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Performance artist and senior lecturer Tanya Mars dazzles once again

Tanya Mars

On Friday, November 12 the UTSC Meeting Place was transformed by another dazzling performance by Tanya Mars.

The visual and performing arts professor and Governor General’s Award-winning performance artist staged a surreal, six-hour “detail” of her work Six Images in Search of an Artist.

Drawing on a range of influences – from medieval tapestries to the human senses to the book The City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan – Mars’s work employed dozens of used or out-of-print books, more than 40 industrial bags of salt, a wooden school desk covered in fortune cookies, period costumes and a bowl of gold paint for a durational piece that explored the idea of transformation. Throughout the day, the work captivated dozens of staff, students and faculty.

Beginning at 10:00 am, Mars and UTSC alumna Annie Cheung began painting pages of the books with gold paint, writing quotes with white chalk around the perimeter of the space, filling small cotton pouches with salt and unwrapping fortune cookies. The painted pages were eventually ripped out, crumpled and used to create a topiary, where they became transformed (in the minds of the audience, at least) into golden flowers.  Meanwhile, the sacks of salt were moved and stacked to form a small tower, in which Mars and Cheung occasionally sat to perform their work.  Most of the books ended up splayed open across the centre of the space, completing their journey from detritus to preciousness and back again.

In a follow-up discussion at Gallery 1265, Mars explained that she now uses a durational performance strategy rather than traditional endurance strategy because she found the latter focused too much on hurting oneself, and reinforced ideas of victimization.  “I’m too funny for that,” she said. But there is nothing funny, or easy, about trying to capture people’s undivided attention in the Meeting Place.  “It is very much like a big hallway,” says Mars, “with people scurrying through, getting from one wing to another, not paying much attention to the space itself. It was a challenge to make it quiet, contemplative.”

A self-professed ‘really bad painter who loves to make moving pictures’, Mars said her desire was to conflate the ordinary and the extraordinary with a spectacle done with limited resources.  She felt the extended length of the piece freed her as a performer and allowed the audience to have a theatrical ‘fly on the wall’ experience. “There is no suspension of disbelief,” says Mars. “What you see is what is happening. Living is theatrical. Anytime there’s a me and a you, there’s theatre.”

The six-hour piece was a shortened version of the original, two-day, 14-hour work staged at the Theatre Centre as part of their Free Fall Festival in collaboration with the Harbourfront World Stage series in March earlier this year. Mars also performed a shortened solo version of the piece in Paris, France in the spring of 2010.

The event was part of the tri-campus art and architecture performance series Spectacle and Impermanence, curated by Lisa Steele and Tom Bessai and presented in co-operation with the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Jackman Humanities Institute, Doris McCarthy Gallery and the University of Toronto Art Centre

© University of Toronto Scarborough