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VISUALEYEZ 2005 JOURNAL: MAY 30

In the end, what was the most valuable about Visualeyez was how it provided space for people to take risks and try things out, something rarely possible in a festival context. In performance festivals as I have generally noticed them, the emphasis is often on presentation , entertainment and popularity; perhaps this is the ‘festiveness' of the festival, with its connotations of official culture and ‘family entertainment'. We especially don't think of festivals as especially rigorous or challenging contexts.

The emphasis on presentation, I feel, can be based on narrow definitions of slickness, flashiness and professionalism, and I feel ultimately encourages formula : the work ‘looks like what's in the box', it does what it is supposed to do. It's the predictability of a sure thing. New work or experimentation doesn't do well in this context, because it presents the possibility that things may not work out. I would argue that the emphasis on presentation, hot names and the resulting tendency towards formula is how performance art can be implicated in commodity culture, something the history of performance art tried to challenge through its ephemerality.

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As I mentioned in a previous entry, if artists are always doing what they are ‘good' at, what is conventionally successful, how can they learn, if learning, to some degree, comes from making mistakes? How can performance art develop is a discourse, if our criteria for good work is based on unexamined definitions of slickness, competence, cleverness, aesthetic attractiveness or “edginess”, criteria which could be transposed from television or theatre?

One thing I noticed was that when things didn't work out, the artists would sometimes try the project again, outside of the fixed schedule. One example of this was when David and Dominique performed “Kitchen Feedback” for a second time, unannounced, in an outdoor location. Another example was Kathryn Williamson's ritual burning of the ‘Ceremonious Times' newspapers. The flexibility of times and dates was important here.

A certain level of camaraderie built up during Visualeyez, which I feel also included not only the structured events and discussions, but also the informal conversations and dinner parties. People were very willing to witness and participate in each others' performances; some of the performances, I feel, would not have worked if the other artists did not participate. People were quite patient, and very generous with their time and energy, even in performances where it became inconvenient or uncomfortable.

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Such situations for experimentation also feel like they're increasingly rare, in this climate of bums in seats and measurable outcomes (which I feel is the result of the effects of neoliberal ideology on arts funding). Creating such situations, I feel requires a certain vision on the part of the organizers; it means being vigilant about priorities (rather than privileging what might be anticipated to receive funding). But it also requires the participation and generosity on the part of the artists towards each other.

This also raises the question of the role of the public in festivals. According to this climate of ‘bums in seats', the public is envisioned as basically as consumers. Their role is assumed to be essentially passive; their expectations are to be entertained and edified by finished presentations .

At the same time, lack of attendance is a chronic problem with Canadian performance art festivals, even, as with Visualeyez, when they are advertised quite heavily. Issues around audience development, I would argue, have much to do with the general media climate, the education system (where art classes are cut because they're considered a ‘frill') and other larger political/economic forces, as it does with a festival's efforts to publicize itself.

The audience for performances that were more ‘event-based' attracted an audience primarily of those involved with the festival. Those projects involving one-on-one interactions or incidental audiences, took an experimental approach to their audiences. In this context, how the work came into contact with an audience, or how one might define an audience or public, became an aspect of the work: of conceiving of interacting with the public in other ways than as presentation.

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One thought I have coming out of this experience is: what would it be like if a group of artists were in the same space together for a period of time, say, one month, and had the opportunity to try things out (including different possibilities for making the work public , or of conceiving of a public )? What if there were also a forum for feedback and discussion and feedback, so that artists could talk about strengths and weaknesses? I feel that such a context would be important. A little voice in the back of my head tells me that such a project would probably be unfundable, because it would have no measurable outcomes in the conventional sense. But anything can be done and it could be argued that in the present context, such situations are more necessary than ever.

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