Saturday, November 22, 2008

Illuminated rambles

So I have been thinking a bit more about my actual practice over the past few days - actually for about a few weeks now and I think that I have been piqued by a few things: My very good friend (that I never see anymore) Cindy Baker has quit her job as program coordinator at AKA - an artist-run centre in Saskatoon, SK and committed to be a full-time artist; and since I started this blog it has occurred to me that my practice is a bit more complicated than perhaps even I realized. Okay that it NOT True, but it has illuminated things for me. I think that the work of Linda Montano has influenced me more than I realized. It is not that I am about to tie myself to another artist for a full year - yet! However, a great deal of how I see the world and interact with it is perhaps through the lens of an artist. While it seems trite - for me it is becoming important that I position myself there - as a cultural worker, as a curator, as an individual - because it also positions myself in terms of other artists and to others - audiences, institutions, etc. I wonder how others around me see this - how does my Board see me? or rather do they see me in those terms?

I started this blog as a structure for me to begin to be more … well, structured and "serious" about my art making and about the desire to begin writing again - I believe that this creates parameters, but also creates risk - opportunities for me to hopefully fail and succeed. I think it is also about creating balance for my artistic outputs and to (hopefully) re-energize me. Perhaps over time I will become more open about this platform - this blog - and begin to share it with others - beyond a smaller circle.

Today during Wayne Yung's artist talk at Latitude 53 for his exhibition 100 Flowers he talked about the importance of community and the need to have conversations with his peers - his tribe - especially two other Queer, Asian artists - to be able to put out thoughts and ideas and to begin conversations. Perhaps this blog might begin to serve that purpose for me. It might enable me to begin - pause - resume - rewind conversations with myself and by keystroking this it might focus and provide a different clarity to myself. While walking with Allison today she mentioned that her and Carmen mentioned that they were both enjoying reading the blog as it offered a different opportunity to enter into my process and into the work - this made me feel good because this is/was what I wanted. However, I hope that over time the discourse might become more than me smacking the keyboard and that dialogue might begin. I wonder where my community is, where my peers are? Edmonton is great and I feel that it is a rich community in some ways, however I also wonder where my peers are and when friends ask me why, Why I still live in Edmonton - I am finding this more difficult to answer. Yet, at the same time there is a responsibility that I have to build my peers and to build my community - my tribe and to help cultivate this for others. I have found the work with Exposure both frustrating at times, but, overall rewarding because while I am giving I am also receiving… and that truly feels good.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

bath House part 2

So bath house was yesterday and I would write that it went very well. There were almost 400 people over four hours and there was a diversity of artists from visual artists, to video and a few performance artists - Julianna Barabas, Antonio Bavaro, Kristine Nutting, Karen Campos, and myself. Personally, I found this work the most interesting.

So to elaborate a bit on my performance called Tea Room, to the project description I added this line, in bold: Anything is possible, but you need to negotiate with me before initiating the action. I also placed a sign up sheet on the door to my room to have people sign up. To be honest, I tried to set the bar really low and had the expectation that I would just be able to lay on the bed in the room for four hours and then leave. This was not the case and I ended up performing with/for about 40 people in four hours! I placed this as a kind of guidepost and also a structure to myself and audiences so that i had a way out and - to be honest - so did they. I had a few potentials participants express their displeasure that I was behind schedule - I reassured them that i would perform for everyone who signed up, but that the time line was somewhat fluid and it this was not within their night, that would be okay as well, smiled, and called the next name on the list.

Perhaps I should also tell you a bit about the room. Like many in the Bath house it was sparse: a built in bed and a plastic (maybe twin) mattress, a white fitted sheet, white pillow and pillow case, and a full length locker. In my room there was also a window complete with a blind and a light-switch with a dimmer dial to raise or lower the light level. There was also a glory hole directly across from the window. The glory hole (GH) had a wooden disc that you could cover the hole with.

when a participant entered the room I closed the door and asked if I could take their coat. I then invited them to sit on the bed (usually facing the window). I then told them the ground rules:
1. They could do or say whatever they wanted, but for actions they would have to ask first.
2. Everything that happened in this room was to stay in this room.

I gave these ground rules to somewhat protect myself and to also give some structure to them. For me this piece was not something that I had done before and incorporated a element of risk - for me and for the participants. I felt that this was important because it is something that I am challenging myself to do and to move myself along, artistically. My work almost always involves visual images and movement and for the past year my work has involved me talking as little as possible and trying to communicate - to create connections with people through non-verbal possibilities - through sight, touch, hearing, taste and movement. This piece was very much about creating intimacy and tenderness between myself and the other participant(s), so it involved me attempting to create a space that cultivated risk, intimacy and empathy.

Once seated I would offer the participant(s) tea (I used chamomile with mint - as it is suppose to be calming) and brown sugar, if desired. I would then ask the participant(s) what they would like to do. I also asked it they would like the blind open or shut? There were a wide array of interactions and I feel okay telling you about some of the interactions, but not ascribing them to individuals. I would also write that the majority of participants were strangers - and I think that it was easier with strangers because we could both be braver and in some ways more open. One participant took off all their clothing and masturbated for a bit and asked me to watch. Another participant and I hugged for almost the entire ten minutes; I cuddled for about eight minutes with another participant as they told me about their dinner with their ex and the ex's new boyfriend. Another person and I sat across from each other and held hands in silence -at one point the person started to cry, and then weep and then I also started to cry. I hope that it was as cathartic for that person as it was for me. I asked at one point if the participant wanted to talk about anything and they replied "no- this is so much more rich than talking". I felt so privileged to be there and to share this intimacy. Many people just talked with me and a few couples - I did ten couples and one three person group - my only orgy! In groups, people mainly wanted to talk and to ask questions and i tried very hard to talk less and listen more, nut this was difficult because I only had limited time to create this intimacy and to form a connection - a bond, with them. For me, there were a number of rich and tender moments. One included a strikingly handsome man about 27 who seemed articulate and eager. He sat for a bit and then asked if he could remove his shirt and then asked me if he was attractive? It was obvious that he had a concave chest, but so. I of course quickly though about my own issues of low self esteem and feelings of - well not being ugly, but being average. I believe that we are all much more self critical of ourselves then others are. And if fact I though him to be quite handsome and engaging to talk with and the remainder of our session included him shirtless. Another participant removed their shirt and I held the person in my arms for the time of our session, in silence - listening to our shared breathing and the noise outside of the room slowly melting into white noise. Other participants and I danced, removed clothing and talked lots.

At the end of the night I was quite energized and it was only after I got home and was smothered by feline love did I realized how friggin' drained I was. But so much richer for the experience.

Bath House

So here is what I was trying to create or attempt for the performance at Bath House, which is a project coordinated by myself, Ted Kerr, Heather Zwicker and Marshall Watson for Exposure festival, which is Edmonton's Queer Arts and Culture festival.

Todd Janes
Tea Room
Project Description

The bathhouse is a mysterious site for many as it is a space associated with both shame and liberation; anonymity and sexuality; power and vulnerability.

I would like to propose a durational performance art piece for Bath House. I envision this as a site-specific work that would play with constructs of intimacy and domesticity between strangers. I also feel that there are often desires and flirtations that do not include sex, but are sexual and very intimate and also that sometimes sex is just an act or a function to fulfill a need, want or desire.

On May 30, 1981 in Edmonton, police raided the Pisces Spa, which resulted in sixty men being charged as keepers or found-ins in common bawdyhouse. The accused were questioned at a specially arranged 5 am courtroom session permitted under little-used section of Criminal Code. It is my desire to situate an action that is mundane and intimate within this space that is steeped in tradition. I propose to occupy one of the bathhouse rooms and invite other back to the room for some tea, conversations and snacks, over a fifteen-minute period. This meeting would be negotiated between myself and the other person, or two. I intend to perform all the time between 7 to 11 p.m. with two fifteen minute breaks during the evening.. I did ten minute segments, some went longer and I had no break and went for the full four plus hours.

Why Tearoom

Restroom facilities were probably first used for sex in the days before indoor plumbing. In crowded urban areas, where families and neighbors lived in close quarters and privacy was nonexistent, sex could take place unobserved in outhouses.

By the late 19th century, many cities were overcrowded and had poor sanitation. For public health purposes, public restrooms were built in parks and near transportation facilities. Called "comfort stations," these restrooms dotted the landscape in cities from New York to Seattle. However, some men quickly began to use them for a different kind of comfort. As early as 1896, the public facilities in Manhattan's Battery Park and City Hall Park were associated with homosexual activity. The public men's room beneath Seattle's Pioneer Square was a popular cruising area by the first decades of the 20th century. During the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) put the unemployed to work building hundreds of public restrooms in parks across the country, thus giving an inadvertent boost to tearoom activity.

Though it's unclear when and where it originated, the slang term "tearoom" (that is, "t-room," which was short for "toilet-room") enabled men to discuss their public sexual encounters with each other in a coded way. Heterosexuals understood tearooms very differently, as genteel cafes where people enjoyed afternoon tea and pastries.

One historian notes that, ironically, the use of public facilities for homosexual encounters gave men a measure of privacy. Sex in city parks was risky because it was out in the open. For many poor and working-class men, then, public restrooms doubled as private sexual space. The washrooms of New York's subway system were "(the) meeting place for everyone," as one man put it. A businessman on his way home to his wife and children in one of the outer boroughs could engage in quick sex at the end of the workday but still not identify as gay. With the growth of suburbs after World War II, tearoom activity shifted away from urban centers to rest stops on the highways that surrounded cities.

From the very beginning, tearooms fell under police scrutiny. The first arrests in Manhattan occurred soon after the opening of public facilities in 1896. To circumvent arrest, one man would often remain outside the restroom as a lookout, warning those inside if a policeman was approaching. An arrest could ruin a man's life: When newspapers published the names and addresses of those arrested, men lost families, jobs, and housing.

I feel that this is important to situate this title within this work as it still illustrates the need or desire to have spaces that are sites of intimacy for men who have sex with men (MSM) or for individuals that fit within the notorious categories of sexual outlaws.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

AA Bronson


So yesterday I had the privilege of spending part of my day with AA Bronson - often referred as the only living member of Queer art collective General Idea. AA was brought to town as part of Exposure - Edmonton's Queer Arts and Cultural Festival (www.exposurefestival.ca). I raise this for a few reasons - part of which is because his art and life are so inextricably intertwined that there is no beginning or end between the two and, perhaps, in fact they are one. Perhaps it is analogous to General Idea in terms of collective authorship and art and life.

I was uncertain how I would be able to relate with AA in terms of one on one, he is such an international figure within contemporary art and someone that I have always wanted to meet. He balances between art start status and a very genuine person - warn, kind, generous and so very thoughtful and unassuming that I was immediately struck by his deep sensitively and openness. As the day unfolded and I got to move from just talking with him (and hopefully not being too much school-boy like) to watching him interact with others to a truly great conversation back to the airport; I was struck by the amount that he was able and willing to give to others - and also the amount that others were willing to take. While I have been in similar situations I am unsure if I would be as giving. I guess that this is part of celebrity and what service a celebrity gives. He is, however, protective of things and certainly of himself to a degree and of Felix and Jorge.

As we ate a small lunch at Zenari's ( he had mushroom quiche - with mostly mushrooms and I had spinach risotto) we talked about him more - and secretly I wondered if he got tired of talking about himself - so I began to ask him more about the AA of present . I asked him about how he chose the name AA Bronson and he told me that he did not choose it and it was fortuitous because it enabled him to create an identity that was brave and out there were as Michael Tims was the shy young man still trying to find himself. For me the exciting discussions were when AA talked about his current work and his work with younger, Queer artists. It is exciting for a number of reasons: it situates AA on his own as an artist, the work is exciting and there is risk. It is this aspect of risk within my own work that I find most exciting and sometimes only I know the risk - emotional, physical, and/or psychic. The work is also vital because I feel that it creates opportunities for mentorship and learning - for both the artists and AA.

Much of the work that AA seems attracted to is about mourning, or about, as he might say honouring the community - and that communities are made up of the living and the dead. To me it seems to be also about a loving and thoughtful respect to both of those elements of the community and to honouring the spirit of General Idea and an empathetic desire to live as the complex constructed character of AA Bronson and of Michael Tims, hand in hand.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Welcome to me

Hmmm

It has been some time since I have actually written about my own practice and further more about where I am going, at least artistically. So I am committing to begin this slow and hard process of writing about my work and - to some degree myself in this process because I firmly believe that the art you create and your art practice cannot be separated.

In closing I want to thank three special people: Margaret Dragu - well first, for being who she is and being my artistic sister; to Allison Sivak for always telling me - "you should write about this" and "I think that you should write about that"; and finally to Karen Elaine Spence for convincing me that it is important to being a documentation of my work -- partly because much of the work that I do is so much about the intimate encounter between one and one - between the artist and the audience and the blurring of them both.

Todd