Cherish the unexpected : John Court and Danny Gaudreault

Fortner Anderson
October 10

The flowering of the performance event is fraught with the possibility for error, accidents, interruptions, lapses and other surprises both happy and less happy. Because actions are seldom rehearsed and often use contraptions that have never been tested, situations arrive that are unexpected for the both the audience and especially the artist.

As American artist, Marylyn Arsem explained in the Viva conference, Site, Contexte, Action, “ The plan for a performance work is always perfect, the execution never is.” It is this introduction of the unexpected and the negotiation by the artist of these new conditions, which can make or break a event. Arsem went on to say that for herself that one of the wonderful things in a performance are just these unexpected events.

Two performances on day two negotiated with the unexpected. John Court’s performance in the park adjoining the Victor-Rousselet elementary school was scheduled to run from noon to six o’clock. After three hours, his large skeletal construction, built from wood in the shape of a cone, that he had intended to roll slowly around the park for the duration of the performance, broke. The wood that formed the ribs of the cone separated from the three wooden discs which were used to hold the thing together and it fell apart. In a few moments, it disintegrated into a pile of waste lumber.

Court spoke of the event the day after in the conference. Already in the first three hours of the event, the interruption of unruly school children and teachers had disconcerted him. When the construction began to fall apart, so did the Court’s will to continue. As he described it, “it slowly broke me.” As the object collapsed into ruin, the performance ended, three hours before expected.

I arrived about 4:30 in a park populated by a bored parent watching his children on the jungle gym, a couple of cops in police car posing questions to an itinerant man who’d been loudly talking to himself and the absence of any trace of what might or might not have been the performance that took place two hours earlier.

Evidence of the event in the form of photos and video will soon appear on the Viva website.

Danny Gaudreault’s performance came as act 2 of the evening’s events. He also confronted a surprise, which changed the tenor of the his action.

About mid-point in his performance, he placed a bucket containing a soaking black trench coat next to the heavy chain that is used to operate the industrial crane and winch, which occupy the space above the performance area. Gaudreault approached the bucket, slowly lifted up the coat and placed it on a coat hanger. He then attempted to hang the coat high up in one of the links in the chain. At this moment the hanger broke. The metal hook snapped off from the rest of the plastic hanger, making it impossible for him to complete his intended action.

After a few moments hesitation, Gaudreault resolved the problem by breaking his persona and calling for a volunteer from the audience to help him. A young woman stepped up to hold the soaking wet coat above her head thus allowing him to continue with the performance. Happily, as he continued the action in the centre of the performance space, a young man came to the rescue and used the pieces of the broken hanger to hang the coat on the chain as had been intended.

This anonymous intervention allowed Gaudreault to return to the coat and complete one of the intriguing images of his performance. Kneeling on a stool, he faced the coat which rose above him. Taking one of its arms he draped it over his shoulder, evoking the image of an adult male with his hand placed on the shoulder of a child. The action continued as Gaudreault pulled a hand-sized rock crystal from the pocket of the coat and held it briefly over his crotch and heart.

The performance concluded with another strong image, but one which it was difficult to see clearly because of the press of people who had followed Goudreault’s movements from one part of the performance space to another. In almost complete darkness, with the audience members huddled close to his prostrate body, Goudreault slowly turned a large kitchen knife, point down and pressing into the flesh above his heart. As he rotated the knife, light reflected off the blade illuminating fleetingly the intent faces and dark bodies of the public.