A Quest For Fire : Soufia Bensaid

Fortner Anderson
October 09

Tunisian/Quebec artist Soufia Bensaid began her action walking into the centre of the performance space, dressed casually and carrying an aluminum water bottle. Facing the audience, she turned slowly, looking each person in the eye. At the end of her visual circumnavigation of the space, she quietly announced that we were 201 persons.

Day One, Act 2

After a sip from her water bottle’s cup, she began clicking out a rhythm using the cup and the aluminum bottle. Over the course of the half-hour performance, Bensaid slowly pumped up the volume while inhabiting the performance space and its environs. She started by beating out her rhythm on iron pillars surrounding the performance area. Then she moved onto the metal stairs up to the loft overlooking the performance space and eventually she beat on the steel roof joists with a long length of pipe. While she constructed this sonic environment, she passed down from the loft lengths of steel pipe, metal studs, and sections of copper tubing, once used for plumbing.

Distributing these to a dozen or so volunteers, she enticed this group to mimic her action, adding their sounds of metal pounding against metal to her own rhythms. Like a cross between dancer and shaman, she engaged the group sustaining and reinforcing the growing cacophony.

When she had succeeded in creating within the group a self-sustaining energy, she removed herself from the loose circle of musicians, and sought out a candle, which she lit and carried back to the centre of the group. A moment later, she cried out « It didn’t work. This is performance, no? » With this, the work ended.

My vision was obscured by the musicians, so it was unclear to me what did or didn’t work. Bensaid’s attempt to coalesce the group of 201 disparate individuals certainly functioned at least in part. There was a power in the simple rhythm, growing in intensity. The sound involved the public and a much smaller grouping actively engaged with the creation. But a grouping within a performance space always remains fleeting, collapsing with the departure of the performer. So at the end, the potential of performance always dissolves leaving us with an opening of possibility.

As she said, it never works. It just is.