Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Megan Morman: Cooler

Megan Morman has packed up her cooler and left the building. I am bereft. I have become very attached to seeing her raise her eyebrows as she jots in her secret little notepad. I miss her sweet, mischievous giggle. After all, creating mischief is what Megan came to the Visualeyez festival to do. I'm also totally addicted to her blog. Like candy, gossip can be addictive and we know it's not always good for us even though it's so much fun.

The artist installed a water cooler in the front foyer of Latitude 53 among the comfy couches and crocheted pillows. She left out bowls of candy to lure in her subjects. (It worked.) Megan's spot-on sense of parody nailed the tone of the celebrity tabloids, web sites, and tv shows she mined for this project. She has an amazing work ethic, literally working 12 hour days during the festival to create her slick, web-savvy blog.

Megan and I both came from small, midwestern towns where it's easier to gossip than it is to do just about anything else. The essential topics in small towns are birth, deaths, marriages, affairs, and divorces (as opposed to the nasty details of celebrity gossip which include cellulite, sexual peccadillos and sartorial slobbery). Life in a small town becomes blatantly transparent, which is why many of us leave for the comparative anonymity and freedom of life in an urban center. (The irony is that we kind of miss the connections between people. I do, anyway.) Once Megan entered the realm of the art world she was surprised at how vicious artists, art writers, curators and administrators could be. In fact, one time Megan got into trouble herself for a disgruntled posting she made on one of her blogs. It all ended in tears, as these things sometimes do.

Having Megan and the festival made us all hyper aware of what we said about other people who weren't in the room at the time. "Will Megan write about that," we wonder? "Was that just a mean thing to say?" In the end we trusted her judgement and sometimes she was asked to change things to protect people's anonymity, which she did without hesitation. It was not her intention to hurt people.

In my conversations with the artist she talked about her interest in how artists raise their profile in the community. How does one go from being off-radar or even "box office poison" to being the sexy hot performer on the circuit--the "it" boy or girl? Is it achieved bad boy (or girl) style by doing something so outrageous it sends tongues wagging across the nation, or is it when one just does a bad performance? (We all have nightmares about the latter.) Do we become the object of someone's jealousy, fetishistic desire, or ire? After all, much of contemporary art is about fetishizing something.

By raising the participants of this festival to pseudo-super star level, Morman parodies the voyeuristic gaze that performers crave and fear at the same time. The wonderful thing about her piece is that we all had fun playing the game ourselves, making up imaginary scenarios and trying to convince Megan to post them. One day a set of word magnets mysteriously appeared on the bathroom stalls. Custom-made my Megan Morman, they contained our names and racy words that enabled anyone in the bathroom to construct rumors. This reminds us that yes, gossip is intentionally constructed, crafted from fantasies and oral stories passed from person to person. They are dynamic, unpredictable, and generally erode over time.

Morman's piece made us even more aware of the social nature of our art, especially within the context of this particular festival where performers are encouraged to stay for the entire time to engage in social and critical dialogue. Remember the French immersion exchanges from the Trudeau era? Like that, only the language is performance art. It's a truly elucidating and humbling experience to see the work of your peers at this festival, especially the senior artists who maintain a lively engaged practice in the era of a conservative government. Furthermore, the conversations among the artists and curator help to create solidarity, critical feedback, and evolve the practice. It's the talk around the water cooler and the table at Boston Pizza that keeps us grounded and builds trust so we can give critical feedback to each other.

Do check out Cooler. It's a hoot! I hope it never ends.

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