learning platform at rmooc.ca

Gei Shagyrl: Commemoration

Originally blogged at artistic-inquiry.ca

Oppenheimer Park, downtown eastside, Vancouver. Uncharacteristic bright sunshine, and warm, middle of Februrary. Around the perimeter of the park are 88 red balloons, weighted to the ground and tied off with bright red envelopes.This is in the middle of Chinese New Year, the year of the snake. It is the day after the Memorial march for the missing and murdered women. This is in the heart of what used to be the hub of Japanese Canadian community before internment. Many moments, many histories, colliding and colluding.

From the northeast end of the park, across the road on Powell Street, music begins to play. It is slow, moving, and haunting, an arrangement called Kîkinaw by Métis singer and songwriter Cheryl L’Hirondelle. There is also slow movement from that corner, a woman in full Geisha regalia. To the time of the music she moves westward along the brightly coloured shopfronts of Powell. She touches the walls, feels the history, looks around with wariness, curiousity, wonder. The collected assembly in the park, if they notice her at all, see a woman on her own, living her life within her own frame. She carries the music with her, cradled in her arm and bundled in fabric. As she reaches the end of the block, this woman, Gei Shagryl, looks down Powell for traffic, and when it’s clear, crosses with slow deliberation, enters Oppenheimer. The music plays on and takes her to the centre of the park where she stands, surveys the scenario, a tableau of balloons swaying in breeze, people in conversation, birds on the wing. She watches. She listens.

Gei Shagyrl withdraws something from the recesses of her garments, a pair of scissors, and then she approaches a solitary balloon. The music changes. Its metric is now stacatto and vibrant, charged with Japanese history and drumbeat. Dancing through and to the music, she reaches out to clip the thread that tethers the red balloon to the ground. With one gesture, she releases it skyward, and it climbs and climbs into deep blueness, crossing the sun, flying ever higher until it’s but a pinprick of red that glides into invisibility. Quickly now, with excitement and rhythm, she dances from one balloon to the other, releasing each to the growing approval of the crowd. Even the seagulls sing their pleasure. Red spheres begin to glow in the sky as Gei Shagryl dances around the park, dances and swirls and flashes cutting blades that keep freeing more balloons into the sky.

When it is over, the sky is covered with red, the ground littered with envelopes. Those lucky enough to find a red envelope open it to find a slip of paper and a copper washer. Copper has always held deep symbolic value for Aboriginal peoples of the region, used in ceremony, and even only days before used as an act of deep resistance. And on the slip of paper, neatly printed on one side, the words: “Idle No More,” and on the other, this phrase translated into Japanese.

Gei Shagryl’s performance, “Commemoration,” is, like so many similar acts, a work in progress. It attempts to bring various elements into dialogue, to challenge our assumptions about ourselves, our communities, and our collaborations. But rather than set a series of principles down in doctrinaire fashion, to articulate with a particular rationalist discourse, this performance allows bodies to experience something that is as beautiful as it is daunting. We all walk away from the park, from the performance, back to our various lives, but we all walk away somehow affected, changed, carrying with us a reflection and perhaps a vision of something that might be, as red balloons disappear into a bright blue day.


Kîkinaw ~ Words & music by Cheryl L’Hirondelle ~ Published by Miyohtâkwan Music ~ From Giveaway EP & part of nikamon ohci askiy / vancouversonglines.ca

Sprouting (Moyuru) ~ Yoshida Brothers ~ From the album “Yoshida  Brothers” (2003) ~ Sony Music Records

This post was written by Ashok

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.