Performance and video artist Bridget Moser and curator Victoria Mohr-Blakeney sit down at The Roxton in Toronto to have a conversation about performance, humour, doubt, and the absurdity of making art.
Victoria Mohr-Blakeney: When was the first time you ever performed?
Bridget Moser: (laughs) Like for an audience? I’m pretty sure it was when I was three, at a Dance Magic competition. It was a jazz solo to the song: “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and it was at um…I can’t even remember what it’s called…it’s in Vancouver, it has the sails, it’s an iconic building in Vancouver. And the stage wasn’t a proper stage, it was just a square of tiles on the floor, and the judging panel was on one side, and the audience was on the other side, and it turned out you were supposed to dance facing the judges, but because my parents were sitting in the audience, I did the whole thing sideways – and I won third place! (Probably in my age division – for that category.)
VMB: (laughs) Out of how many people?
BM: I have no idea. I was happy because I won a little ribbon (laughs)…
VMB: You were three? That’s so young. And did you say Dance Magic?
BM: That’s what the competition was called.
VMB: And how did it feel to be up there?
BM: I think – great. Probably because I was so little, it elicited a stronger response because… it’s a weird routine where I was wearing a bikini as a three year old – so deeply problematic. Also in the way that that elicits more attention. Like if you just shake your hips a little bit then the crowd at the dance recital goes ‘wooo!’ –I hope they don’t still do that (laughs).
VMB: So you’re saying the crowd went wild?
BM: Yeah. The crowd was worked up into a frenzy by my diminutive hips (laughs).
VMB: (laughs) That’s quite the visual image.
BM: I do have this on tape. We should watch it.
VMB: You have it? You own it and it hasn’t worked its way into one of your performances yet?
BM: No – because it’s too easy! But if you want to know what it looks like we can watch it (laughs).
VMB: Why do you perform?
BM: That’s a great question. Because it’s the only thing I’m good at! No. I do think about this all the time and I always think: “Man, everything would be way easier if I made sculptures or something!” But I do think it’s the only thing I’m good at (laughs). And also it’s a lot more like the way that my brain actually works.
VMB: What about performing matches your thought process?
BM: I guess it’s not just mediated through performance; I have these visual objects. I’m still working visually in some ways, and then I can also incorporate writing, text elements, and also these pre-existing elements, or sources from popular culture, and switch between them really rapidly, which I think is kind of the way that I think about things. Yeah. And I’ve just never figured out how to do that any other way.
VMB : So you work a lot with text and objects – what comes first?
BM: Both. Yes.
VMB: At the same time?
BM: Probably not (laughs). I don’t know if one does come first. One doesn’t always come first I guess. But probably more text will happen after I choose an object, then vice versa. But it could also be that I have all this material that I’m thinking about, and then I’ll be ‘shopping’ and come across something that fits really perfectly with what I’m thinking about, or the circumstances of the performance.
VMB: So, it goes either way?
BM: Or I can just be out and totally be blindsided by some stupid object somewhere. I have this backlog of all this written material, I also have a fair amount of stuff, or ideas about stuff, it’s like when I have a reason to buy something then I will. Like I’ve wanted to use a coat rack for a while… (laughs).
VMB: So these things will be in - like a storage collection?
BM: Yeah. And then it also has to be the right version of that thing. Because I feel like most of them can only be used once. Even though I want to go back to a lot of things because they’re really nice things, that I just like. But there will always be more things (laughs). It’s just the nature of the world.
VMB: Are you always working – in a sense?
BM: (laughs) Yeah. I think that’s true. Totally. It just becomes more focused and intense when there’s an end game. I have pages and pages of notes on my phone even from just walking around. And songs. I have one of those song finder apps on my phone because there will be moments when I’m out and about, and I’ll just be like “Everyone shut up - I need to know what this is! This is doing something important.” Yeah. So probably that’s very annoying.
VMB: So you’re constantly collecting from pop-culture…
BM: Yeah. Or even just conversations. Overhearing conversations, where people will say something that taken out of context is actually…well even maybe within the context - could be a really beautiful or disturbing statement, but removed there could be a seed of an idea in it. Or, half the time someone will say something on Dr. Phil that is actually incredible (laughs). Like really incredible.
VMB: Like earth-shatteringly insightful? Cutting to the core of things?
BM: Yeah. Or just using a specific language that… Sometimes there are just these nuggets. And so I guess I’m always just looking for those (laughs).
VMB: Do you set out consciously to be funny or is it just a by-product of the way you see the world?
BM: I think, yeah. I mean for sure I try really hard to be funny.
VMB: (laughs) It’s not just a beautiful accident?
BM: There are moments where I’ll be writing something, and if I am laughing at it then I think – ok, that’s pretty good. There are also moments where I’m not trying to be funny at all (laughs).
VMB: And are you sometimes surprised by audience reactions?
BM: Yeah. Because sometimes they don’t laugh at all at things that I think – this is gold - and then other times I’m not doing anything (in my mind) but it still elicits a response.
VMB: So I feel like one thing that your work has in common with stand up comedians is this idea of slicing through to the core of things and showing some grain of truth or absurdity in the way we live, and how things are. Is that totally exhausting, to carry that approach throughout life? Is it with you all the time? Or is it just when you’re working?
BM: Mmm. I think maybe it’s probably partly just my sense of humour that I’ve always had. And the things that I find funny are the things that are totally absurd. There is actually something very satisfying about the way that that works. Yeah. I don’t think it’s exhausting (laughs).
VMB: Oh that’s good!
BM: (laughs) I think it’s actually just an easier – well not easier – just a different way of making sense of things. And it actually opens up some doors maybe. And maybe that’s the way I think about objects too – it’s like – what if you just unhinged everything and let all of the absurd associations that exist, just let them all be possible – that actually you can just do a lot more if you let that happen. Sometimes it’s pretty cynical…
When I was working in an office in a 9-5 job at a wholesale kitchenware place there was this massive warehouse and sometimes I would just have to go into the warehouse and spend all this time with these mountains of inanimate objects, and write copy about them for magazine coverage and design packaging, and think about these things on this other level. Trying to characterize them in certain ways that it just becomes so – obviously absurd - that the only way to deal with that is to make fun of it, and kind of indulge in that (laughs).
VMB: As a coping mechanism almost?
BM: Yeah. For sure. Like this must be funny, because otherwise it’s really depressing (laughs). Or, I guess there are these really funny moments underneath the surface – like thinking about the essence of a frying pan.
VMB: What did you have to write about it? Like selling points?
BM: It would be for trade magazines. So it would be like – “This company (I won’t say which) is really excited to announce the launch of their new line of enamel cast iron cookware featuring! Not only…!” or “The new revolution in eco-friendly non-stick coatings is here!”
VMB: (laughs) What’s the funniest thing that someone has said to you about your work?
BM: Funniest? Umm…
VMB: Or something that has stuck with you.
BM: Oh I mean there are lots (laughs). I remember going through customs and immigration, I was going to visit my friend in London and the border security guard asked “What do you do? What are you here for?” And I said: “Oh I’m an artist.” And he said: “What sort of artist?” And I said: “Performance artist.” And he said: “What’s that?” “Uh… you know…” And I tried to sort of describe it. And it was a very old man, this very old Scottish man, and he listened to me ramble on, and then looked at me and said: “So you convey moods then.” And I was like – yes! That’s probably the most succinct way…(laughs).
VMB: (laughs) So you convey moods then.
Bridget Moser is performing her latest work, About Face, at Artspace on Friday November 6, 2015 at 8:00pm. About Face is presented in partnership with Public Energy.
Bridget Moser is a Toronto-based performance and video artist whose work is suspended between prop comedy, experimental theatre, performance art, absurd literature, existential anxiety and intuitive dance. She has presented work in venues across Canada, including La Centrale, Montreal; VIVO Media Arts Centre, Vancouver; Video Pool, Winnipeg; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Gallery TPW, and Mercer Union, Toronto; The National Arts Centre and Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa; Owens Art Gallery, Sackville; and Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Halifax. She has presented projects throughout the US and Europe, and has been a resident artist at The Banff Centre and at Fondazione Antonio Ratti in Como, Italy. Her work has been featured in Canadian Art, C Magazine and a recent publication by Mousse Magazine.
Victoria Mohr-Blakeney is an independent curator and writer with a focus on contemporary dance and performance. She has curated/ co-curated visual art and performance exhibitions in gallery, theatre, and site-specific settings including: George Brown School of Design, Art Gallery of Ontario, CB Gallery, Scotiabank Studio Theatre, Edward Day Gallery, and Nuit Blanche. Mohr-Blakeney holds a Master of Fine Arts in Criticism and Curatorial Practice from OCAD University. She is also Co-Founder of the Nomadic Curatorial Collective.
Mohr-Blakeney recently co-curated BLINK Peterborough Artsweek 2015, hosted a Curator’s Talk at Toronto’s InspiraTO Festival, and co-curated Move to Stillness, an immersive installation at Harbourfront Centre. Mohr-Blakeney has published work in Kapsula Magazine, The Toronto Standard, and the Literary Review of Canada. Mohr-Blakeney is the recipient of the 2015 President's Medal in Criticism and Curatorial Practice from OCAD University. She is currently Writer in Residence at C Magazine.
Download the interview here: Bridget Moser.Interview.Ed.Final.Oct.2015