7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art, 2008, Toronto
Nuit Blanche, part of SAVAC, Ghost Stories, 2009, Toronto
CICAC, Thompson Rivers University, 2010, Kamloops, BC
Photography by Maya Ersan
(From 7a*11d blog, written by Elaine Wong)
The third day of the festival was characterized by performances that transformed a range of spaces.
Simla Civelek created within the back space of the Free Gallery a tiny world unto herself -- a small wooden box draped in black cloth. Civelek prefaced her performance with a placard stating "I am a Muslim woman. It is my choice to enter the black box. You are welcome to come in and know me."
One of the box's walls bears a small slit at eye-level, an image that immediately conjures up the metaphor of a burqa, but also reminds me of the mail slot on a door, an observation made more potent as pieces of paper are slipped through the slot and flutter to the floor in small, persistent attempts to communicate to the outside world.
Issues (and perhaps the fallacy) of choice are highlighted. Onto the walls of the box are projected a poem that highlights Civelek's lack of choice -- "language has left me" and "long gone are the days i picked every sound word voice." Yet those who enter the box are given a Test, asked to choose from multiple interactions in different languages that will structure the action to happen. Who then is in control?
A little bit of guilt filled me as I circled my choice -- I am one of the people who are limiting her, choosing for her "what emotion, what idea, what address" she should use. She recited for me her poem in Turkish, eyes closed, mouth shaping the words, but clearly uneasy.
Civelek shared with me an interesting piece of information: at first the box was a familiar thing to her. It was her box, her life. But after the six hours spent inside its warm confines, it became somewhat alien, oppressive -- she could not think, she could not react. By the time I had entered her box, she was no longer in control. She told me that entering the box was her choice, but what happens afterwards, once she lets people in, is a third entity that exists outside both the bodies within the box. That which she controlled in turn begins to controls her.
And yet, in contrast all this, was the interaction of a small child who knew Civelek (her Auntie) was in the box. The box was irrelevant, the concealing cloth was a simple barrier, the social and cultural implications were meaningless; the identity of the woman inside the box was immutable to the child. Upon waving goodbye, the child's mother murmured "look, Auntie is smiling with her eyes" -- the only parts of Civelek that could be seen from outside the box. That statement alone is more poignant that anything I could write.