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Calgary’s 9th art Biennial aims to engage audiences of all kinds


The diverse, cutting-edge performative festival known as the art Biennial is entering its third week, with tons more planned until its conclusion on October 7th. Where Calgary asked Desiree Nault, Artistic Director of the Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Festival Society (M:ST), the group that hosts the event, what’s new and exciting about the 9th Biennial in Calgary.

Courtesy Didier Morelli.

How is this 9th Biennial different than those before it? In this iteration of the biennial we have focused our energy on supporting the creation of new artworks by visiting national and international artists in the form of residencies. The Toronto-based collective Life of a Craphead (the group responsible for the Entertaining Every Second exhibit in early September)will be staying on for the next month doing research in Calgary. The National Music Centre has welcomed Suzanne Kite and Nathan Young for a one-week residency to experiment with the NMC’s collection, and internationally renowned Jin-me Yoon is staying on for two weeks after the biennial to do site visits in and around Tsuu T’ina Nation with the support of local artists Terrance Houle and Seth Dodginghorse.

We were very happy to add the National Music Centre to the list (of partners) this year. New additions also include local outreach organizations HIV Community Link and The Alex Community Food Centre who are helping us present Disclosure Cookbook, an artwork by Mikiki and Jordan Arseneault. This artwork involves making extravagant dinners with people who are HIV positive, and digitally publishing anonymous quotes culled from the dinner conversation in order to question existing HIV stigma and criminalization.

Could you tell our readers a bit more about some of the artists performing at the Biennial and the topics they will seek to explore? Many of the artists take on or challenge settler colonialism, the affective or invisible power of politics over the human body, and the responsibility that comes with inherited histories and familial trauma.

Suzanne Kite and Nathan Young are recording noise from local power stations in order to map and listen to the land. During the live performance they use a variety of instruments and wearable interfaces to weave these sounds into music and visuals. This process is driven by their interest in the divergences in Western and Native American ways of understanding truth.

Adriana Disman and Steve Roggenbuck both perform in the evening on Saturday October 6, and have very different methods for dealing with contemporary politics. In her performance, Adriana Disman investigates the daily invisible violences that are the result of living within large and common systems of power, and the individual unspectacular suffering that results. Roggenbuck is an American poet who became well known on YouTube about five years ago for reading what I would call love poems. He uses pop-culture and language that is common on the internet, that may be over used and commodified, but filters it through his own funny, spontaneous, adoration for the world in a way that feels newly meaningful.

What are you the most excited about for this Biennial in particular? I am very excited about some of the projects that require registration. It takes a bit of extra work to e-mail us and say that you’d like to be involved, but well worth it because of the opportunity to be directly involved in the artist’s process, and in some cases, like Disclosure Cookbook, to even co-author the work. As an example, Jin-me Yoon will be holding two workshops where participants will enter a solitary sensory deprivation tank for 90 minutes at FloatLife, and then will come together over tea to have a facilitated conversation with Jin-me on subjects concerning colonialism.

Meanwhile at Theatre Junction Grand, Emma-Kate will lead the performance workshop possible performance. This will be a meaningful experience for any artist who is interested in performance or the body as it deals with ‘impossibility.’ The workshop asks the question, how does your body react when it encounters actions that are not possible or futile? Can the body create new meaning or futures, even if we don’t yet have the language to identify them?

How does the Biennial serve to bring together the Calgary arts community? I can’t not include that my heart beats faster when I think about all of these incredible minds: academics, artists, performers and our amazing staff, volunteers and board members getting together and sharing their experience. Performance art can seem like a very niche discipline, but it is not really, everyone has a thinking/feeling brain and body that wants to be activated by lived experience.

M:ST seeks to really dive into the works presented at the biennial and we do a lot to make this happen. This year we are working with some very generous faculty at the Alberta College of Art + Design to present the symposium Tempaurality, which unpacks the theme of listening as it occurs in the Biennial.

We also do our best to make our programming as welcoming as possible, free, presented in accessible spaces, and wherever possible have non-gendered washrooms. Our online texts for this biennial are also published in French and English.

What does the Biennial mean for the future of performative art in the city and across the province? This is a great question. I am really interested in the unseen, the experiences in art that are private. I don’t know how to survive the hyper consumption and reflexive culture that I am a part of without saving space for intimacy, privacy, and the potential for co-authorship. Audiences of M:ST have agency in their viewing experience and sometimes even in the artwork itself. This is not uncharacteristic of performative art, but it is uncharacteristic in the face of spectacle.

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