an action performed (by me) as an invited participant in jessica maccormack’s art work for viva! art action 2011. « work  equals worth equals innocence » at place émilie-gamelin, montréal, québec.

photo by: jessica maccormack text by: karen elaine spencer

i hear the motor start up. i do not look behind. i wait. will the police car back up and drive away? no. coming from behind the police car pulls up beside me. close but not that close. the window rolls down. i do not move. the officer talks. i can barely hear, but i don’t want to leave my spot. i don’t want to walk over to « them. » i want « them » to get out of the car and walk over to me. doesn’t happen. leaning a bit further out the window he asks me if i am o.k. if i plan on sitting on a bench. i answer yes i am o.k. i answer no, i am not planning on sitting on a bench. he asks if i plan on standing there all day. i answer, yes.

i answered yes i am o.k. but no. no, i am not o.k. i am not o.k. with a police car driving up into this square and parking their car in the middle of the park and sitting there. inside the car. an act of what? a show of what? force? surveillance? power? who else can drive and park their car here?

i saw the police car drive into the park. i thought, if i am going to wear this shirt, here, then this is who i am talking to. this shirt that jess made for her project reads, « i have mental health problems with oppression & stigma.» the words « mental health » struck through with a black line. french on one side of the shirt, english on the other. these words directed at those bodies that enact the « law » as prescribed by those currently in power. and so, i put the shirt on over my hoodie, pull my hood over my head and walk over to stand in front of the car. i stand with my back to the car. i give you my back, i give you my indifference.

i stood. i watched. i watched the man on the bike get off his bike. he glanced right and then left and then pissed against the wall. i watched the woman in the knee-high boots take jeans and shoes out of her bag and offer them to a group of men sitting around a bench. i watched an older man offer his drink in the brown paper bag to the woman. i watched the man washing windows high above the ground dangling next to the highrise across the street. i watched the older man in the grey suit and black leather shoes walk by. the police car behind me. police still in car. police not getting out of car to talk or sit with the people. police protected from the people. enclosed in the car.

i stand and wait. i think i may be standing here a long time in front of the police car. but not that long. i hear the motor start up behind me…

photo by: cindy baker

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me and jess/2003
may 13, 2003

jess and i are in the metro. we are sitting together in the metro car. we begin at one end of the orange line and continue to the other end. this takes about fifty minutes. as the metro travels to the end of the line jess tells me her life story. as the metro travels back to the beginning i tell jess my life story.

may 20, 2003

jess and i are walking up the hill to the top of mont royal. on the way up the hill i tell  jess her life story as if it is my life story. i stick pretty much to the way jess told me in the metro, except i add in feelings. we are holding hands. on the way back down the mountain jess takes my life story and tells it to me as if it was her life story. we are still holding hands. jess is more imaginative in telling me my life story. she says she doesn’t remember everything i told her.

may 27, 2003
jess and i meet on the grounds of the st. james united church.  jess is already there sitting at a picnic table.  i am bringing food:  bagels, salmon, cream cheese, chocolate, yellow pepper, some chip mix with chocolate and peanuts and an exotic kind of fruit i don’t know the name of.  we sit at the picnic table facing each other and i  feed jess and jess feeds me.  we can’t put food into our own mouths.  a guy walks over and asks us if he can have some of our food cuz he doesn’t want to go into the kitchen where food is served at the church.  he sits with us and chats while we prepare his sandwhich (actually it is jss who does the preparing.)  another guy comes to sit with us and asks for a light, jess asks for a cigarette in exchange for chocolate.

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piss tree/2001-2002

winter 2001/2002

performance or action begun alone, not with the intent of repeating, not with the intent of bringing others into it. a slowly formed idea, arising from a long time desire to piss in public, as a way of claiming territory, as a way of acting free like a man, although as a woman. (i often see men pissing in public in my neighbourhood, living as i do next to a bar and a metro station.) did not begin pissing at the weeping willow. this was later to become a marked destination, both in terms of the tree, and in terms of the length of the walk. it was important it was winter, both for the solitude of the walk, and for the sensation of cold air on the ass, and the trace of pee left in the snow. i performed it probably about 21 times over the winter. i did not take it upon myself to keep track. the walk from home to tree was about five miles. i will mark this out on the map.

piss tree

it is a one hour walk to the tree. i walk at night, it is quiet and calm and cold. i walk with my dog swimmer. we walk through the vacant field and over the train tracks till we are along the bike path next to the lachine canal. the canal is frozen over, snow covers the path and we are alone. we walk past construction sites, factories and empty lots.
the tree is beautiful. it stands along the water. it is a weeping willow. i walk off the path towards the tree. i stand underneath the tree and i undo my belt buckle, i undo the top button of my pants, i unzip my fly. i drop my pants, i squat, and i pee. the air is cool on my ass, the pee leaves a hole in the snow, and because i drink a large bowl of tea before i leave home, i pee for a long while. i watch the cars go by on the other side of the canal. afterwards i stand, pull up my pants, and buckle my belt. i stay with the tree, then i turn and walk with swimmer, till one hour later, we are back home.

march 21
it is my forty-second birthday. montréal is having a spring snowstorm. i go to the metro place saint henri and meet kelly-lynne wood, zoe kreye and brigitte dazcier. it is 7pm. we are going on my one-hour walk to the tree with my dog swimmer. we walk out in the cold snowy night. swimmer loves it. the wind is blowing. i lead and they follow. we must make our own path through the snow. we are about halfway there and we stop for a juice box, and try to hide from the wind. we are coming up to the –in the process of being constructed- bridge that goes across the canal. a man stops us who tells us we cannot pass, i tell him we can, that i have done it before, and i keep on walking. the others follow me and we step around the fence blocking the pathway. we continue. finally we get to the tree. i am relieved to have arrived. i realise that it is a long walk. i squat and i pee, and so do the others. four squatting women marking this tree as theirs. i am so happy i kiss everyone. we hang out for a bit, then start the long trek back home. i feel a warm glow seep through me as i realise the gift these women have given to me. by the time we get back we are all cold and tired. it is 9:30pm. i invite everyone back to my house for some hot chocolate and i dry their wet clothes in my dryer. after we have thawed out they put their dry clothes back on and head for their homes. i take a hot bath and go to bed.

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title: rocking/sucking
date: november 3rd, 4th and 5th, 1999
location: saint mary’s hospital center, sir mortimer b. davis jewish general hospital and montréal general hospital, montréal, québec
duration: 40 minutes each
supported by: public art as social intervention

the three interventions were unannounced (no time, date or location was given in advance) and no visual documentation was recorded on site. the work was presented orally at the conference on november 6th, 1999.

on the way home from saint mary’s hospital i stopped at the photo-booth in the metro and took these photos

rocking/sucking at saint mary’s
i enter saint mary’s hospital with my backpack containing the jar of honey. i go up to the fourth floor waiting room. i take off my back pack and sit on the floor. i assume a sitting position: feet together, legs bent, arms wrapped around knees and hands clasped together. i slowly shift my weight backwards until i surrender into the fall, into the rocking motion. i rock myself. i rock myself back and forth. i rock turning my body on its axis in a clockwise rotation. rotating twice, i stop, wait, lift myself to the standing position, retrieve my backpack and leave the building.

still on the hospital grounds i sit on a bench at the front entrance. i sit next to a man who is dressed all in white and smoking a cigarette. i take the honey-jar out of the backpack. i hold the jar in my hand. i open the lid and place it nearby. i raise my right hand and slowly submerge my fingers into the honey. i lift my honey-drenched fingers to my open mouth, close my lips around my fingers and suck. i suck and suck until all the honey is gone. i then slide my fingers through my lips and begin again. i repeat this gesture until half the honey in the jar is gone. then; i put the lid back on the jar, return the jar to my backpack, sling the backpack on my back and walk away.

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barbed wire, silk thread and white glue – sculptures for the body 1996/1997



title : les langues aux doigts/tongues into fingers
year : 1997
material : barbed wire, silk thread, white glue, ribbon
size : to fit the fingers

performed at: centre de diffusion à l’université du québec à montréal
sculpture photo by : paul litherlandperformance photo by : teofil valeriu ghetiu


title : barbed (burgundy)
year : 1996
material : barbed wire, silk thread, white glue, ribbon, needles
size : to fit the bust

photo by : paul litherland



title : barbed (cream)
year : 1996
material : barbed wire, silk thread, white glue, ribbon
size : to fit the bust

photo of sculpture by : paul litherland
photo of sculpture being worn by : cheryl cross



title : cacoon (1 & 2)
year : 1996
material : barbed wire, silk thread, white glue
size : to cover the body

photos by : paul litherland

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lecture d’irigaray/fécondité de la caresse/1998

photos: teofil valeriu ghetiu

spoken word performance from 1998.

arm sculpture made from barbed-wire, silk thread and glue.
a recital of irigaray’s text. performed in a gallery and a vacant lot.
duration 15 min.

(the text was approached as a collage, below is a portion of the memorized text)
avant que
l’oralité soit,
le tact est déjà.
le guardien
le plus subtilement
à ma vie étant
la chair de l’autre.
et me parlant
avec ses mains.
me carressant,
il ne me convie pas
à disparaitre
ni à oublier,
mais à me remémorer du lieu
où se réserve,
pour moi,
la plus secréte vie.
ce qui n’est pas encore,

pour lui,
il m’invite à devenir
ce que je ne suis pas encore devenue.
a accomplir une naissance
encore futur.
me replongeant
dans les entrailles maternelles
et, en deçà de cette conception,
à une autre naissance
– amoureuse.

irigary, luce, éthique de la différence sexuelle, les éditions de minuit, paris, 1984, pp.174-197.

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oil on canvas
144 x 144 cm.

fallopian tube
oil on canvas
144 x 144 cm.

rogier van der wyden /crop
oil on canvas
144 x 144 cm.

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title: evolutio
date: september 8 – october 8, 1995
location: artcite, windsor, ontario

Karen Spencer’s installation EVOLUTIO examines the artist’s use of the recorded image to create personal journals. Using the media as recording tools, the artist explores the demarcation of time and the inherent narrative of her own pregnancy. While her photographs almost clinically chronicle her nine months, a film loop of the artist speaking to the camera, talks about her relationship with the father of the child and the tone is altogether more intimate– more personal.

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