lo bil – GROUND/LINE (11am-5pm)
Anna Berndtson – Live Collage (live stream from Sweden) (11am – 2pm)
Marita Bullmann – Untitled (D&DII) (live stream from Germany) (2pm – 5pm)
Katzman Contemporary – Toronto
Saturday January 28 2016
At 86 Miller Street, the other day, I kept thinking about Allan Kaprow’s description of the birth of live art (“happenings,” as he preferred to say) as the moment when paper began peeling off Cubist collages, fell onto the floor, and slowly filled up the room. This image kept coming back to me as I watched lo bil, Anna Berndtson, and Marita Bullmann play with surface and depth, flatness and three-dimensionality in ways that, echoing one another in surprising ways, compellingly gave substance to Kaprow’s fanciful origin story.
Paper covered the entire floor of the main gallery space where lo bil’s performance unfolded – large strips of brown packing paper that the artist danced and trampled upon, rolled on and crawled under, painted on, got wet, ripped and repaired. Over the course of six hours lo bil used the space to work out ideas of verticality and support – the body standing, the body collapsing, the body resting on the floor. She sang, she sighed, she screamed – and apologized for screaming. Occasionally she addressed the audience directly. “I wonder where the language starts” is the first thing I heard her say, and the question echoed in my head for the entire piece as I watched intuitive action develop into thought and intention, backtrack, change direction, stall and restart. Intention, direction, change – and chance: a pendulum hanging from the ceiling functioned as a sort of reset button that the artist repeatedly returned to, inquiringly. Another recurrent action involved crawling under the paper floor and jutting out an arm, a foot, the entire torso – wavering, waiting, then disappearing under the paper again and turning into motionless lump before finally re-emerging into verticality, smoothing the paper out, repairing the torn off sections, moving on to something else. Projections on the back wall emphasized the play of flatness and depth. To the left, an overhead projector was used to cast images of overlapping color fields and occasional lines of handwritten text – “To listen to what comes.” To the right, a video projector connected to a close circuit video camera projected a ghostly two-dimensional double of the live action regressing, as a result of the double mirror effect, into an infinite flat distance.
In the adjacent room, for the first three hours of lo’s six-hour performance, Anna Berndtson, in live stream from Sweden, composed and re-composed an expansive photo collage, meticulously taping cut-outs from illustrated magazines onto a transparent surface that occupied the entire frame of the video image. Inspired by Hannah Höch’s photomontages of the nineteen-twenties and -thirties, Berndtson’s performance was a sophisticated, darkly humorous meditation on current politics and their sinister resonance with those boiling under the progressive surface of Höch’s Weimar Germany. As the artist relentlessly carried out her work, a barrage of images from the US presidential inauguration slowly grew until it covered almost the entire screen, before morphing into a crowd of smiling, waving European royalties, fancy food, and high fashion. The hellish parade opened and closed with Berndtson in profile, staring down a cut-out of Donald Trump’s head. The second time around, the artist’s mouth was hidden behind a disembodied man’s smile, while Trump’s was disfigured by a lipstick-coated, tongue flicking woman’s mouth. In the intervening hours, Berndtson changed into different outfits (a dark business suit, a red evening dress, a bathing suit), traveled the depth of the room to match the size of her screen self to that of the cut-out figures in the foreground, inserted herself into group photographs, waved along with royalties, toasted with a real glass a paper champagne bottle, and finally, in preparation for the gender reversal orchestrated in the closing image, inflated two sex dolls (one female, one male) and arranged them against the room’s back wall. With its brilliant use of frame, depth and scale, the performance took full advantage of the live stream format: it could not have existed in any other form.
Following Berndtson’s performance, Marita Bullmann, in live stream from Germany, performed three sequences subtly echoing one another, each lasting approximately one hour and divided into three main actions. With the camera facing the corner of a room (a choice that once again emphasized the contrast between the flatness of the projection surface and the depth of real space) Bullmann began the first sequence by hammering nails into the cornering walls and using red string to write the word “EVERYTHING.” The second sequence began with the writing of the word “REPEAT” with more nails and green string. The word “MOMENT,” written in black string, opened the third sequence. Images of plant life, of birds, of air and water returned throughout the piece. Bullmann kneeling into yellow plastic flowerpots, turning herself into flower by taping a paper festoon around her head, and then blowing into a white watering can full of feathers. Bullmann shaking a potted palm tree, blowing up a yellow inflatable mattress, and variously reconfiguring the spatial relations between her body, the plant, and the mattress. Bullmann wielding two long bamboo sticks and spraying water from a white spray bottle. In the last sequence, the artists proceeded to peel off a stack of 150 yellow sticky notes and attach them one by one to her face and head, turning once again into a feathered flower creature. As sticky notes curled up off her face scattering onto the floor around her (petals, plumage), Kaprow’s image returned to my mind more vividly than ever. At home, that night, I looked up the quote. It’s from a 1966 book called Assemblage, Environments, and Happenings and it goes like this:
With the breakdown of classic harmonies (…) the Cubists tacitly opened up a path to infinity. Once foreign matter was introduced into the picture in the form of paper (collage), it was only a matter of time before everything else foreign to paint and canvas would be allowed to get into the creative act, including real space. Simplifying the history of the ensuing revolution into a flashback, this is what happened: the pieces of paper curled up off the canvas, were removed from the surface to exist on their own, became more solid as they grew into other materials and, reaching out further into the room, finally filled it entirely.