Julianne Chapple, Women Appear (and sometimes they learn how to disappear).

Creating in Isolation

M:ST’s Bodily Response video series reviewed
By Stephanie Wong Ken

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In May 2020, Mountain Standard Time Performative Art (M:ST) launched a video series in response to the impact of COVID-19, Bodily Response. Amid cancelled gallery openings and events, as well as layoffs in the art community, M:ST created an online space for artists to create new work from home with readily accessible materials, streaming live from their computers or phones. The result is ten video performances by local and global artists that explore the experience of the pandemic from a variety of different locations and perspectives, streaming their performances at different times on Facebook. This format took the democratization of the content a step further; I clicked on links to the video stream events between ads for face masks and photos of a friend's adorable new quarantine dog. Watching each video stream felt like an exercise in focus, and I found myself struggling to stay engaged in the live stream until the end, unable to connect for an hour straight without checking my phone for updates on the pandemic or to talk with family I wouldn't be seeing for months. Still, the live element of the series gave each performance a sense of immediacy and audience, an online gathering space to watch and engage together.

Returning to the video performances later for a second viewing, I could sense each artist grappling with how to create in isolation. A repeated prayer, a cooking demonstration, a meditation on cake and death, an absurd broadcast from a cow farm, a wordless performance about the boredom of isolation; each artist takes on the challenge of documenting the bodily experience of time passing, drawing from their individual practices to perform something that might feel akin to a body in quarantine.

Julianne Chapple - Bodily Response
Julianne Chapple, Women Appear (and sometimes they learn how to disappear).

Due to the limitations of space and resources, many of the performances took place in the artists' homes, turning a personal living area into a public stage. In her performance, Women Appear (and sometimes they learn how to disappear), artist Julianne Chapple is filmed in her apartment, surrounded by a couch, chairs, curtains, a lamp, and a record player. The soundtrack is 1970s Motown soul and country, male and female voices singing nostalgic about longing and desire. As the soundtrack fills the space, Chapple lies on and around the furniture, twisting her body around chairs, across and over the couch, and between the drapes and the windowpane. The camera moves around the space with Chapple, a contrast to the static hold of a web camera. It's clear Chapple is being filmed by someone else, later confirmed at the end of the performance, though the claustrophobia of the room presses down on her movements, a copy of How to Do Nothing by Jenny Offill sitting casually on the coffee table.

Julianne Chapple - Bodily Response
Julianne Chapple, Women Appear (and sometimes they learn how to disappear).

Chapple interacts with us through handwritten notes on sheets of paper, which she lines up on the carpet with care. The notes are aphorisms about the value of isolation, and the possibilities of discovery when you are alone, mantras you might repeat to yourself daily during the pandemic. The edge to the performance is in Chapple's languid movements around the room throughout the one-hour live stream, hiding parts of her body behind furniture and objects, obscuring her face with her hair. Combined with the fuzzy longing of the soundtrack, Chapple's performance transposes the image of bored women isolated in towers or housewives trapped in the suburbs, learning to disappear, on the inertia of quarantine, forming an intimate relationship with your surroundings.

Carrie Allison - Bodily Response
Carrie Allison, Kiskisohcikew (they make things to make people remember).
Artist Carrie Allison's performance Kiskisohcikew (they make things to make people remember) also takes place in a personal space, her studio in K’jipuktuk (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Allison's artist practice is rooted in her relationship with her maternal Cree and Métis ancestry, often through beading and embroidery. With the late afternoon sky behind her, Allison sets up a dish of white beads and a wooden beading tool. She marks the passage time not by minutes but by reciting Nêhiyaw Kâkîsimowin (Cree Prayer), from audio by Cree Phrases, adding a line of white beads at the end of each prayer. Throughout the performance, Allison repeats the prayer 22 times to honour the 22 victims of the mass shooting in Mi'kmaq (Nova Scotia) in April 2020, with the 23 time dedicated to Brady Francis, a Mi'kmaq man who was a victim of a hit and run in February 2018. His family is still seeking justice for his death. The repetition of the prayer and the stringing of each beaded line becomes a meditative act linking the oral tradition of prayer with physical movement.
Carrie Allison - Bodily Response
Carrie Allison, Kiskisohcikew (they make things to make people remember).
Allison probes the redundancy of isolation to show how repeated actions can deepen intention, creating a connection between bodily awareness and the oral Indigenous tradition of prayer. As the sun sets behind her, Allison finishes the performance with a long line of white beads, and space for more, implying there may be other victims to honour, a gentle reminder that there is still violence happening to vulnerable communities during the pandemic.
Suzanne Kite - Bodily Response
Suzanne Kite, Aǧúyabskuyela.
At the beginning of Aǧúyabskuyela, artist Suzanne Kite provides a trigger warning, informing viewers the next hour will be dedicated to examining death. She sits in front of a white frosted cake and explains how cake and death are linked in her Lakoda family. Growing up, she became aware of death rituals like the cleaning and maintenance of the grave, as well as the preparing of cakes for the funeral, edible monuments to the dead. As she decorates several cakes with frosting, one for the Roe deer and one for the English wolf, she shares the importance of giving away food and items to mourners as part of the healing process for family members of the deceased, and her fascination with the beautiful white cakes, often decorated with the image of individuals who have passed. These simple, white cakes become a form of sacred food at Indigenous gatherings, inexpensive decorations that could be linked to the Christinan influence on Lakoda practices of mourning. They also create a bodily connection between the living and the deceased, a way to share the loss of land, animals, resources, and future death in the community.
Suzanne Kite - Bodily Response
Suzanne Kite, Aǧúyabskuyela.
To draw further on the knowledge of Lakoda practices in her family, she calls her cousin, who has just finished a Bachelor’s degree in Lakoda Studies, as she decorates a third cake. They discuss their experience of a traditional Lakota ceremony, where a celebratory cake was served, and the dispute between the Lakota and the governor of South Dakota over COVID-19 checkpoints set up by the Lakota to curb the spread of the virus on their land. Mourning in many communities is often communal and experienced together in a gathering space, a ritual that has been disrupted by the pandemic. Kite's performance is an offering and an instruction, a deep twist on online baking tutorials that have become more popular due to isolation. Towards the end of the performance, she cuts the cakes as if to share, and plays a recording of her grandfather describing the bright light of the land that never dies, even after our bodies do, a fitting way to connect the ongoing history of the land to the impermanence of what we eat and how we mourn.
Sachin Sudra - Bodily Response
Sachin Sudra, મીઠ સપના માટની દવા (Medicine for Sweet Dreams).
Where Kite's performance looked at the role of food in acknowledging death, Sachin Sudra's performance મીઠ સપના માટની દવા (Medicine for Sweet Dreams) explores food as spiritual nourishment to help us stay alive. An Ayurvedic alchemist of Ugandan and Indian descent based in Mohkinstis, Sudra's approach to food considers each ingredient, tracing its properties and power back to its origins. Similar to a Youtube cooking class, viewers were given access to the recipe beforehand to follow along to his instruction. As he prepares a dish meant to provide warmth and comfort from a top down view, he discusses how cooking is a form of alchemy, and each meal should reflect who you are cooking for and how it will affect them when they eat it. The dish he prepares is deceptively simple and does not involve complicated kitchen tools; its simplicity and accessibility are its appeal. Given that people are forced to stay indoors to cook and prepare food for themselves, an awareness of the healing properties of simple ingredients prepared well feels powerful, a measured approach to cooking for an unsettling time.
Sachin Sudra - Bodily Response
Sachin Sudra, મીઠ સપના માટની દવા (Medicine for Sweet Dreams).
Often, the intricate and ancient properties of ingredients and cultural dishes have been sanitized or muddled in the mainstream food world in favour of quick and easy recipes that divorce the healing elements of these ingredients from their origins. Sudra's food performance asks us to rethink our approach to a meal, especially during a pandemic where you are cooking for yourself or for those with you in isolation on a regular basis. His food performance also emphasizes no waste, an interesting contrast to the single use plastics and disposable masks of the pandemic. He ends the performance with the swastika mudra, “not the German one” but the ancient traditional one, a moment of reclamation.
Jood Jung - Bodily Response
Jood Jung, Cokhwid-20.
One of the more singular performances in the series is by artist Jood Jung, who spent 14 days during the pandemic at Rung Arun Farm (Sunshine Farm) in rural Chiang Mai, Thailand in the company of 54 cows and a bull named "Covid." In her performance Cokhwid-20 ( "Co" for "cow" in Thai, "khwid" for "the action of a bull/cow charging with his horn or his head to protect himself" in Thai, and 20 for 2020), Jung invites us to a world of animals, oblivious to the pandemic surrounding them.
Jood Jung - Bodily Response
Jood Jung, Cokhwid-20.
Throughout her 14 days on the farm, Jung collaborated with the cows in different ways, speaking to them with a microphone, conducting music for them with a toilet brush, and singing to them with her guitar. As she performs, the farm workers continue to care for the land and the animals, going on with their routine. Like a prankster let loose, Jung's performance encapsulates the absurdity of isolation through playful actions, blending nature with the surreal.
Jood Jung - Bodily Response
Jood Jung, Cokhwid-20.
For her audience of cows, Jung exaggerates her movements and responds to their non-reactions, determined to keep both herself and her audience entertained. Watching Jung perform on the farm, I thought about the lightness and freedom of being surrounded by animals in a space that feels infinity, a contrast to the claustrophobia and restriction of isolation. It was a brief respite during the pandemic to listen to the sounds of the farm and witness Jung sitting among the cows, the sky above her stretching to somewhere beyond the frame.
In a time of isolation, where in person openings are not possible and the concept of community in a physical sense is off the table, many galleries are moving content online in a bid to continue programming. By taking a different approach and commissioning artists to perform in their own spaces and within their own means, this video series acts as an acknowledgement of the temporal quality of life in quarantine, documenting this strange and unsettling experience in real time.
Stephanie Wong Ken is a writer based in Canada. Raised in Florida, she earned an MFA in fiction from Portland State University. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, as well as non-fiction projects and freelance writing gigs. View bio.