But was it funny? : Doyon/Demers

Fortner Anderson
October 09

The Quebec-based performance duo, Hélène Doyon et Jean-Pierre Demers, opened the 5th Edition of the Viva Art Action festival with all the pomp and circumstance of performance art royalty. With the measured steps and rigid postures of those born to high office, they entered the Ateliers Jean-Brillant to the canned cheers of multitudes and the expectant silence of the public in the studio.

Both wore magnificent crowns, giant loud speakers perched precariously on their heads atop of what appeared to be small cloth covered doughnuts. From the edge of each speaker’s bell, hung numerous cables and grips which could be used to steady or re-position the heavy and awkward headgear in moments of crisis of equilibrium, of which there were many.

Reaching the performance space in the centre of the room, they gingerly tipped their headgear, spilling forth an instant mess of hard boiled eggs, marbles, hundreds of blue dish soap nozzles, and numerous wine glasses, all of which promptly broke covering the performance space with jagged shards of glass.

Through the debris, Demers and Doyon continued a shuffling dance, pushing their bare feet through the broken glass, while trying to align the eggs together. Their ambulatory sound systems provided a soundtrack of calls of the loon, electro-pop, human chattering, laughter, screams and the music of spaghetti westerns. Not content, they continued to add complexity to the action, spilling water on the floor, and building small wobbly platforms which functioned as ridiculous and perilous sandals.

It was only at a moment of catastrophic wardrobe malfunction, when the headgear of both Demers and Doyon collapsed, that several members of the audience ventured to laugh. Then more joined in, but not all.

One of the central motors of this performance involved creating a tension between the evident absurdity of the their actions, with their ridiculous costumes and the funny soundtrack and the clear danger of physical self-harm, either from cutting themselves on the shards of broken glassware or bludgeoning themselves with their teetering headgear.

As I later learned, the action was cut short by a miscommunication* between the performers. So, we never saw what hilarity or danger might have developed with the heavy-duty bungee cords attached to a concrete block that sat unused in the centre of the space. The performance concluded as the two performers bent forward, first touching the lips of their loudspeakers together, then bending further as they attempted to fit the bells together in a ritual of strange copulation. When the headgear finally toppled definitively, Demers/Doyen exited to applause and a bit of hesitant laughter.

More information of Demers’ and Doyon’s practice may be found on their website at http://www.doyondemers.org/.

 

  • A couple of days after this posting Demers/Doyen contacted me with a note concerning my description of the unused elements of the bungee cords and the concrete block and my suggestion that this had resulted from a “mis-communication”.
    In the note they explained that within their performances elements are often left unutilized and remain as mere potentialities, as much for themselves as for the public.  As their work evolves extemporaneously before a public, some elements gain prominence others are left behind as signs of what might have been.  In this sense, it was not because of a departure from a plan or script that an action concerning the bungee cord and block did not come into being, but that within this particular action those possibilities just didn’t blossom.