“This is soap,” says Andrew Tay while holding a dildo during his performance of Monsters, Angels and Aliens are not a Substitute for Spirituality… Some time later he places the same dildo on a small table, bends forward, and spits on it repeatedly. If we were meant to see the object as soap before, Tay’s actions here return us to our original perception of its form and function.
The work was presented in a triple programme at the OFFTA, alongside Donald Trépanier’s Le chantier de cochylis and Caroline Laurin-Beaucage’s Charcuterie. Like Tay, each of these artists presents us with the question of things, how we relate to them, and what they mean. Each performance is filled with objects: in Charcuterie, the two dancers are accompanied by two whole, raw chickens; Trépanier fills the space with a large inflatable cylinder, balloons, a skeleton, and massive scaffolding; and Tay’s checker-board stage contains a plethora of items, from a gift bag with a marijuana leaf print to a plastic hand, and a frequently used microphone. While this emphasis on materiality is realized very differently in the context of each piece, there are a few threads in common.
Ritual is one of these. Tay’s piece begins with a handful of volunteers coming onto the stage, each of whom is given a talisman made by the choreographer. Garish though these artifacts may be, there is something startlingly sincere in Tay’s proposition that they might help channel the invisible connections between us. In her foundational essay “Notes on ‘Camp,’” Susan Sontag writes:
“Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of ‘character.’ Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as ‘a camp,’ they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.”
This particular blend of humour and sincerity in many instances characterizes the tone of Tay’s work, which also shares Camp’s emphasis on material abundance. And indeed, the “awkward intensities of ‘character’” are celebrated when Tay introduces us to his personal monster at the end of the work.
Le chantier de cochylis also begins with something akin to a group ritual. As an entirely white figure wearing a cape stands centre stage, a figure covered head to toe in a black lycra suit hands balloons to the audience. We are instructed to blow our negative emotions into the balloon and, when given the signal, release them in a wave through the audience.
There is something particularly anticlimactic in a balloon’s lackadaisical deflation, and this moment of bathos captured the timbre of the piece as a whole. Trépanier is awkward to watch, as he climbs a massive scaffold with a distinct lack of virtuosity. It is through such disjointed interactions with his built environment, however, that the artist is able to de-figure the relationship between performer and object, and in doing so, prompt us to reconsider the presentational nature of performance art.
In something of an inverse operation, Laurin-Beaucage applies presentation where it is usually absent. Performers Esther Rousseau-Morin and Rachel Harris perform something between butchery and surgery as they dismember two raw chickens before the audience. This process begins in a highly choreographed manner, as they massage, tenderize, and clean their chickens in unison. As it progresses, however, the procedure becomes more visceral, their synchronicity breaks down, and the task at hand begins to appear less presentational than practical.
As such, the piece enacts quite a significant departure from its earlier iteration, Entailles, presented by Tangente in March. In this piece, the two dancers performed a similar set of tasks, yet their movements remained much more highly stylized throughout. In comparison then, the transition from performativity to a much more task-based teleology in Charcuterie is all the more dramatic. The work of the dancers becomes almost craft-like, as one dancer begins sewing up her chicken. The piece therefore enacts a movement from a performative object relation, to one that is more personal and corporeal – a trajectory that is rendered with tremendous impact through Laurin-Beaucage’s unique proposition and the nuanced work of her dancers.
In their varying approaches, each work in the programme explored how we objectify things, imbuing them with meaning through our interactions with them. And with this observation, I have finished imbuing these performances with meaning as well.