Reflections from The Water Lover and Slow Change

Here’s something I learned last Saturday:

Performance art scares me.

Let me explain. 

I’ve always found fulfillment expressing myself through the written word, and during the last few years I’ve begun finding my voice using photography, too. Sharing the results of these creative outlets with others was difficult for me because it requires something I didn’t really develop until recently: courage. A big, hefty load of courage.

Anyone sharing their feelings, vision or opinion takes a risk by doing so. It’s an act of vulnerability. “Putting ourselves out there” leaves us open to criticism and judgment. Adding the element of creative expression only increases the risk for fear that others won’t think it’s any good or won’t understand it. This can sting, because our creative output can be so deeply personal, fraught with meaning that sometimes only we, the creators, comprehend and appreciate. In many forms of art, the “work” is the thing we produce: a poem, a painting, a song, a piece of jewellery. It’s both part of us and separate from us. I can share my writing and photographs, but I can still hide in my bedroom while people review them.

Not so with performance art.

Last Saturday, Patrick Allaby and Tess Martens performed individual pieces at the BRIDGE Centre for Architecture & Design as part of the Common Waters project. Very different in style, scope and delivery, both performances explored the role of water in specific individual experiences.

Patrick began the event by telling his story, “The Water Lover,” while seated, with an accompaniment of his comic drawings displayed on the big screen. Fast-paced and amusing, his story unexpectedly wove together his love of the musician Prince (I’m with you, Patrick – Raspberry Beret all the way) with his experience of being diagnosed with diabetes as a young adult attending university. We learn that intense thirst - an incessant craving for water - was one of the first symptoms of his condition.

Tess Martens followed with her piece, “Slow Change,” a physical re-enactment of the tedious routine of preparation and practice involved in the sport of synchronized swimming. She spoke no words save for the repetitive counting required to keep the beat to the five songs in the show. Her body did the talking, and it had a powerful voice – she held us attentive with her costume changes, the application of heavy makeup and a gelatin mixture painted on her hair, and her self-assured movement through the “dry land” choreography. The irony of Tess performing a “synchronized” routine alone wasn’t lost on me. Without a doubt, it was a moving and personal exploration of (what seems to me) bittersweet coming-of-age transitions spent in, and out, of the water.

What scares me about performance art is the idea of putting myself in Patrick’s or Tess’ shoes: using my voice and body to lay myself bare to a live audience. In this type of work, the artist IS the art. I have a new appreciation for the medium. Given that I don’t have the skills or confidence to partake, I may personally just stick to words and pictures to express myself (never say never, though, right?).

So: Kudos to Patrick and Tess for having the courage to share their thought-provoking artistic expressions – examples of the countless ways in which water fuels and connects us.

- Vanessa Pejovic, July 31, 2019

Vanessa PejovicComment