The life and times of live artist Julianna Barabas
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Reframed Refain - post performance musings
Recently I undertook a collaborative performative response to a show at the Art Gallery of Alberta titled 'Leaving Olympia'. The original show was designed to give context to a show of Polaroid studies by Attila Richard Lukacs, and our show was an expansion of that historical context. Details on our performance can be found at:
Now why would I send you to a memorial site when writing about my own live art work? Anyone who knew Gilbert and knows me will understand, but for those whom the reference is more oblique, I will give some context:
When I met Gilbert 17 years ago, we were both yet outside the art world in terms of our future relationships to it. Yet even then, he brought an engagement to the world, to politics local and global, to entertainment and to living in general that was influential on me and many others.
When I later undertook seamline as a live art work, Gilbert was one that I thought about, and what he might say or think about the work. And when I was leading up to this work at the AGA, it was Gilbert's thoughtful and considered opinion that I most wished would be present, although he was already missing and ultimately gone. While there are others who were more directly mentored and influenced by Gilbert (and others whose presence I longed for in the work), I can not imagine working or writing now without him being a part of my thoughts, and so all that follows bears his mark.
Some comments that have stood out during and post performance are telling:
"We are surprised that the AGA gave permission to this work".
"The closer I got to you in the space, the less nude you became".
"The longer I sat with the work, the less I noticed the fact that you were nude".
"This really pushed boundaries for me, but I felt I needed to stick with it for as long as I could".
When asked about how I felt about the piece and its successes and failures, I respond in the following way - this piece is very specific to this time and place in history. In many other cities and institutions, appearing nude in a gallery space would be, to be honest, blasé. But here, in Edmonton, where nude statues never mind live nude people are shunned and defaced, it seemed important to point to a broader history, to underline how long and intelligently people have been engaging the nude as a political and social statement, challenging norms and pushing boundaries.
I found the level of engagement of our audience to be diverse and satisfying in its diversity. Some saw Kristen and I as snobs (!!!!!!! But I am so working class, I wanted to cry!), others found the work to add greatly to their experience of the Leaving Olympia show as a whole. All in all, I am grateful to have been granted the opportunity to conduct this research and engage with both the show and the AGA public to this degree.
In writing this, I realize that while I was trying to expose and negate my 'otherness' on many levels (daughter of a dark skinned, accented man raised in northern Alberta, female, bisexual, working class) the one 'othering' factor in my life that I did not confront is my history of mental illness. Like Gilbert, I have faced depression and suicidal thoughts and tried a variety of treatment strategies. Unlike Gilbert, I was able to emerge on the other side of that battle alive. What I recognize in the face of his departure is that to honour both his memory and my own past, I must include that component of my life, in an effort to break down yet another stigmatized aspect of post modern life.
I considered not doing this performance because of that part of my history. Was I prepared to face an unknown public in this seemingly vulnerable state? Could I handle the consequences? Would the aftermath be untenable?
What I learned was that there is specific and visceral power in bringing difficult issues to light. While sitting across from my collaborator in an entry way of the space, we noticed that most people felt it necessary to ask our permission to pass. There was enough space for them. And even those that did pass between us apologized as they did so (ah, Canadians). At one point I looked at Kristen and said 'So much power! Who knew?".
In the end, I am glad I made the choice to do the piece, and that so many people were able to experience it. It may have been specific to this time and place, but it was and is valid - my thanks to all those who supported and contributed.
My extra special thanks to Kristen Hutchinson, without whom this work would not have succeeded. Her participation as a performance art virgin (yes, her first live art piece ever! What a bar to have set!) added and expanded the piece beyond my wildest expectations, and I am honoured to have worked with her. I look forward to revisiting the work once we have viewed the footage, and welcome your comments and observations throughout.
Rest in peace, Gilbert. You are and will continue to be missed for a long time to come.
Thank you for visiting my blog, with which I am tracking and disseminating my research in live art. One of my seminal works is titled seamline, and an archive of the series can be found on this site. From May 2003 to May 2004, I had a line tattooed around the circumference of my body. I now live with the vestigal mark of the original series as a permanent and lifetime performance action engaging all who ask in conversations about contemporary, live/performance, conceptual art. I invite your comments and questions.