I took Jessica, a friend of mine who’s just moved here from small-town Ontario, to Alexis O’Hara’s La Couvée at HTMlles 10: Risky Business festival last Thursday. As we left the performance later that night in a dizzied state, I told her, this is Montreal. This is what makes this place so different from anywhere else; this vast openness to diverse, endless art forms.
We met outside Oboro Studio XX on Berri St., went up to a room on the second floor and and were ushered into O’Hara’s installation space, told to take off our shoes and help ourselves to blankets and pillows stacked outside the door. The rather small group made it an intimate experience. As we settled onto a white rectangular matt in the centre of the room, surrounded by white balloons in the corners of the matt and papier maché balls over our heads, we found ourselves in a giant egg sac. The piece, according to the description on Oboro’s website, is meant to allow spectators to “witness a booming, pulsating meditation on the life cycles of mortals, aliens, and gods alike – a visceral and contemporary interpretation of the commodification of women’s fertility.”
And so the show began as we all lay back and were quickly consumed by a wave of sounds; crinkling, dripping, scratching, breathing. The eggs above us lit up with colour and then left us in darkness, with a seemingly blue tint to the air and sounds that made us feel like we were underwater. We were then taken on a sonic ride of highs and lows as the cycle carried on. The eggs began to chant “baby, baby, baby” repeatedly, begging for use, while the dark voice of a saleswoman chimed in, insisting on products a pregnant woman should ‘invest’ in. The voice tirelessly coerced the woman into endless services that she apparently needed, though most seemed unnecessary. The voices pushed and pushed in this twisted, candy-sweet tone. The tension built even higher in the egg sac we were immersed in, until it reached a crescendo of flashing lights and piercing shrieks of sound.
Then a loss; the sound of something being squeezed, pressure, like a baby stretched out and shrieking. Chaos. Dripping. Sucking. Perhaps an abortion, a miscarriage, or simply the failing of yet another egg to be fertilized; against the will of consumerism or even a loss despite a try; a ceaseless cycle of infertility.
Oboro’s description of the piece says that O’Hara’s loss of “spawn” caused her great pain. “When the girl child was taken from her,” it says, “such a dark cloud descended that she lashed out with the strength of a desperate army. Anger blotting out the sun; fields set afire with her spark of her mad gaze.” La Couvée means to convey this loss with immersive passion.
My interpretation may be entirely off (I look forward to the comment section). But the experience was powerful. As we sat in the calm after the storm, soaking up what had just happened, we both felt it in our bones and our breath. O’Hara’s work is something any contemporary art enthusiast in the city should experience.
La Couvée left us in a different realm of thought, a reflective one, lifted us to a new level of cultural context, the intermingling of experiences by which we define our city.