Dear reader, the text below is a response, not a review. Thank you.
Lynda Gaudreau’s five-week curatorial and choreographic occupation of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery at Concordia University nudges duration, audience presence and the choreographic progression of bodies and visual art works. Although I attended the event a few times – at the vernissage, part way through and the day before the closing – “Out of Grace” eludes my ability to conceive of it in its entirety in a moment.
I try to enter a nearly pitch-black, crowded gallery but my path is blocked by a large, suspended lattice-like curtain made from pierced can tops joined by key rings, produced by visual artist Jérôme Fortin. Beside the curtain, further obstructing my path, is the gallery audience, packed around the edge of the largest of five rooms, the one in which a large digital clock counts the time in minutes and seconds in big red digits. The visitors are watching several young female dancers, walking and “freezing” or running to slide on the gallery floor into arrested reclining positions. They navigate around Aude Moreau’s semblance of a small oil puddle on the floor. Has the tin can curtain been considered by all these visitors or was it simply an obstacle for them at the entrance?
During the vernissage, I feel that the exhibit space and the performance space exist simultaneously and separately. Half of the visitors operate in a vernissage mode, chatting, drinking wine, meandering, getting close to the five material works, considering the bold movements of the dancers in and out of the rooms without much visible investment. The other half is in an audience mode, taking in the dance and the visual art from the greatest distance possible, staying on the periphery, quietly following the performers with focussed attention and sometimes, I was told later by the dancers, physically following one performer from room to room throughout the forty-five minute score.
Like several others, I sway between both modes. I sustain a conversation despite a loud intermittent drone, courtesy of Alexandre St-Onge, at a pitch so low it makes my organs vibrate. Alexandre Pilon-Guay designed the lighting, which is far from the usual gallery spotlight. Crude changes are frequent and jarring, flicking quickly from darkness to bright lines of fluorescent light that define a vertical space lower than the actual ceiling. As we chat, a colleague and I decide to cross an area that has been defined as a performance zone by the audience contingent. We get caught up in our discussion and on the momentary stage. Eventually, we feel the need to move as dancers start rolling and tumbling around us like waves and we feel that we are exhibiting ourselves.
In the room I came to know as Room E, I advance to greet an acquaintance when Marie-Pier Bazinet, one of the dancers, walks between us and collapses to the floor. In contrast to my earlier sensation of invading the work, this interruption feels natural, indicative of the flow of the choreography around me. In a corner, close to the floor, Yann Pocreau has cut out a perfect rectangle of the wall (the dust from his handiwork still there), and set it on the floor, propped up against a wall. Nearby, he has posted a photograph of the intersection of floor and wall; the photo has the exact dimensions of the hole and is aligned at the same low level. I sit on a bench and take time to watch a lone dancer’s path. Chantal Hausler has shed clothes, which remain on the floor, and moves between a table, a chair and a small desk-lamp on the floor. She dances slowly, sparsely, and leans on the table. I feel strange to be watching this, strange that people amble in and out of this smaller room while this young woman wearing magenta tights dances topless, not ignoring the audience but not tending to us in a particular way. She dresses, eventually, and the drone stops, the lights all come on and Tiki lounge music begins to play, complete with parrot calls. It is the interlude.
The space is released and conversation instantly starts flowing between visitors and spectators. Those stuck to a wall move in to consider the visual art, sensing that their contemplation will not be interrupted by a black out.
After a fifteen-minute break, the performers reassemble and the darkness, the droning and the dancing begin again. I end up beside the security booth where I consult the printed choreographic score that details the lights, the sounds and the actions. Behind the booth, a computer monitor shows the security cameras’ capture of all rooms simultaneously on a splitscreen. Here, the movement of performers, the lights and the visitors is revealed all at once. This ambiguously public document of the overall event captures my attention for a while. I leave the show with only a fleeting sense of the live operation of persons and matter, of movement and stillness.
Returning to “Out of Grace” part way through is an entirely different experience. The score is performed from noon to five Tuesday through Saturday regardless of visitor presence. On this occasion, there is not a mass of audience members performing their viewing modes, dividing the visual art from the choreography. Fortin’s curtain has grown and is now considerably longer, nearly half as long as the gallery wall it is closest to. Though the lights are dim, shortly after they come on, I notice a teapot and some cups on a table close by, clearly for visitors, a welcoming balance to the impediment of the curtain. In the large room, Moreau’s oil spill has also expanded and occupies about a fifth of the floor.
There are fewer performers than at the vernissage but they outnumber the visitors. The space appears more defined and my experience is much more sensual. Running, dropping and sliding performers add to the sound score. I sense how they listen to each other. Although they move independently, they connect through the score. Trajectories and patterns become visible.
When I enter Room E, the lights are dim. I am alone with the same performer I saw at the vernissage. Hausler sits in a chair in the corner furthest from me. Her back is turned and she is undressing, slipping underwear down her leg. The discomfort I felt at the vernissage is compounded. Feeling like I am invading her privacy, I quickly walk away.
I sit still on one of the few benches set against a wall between two rooms with a view on a third. The intermittent darkness injects drama into the gallery. The dance is weighted, heavy; performers crumple on the floor and lean on the walls around me. I link the bodies to each other, to the environment they occupy, but the configuration is always shifting. There is no big picture, rather a collection of images and sounds and lights and matter and bodies and movement, the elements constantly slipping against each other. At all times, part of the event is unfolding without me or anyone else. It feels lonely.
I am “Out of Grace” one last time, one day before the end of the exhibit. When I enter the gallery, the proportion of bodies in space is equal: one performer, Anouk Thériault, one gallery attendant and one audience member (myself). The gallery walls are stained from the choreography, from five weeks of bodies sliding against them. Moreau’s oil spill covers three fifths of the largest room, Fortin’s tin can curtain runs the length of the gallery’s longest wall. Pocreau has removed many more rectangles of wall in Room E, creating a pattern that evokes over-sized French doors. He has also removed a larger rectangular segment of the opposite wall, creating an opening between two of the smaller rooms. The pieces of drywall are piled on the floor, with the door-sized one laid on the table.
As I watch, Thériault falls in and out of abstraction. I sense her making choices in the space, I notice her checking her watch and the clock, I feel her play with gravity and weight, but it is the composition of the dance that stands out to me. Verticality, horizontality, the angles of falling and leaning, spatial proportion, acceleration, deceleration, proximity and distance to the walls, to the floor, to the art objects.
I consider my own presence in the organization of the gallery space, the presence of the gallery attendant in front of his computer monitor. In this moment, we are all part of the work. “Out of Grace” includes five weeks of audiences and visitors and the subsequent absence of these people. It includes the choreography with many performers and their subsequent absence. It includes the earlier manifestations of the five visual artworks exhibited and their current shape. Tomorrow, the score will run for two hours without performers but the space, I imagine, will resonate with the events that have unfolded in it up until then. In the traditional sense of performance and exhibition, “Out of Grace” is somehow out of time. It is an invitation to contemplate the matter that constitutes the exhibit and the choreography and to literally position oneself within this matter and motion.
Artists: Alexandre David, Jérôme Fortin, Aude Moreau, Yann Pocreau and Chih-Chien Wang Performers: Karina Iraola, Anne Thériault, Émilie Morin, Amélie Bédard-Gagnon, Marilyne St-Sauveur Intern-performers: Josianne Latreille, Josiane Fortin, Anouk Thériault, Élise Bergeron, Marie-Pier Bazinet, Corinne Crane-Desmarais, Nancy Rivest, Catherine Lepage, Karenne Gravel, Chantal Hausler, Andrée-Anne Ratthé, Eugénia Khoury, Chloe Millsop-Melançon, Raphaëlle Perreault, Amélie Rajotte, Gabrielle Surprenant-Lacasse Extras: Jeanne Dubé-Blanchet, Ariane Dubé-Lavigne, Anne Trudel, Eve Leclair, Olivia Lathuilliere, Marie-Pier Morin, Renée-Anne Patenaude-Blais Creative Assistance: Matteo Fargion and Anne Thériault Lighting: Alexandre Pilon-Guay Sound Design: Alexandre St-Onge
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Lynda Gaudreau / Compagnie De Brune www.lyndagaudreau.com
Gallery Leonard & Bina Ellen http://ellengallery.concordia.ca/
Jérôme Fortin http://jeromefortin.com
Aude Moreau www.audemoreau.net
Yann Pocreau www.yannpocreau.info
Chih-Chien Wang www.chihchienwang.com