Coming Alive: a review of 2017 LIVE Biennale Performances
LIVE International Performance Art Biennale, under the direction of Randy Gledhill, is a biannual celebration of diverse, international cutting-edge artistic talent uniting in Vancouver. The first iteration of the performance festival happened in 1999 as a commemoration of the Living Arts Festival of 1979, recognizing the rich history of performing arts in Vancouver. Around 2007, LIVE was initiated as a performing arts festival and now in its 10th edition, LIVE Biennale continues to create an ongoing, critical discourse around performance art.
The overall tones of the 2017 performances dealt with contrasting subject matter, each with a unique tone and execution. During the day, workshops were held at UNIT/PITT with this year’s visiting artists leading locally-based, emerging artists who had been selected for this daytime series, called ALIVE.
At each lunch hour, there were artist talks held at Pat’s Pub and of course, during the evening the performances commenced from October 4th-October 7th with a kick-off party on October 3rd.
The first night started off at Western Front with two performances by artists Maiko Jinushi and Nile Koetting, coincidentally both from Japan (Koetting now based in Berlin) and curated by Makiko Hara.
Maiko Jinushi performed with drummer John Brennan in her performance, Sounds of Desire, having Brennan interpret what desire sounded to him. The performance was a live video recording of the conversation and the drumming interpretations of sound developed throughout. The conversation was passive aggressive, pulsating. Brennan’s eyes closed with rumbling drums, thumping and shaking. Desire comes on and keeps going and then slowly fades like a decrescendo crawling. Desire to satisfy, desire sustained, the personal put on play. Jinushi spoke of the phenomenon in Japan where young adults are becoming less sexually intimate and some have never had sexual interactions by the age of thirty. Brennan was asked to respond verbally and then through drumming again. The call and response happened a total of five times, with each musical iteration unique, at times uncomfortable but always raw.
The second performance on Wednesday night was Nile Koetting’s fresh and avant-garde first class. It began unsettling with blinding, flashing lights. There was shredding of coloured sheets as a meticulous labour. Koetting scribbled glow-in-the-dark highlighter and then slowly popped popcorn, the smell permeating the air. He also initiated hunger by holding up bright, saturated donuts placed in a tower formation. A projection of constellations appropriated stars from the universe as trip advisor reviews played, creating a critique of tourism. He spins a wheel and reflects a mirror to the audience. Koetting creates a tropical bouquet among chaotic screeching, casting large shadows on the screen. Seemingly disconnected objects are connected together with his actions. Although the performance seems nonsensical at first there are connections executed between consumerism, labour and tourism.
For even more about Wednesday at LIVE 2017, check out our Wednesday Highlights post.
On Thursday, the second night of performances started off with two durational performances starting at 7 and 7:30pm at VIVO Media Arts. The first performance to start off the night was Jorn J. Burmester, from Germany, who painted himself a bright green colour while glancing in the mirror. The piece was reminiscent of an artist in studio, romanticized like press photos of the artist working among their creative chaos. Burmester uses humour though acting seriously while slowly painting his entire body. The panels behind him also become part of the work and the artist, performer and studio become one.
At 7:30 pm, the first performance of VERB FRAU TV by Margaret Dragu started. From Thursday to Saturday, participants were encouraged to sign up for three-minute tabletop performances. Participants could perform anything they wish with only their hands showing in the video, framed in tight focus by Dragu. The first kick off included Hank Bull (Vancouver via Calgary) doing box origami, Alexandra Bischoff (Vancouver via Edmonton) posing as the “female gaze,” glancing up at the camera and posing from different angles like a 90’s commercial. Next up was the impressive potato chip eater Doug Jarvis (Victoria). After, there was a bit of a lull, so a survey question was asked: “Name an artist book that has been influential to you.” Luckily, Kate Barry came prepared and read an excerpt from Unmarked: The Politics of Performance by Peggy Phelan. At this point, the performances became emotional. The excerpt Barry read spoke of absence and she reflects on losing her father at a young age. Finally, the last participant, Pella Lundmark from Sweden, wrote down a page in her native language of Swedish. Although the viewer may be unsure of what the words were, they were clearly emotional and the performance ended with tears. Dragu gave her an embrace.
Both Dragu’s and Burmester’s durational performances continued at the same time on the following nights, Friday and Saturday.
The two main performances of Thursday night were intense and visceral. First up was the Canadian duo Tanya Doody and Jackson 2Bears with their performance Evanescing the Harrowed Strata. Doody walked with fragile ceramic feet like a heavy burden, sliding and clunking. The sound of dragging on the floor was amplified. Trees were projected and 2Bears wore a mask hiding his face while rattling. Crunching, slow and convulsing, the earth bears a weight. Doody crawled, digging and scratching across the clay strata while 2Bears removed the tree from the topsoil with ceramic hands. He sifted topsoil on the drum and she yelled out like a siren beckoning. The spectators wore masks as well. Finally, laughs are played over on a phone recording, which Doody put in her mouth. The performance looked at pain and suffering, not only of humans but the trauma to the earth itself. The masked spectators called upon the lack of responsibility we tend to take in this age in regards to treating the environment with respect. Doody and 2Bears explore the skewed power towards the land.
The second performance of the night was Theo Pelmus and Kristin Snowbird with Still Life: Memento Mori curated by Daina Warren. The performance consisted of Pelmus dressing up Snowbird as Michelangelo’s Pieta painting like a live still life. The performance borrows from both Pelmus’ and Snowbird’s cultures, Romanian and Native Canadian. This performance made the spectator feel uncomfortable with dark music and lighting, and the hawk-like circling of Pelmus. He circled with a fox pelt in hand while thick sap-like honey dripped down Snowbird’s front. The performance played upon the concept of the male gaze since Snowbird passively sat as the Virgin Mary. She is made up in precise silk draping as he burrowed his head in fabric and performed a headstand. There’s lipstick stains as blood wounds creating a visceral violence. Liquids such as milk and wine spilled down his front, and were poured over the Pieta statue, which was placed in his mouth. The branch is slapped down behind where Snowbird took her seat. Then, gold leaf pieces blown onto her like twisted confetti. A few spectators selected from the audience combed her hair. The sticky sap ran down the silk and shimmered. In this performance both beauty and violence are explored, leaving a lasting impression.
For even more about Thursday at LIVE 2017, check out our Thursday Highlights post.
The third night of performances, on Friday, again at VIVO Media Arts started of with Palestinian performer Raeda Saadeh. Fleshy, red-brown meat was bound to her body with twine on the thigh, waist, arms and ankles. Saadeh wore white clothing draped carefully with meat cuts, dripping and throbbing. She then began belly dancing proudly and freely. The performance commented on how women are viewed as a piece of meat and objectified. However, through culture and dance, women are able to shake it off and persist. She danced blissfully for the future, bound but fighting towards freedom. Saadeh bathed off the dirt, sweat and blood of expectations.
(respecting the artist’s request, performance images are not included)
Second, was Canadian performer Louise Liliefeldt whose performance explored the devastating effects of dementia. Liliefeldt created this performance from her own experience having a parent in their ninth year of suffering from the illness. Liliefeldt held a pose for several minutes with her hand on her waist and then shifted to another with a sigh, smiling as she swayed. With a slow build up, she walked towards the water basin and dipped her head in repetitively. Methodically dripping, she was submerged and then gasping for air. She walked over to the board and wrote, “Difficulty communicating.” Liliefeldt zoned out and walked slowly, hunched over, struggling to make her way across the room. Her hand reached out for help to an audience member and her and the helper walk over to the board where she outlined the helper in an effort to remember their silhouette. Again, she reached out to another helper and traced their outline. She bent down and crawled while sipping wine like blood. These actions may seem familiar to those who may have a loved one who suffers from dementia—seeing the family member digress slowly and fade away.
For even more about Friday at LIVE 2017, check out our Friday Highlights post.
The final night of LIVE 2017 performances was kicked off by Colombian artist Praba Pilar’s the NO!!! BOT, whose performance was a technological and sexual spectacle. Pilar was playing with the idea of discomfort among the audience by approaching audience members while half-naked with two smartphones strapped to her face. Her actions were swift and often sexual. There was a mixture that resembled semen held in condoms. Fleshy straps and futuristic, Pilar screwed with the spectator like how technology does subliminally with saturated screens. The recording played declarations of the “soldiers’ uniform of the future” a new technology, with a military undertone. A rendition of The Jetsons intro was projected on her body. Next, she tapes the wrists of four audience members together. Then contrastingly, the artist moves to corn, sexualizing cornmeal, corn stalks and Mazola corn oil. She asked a participant to pour them on her now naked body. Although these objects seem far from technology, Pilar manages to connect the disconnected through her actions.
The concluding performance of the night and the 2017 Biennale was Quebecois duo, Genevieve et Matthieu’s The Empire of Creation. The elaborate set consisted of kitsch style florescent orange, classical interior reprints and pizza boxes with the Eccé Home repaint by Cecilia Giménez (otherwise known as Bigfoot Jesus) on them. The setting was the dwelling of an eclectic Pizza Delivery Guy and his Alchemist Wife. The two wore performative clothing like bibs and capes with the same bright orange and classic print on them, which looked similar to camouflage in the distance. There were sounds of space lasers and their voice alterations echoing. Their possé of several performers sat with capes and bejeweled masks. The Pizza Delivery Guy slowly opened the boxes one by one revealing their contents. The bellowing sound of the Alchemist Wife singing opera along with the background projection was heard. The pair connected time and the possibility of finding the philosopher’s stone through projected text. Off to the side, the Alchemist Wife sat and ate fluorescent Cheetos from a plaster bowl. They chanted “Catharsis Catharsis Catharsis” in unison then The Pizza Delivery Guy started mining into the stalactite-like, white plaster sculptures. A dancer in teal wildly danced. They began to chant “This is Us, This is Us, This is Us” with passion and pride.
Scandinavian artist Stein Henningsen performed a durational piece in Olympic Village during the final day of LIVE 2017.
Although our reviewer was not present for Henningsen’s performance, many photos, videos, and social media documentation were captured. See for yourself in our Saturday recap post.
After the final performances, LIVE Biennale’s strengths became clear—introducing international, innovative practices to the Vancouver art landscape and its community. The community consists of the amazing artists who come together from across the world to challenge what modern performance art looks like. The community also includes the curators who bent over backwards to create a platform for these important performers. The participants of the ALIVE workshop and those who came each night as part of the audience are part of the community. There was a distinct beauty to everyone coming together to witness what needs to be seen to come alive.
Thank you everyone! That’s a wrap!
LIVE2017 will continue to be alive. Look out for more photos, videos, and reflections on this year’s programming.
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