Experiencing and shaping art together

New creative project showing how solo art can become collective

Have you ever felt like your understanding of art can sometimes be very different from other people’s? When examining and interpreting a piece of art, our reception tends to be influenced by our past experiences, personal inclinations and preconceived notions.

Fernando Pessoa’s book, The Book of Disquiet, is a compilation of unfinished works put together after his death in 1935. It is surrounded with a continuous discourse concerning how it should be compiled and arranged. The piece’s unfinished qualities leave an interpretive and creative door open. PME-ART, along with the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery, have decided to use this to their artistic advantage with their new performative rewriting exhibit, Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancholie.

Fernando Pessoa’s book was assembled posthumously from various unfinished works. Photo by Lydia Anderson

To put it simply, the writers partnering with PME-ART are continuing the editing process. By rewording, cutting up, adding to, or shifting emotional connotations, these writers are adding pieces of themselves into Pessoa’s work. Gallery-goers are able to observe the process as it happens, interact with the writers and the text and observe the work that’s been produced thus far. Although acts of writing and reading are not usually practices paired with performance, this exhibit facilitates audience interaction and observation of an activity that can be said to be practiced, to an extent, by everyone.

A work creates a subjective experience for its reader because of what each reader emphasizes or brings to it. This concept is taken further by the performers implementing pieces of their own identities and subjectivities into the text. This project allows for a solitary activity to expand into a group experience. With no immediate, visual emphasis as the focus of the exhibit, the richness lies in the concept behind this activity. Its simplicity is what speaks to the audience, provoking thought about how we experience works of art all together.

According to Claudia Fancello, one of the performers at this exhibit, the presentation gives a rich experience to her as well. The silence of reading, the reading of passages aloud, and the sound of writing, are all elements which make her feel like she’s in conversation with her fellow performers, the page, and the text. As an author, Pessoa wrote behind a multitude of heteronyms; more than alibis, these were different voices with which the author could express himself. This fact, along with the unfinished nature of the compilation, allows the concept of authorship to be played with and expansion of the work to be creatively fruitful and tantalizing.

This performance looks at Pessoa’s work and sees something partly unfinished, but sees it as an asset with a potential to be celebrated. The goal is not so much to improve upon this work, but to perform it and to perform the concept of reading as an act of rewriting. It’s not to dishonour an artist’s piece, but to celebrate it by joining in the conversation and translating the text into our time and experiences. This activity provokes thought about how we experience art in what we bring to it and also about the potential of our art culture: how fading our individualistic practices holds the possibility of richer experiences and results.

The creative project is taking place at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery until Nov. 1. For more information on the Adventure can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancholie project, visit ellengallery.concordia.ca.

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