Art that crosses bordersBiennial M:ST Performative Art Festival offers panoply of art experiences
by Cadence Mandybura
September 25, 2014
“I think we intentionally cast a wide net in terms of our definition of performative art,” says Tomas Jonsson, director of Mountain Standard Time (M:ST) Performative Art Festival. “There are a lot of boundaries that exist, interdisciplinary boundaries, and we’re more interested in crossing that.”
Still, definitions can be useful, and M:ST describes “performative” as “practices that originate from a visual or media arts background and involve the live presence of the artist.” You may have seen it before, like at last week’s Nuit Blanche Calgary. And if you haven’t, now’s the time to try it, as M:ST only comes around every two years, this festival being its seventh incarnation.
The lineup is extensive, spreading across more than 15 venues in both Calgary and Lethbridge. Just a few examples of the work you’ll see are the visuals, songs and Mapuche ritual of a healing process performed by Chilean artist Alberto Kurapel; Cora-Allan Wickliffe’s continuous action of giving that crosses cultural boundaries; a street performance by Andrew McPhail in which he gathers and sews together bartered and donated tissues into a cloudscape installation piece; and an enormous acoustic cannon by Matthew Walker titled “A Device for the Emancipation of the Landscape.” There are also a number of durational works, including several at the Epcor Centre, that can be experienced for a few minutes or hours at a time .
A particularly special part of this year’s festival involves two pieces by Kenneth Doren showing at the National Music Centre on Wednesday, October 8. Doren passed away in 2012 at age 45, and had submitted one of the works, “The Piano Project,” to a previous M:ST festival. Jonsson explains they weren’t able to mount it at the time, but are pleased to present it this year, alongside a compilation of Doren’s video work. “He crossed so many borders — that’s something that we love,” says Jonsson. Doren, he explains, was “deeply embedded” into Emmedia, the dance community and the classical music community. “His love for all those practices, it was a very contagious thing.”
You may find yourself outside your comfort zone at this festival, but that’s okay; maybe that’s even part of the point. Jonsson says he thinks the destabilization is what makes performative art special. “I think being open to that challenge can be enriching,” he says. “It can also be frightening and disturbing, but those are not things to shy away from.”
After all, the artists, though present in most performative works, won’t bite. “I think it’s actually a very generous space,” says Jonsson, and attending some of the artist talks on offer may help cushion the performative experience for newbies. “Conventions don’t necessarily apply, so any familiar structures that are not present might cause anxiety, but I don’t think that means that it’s necessarily more intimidating [than other art forms].”
Festivals like these are also in service to the artists themselves, with three workshops geared towards enhancing performative work (non-artists are welcome, too). M:ST is seeing the results of past programming, which “has led to resurgence in performance art in the community,” according to Jonsson, who points out that many of this year’s participating artists began their involvement through workshops.
Like any art form, performative art has a vocabulary all its own, and the more there is, the easier it is for Calgary audiences to acclimatize to it. Jonsson explains that the greater goals of M:ST focus on “forming a language and a level of discourse around performative art practice, and also creating a home for it here.”
Still seems foreign? As you might do in a foreign country, Jonsson recommends: “Just immerse yourself.” There’s no shortage of art to see.
Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Festival runs September 26 to October 11 at various venues in Calgary and Lethbridge.
by Cadence Mandybura
September 25, 2014
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