Documentation by Ash Tanasiychuk for VANDOCUMENT
Alain-Martin Richard’s communion with ice
Videographer: Sebnem Ozpeta
Robyn Fadden speaks with LIVE Biennale director Randy Gledhill about the festival’s 8th edition, the political nature of performance art, and the growing influential presence of the art form in Vancouver, across Canada, and internationally.
It looks like the beginning of a magic show. Black velvety curtains surround an immaculate white plinth, on top of which rests a voluminous glass fish bowl. Pancho emerges, looking a bit like a game show host: red tie, white shirt, and black pants. Some game show-type music comes on the sound system. A water bottle emerges from behind the plinth, he takes a sip.
The show begins. One after another, Coca-Cola bottles emerge from behind the plinth, are opened and emptied into the fishbowl. Empty bottles are neatly lined up in front of the plinth, labels facing forward, and bottle caps are placed on top with equal precision. Lopez is just pouring Coke into a glass bowl, but there is something hilarious about the whole debacle. As yet another bottle appears from behind the plinth, you just have to laugh. Maybe it’s the samba covers of “Smooth Operator” and Prince’s “Kiss” that animate the performance. Maybe it’s the way in which Lopez, completely straight-faced, coyly finds yet another way to pour Coke into the vessel, now over the shoulder, now two at once.
Twenty bottles of Coke transforms the fishbowl into an enigmatic black orb with a pulsing meniscus, threatening to spill at any moment. Twenty-one sends the liquid fizzing over the glass, spilling over the edges of the plinth and onto the floor. Lopez takes a break, pointedly finishing his bottled water as he surveys the squandered bottles of Coke. The final bars of “Smooth Operator” play out. On the last beat of the song, he pulls a baseball bat out of nowhere like a rabbit from a hat and smashes it into the black globe. Glass shards and Coke spatter everywhere. In the heat of the moment, someone throws a chair, barely missing LIVE’s director, Randy Gledhill. Brilliant.
– stacey ho
It was the last instant of Pancho Lopez’s piece Friday night that transformed it from a banal repetitive action to a powerful act of gratuitous poetry. Without that moment when the baseball bat slammed into the overflowing glass vase of Coca-Cola, shattering it into countless pieces sending umpteen liters of coke spilling onto the gallery floor, what would the performance have been?
A man pours liters of coke into a clear glass vase. He arranges the empty bottles in a line and carefully places the red plastic bottle caps along the front edge of the white plinth where the vase sits. Canned music forms the soundtrack. If Lopez had stopped his action before he had filled the vase, taking his bow and walking off stage, I would be writing this post about his commentary on consumption and branding in a modern capitalist society, or perhaps about the ironic and playful gestures he used as he filled the vase with the ugly brown liquid.
At the conclusion of such a hypothetical truncated spectacle, we would have applauded the work nonetheless. If we felt any lingering insatisfaction, we would have attributed it to our incapacity to understand the work’s deeper meanings.
Certainly, the simple act of filling the vase with coke meant something. If we couldn’t we see what it really meant, the cause of our uncertainty would certainly have been our own blindness, our own incapacity to see.
Thankfully, Lopez concluded his piece with an act of irrevocable finality. We no longer need to search for a rational set of meanings to invest within the piece, to explain it or contextualize it, because the beauty and completeness of his act overwhelms those considerations.
Speculations become superfluous and absurd confronted with the poetic act. Of course, its nice to pass the time talking about this and that in relation to a work of performance, but one hopes that during an evening the crystal palace of our rationality will be, for one instant, smashed as an incomprehensible beauty that seizes us by the throat reminding us that life is always something greater than our capacity to understand.
That said, even after such acts of gratuitous poetry, the tech crew still has to come clean up the sticky mess.
– Fortner Anderson
A crowd of at least fifty volunteers met up at Centre A for Lin Yilin’s site-specific performance piece Imagery Knowledge Science. Though I was told I would be totally safe and protected by the gallery staff, I could not help but feel a certain amount of trepidation for what we might encounter.
We were told that we would be following Lin down some nearby alleys to visit the old telephone poles. At each pole, one of us would read out the profile of a criminal: their height, weight, hair and eye colour, ethnicity, gender, distinctive markings, and so on. Then Lin would climb up a ladder to stick a tiny piece of paper into a crack in the pole. There were thirty-two poles to cover and we did not know what was on the paper. Centre A’s staff informed us there were drug users in these alleys whom we should respect and not photograph.
Following Lin, our group streamed out the door, accompanied by a bevy of community liaisons, traffic controllers, artist assistants, and documentarians for both still and video. Once outside, were were met by more performance enthusiasts and stopped for a quick photo opportunity underneath the gate of Chinatown. Our route would take us down an alley on Carrall St. running parallel between Pender and Hastings. Crossing over Columbia, we would meet a perpendicular alley, travel up towards Hastings, stopping at each pole before turning around and emerging on Pender St., just west of Main.
Our large group almost immediately attracts a police presence, who are easily persuaded that our intentions are artful and therefore harmless. Pretty much everyone else in the alley finds some other place to be.
At the first stop, as a criminal profile is being read, a tiny bird shit falls at Lin Yilin’s feet. At the next, as Lin searches for a crack in the pole, he drops the piece of paper he is hiding. It is yellow, with something grey printed on it. Someone tells me that on the yellow papers are tiny pictures of the people profiled, gathered from North America’s list of most wanted criminals.The first couple profiles are full of descriptions of scars, tattoos, deformities, and bullet marks. I read out one of the few descriptions of a woman:
Height : 5 feet 5 inches
Weight : 133 pounds
Hair : Brown
Eyes : Brown
Hispanic white female
Our slow procession is permeated by the smell of piss on asphalt, marked by a banana peel, dumpsters, pigeons, an abandoned television. Some of our group examine the graffiti plastered on a set of double doors. People take pictures of us from the balconies of some nice looking apartments. We pass the ruins of Vancouver’s first vaudeville theatre, the Pantages, peer in at the crumbed brick, the still-intact proscenium and peach-painted balcony adorned in gold. Some one tells me this space is slated to become another condo. Lin slips a paper in a pole that is also adorned with faded plastic flowers. What the flowers commemorates is mysterious.
The slow pace of our own gathering begins to take on the air of a memorial. In my mind, I liken the anonymous role call to the one given to fallen soldiers. I find myself wondering why the only deserving place to commemorate a criminal is a dirty and piss-soaked alley. My best answer is that this environment, this poverty, is what breeds so-called crime. Perhaps in this environment these profiles represent not soldiers, not criminals, but casualties. Casualties of poverty and also of the rapid development that is overtaking this city.
As we approach the intersection of two alleyways, there is a woman sitting next to a pole who does not want to move or be photographed. A great number of needles are scattered on the ground nearby. Our group discreetly skips this pole. As we pass she begins to moan. Another woman fiddles with a rig as she talks to a friend. With all our cameras, she wants us to take her picture. She tells us this is her space. A man holding a skateboard aggressively tells the crowd, “This is where people get shot, beaten, stabbed. This is where people get happy.” He asks what’s going on. I begin to tell him, but he walks away.
The intimidating size of our group is clearly an issue in this space. I recall that Lin Yilin had initially requested not fifty, but a hundred people for this piece. Of the people who habituate these alleys, a few join us to watch Li Yilin, however many have been surprised at our presence and are acting out. I cannot help but feel that we are embodying the gentrifying force that is rapidly changing this neighbourhood. No matter how mindful or respectful our intentions, the sheer size of our presence is forcing everyone else into change.
Our march concludes and we wander back to Centre A, returning to a familiar world. A class gathers in the library and begins to discuss the performance. People relax on the couches. We are left wondering what our role and the role of art is in the DTES. It is not a new question, but it is one that is perpetually discussed and perpetually unresolved in this city. Lin Yilin’s piece is a harsh but considered contribution to this dialogue.
– stacey ho
Fortner Anderson kicked things off, reciting the long poem, “Drifting into Fire”. The piece is one of three from a cycle called “Annunciations”, which each stem from investigative reports of modern disasters. Drawing from NASA’s accident report on the Space Shuttle Columbia, Anderson’s dynamic delivery shifted rapidly between ecstatic and mechanistic. At the most intense points of Anderson’s performance, it felt as if words were being forced from his mouth, like they could barely squeeze themselves out. Fitting, given that his subject is catastrophe at a scale that is at the very limits of what we can express or fathom. By truly considering the details outlined in these reports, Anderson saves these contemporary events from dry factuality. Our collective experience of tragedy takes on the feeling and gravity of something closer to Blake instead of the numbness of a newsfeed.
Following was Dana Claxton performing The Elsewhere with the help of Sam Bell. Central to this piece was a vessel made of hide, brightly painted with a long fringe at the bottom. Sam, who has collaborated with Claxton on several films, mentioned later that Claxton has a collection of such special objects. Despite the predominant position given to this beautiful container, it remained untouched for the majority of the performance. Instead a delicately balanced space was slowly built around the object, using stones, gestures and sound.
The piece proceeded in a gratifying 4/4 time, with Claxton moving backwards, eyes shielded from sight. Four bags of large grey stones were emptied on the floor. Four pairs of stones were each struck four times and laid out to make four paths radiating from the centre of the space. Four new bags of rocks were each dropped four times, the gesture creating a forceful and heavy sound, then emptied on the floor. Polished stones were revealed in red, black, pale yellow and white.
When Claxton finally approached the container, she began for the first time to move forward, circling the room and shaking the vessel so its contents rattled. A final action, the container’s contents were poured out in the centre of the room, revealing rainbow-hued abalone shells and handfuls of turquoise. Surprise at the sudden unveiling of this colourful bounty. A song is played on the stereo, traditional, aboriginal, female, and the audience is invited to take with them a “token of mother earth”. We are left with a gift of beauty.
This place, this Elsewhere that Claxton created last night, conveyed a specific conception of space, an ‘Indianized’ space. The materials and structure of her piece invoke a space that is organic, natural, harmonious. By offering us the materials of her piece, she implies a space that can shift and travel, as well as a space of sharing.
Claxton’s performance was nicely balanced by the cheeky humour of Jean Dupuy, who presented three pieces in sound and video. In B. versus B., a ‘stuttering’ author plays Beethoven’s Sonata #9 and Brahms’ Sonata #3 out of two separate speakers as images of the venerable composers slowly revolve on two back-to-back laptops placed on the floor. Not only were the two poor B.’s pitted against each other, but they also had to face the trial of presentation through digital technology. Some (unintentional?) audio glitches added to the stutter of the piece. Brahms’ gaze remained sulkily fixed on the mouse cursor that graced the laptop screen.
Next, a performance with the lighthearted spirit of Chaplin, preserved on 16mm film. Shot in 1976 from a bird’s-eye view, Dupuy and his wife stride towards each other in the middle of the street. They meet in the centre of an intersection and embrace. The camera zooms as they strip and exchange clothes. She has big, light yellow undies; I think his drawers are black. They fumble around a bit, dress, and as a final touch, exchange eyeglasses. Arms around each other’s waist, they walk merrily down the street. The couple turn a corner, and are gone. Simple and charming.
The final piece was a sound work of the train from Paris to Bordeaux, at the time the fastest train in France. Recorded using the train’s toilet bowl to amplify the sound, the Western Front’s audience was treated to fifteen minutes of this hours long piece. Dupuy recommended that the audience lie on the floor to enjoy the vibrations from the sound waves. Some dutifully complied though others were put off by a warning that the sound would be very loud. Despite this notice, when I laid down I found the irregular yet repetitive overtones of the moving train acted as a sedative to my prone mind and body. As I enjoyed the calming effect of these mild tremors across my back and legs, I distinctly felt the footsteps of people quietly exiting the room, bringing to a close the first night of the Biennale.