Compulsory Figure: in conversation with Jordyn Stewart

Thursday, March 23, 2017




We meet Beamsville Ontario-bred artist, Jordyn Stewart, at a point where her creative output extensively involves action making with the audience of a recording camera. A lot of these performative activities are both parts instinctive and measured inquisitive responsiveness to her early memories—memories of the physical natural environs she was situated in, memories of home, memories of winter activities, the familiar, the domestic etc. What arises from these enquiries are often peripherally absurd gestures like mixing found disparate land rubble in a mechanic blender or walking on gathered pieces of rocks or plotting a personal skating rink the size of her height to perform a skating routine. However, what in effect surfaces from all these enactments are several questions including the slippery nature of ownership, property, land possession and displacement through land intervention. Our conversation with Stewart surrounds her developing performance centered practice among other talking points. Read the record of our chat below.  




Where are you originally from?


I’m from the Niagara Region, in a small town called Beamsville, nestled in between Niagara Falls and Hamilton. It’s pretty rural there, lots of vineyards and hiking trails. I was living in the Mississauga/Oakville area throughout my undergrad, then lived in Toronto for a summer, now I’m living back at home.


The distance between your home and the city?


If you are driving it’s about an hour and a half to get into Toronto, depending on traffic. But I often take the GO Train. I drive half an hour or so to the train, then take an hour train ride in. It’s not too bad, good time to nap. Hamilton is a great city to visit too, it isn’t too far from my house, and with their growing artist community, it’s a good place to be.


What is like being back home after being away from it in terms of someone that now independently creates work?


It a little different. It’s hard not being constantly surrounded by artists, Which is why I have been participating in residencies. There isn’t much of an art community in Beamsville, but I try my best to make it out to events in the city. Although I have to put a little more effort into getting out to art related events, it’s worth it because my practice is heavily influenced by nostalgic memories from my hometown. So being back here is pretty inspiring.


When I first moved to Oakville/Mississauga for my undergrad, it was a pretty exciting transition. Coming from a small town, with no transit, and like, 2 stop lights; I began looking at this new urban landscape and explored different spaces within it. More specifically, park spaces and how they are utilized in urban environments. So now that i’m back home, I like to think of this time as a mini-independent residency, taking the research I gained from being the city, and applying that to my upcoming projects.


Do you typically approach your work by researching ideas that interest you and see what you can discover or do jump into the making and see comes out that?


I definitely jump into work more intuitively, often inspired by curiosities and fascinations I had as a child, I revisit that in my performances today. My work has become more of a performance and action-based practice so if there’s material or space that I want to explore I get right in there a follow that instinct. I typically film what I do; either manipulating a material I come across or executing an action. I’m currently working on an in-progress piece where I collected a bunch of caterpillars from a hike I went on, and I let them crawl all over my body to see what happens. I also put a mass of caterpillars on a milkweed leaf to see how they will interact with it and each other. I was hoping they would chow down on the luscious leaf, but then ended up squirming away. That became a very long exploration of me taking the bugs and interacting with them.


So essentially that’s an example of what I do, I just jump into an idea and later see if something comes out of that. I usually revisit interactions like the bug work often with a conceptual purpose. Sometimes the work ends up being unfinished but I always like to try and see where things will take me. And that doesn’t necessarily mean it will always culminate into with a substantial piece.


How did you discover performance as a way you could work through your ideas?


Until about maybe three years ago, I was having trouble expressing my ideas through other mediums. I took a video, sound and performance class and it really inspired to me to execute my ideas in a completely different way. It was the first time I got introduced to the idea of using your body to make the work, and performance as a medium. With that exposure, I started using the camera in a different way; I started carrying out different activities and documenting them through a lens.


Pulse, Off, Dispense, Smoothie, Milkshake, Icy Drink, HD Video Still, 2 minutes 30 seconds, 2014



In one of my earliest performances, I went out onto a beach and brought a household blender with me. I filmed myself with the blender in front of me, Almost like a cooking show or instructional video. I went into the surrounding landscape and picked out different objects like leaves, rocks, sticks, and pinecones and blended them together in front of the camera. After blending several, almost, indestructible organic materials, the blender still works! I was interested in taking that domestic, man-made object and bringing it out into the natural landscape, and critiquing humans impact on the environment. It was interesting because after I had executed the performance, I had an allergic reaction to the materials I was blending, so it was almost like nature was biting back! That piece was really the trajectory of my performance for video work, and that helped me become more comfortable with how I express myself and my ideas. From then on I began documenting my futile interactions within the environment to see what might come out of it.


What's your relationship between the land and the environment when you are situated at a place like your hometown and a built up place like the city?


It’s nice to explore both spaces, transitioning from one to the other really puts things into perspective and helps you appreciate the peace and quiet qualities a small town holds, while also appreciating the dynamic city life, that you just don’t get when living in a small town.

When I was in Toronto I was interested in green spaces, and how they exist in an urban environment, the thing is, there really aren’t as many as their should be a big city. And in the summer months, on a nice day in the city, the parks are packed! I began researching the different parks on google maps, and it turns out people in the city have been rating each of the parks. People review these green spaces, commenting on their atmosphere, grass, trees and wildlife. “Great Park, very nice tree.” I find these reviews so humourous. In my hometown, there's an abundance of park spaces to spend a day at, to go and relax, and none of them have any reviews. In the city people make it an event and congregate to these green spaces, it’s almost more of a social thing, it was very interesting to me how the so called ‘natural’ spaces are interacted with in the city.



43° 8' 46" N 79° 28' 38" W, HD Video Still, 48 minutes, 2014



On 43° 8' 46" N 79° 28' 38" W (The collected rocks from Niagara escarpment):


My hometown sits on the Niagara Escarpment, so I spent a lot of time with my family, hiking, building forts, and exploring that environment. The escarpment is a large rock facade. Similar to a mountain but, smaller scale really; it was a seabed at one point. I decided to take four rocks from a familiar site along the escarpment, and use these rocks as though they were stepping stones beneath my feet. The rocks act as a removal from the location I’m in, and bring me back to my familiar home town. This work is ongoing, but is currently 48 minutes long and consists of 10 videos, that range from 2-10 minutes in length. So throughout the video I move across the picture plane, I pick the rocks up, and set them down as a way of getting from one point to the other. I’ve become even more familiar with these rocks over time, and you can see while watching the piece, I’m more unstable in the earlier videos, but as I learn the best way to interact with each rock my transition becomes smoother, almost like a choreographed dance.





Can you tell me about your collection of roller skates?


I started collecting them while in Windsor, in preparation for practicing some my skating moves, in the unsuitable summer figure skating conditions here while on residency…They link to a current body of work i’m developing right now.

When I was younger my family and I used to skate on ponds we found along the escarpment. We would make an event of it, we’d trek along the vineyard, find the perfect frozen pond, grabbed a shovel, put our skates on, and spent the day skating. My cousin and I used to make up skating routines to show our family, although we had only taken a few lessons in the past, we were the best figure skaters out there. So I decided to revisit this moment in one of my most recent works titled Compulsory Figure




For this work I head out into the landscape in my home town, in search of untouched icy surfaces to perform upon. Once I find a location, I shovel my own personal rink, 33 sq. ft., the dimensions of my height, skate a small routine, and then leave it to exist in the landscape. I am interested in the performativity of figure skating, as well as ice as a naturally occurring material and performance space.

Throughout the duration of this work I assume the role of a figure skater, I dress in full skating attire, and with a shovel in hand I persistently seek out my next location. I’m interested in figure skating culture and critiquing the hyperfemininity of the traditional  uniform.

I think it’s important to note that I was never been trained as a skater, I took maybe one lesson growing up. I now watch skating videos on YouTube and reinterpret professional skating techniques within my practice.



Compulsory Figure, 2-Channel Video, 5 minutes 30 seconds, 2016



What do you think the significance of the actions and activities you are making are?


I'm really interested in boundaries and land ownership. I’m also curious about ice as a naturally occurring material and how it functions as a performance space for recreational winter activities. When water freezes and becomes ice, does it become land? Can you own ice? When I shovel my rink on ponds does this space become mine, even if the pond is on someone else's property? Who decides where a property begins and ends? These are some questions I’m working through in my practice right now.

I’m also investigating ice as a performance space. I find it interesting that figure skaters typically show up to perform or practice and then leave. I can't speak for every skater but they typically don't shovel or zamboni their own performance space. I’ve decided to address that in my recent body of work, more specifically a recent installation piece called Public Ice, a small 33 sq. ft. public ice rink where I maintain my own personal ice rink as a figure skater. I’m interested in the narrative that emerges from the absurd displacement through land interventions.




You put up your skating uniform on Kijiji after using it?


Yes, that piece accompanies Compulsory Figure, The Kijiji screenshot is an online advertisement of my figure skating uniform I performed in last season. I wanted to return it back to the figure skating community and continue it’s life as a performing garment. The Advertisement notes the history of the dress while in my possession, a description, times worn, and the physical state of the dress, listing all of  the rips, tears, and stains. 


Can you talk about what got interested in your Trails project, and the discoveries you made through your research?


The piece Trails is an ongoing series of paths that are integrated in urban environments. Throughout my childhood I spent a lot of time exploring the Niagara Escarpment, which is home to the Bruce Trail (Canada’s longest and oldest footpath). I was interested in creating extensions of the path that moves through interrupted natural environments, and I install the trail blazes on urban structures, rather than trees. It’s a fun project, it almost feels a bit like vandalizing while i’m spray painting on electrical boxes, garbage cans, buildings etc. However, the paint is chalk paint which will disappear after 30 rainfalls. The directions for each trail and the starting coordinates can be accessed on my website. 


Can you tell me something you are currently curious about?


[ponders] right now I’m pretty fascinated with Agricultural bird control products. Which do not physically hard a bird but are basically a variety of bird deterrents that incorporate different bird scare stimulae, such as distress calls and electronic sounds in a random pattern so the birds cannot become accustomed to their habitat. Not only do that have audio-based but also visual products that take the form of kites and balloons. These are very prominent in my hometown and I am interested in investigating them.


What is an early memory of making anything that you can look back on now and consider creative?


An early memory for me is playing games with my friends in grade school at recess and having the ability to imagine anything, regardless of our resources. When you’re a child you have such a vast imagination and I think that is one of the earliest forms of creativity.


Who would you consider creative in your family?


My Grandmother, Corrine, or Granny, Such a beautiful woman, she can literally sew anything she puts her mind to. She is the reason my Mother her siblings have such an interest in using their hands. They may not all be directly in the Arts, but they are all creatives.

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