By Dayna Mahannah
Where: Culture Lab
When: March 19-39
Tickets: $28 – thecultch.com
“I think the practicality of the human body is funny.”
That’s Chloé Ziner, who, along with Jessica Gabriel, has unearthed an oft-forgotten aspect of appreciating the naked body as presented on a public stage: humour. Behold their award-winning show Multiple Organism.
“The female form is seen as this elusive, magical, beautiful, pure thing,” says Gabriel. “That’s not what’s going on in our show.”
The two performers make up the entirety of their shadow puppetry company, Mind of a Snail, which has produced numerous shows to high acclaim. The duo takes on a multitude of other projects, including collaborations, installations, and workshops.
Gabriel and Ziner bonded over a shared creative background when they met 16 years ago – Gabriel has a painting degree and Ziner spent years playing in punk bands in her hometown of Courtenay, BC. Later on, they honed their on-stage skills at Vancouver’s clowning school, Fantastic Space. Ziner explains the ethos of clowning as “being present, connecting with your audience and being fully authentic as a performer.” From this concoction of fine arts, music, and clowning emerged their current performance art: projection puppetry.
Their shows use overhead projectors to create a world with manipulated layers of scene and character, content and symbolism. But in Multiple Organism – for audiences 18+ – “we’re playing a little bit with some taboos,” admits Ziner. “In the live video portion, my mouth [is projected] onto Jessica’s nude torso and her boobs are the eyes.” The surrealist mix of puppetry and the zoetic along with the non-linear storytelling and form-play are perhaps why they describe the show as a “psychedelic dream” or “visual poem.”
This is not nudity for nudity’s sake, however. Multiple Organism is an incredibly personal and vulnerable concept derived from Ziner and Gabriel’s own lived experiences. Gabriel works as a life drawing model for a handful of art institutions and drawing groups around the Greater Vancouver area, which she’s done for the past 12 years.
“During the breaks I walk around the room and see all the different renditions of my body,” Gabriel shares. “It’s surreal! [Seeing] who drew pubic hair, or if they left my legs hairy… who drew my boobs super large when, in reality, I have small breasts.” The show draws on these visceral encounters with how her body is perceived by others and bounces between the public and the private, the latter of which is captured in a bathroom setting on stage.
“The magic of puppetry is projecting [animation] onto what are usually inanimate objects,” says Ziner. “We make assumptions about who those objects are based on how we perceive them.” This is not far from how humans interact, as illustrated in Gabriel’s experience as a life drawing model. Ziner and Gabriel’s combined puppet character asks questions about gender and the body, and how they are seen and not seen. “When we build a show we always look at the metaphor – why are we using puppetry for this?” Ziner continues. Multiple Organism uses projection literally and figuratively to explore how meaning is projected onto bodies, all while having a laugh.
The first run of this show couldn’t have been more timely. It ended two weeks prior to the Harvey Weinstein exposé in 2017 and the #MeToo wave that followed. A year and a half (and many awards) later, they continue to crush expectations about what nudity, the body, gender, and even puppetry entail. “Expectations are dangerous,” Gabriel says. “We’re trying to tickle [the audience].”
Ziner chimes in, “right in the diaphragm.”Culture Lab