Fillip 8 — Fall 2008

Art about Life Is Better than Art about Art
Emily Vey Duke

In the summer of 2005, writer, theatre director, and filmmaker Jacob Wren and I engaged in an experiment. For a period of several months, we would set times during which we would attempt to communicate telepathically. One of us would try to send, the other would try to receive.

It was, as most of my experiments with the world behind the veil have been, a spectacular failure. Sometimes the receiver reported having felt a certain energy very strongly only to learn that such an energy bore no similarity whatsoever to that which the sender was directing outward. At one point we became confused and discovered that we had both been trying to catch and no one was pitching, so to speak. Other times we found tiny areas of overlap only to see them dissolve on closer inspection:

“Mauve? You sent mauve? Because I was totally seeing a sort of reddish purple! Wow, that’s amazing!”

“No, sorry—taupe. I said I was sending taupe.”


“Yeah, taupe....”

“Hmmm. Well, was it a sort of purpley taupe?”

In 2007, Wren published a conceptually ambitious little book called Families Are Formed Through Copulation. Split into four parts, Wren’s book engages a range of ideas, including but not limited to child-bearing and rearing, love, mental illness, American foreign policy, and taste. Upon reading Families Are Formed Through Copulation, I wondered if perhaps Wren and I could’ve inadvertently thrown some paranormal breaker during our 2005 experiments—like the ones that got thrown in The Shaggy Dog or Freaky Friday—or if we could’ve opened up a line for the transmission of psychic data much better than the one we intended to open with our crude attempts at sending colours and simple phrases.

Families Are Formed Through Copulation comprises a series of monologues and dialogues that are acerbic, lachrymose, haunted. The first one, performed around the world in 2005, is called “Yes, of course it’s true we become our parents, but with differences. We cannot choose not to become our parents but perhaps we can choose what those differences might be.” It’s the most resolved part of the work in terms of voice and theme. It left me feeling that I understood both who was speaking to me and why. As a whole, Wren’s book posits pathology as a form of political radicalism. It is optimistic insofar as it makes a certain type of reader—one who is similarly acerbic, lachrymose, and haunted to the narrator/subject/author of the book—feel not alone. I am that type of reader.

Who cares about the relationship between contemporary visual art and contemporary theatre? Hardly anyone, and most people who do care probably live in Northern Europe, where life is easy enough to leave citizens with plenty of time to worry about things that have only very minor repercussions. People do care about family, insanity, and the bloody clusterfuck we call American foreign policy. Lots of people in lots of places. Me, for instance. Wren, too. Also the people descended from those slaughtered in Panama when Bush 1.0 invaded to smoke Noriega out of his hole.

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About the Author

Emily Vey Duke has worked in collaboration with her partner, Cooper Battersby, since 1994. They work in printed matter, sculpture, new media, curation, sound, and primarily single-channel video. Their work has been exhibited in galleries and at festivals in North and South America, Asia, and throughout Europe. Duke has previously worked as artistic director at the Khyber Centre for the Arts in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is currently the program coordinator for the new Transmedia Program at Syracuse University. Duke and Battersby are represented by Jessica Bradley Art and Projects, Toronto.

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