As Laura Porter stood on the far side of the gallery at dc3 Art Projects, a hush fell over the audience, all eyes falling on a black cello case in the centre of the floor and a single wine glass filled with water. Porter stood tall, her presence demanding the attention of her viewers. With slow, intentional steps, she approached the case, circling it, sizing it up. Finally, she lifted the cover, revealing its insides bare, except for a bow.
Upon the discovery of the missing instrument, Porter surprised her viewers as she transformed from poised and composed to a playful and child-like persona, flopping limply on the floor beside the empty case, limbs falling awkwardly. Using her body, she expressively combined mimicking the gestures of a child with transforming her body into a representation of the absent object. Whether literally stuffing herself inside of the case, or draping her body over top of it, she entertained viewers as she played with the relationship between her body and the case.
Playing with the elements of formal orchestra, each piece of Porter’s performance both adhered to and resisted fitting inside the box–or should I say cello case. Her attire followed a formal black and white dress-code, yet rebelled against conservative and refined guidelines by wearing a low-cut crop top that revealed her breasts as she knelt to interact with the objects around her. She carelessly threw her bow across the floor and blindly searched on hands and knees to find it, among many other random, haphazard, and playful gestures that consistently and legibly contradicted the conventional expectations of academy life.
Finally, she prepared for her solo, the lonely wine glass finally in the spotlight. She dragged the abused bow across the glass rim, creating a dreadful screech, all too familiar and real to parents of young children who play string instruments. High pitched screams and squawks filled the gallery, while Porter remained straight-faced and fully committed to following through with the “musical” number. In one last act of defiance and limit testing, Porter gulped back the glass of water, before making her grand exit out the front doors, case in tow.
I watched as the audience members smiled at each other, appreciating the humour and cheekiness of her performance, but hesitating to make too much sound in the space. All of the different juxtaposing layers sat with me, inviting me to think about the myriad ways Porter’s performance could be interpreted and resonate with the bodies that filled the gallery. Personally, I thought about expectation and pressure–on children as so many of them are groomed to be perfect little automatons. Also, more broadly, throughout an individual’s life cycle: societal expectations on what constitutes a proper way of living and existing here in Western culture. What happens when we break outside of the mould? How does creativity survive, or thrive, in spite of rigid structures and rules that limit modes of expression? And lastly, why did the use of humour in Porter’s performance seem the be the ultimate act of rebellion, soliciting laughter in the gallery space?
Porter thoughtfully explored corporeal dynamics with inanimate objects as she switched between the role of musician and instrument, ultimately facilitating a performance that was entertaining and also encouraged critical thought. The element of play functioned as a mode of engagement with her audience, but it also was a powerful method for embodying an inversion of the rigid structure and discipline usually associated with orchestra instruments and performance.
Written by Brittany Snellen.
Brittany Snellen has a master’s degree in art history from the University of Alberta. She’s spent the last five years facilitating collaborative exhibition projects between art historians and artists. In her spare time you can find her photographing births and writing about art.