1990s, Hatoum has moved towards large-scale installations.

1 – Diamond, Sara and Mona Hatoum. “Performance: An Interview with Mona Hatoum.” FUSE, April 1, 1987, 46-52.
2 – Hatoum, Mona. “Who Is Mona Hatoum?” TATE. 2016. Accessed April 2018. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/mona-hatoum-2365/who-is-mona-hatoum.

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Joolz, Joolz Live in Gangland, 1985

Joolz - "Joolz Live in Gangland" (1985)

Duration: 52 min 33 sec
Format: ¾ ” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

Reading event with Joolz Denby at Gangland Studios, co-sponsored by Cutting Edge Productions. Works is a performance in which Joolz reads from “Stories about Junkies” and talks about her hometown where she shot Hometown.

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Margaret Dragu, X’s and O’s for Canadian Pavilion, 1986

Margaret Dragu - "X's and O's for Canadian Pavilion" (1986)

Duration: 26 min 40 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT II: Movement Arts

Margaret Dragu began her artistic vocation as a dancer. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, she spent time studying in Calgary, Montreal, New York and Toronto before moving to Vancouver in 1986.[1] Since then, she has developed an award-winning practice as an artist, writer, and activist recognized for her merging of art with social justice, politics, environmentalism, and feminism.

Dragu’s performances are often formed in response to everyday life experiences, and mediated through her various personas—Lady Justice, Verb Woman, Art Cinderella and Nuesta Señora del Pan.[2] Early on in her dance career, Dragu experimented with striptease and burlesque dancing. She later co-wrote a book titled Revelations: Essays on Striptease and Sexuality (1998) which reflected on her experience in the industry through research, anecdotes and interviews. Her time as a dancer eventually led her to think through movement and improvisation as a subversive tool to question the limitations of the gallery space.

X’s and O’s for the Canadian Pavilion is part of a series of movement studies choreographed by Dragu that uses X’s and O’s as a pattern where “performers walk in straight lines that intersect at a middle point (forming the X), and then walk around it in a half circle (forming an O).”[3] The simplicity of the movement pattern “[makes] it easy for those with no previous experience to participate” and “brings people together, giving them the sense of participating in a common experience.”[4] The performance originally took place outside at the Canadian Pavilion in Vancouver during Expo 86. In it, Dragu performs alongside Jim Munroe, Alan Rosenthal, and Jane Ellison.[5] The female performers wear costumes made of colourful draped fabric reminiscent of traditional mediterranean garments and the plumage of Mandarin ducks; the mens costumes imitate Groucho Marx.[6] A duo (also in costume) provides musical accompaniment on guitar, violin, and mandolin in the Greek folk style of ρεμπέτικο or Rebetiko (transliterated as Rembetiko) between scenes.[7] A comedic and melodramatic script read by Dragu and one of the male dancers (directly channeling Groucho Marx) gives this particular study a Romantic yet occasionally tumultuous narrative. The performance concludes with a ritualistic flag dance as the procession moves beyond the ropes that delineate the performance space and out into the audience.

Credits
Musical Direction: Clarke Steabner
Choreography: Margaret Dragu
Costumes: Shelagh Young
With Peter Bingham, Jane Ellison, Jim Munroe, Alan Rosenthal
Video by Paul Lang, assisted by Susi Milne
Thanks to Doug Brown

1 –  ”Margaret Dragu – Canadian Art.” Canadian Art. https://canadianart.ca/artists/margaret-dragu/.
2 – Recently, Lady Justice performed as part of FUSE at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Accompanied by a musician and seven artists/cultural workers, they offered “gestures of protest against right-wing leaders of Europe and North America,” as described in the event’s pamphlet.
3 – Forket, Kristen. Caught in the Act: The Joy of the Local. Eds. Tanya Mars and Johanna Householder. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2004, 206.
4 – Ibid.
5 – In the Western Front archives there are many collaborations between Ellison and Dragu, a testament to their friendship and shared interests in movement.
6 – The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art (CCCA). “X’s and O’s for the Canadian Pavilion Expo 86.” Advertisement. The CCCA Canadian Art Database Project. http://ccca.concordia.ca/artists/work_detail.html?languagePref=en&mkey=50890&title=X’s and O’s for the Canadian Pavilion Expo 86&artist=Margaret Dragu&link_id=5446.
7 – Ibid.

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Judy Radul and Andrew Wilson, Repression, the Sleeping Maiden, 1987

Repression, the Sleeping Maiden (1987)

Duration: 28 min
Format: ¾” Umatic

Original Archive Entry:

The story of Sleeping Beauty, once she awakes to the realization that not only the evil Queen, but also Prince Charming, put Beauty to sleep. Radul performed with Andrew Wilson using live and pre-recorded video, audio and slides.

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Anna Banana and Ron Brunette, World Series, 1987

Anna Banana and Ron Brunette - "World Series" [Part 1] (1987)
Anna Banana and Ron Brunette - "World Series" [Part 2] (1987)

Duration: 1 hr 15 min
Format: ¾” Umatic

Original Archive Entry:

Co-scripted and performed with Ron Brunette. Hardball with brain-washing and environmental bombshells.

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Cathy Quinn, Inside / Out, 1988

Cathy Quinn - "Inside / Out (Excerpts)" (1988)

Duration: 11 min 28 sec
Original Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT I: Variety Show

This digitized document from the Western Front archive is a selection of video excerpts of various performances and sets during the artist Cathy Quinn’s multifaceted performance production in the Grand Luxe Hall. The composite nature of the footage (entered into the archive only as a series of video excerpts, not as a finished work) is evident in the following synopsis:

The excerpts begin with a close up of a female figure wearing a white balaclava turning her head back and forth, side to side, acting as a projection surface for the faces of two other women whose eyes confront the viewer and are overlaid onto her form. A female voice-over recounts a story set in a small cabin in the mountains whereby a mother, sister, and friend spot a cougar on their property and rush inside the cabin for safety. The cougar, initially chased off, returns to stalk the women, who quickly realize the cabin door will never withstand the animal. The cougar, which is described as having  “human qualities,” enters the cabin. In their attempt to fend it off, the women slit the cougar’s head open. This violence is followed by a break in the continuity of the story as a new character, introduced again by the narrator, observes this scene from their car, saying: “…realized it was a turning point.” Such disruptions and breaks of continuity characterize the tape, a series of interrupted plots and fragments that accumulate to reflect on sexual representation and the mechanism of state surveillance.[1]

In another scene, a desk lamp turns on. Two women sit at a table dressed in white reading from paper scripts. One begins to read about the physiology of fear, describing its effects on the body, and its evidence in handwriting. The reading performance continues until the scene abruptly changes.

As the camera surveys the scope of activity contained in the room, the scene reveals a set of unusual performance conditions. In place of an audience, the room’s chairs surround monitors and other cameras. In the view of one camera, videographer Cornelia Wyngaarden records another performer behind a transparent screen of plexiglas. She is being fed food by a man; food she then projects from her mouth onto the plexiglas, splattering it with food and smearing it around with her hands. A jump cut reveals a new vantage point, this time looking through the plexiglas, giving the illusion of food stuff appearing directly on the camera lens.

Throughout this sequence, an off-screen Hank Bull can be heard singing and playing a bar song on the piano, while overlapping female voices talk about domination, social construction, identity, violence, experiences of being stalked, and the female gaze. The steady build-up of information eventually breaks to a black screen and a single female voice. A pre-recorded flirtation with an unknown lover, her monologue reflects on technology’s mediating distance, evoking memories of words they have shared, speaking through, of, and with the tape. The final moments call to question: Is it a conceptual sex tape? A record of longing? A diary between the woman and the object of her affection? Or does she merely perform this role in a defiance of surveillance?

1 – Wallace, Keith. Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993.

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Judy Radul, The Body of Knowledge, 1988

Judy Radul - Excerpts from "The Body of Knowledge" and "Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear" (1988)

Duration: 57 min 30 sec
Original Format: ¾” U-matic

ACT I: Variety Show

Artist Judy Radul is onstage wearing a white nurse’s uniform. She is holding the resident Western Front cat, who she introduces to the audience. “This is Samantha,” she says, “she has a promising future in computers.” Radul puts down the cat and Samantha scampers offstage. Radul then faces away from the camera and begins to recite “ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…” gradually increasing in volume, growing in intensity until she’s yelling, exhausting herself. She stops, walks forward, and bends down until she is sitting on her knees. Lifting her skirt, she exposes her ass, where the words “I KNOW” are scrawled in what appears to be black charcoal.

The opening scene of The Body of Knowledge serves as a useful starting point to introduce the eclectic and provocative nature of Radul’s performance at Western Front. Composed of a series of live acts, an hour-long performance unfolds as a philosophical meditation on a subject in conflict between being and knowing. With scenes that vary in intensity, Radul replays the body (and its knowledge) in various humorous, crude, and absurd states of existence. The performance is intercut with a video production of Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear, spliced with footage of Radul watching the video by herself on a monitor. The video Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear was Radul’s first production, accomplished with the assistance of Susi Milne. It compiles personal and stock images that have been synthesized and overlaid with brazen prose and poetic text, perceived as Radul’s personal commentary. The cat returns throughout the performance, making a cameo in the video production and as a representational mask, appearing always as an objective observing body.

Through a phenomenological lens, Radul pushes an understanding of the female subject by using familiar materials as extended metaphors to situate knowledge in the experience of the body, and more specifically, a disabled woman’s body, as conveyed by surrogate actors who recite Radul’s personal medical history. Undertaking an exploratory investigation of understanding, conveying, knowing, feeling and seeing, Radul continually displaces or refuses access to her body, instead grounding the viewer’s experiences in her speech. Reflections about womanhood offer a material experience as she covers herself in white flour and black charcoal, finally transforming into a mark-making tool for a wholly different mode of representation.

These excerpts represent early work in the career of Judy Radul, a multidisciplinary artist based in Berlin and Vancouver, who also served as Curator at Western Front throughout the 1990s. Using playful gestures, such as the recruiting of surrogates and actors to stand in for her, Radul’s practice has tended to approach performance as a means of deconstructing its familiar tropes. Here the body is taken up as a location where inquiry into rhetorics and clichés of performance can take place. Radul’s interdisciplinary practice, now more often incorporating media production and installation, has continued to question how we, as social beings, understand our relation to the material world through the visual. Her conceptualist and absurdist sensibility treats the white cube as a staging ground for the intersection of language, objects and bodies in space.

1-Wallace, Keith. Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993.

Credits for Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear
Videographer: Paul Lang
Technician: Robert Kozinuk
Editor: Susi Milne
Organization and Production Assistance: Susi Milne

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Jill Rosenberg, Bald, Doubleditch, Poking Grey Matter, 1989

Bald, Doubleditch, Poking Grey Matter (1989)

Duration: 48 min 27 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

Original Archive Entry:

Solo performance with elaborate costumes and choreography.

From Front Magazine November/December 1989 P.4:

Jill Rosenberg: BALD
Friday, November 3, 1989 9pm $5

The Western Front is proud to present BALD, a full evening of Toronto performance artist Jill Rosenberg’s most recent works in on-night only presentation.

The evening will consists of two works, DOUBLEDUTCH and POKING GREY MATTER, which are both examples of Rosenberg’s unique convergence of dance, theatre, and visual art.

DOUBLEDUTCH is a solo performance which tells the tale of tormented Siamese Twins, whose clash of personalities drives one brother to the attempted murder of the other! The magical illusion and physical expertise. DOUBLEDUTCH played to critical acclaim Toronto, Banff, Calgary, and Vancouver in the Spring of 1989.

The second work on the programme, POKING GREY MATTER, will be premiered at the Western Front. POKING GREY MATTER explores the use of 19th century scientific experiments conducted on the human brain and head to determine inferior and superior races. Rosenberg’s incorporation of film, magnifying lenses, a brain, overhead projectors and raw vegetables is sure to amuse and horrify the audience who should be prepared for numerous surprises! BALD will be an evening of challenging and new theatre!

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Tari Ito, The Memory of the Epidermis, 1990

Tari Ito - "The Memory of the Epidermis" (1990)

Duration: 38 min 16 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

From Front Magazine, Nov/Dec 1990, P.9:

Solo piece by Tari Ito, The Memory of the Epidermis. Canadian tour organized by Hank Bull and Zainub Verjee.

From Front Magazine, Nov/Dec 1990 P.9:

PERFORMANCE ART FROM JAPAN

PERFORMANCE ART FROM JAPAN is a nine-city Canadian tour organized by the Western Front for two artists, exponents of the latest developments in Japanese performance art. Haruo Higuma and Tari Ito represent different approaches and will each present a solo piece. As organizers of the Hinomata Festival they are also interested in collaborations with Canadian artists and in discussing similarities and differences between Japanese and Canadian performance. This year’s Hinomata Festival featured over 60 artists, including Vancouver’s Elizabeth Fischer and Randy Anderson.

TARI ITO
“The Memory of the Epidermis”

Ms. Ito’s movement-based performance imbues everyday objects with a sense of mystery and transforms simple actions into ritual. She has worked in collaboration with some of Japan’s top improvising musicians and image-makers, and is an active organizer on the Japanese performance scene. Between 1982 and 1986 she lived and worked in Amsterdam, working there with flutist Wil Offermans.

“Trembling my body consciously is the starting point I follow. I look for motive power in my body, on the floor and the ground, this vibration reaches the skin–innumerable cell membranes are already trembling. But it is a pity that I can not feel the movement of the cells. The only thing I can know is that if the vibration does not travel well, I feel uncomfortable. It it does, the possibilities are magnified. I can depend on my body for the sense of the body itself. And then, if this movement is transmitted to the skin-sense of the people watching, the methodology is in fact and effective form of expression.”

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Judy Radul and Andrew Wilson, Melt, 1991

Melt (1991)

Duration: 26 min 13 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

Original Archive Entry:

With Andrew Wilson. A performance which dealt with some of the images of the female grotesque used in Radul’s concurrent Western Front exhibition, To Shine. Wilson danced as the female grotesque. Radul delivered a text while walking on an exercise walker, breathing into a block of ice which hung in front of her face and obscured it. A gender-bending sing-song finale ended the thirty-five minute piece.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Nancy Barton, Swan Song, 1991

Nancy Barton - "Swan Song" (1991)

Duration: 52 min 7 sec
Original Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT I: Variety Show

Nancy Barton’s performance is a collaboration with her mother, Marjorie, a former opera singer, who abandoned her musical career to become a stay-at-home caregiver. In the form of a lecture, Barton uses pre-recorded excerpts from interviews with her mother, slides of family photos, and feminist theory citations by Catherine Clément, Hélene Cixous, and Luce Irigaray that address melancholy, repression, inferiority complexes, and the tragic female role of the diva in opera. Barton analyzes and compares her mother’s lived experience and societal expectations of women in the 1950s to explore what may have prevented her mother from pursuing her dreams in opera, settling for a domestic partnership instead.

Barton’s Swan Song is part of a larger project that took place over a span of six years. As an installation, Swan Song is a series of opera posters that retain the design, format, typography, and names of the opera singers from the original productions, substituting her mother as the depicted heroine figure.[1] The artworks are titled after the leading female roles in the operas, and are mounted on formica to mimic granite or marble, a surface where such a poster might be found.[2] Barton also includes text excerpts: interviews with her mother, librettos from the promoted opera, personal thoughts, and feminist theoretical writing.[3] Following the death of the artist’s father, Marjorie experiences a newfound independence that causes Barton to re-examine her parents’ relationship in an attempt to help her mother “regain the happiness” that she experienced before marriage: “I wanted her to be strong and independent…I thought by saving her, I could save myself.” At the end of Barton’s autobiographical lecture, Marjorie comes onstage in a dazzling dress and sings a series of operatic works and popular oldies with piano accompaniment by Theodore Crain. Marjorie skillfully performs her soprano repertoire, fulfilling both her own forgotten musical ambitions and Barton’s fantasy for her. But the singing performance is bittersweet. The audience, now privy to Marjorie’s personal history and the conventions of opera, must contend with the conventional narrative of the diva as the inevitable subject of tragedy and cliché.

Swan Song is a performance that was held at Western Front in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name that took place off-site at Presentation House Gallery from October 19-November 24, 1991.

1 – https://www.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_2125_300062915.pdf
2 – ibid.
3 – ibid.

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Paulette Phillips, Fear of Lying, 1991

Paulette Phillips - "Fear of Lying" (1991)

Duration: 30 min 46 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

Monologue with an LED display board behind the performer providing a second text, plus an audio track.

Entry from Front Magazine Nov/Dec 1991 Vol.III No.2 P.17:

FEAR OF LYING is a rambling walking tongue, a spill, a juncture and a clash between the I and the you. It arrives out of the necessity to speak. FEAR externalizes a logic that we know as an internal dialogue; you wish this gush of words didn’t make sense but then you understand why it does.

She in FEAR becomes a stand-in for the separation you feel from your body, your place, your self; and the loss you have experienced. She makes you laugh, as she speaks maybe you think it’s your voice inside of your head, speaking your thoughts, that is until she falls and then you know that it is not you she is describing.

Premiered at Artspace in Peterborough in October, FEAR OF LYING is a compelling, comic, theatrical monologue which runs for approximately one hour. The work relies on the strength of the delivery and the simple staging consists of an LED display board behind the performer providing a second text as a compliment to the spoken text, an audio track and a microphone.

Paulette Phillips has been writing, directing and performing for fifteen years. She recently produced UNDER THE INFLUENCE, a performance installation written for three performers, which premiered in Toronto in February, 1991. She has also produced in video, film, photography, and installation. Phillips teaches Art at the Ontario College of Art and lives in Toronto.

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Yvonne Parent, Interviews with Yvonne Parent, 1991

Centre of the Universe (1995)
Duration: 101 min 19 sec
Original Format: ¾“ Umatic

ACT I: Variety Show

In this performance, Yvonne Parent conducts a series of interviews in the style of a provisional TV talk show in the Grand Luxe Hall. Interviews are conducted in real time in front of a live audience, and frequently incorporate the ambitious use of telecommunications technology to contact artists and writers. Between takes, Western Front commercials play, promoting programming and publications, and a house band (“The Turtlenecks”) provides experimental interludes and background music, playing compositions by La Monte Young and John Cage.

Parent’s talk show incorporates the ambitious use of telecommunications technology to contact artists and writers for interviews. The event begins with Western Front founders Eric Metcalfe and Kate Craig as her first live guests, while a projector plays in the background debuting some of Craig’s video work. Yvonne is seen smoking a cigarette nonchalantly; their banter is casual and entertaining. About twenty minutes into the show, Parent attempts her first live feed phone conversation with artist Katie Campbell, and then makes contact with “Dan” and “Lisa” at a Kootenay School of Writing benefit concert that is happening concurrently to the show’s recording. This connected event subsequently sends a series of slow-scan images to Western Front which are then projected on-screen, extending an invitation to the live audience to “stop by” afterward. Parent also calls an artist friend based in Cologne, Germany, Josef Strau, waking him up at 7am for his interview. He plays along after Parent charmingly reminds him, “you said it didn’t matter what time I phoned you.”

Of the nine interviews recorded here, all of the long-distance conversations encounter some kind of technological difficulty. In these moments, Western Front technician Rob Kozniuk is seen providing technical assistance, and the live band buffers these technical delays by improvising on the spot until connections are sorted out. In this way, the talk show becomes a demonstration of the kind of early technological idealism made possible in the creation of global communication networks. Artist Judy Radul cites Parent’s interviews as an example of an ongoing trajectory in performance art which began in the 1970s and involved artists taking an interest in subverting mass media forms such as beauty pageants, rock videos, talk shows, and TV evangelism.[1] Similarly, the format of the talk show was a way to raise political awareness. In Parent’s interview with artist and author Katie Campbell, for instance, they discuss the censorship of Campbell’s artwork Version, and its exclusion from an exhibition in Winnipeg for being “too controversial” in its depiction of a woman breastfeeding in public.

1 – Radul, Judy. Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front. Ed. Keith Wallace. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993, p. 214.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Rita Mckeough, In bocca al lupo (In the Mouth of the Wolf), 1992

In bocca al lupo (In the Mouth of the Wolf) (1992)

Duration: 59 min 11 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

An opera that involved the construction of an elaborate two-storey set, roughly the shape of a body, which took up the entire Lux. The audience sat on piles of books. Choir, rock band and dancers.

Entry from Front Magazine March/April 1992 Vol.III No.4 P.12:

RITA MCKEOUGH
Artist-in-residence
In bocca al lupo / In the mouth of the wolf
An installation performance to take place in late April.

Rita Mckeough has degrees in fine art form the University of Calgary and the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design. SHe has exhibited her multi-media installations since the late 1970s, gradually moving towards a more performative ‘space.’ She has taught at a wide variety of Canadian art institutions and held residencies across the country. A consumate artist, her expertise covers printmaking, audio-recording, radio, and drumming.

McKeough will be artist-in-residence for the months of March and April. While she is here she will be developing a Vancouver performance of her “mutant rock opera”, In bocca al lupo. The piece utilizes a multi-layered ‘choral’ soundtrack, slide and video projections and up to 17 performers. A suitable venue for the performance, which will run over three days, is now being arranged.

“Her work opens up potential spaces in us from which different and more varied ideas about language, gender, desire and subjectivity might emerge.” –Beth Gibson, Canadian Art

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives through research request.

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DB Boyko , Amphibious Tales, 1992

Amphibious Tales (1992)

Duration: 24 min 40 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

Work is a performance of a song cycle for extended voice, text, dance, and percussion.

From Front Magazine, Sept/Oct 1992 Vol.IV No.1 P.12:

AMPHIBOUS TALES
DB Boyko
Saturday, October 3, 5:30pm

Amphibious Tales features Vancouver performer DB Boyko in a new work for extended voice/song/text/dance. DB’s musical signature ranges from free-improv to explorations and studies in the traditional vocal forms of Java and India. Through personal story and fabrications, DB has conceived and created this song cycle, Amphibious Tales, a humorous and poetic look at the small moments and memories in our lives that we might perhaps consider insignificant. DB will be joined in musical collaboration and performance with musician/composers Andreas Kahre, Mark Parlett, and Kenneth Newby.

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Tanya Mars, Mz. Frankenstein, 1993

Tanya Mars - "Mz. Frankenstein" (1993)

Duration: 22 min 55 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT III: Readings + Monologues

The documentation of Mz. Frankenstein opens with a black screen paired with the sounds of an audience chatting and laughing audibly. In the background of this soundscape, a pre-recorded audio tape of a man’s voice gives hypnotic relaxation instructions in a trance-inducing drone. The title “Mz. Frankenstein” appears on the screen and the chatter fades away with the title, revealing the set in the Grand Luxe Hall: a large-scale backdrop of a mirrored photograph of a female reclining nude. Other images that appear throughout the performance range from period photographs of conventionally beautiful and eroticized women to goddess carvings from ancient civilizations, Rorschach tests, statistics and facts about the beauty industry and cosmetic surgery. The work’s juxtaposition of image, text and performance raise questions about the cultural, clinical, and objectified representations of women.

At the edge of the stage, a woman stands at a podium, switches on her headlamp, and reads from an infomercial-like script promoting the “Relax-a-cizer.” In the same sterile and prescriptive tone as the previous narration, she describes the Relax-a-cizer’s innovative and miraculous ability to assist the user in losing weight without having to exercise. During this introductory spiel, Mars enters onstage in a lab coat and an exaggeratedly grotesque fake nose, her hair pulled back into a ponytail, gauze wrapped around her head. Mars writes an analysis of her personal health condition on a chalkboard in pink. “Slow metabolism,” “over 40,” “artist,” she writes, before moving to centre stage where she lets the lab coat fall to the floor. Mars stands before the audience in a black exercise leotard with strings of butter hanging from her waist and her neck. She begins to perform a jig, using scissors to snip at the air, revelling in humorous exaggeration and self-parody. Afterwards, Mars demonstrates how to use the Relax-a-cizer by applying and tightening the straps around her body that are linked up to a portable suitcase-sized machine. She follows the machine’s instructions—a seemingly painful, intrusive, and body altering process—until she finds herself entirely bound, twisted and contorted by the machinery, a metaphor for the artist’s own confinement within idealized societal expectations. When the machine is finally turned on, it somewhat predictably short-circuits, appearing to electrocute Mars. The machine is rendered defunct and Mars releases herself from the constraints, proceeding to deliver a frank and sincere PSA. She asks the viewer to imagine the gender roles reversed, placing the male body at the centre of this bodily modification: “Imagine this: penis implants, penis augmentation, testicular silicone injections…to correct asymmetry, saline injections with the choice of three sides, surgery to alter the angle of erection, to lift the scrotum and make it tight…imagine the risks.”

Mars began her career as a performance artist in 1974 and continues as an active contributor to feminist performance art discourse, education, and practice.[1] When speaking about her process, Mars describes beginning each work with an image which is then realized through a series of events that subsequently animate and build the performance into existence.[2] Most of her performances use multimedia, are short in length, non-linear, and place feminist perspectives and women’s lived experiences at the centre of the narrative.[3] Mars also notes the importance of imposed restraints within her work, which manifest as both conceptual and physical limitations.[4] After the performance at Western Front, Mz. Frankenstein was additionally made into a video production. Since 1995, Mars has worked as a Senior Lecturer and Program/Graduate Supervisor in the Visual Studies department at the University of Toronto and the University of Toronto Scarborough.[6]

Credits
Camera: Charles Pitts
Technicians: Peter Courtemanche, Robert Kozinuk
Sound: Peter Courtemanche

1 – Sawchuk, Kim. “Tanya Mars: Enthusiasm, Unbridled.” In Caught in the Act: An Anthology of Performance Art by Canadian Women, edited by Tanya Mars and Johanna Householder, 324-34. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2004.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Ibid.
5 – Mars, Tanya. “Tanya Mars CV.” Tanya Mars. Accessed April 2018. http://tanyamars.com/about/curriculum-vitae/.

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Deborah Dunn , Pandora’s Books, 1994

Pandora's Books (1994)

Duration: 52 min 30 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. V, no. 3, p. 8, January/February 1994:

Pandora’s Books will combine slides and performance to create a live silent film. Deborah Dunn will play Louise Brooks, whose best known role is Lulu in G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929). Perfectly poised in opposition to bourgeois morality, Lulu is an innocent and seductive symbol of catastrophe to anxious male identity in crisis. This classical polarity of ethics and sexuality leaves Lulu and Louise Brooks out in the cold. Brooks, in her own life, embodied the Pandora myth by refusing to keep a lid on her passion. Louise’s mischiefs plagued New York, Hollywood and Berlin where she burned any bridges that would grant her the stardom she deserved. Later in her poverty stricken solitude Louise attempted to write her memoires but ran into the same fears that made Pandora regret her act.

“In writing the history of a life, I believe absolutely that the reader cannot understand the character and deeds of the subject unless they are given a basic understanding of that person’s sexual loves, hates and conflicts. It is the only way the reader can make sense out of innumerable apparently senseless actions.” - Louise Brooks

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Dana Claxton, Sa, 1994

Dana Claxton - Excerpts from "Sa" (1994)

Duration: 39 min 48 sec
Original Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT I: Variety Show

In the 1994 work, Sa, artist Dana Claxton builds an autobiographical performance through the process of assemblage. Here, the notion of “self” exists in the tensions between the personal and the constructed. This is conveyed in the artist’s use of performative elements such as song, dance, and narration, as well as a variety of historical documents and media, such as archival film footage from educational programmes and interviews, vinyl recordings, images of monuments, photographic portraits of First Nations peoples, and excerpts from the Indian Act. Together these components build a story that is not singular, but multiple, and which speaks to ongoing colonial and racist systems of power and domination.

The performance begins with a pulsing red light on-screen, while an audio clip of a woman speaking in both Lakȟótiyapi (Lakota) and English says: “The heart is the very thing that is. This is the Black Hills.” Her voice repeats and layers over an instrumental dub bass melody, upbeat and entrancingly rhythmic. The scene fades and Claxton appears centre stage with a flashlight. She moves the light from her mouth downwards and outwards away from her body, creating exaggerated shadows and shifting features. Her face falls away into the darkness and returns, in profile, silhouetted on the wall. A man concealed in shadow enters playing a flute. A 16mm film clip plays on-screen, depicting the detailed construction of a tīpī in slow motion. Despite the plentiful assembly of dwellings, no people appear in the film. The scene shifts and the camera turns skywards, from the centre of the tīpī toward the fulcrum of the structure, where the supporting posts are gathered. Gradually, more posts are added to the structure. When the film ends, Claxton appears back on-stage, washed in a slow blinking red light. Looking upward, the artist recounts the story of colonial violence that led to her great grandmother Mestichina’s displacement from her sacred homeland after the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890. With anger and frustration in her voice, she demands accountability and justice: “My memories hold your memories…I felt the bullet…I grind my teeth.” Later, Claxton recites from Section 140 (3) of the Indian Act in place until 1951, and calls attention to the legal ramifications of her performance. Under the eye of the “Canadian democratic law,” participants in this event could be legally penalized as audience members, program curators, and venue operators, she says. Had her mother or grandmother performed Claxton’s piece, they would have been fined and possibly thrown in jail.

Colonial injustices and the ongoing impacts of oppression experienced by First Nations peoples have been at the forefront of Claxton’s practice as an artist, curator, and educator. Presently located in Vancouver and hailing from the Lakota First Nations Wood Mountain reserve, Claxton’s practice explores the representation, misrepresentation and appropriation of indigeneity, and the mistreatment of indigenous peoples through the relation of her experiences as an Indigenous woman of mixed ancestry. Claxton’s Sa, made in the decade before Canada’s most public efforts towards reconciliation with Indigenous communities, resonates as a powerful call to action, asking the viewer to question entrenched beliefs, and to dismantle the practices that serve to perpetuate colonial and racist systems of dominance.

Credits
Flute and Voice: Anthony McNab
Guitar: Rory Daniels

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Kazue Mizushima, Eve of the Future, 1994

Eve of the Future (1994)

Duration: 54 min 26 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. v, no. 5, p. 15, Spring/Summer 1994:

Using unusual material as sound sources, Japanese composer Kazue Mizushima creates music you’ve never experienced before. “Eve of the Future” combines the concepts of visually stunning art installation with a radical sound performance that places a piano in a web of string spinning from sound cups all around the gallery walls. The giant instruments requires three performers and produces an incredible soundscape. A self-proclaimed sound explorer, Kazue Mizushima became involved experimental music while working with dance companies and visual artists in Tokyo. She received an M.A. in composition at University of California in 1991. Since then Kazue has created several provocative and avant-garde pieces that redefined the notions of music and at the same time restructure audience attitudes towards musical performance.

Digitized audio and video of this concert is available through the Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Jill Fraser, when I turned three I had two younger sisters, now I am 39, 1994

when I turned three I had two younger sisters, now I am 39 (1994)

Duration: 60 min 17 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

Original Archive Entry:

This performance both produces and examines our notions of our own, and each others’, experiences. It embodies a process of weaving in and out of fixing and unfixing notions about our subjectivities, our narratives, our relationships.

Digitized audio and video of this concert is available through the Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Lori Weidenhammer, Goodnight, Aubergine, 1995

Goodnight, Aubergine (1995)

Duration: 18 min 36 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. VI, no. 4, p. 6, March/April 1995:

Lori Weidenhammer is a performance artist from Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. She toured the western Fringe circuit in 1992 with a play co-written and performed with Rebecca Popoff called The Blessed Doris Day Cafe, about two women who bowl across Saskatchewan. Last year, her one woman show, Zucchini Mama: By the Skin of Her Eggplant portrayed a woman obsessed with her opera-singing ovaries. This year Weidenhammer has being touring a show called Lies About Betty, and the Truth about Zucchini. Lori has collaborated with Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie and Jr. Gone Wild. Weidenhammer’s poetry video for Word Up has premiered on Much Music. She is currently based in Winnipeg.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Joanne Bristol and Carla Marie Powers, Centre of the Universe, 1995

Joanne Bristol and Carla Marie Powers,Centre of the Universe (1995)

Duration: 38 min 27 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. VI, no. 5, p. 9, May/June 1995:

Centre of the Universe is a 30-minute performance piece involving two performers and a video element. You could say that “the work challenges official western histories of science and religion through a presentation of feminist, revisionist utopian narratives”. You could say that “it’s a Sci-Fi tale about three generations of prairie lesbian nomads who determine their futures through combining practices of genetic engineering, contemporary alchemy and dirt farming.” You could say that “the work provides extended and polyphonic vocalizations on language, longing and living in a country where long-distance relationships are a major theme.”

Joanne Bristol is a Saskatoon-based interdisciplinary artist whose work is text-based. She has performed in Montréal, Halifax and Banff. This is her first visit to Vancouver along with her collaborator Carla Marie Powers.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Laetitia Sonami, Untitled Performance, 1996

Laetitia Sonami - [Performance by Laetitia Sonami] (1996)

Duration: 24 min 20 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT II: Movement Arts

Laetitia Sonami’s performance took place as part of Women in View, a festival featuring performance works by women artists and musicians.[1] Sonami was one of three female electroacoustic composers on the bill, performing alongside Hildegard Westerkamp and Maggi Payne.[2]

Bringing to mind the subversive ontologies of cyberfeminism that seek to reconstitute the female/racialized body, this performance reclaims technology to present new sensorial possibilities. The performance features Sonami’s signature accessory, the “Lady’s Glove”: a cybernetic instrument which enables the performer to manipulate sound through movement when worn. The first iteration of the Lady’s Glove was created by Sonami and artist Paul DeMarinis in 1991 from a pair of rubber dishwashing gloves, referred to by Sonami as “the perfect housewife’s tool.”[3] The initial pair had a “Hall effect transducer” attached to the tip of each finger, and a magnet on the right hand which, when touched, generated “varying voltages” that were then converted to MIDI signals to control various synthesizers and samplers. The subsequent iterations of the glove incorporated exposed hardware, like veins, to parody “the heavy masculine apparel used in VR systems,” and eventually took on more glamorous designs, including arm-length white and golden lycra, handmade in Paris. Later versions of the glove would have the ability to “control motors, light bulbs, and/or video.”[4]

Sonami’s 1996 performance unfolds in two parts, and demonstrates her engagement with sonic material and technology through the use of movement, found sound, spoken text and vocalization. The hand, already an expressive signifier,[5] is further emphasized by the glove’s shaping of the acoustic environment. As Sonami states: “The intention in building the glove was to allow movement without spatial reference, and most importantly to allow for multiple, simultaneous controls.”[6] The resulting sounds, determined through intuitive body movements and fluid responses,[7] build a futuristic soundscape of disconnected information and cybernetic augmentation.

Sonami, best known as a composer, performer, and sound installation artist, was born in France in 1957. She came to the United States in 1975 to further her interests in the then nascent field of electronic music, later studying with such innovators as Eliana Radigue, Joel Chadabe, and Robert Ashley. Sonami now lives in Oakland, California where she is a guest lecturer at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Milton Avery MFA program at Bard College.[8]

1 – Front Magazine, vol. VII, no. 3, January/February 1996, 10-11.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Sonami, Laetitia. “Instruments | Lady’s Glove.” LAETITIA SONAMI. Accessed April 2018. http://sonami.net/ladys-glove/.
4 – Ibid.
5 – Hayford, Justin. “The Sound of the Hand.” Chicago Reader, October 19, 1995, 25th ed. Accessed April 2018. https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-sound-of-one-hand/Content?oid=888790.
6 – Sonami, Laetitia. “Instruments | Lady’s Glove.”
7 – Ibid.
8 – Sonami, Laetitia. “Bio | Laetitia Sonami.” LAETITIA SONAMI. Accessed April 2018. http://sonami.net/bio/.

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Cathy Sisler, Untitled Performance, 1996

Cathy Sisler - [Performance by Cathy Sisler] (1996)

Duration: 38 min 50 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT I: Variety Show

The stage is set in the round with a single spotlight. Two video monitors are mounted on a podium draped in fabric. Cathy Sisler arrives on-stage announcing “tonight’s lecture” as a “dramatization of not knowing how to speak.” After a short preamble about the various theatrical and commercial uses of dramatization, she concludes by announcing that she has “absolutely no desire to speak about [herself]” and instead suggests that “this condition of not knowing how to speak is, in fact, the problem of another.”

Throughout the performance, deferral is a recurring device deployed by the various characters and personalities that Sisler embodies, most of whom are referred to as “Cathy.” “Cathy” introduces the performance, recovers from speech loss as a subject of clinical study, and hosts a talk show as an outgoing “motivation lady.” Another character who is not overtly called Cathy, but is played by Cathy, is in a disturbed state; she wears a set of angel wings and communicates only through body movement. This Cathy sits in the audience and watches the two-channel film of the Cathy who introduced the performance, performing a “dramatization of aural hallucinations.” She changes seats often, constantly moving her legs and flailing sporadically, breaking the composed civility of the spectator. As the performance continues, the viewer bears witness to these many facets of Cathy via a series of live and pre-recorded versions of her.

An American-born artist formally trained at the Ontario College of Art & Design and Concordia University, Sisler is known for her activity as a musician, painter, teacher, writer, but most predominantly as a performance and video artist.[1] One of her most notable works is the four-part series Aberrant Motion (1993-1994), where Cathy, who identifies as a lesbian woman, enacts a series of interventions that disrupt the “normal” movement and activity of urban public space. In her performance at Western Front, Sisler continues to challenge accepted states of normalcy by breaking down communication between the audience and her (many) selves.

Sisler’s use of pre-recorded media on TV monitors further emphasizes this distancing effect. In one instance, Cathy-the-talk-show-host attempts a “live TV broadcast via satellite on The Cathy Show” with Cathy-the-medical-subject, to discuss her “miraculous recovery from [the] terrible problem of speechlessness.” Communication between the two characters ultimately disintegrates as the Cathy on-screen abolishes all conventional social etiquette, defying any possible attempt at a meaningful exchange about mental health and recovery. Their dialogue soon becomes stagnant and repetitive, diverging from the narrative drama conventionally found in TV talk shows. The dramatization of “not knowing how to speak” thus exposes the performative nature of commodified language and highlights the subject’s speechlessness not as a physiological illness, but as a conditioning among “others who [are] silent,” a method of coping with “the composure of society and the fear of falling open.”

1 – Logue, Deirdre, Chris Gehman, and Erik Martinso. “Artist: Cathy Sisler.” Vtape. Accessed March 2018. http://www.vtape.org/artist?ai=508.

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Yu Gu and Gu Xiong , A Girl From China, 1997

A Girl From China (1997)

Duration: 47 min 39 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. IX, no. 1, p. 12, September/October 1997:

A Girl from China is a multi-media performance piece. Using video, music and storytelling to unravel the emotional story of three generations. From the Cultural Revolution in China, to life as immigrants in Canada, their past sufferings, present hardships and triumphs are retold through the eyes of Gu Yu, a girl who doesn’t want to be a copy or a reproduction, but the original.

Gu Xiong is a multi-media artist from China now living in Vancouver. His work has been shown nationally and internationally and has been collected by The National Gallery of Canada, The National Gallery of China and other museums in the world. His work deals with his personal experience in living between cultures, raising issues of cultural conflict and his own identity. Gu Yu is his 14 year old daughter who attends grade nine at Kitsilano Secondary in Vancouver. She is very interested in her family background and her sense of self. Douglas Schmidt is a composer of contemporary music, now a resident in Vancouver. Clancy Dennely is a video-artist living in Vancouver.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Carol Sawyer, An Incompleat History of the Voice, 1997

Carol Sawyer - "An Incompleat History of the Voice" (1997)

Duration: 39 min 18 sec
Original Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT I: Variety Show

An Incompleat History of the Voice unfolds as a solo work in five acts that demonstrates the power and accomplishments of the human voice–particularly the voice of the female performer–through a dynamic and theatrical multimedia installation and performance. The work was originally presented as Sawyer’s MFA thesis performance.

With humour, drama, and a dynamic cast of characters, the piece is mediated through the perspective of a vivacious leading chanteuse and “Public Envoy for the WAVSO (World Association of Vocal Sports Organizations),” Daisy Del Monte, played by Sawyer. Acting upon pre-recorded instructions by the artist, whom she refers to as “Ms. Sawyer” throughout the performance, Del Monte attempts to teach the audience about the tumultuous origins of the fictional WAVSO, only to be interrupted by Ms. Sawyer. She then defers to “a discussion of precision vocal tectonics to disrupt the molecular structure of the material world,” noting especially the voice’s ability “to maim or kill.” Over the course of the evening, a vocal demonstration becomes a slapstick glass-breaking act and the performance culminates in an absurd monologue and musical rendition of Mussetta’s Aria from the opera La Bohème, sung by Sawyer dressed in a mermaid costume.

The varied nature of this piece, which includes everything from storytelling to video, slides, electronic equipment and music,[1] is representative of Western Front’s multidisciplinary activities since its inception in 1973. Sawyer’s ongoing relationship with the organization is a testament to these affinities. A selection from Sawyer’s The Natalie Brettschneider Archive was recently exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2017, and exemplifies the range of her material engagements with photography, filmmaking, performance, and voice, as well as her commitment to the reinterpretation of history, particularly through a feminist lens. As part of the cabaret event Such Sweet Compulsion, a performance in the Grand Luxe Hall by Carol Sawyer and Andreas Kahre titled Chant Excellent (1998) documents three works composed by Brettschneider and Piscator for voice and piano, and can be viewed in the Western Front archives.

1 – Front Magazine, vol. IX, no. 2, p. 7, November/December 1997.

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Nao Bustamante and Coco Fusco, Stuff, 1998

Coco Fusco and Nao Bustamante - "STUFF" (1998)

Duration: 60 min 12 sec
Original Format: ¾” Umatic

ACT I: Variety Show

STUFF is a multi-layered performance narrative by artists Nao Bustamante and Coco Fusco that interrogates relations between tourism, food and the exploitative consumption of the Latina body in the Western imagination.[1]  Framed with a promotional tourist rhetoric, a series of eclectic “skits” performed by Bustamante and Fusco begin with a sales pitch from our travel guide, “Triple E”, who promises novel experiences and carefree transportation to exotic destinations. The rhetorical device of the televised ad man introducing and framing the evening punctuates the power dynamic at play in the work.

The performance includes epistolary readings from postcards, crude tourism promotions, an “authentic” communal meal for “foreign guests” that requires audience participation, myth telling, excerpts from a sex tourism language manual, and rumba dance sequences, eventually culminating in a bilingual karaoke sing-a-long that ends in the refrain: “Drunk gringos are the island girl’s curse.” Certain elements from the script derive from the artists’ trips to Mexico and Cuba,[2] where they conducted interviews with prostitutes in Havana, and child street vendors in Chiapas.[3]

STUFF is a performance jointly commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), Highways Performance (LA), and the Portland Center for Contemporary Art.[4] It was first performed at the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow in November 1996 and ran until the end of 1998. At the time of the performance, Bustamante was based in San Francisco and Fusco in New York.[5]  STUFF was the first collaboration between the two practitioners, who both have extensive independent careers as curators, writers, and interdisciplinary artists.[6]  Bustamante,“infamous for [her] edgy, improvisation/performance pieces in which both she and her audiences are on display,” is complemented here by Fusco’s practice of using “parodic exaggeration as a means of lowering spectators’ defenses in order to reveal their own complicity.”[7] Combining their respective strategies, Fusco and Bustamante reveal the dualities and tensions at play between their Western American upbringings and their Latino roots, making for an entertaining, self-reflexive performance. STUFF breaks open stereotypes and myths, deliberately satirizing the female form to comic effect and revealing (as well as revelling in) the constructed fiction of the “other” caught in a perpetually exploitive cycle of consumption and cultural display.

1 - Bustamante, Nao, and Coco Fusco. “STUFF.” TDR/The Drama Review 41, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 63-82.
2 – Fusco is Cuban-American from her mother’s side. Alba, Elia, and Coco Fusco. “Coco Fusco by Elia Alba – BOMB Magazine.” Coco Fusco – BOMB Magazine. Accessed March 2018. https://bombmagazine.org/articles/coco-fusco/.
3 – Bustamante, Nao, and Coco Fusco. “STUFF.” TDR/The Drama Review 41, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 63-82.
4 - Bustamante, Nao. “Stuff.” Nao Bustamante. http://www.naobustamante.com/art_stuff.html. Accessed March 2018.
5 - Weatherston, Rosemary. “Stuff by Nao Bustamante and Coco Fusco.” Theatre Journal 49, no. 4 (December 1997): 516-18.
6 – Ibid.
7 – ibid.

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Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan, Tales for a New World, The Short Tale of Little Lizzie Borden, The Headless Woman, 1998

Excerpt from Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan - "Tales for a New World" (1998)
Excerpt from Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan - "The Headless Woman" (1998)

Duration: 48 min 32 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

ACT III: Readings + Monologues

In January of 1998, collaborative performance duo Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan undertook a month-long artist residency at Western Front where they edited a video production called The Headless Woman and performed Tales For a New World and The Short Tale of Little Lizzie Borden to a live audience in the Grand Luxe Hall.[1]

The Headless Woman is a 30-minute monologue by Shawna Dempsey that recounts a revelatory love story between a headless woman and a sword-swallowing man. It was performed live with a pianist and bass clarinetist who provide emphatic musical interludes and interjections and create a cabaret-style atmosphere. Throughout the monologue, a video plays in the background featuring characters performing spectacular circus acts: a woman vacuums over Niagara Falls on a tightrope, a bearded lady’s beard subsumes her, and a human cannonball is propelled into the sky flying infinitely.[2] These acts of showmanship become metaphors for what the artists call “…risk and danger, the complexity of desire, and the many parts (and absences) that make up one’s identity.”[3]

Tales For a New World and The Short Tale of Little Lizzie Borden are delivered as monologues by Shawna Dempsey dressed in an evening gown. Beside her microphone she has a crash cymbal which she whacks sporadically and enthusiastically using the pointed heel of her stiletto as a drumstick. Tales For a New World is a retelling of North American legends and events mythologized by pop culture. The scattered hearsay qualities of such stories offer a loose form for Dempsey and Millan as they rewrite the narratives to integrate lesbian and feminist readings: Tales For a New World recounting the story of Tonto and the Lone Ranger as a Western lesbian love story, and The Short Tale of Lizzie Borden reinvestigating the events of Borden’s childhood leading up to the murder of her parents, controversially positing rage as a logical and justifiable emotional reaction to the repressive conditions in her home and as a woman in the Victorian era.[4] Dempsey’s delivery is confident, commanding, and powerful: an intentionally masculine strategy used by the artist to subvert conventional women’s roles.[5] The humour which pervades the performance serves a similar purpose, undermining dominant narratives to propose alternative representations of women.[6]

Dempsey and Millan met in Toronto during a surge of feminist performance art within the city, formally beginning their collaboration in 1989.[7] At the time, Millan was active as an artist, photographer and songwriter; Dempsey was studying theatre production at York University and working as a technician for The Clichettes, a satirical lip-syncing performance girl-group.[8] The malleability of performance art as a medium allowed Dempsey and Millan to integrate their respective skills while also conveying their feminist politics. Their interdisciplinary approach to performance art is a spectacular mélange of theatre, humour, identity politics and queer theory which has manifested in the form of “monologues from iconic females, rap songs about female anatomy, meditations on lesbian life, and site-specific interruptions referred to as ‘real world performances.’”[9] A strength of Millan and Dempsey’s work is their integrity and unfaltering commitment to their craft, as emphasized by their careful attention to costumes, character development, gesture/choreography, and script. Millan notes the affective politics of “peopleness” as a driving force behind their practice as collaborators and performers, a testament to the enduring appeal and success of their work.[10] Dempsey and Millan, now based in Winnipeg, continue to be active as performance artists.[11]

1 – Front Magazine, vol. IX, No. 3, Jan/Feb 1998, 6.
2 – “The Headless Woman.” Western Front. February 1, 1998. Accessed April 2018. https://front.bc.ca/events/the-headless-woman/.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Dempsey, Shawna, and Lorri Millan. “Work: Tales for a New World.” Shawna Dempsey & Lorri Millan. Accessed April 2018. http://www.shawnadempseyandlorrimillan.net/#/eastward/.
5 – Fisher, Jennifer. “Shawna Dempsey & Lorri Millan: Performance Art Out and About.” In Caught in the Act: An Anthology of Performance Art by Canadian Women, edited by Tanya Mars and Johanna Householder, 189-96. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2004.
6 – Ibid.
7 – Dempsey, Shawna, and Lorri Millan. “About Dempsey and Millan.” Shawna Dempsey & Lorri Millan. Accessed April 2018. http://www.shawnadempseyandlorrimillan.net/about/.
8 – Fisher, Jennifer.
9 – Ibid.
10 – Ibid.
11 – Dempsey, Shawna, and Lorri Millan. “About Dempsey and Millan.”

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Shawna Dempsey, Lorri Millan, The Headless Woman, 1998

Excerpt from Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan - "The Headless Woman" (1998)

Entry from Acts of Transfer: Duration: 30 min Format: ¾” Umatic SP The Headless Woman is a 30-minute monologue by Shawna Dempsey that recounts a revelatory

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Lori Blondeau, COSMOSQUAW, 1998

COSMOSQUAW (1998)

Duration: 26 min 44 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

Original Archive Entry:

Excerpt from Front Magazine, Sept/Oct 1998 Vol. IX, No. 6, P.9:

As the lesbian magazine Diva offers us an alternative to Cosmo, so does Lori Blondeau’s magazine COSMOSQUAW. Blondeau and her collaborator Bradless Larocque have created a magazine that asks us: how cosmopolitan is Cosmo? They do this by satirizing its rhetoric and reminding us of the women left out of the magazine. These artists take pleasure in subverting mainstream perceptions of femininity, beauty, and sexual etiquette.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Alison Knowles, Untitled Performance (Newspaper Music, Shoes of Your Choice, Bean Snow, Celebration Red, Onion Skin Song), 1999

Alison Knowles - Excerpts from "Untitled Performance" ("Newspaper Music" "Shoes of Your Choice" "Celebration Red") (1999)

Duration: 43 min 38 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic SP

ACT III: Readings + Monologues

Alison Knowles is a founding member of the experimental Fluxus group that emerged out of New York in the late 50s and early 60s. As an established artist, Knowles is well known for her installations, performances, sound works, and publications. Her artworks follow typical Fluxus forms and ephemeral “acts” that are often anti-object, intermedial, process-based, and participatory. In 1999, Knowles was invited to Western Front by Eric Metcalfe and Scott Watson as a co-production with the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. Students from Eric Metcalfe’s Performance Art class from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design participate as performers and provide staging assistance in Knowles’ performance. During the introduction to the work, Knowles talks about her much anticipated visit to Western Front, and her parallel interests in merging art and everyday life, crossing disciplinary boundaries, and enacting collective forms of experimentation.

The untitled performance takes place as five event scores: Newspaper Music, Shoes of Your Choice, Bean Snow, Celebration Red and Onion Skin Song. Newspaper Music consists of a group of students who partake in the production of a cacophonous media soundscape. Each student reads from a newspaper score while Knowles conducts the volume levels of the chorus with her hands. Shoes of Your Choice also invites the students to participate, and begins with Knowles reciting a story about her shoe. She rests it on a music stand for display, after which the students proceed to recount their own stories behind their kicks. Bean Snow is an homage to other notable Fluxus works by Knowles that incorporate beans, such as Bean Rolls (1965) and The Book of Bean (1981). Knowles performs Bean Snow as a solo reading which is accompanied by a sequence of steps around the room. Celebration Red is a “celebration of everything red” and has appeared in various iterations including red-themed dinners, sonic experiments, and installations.

For her performance at Western Front, Knowles performs Celebration Red as a reading dedicated to Dick Higgins.[1] The text describes a trip in which she is found meandering through nature, walking from Northern Vermont to the Canadian border using a map as a performance score and stopping at the towns dotted red on the map. The landscape is vividly depicted, with flowers and plants named throughout. The second part of Celebration Red takes the audience “through the sounds of the town depicted on the map” using found objects, materials, and toys in various shades of red.[2] The items are laid out on a table in front of the artist who activates them through movement, emphasizing their materiality and sonic potential. In the last piece, Onion Skin Song, a long strip of plastic wrap is laid out on the floor while a tape of a performance overlaid with narration plays at the side of the stage. Knowles and a student spread what appear to be onion skins and dried beans over the plastic wrap, and proceed to walk on them, resulting in a new visual composition. The composition is covered with another layer of plastic wrap, raised off the floor, and flipped upright by two students. Knowles and another student stand behind the composition making noises, breathing, and blowing on the work. In a final ceremonial act, the composition is turned horizontally and rolled up like a scroll, concluding the performance.

1 – Front Magazine, Vol. IX, No. 11, Sept/Oct 1999, 32.
2 – Ibid.

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Manon Labrecque , Untitled Performance, 2000

Untitled Performance (2000)

Duration: 33 min 56 sec
Format: Mini DV

Original Archive Entry:

Work is a performance in which Labreque wears a pink jump-suit and uses pre-recorded voice, wooden letters, and other makeshift instruments to make music.

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, Nov/Dec 1991 Vol.III No.2 P.32:

MANON LABRECQUE
In collaboration with Western Front

Coming from a background in dance and visual arts, Montreal artist Manon Labrecque has been working alone and in collaboration to create dance, performance and installations. The roots of Labrecque’s work are found in an investigation of day to day experiences. Combining action, objects and places of everyday life, Labrecque’s work transcends banality to discover the emotional load, the force and the poetry of reality.

Guided by the relationship between the body, movement, time and space in her artistic exploration, Labrecque sees creation as a physical and psychic experiment with living and sharing. Labrecque has previously presented her works in Canada, Europ, and Mexico. This is Labrecque’s first performance presentation in Vancouver and is co-sponsored by Western Front.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Sharon Alward, Liminal Acts (Contemporary Ritual Series), 2002

Sharon Alward - "Liminal Acts (Contemporary Ritual Series), Part 1" (2002)
Sharon Alward - "Liminal Acts (Contemporary Ritual Series), Part 2" (2002)

Duration: 63 min 41 sec
Format: Mini DV

Original Archive Entry:

Alward wears a pair of neon angel wings for the duration of the performances. The audience is welcome to sample the various foods on the banquet table. They also have the option of viewing her autobiographical video on the big screen.

The following text is taken from RITUAL In Contemporary Performance: Western Front Performance Art Contemporary Ritual Series May 2, 2002-November 20, 2003 p.14/15:

SHARON ALWARD ON LIMINAL ACTS
I held a banquet for any and all persons that wished to attend in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This area has experienced an influx of problems such as drug addiction and dealing, HIV infection, prostitution, crime, lack of adequate housing and high unemployment.
After the guests had left the banquet, huge platters of food were created and seven guests, including the curator Victoria Singh, went out into the streets and passed out food and desserts.
The performance subverted traditional theatre, clichés of “climax and conclusion,” and the traditional information structure. ‘Liminal Acts’ worked within a non-matrixed performative structure which is based on the audience relationship and the potential for transformation.
The performance also made reference to the writings of anthropologist: Victor Turner, specifically his theories associated with “the betwixt and between of the liming.”

Professor Sharon Alward received her BA from the University of Winnipeg in 1975, her BFA from the University of Manitoba in 1983, and her MFA at the University of California in 1985. In addition to teaching at the University of Manitoba School of Art, she has volunteered at TERF (Training and Employment Resources for Females) as the Artist-In-Residence, which evolved out of her work at POWER (Prostitutes an Other Women for Equal Rights) as an outreach worker. She was also an Administrant and Lay reader for the Anglican Church. Alward’s performances and video-tapes have been exhibited worldwide. Her work investigates the metaphysical, moral, and epistemological role of the contemporary artist through the use of ritual symbolism.

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Linda Montano, Jean Smith, Lana O'Keefe, Absent/Presence, 2003

Linda Montano, Lana O'Keefe, Jean Smith - "Absent/Presence, Part 1" (2003)
Multiple Artists - "Absent/Presence, Part 2" (2003)

Duration: 2 hr 24 min
Format: Mini DV

ACT III: Readings + Monologues

Linda Montano is a performance artist whose work explores the idea of art as life, connected through the constant occurrence of performance in daily life. Like many feminist performance artists that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, Montano’s practice positions the personal at its core, and many of her works have an autobiographical component. Duration and interactivity also play a major role in Montano’s work, referred to as acts of “endurance.”[1] Perhaps most notably is her collaborative work Art / Life: One Year Performance 1983-1984 (Rope Piece) with Tehching Hseih, that bound the two artists together at the waist with an 8-foot rope for an entire year.[2]

In 2001, Montano was invited to Western Front by curator Victoria (Vicky) Singh as part of her year-long curatorial performance project, Contemporary Ritual Series. Montano proposed to conduct a ritual-based interactive workshop called “Living the Sacraments and Chakras” in Spring 2003.[3] The work was intended to be a reference to her performances 14 years of Living Art (1984-1998) and later, Another 21 Years of Living Art (1998-2019); a series which “compassionately practice[d] an appreciation for life and [was] a durational continuation of [her] exploration of the art of consciousness.”[4] The workshop would also converge elements of Montano’s spiritual experiences with practices derived from Catholicism and Zen Buddhism.[5] By the time Montano was supposed to travel to Western Front in 2003 however, she was acting as the primary caregiver for her ailing father and postponed her trip to stay with him and wait out the poor weather. Between 1998 and 2004 Montano cared for her father in her family home in Saugerties, NY and turned the experience into an ongoing performance documentation project titled DAD Art.[6] Despite Montano’s apologetic absence from the Front, she devised an alternative approach to her “art/life” performance that did not require her to be physically present: Living the Sacraments and Chakras was retitled Absent/Presence, a performance that intended to “expand the understandings of artistic presence.”[7] In the performance, a Linda Montano look-a-like (Jean Smith) replaces Linda Montano onstage and reads the “Seven Chakra Stories” from Montano’s website, dressing in their corresponding colours, while another invited substitute (Lana O’Keefe) appears as a manifestation of Montano’s healer/dancer character “Guru Leendah” or “Lava.”[8] “Lava” roams around the audience offering blessings, healing energies and massages while the performance unfurls.

A split-screen projection shares Smith interacting with and reading from Montano’s website as a script while the other side plays a video as a mock live feed documenting Montano actively and intimately caring for her elderly father. A phone connection is also set up to make communication between Montano and participating audience members. Halfway through the performance, four audience members speak with Montano on the phone, and ask questions about the video, her current location, and topics relating to art, reality TV, and the everyday.

Technology and media continue to influence Montano in her exploration of life and art, just as modern technologies, in granting us increased mobility and expanded modes of connection, necessitate a rethinking of “bodily presence.”[9] Technology’s impact on the domestic sphere has also allowed Montano to fulfill her role and responsibility at home as a caretaker and daughter, while also continuing to produce work as an artist.

In the Fall of 2003, Montano returned to conduct the workshop she initially proposed, this time renaming it “Respecting the Endocrine System.”The workshop was a healing ritual “for anyone wanting to pay performative/intuitive attention to the seven glands in the body” for a sustained period of time.[10] Instructions followed: “No experience is necessary. Please bring a piece of fruit, a wig (if you have one) and something soft to sit or lie on.”[11]

Credits
Linda Montano: Jean Smith
Guru Leendah/Lava: Lana O’Keefe

1 – Montano, Linda, Victoria Singh, Jean Smith, and Peter Conlin. “Linda Montano: Absent/Presence and Respecting the Endocrine System.” In Ritual in Contemporary Performance, 31-45. Vancouver: Western Front, 2004.
2 – Bibby, Charlotte. “Rope Piece: A One Year Performance Piece.” GHOST Arts Travel Life. July 12, 2015. Accessed April 2018. http://www.ghosttt.com/rope-piece-a-one-year-performance-piece/.
3 – Montano, Linda, Victoria Singh, Jean Smith, and Peter Conlin. “Linda Montano: Absent/Presence and Respecting the Endocrine System.”
4 – Ibid.
5 – Ibid.
6 – Ibid.
7 – Ibid.
8 – Ibid.
9 – Ibid.
10 – Ibid.
11 – Ibid.

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Linda Montano, Respecting the Endocrine System, 2003

Linda Montano - "Respecting the Endocrine System" [Part 1] (2003)
Linda Montano - "Respecting the Endocrine System" [Part 2] (2003)

Duration: 2 hr 3 min
Format: Mini DV

Original Archive Entry:

Documentation of a workshop by Linda Montano at the Western Front including an introduction by Montano and exercises by the participants and Montano.

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Rebecca Belmore, A Simple Truth, 2003

A Simple Truth (2003)
Duration: 38 min 41 sec
Format: Mini DV

Original Archive Entry:

Work is a performance at Western Front as part of LIVE Biennial of Performance Art Festival in which Belmore discusses her process of creating work through a narrative involving her connection to the suicide of a student with whom she worked with during a residency. During the performance, she lies down while being surrounded by glasses with candles lit inside that are carried out of the Western Front when the performance ends.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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Cindy Baker, The Gallery Director, 2004

Cindy Baker - "The Gallery Director" (2004)

Duration: 16 min 13 sec
Format: Mini DV

Original Archive Entry:

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. XV, no. 4, p. 28, September/October 2004:

The Artist – The Cultural Worker Series

Three Interventions: October 18-23, 2004

The Gallery Director
The University Professor
Dinner with the Artist

In the sixties and seventies, Bonnie Sherk was one of the first artists to take the notion of the ready made and translate it into the performance genre. Whereas anything could already be art, she posited that any action, if undertaken with a critical mind and suitable contextualization, could be art. In this series, I propose to present a contemporary version of Bonnie Shark’s seminal performance work. An updating of her work vis-à-vis changing vocabularies, ideals, politics and times, my performances will work in the same vein wherein she used everyday actions, objects, and places to create a contemplative space. Each performance will be a response to one of Sherk’s actions; the 60s/70s ideals made contemporary, under her work made mine through my preference to examine life through a filter of perceived reality (or perhaps cynicism) in reference to those ideals. –Cindy Baker

This work is part of “That 70′s Ho”–a celebration of women and performance circa 1970. Curated by Victoria Singh, co-curated/produced by Velveeta Krisp.

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Lori Blondeau and Adrian Stimson, Putting the WILD back into the west: starring Belle Sauvage & Buffalo Boy), 2006

Putting the Wild Back Into the West (starring Belle Sauvage and Buffalo Boy) (2006)
Duration: 1 hr 16 min
Format: Mini DV

Original Archive Entry:

A description of the work from the former Western Front website, reads “Belle Sauvage & Buffalo Boy are performance personas created by artists Lori Blondeau and Adrian Stimson, investigating the impact of colonization on traditional and contemporary aboriginal culture. Blondeau’s Belle Sauvage is loosely based on Indigenous women who performed in Wild West shows and Vaudeville acts in the early 20th century, and also spoofs the 1950s film Calamity Jane, in which Doris Day performed as a cross-dressing, gender-bending white cowgirl. Buffalo Boy, a character parody of Buffalo Bill, is part of Stimson’s ongoing series of performances and exhibitions (including such works as Buffalo Boy’s Wild West Peep Show, Buffalo Boy Getting it from 4 directions, and Buffalo Boy’s Heart On) that re-signify colonial history.”

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, Sept/Oct 2006 Vol.XVII No.4 P.26:

Putting the WILD back into the west: starring Belle Sauvage & Buffalo Boy
Lori Blondeau and Adrian A. Stimson
Curated by Joanne Bristol
Thursday, Oct 19, 8pm

All will not be quiet at the Western Front when Belle Sauvage & Buffalo Boy ride into town. For one night only, Vancouver audiences are invited to witness and participate in a performative photo-op with the renowned and notorious multi-spirited plains duo.

Belle Sauvage & Buffalo Boy are performance personas created by artists Lori Blondeau and Adrian Stimson, investigating the impact of colonization on traditional and contemporary aboriginal culture. Blondeau’s Belle Sauvage is loosely based on Indigenous women who performed in Wild West shows and Vaudeville acts in the early 20th century, and also spoofs the 1950s film Calamity Jane, in which Doris Day performed as a cross-dressing, gender-bending white cowgirl. Buffalo Boy, a character parody of Buffalo Bill, is part of Stimson’s ongoing series of performances and exhibitions, including such works as Buffalo Boy’s Wild West Peep Show, Buffalo Boy Getting it from 4 directions and Buffalo Boy’s Heart On, that re-signify colonial history.

For Putting the WILD back into the west: starring Belle Sauvage & Buffalo Boy, Blondeau and Stimson will set up a ‘Wild West’ diorama and invite audience members to join them within it for a photo session, creating a scene where artists and viewers become co-participants in creating meaning and history.

Lori Blondeau is a Cree/Saulteaux/Métis artist and curator based in Saskatoon. She is a co-founder and the current director of TRIBE, one of Canada’s most innovative and exciting Aboriginal arts organizations. Blondeau’s performance, photo and media-based works have been represented nationally and internationally. She is currently completing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

Adrian A. Stimson is a member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation in Southern Alberta and a Saskatoon-based interdisciplinary artist. He has exhibited and performed nationally and is a sessional instructor at the University of Saskatchewan. His research has included identity, metaphysics, two spirit people, ecology, spirit and healing modalities within artists’ practice. Adrian was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003 and the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005 for his human rights and diversity activism in various communities.

Digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.

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PERFORMANCE ART IN THE WESTERN FRONT ARCHIVE

The Body of Knowledge (1988)

Acts of Transfer is a project that unfolds in three acts: ‘Variety Show,’ ‘Movement Arts,’ and ‘Readings + Monologues.’ Released in three stages throughout April 2018, these acts seek to form new and malleable arrangements—suggested readings—of newly digitized video from the Western Front archives. The repertoires, embodiments, expressions, explorations, and assertions of performance collected in this series are all by female-identified artists. In looking to the present in the continuum of performance that has taken place, we ask: How can we move these works through time and space? Can we enable new relationships to these practices through documentation? To what extent are the readings of these pieces conditional on their placement in the archive? And how do we, as feminists, address our role in their care?

Artist-run centre archives are characteristically complex, and Western Front’s media archive is no exception. It is filled with a mixture of edited and unedited performance documents, original media productions, and hybrid variants in between. With limited resources, we face the challenge that not all tapes can (nor perhaps even ‘should’) be kept: we have to prioritize and that is a political act. The fragility of media, and the practical challenge of managing an archive, gives rise to the important work of choosing, implementing, and articulating what is to be preserved and how (as well as who).

Acts of Transfer acknowledges that these works, all by women, have been under-valued, under-recognized and less-well known than those of their peers. With the digitization of this material, we are simultaneously preserving artists’ works and the history of performance at Western Front. We have responded to this condition by engaging in dialogue with the various artists about their works, to ask: Is this of value to you? Do you want to remember this work? How would you like it to be seen, shared, or known? In some cases, the answer has been: I do not. In these cases, you will find the works described without video available online.

The interactive timeline above offers one linear possibility of an expandable representation that marks notable events and draws connections between these works. We would like to acknowledge the incomplete nature of the timeline as a project influenced by ongoing conversations and pending permissions from the artists. Although an understanding of these works does not require assignment according to gender, by foregrounding work by women here, we have asserted our care for them. We want you to know these works, and to consider them as a starting point for exploring the detail of the archive.

Browse the index of performance art by women in the Western Front archives here

Acts of Transfer-Act1

ACT I: Variety Show

“With performance art it is often the case that no script remains, no cohesive narrative was created, no singular message was conveyed, there were no characters to identify with; it may, in fact, be unclear when the performance started. All that you might definitively be able to say about it is, that it is over.”

– Judy Radul, What Remains–What Reminds

In her 1966 essay “Film & Theatre,” Susan Sontag points to the advent of film as a medium and mode of depiction that has caused a notable paradigmatic shift in our understanding and experience of space and time. Sontag proposes that the “arrangement of images and sounds” creates a “rhythm of associations and disjunctions,” and that what materializes as the end result is a “discontinuous use of space.” From a feminist perspective, the medium’s ability to defy continuity and singularity through the process of editing, holds subversive potential for the artist behind the camera. Film has since become a transformative medium for women, a space to rethink issues of (self-)representation and to re-claim authorship over their stories and their bodies. The medium has also provided artists with a means to respond to the critical role of the viewer and their gaze as another form of producer.

While previewing works for Acts of Transfer, one common objective that emerged was the artist’s persistent desire to break with linearity. Most often, this took the form of a variety show: a format composed of different, frequently incongruous, acts, and one in favour of abandoning uniformity and conventional narrative, bringing to mind certain postmodern methodologies. Recalling Sontag’s assertion that cinema gives access to a “discontinuous use of space,” the intersection of film, performance art, and feminism here comes as no surprise, particularly in regards to Western Front’s history as an active site and resource for media production and multidisciplinary experimentation from the 1970s onward.

The eight artists selected to represent the Variety Show format use an assortment of media and draw from a range of sources for their performances. Judy Radul integrates a film she produced while in residence at Western Front; Yvonne Parent conducts a series of live interviews over the phone and through Slow Scan television; Cathy Quinn stages various sets for action in the Grand Luxe Hall; Cathy Sisler embodies multiple selves simultaneously; Nao Bustamante and Coco Fusco invite and expose implicit audience participation; Nancy Barton collaborates with her mother; Dana Claxton draws from personal histories and archival documents; and Carol Sawyer unpacks the history of the voice through five eclectic theatrical acts. The variation in content that makes up this selection may very well be an account of shifting aesthetic and cultural tastes, but also allows for a displacement of meaning through correlation and juxtaposition. Each work can be traced back to an impulse to break down modes of representation, to deconstruct conventional understandings and perceptions of reality. By presenting alternative and multiple perspectives, singularity is thus exchanged for plurality.

acts of transfer_Week 2

ACT II: Movement Arts

“A video performance is not a performance, though it often comes to replace the performance as a thing in itself (the video is part of the archive; what it represents is part of the repertoire). Embodied memory, because it is live, exceeds the archive’s ability to capture it.”

[...]

“Multiple forms of embodied acts are always present, though in a constant state of againness. They reconstitute themselves, transmitting communal memories, histories, and values from one group/generation to the next. Embodied and performed acts generate, record, and transmit knowledge.”

– Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas

Borrowing its title from “Movementarts,” a dance project and workshop that took place at Western Front in the late 1970s, ACT II: Movement Arts draws from and pulls apart the name to present a series of performances rooted in expressions of the body. ACT II is a multifaceted body: static and dynamic, individual and communal, choreographed and improvised, physical and imagined. The eight works in this selection can be viewed and appreciated best as a “repertoire,” a term used by theorist Diana Taylor to describe “performances, gestures, orality, movement, dance, and singing,” which enact certain “ephemeral, non-reproducible” actions of living life and what she calls “embodied memory.”[1] Considering this selection then an amorphous entity—a collected “body of work”—that can both act out on stage and put an idea into practice, we hope to suggest new lives for these documents. How might this collective body express itself?

A specific interest in movement is palpable within these tapes, and stems in large part from the fascination many early Western Front artists had with the camera and its role in defining perception. The camera was widely understood to be both a treasured tool and an integral piece of technology that significantly altered the experience of making work. The camera was a collaborator in the documentation of performance just as much as it was in the making of video works, formulating a complex set of possible relationships between performer, recorder, and viewer. While the moving body might create and recall personal and cultural memories through action, the act of recording interpreted and framed the live act, translating it into the language of video.[2]

The works in ACT II turn our attention to the asynchronous movements that have formed the cumulative repertoire of Western Front since its earliest experiments in the “movement arts”: Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione re-enact early Futurist sintesi, Rose English proposes alternative representations of the female performer, Mona Hatoum’s body is controlled by unseen and violent forces, Jane Ellison and Eric Metcalfe explore the composition of commercial production and advertising, Lily Eng experiments with intuitive movement, Laetitia Sonami manipulates sound through gesture, The EVA Sisters restage the labours of waitressing, and Margaret Dragu investigates the choreography of X’s and O’s in a comedic love story. In re-visiting these works, we look to the specificity of movement to grasp any transcendent qualities of these bodies from the past, and the patterns they might reveal.

Citations
1 – Taylor, Diana. “Acts of Transfer,” The Archive and The Repertoire, 2-52. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.
2 – Mangolte, Babette. “Movement, Motion, Velocity and Stillness in Filming Dance,” Between Zones: On the Representation of the Performative and the Notation of Movement, Raphael Gygax and Heike Munder Eds. 327-35. Switzerland: JRP | Ringier, 2010.

acts of transfer_Week 2

ACT III: Readings + Monologues

“Feminism taught us that domination insinuates itself into all systems of (re)production and communication, in language and in new modes of technology. These systems are instrumental in the formation of new subject positions.”

[...]

“When notions of gender, class and nationality were seen as contingent to one’s identity, one could find strength in building new paradigms of community and new languages to articulate difference.”

– Marina Roy, Corporeal Returns: Feminism and Phenomenology in Vancouver Video and Performance 1968–1983

ACT III: Readings and Monologues presents a group of performances that emphasize the text and its varied articulations. Borrowing from literature, poetry, and theatre, these forms take on new meaning in the realm of performance art. As a discipline with a distinct history, performance becomes, in these works, a mode of speaking. What alternative kinds of speech, and thus, expression, might performance offer and enact?

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, performance art resonated with second wave feminist politics in its reaction against patriarchal structures found in the domestic sphere, the division of labour, reproductive rights, and later, sexuality. In the 1980s and 1990s, performance art saw the rise of social, political, and subjective concerns that coincided with the rise of gender studies, queer theory, and performativity. The introduction of new terminologies within these fields saw the rise of new ontologies that exposed and targeted language as an oppressive structure to dismantle that pervades into the everyday.

The performances that compose ACT III offer new reconfigurations of language and speech that appropriates, adopts, inserts, plays, restructures, and most importantly, asserts female presence. Reclaiming the monologue form outside of dramatic theatre places the “I” at centre stage, and provides space for women, who have been historically silenced, to speak.[1] This “performative utterance,” that is, the merging of character with the performer’s subjective experience, effectively dissolves the distancing effect typically found in conventional theatre and alters the reality in which it is presented.[2] Performative readings, for their part, challenge conventional narratives, offering multiple, expansive interpretations of a text to defy singularity.

Declaring oneself as a woman or non-gender-conforming individual onstage is not without its difficulties: one must also contend with the display of one’s body which, as performance scholar Erin Striff explains, “too often speaks for itself.”[3] Confounding expectations of their exhibited selves, the performers in ACT III use a variety of humorous, imagined, lewd, intimate, collaborative, technological and spiritual approaches to subvert their physicality and reformulate our conceptions of bodily presence. In this collection, Alison Knowles performs collaborative performance scores; Jill Kroesen invents a new society to critique dominant power structures; Constance DeJong reads intimate and non-linear prose from her novel Modern Love; Linda Montano converts her role as a caretaker into performance art; Jerri Allyn ruminates on queer subjectivity reading from her book Love Novellas; Tanya Mars appropriates the marketing rhetoric of the beauty industry; Carole Itter takes inspiration from chickens to make costumes, props, and readings; and Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan retell North American mythologies from lesbian and feminist perspectives.

Citations
1 – Paterson, Eddie. The Contemporary American Monologue: Performance and Politics. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2015.
2 – Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962.
3 – Striff, Erin. “Bodies of Evidence: Feminist Performance Art.” Critical Survey 9, no. 1 (1997): 1-18. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41556049.

– Emma Metcalfe Hurst

ACTS OF TRANSFER CREDITS

Western Front Archives

The title of this project is borrowed from the first chapter of Diana Taylor’s book The Archive and the Repertoire. Acts of Transfer calls forth a recognition of the complexity of writing, thinking and returning to moving image documents of performance works. It is also a direct reference to our ongoing commitment to the act of transfer itself. The project would not have been possible without the oversight and technical capabilities of our Archivist, Kristy Waller, who has contributed to a set of best practices that is based on meticulous review, assessment and repair of many hours of material with the express aim of migrating information from deteriorating physical formats of decades-old magnetic tape to digital formats.

A second act of transfer has been taken by our in-house researcher and project coordinator, Emma Metcalfe Hurst, who curated each ‘act’ and wrote the descriptions for each of the documents in order to form the base for a meaningful experience of the work.

Supporting and directing this project, Media Arts Curator Allison Collins, has acted as adviser, co-researcher, sometime-co-writer, editor and administrator. The larger stakes in this project are shared among us: to retrieve and convey the immense dignity and respect for women who have worked as artists at Western Front over the years.

Executive Director Caitlin Jones instigated this project, guiding its financial support and providing critical feedback and guidance throughout. Jacquelyn Ross, formerly one of our team, has offered the important service of copyediting the materials.

In our endeavor we owe a great debt of gratitude to co-founder and artist Kate Craig. By all accounts an entirely unique and unforgettable figure, among her many roles and guises, Craig was a formidable recordkeeper and a skilled videographer. The combination of these talents with Craig’s charisma and attention to detail continues to resonate in these works as an unfailing support for artists, through and ‘as’ the Western Front. Her artistic repertoire is not included in this project, although in many ways visible and invisible her presence is evident.

IMAGE CREDITS

Top:
Judy Radul, still from The Body of Knowledge / Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear, 1988

‘Act I’ gif image:
Judy Radul, still from The Body of Knowledge / Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear, 1988
Cathy Quinn, still from Inside/Out, 1988
Carol Sawyer, still from An Incompleat History of Voice, 1997
Cathy Sisler, still from untitled performance, 1996
Dana Claxton, still from Sa, 1994
Yvonne Parent, still from Interview with Yvonne Parent, 1991
Nao Bustamante and Coco Fusco, still from Stuff, 1998
Nancy Barton, still from Swan Song, 1991

‘Act II’ gif image:
Jane Ellison and Eric Metcalfe, still from Oh Yes, Oh No,1979
Rose English, still from Plato’s Chair, 1983
Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione, still from Futurist Sound, 1979
Mona Hatoum, still from Variations on Discord and Divisions, 1984
EVA Sisters (Fern Friedman, Deborah Slater, Terri Hanlon), What House?, 1978
Missing Associates, still from untitled solo performance by Lily Eng, 1980
Jane Ellison, Helen Clarke, Peter Bingham, still from Aboutabout, 1979
Margaret Dragu, still from X’s and O’s for the Canadian Pavillion, 1986
Laetitia Sonami, still from untitled performance, 1996
Jane Ellison, Peter Ryan, Michael Brodie, still from MOVEMENTARTS edited video tapes, 1979

‘Act III’ gif image:
Jerri Allyn, still from Love Novellas, 1984
Carole Itter, still from Tribute to Chickens, 1975
Tanya Mars, still from Mz Frankenstein, 1993
Alison Knowles, still from , 1999
Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan, still from Tales for a New World, 1998
Jill Kroesen, The Original Lou and Walter Story and The Original Lou and Walter Story, 1980
Linda Montano with Jean Smith and Lana O’Keefe, still from Absent / Presence, 2003
Constance De Jong, still from Modern Love, 1978

FUNDING THANKS TO:

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada and the Irving K. Barber B.C. History Digitization Program.

Library and Archives Canada

UBC