Friday, 23 January 2009

Performance Art Review: Guelph Psychiatric Hospital Annual Festival

For fans of performance art, it’s one of the biggest days in the year. Guelph Psychiatric Hospital opens its doors to the public for one day in January, and art lovers are able to enjoy the wonderful and thought-provoking works by the very talented artists in the building. 2009’s event was last weekend, and I went along with high hopes of a day chock full of art, and shit.

I certainly wasn’t let down, either. It’s amazing to think that one mental health institute is home to so many people with incredible ability in the world of performance art.

Take relative newcomer Justin Scroat, for example. His performance piece, in which he stood in a corner for six hours, shouting “You!” at the top of his voice and pulling out his hair, was highly moving. It really conveyed the frustration and twenty-first century ennui one feels for simply existing as a physical entity. When I approached Justin to discuss the piece after his performance had appeared to have finished, he merely wept to himself; such was the power and poignancy of his work.

Baron Fleeek von Habbitty Habbitty Cotswolds is, by contrast to Justin, an old hand at the performance art game, and a perennial favourite at this event. This year’s piece, in which he dressed as a policeman and pretended to fellate a tree in the garden, was no different. The subtlety and depth of meaning – no doubt about the inadequacy and futility of a society led by toothless seniority figures – was quite beautiful in its execution.

A visiting group from the Guelph Society of Art-Loving Young Ladies of a Weak Disposition were so shocked by the artwork created by Timothy Ultimate Frisbee that they fainted and had to be brought round by smelling salts. Mister Ultimate Frisbee’s performance piece involved him deconstructing a teabag using his face. It was powerful, powerful stuff, full of animalistic intent. And tea leaves.

Ian Ian is another newcomer to this festival, and wasn’t as well-received as some of the others. Maybe his piece, in which he stood still for great periods of time before attacking random festival-goers with a sardine tin with the key missing, was too subtle. He was, I believe, conveying the message that failure can creep up on anyone, but it was lost to most. I hope he will improve next year.

Finally, the most disappointing piece of performance art was the one executed by David Wrent. I was most saddened by the fact that it was exactly the same as the one he used for last year’s festival. In it, Wrent follows various festival-goers around the event, pretending to be a sane man trapped in an asylum and imploring them to get help so he could be rescued. The idea, though interesting, swiftly became tiresome when he refused to let go of one’s ankles, and I for one was moved to surreptitiously kick him in the head.

So, as always, this was a generally good selection of performance art from a highly talented group of artistic individuals. I can’t wait for next year, when organisers tell me the participants will – if the behave – have access to power tools.

For year round access to the artists at Guelph’s finest artistic enterprise, simply stand in a car park, signing Frere Jacques at the top of your voice while pleasuring yourself, and wait for the authorities to pick you up.


Dale said...

I've nearly gone mental realizing I've missed this yet again. I wondered where my smelling salts had gone too but as long as they were used for good and not evil. There's always next year I suppose. You! You! You! You! You!

Daltana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daltana said...

Due to the actions of a heathen programmer I was only now able to read your review.

Maybe the Glore Psychiatric Museum ( ) can be convinced to start holding a similar event.