Culture  Up close and experimental

Rats 9 presents an evening of art that pushes boundaries

Art today is not what it used to be – and that’s not a bad thing. Rats 9, one of Montreal’s many artist-run spaces, is a perfect example of a site where attendees can actually watch the evolution of visual art beyond galleries, as it becomes increasingly interdisciplinary, experimental, and interactive. The most recent show at Rats 9, simply titled ✺ / ✺ / ✺, featured four artists at the forefront of this experiment in an evening of movement performance, video, “queer necromantix,” and “sensual telepathy.” Confiding in audience members as though they were familiar friends, the artists created an intimate vibe. Far from devaluing the show, this comfortable approach allowed them to transform aspects of themselves into art without the constraints of more conventional performer-audience relationships. With artists from Montreal and beyond, the evening of shows was an odd and exciting glimpse into the future of art.

Jamie Ross: A Script of Desire
The first performer, Montreal-based Jamie Ross, knelt on the stage while a series of radio recordings played, broadcasting interviews on the “fear of our greatest cravings.” Once the audio faded, Ross snapped out of his trance. The performance became informal and very personal as Ross spoke to attendees about his preteen years, blurring the lines between performer and person. He talked about when he used to “hide his faggotry,” and would code his journal entries with “sigil magic” – he explained this as writing in a code which his conscious mind would eventually forget through a form of meditation. The writing is then therapeutic and not traumatic. Ross picked a journal page at random onstage and began to decipher the secret passage. Then suddenly, he decided amidst fits of laughter that the page was too personal. With Ross unable to continue, his show abruptly ended. After the show, Ross told The Daily that although driven to “pretty deep depths of despair” in the past, he is “actively reclaiming that method of self-help” with his performance by divulging his “sigil magic.” Ross retells pockets of his past onstage, and so he is indistinguishable from his art. His performance was both off-putting and captivating in its unusual rawness.

Acid Wave Film & Video Laboratory: Arachne
This terrifyingly trippy video experiment from Montreal video artists Acid Wave Film & Video Laboratory retells the myth of Arachne, the mortal-weaver-turned-spider by the jealous Athena. The film focuses less on the myth itself and more on a presentation of Arachne as a strong, outspoken woman who challenges the hierarchal structure of the gods. Acid Wave also opposes hierarchy in its own creative processes, as Arachne is an experiment in collective art-making. The story was made in seven distinct pieces and afterward woven together with noise music, computerized hands weaving data-like silk, and a stop motion transformation from human to spider. Simply put, the overall effect was very cool.

Amalia Wilson: Poster in Two Acts
The uncanny took a backseat to the mundane with Amalia Wilson’s movement piece, Poster in Two Acts. The abrasive sounds of two coffee makers plugged into an amplifier brought the ordinary to the forefront of the show. Wilson, the lone American performer of the evening, reminded the audience of the beauty in the everyday, performing tasks like folding blankets with a careful movement. In two acts, Wilson explored the possibility of combining theatre and dance into a moving sculpture. Just as Ross embodied his performance, Wilson also says that she and her art are “inextricably connected.” Though unwilling to speak explicitly on the subject, Wilson told The Daily after her show she recently experienced a personal loss. With this experience in mind, she offered a fresh perspective on how to prepare for our own death. For Wilson, life is “an accumulation of tiny movements or actions that aren’t notable.” Though this may appear bleak at first, her outlook is actually hopeful. Every ordinary action could be the last thing she ever does and that in itself gives meaning to her show.

Sunny Nestler: 1-D Simulator
Centring a superb performance around “the childhood experience,” Sunny Nestler showcased an experience that fed off of both comfort and discomfort. Nestler prepared 1-D goggles for the audience that plunges their vision into utter darkness, except for one thin line. Props like earplugs, juice boxes, and illustrations of strange sea creatures with tentacles and spider legs were also provided, creating a clash between childhood stimuli and sensory deprivation. Through its “sensory deprivation aspect,” the “alternate experience” as a group was off-putting, yet still reassuring in its communal nature. Not much happened in the ‘performance,’ leaving the audience to contemplate the senses, depth perception, and general feelings of aberration.

Artists like Nestler are redefining art on the daily, and studios like Rats 9 give them the space to do it. Spaces like these encourage artists to explore the unanswerable question, “what is art?” While Nestler and the other performers did not provide a definite answer, they left audience members with a whole host of questions that will keep Montrealers engaged and excited for what comes next.