Bruno Bobak Artist Residency
Beaverbrook Art Gallery
Fredericton, New Brunswick

RITES was a series of ephemeral, improvised, and experimental artworks staged within the Beaverbrook Art Gallery‘s permanent collection exhibition during my residency there, July 23-29, 2018. These performances, installations, and interventions were designed to pose questions about the experience of looking at art, particularly in the museum setting. This page is a digital archive of the project. Thank you for visiting!


I. Declarative Rites

Declare: (1a): to make known formally, officially, or explicitly (1b): to make known as a determination (2) obsolete: to make clear (3): to make evident : show (4) to state emphatically : affirm

Materials: wet-erase marker, pane of glass
Method: write a single phrase backwards on pane of glass so that it can be read from the opposite side; follow impulses and observe how the phrase changes
Patron Saint: Christine Herzer, a writer and visual artist who works with language
Questions: What does repetition teach? What does repetition connote? Does repetition deepen or undermine words’ meaning?

07.23: ART IS MADE

II. Custodial Rites

Custodian: one that guards and protects or maintains; especially : one entrusted with guarding and keeping property or records or with custody or guardianship of prisoners or inmates

Materials: found objects, white vinegar, paper towel, old toothbrush
Method: perform cleaning and maintenance in the Gallery
Patron Saint: Mierle Laderman Ukeles, creator of “Maintenance Art”
Questions: How much must an artist change an object to transform it into art? How is an artist’s touch different from another person’s? What performances are worth watching? Whose work is “creative” and whose is “unskilled”?

07.24: Unfinished Maintenance

III. Trickster Rites

Trickster: one who tricks: such as (a) a dishonest person who defrauds others by trickery (b) a person (such as a stage magician) skilled in the use of tricks and illusion (c) a cunning or deceptive character appearing in various forms in the folklores of many cultures

Materials: index cards, trickery
Method: label objects and features of the Gallery that are not installed as artworks
Patron Saint: Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
Questions: How do we know when we’re looking at art? What happens to an object when we give it a title or name? How do the museum’s labels shape the visitor’s interactions with the artworks? Who do the viewers trust more: the labels or themselves?

07.24: Trickster Samples


IV. Communal Rites

Communal: (1): of or relating to a community (2a): characterized by collective ownership and use of property (2b): participated in, shared, or used in common by members of a group or community

A. “Accessible Entrances” Performance Workshop

Method: A movement and improvisation workshop that explored our bodies’ abilities and disabilities, how we inhabit space, and how it feels to see and be seen. The group collaborated to create gestures and images that suggested narratives, relationships, and emotions.
Patron Saints: Kathie, Emily, Joan, Robert, and Melissa
Questions: How are our bodies the same and different? What do we see and how can we communicate what we see to others? What are stories made out of? What is the relationship between art and play?

07.26: Brave Souls

B. Open Studio and Staged Reading

Method: At the end of the residency, in conjunction with the Gallery’s Family Art Day, I held an open studio from and presented a staged reading of an excerpt from my current work-in-progress, Ma cousine des États. Visitors to the studio were able to view documentation of the RITES performed during the week, and we discussed  many of the themes associated with the project.

V. Evidential Rite

Evidence: (1a): an outward sign : indication (1b): something that furnishes proof : testimony, specifically : something legally submitted to a tribunal to ascertain the truth of a matter (2): one who bears witness; especially : one who voluntarily confesses a crime and testifies for the prosecution against one’s accomplices

Materials: sticky notes, pencils
On the afternoon of Saturday, July 28, visitors were asked to respond to what they saw in the Gallery by drawing or writing words or other messages and placing them at the foot of artworks, thereby leaving evidence of their presence.
Patron Saint:
Augusto Boal, Brazilian theater artist and activist
Is the museum a truly public space? How should an audience be? Who is allowed to “speak” about art? If art is a form of communication, can the viewer talk back? What makes us react to a work of art and how can we articulate that reaction? What can we learn from how others see?


V. Ekphrastic Rite

Ekphrasis: a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined.

Materials: paper, pencils, MS Word
Write short poems  in response to works on display in the Gallery.
Questions: What is the relationship between the visual and the verbal? How does a work of art “represent” reality, and how can we represent representation?

What Is Baby Jesus Doing

Baby Jesus reads a book to his mother
Baby Jesus is holding a fig
Baby Jesus is marrying St. Catherine, but not literally
Baby Jesus gives St. Anne an apple
Baby Jesus is all grown up now
He is carrying the cross
He is dying on the cross
He is being taken down now, dead
Baby Jesus sits in his mother’s lap,
one hand outstretched, palm
turned innocently up toward the sun

Details from Christian artworks in the Beaverbrook’s permanent collection

The Nudes

I considered counting nudes at the museum
but couldn’t face the inventory,

tired of representation,
the geometric breasts of women bathing,

their pinks and peaches, the invented
way they crane over their shoulders

to meet my gaze. These are icons of trees,
a man in one gallery complains to me.

I could say these, too, are icons, symbols
to stand in for flesh, missing

the naked for the nudes, burying women under
the idea of their own nakedness,

and this is what I’m tired of. The fig leaf,
fuck it. I want a mirror, the raw, unvarnished, and

unshaven. I want the body, known and forgotten
and remembered, not the idea of it, but

the shock of the skin that each of us is
drawn in — your own skin —

your own mother’s — how it breaks you
to see it, really see it

how sudden it can be— there— alive
before you in all its dying ways.

Selected nudes from in the Beaverbrook’s permanent collection




RITES Recommended Reading/Viewing

Anne Procter, founder of Uncomfortable Art Tours.
The British Museum of Your Stuff, Ian Frazier, The New Yorker, March 26, 2018.
Carmen Papalia, a Social Practice artist who creates non-visual experiences of arts spaces.
The Disability Visibility Project, managed by Alice Wong.
Ending Nostalgia at the Heritage Museum, Leah Sandals, Canadian Art, August 30, 2017.
Guerrilla Girls.
Gynocratic Art Gallery, founded by Danielle Hogan.
How a Blind Professor Is Helping Other Sight-Impaired Museum Visitors Experience Art, Emily Wilson, Hyperallergic, January 17, 2018.
La Tanya S. Autry, art historian, curator, and co-creator of these awesome T-shirts.
Leah Souffrant, poet and author of Plain, Burned Things
Titus Kaphar, American visual artist interested in recovering the African-American subject in art history.