Attention Spoiler Alert!

Fortner Anderson
04 octobre

First of all, if you are one of the lucky few who has obtained an appointment to see the performance of K.G. Guttman, you can stop here till you’ve experienced the piece. I won’t tell all, but will spoil a few surprises. Proceed at your own risk.

Surface Rising
performance by K.G. Guttman

« Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.i »
Mary Oliver

I discovered Mary Oliver’s work for the first time, posted on the fridge at the end K.G . Guttman’s performance, Surface Rising. The performance, which takes place in Guttman’s apartment in the Rosemont district of Montreal, is described by Guttman as « a guided tour » of her dwelling place. And so it is, one starts at the front door and at the end one leaves via the stairs off the back balcony, first down into a yard, then out the gate and back into the world.

At the conclusion of Guttman’s tour there is a moment of tranquility. For a few minutes, I sat alone in the open door of her kitchen. In the crisp morning air, I watched the usual urban activity in the alley behind her apartment, the neighbor’s cat starting its rounds, the changing colors of the trees across the way and above it all a clear swath of bright blue sky. Sitting quietly, drinking a hot cup of ginger tea, I read these final lines of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese”,

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.ii

The tour of Guttman’s small apartment is designed for one person at a time and it takes about an hour. During that time, she communicates and directs the action via hand gestures and crumpled hand-written notes, which she has stashed throughout the apartment and on her person. Throughout the action, even without speaking, Guttman remains very solicitous of the participant’s needs, a bit of soothing music? a glass of water? a scarf for the cold air? When her direction of the action calls for transcending one’s reluctance to become intimate with strangers, she guides the way with a disarming smile and a note to say this may be embarrassing, but it will only last a moment.

During the tour, Guttman provides a unvarnished and seemingly raw presentation of the physical traces of her domestic life. Her shoes are piled in a corner in the hallway, books lie pell-mell in the bookcase near the bed. The bed is made, but perhaps only a moment before the rendezvous. A few dishes lie unwashed in the sink, the open armoire in the living room is a bursting vista of disordered clothing. In the bathroom, her cosmetics, nostrums and hairbrush lie displayed on shelves and around the sink.

This exposure of intimate banality is already too much information, it provides too close a view to private elements of a stranger’s life. It is usually only with lovers, children, parents, or roommates, that we share this banal spectacle of domesticity. Just off the street, this abrupt incursion of the hidden and private life into the performance space invokes moments of disorientation, as the psychic frontier between the participant and the performer is rattled.

Guttman deftly manipulates this state of disequilibrium by taking the participant through a series of private rituals that deepen the spectator’s exposure to intimate details of what appears to be her personal history. In one powerful moment, participant and performer lie side-by-side in the vestibule with their shoulders almost touching. In this moment of physical closeness, Guttman shares a series of personal documents, a letter from the government, postcards from that seem to be from friends or family, and a risqué picture from a possible lover. In silence, she passes them to the participant, who looks, reads and passes back these enigmatic missives emanating from Guttman’s past.

It is in the sharing of these documents, and in other simple, yet haunting, actions within the performance that Guttman commingles the images of the banal reality of her day-to-day life with indications of the topology of her inner psychic experience. Several times, in the midst of the sometimes playful, sometimes pensive tour, she presents the participant a groupings of her personal objects, which we presume are imbued with her mental or emotional energy. (Why the cauliflower? Why the bananas?) With these collections of cathected objects (i.e. Freud), each with its attendant clinging libidinal energy, Guttman imbues the performance with elements that evoke a dreamscape, a floating world populated by her curious objects and slowly fading memories, animated by unconscious and solipsistic forces.

Without the use of language, it is perhaps impossible to gauge the depth of Guttman’s despair, and in the mutual silence, the participant remains frozen in the role of observer, but Surface Rising allows for a delicate and subtle questioning of how we each form the persona to which we are so fondly attached and how we confront the impassable gulf that separates each of us from one another.

Standing at the front door, awaiting for the performance to begin, staring into my reflection in the plate glass, Guttman slowly revealed her presence on the other side of the door. At that moment, my reflection in the glass blended with her appearance on the other side of the door, and for a moment we became one, our physical traits blending together in the reflection.

Performances go till the 10th of October, with three performances a day. Try to obtain reservations via e-mail at

i. Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”, 1986. You may find further work and biographical information about Mary Oliver here.

ii Ibid.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.