Saturday, September 19, 2009

Michael Fernandes: The Water Whisperer

This piece is called "Water is a Word," Michael Fernandes announces in a gentle, resonant voice. He is backlit by pin-holes of light leaking into the gallery through perforated boards in the gallery. "Water," he whispers as he looks into the eyes of each audience member in succession. He says "water" as a benediction, as a mantra, and a blessing. I begin to feel hypnotized by the use of repetition and the tone of his voice. The lights behind him have an other-worldly effect like the lights in a tunnel people describe after a near-death experience. The same word is repeated again and again. Then he looks into my eyes, saying the word again and starts to laugh harshly, jarring me awake from my state of relaxation, Then he gradually calms down and resumes repeated the word in a gentle voice and looking into our eyes until he finally leaves the room.

Everyone seems a bit surprised the piece had been so short (about 10 minutes), including the performer! I had also been looking forward to seeing the pinhole images described in the festival program. Fernandes decided that since his piece was so unexpectedly brief he would hold a question and answer session. He admits that he changed his performance after seeing the work of Reona Brass and Naufus Ramirez-Figeroa. He felt that the images and gestures he had planned to perform would have been too empty in comparison. I disagree. I think that he has a beautiful presence as a performer, and he could have filled his original piece with the content that a transparent soul expresses.

"I didn't know what I was going to do until five minutes before the piece," he said. This work was created out of a desire to pare down his performance to its barest elements to connect to the audience and refresh and ground his practice. Somehow the Q&A led to an discussion of a television show called "The Dog Whisperer." Suddenly Fernandes became very animated and showed us how he'd been coping with an aggressive dog by getting down on all fours and presenting the top of his head. He tells us about a pet psychic in England on television who makes parrots and pythons stand at attention. His friends tell him its all in the editing, but Michael wants to believe. I want to believe too, keeping my mind as open as as a starry Alberta sky where anything is possible. Perhaps that what the ephemeral nature of his piece is really about.

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