On Wednesday night I had a class in Toronto. The same night, our friend, Joe, was going to be attending an art salon and extended an invitation for us to go along. The salon originated in France in 1725 with the exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts — which is French for “Academy of Pretentious Shit.”
The salon we attended last night lived up to the illustrious tradition.
It was held in the back room of the Rivoli restaurant on Queen Street West — a venue with which I was intimately familiar though my years reviewing performers for a local magazine. The event was called “The Box Salon” and hosted by Louise Bak, a Chinese poet and sex columnist with a talent for showing off her legs.
First up was Cara Spooner, whose “interest in site-specific work and subjective mapping has lead her to create interventionist, installation-based performances which have been performed in abandoned factories, alley ways, parks, libraries, private homes and public eating establishments.”
In other words, she can’t get a working gig to save her life.
Cara’s performance was entirely silent. No words, no music. She slowly climbed the stage, with a number of stylistic hesitations meant to convey “Oh Christ! She’s going to do an interpretive dance!” There was a brief moment of hope when she finally took her place and did nothing more than remove her shoes, but this was quickly dashed when she threw her arms in the air and began swinging around the stage in a series of arcs, swoops, falls, and stops.
The entire piece was about ten minutes long, but her interpretive dance only lasted about two or three. She then removed her sweater in a another series of stylistic hesitations that symbolised the modern woman’s inability to make up her mind. “Oh, if only a man were around,” she seemed to be saying. “He could help me come to a decision.”
After the sweater was removed, she folded it carefully and placed it on the stage floor next to her shoes. For the rest of her performance she carefully removed every item from her backpack, placing each in its position across the floor until there was nothing left. At this point she stopped, looked at the audience, and bowed, which was meant to convey, “I know you have no idea of when this thing is over, so here’s your cue.”
I called this piece, “OCD Woman Prepares for Bed.”
Immediately following Cara was Mohammed Mohsen. Or at least, that’s who Louise said it was. It was hard to tell since he came on stage wearing a furry rabbit’s head mask and carrying a broken mandolin.
A screeching, atonal voice started blaring through the speakers accompanied by a screeching, atonal music. At first I thought we were about to see a performance of “Let Me Play for You the Music of My People,” but the large rabbit cleverly subverted my expectations by caressing the broken mandolin and shoving it against his crotch.
This went on for about five minutes, then he put the mandolin down, went backstage, and returned with a block of wood and an axe. He placed the mandolin on the wood, then smashed it open with the axe (which, as soon as I saw it, I had privately dubbed “Chekhov’s Axe”). Reaching into the mandolin’s body, he removed a small, stuffed rabbit. For the next few minutes he thought about killing it (you could tell because he would raise the axe over it, then lower it, then raise it, then lower it in a compelling expression of reluctant infanticide), but ultimately left the stage, leaving the small stuffed rabbit in one piece. (This was more than could be said for my ear drums at this point.)
I called this piece, “Harvey Converts to Islam and Tortures and Kills a Pregnant Mandolin Hostage.”
I came away from the evening with a feeling of nationalistic pride. It’s often been said that the value of a society can be judged by the way it treats its mentally ill.
In Canada, at least, we give them an Arts Council grant and a stage.