lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

Feelings are Facts – 1

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Last month I finally purchased Yvonne Rainer’s auto-biography, Feelings Are Facts: a life, part of the MIT Writing Art Press series and published in 2006, having been reminded to do so by its reference in the essay Irene Loughlin wrote about my work for the exhibition I had in March at Hamilton Artists’ Inc.  (if you open the link, scroll down).

Studies of Yvonne Rainer and the Judson Dance Theatre of New York were the single most influential part of my university education, which took place at York University in the very early days of the Dance Major program there, which was the first in Canada. (The fact that it was the last art form to be embraced by academia reflects the status of the art form; while my relationship with it has waxed and waned over the years, its underdog status has always been a selling point for me, which I understand as our culture’s fear of our bodies within the context of the Cartesian mind/body split.) A young Selma Odom was my prof – she very recently retired and I regretted not getting to her farewell dinner.

I have read precious little for many years with the exception of Buddhist books. It is an activity that I have allowed to fall away in the choices one makes while cramming as much as possible into too little time. I have always been cranky about the degree to which critical theory overtook the practice of art, however, I read theory during the three years it took to write the essay, Asserting Our Bodies, for Caught in the Act: an anthology of performance art by Canadian women, published in 2004.

 I read a little of the Yvonne Rainer book while visiting my Sis, Margaret, in Finn Slough  after performing in the 30th anniversary of Walter Phillips Gallery at Banff Centre August 2008.  I am only in Chapter 5 at the moment, still in her adolescence. So far, I feel vaguely depressed each time I read, as it reminds me of my own adolescence. Not that the details match by any means, but the general sense of not belonging, that is the experience of many artists. I remember Margaret talking about it when we were young as “being from Mars”.

Yvonne Rainer suffered greatly as a child but came from a family that might appear “interesting” inasmuch as its Italian anarchist politics were not mainstream. I just read with enjoyment her description of the movie theatre her father took her to as a child in the basement of San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor, where she saw Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc at the age of nine. I enjoyed, and benefited greatly, from my own parents’ love of the arts and I have learned to understand that it is not necessarily usual that a working class family made the arts so much a part of life.

Here are some of my own childhood and adolescent memories: a nascent National Ballet of Canada at The Palace Theatre on St. Paul St. in St. Catharines. We regularly went to The O’Keefe Centre in Toronto and back then you could whip up in an hour and ten minutes on a barely-travelled QEW. Highlights there at the time were Béjart’s Sacre du Printemps and Peter Brooks Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here in St. Catharines, in the early days of the Brock theatre program, I was transfixed by Anouilh’s Antigone and I still have my hand-written copy of her monologue, “I spit on your happiness! I spit on your idea of life – that life that must go on, come what may. You are all like dogs that lick everything they smell. You with your promise of a humdrum happiness – provided a person doesn’t ask too much of life. I want everything of life, I do; and I want it now!”. Ah, yes, youth. At Brock I remember also Toronto Dance Theatre’s performance of David Earle’s Atlantis (and Susan Macpherson’s naked breasts if I remember rightly.) We went to Stratford every summer but nothing stands out in my mind. Another O’Keefe memory is of my father wangling us into a reception honouring Margot Fonteyn and being introduced to her along with my best friend at the time, Janice Alton (Kate Alton’s mother). It was not my father’s habit to crash receptions and it was a very loving act. Janice was beside herself with joy and I wasn’t far behind.

Regardless of having regaled the reader with memories, I cannot imagine going through the work that Yvonne Rainer did to write her autobiography.


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