Monday, February 4, 2013

The Question, February 4, 2013

The Cat's Meow
by Estelle Rosen
Dayna McLeod is a writer, video and performance artist whose work is ripe with humour and socially charged situations. She has travelled extensively with her performance work, and her videos have played from London Ontario to London England- across Europe, North America, South America, and a few times on TV. She has received funding for video projects from the Canada Council and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. Dayna is currently at The Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture at Concordia University pursuing an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Humanities.
CHARPO: I read about your current project Cougar for a Year on your website. This project involves wearing animal print  "for every moment of every day for one year" including daily documentation of this project. What was the inspiration/motivation for this project and will this ultimately become one of your performance pieces?

MCLEOD: The simple answer to the first part of your question is that Cougar for a Year reflects my negotiation with a mid-life crisis. 

On June 1st 2012, I turned 40. About a year leading up to this birthday, I had been thinking a lot about the body and how female performance artists like Carolee Schnemann, Yoko Ono, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan, Marina Abramović, Vanessa Beecroft, and Jess Dobkin have used the body and continue to use the body in their work now that they are over 40. I wondered, for those hiring out younger bodies like Beecroft and Abramović, what the criteria for doing so was, and how much their own aging body played in their choices and creation of work. What also factored into this was my aging body, and stereotypes about an older woman’s body that we see reflected back to us in pop culture like the ‘cougar’, a woman over 40 who aggressively demonstrates her (hetero)sexuality and may seek a younger sexual partner. What I came up with was the idea for a durational endurance piece that required me to wear animal print every day for an entire year. I named animal print as the uniform of the cougar for the sake of this project. I created an online interactive database ( which includes daily documentation, diary entries, photographs, and a public comment section that all serve as an archive of the performance. My intention with this yearlong project is to normalize the stereotype of the ‘cougar’, and investigate what this stereotype extends to feminist performance artists within a mass cultural context. 

I wanted to become the object like the lamp in the corner that you know is there, but don’t pay particular attention to.

To answer the second part of your question, my wearing animal print every day for an entire year is the performance. 

Documentation becomes key to this work and addresses the documentation/performance relationship (if it wasn’t documented, did it really happen?). This is why I am keeping a blog of what I wear everyday. Once the performance is finished, I will have this archive of the project, which will surely be presented in an exhibition, video and/or stage performance. 

The durational aspect of this project continues my interest in producing performance works where the start and end of a piece is blurred by the time of contact with the viewer. It also continues a tradition of durational work by performance artists like Linda Montano who wore one colour of clothing each year for 7 years (7 Years Of Living Art, 1998), Tehching Hsieh and Linda Montano who tied themselves together with an 8-foot rope but not allowed to touch for one year (Art/Life: One Year Performance (a.k.a. Rope Piece), 1984), and Marina Abramović who sat immobile while visiting spectators took turns sitting opposite her for 736.5 hours accumulatively, at the New York Museum of Modern Art (The Artist is Present, 2010). 

Within my own practice, I have been interested in duration and direct contact with an audience and taking work off of the stage, or at least performing in a way that is less about spectacle. I had experimented with this with Santa Beaver, a Cabaret character I transformed into a hands-on Santa bag where audience members are invited to sit on the Beaver's knee, tell her what they'd like for Christmas, get on their knees, reach into the velvet, satin, fun-fur vagina sewn into the beaver costume that I am wearing, and pull out a gift. Come Shred My Heart and Monarchy Mama also reflect this interactive and durational interest, and something that I tried to achieve with both of these pieces was disinterest; I wanted to become the object like the lamp in the corner that you know is there, but don’t pay particular attention to. That’s how I would know the performance was finished, when this happened. So for example, I would enter the designated space, which is received by the audience as an “entrance” moment or start of a spectacle, and once people understood that there was no monologue, that there was no “shh, she’s performing’ moment and that they could come talk to me, interact with me if they wanted as a vagina dentata in the case of Come Shred My Heart where people were asked to write a note to their younger selves and shred it in a false vagina that I wore while I was seated on a gynecological table, or suck vodka from one of twenty-one vinyl breasts in Monarchy Mama, they could. Once the thrill of this interaction was gone, I continued to sit there, looked at or ignored, and this entire tableau would become another spectacle for new people entering the space. 

It’s hard to really get to the meat of “what this project is about” while it is happening and while I am performing it.

With Cougar For A Year, I am focusing on a public examination of the female body, especially an older woman’s body in a cultural space where this body has somehow become public property ripe for commentary. My live encounters with people vary depending on whether or not they are ‘in’ on the performance. For those who are not ‘in’ on it, I am viewed as a colossal #FashionFail, an eccentric, a weirdo, but it is difficult to assess your own subjectivity through someone else’s eyes without direct confirmation. So far, not too many people have yelled at me, or made their disapproval known. Friends, family, and Facebook friends are all very generous both in their comments and support of this project, and I often get a message that says, “I thought of you today” because they saw animal print that reminded them of my project. For some, this project resides solely within the context of a documented practice housed on the Internet and within collected photographs i.e. the capture of the performative act instead of the initial experiential act itself. 

But what does it mean? It’s hard to really get to the meat of “what this project is about” while it is happening and while I am performing it. I know that these are some of the reasons why I started, and that over the course of the 245 days that I have been performing this, other things have come to light that I hope to continue to explore. 

So the next time you see a woman all dressed in leopard or snakeskin, ask yourself what your first impression of her was, and let me know.

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