Wrapping up a week of hard work and a full day of performances, Aasttha Khajuria performed the final piece of the night in an empty parking lot near dc3 Art Projects. Dressed in a flowing white gown, Khajuria parted with the ground for over an hour in a balancing act upon a thin railing that surrounded lot. Covering a total of close to 100 meters with each trip, she slowly worked her way from one side of the lot to the other and then back again. An unusually open quarter in the downtown neighbourhood, the Downtown Edmonton skyline offered a vast and impressive background.
As Khajuria carefully scaled the railing her body started to integrate with the buildings that punctuated the horizon. Elevated almost three feet off the ground, her long, towering body mimicked the stretching skyscrapers lining the horizon behind her. Her white gown glowed against the darkening sky, flowing with each gust of wind, and taunting the sharp and unmoving forms that jutted out of the earth.
Approaching the end of the railing Khajuria would pause, statuesque and concentrating, before slowly turning to retrace her steps. Not surprisingly after some time, I could see that fatigue was setting in; her body wavered and swayed every few steps. The air was cool and her bare feet surely started to become raw upon the hard exposed steel. The wind blew against her, catching her gown, somehow not quite escalating into a parachute, but undeniably challenging her ability to stay balanced. Though at first she would manage to steady herself, her centre of gravity eventually betrayed her. Part way through her turn to go back she fell, cold, bare feet slapping hard onto the crumbling pavement below. Gasps escaped from her audience and looks of concern were exchanged, everyone unsure of whether to approach her or if this was the end. Unfazed, at least on the surface, Khajuria crossed the open lot to her original starting point and started over again.
One fall turned into almost as many as I have toes on my feet–sock and protectively covered feet–that cramped and stung with empathy pains each time she fell to the ground. Her falls solicited less concern each time due to the determination fixed on her face; her arrow-straight posture and lifted chin revealed a stubbornness and dedication to finishing what she had started, just as she had planned.
During the last of her trips to the north end of the rail, she started to mark her falls by sanding the spot on the railing before starting over. Her pauses before turning around at the end of the railing became longer and more intense. Her eyes became more vacant as her spirit transcended her body, weakened and tired.
A final turn and fall, and Khajuria crossed the lot where instead of climbing back on the rail she began to sand the adjacent concrete wall. Big sweeps of her arm produced a loud scratching sound that ultimately wielded no marks upon the wall. All the same, the motion created a cleansing effect, layers of who knows what flaking off under her hand and blowing away.
I felt Khajuria’s piece a fitting way to end the day’s work. A reminder of our presence in this city, the marks we leave, the marks left on us, and an invitation to contemplate my own corporeality as an extension of the concrete jungle around me.
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.