A Day of Performance Art | Conversations
Saturday, May 28 2022
Organized by Linda Rae Dornan
Text by Linda Rae Dornan
Mathieu Léger, Moncton, NB
Abedar Kamgari, Hamilton, ON
Garry Sanipass, Bouctouche Nation, NB
Nicole Haché, Caraquet, NB
Synopsis français à suivre
Struts Gallery has three separate gallery spaces. The four artists in this performance art event activated each one, the audience moving along with the artists.
Two tree stumps, three paper bags and a hammer were tucked into a corner of the middle gallery space. When Mathieu Léger walked into the space, he first paused facing the audience before slowly backing into the corner and sitting on the tallest tree stump. Léger’s performances are rhythmically paced with his own internal, steady beats. Lifting one paper bag, he shook it so we could hear something rattling inside. He repeated this with another paper bag, also smelling it. The third bag he listened to before dropping it to the floor, leaning over the tree stump and praying over it. Reaching into one paper bag, he pulled out a yellow balloon. From another bag he withdrew sunflower seeds in their shells which he dropped into the balloon before blowing it up to a large size, tying it off and shaking it. Holding the yellow balloon in his mouth, he reached behind him for the hammer and pounded the balloon’s tied ends to the smaller tree stump. Alternating between yellow and blue balloons, Léger repeated this four times. The fifth time, he withdrew a red balloon, eventually succeeding in blowing it up to double the size of the other balloons. He then placed sunflower seeds on the tree stump between the yellow and blue balloons while holding the huge red balloon in his mouth. After a minute of watching the still life he had made on the tree stump, then surveying the audience, he stood up and walked out of the gallery space. Quiet followed by the long exhale of a deflated balloon. The metaphors were clear, referring to current world events, the Ukrainian war from Russian aggression. The fragility of the balloons being nailed down, not bursting but holding nevertheless parallels the images of people trapped in bombing zones, holding their breaths, waiting for disaster or release yet still carrying on, vulnerable to continuous explosions. If burst, the seeds would grow again, hopefully like the nation. Léger set us to expect an action (bursting balloons to symbolize destruction) without it actually occurring, leaving the audience questioning our perceptions and expectations, and similar to Ukrainians, holding on with hope to grow their lives again.
Abedar Kamgari lives in Hamilton, Ontario and had an Open Studio Residency at Struts Gallery in June. Her performance, a half hour long, was titled, Linguistic Proximities. There were two speakers at roughly five feet high, one on each side of a large curtain dyed a rainbow of deep blues and ochres which bisected the gallery space. During her performance, Kamgari moved from one side of the curtain to the other listening closely to each speaker, a male voice (the artist’s father) and a female voice (her mother), each speaking in Farsi. Beginning her performance, Kamgari took off her shoes, as if entering a home. She pressed instructions into a cell phone mounted on the wall then posted paper sheets with text written in Farsi on the gallery wall which she referred to intermittently. Using a remote, she began the voice recordings broadcast from the speakers. She repeated what she heard from each voice, over and over again, sometimes stumbling over the words as if learning the language, remembering a well known story or trying to please parents. She paced, walking between each space, hands behind her back or gesturing, often rewinding the recording to repeat. As time wore on, she eventually wound down, failing to adequately repeat the spoken words, exhausted by her efforts to respond to each speaker. In her own words, Kamgari says, “I unpack the complexities of displacement and diaspora using site-responsive and embodied approaches.” Here, she has used vocal and physical repetition over a half hour performance, exhausting herself. Was she repeating family histories? The artist left it to the audience to question and interpret. One clear effect emerged—the artist made space for another language and culture within the Canadian cultural experience.
After a moment’s break, the audience moved to the back gallery space where Garry Sanipass had set up for his performance. A New Brunswick painter from Bouctouche Nation, Sanipass is just starting to create performances. Two standing painting easels, one traditional and one made from tree branches were centered in the space. The traditional easel held a stretched canvas, a portrait, and paint with brushes. The painting was of a man, bearded, in a white shirt with a red shawl draped over him, resembling a religious icon (possibly a self-portrait of Sanipass). The easel of tree branches had a white plaster mask with a colour video projected onto it of landscapes, vegetation and textures—a shimmering observation in light of outdoor beauty in a darkened space.
Wearing a white lab coat, the artist began by painting for seven minutes on the portrait, mixing paint, and strengthening the colours and lines. His demeanor was serious, an artist in his studio—a recognizable image, if outdated. Eventually a soundtrack began, speaking in Mi'kmawi'simk. No translation was offered. Sanipass finally put down his brush, placed a red cloth over his left shoulder and held up a wooden triangle for two minutes, again a religious symbol of the Christian trilogy. After laying the triangle down, he began to shake his arms and head, and lift his legs up and down. He turned off the projector and put on the plaster mask, reacting as if he was being taken over by it and transformed into the Trickster of mythology. Stripping off the lab coat to his bare chest, he laughingly pointed first at the audience, and then hysterically at the painting. The Trickster in mythology has secret knowledge and uses it to play tricks or otherwise overturn society’s rules and conventional behaviors. As the Trickster, Sanipass mocked the painting, the “trilogy,” then picked up the painting brush, chose a light colour and began to paint circles over the portrait, laughing and exclaiming in a private joke. Three linear circles in the canvas centre, then three more below it. As the coup de grace, he painted a “1” before the top circles in what has become obvious, zeroes, then a $ dollar sign above that simultaneously exclaiming. And laughed some more before exiting the room. The actions mocked himself as the portrait with its religious iconography, the art market with its overinflated prices as a system of values, and his own participation in it as an artist. Two value systems were contrasted, the “art market” portrait and the natural world, perhaps the capitalist versus Indigenous perspectives, raising questions about the freedom to create, to speak your own voice and the need to sell for financial security.
With the middle gallery space full of dried beech leaves, Nicole Haché changed the mood to contemplation and meditation on Nature. Living in Caraquet, New Brunswick, with forests and fields all around her property, Haché spends a lot of time walking outdoors. The magical quiet she created in the space was intimate, generated by her gentle movements and how she slowed time with quiet gestures. She began the performance by dragging a long spindly branch (without leaves) behind her into the space, clinging to the walls. As she slowly stepped into the piles of dried beech leaves and evergreen branches, looking around her, the leaves rustled. The sounds generated the autumn transition to winter in our senses, pulling us into a meditative sensibility of remembrance. Forest walking. Buried in the leaves, she found a sheath of tree bark which she used as a mask through which to view the audience, then slowly stood up and smelled it deeply. Crouching, she gathered a large handful of leaves to her face, deeply scenting them. Holding one dried tree fungus to her ear, she tried to listen to it while gazing around. Each gesture was slow and contemplative, each found natural object was handled with care like the nest of distorted branches (witch’s broom) which she ceremoniously placed on her head. With this, the artist and her shadow were mythological, resembling an unknown tree spirit. Lying in the leaves she became a tree when holding a long tree branch upright with her legs, then lying it on top of herself. Standing, she literally climbed into its branches as if dressing herself in it before walking with it/as it, quietly out of the space.
The playfulness and connection to the non-concrete world was strong, the whole work lyrical as she drew us into her private forest world, into a reminder of our deep connections to Nature, and the need to take the time to appreciate it. Perhaps the changing seasons reflected her own changings. Sans destination particulière, “No particular destination” is the name of this performance which describes it perfectly, as the artist wandered and played, present in her own time within Nature.
The four artists provided a fascinating combination of performance art approaches. The audience lingered. Each artist started a conversation with us. Mathieu Léger about the fragility of people in the path of war and the necessity to pay attention, to question received information and to continue to hope. Abedar Kamgari demonstrated within her performance how conversations can be an ongoing repetition in a need to understand the effects of displacement—we could not sure what we saw here listening in a language none of the audience spoke except for the artist’s desire to communicate and our own stretching to understand. Garry Sanipass questioned the pressure placed on artists to sell their works, to participate in the art market. The urge to create and divest yourself of the requirement to please others manifested in the Trickster mocking the system, and artists’ egos and ambitions while reminding us of another path. Nicole Haché invited us into her peaceful place where discovering Nature’s secrets is a gift, and sharing them continues the giving, hopefully generating more care.
Synopsis en français
Les quatre artistes ont fourni une combinaison fascinante d’approches de l’art de la performance. Le public s’est séjourné. Chaque artiste a commencé une conversation avec nous. Mathieu Léger sur la fragilité des personnes sur le chemin de la guerre et la nécessité d'être attentif, de remettre en question les informations reçues et de continuer à espérer.
Abedar Kamgari a démontré dans sa performance comment les conversations peuvent être une répétition continue dans un besoin de comprendre les effets du déplacement—nous ne pouvions pas être sûrs de ce que nous voyions ici en écoutant dans une langue qu’aucun les spectateurs ne parlait, à l’exception du désire de l’artiste de communiquer et de nos propres efforts comprendre.
Garry Sanipass a remis en question la pression exercée sur les artistes pour qu'ils vendent leurs œuvres, pour participer au marché de l'art. L'envie de créer et de se perdre du besoin de plaire aux autres s'est manifest dans le Trickster se moquant du système, des égos et des ambitions des artistes tout en nous rappelant une autre voie.
Nicole Haché nous a invitées dans son endroit paisible où découvrir les secrets de la nature est un cadeau, et les partager continue le don, générant, espérons-le, plus de soins.