Performance Documentation: Vestige Vagabond

Maria Hupfield and Charlene Vickers, Vestige Vagabond, performance, August 2011

This blog post presents performance documentation from a performance I attended on August 20th, 2011. Vestige Vagabond was a public art performance by artists Maria Hupfield and Charlene Vickers. It was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Counting Coup at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The piece has been developing over the past couple years, but the locale for it’s most recent presentation is particularly significant.[1] The version I witnessed took place in the midst of SWAIA’s[2] annual Santa Fe Indian Market. The event has been held every year since 1922. The streets around the central plaza become an open-air market that attracts indigenous North American artists to sell their work. Indian Market brings an estimated 80,000 people to Santa Fe.[3]

Santa Fe Indian Market, August 2011.

Artists Maria Hupfield and Charlene Vickers described their intentions this way: In this performance, the value of Native American culture, ingenuity, function, aesthetics, and sharing will be emphasized through a series of new and unexpected objects and actions in a public interactive open market setting – under the museum’s portal.[4]

I saw the performance on the first day of Market, August 20th. It was repeated the following day. All the photographs accompanying this article are from this first performance. The heart of Vestige Vagabond is the street-market dynamics played out in a cultural market, where artists/artisans lay their handmade objects on a table for the perusal of buyers. Hupfield and Vickers began their performance with arrival and set-up, like the hundreds of artists at market, by pulling roller bags behind them, unpacking, and laying out objects on a market table. Ordinarily, there is a look-but-don’t-touch-without-permission standard for behavior at market. Many of the art objects for sale come with prices in the tens-of-thousands. The performance artists overcame audience reticence by demonstrating the use of some of the objects, such as the braids/Walkman/rock apparatus, and then passing the object to a bystander. They never gave verbal instructions and only spoke to each other. As the performance progressed, people in the audience became braver about exploring and using the objects being passed around. At the end of the performance, the artists wiped their sweaty faces with the napkins printed to resembled Canadian bills.[5]Then they gathered up and arranged all the objects in an attractive sales display, positioning themselves behind the table, much like the artists selling their work at the market.

I did not get to see the second performance, on Sunday, August 21st. Hupfield sent me the following statement about changes she and Vickers made to the second performance:

For the second day we wanted to find ways to help the santa fe crowd break through their role as passive observers and get them really involved. To help with this we started the performance by hand-printing two signs that read “not for sale” and “demos here now.” We also integrated a few more staged style actions together and responded directly to individuals in the crowd. For example we singled out Amber Dawn (Bear Robe) to wear our fringe gloves, distributed and boxed with the beads and did an impromptu honor dance with the tea cup for a mother who was carrying her child on her back. It was good times!

Welcome sign describing the performance outside of Museum of Contemporary Native Art.

The artists arrive.

Set-up begins.

Set-up continues.

Hupfield looks into a box with an eyepiece before handing it to someone in the audience.

The audience begins examining the objects.

Hupfield with rock, walkman.

The walkman, with braids and a rock attached, plays language lessons in indigenous languages.

Charlene Vickers presents a second walkman. This one played pow wow music.

A birch bark basket with wooden nickels and a magnifying lens.

Paper napkins printed to look like Canadian bills were kept in the back pockets of both artists.

The display table. The large squishy vinyl cylinder on the right corner of the table is huge pony bead.

The display table at the end of the performance.

Printed napkins used in the performance.

Artist Biographies:

Maria Hupfield works across disciplines to engage in intersecting points of dialogue between Western and non-Western visual representations and philosophies. Her practice evidences the body as a site of resistance, agency and social engagement. She is a member of Wasauksing First Nation and is of Anishnaabe/Ojibway Heritage. A graduate of the MFA program at York University, Maria holds a BA Specialist in Art and Art History from the University of Toronto and Sheridan College. Hupfield lives and works in New York City.

Charlene Vickers is an Anishinaabe artist living and working in Vancouver. She graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 1994 and Simon Fraser University, Critical Studies in 1998. Born in Kenora, Ontario and raised in Toronto. Her art explores ancestry and living in urban spaces.[6]

Related Blog Entries: Native Performance Art and Performance Theory Rebecca Belmore: Vigil


[1] There is a brief video clip from a 2010 performance of Vestige Vagabond on You Tube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owl1Y3TDaIo
[2] SWAIA stands for Southwestern Association for Indian Art
[3] For more of the history of SWAIA and Indian Market, see http://swaia.org/About_SWAIA/History/index.html
[4] This description was posted to an Events page on Facebook prior to the performance. It also appeared on a signboard in front of the museum.
[5] The eligibility of Native artists from Canada is a recent change to Indian Market rules.
[6] Artist Biographies were provided by the artists.

“Clouds Live Where” Performance Documentation

I am posting a selection of photographs taken during Merritt Johnson’s performance Friday, November 12th at The Evergreen State College. The performance “Clouds Live Where” was viewable from ground-level and from the mezzanine level of the Library Building. Space was marked out using tape, fabric, and specially constructed wood and lucite barricades. This is Johnson’s first use of these new barricades. The lucite top sections are barely visible in the photo above. A few minutes into the performance, Johnson’s “Sneak” persona runs into these nearly invisible barriers and then uses saliva and a fine blue dust to make the lucite barriers more visible.

The performance begins to the sound of rain and occasional thunder, plus the white noise of the industrial air circulation in the space, and the footfalls of passersby.”Sneak” carries a cloud from the end with the blue fabric (sea) to the end with the tan fabric (island). Johnson’s “Sneak” persona wears men’s trousers, a white button-down oxford shirt, a men’s hat, moccasins, and the tail-end of a coyote pelt peaking out from under the oxford shirt. She wears big honkin sunglasses under that hat, too. Sneak carries the clouds from one end to the other and a cascade of blue seed-beads falls out onto the tan fabric island. Once the clouds are emptied, Sneak meticulously tries to gather the rain back into the clouds to transport them back to the blue (water) area.

Gathering the beads(rain) to refill the clouds.

The Sneak works hard, carrying the heavy clouds between the symbolic land and sea areas. Sneak crawls, rolls under, and occasionally bumps into the barriers that make transporting the water into so much more work.
The barricades.
An exhausted Sneak tucks the coyote pelt into the trousers, puts on a jacket, fits the mocassined feet into loafers, and departs the scene.

The performance lasted 30 minutes. In the photo above, some audience members take a closer look at the final configuration of objects. The performance space was in the very large entryway that is the common pathway to get to the library and the computer lab. Students with huge stacks of books halted to watch for as long as their arms could take the weight of the books. Someone with a service dog stopped for about 10 minutes. Her dog was really eyeing that coyote tail. No one spoke – a space that is ordinarily loud with voices and footsteps was hushed and even reverent.

Artist Merritt Johnson is based in Vancouver, BC, where she teaches at Emily Carr. Her website is www.merrittjohnson.com

Rebecca Belmore Quits Being an Artist?

IS THIS THE END?

Rebecca Belmore did a performance in Vancouver, BC in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery on Saturday, September 11th. I only found out about it two hours before it was to happen – not enough time for me to make the 4 hour drive to go up there. Afterward, I heard from others who were there that at the end of the performance, Belmore announced that she was QUITTING! The rumored reason is that she is being sued by a former dealer. Her performance took place in front of a sign that said “I AM WORTH MORE THAN A MILLION DOLLARS TO MY PEOPLE.” I sincerely hope that Belmore does not quit being an artist. Her work is important in so many ways. I will post more information about this when I have something more than rumors.

For more about Rebecca Belmore see my previous posts

Rebecca Belmore: Vigil and The Named and The Unnamed

Friend or Foe – Part III: Photos from Rebecca Belmore’s Video Installation at Or Gallery (May 2010)

Narrative Strings, thanks to Marcia Crosby

Were you there? I’d love to have a guest essay on the event, or if that’s too much work, just reply in the comments section!

Collisions of Art and Science

Elizabeth Demaray, Corpor Esurit, photo by Dave Gehosky and courtesy of the artist

ART LEADS TO DATA?

Sometimes, the combination of art and science creates great art. Other times…well, not so much. We don’t usually think of art creating great science. The reason for that might be that the role of aesthetics (yeah, art) in presenting scientific data is well-masked. In order for scientific data to be believable, the aesthetic decisions about how to present the data are usually obscured. Some artists embark on projects that look a lot like a science experiment, such as a piece recently featured in the New York Times. Brooklyn artist Elizabeth Demaray constructed an ant habitat and presented the ants with a fast food diet. As the article states, she picked a type of ant very unlikely to be able to adapt to a fast food diet. I puzzled over the article… lodged in the “Science” section of the paper. Here is a link to the article, which includes a photograph of the work installed in the gallery. It seemed like bad science to me – and unfair to the ants. (Many of the ants died, unable to adapt to anything but the sesame seeds on the buns and the questionable interiors of chicken nuggets). Is it possible for this experiment to produce useful data? And does it work as a piece of art? Neither question is addressed in the NY Times article. In terms of science, the artist picked the wrong type of ant. But if she wanted to make the point that fast food is bad for humans, as demonstrated by visual evidence that not even ants can live off of it, then one could consider the work successful. I’ll go out on a limb though and say that my opinion is that it is mediocre art in terms of the content and bad science, as well as ethically questionable. Other species of ants could have survived quite well within Demaray’s Corpor Esurit, but the meaning of the piece would have been a bit muddled. The presentation of the work in the gallery looks very visually interesting, at least in these photographs generously provided by the gallery. Take my judgement here with a grain of salt… I’d have to go see the work in person to really have an informed opinion. Maybe some of you in New York can go look at it and report back… (see comments).

Elizabeth Demaray, Corpor Esurit, photo by Dave Gehosky and courtesy of the artist

DATA LEADS TO ART?

Demaray’s piece produces data that we are supposed to see with our own eyes. However, another method is to make work based on already existing data that has then been visually interpreted by the artist, unveiling relationships between art and science. According to my limited research, the term for this is “data visualization.” Aaron Koblin, for example, has created artworks based on visual representations of data, such as calls and internet data between New York City and the rest of the world. The emphasis is usually visual, although there are examples of works that translate data into audio forms. Aaron Koblin and Daniel Massey collaborated on an audio piece called Bicycle Built for 2000. It’s worth visiting the site and clicking on “more info” for a fuller explanation of that piece. The song “Daisy Bell” was the first piece of digitally synthesized vocal music (1962). You might also remember it as the song that HAL sings in the final moments of 2001: A Space Odyssey. They had over 2000 people record themselves singing a small snippet of the song and then assembled each snippet into overlapping audio data. If you visit the artists’ website, you will note that there is a visual component to the piece, not just the audio file all on its own. I looked online for something about a project done by tree canopy scientist Nalini Nadkarni, but couldn’t find anything about it. I saw her give a talk about her work and she presented a project that she worked on with a musician, in which they transformed tree canopy data into audio representations instead of the more usual graphs, pie charts, etc.

DATA leads to ART leads to SOUND/SPACE/AUDIENCE… leads to POSTCOMMODITY

All of this leads me to one of the new works by the artists’ collective Postcommodity, on exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art (MOCNA) in Santa Fe. Postcommodity is a four-person team of artists: Raven Chacon (Navajo), Kade L. Twist (Cherokee), Steven Yazzie (Laguna/Navajo) and Nathan Young (Delaware/Kiowa/Pawnee). Their selection of works in the exhibition (curated by Ryan Rice) is titled “It wasn’t the Dream of the Golden Cities,” a reference to the 400 year anniversary of Santa Fe, and the rumored existence, according to Spanish, of seven cities of gold that lead Spanish conquistadors to the region repeatedly. Friar Marcos de Niza reported glimpsing one of the cities from afar. But when Coronado arrived, there was no gold – only adobe pueblos. After 140 years of violence and abuse by the Spanish and the church, the pueblos revolted against Spanish control and had years of autonomy between 1680-1696. All this is background knowledge that is necessary to understand Postcommodity’s work in this exhibition. The particular piece that I’m writing about in relationship to science, data, and sonification is the multimedia installation piece titled If History Moves at the Speed of its Weapons, then the Shape of the Arrowhead is Changing. This installation is in a room 29′ x 16′ and has 8 monitors mounted on narrow pillars roughly chest-high around the room, plus a hidden subwoofer. Everything in the room is painted with gold paint. Walking down the hall toward the room, you hear a cacophony of sound. Entering the room, you feel it as well. Different tones emit from speakers in different parts of the room. You turn around in the space, trying to separate out these digital tones, to catch where precisely they are coming from. My dad was with me on one of my trips into the room. He absolutely hated the piece and couldn’t leave fast enough. The auditory experience is pretty unpleasant…even more so for someone with tinnitus, like my dad. He wanted to check it out more, but couldn’t take it. But that’s pretty much the point. The piece is intended to represent an ambush – a situation any reasonable person would want to get away from. If it were just an unpleasant sound installation, I would say the piece was a gimmick and would put it in the category of yet another work art that seeks to punish the audience (not that we don’t sometimes need a good punishing). However, the science, theory, and collaboration behind the piece is what is intriguing and is what brings the piece beyond a simple surround-sound extravaganza.

Cymatics example - a pattern created when sound passes through a plate layered with sound.

There is an interesting field called cymatics that works on visualizing sound by vibrating sand or water. Here is a link to a video of Evan Grant explaining cymatics. It’s a way of making sound visible. I searched for a term for the opposite transformation… the transformation of the physical into sound, but couldn’t find one. What Postcommodity is doing is basically reverse-cymatics. Kade Twist says that the correct term would be sonification. Postcommodity takes data on the hypothetical trajectory, velocity, and impact energy of four pueblo weapons at the time of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and turns that data into sound. The wall text (and gallery guide) describe the piece this way:

“The sound and multimedia installation If History Moves at the Speed of its Weapons, The the Shape of Arrow is Changing (2010) is a sonic ambush utilizing four Pueblo Revolt era weapons (bow and arrow, atlatl and dart, sling and rock, and war club). We have performed a ballistic analysis for each weapon that includes all potential impact points within the gallery, providing a comprehensive mathematical analysis of multiple ambush scenarios. From this data algorithms were derived to inform sound compositions specific to each weapon. The result is a dynamic and interactive installation entirely informed by the inherent physical, cultural, and intermediary properties of each weapon. The sound filling the room becomes the medium for the weapons themselves to physically engage and envelop audiences.”

The sound is directional… with sound emanating from the position where the weapon would land… if it didn’t hit YOU first.

Postcommodity, If History Moves and the Speed of its Weapons, Then the Shape of the Arrow is Changing, Photo by Will Wilson, Courtesy of MoCNA

In a public talk at MoCNA, Postcommodity described the origin of the idea as coming out of reading the book War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991) by Manuel de Landa, heavily influenced by Foucault, plus Deleuze and the idea of the machinic phyllum. This piece introduces the idea in a physically challenging way. Kade Twist wrote to me that If History Moves… “is also influenced by the writing of Paul Virilio (Speed and Politics). He came up with the idea that history and the rationalization of temporal relationships within a particular society/civilization moves at the speed of its weapons — we culturally rationalize velocity through our weapons systems — in this context we are looking at the velocity, or dromological difference of the two clashing civilizations and analyzing the indigenous cultural identity and worldview embedded in the weapons systems.” So how did Postcommodity convert those weapons systems into sound? Twist says “We used the computer code written in Max/MSP that was written byCristóbal Martínez. Each weapon was assigned a specific tone: sine tone (war club), triangle tone (bow and arrow), saw tone (rock and sling) and square tone (atlatl and spear). These are the fundamental sound waves from which all sound is comprised.” Rather than have a completely arbitrary or purely aesthetic criteria for selecting the audible tones, Postcommodity’s team selected sounds whose forms, revealed by cymatics, had some symbolic relationship with the forms of spear, arrow, rock, and club.

UPDATE: Listen to the audio embedded in this updated post: LISTENING TO THE AMBUSH

This piece is a cerebral romance between art, technology, history, colonialism, and counter-colonialism. The big romance is between art and science, with the four artists from Postcommodity collaborating with composer/media artist Cristóbal Martínez and scientist Andrew McCord, who performed the mathematical analysis and physics modeling of the weapons. And where the romance turns gritty and real is in the audience’s own physical relationship to the piece. Positioning a mathematical model of an ambush using pueblo weapons in a gallery puts the audience in the position of vulnerability and culpability. The piece would seem to push the audience into imagining themselves as the Spanish attacked in the Pueblo Revolt. Yet it is in a gallery, in a setting that reminds museum-goers of that violent past and the injustices to which the Pueblo peoples were subjected. Who exactly are we rooting for in this ambush? Surrounded by false gold, in the midst of Indian Art Market, tangible white guilt, romanticism, and earnest desires to make a better future, If History Moves… gives the audience the chance to identify with the power of the “conquered” and the weaknesses of the conquerors. And the conquerors are all of us living today.

Nathan Young had some important words that I’d like to close with:

We didn’t have a dream of these golden cities. That’s not why we are here. It’s not necessarily the Spanish’s fault, or gold’s fault. It could have been anybody. It’s the market.[1]

For more on Postcommodity, please see this previous post: Photo Essay: Day 4 of My Blood is in the Water.

Here are links to other articles about this piece:

http://theendofbeing.com/2010/08/30/postcommodity-it-wasn%E2%80%99t-the-dream-of-golden-cities/

http://www.adobeairstream.com/elements/article/447.html


[1] The Museum of Contemporary Native Art made an audio recording of Postcommodity’s public talk. They plan to make the audio tracks available via their website sometime this fall. I will include the link here when it is released.

Photo Essay – Day 4 of “My Blood is in the Water”

Today was the final day of Postcommodity’s 4-day outdoor installation work titled P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water). I am working on an essay about the work, but in the meantime, I wanted to share these photographs.

The day that Postcommodity spoke, they served the a delicious posole made from the deer meat.

Detail of P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water), by Postcommodity. The deer was hunted, prepared, then taxidermied in preparation for this artwork.

Detail of P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water). After 4 days, the blood has saturated the drumhead.

Detail from P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water). A microphone attached to the drum amplifies the sound of the drops hitting the drumhead.

Narrative Strings, thanks to Marcia Crosby

Concept Drawing by the author: Narrative Strings in Belmore's performance art as described by scholar Marcia Crosby

The earliest stage of my writing/research/thinking process starts along two main paths: either looking at an artwork or , or thinking about an interesting passage from somebody else’s writing. Those two things are like a diving board – they let me jump in with enthusiasm. I often make little drawings as I go, working out ideas visually. I just got a new book in the mail yesterday and decided to share a passage that got me thinking and doodling. Here it is:

——

“In relationship to performances that reference specific historical events, it’s important to bear in mind that the ephemeral nature of performance art (in general) does not lend itself to ‘telling’ specific historical narratives or producing meanings or explanations; having said that, performance can disentangle histories in very particular ways. That is, an artist at one level may refer to personal, local, cultural, or national narratives of prolonged abuse or trauma (as fiction or empirical fact); and the body, its gestures (and other media) may expose the imbalance of power relations of a personal trauma. In an aboriginal performance that is focused on trauma or violence, performer or spectator may gather any number of the narrative strings of colonialization: lateral violence in the home or community, the dissolution of family, residential schooling, decimating diseases, diaspora, the emergence of fluid or unstable aboriginal communities – any events that make up the complexity of colonialism historical and ongoing woundings. That said, such narratives are a referent or perhaps only ‘one arrangement’ of an oscillating constellation of other possible elements to the performance, which raises questions about power itself. The performance ‘breaks up at the very levels of comprehensibility and acceptance… The situation of oscillation becomes even more problematic when it is a question of being there, in action, in front of a certain number of witnesses, of presences.’[1]

Given the contingencies of performance art, Belmore does not use the form as an attempt to make meaning or create closure in relation to the specific historic events she references. She is well aware that in its capacity to elicit both a somatic response and to call up specific memories, the language of performance art is transient, it is gesture, trace remains of anecdotal evidence; it cannot be objectified and can hardly be explained, and it is viscous in its contradictions. The duration of a work draws a momentary horizon line, pointing both to what is known and that which is emergent and thus yet incoherent.”

- Marcia Crosby, “The Multimedia Work of Rebecca Belmore: a Disturbing Uncertainty,” from the book Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art, (Denver, CO: Denver Art Museum, 2010) pp. 22-23.

—–

As I was reading that passage above, I pictured first the linear historical narrative, represented by a book. Then Marcia Crosby’s choice of words made me think instead of history not as a narrative, but as a jumble of threads, like a pile of spaghetti, that Belmore’s performance pulls individual narrative strings and briefly arranges them in a way that gives a momentary physical experience of what is known, emergent, and/or incoherent. If you have any experience with yarn, wires, the physics of strings, you know that they can be separated out only briefly. Unless spooled, they will retangle again with the slightest movement. Tangling is reduced if you keep them in the smallest possible container that will hold them. To continue the metaphor even further (at the risk of being ridiculous, I know) we might say that performance takes the tangle out of the tiny “historical” box that we attempt to store trauma at a remove from ourselves, and moves that tangle into a public eye to tangle even more, have strands pulled out that give us glimpses of order and potential. And when the performance is over, the tangle goes back into its metaphorical storage box. Perhaps the pile is less tangled, or the strands have become color coded. Perhaps the box is a different size, creating more tangle or keeping it under better control. And perhaps each factor is different for each person experiencing the performance artwork.


[1] Richard Martel, “The Tissues of the Performative,” in Art Action: 1958-1998 (Quebec: Editions Intervention, 2001) 32.

Friend or Foe – Part III: Photos from Rebecca Belmore’s Video Installation at Or Gallery (May 2010)

Rebecca Belmore, Friend or Foe, video installation. Photo Courtesy of Or Gallery.

Here are some photographs of Rebecca Belmore’s installation for Friend or Foe at Or Gallery (curated by Darrin Martens). This video installation includes documentation from two different performances by Belmore. In each case, video from each performance is projected by miniature projectors upon small surfaces set within a miniature sculptural setting that uses mirrors and a set of chess pieces upon a pedestal. The pedestal is topped with frosted glass and conceals a projector that also projects video footage onto the flat surface of the pedestal.

The two performances represented in this piece via their video documentation are Victorious and Against Glass. Victorious was performed in 2008 as part of the HIVE 2 festival in Vancouver, BC. Victorious presented us with a constructed personage – the iconic image of Queen Victoria – as a literal construction. Belmore’s Queen Victoria starts with a seated aboriginal female body, Daina Warren (Montana Slavey Cree Nation). Belmore uses strips of newspaper and honey to build up the throne and period dress of Queen Victoria around Warren’s own form. Musical selections that played during the performance included the British national anthem, God Save the Queen, which also plays as part of this new video installation piece at Or Gallery.

Belmore worked with performer Donald Morin in her performance Against Glass, which took place at University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in Vancouver, BC. Here is Darrin Martens’ description of Against Glass from the 1-page Or Gallery publication Friend or Foe: Rebecca Belmore:

“…Belmore methodically created a structure out of found, recycled, and natural materials that pressed up against the glass wall of the museum forming an enclosure for Morin. The act of creating a performance within the context of MOA’s Great Hall and the landscape setting signalled a challenge to the space that the museum inhabits and the experience that it evokes for its visitors. The idyllic scene, as viewed from the Great Hall, is interrupted and fractured by Belmore’s performance, the structure and the encased aboriginal man. This compartment was inhabited by Morin for nearly an hour while Belmore completed the structure, cleaned the area of unwanted debris and vacated the site. When Belmore returned, Morin left the structure; they systematically dismantled the enclosure, loaded the materials into Belmore’s truck and drove away. The complex performance raises intriguing questions related to aboriginal access and representation within MOA, the relationship between artist(s) and audience members within a performative situation, and the space for aboriginal performance within a Western museum context. The built structure, from the inside referenced a museum-like vitrine — an encasement for an object meant to be viewed.”

I’ve been thinking about this video installation work and the relationship between the objects, the projected images, and the original performances. I did not get to see the performances that make up the video part of this new installation. Does that matter? I suspect that it does. Everything that I know about the videos in this piece comes from reading the brief (but good) gallery guide that was available to take home from the exhibition, or from listing to curator Darrin Martens give a brief public talk about the exhibition. Chess is a metaphor for political maneuvering. With these videos placed on the same field, at approximately the same scale as the chess pieces, does that make the videos (and the original performances) function as another type of chess piece? Which side is which, and which side are the videos on? One miniature projection features Belmore’s co-performer from her performance Against Glass. The second miniature projector plays footage from Victorious. The larger projection that plays on the flat surface (under all the other objects) is documentation footage from Against Glass. And take a close look at the chess pieces… black and white, and all “Indians.” If a viewer does not know anything about these previous performances, what can the viewer make of this work? A tiny projection of a woman building (worshipping?) another woman sits on a screen amongst a set of chess pieces. A fuzzy projection of a man stands amongst chess pieces on the other side of the small tabletop. The same woman builds a lean-to out of junk in a projection that forms the base for all of this action. So many projected images are going on at one time that it is hard to know where to look at any given moment. Your attention is pulled from one video to another, trying to figure out the relationships between each. Is it about poverty, necessity, homelessness, and temporary shelter? Is it about how we work to build up other people into powerful icons? Are we all chess pieces on a board fabricated by homelessness and poverty in the shadow of wealth held in perpetuity by others?

Rebecca Belmore, detail view from Friend or Foe. Photo by the author.

It’s an ingenious installation, both in terms the technical aspects of the projections and in terms of that question about what to do with performance documentation in order to make it stand on its own. This seems to be something that Belmore is particularly good at working out. See my entry on her video installation The Named and the Unnamed for another example of Belmore’s transformation of performance documentation into an independent work.

It’s been two months since I saw Friend or Foe. Obviously, I am still thinking about it. I’ll KEEP thinking about it. I’m really interested in hearing from anyone who got to see either of the two performances (Against Glass or Victorious). I know you’re out there. What was it like to be in the audience? What did you think while it was going on? What did you think in the weeks/months afterward?