The current exhibition at the Blackwood Gallery is titled The Cage is a Stage: A Project in Five Parts, presented by Southern California-based artist, Emily Mast. Aside from art, Mast is interested in anthropology, with a focus on primates. She studies the interactions between humans and animals, particularly the behaviours that arise from animals in captivity. Mast created and performed in The Cage is a Stage alongside Heyward Bracey, Kiara Gamboa, Garrett Hallman, Angelina Prendergast, and Joe Seely.
The Cage is a Stage is a five-part performative project that debuted at the Blackwood Gallery on June 25 and at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre on June 29. It continues as an exhibition curated at the Blackwood Gallery and UTM’s e|gallery by Christine Shaw and Julia Paoli.
Each part of the exhibition is interconnected. As visitors move through the sections, the performative art progresses as a chronological story. Ideas from this project are based on the 1977 essay by John Berger, “Why Look at Animals,” in which he compares zoos to art galleries. In Mast’s exhibition, primates are the artistic platform that appeal to the audience’s genetic similarities.
What defines a human being? How are humans different from animals? Why do we feel a sense of authority over animals? These are some of the questions Mast asks. The Cage is a Stage offers a platform in which these questions can be answered.
Part 1: PROOF. Apes gibber and objects fall. The noise grows louder as I near a cardboard wall. Standing in the dark is a tall, wide box. I step around it and open a door, moving into a makeshift cage of animal sounds and video recordings.
As I stand in the middle of the cardboard box, four different videos play on each wall. On one wall, there are people costumed as bright pink apes, crawling and jumping around a room. Cardboard rectangles are strewn across the floor, along with pink medicine balls and pink rocks. Curtains painted to resemble leaves hang in the background. On another wall, a child is dressed as a tree. He stands and watches the apes closely. The third wall shows continual camera movements, and the fourth displays the ending, where the actors remove their masks and reveal their faces as they sit on cardboard chairs.
Part 2: BLEED. The walls of the e|gallery are bright pink as I enter and stand before a wall of poetic writing. The music intensifies and softens, back and forth. The actors in the room pluck cardboard pieces off the floor and drag them to different areas of the gallery. The speed of their movements follow the tempo of the music.
Throughout the performance, the actors change positions and speeds constantly, all while holding the cardboard pieces. Audience members are encouraged to participate.
Part 3: FLEURON. The billboard outside of the Davis Building advertises The Cage is a Stage. I wonder what’s happening in the photo and how I’m meant to feel. The image shows four figures, two male and two female. Two of them hold pieces of cardboard to their faces, blocking their features. One figure stretches their arms outward and looks down. The last figure is bent over. Each person moves in the same direction, to the right. The word “TOP” is written on one of the cardboard pieces. Three figures wear light pink shirts and the fourth wears a gold one. Mast describes this image as an “emblem for the entire project.”
Mast’s exhibition is inspiring, as it compels the audience to appreciate the emotions of primates and consider the bond between humans and animals.
Part 4: BLOCK. This particular performance was presented at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre at the Power Plant on June 29 and 30.
Part 5: Physical Publication. The fifth piece in Mast’s project is a short booklet comprised of quotes, excerpts, and images from various articles of literature pertaining to zoology, anthropology, and biology. Each chapter of Mast’s booklet focuses on interaction, sexuality, bodily functions, animosity, evolution, and the comparison of the human species to animals. Mast completed a tremendous amount of research and investigation to unravel the mystery behind “emotional expression in animals.”
The Cage is a Stage runs until September 18 at the Blackwood Gallery.