Webcam view during paper installation

embodied writing performance
31 January – 11 February, 2017
Carlton University Art Gallery

Grounding is the first part in Open Space Lab artist residencies at CUAG curated by Anna Khimasia.

A durational performance, Grounding combines life writing with live writing. In this piece I write in Farsi life stories shared with me by an Iranian woman named Zahra. The performance will be streamed online and blogged for the duration of the residency at Carleton University.

The narrative has been emerging through conversations between us about how being women has affected our lives in obvious and not-so-obvious ways, how our lives are marked by our gender. What is shared is Zahra’s writing. She is the writer. I am the scribe.

Writing the self in a public space is an act of liberation when it reveals what we are trained, co-opted, forced or acculturated to hide. In talking and then writing about intimately personal and sometimes traumatic experiences, Zahra and I have to overcome many inhibitions. We enter each other’s lives as witness. Therefore, the process is not only revealing but healing.

My embodied writing process lags behind Zahra’s writing by only a few days to a week. We talk, she writes and sends me fragments, I edit and send it back to her, she sends back changes and/or approval, I go into the gallery and write. The text is translated into English by another Iranian woman, Lilla. The conversations and the email exchanges in Farsi and English are ongoing throughout the duration of the performance in the gallery. In the embodied writing, I also incorporate the awareness of my own responses to Zahra’s words in the process of mark-making.

This piece started with the dream of a space where writing could fully intertwine with embodied gestures and performative expression to explore the potentials of written word in creating visual-emotional landscapes. While I was dreaming, voices and images from the outside world infiltrated in my dreamscape.

There is the man who is now president saying “grab [women] by the pussy” and the over-exposed image of an imported made-up doll standing beside him. There is the campus rapist walking free, and the radio host acquitted of sexual assault. There were Pussy Riot in Russia, masses of women in rallies against rape in India, and Women’s March on Washington. There, is the Islamic State, and here, in the “west,” is the state of poverty that increasing numbers of women are pushed into, courtesy of neo-liberalism and politics of austerity.

Wherever we are located geo-politically, gender writes us. Gender writes on the body. It is the most pervasive marker of the individual and the social body. It defines us in the most intimate ways and in the most intimate spaces. It conditions our interaction with the world and our place and power within it. In a gendered state, there is nothing neutral about gender, nothing given, nothing natural.

Grounding fuses body and language with space and time through intentional action. By chance, the period of this residency coincides with the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution in Iran that began as a multi-vocal uprising against a dictatorial monarchy propped by the West. The freedom-seeking aspirations of a people were soon co-opted by a fundamentalist religious polity that like other fundamentalisms we know enshrined the dominance of the male gender by repealing women’s hard-won rights. As women who were deeply affected by these events, Zahra and I and many others of our generation know that gender should not cannot must not be relegated to the back of our social awareness and political action.