Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Free Fall: The State of Interdisciplinary and Experimental Performance: (A Netless Net)

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Free Fall: The State of Interdisciplinary and Experimental Performance: (A Netless Net)

Article excerpt

Imagine war breaks out in your hometown. You flee with your family, friends, and neighbours to another country to escape danger. As soon as you cross the border, you become a refugee. If, on the other hand, you find refuge within your country, in a camp or temporary shelter, you are considered an internally displaced person, or IDP.

(O'Connell, diaspora)

The above quote--transcribed from a grant application submitted by Stephen O'Connell of the formerly Toronto-based performance collective bluemouth inc. (1)--was the seed of what has now become the biennial Free Fall Festival. The grant application was initially intended to garner funding for a "national symposium of new and experimental performance" (O'Connell), entitled diaspora: symposium and festival of the living arts, a joint effort of the Theatre Centre, bluemouth inc., and the 7a*11d International Performance Art Festival. Participants in the proposed symposium/festival were to construct and inhabit a tent city in an undisclosed location in Toronto late in October 2002. In an interventionist effort to encourage engagement from both the media and the public--especially that of the surrounding community for whom the disturbance would be most visible--the event was structurally rooted in this overt political gesture of linking the socio-cultural displacement of the IDP with that of the experimental artist.

It is perhaps not surprising that diaspora did not receive funding, given the tenuous (at best) public support for tent cities and the like in Toronto, and given the resulting criticism that would likely ensue if it were discovered to be attached to a government funded arts event. A new application was drawn up for a much pared down and more conventionally conceived performance festival called Free Fall, which did receive funding. The revised event took place in October 2002 at various venues on Queen Street between Dufferin and Spadina streets, from the artist ghetto of Parkdale to trendy Queen West. While the event retained its initial goals of bringing together a national selection of interdisciplinary and experimental artists, further developing a growing network for these artists to inhabit and utilize, and providing a forum for critical discourse, its ability "to foster a greater awareness" of experimental performance practices "amongst the general public" (O'Connell and Duclos, Free Fall 02) was greatly restricted, in comparison to diaspora, by the more conventionally institutional structure of the festival.

The likening of experimental artists and IDPs, while it could come under fire for demeaning the plight of actual political refugees, is both metaphorically accurate and evocative. Finding little support within mainstream culture, (2) experimental arts practices and their proponents in Toronto generally find themselves in a situation of entrenched displacement, even within the arts community itself. It is not that experimental artists are persecuted, per se, but rather are largely ignored, a far more insidiously damaging cultural formation than overt persecution could ever pretend to. (3) It is not so much a forcible displacement that marginalizes the perception of experimental performance's artistic and cultural legitimacy, but an inherited marginalization that perhaps began with the "genrefication" of performance art in North America and the disappearance of unifying dominant ideologies to attack or subvert.

Josette Feral has traced the trajectory of performance art from the 1970s through to the early 1990s, arguing that

   [the] changes undergone by performance art are linked to an era in
   which there are no more strong political, economic, or aesthetic
   ideologies, nor any mutual artistic projects. The disappearance of
   these comprehensive ideologies, as well as the fading away of large
   systems of meaning, has been offset by the emergence of
   individualism and nationalism which affirm the difference among
   subjects, groups, and countries. … 
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