Thursday, October 22, 2015

Interview // QAF artist Coral Short

When I first met inter­na­tional Queer per­for­mance artist Coral Short at the Queer Arts Fes­ti­val’s open­ing art party, she was wear­ing box­ing shorts and a deter­mined expres­sion. Don­ning her gloves, she walked onto stage and began to per­form her open­ing piece, Stop Beat­ing Your­self Up, a lit­eral box­ing match fought entirely–and mercilessly–against her­self. When I met Short a few days later for our inter­view, she was a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent per­son. Relaxed, smil­ing, and as I dis­cov­ered later, a lit­tle con­cussed, Short was noth­ing like the fierce fighter I remem­bered from a few nights ago.
As we talked per­for­mance, med­i­ta­tion, and travel over after­noon cof­fee, I real­ized that Short is actu­ally both of these peo­ple: open and friendly, but also strong and, hon­estly, intim­i­dat­ing. Despite her gen­tle nature, Short clearly has no prob­lem being ruth­less when it comes to what really mat­ters: cre­at­ing pow­er­ful, boundary-pushing art.
Coral Short performs Stop Beating Yourself Up, photos by Katie Stewart
Coral Short per­forms Stop Beat­ing Your­self Up, photo by Katie Stew­art
SAD Mag: You first per­formed Stop Beat­ing Your­self Up in 2013 at Edgy Women in Mon­treal. In a recent inter­view with Daily Xtra, you said that you chose to add some mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the piece for this year’s per­for­mance: decreas­ing the length from the orig­i­nal three hours to one and keep­ing a para­medic on hand. Why did you choose to per­form the piece again, if it was so dam­ag­ing the first time?
Coral Short: I actu­ally never wanted to do this piece again, but Artis­tic Direc­tor SD Hol­man, through the Gen­eral Man­ager, Elliott Hearte, really wanted me to do the piece and offered to fly me out here. And my lit­tle sis­ter Amber just had a baby–the first baby in the Short fam­ily, so I said, “Okay, I’m going to do this for this nephew.”
SM: You mean, beat your­self up for her child?
CS: Basi­cally! After [the per­for­mance] I sent my sis­ter a text that said, “This will make a good story one day, but my head really hurts.”
SM: Did you get any­thing new out of repeat­ing your per­for­mance? Has your orig­i­nal inten­tion or rela­tion­ship to the piece changed since 2013? 
CS: I think it did. The first time I did it, I didn’t do it with full body aware­ness. Since that time I’ve been to three vipassanas–ten day silent retreats–and I have a daily med­i­ta­tion prac­tice. Being more inside my body than I used to, [the per­for­mance] was more impactual on the cel­lu­lar struc­ture than it did orig­i­nally. Each time has been a rit­ual, but I think this [time] was more like a clo­sure: “I will stop doing this now–stop doing this very lit­eral performance–stop beat­ing myself up.” We all need to move for­ward from this inter­nal strug­gle, myself included!
It’s also really, really hard on the audi­ence. This per­for­mance, peo­ple are more with me than any other per­for­mance I’ve ever done. They’re hor­ri­fied, but they’re with me. There’s blood spurt­ing out of me, but peo­ple try to stay the course with me. Psy­cho­log­i­cally, it’s really hard on peo­ple. I can’t make eye con­tact with them, so I have to look at the wall or the cam­eras or the floor. I’m a chan­nel for the audience–a vis­ceral sym­bol for the strug­gle inside themselves.
They want to pro­tect me–they want to stop me. But no one does. When I first did the piece in 2013, I was asked by my cura­tor, “What if some­one stops you?” And I said, “It will just become part of the piece.” But no one stopped me then, and no one stopped me now. I think the audi­ence becomes trans­fixed with a hyp­notic mor­bid fascination.
Photo by Katie Stew­art
SM: Do you think that’s because it’s art, or do you think that’s just human nature?
CS: I think there’s a “This is art” thing going on. But, I think if some­one would have tried to stop me, I would have stopped. I think all it would take is just one person.
I think peo­ple almost want to see it play out. If you look back across human­ity, or to Game of Thrones, there’s always been a love of fight­ing and blood. The fight­ing pits, the colos­seum, the behead­ings –I think there’s an ele­ment of human­ity that wants to see that. Blood is powerful.
SM: In addi­tion to per­form­ing at the festival’s open­ing party, you also curated a film night this year called TRIGGERWARNING. How did you find the “fear­less Queer video art” for that event? 
CS: I travel a lot. I have about ten home bases. I move with a lot of ease in the world due to the priv­i­lege of being a triple pass­port holder. I have all these dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties that I have lived and worked in, so I meet so many more cre­ators than the aver­age per­son. While I’m mov­ing, I talk to other cura­tors, inter­act with other fes­ti­vals, other artists, every­where I go. I come across incred­i­ble film­mak­ers some of whom I have been work­ing with for almost a decade.  I’m part of a huge Queer net­work of cul­tural pro­duc­ers in Asia, North Amer­ica and Europe who I can reach out to at any time on the inter­net. We are all there for each other.
Photo by Katie Stewart
Photo by Katie Stew­art
SM: And how did you choose which ones to include? What qual­i­fied the videos as too triggering–or not trig­ger­ing enough–for the event?
CS: It’s actu­ally really hard to find trig­ger­ing work. I cut out pieces that I found prob­lem­atic in terms of race and trans issues. I didn’t want any­one to feel unwel­come in the space. In the end, I cre­ated a bill that I felt com­fort­able with and I felt other peo­ple would be com­fort­able with, but there were def­i­nitely pieces that push the limit in terms of sexuality.
SM: Were there a lot of strong reactions?
CS: Well, actu­ally it’s funny, I feel like my bill was not trig­ger­ing enough. Per­haps I have to try harder! There was blood and piss and some­one kiss­ing their par­ents and per­for­mance art on the verge of self harm. But it was a fine line, because I didn’t want to make any­one feel so uncom­fort­able that they would walk off in a bad state alone into the world.
SM: What’s been your expe­ri­ence as some­one who works both with film and per­for­mance? Do you think peo­ple react very dif­fer­ently to the two art forms?
CS: I think peo­ple are wary of per­for­mance art, because they feel that it’s an unpre­dictable medium–which it is — that is the joy of it!  A lot of my video cura­tions make per­for­mance art more palat­able in a way. And video makes it pos­si­ble to get all these artists with dynamic per­son­al­i­ties from dif­fer­ent loca­tions on one bill. That’s why I love video: all that tal­ent within three min­utes. It’s amaz­ing. For exam­ple: Mor­gan M PageEduardo Resrepo, and local artist Jade Yumang.
Photo by Katie Stewart
Photo by Katie Stew­art
SM: In that same Daily Xtra inter­view, you refer to Van­cou­ver cul­ture as “very PC com­pared to the east coast,” and in another inter­view with Edgy Women, you describe Mon­treal as “one of the few remain­ing metrop­o­lises that is afford­able to live cheaply and cre­ate art.” Van­cou­ver cul­ture receives a lot of this sort of criticism–among the well known, of course, is the Econ­o­mist’srecent inclu­sion of Van­cou­ver in the list of “mind-numbingly bor­ing” cities. Do you think our atti­tude will ever change, or are we for­ever doomed to be small-minded, unaf­ford­able and ulti­mately, boring?
CS: I feel like the Van­cou­ver art com­mu­nity is thriv­ing these days! There’s been a much needed show of city sup­port: a bunch of money given to VIVO and the art orga­ni­za­tions in that area. There seems to be some new stuff hap­pen­ing; there’s always some great work. I always like to find out what’s hap­pen­ing here–who the new upcom­ing artists are, like Emilio Rojas, Helen Reed and Han­nah Jickling.
Photo by Katie Stewart
Photo by Katie Stew­art
SM: Obvi­ously you’re famil­iar with the theme of this year’s fes­ti­val: draw­ing the line. As a per­former and artist, you’ve crossed many lines: from hole-puppet protests to phys­i­cal self-abuse, you don’t seem afraid to “go too far” when it comes to your craft. This might be cliche, but where (if ever) do you draw the line? And why?
CS: When I was a young artist, I used to repeat some kind of mantra that went some­thing like this:  to keep push­ing through my lim­its to go to the other side. I really wanted that to be my work: to not be afraid of any­thing. Push it as far as you can go and then push it far­ther.  That’s where it begins and where my prac­tice has grown — when I take risks and walk my own path.
But my artis­tic prac­tice has changed since I did vipas­sana. I’ve started to make places for peo­ple to sit down, because peo­ple want to relax; it’s a really fast-paced life. So I made a giant, portable nest. I give peo­ple rides with these brown, vel­vet cush­ions while they hold this egg, and they become very bird­like. Peo­ple love to sit in it. I’ve also started mak­ing this incred­i­ble earth fur­ni­ture that is opu­lently grow­ing with plants on rad­i­cal faerie sanc­tu­ary land in Ver­mont and at IDA. I’m build­ing places for peo­ple to repose, relax and be comfortable.
SM: Is this expe­ri­ence of com­fort some­thing you’re try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate in your art? Is that your intention?
CS: I think it just kind of hap­pened. I have almost 15 years of sobri­ety, and each year I grow into my body and cel­lu­lar struc­ture a lit­tle more. That’s com­ing through in my work. It’s all tied into med­i­ta­tion and slow­ing down. The Queer scene is soaked in sub­stances and lack of self-awareness, so liv­ing inside our bod­ies as queers is rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Self-love is radical.

The Van­cou­ver Queer Arts Fes­ti­val runs from July 23 — August 7. Event list­ings are avail­able on the fes­ti­val web­siteFor more infor­ma­tion about Coral Short, fol­low her on Twit­ter and Face­book, or visit her web­site.

No comments:

Post a Comment