Personal Appearance

{Exposure: Queer Arts & Culture Festival} Edmonton, AB | November 2009
{ANTI Contemporary Art Festival} Kuopio, Finland | September 2009           
{Leduc Main Street Festival} Leduc, Alberta | July 2009
{Assorted Appearances} Toronto, ON | May 2009
{Eastern Edge} St. John’s, NF | January 2009
{The New Gallery, for Mountain Standard Time} Calgary, AB | October 2008
{Mendel Art Gallery} Saskatoon, SK | September 2008
{Open Space} Victoria, BC | September 2008
{The Soap Factory} Minneapolis, MN | July 2008

Another straight dude copping a feel, Victoria Blues Fest 2008.

Personal Appearance – Performing Self Cindy Baker

In 2001, I built a Plexiglass Box on wheels. Back then, I wrote:

I have constructed a glass box in which the artist may view the world, immersed yet safely separate from society, as artists should be.  This glass box allows the artist to draw attention to herself yet allow her to completely ignore the world if she chooses. It gives her authority, anonymity, simultaneous exhibitionism and isolation.

In Canada, our art communities may be close, lush, and vibrant, but the greater part of the rest of the population is very removed from art.  Regional isolation affects us in that we are not only removed from bigger centres and other artists, but we are removed from contemporary art audiences.

The Plexiglass Box is a shark cage from which to record nature’s dangerous creatures, a bank teller’s cage, a germ-free zone, a portable popemobile – all implying a need to protect the person inside. It references the annoying mime in his glass box, entertaining all who will pay attention, Houdini’s ‘inescapable’ glass waterboxes, Penn and Teller’s clear magic tricks with which they literally shatter the illusion of the magic establishment, women’s “glass ceiling” (and walls), a metaphor as relevant in the art world as it is in business, simultaneously referencing Shawna Dempsey’s arborite housedress, an uncomfortable, confining, defining construction.  Is the artist inside a work of art, a scientist or examiner, an alien, a magician, mime, clown or other performer?  Is she perfect, pristine, a specimen, an example?

This glass box is a tool for intervention; in it, the artist visits gatheringplaces of isolated areas, places where, were she not inside her glass box she may be in grave danger.  Conversely, being in the box puts her in a very vulnerable position.  She will examine the masses in an attempt to understand them and she will put herself on display in an attempt to allow them to learn more about her own species.  She will not contaminate them nor allow herself to be contaminated by them, yet a mutual understanding of each others’ cultures shall be aspired to.  She will probe, entertain, study, expose herself to, and provide services to these people in malls, parks, and other public and private spaces.  She shall be at times a scientist, an alien, a woman, a magician, a work of art.

During the course of the project, I had the opportunity to take the Plexiglas box out all across the country.  More and more, because the box itself was so physical, so extravagant, so there and because it was so physically demanding, the box was very much about me and my body within it, much more than I could have predicted.  While out in the box, I was forced to remove layers of clothing, to mop the sweat from my body, to rest often, and dress my wounds. I was on display, but not necessarily for the enjoyment or entertainment of others, as I encountered fear and puzzlement as often as I encountered awe or curiosity.  For the most part, though, the people that I encountered refused to interact or even acknowledge my presence.

Partly because of how physical the project was and partly because of the fact that my body is so different, so socially taboo, whenever I perform the audience automatically reads into it a statement about my body. After the Plexiglass Box made its final trip, I moved on to my next performative project in this body of work.

Eponymously Yours

Owning a professional mascot costume of myself allows me to travel to communities across the country making personal appearances as Cindy Baker. In this project, my persona’s similarity to other cuddly and approachable characters functions to erase social barriers and encourage physical contact and play, as well as the building of emotional bonds; it therefore allows me further and more complex access to my project of studying people through allowing them to study me. This project functions similarly to the Plexiglass Box in that I still have the opportunity to watch the world from a safe emotional (if not physical) distance, but this time exaggerating and simplifying myself for ease of examination and scrutiny by the public.

Reasonable Facsimile

This is a project about performing oneself – about being sheltered yet vulnerable, plain yet larger-than-life, on display and yet invisible, immersed yet removed. It’s funny but creepy, in the same way that clowns are, but also in that no one can be certain that it’s me inside; (there is usually no hint of the person in the mascot costume; in this project it might be considered very important for the viewer to know if it is me, since it changes the meaning significantly if it is not me inside – but I will give them no clue.)

The idea of “performing self” is related to issues of gender construction and usually refers to expected gendered behaviour. While this project is not primarily about the performance of gender roles, it is about the performance of expectations based on one’s persona in any given situation.

How does one perform a caricature of themselves? The answer of course is that we do it every time we go out; we may be ourselves, but we are not only ourselves; we are representatives of ourselves, hyper-people. The more socializing we do, the more developed is this persona; more refined, more false in that we smooth out the edges, remove the anomalies.

But this persona-building informs the self and affects who the person is. How will I change after spending days surrounded by people, people I might know well, but in complete silence; a spectacle ignored?

Instead of being ‘just me’ as I was in the Plexiglass Box, this is “hyper-me” while being not me at all. This is the pinnacle of performing self, because nothing about the performance is ACTUALLY me; it all merely resembles me.

By becoming a caricature, I am automatically more loveable, fun, approachable and literally larger than life.

By becoming a caricature of Cindy Baker, I nurture the myth of the character of that person/persona that is constantly examined and toyed with through my own practise. (In LOVE CINDY BAKER STOP, I dealt with the difficulty of leaving home by creating a false persona over a period of years through telegrams sent to art events in Edmonton, severing ties while building a mythology by constructing a memory of myself as pompous yet successful.)

By becoming Cindy Baker, I discover and unpack what makes me me – or, more accurately, what makes me appear to be me.

So, while I’m performing a character that is recognizably me (in what I look like, what I do, where I go, how I act), it’s also recognizably a mascot that conforms to the role of a mascot (in what it looks like, the way it moves and communicates).

Since my performances always make a statement about my body, whether I intend it or not, through this performance, I simultaneously play into that notion (through the presence of my exaggerated and caricaturized body), and refute it (by hiding my actual body for the duration of the performance.)

Hot in Here

The last few years have seen a rash of fatsuit performances on TV and in the movies. It has been suggested that fatness is the final political correctness frontier – the one ‘ism’ that remains largely unrecognized by the mainstream. These portrayals of falsified fatness, such as the fat Gwenyth Paltrow in Shallow Hal or the more recent Eddie Murphy as the title character AND his fat girlfriend in Norbit, prove that the very idea of fatness can still elicit a laugh. This performance allows me to be the fat girl in the fatsuit; my attempt at understanding what it must be like to be able to take off the fatsuit at the end of the day, like all the crying daytime talkshow hosts after their social and ratings-grabbing experiments into the world of fatness. (In another performance examining society’s body ideals, Aesthetics, I had every hair on my body removed, highlighting the arbitrary and ever-changing nature of these supposed beauty standards.)

In my mascot costume, I go places Cindy Baker would go, do things Cindy Baker would do, in an attempt to gather Cindy Baker experiences and develop Cindy Baker habits, through interacting with those who know Cindy Baker best, at professional gatherings, social events, work. And I take the show on the road, continuing to do typically Cindy Baker-like things, but around those who know me only superficially or not at all.

What Not to Wear

With an assortment of clothing, Cindy Baker is like a Giantess Barbie – interchangeable personas with each new uniform. Look, it’s Conference Cindy, in her thoughtfully kooky yet vaguely professional outfit. Oh, it’s Weekend Cindy, in that mumu that goes from bedroom to garden to grocery store, and then out bowling! Now it’s Performance Artist Cindy in another impossible to peg ensemble that helps define her as an artist whose work addresses relevant social concerns and as a fun-loving person with a devil-may-care attitude!

Performance Art presenter FADO gave me the chance to examine how others want me to be in the performance Fashion Plate presented at the Drake Hotel in Toronto. Over a period of two weeks, the audience was invited to design and help create clothing for me (but more importantly, to look at me, literally ‘size me up,’ and think of me as a fashionable being). This performance furthered examinations begun with the Plexiglass Box by challenging the public to actively look at and think about a large woman’s body.

By having this costume professionally made, before the performance even started I had the opportunity to see how others characterize me, how my physical features are exaggerated in an attempt to create a caricature of me – and how I responded.  This process gave me an invaluable opportunity to describe myself to professional character-builders, ask them to interpret how they see me, and negotiate with them to achieve what we both believe is a reasonable facsimile.

Dissemination

Because the mascot, my chosen mode for this performance, is typically used as a tool for promotion, this project functions doubly (and ironically) as public relations and actual performance. I walk a thin line between being as truly myself as I can, and following standard guidelines of successful and appropriate mascot behaviour.

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Participating in Regin Igloria's Puijo Hill 3-Day performative marathon during ANTIfest in Finland. That's Vincent Chevalier and his red carpet behind me.

Dancing at Victoria's Blues Fest 2008

Signing autographs and handing out swag at the first Personal Appearance event, at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis for Artery 24 2008.

Participating in The Movement Movement's marathon through the Glenbow during Calgary's Mountain Standard Time 2008.

Attending the opening of Suzanne Swannie's retrospective at The Rooms, St John's (presented by Eastern Edge).

Taking a break from shopping at the mall in St. John's with Eastern Edge's own Mary McDonald.

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Applying for a library card at Siilinjarvi Public Library.

Celebrating Eastern Edge's 25th Anniversary with EE Director Michelle Bush! (Jennifer Barett's art in the background.)

Admiring Justin Markussen-Brown's new t-shirt at Eastern Edge! (Jennifer Barrett's art in the background!)

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Sharing an intimate moment with my new boyfriend Thor! (He's the mascot of Waterloo Collegiate Institute!)

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Exiting the changeroom at the Marimekko store in Kuopio (nothing fit!)

Life drawing at the Artery in Edmonton during Exposure 2009

Life drawing at the Artery in Edmonton during Exposure 2009. I'm modeling semi-nude with tranny porn star Buck Angel