Untitled Performance

Entry from Acts of Transfer:

Duration: 38 min 50 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

The stage is set in the round with a single spotlight. Two video monitors are mounted on a podium draped in fabric. Cathy Sisler arrives on-stage announcing “tonight’s lecture” as a “dramatization of not knowing how to speak.” After a short preamble about the various theatrical and commercial uses of dramatization, she concludes by announcing that she has “absolutely no desire to speak about [herself]” and instead suggests that “this condition of not knowing how to speak is, in fact, the problem of another.”

Throughout the performance, deferral is a recurring device deployed by the various characters and personalities that Sisler embodies, most of whom are referred to as “Cathy.” “Cathy” introduces the performance, recovers from speech loss as a subject of clinical study, and hosts a talk show as an outgoing “motivation lady.” Another character who is not overtly called Cathy, but is played by Cathy, is in a disturbed state; she wears a set of angel wings and communicates only through body movement. This Cathy sits in the audience and watches the two-channel film of the Cathy who introduced the performance, performing a “dramatization of aural hallucinations.” She changes seats often, constantly moving her legs and flailing sporadically, breaking the composed civility of the spectator. As the performance continues, the viewer bears witness to these many facets of Cathy via a series of live and pre-recorded versions of her.

An American-born artist formally trained at the Ontario College of Art & Design and Concordia University, Sisler is known for her activity as a musician, painter, teacher, writer, but most predominantly as a performance and video artist.[1] One of her most notable works is the four-part series Aberrant Motion (1993-1994), where Cathy, who identifies as a lesbian woman, enacts a series of interventions that disrupt the “normal” movement and activity of urban public space. In her performance at Western Front, Sisler continues to challenge accepted states of normalcy by breaking down communication between the audience and her (many) selves.

Sisler’s use of pre-recorded media on TV monitors further emphasizes this distancing effect. In one instance, Cathy-the-talk-show-host attempts a “live TV broadcast via satellite on The Cathy Show” with Cathy-the-medical-subject, to discuss her “miraculous recovery from [the] terrible problem of speechlessness.” Communication between the two characters ultimately disintegrates as the Cathy on-screen abolishes all conventional social etiquette, defying any possible attempt at a meaningful exchange about mental health and recovery. Their dialogue soon becomes stagnant and repetitive, diverging from the narrative drama conventionally found in TV talk shows. The dramatization of “not knowing how to speak” thus exposes the performative nature of commodified language and highlights the subject’s speechlessness not as a physiological illness, but as a conditioning among “others who [are] silent,” a method of coping with “the composure of society and the fear of falling open.”

1 – Logue, Deirdre, Chris Gehman, and Erik Martinso. “Artist: Cathy Sisler.” Vtape. Accessed March 2018. http://www.vtape.org/artist?ai=508.

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Original Archive Entry:

Work is a performance of a dramatization of not knowing how to speak.