Traddutore, traditore : Somewhere Else

Fortner Anderson
October 08

Rebecca Belmore at the Oboro Gallery

The exhibition of three sculptural and one multi-media work by Rebecca Belmore at the Oboro Gallery poses a series of practical and aesthetic questions pertinent to the practice of performance art. In the exhibition notes, Florene Belmore, the artist’s sister and long-time collaborator, describes the exhibition as an « exploration »,

With Somewhere Else, Rebecca brings actions forward in time, re-purposing them in new ways…

The four works on display each derive from one or more of Belmore’s past performances. One of them, Vigil, a performance from the Talking Stick Festival in 2002, took place on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, an area of concentrated misery which has few equals in North America. That performance was a powerful evocation of the memory of the many women who had gone missing from that area, many of them abducted, tortured, murdered and subsequently forgotteni.

Vancouver artist Paul Wong video-taped the original performance of Vigil, and as Belmore herself describes, that archive with all its technical faults, has gained an evermore powerful aura for the public, the vast majority of whom were not present at the action, and, significantly, for herself.

« I never paid much attention to the documentation of my performances, I was too focussed and concerned about being present and making the work. The documentation that I do have exists because of others, usually my hosts. Some of this material is good, some not so good. The documentation of these artworks, captured usually by one point of view, one solitary lens, has oddly become stronger than my own memory of the lived experience, especially the earlier works. »ii

In the exposition at Oboro, Belmore has created new and stable objects, her sculptures, as markers of a past that is slowly slipping from the memory of lived experience. To be sure, as her sister states in the notes,

The images endure, but let’s not forget the actions that went into them.

To provide a link between her sculptures and her past performances, she has placed a very small multi-media installation in the corner of the exhibit, which presents video and sound archives from the four of Belmore’s actions which inspired the exhibition. In the gallery, we barely hear her screams from Creation or Death: We will win, and a few strains of Marvin Gaye’s It’s a Man’s World from the finale of Vigil. As if to symbolize a growing distance between the sculptural objects in the gallery and the past actions, the projection of the video images are no more than a few centimeters high, and one Fountain is almost hidden in the bottom of a bucket, an artifact from the original action.

Of the four sculptural works, it was Bury My Heart that affected me the most. Here a single and simple wooden rung chair sits on a floor constructed from recycled hardwood flooring. From beneath the tongue and grooved planks strands of silken black hair emerge as if they were snakes or plants seeking light or retribution. Beneath the chair, the floorboards are stained in an ochre that reminds one of dried blood.

It is at once a haunting and disturbing image complete and whole within itself. It is the work of a very strong aesthetic sense, capable of finely tuning the various physical elements of the sculpture, the rough textures of the flooring, the soft jet-black hair and the simplicity of the chair to evoke strong sensations of absence, fragility and menace.

The exhibition runs till October 17th at Oboro Gallery.

i Detailed descriptions and video of Vigil and Belmore’s other performances may be found on her website at www.rebeccabelmore.com. See also this detailed description of Vigil in Lara Evans’ blog, « Not Artomatic » at notartomatic.wordpress.com/2010/05/08/rebecca-belmore-vigil-and-the-named-and-the-unnamed/

ii Viva Art Action website, Artist notes, Rebecca Belmore, www.vivamtl.com, 2015.