Proposal for Summerworks Live Arts Series

“I had traveled there for sightseeing but alas I became the spectacle myself.” [From Shegarf-namehye velayat, travelogue by Etesam-eddin Jonpouri, 1767]

That reversal and the curiosity and desire that animate it are at the core of my project. The work draws from travelogues written by Iranian and western travelers during the 18th and 19th centuries when contact between the east and the west was increasing exponentially and deeply influencing both sides. In Passages audience members would pass through a portal to enter an immersive space where they are guided and accompanied by a collaborator to read aloud selected passages from these texts (all are in public domain). Their reading would animate my response in the form of embodied writing in Farsi or English on large surfaces covering the space. These audience-artist collaborative performances would be recorded and simultaneously projected outside the space and streamed for present and remote audiences. There will be another camera in the outside space focusing on the present audience and the footage will be mixed with that of the performance inside.

The use of props will be minimal, limited to what is essential, and the presence of equipment will be very discreet in order to place the focus on the interaction. The colour palette will include black, white and red to emphasize the visuality of text and the processes of writing and interaction as embodied movement in space. I propose at the minimum 2, ideally 3, durational performances of 2 hours each. Interactions with the audience are one-on-one, and limited in time to 15-20 minutes.

I have confirmed the availability of Unpack Studio Gallery (, just south of Dundas W, west of Spadina) for the performances. This space is ideal. The audience would have to walk down a few steps from the street level to enter the space, their descent symbolically representing the journey to the past. The gallery has large windows on two sides so the space and events inside are perfectly visible from the street with the outside spectators looking down and the participants inside becoming the spectacle. There is a large parking lot adjacent to the space that can be used for simultaneously projecting the performance outside the gallery. Finally, the scale of the space is such that it can be covered entirely in writing surfaces so that once the participants step inside they are fully immersed in the visual space of the performance and become an integral part of it.

For the part of my collaborator, I am honoured to have garnered Monique Mojica’s interest. Monique and I have an ongoing dialogue about embodiment as a creative methodology and its role in researching, bridging and mending historical ruptures. I am including her bio and cv in the support material with her permission. (I will be approaching Heather Hermant, spoken word and theatre artist – whose work on embodiment of text and history has affinities with mine and Monique’s – should Monique not be available when dates are fixed.)

I was recently awarded a visual arts grant by the Toronto Arts Council for Passages that enables me to focus on research in historical texts, experiment with material and technologies and develop interaction and participatory processes over the coming months. The project would be fully developed, fleshed out and ready for production by mid-Spring. Should this proposal be accepted, SummerWorks could be its premier venue.

Project Concepts

In Passages, the artwork emerges through live and embodied engagement with the site and the material, thrive on relational strategies, and reflect on and respond to the complexities of time, space and audience participation. It aims to connect the past with the future, the west with the east, the personal with the collective, and the everyday with the poetic.

Similar to traveling, Passsages is about intercultural exchange, exposure, collaboration and dialogue through live and improvisatory encounters. The work encourages live embodiment through minimal dramatization. The space of the encounter and its variously smooth or encumbered qualities allow us to reflect as much on ourselves as on the other. In re-visiting historical encounters and re-reading their records, we get to consider how textual transmissions, memory processes, past encounters and intercultural gaze shape and animate our contemporary culture. Thus Passages function as missives from other times and places pulling on the surface of the present to invite us to alter our conception of ourselves and our contemporaneity.

In Passages the line between the spectator and spectacle is blurred and the distinction eliminated. By foregrounding this transformation, the encounter draws parallel to our familiar experiences of tourism and highlights our double motivations of curiosity and desire and our role simultaneously as participants and voyeurs. Unlike tourism, however, the relationship is based on consent. The artist-audience collaboration (what happens inside the space) emphasizes the consensual nature of the encounter and puts it in contrast to the spectatorship that is manifested in the outside space. The presence of recorded and projected image – the inherent contradiction in technologically re-mediating the live encounter – opens a reflective space for considering how we engage in our everyday experience of the world through the lens and surface images.

The “visual” space of the encounter is a significant part of the experience for the audience, variously evoking images of roadside artists that paint tourist’s portraits or tour guides and interpreters that mediate the relationship with the host place and its people. Here, the relational dimension is emphasized and privileged over sight-centeredness. The use of embodied writing as part of the content of the interaction creates a distance from representational conventions while emphasizing language as a primary medium of history and culture. The embodied quality of the engagement – its physicality experienced through interaction, voice and movement in an immersive space – also distances the participants from habitually mediated and sight-focused experience.

Artist’s Statement

I have been an active member of the Canadian art scene as artist, curator and writer for over twenty years with credits and awards in new media and visual arts (and, long ago, theatre). My work is rooted in my ongoing interest and research into less-explored histories and taboo subjects and their place and persistence in our cultural imaginary and discourse. I am concerned with the (dis)connections between the past and present, the junctures and disjunctions between historical and contemporary issues, and the cultural transmissions across times and locations.

Since 2008 I have been developing and deepening my “embodied writing” practice, a site-specific performance strategy where body is at once the site and the vehicle of writing, and where performative writing is a strategy to bypass representational conventions in mapping our cultural imaginary. In many of my works, I have incorporated the voice, and – inspired by the Iranian tradition of naqali (public recitation of historical accounts and legends) – reading and narration as formal practices. I also have been routinely engaging the audience in my works in order to open spaces for exploring our intersecting histories and cultures and developing new relations and understandings. Passages brings these facets together in one place.

As a transmedia artist, I usually push the boundaries of visual arts spaces and contexts to open them up to live encounters and interaction as integral to the artwork. In proposing to SummerWorks, I am excited about bringing a practice that originates in visual and performance art to the kindred context of a theatre festival. The transplantation is provocative and inspiring. Thank you for providing the opportunity and for reviewing this proposal.

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  1. […] It’s interesting that both mimicry and mockery are also embodiment practices, hence the cultural encounter is from the beginning consciously theatrical, as is indeed the self-consciousness that the gaze produces. This is a rich ground to explore, and supports the rather theatrical approach I described in the Summerworks proposal. […]