Bridget Moser Performs Her Mind For You

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Bridget Moser

Bridget Moser at Banff Centre. Photo by Brittany Lucas.

Bridget Moser is a video and performance artist “whose work is suspended between prop comedy, experimental theatre, performance art, absurd literature, existential anxiety and intuitive dance.” Her work can be funny, alarming, and uncomfortable all at once. In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award representing Ontario, and her work has been featured in places like the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The summer of 2018 she was guest faculty for the Visual Arts program, Emerging Banff Artists in Residence. We caught up with her to talk about the role of the body in her work, using pop culture as an in-road to larger ideas, and what draws her to all the many objects—plungers, feather dusters, blow dryers, and more—featured in her pieces. 

 

So do you have to rent a hundred storage spaces for all your objects, or what?

That’s the current conundrum—what to do, when to know to let go of some things. Because I do have some things that I know I will not use again, but I just love them. I have this really stupid fibre optic topiary shrub. It was for one really specific performance for a specific exhibition, it’s never going to be used again. But when I got it, I didn’t see it turned on in the store. And then I came home, plugged it in and turned it on and just started crying because it was very tacky but very beautiful. 

And because of the nature of how some of my work was made, I have a lot of pretty small props, like a plunger or a bath mat, that fit into a suitcase really easily. Those are performances that get repeated a lot, so some of those things are going to stay. 

You’ve made moving so much harder on yourself.

Super emotional! 

Not exactly the Marie Kondo method. 

My partner just read that book and he’s really excited to get rid of all this stuff and I’m just like, “Everything gives me great pleasure—everything I own!”

So what are some of the qualities that draw you to an object initially?

It’s kind of intangible in some ways, I guess. I remember seeing those bathmats in a store and not knowing what they would be for, or having any sense of purpose for them, but just knowing there was something kind of weird or special about them—that they were weird but also very commonplace. And then, the plunger came from necessity. I wanted to do something with only one object and I wanted it to be pretty basic, to see how much I can get out of a single very simple thing. 

"[Some performances] walk a finer line between, is it funny, is it not funny, does it make you uncomfortable and is that why some people kind of laugh at it?"

I read an interview with you that said performance art is a way for you to make work that matches the way your mind works. How does your mind work? 

I think this is something that I run into when I try to explain what it is that I do. It’s like, well here’s about 40 different ideas that are happening all at once and I can’t yet articulate what all the connections are. I think of everything as having associative kinds of connections, where, just by virtue of experiencing these different pieces in a certain order your brain kind of naturally starts to draw out comparisons or conflicts, and that way you’re automatically deriving meaning from it.

And so what is very nice to me about performance is it lets me bring in text through speaking, and movement with my body, and then a visual element with these objects and aesthetic choices—and all of those things are happening at the same time.

You used to study painting, and a lot of your videos feel almost like a living painting because there’s so much texture, so much colour, and gesture, and objects that have this meaning imbued in them. What goes into creating the visual landscape of your performances?

I guess still trying to think about things in the same sort of way. Understanding that it’s still a visual medium in spite of all the other things that are happening. Trying to create this one little bubble or world that a visual sensibility plays into how all those things are read, too.

So much of your art relies on an audience directly reacting to it, but to your face. Does the audience’s reaction ever alter your performance? 

I think probably. Less so now, but it probably made me hammier at certain times. Or if I feel like people aren’t listening or paying attention maybe that’s a more stoic affect. 

If you don’t need your intention to be legible to the audience, do you still have inside of you a hope that they’ll laugh?

Oh yeah, in a very human way. And there are certain cases where I’m like, this is obviously funny, so I would love that reassurance. But then some other things I feel kind of walk a finer line between, is it funny, is it not funny, does it make you uncomfortable and is that why some people kind of laugh at it?

There can be an attitude of self-seriousness surrounding performance art. What do you like about the playfulness of your pieces?

To preface this answer, it should be said that there are a lot of people who make really hard, really serious performance works and the nature of the content they’re talking about requires that level of difficulty, and it’s very effective at addressing some really hard conceptual territory. But given that that already exists, I feel like there’s also room for a type of performance that maybe gives an audience that’s less familiar with art or performance some kind of pleasurable thing to hold onto to go into a different conceptual territory.

That’s important to me too, that people feel like there’s something in it for them so that we can get into these bigger ideas. That they’ll feel like it’s worthwhile to come on that journey. And so for some people I think that’s like the pleasure of laughing and jokes, and for some people that’s the pleasure of catharsis and emotion. 

There’s so much to unpack in your piece Every Room is a Waiting Room—I was laughing so much at the LayBag when you’re trying to fill it up. It was just such a nice cultural touchstone, along with everything being in the Pantone colours of the year—very Millennial anxiety. It was all funny but also kind of heavy. It was very relatable.

Let’s talk a bit about the role of the body in your work, because you’re so physical with everything you do. Even the way you sit in chairs in some of your performances makes me so uncomfortable. It’s almost like your body is a separate character. 

It’s probably amplified in some ways, but it’s kind of like a re-creation of how I feel about my body, or assumptions that I have about my own body and what it does, and what it’s like, and the way it moves. That’s actually quite closely tied to my perception. And I think, “maybe you should be ‘technically better’ at moving. Maybe you should work on getting really good at these kinds of things.”

But to me, I do kind of like this disconnect that happens between attempting to do something and how my body translates that kind of intended movement through its unskilled abilities. That just feels true to me in some way. 

I want to talk about pop culture. I think that’s such a fun way to bring people into an unfamiliar territory. 

I should have included that in the list of things that help people stick with something. They get it, or they know this reference. “I’m not stupid,” which I think some people feel like when they watch performance, like “oh, I don’t get it.” I want people to feel like they get it. 

How do you find that pop culture creates inroads for people? Do you find people can be blocked off until you allow them that familiar moment? 

I wonder. I don’t know. I think it helps, certainly. It’s a whole other world of “meaning,” for lack of a better word, that’s already loaded with all of these associations. It’s a very easy shorthand. 

Let’s talk a bit about the role of sound in your work because you edit all your sound into one file and then perform to it, which sounds stressful to me! 

That came out of the need to do that. I knew something that was important to me was that things would change pretty rapidly, kind of without warning, and I didn’t want someone else to have to learn those changes. Because I’m a control freak, thinking about someone else having to do these things, versus just a really reliable set time makes me feel more comfortable. 

When you’re workshopping pieces do you ever do it in front of an audience?

Performances I almost never show to anybody, and the only time that they kind of ever get seen beforehand would be at like a tech rehearsal. And even then, it’s way too late to change anything! Part of it is awful. And then there’s also part of it that keeps it feeling very exciting, too. 

"I want people to feel like they get it."

You came to a comedy residency here in 2012 and I read that you said, “that’s where I finally figured it all out.” So I was wondering what clicked during the residency for you?

Before then, I wasn’t doing performance at all. Having to do performance—starting to think about how that would let me work with my own mind—was helpful. But I think Michael Portnoy, who lead that residency, was just also a very good teacher and I remember having a studio visit with him where he was sort of like, “Well, what would happen if you just did everything you wanted to do in a performance and don’t worry about editing before you did it? Have you thought about what that would look like?”

It had not occurred to me I could just do everything I wanted to do, which is so strange. So I guess in some ways, just having permission to try that helped me figure a lot of things out. 

And now you’re back as faculty! What have you been helping the artists with while you’re here?

I just really like talking to people about what makes them make the decisions that they make when they make work. And I think what’s really nice is there aren’t very many people here who are really working in performance. So having these kinds of discussions about why we make the choices we do, what information we make available to an audience, why we do that, and what a struggle that is. 

Finally, what are you obsessed with right now. 

Dr. Phil, 2003-Present. 

What’s your favourite episode?

I’d sooner choose a favourite star in the sky.