One summer ago, we spent several days in Ottawa, climbing statues and trees, and rolling around on the lawn in parks. We were working with a slightly sprawling set of ideas about horizontal and vertical manifestations of power in public space. Without any clear agenda concerning 'our message', we wanted to follow a few leads and discover something about inserting our persons into various spatial situations. The result was a video sketchbook chronicling several attempts to climb statues of famous people, the communing with a few new tree-friends, a dance that covered a wide expanse of lush grass, and footage of several different observed activities on the official lawn in front of our nation's Parliament Building.
Without rushing to the punch, we have to mention that the highlight for us, at the time, was hearing the official Changing of the Guard band's rendition of the theme to the A-Team. After what sounded like very traditional marching band music and Scottish dirges, this song was a total crowd-pleasing, ironic joy-ride. We imagine that the young students who played this music must have loved it too, despite the weirdness of it all: a motley group of 19 year-olds dressed in archaic British guard outfits, parading everyday for crowds of tourists, ceremonially guarding our bastion of democracy by playing the theme music to a poorly produced 80's TV show.
However, we digress. The true purpose, of sorts, of our research was to continue our ongoing fascination with Deleuze and Guattari's "A Thousand Plateaus". We wanted to further examine the concept of the rhizome and interrogate a few of our perceptions regarding our own work to date. The rhizome - a horizontally organized and anarchically structured organism - has been an inspiration for those interested in re-imagining power structures and organizational systems. We've always been wary of producing work from this text; it seems like there are potential problems for an artistic work to become a cheap and derivative imitation of some powerful ideas. As well, whenever working on a project, we have always tried to not come across with a heavy-handed message. We would never want to produce anything that couldn't have multiple interpretations and spaces for the audience to bring their own thoughts and impressions into play. This seems especially tricky when politics is involved, since there seems to be a fine line between making work that raises interesting questions versus work that is overly didactic.
So, we thought we'd go on impulse and follow some of our more personal reactions, and then see how they could be contextualized within the framework of the philosophical ideas that originally inspired them. We began our investigation with inserting our own bodies into the equation. Perhaps by dealing with the body and performance in public space, we could examine several things at once: our physical interactions with horizontal and vertical spatial constructions; the ambiguity at the centre of our personal relationship to power structures; our desire to insert action and 'real events' into our artistic process; and, the interrogation of our impulse to create literal interpretations of abstract philosophical ideas.
As we began to observe spaces in the city where spatial constructions enabled and encouraged certain social relationships, we noticed something about the temporal-spatial zone of the wide open field. Through creating a dance designed to cover a wide expanse of lawn, and making a video of the dance, we noticed how we could tap into an expansive sense of time. This time-scale was dependent in part on the size of the lawn - and the time it took for the dance to complete itself within the space we had chosen. By inserting our bodies into play on the grass (a rhizome, by the way), we entered into a set of relationships that were determined by a sense of widening space in all directions, and a slowing-down of our sense of time. In addition, multi-directional modes of travel also became a critical component of this set of relationships: a sense of choice on the X- and Z-coordinates included the impetus to move in more than one direction at once.
By following our impulse to climb statues and trees, we began to notice some obvious associations produced by our differing genders, in combination with the structures we choose to interact with. Jesse had the impulse to climb several statues, and Mirae only choose to climb trees. As Jesse climbed, he got closer to the actual figures that are the subject of each monument, however he didn't always climb all the way, preferring to blend-in with the statue's architecture. As Mirae climbed, she often would disappear into the leaves, if she even reached the first branch at all (some trees were extremely tall).
Unpacking the dichotomies of male/culture and female/nature was not our goal. The act of climbing was for us about getting closer to something that is out of reach, and could be seen as an attempt at upward social mobility. As well, it was about a shift in perspective, of seeing things from the position of higher authority, or greater power. However, this did not take away from our sense of somewhat unspoken nervousness, of doing something that is vaguely forbidden. There is something whimsical about climbing too - it isn't something one does in a completely serious manner - it's the stuff of kids playing in the park.
But by bringing our bodies into the equation we discovered a field of ambiguity to do with our political aims, gender, and artistic choices, with the body as an intersection between these forces. For us, this ambiguity has become not so much a problem to solve, but an interesting state to delve into and examine more closely. It seems that we are not always making choices in full awareness of all of our influences, and the resulting associations. Working on a personal, bodily level brings up our biases and preferences, and these don't always align perfectly with what we might think would be 'the best' political stance… which seems to further reinforce several notions within A Thousand Plateaus.
The research was used to feed into one performance, an informal showcase at Series 8:08 in Toronto, where we delved into some of the findings further. Of course, the transcription of a field of research that had been developed in public space into performance for the stage was difficult, and raised several problems, more conceptual than logistical… upon reflection, the work would have been better suited as an installation - either in a gallery context, or site-specifically - than a stage-based performance. An installation would have allowed us to examine durational performance, and a more open and flexible relationship to scale and spatial construction.