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c.j. fleury/E. Sheehy

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"between the myth and the experience..."
Madam Justice Claire l'Heureux Dubé

Artist: c.j. fleury in collaboration with Elizabeth Sheehy and others from law community.
Form: An Installation transformed via Performance Art
Installation components/materials: sticks, stones, words, ceramic tiles, cement, steel, paint, pine, fire, grocery bag paper, white glue
Dimensions : Approximately 1.6 M x 2.8 M x 2.2 M
Performance components: barrister's robes, baritone sax sound, voices sung and spoken, petals
Performance members : c.j. fleury, Elizabeth Sheehy, Rosemary Cairns Way, Bonnie Diamond, Kimberley Lewis, Kay Marshall, Llana Nakonechny, with Dawn Dale, artist, Melissa Pipe, musician
Installation Development:
Rosemary Cairns Way - Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, U of Ottawa
Bonnie Diamond - Executive Director, National Association of Women and the Law
Kimberley Lewis - Legal Counsel, House of Commons
Kay Marshall- Lawyer
Llana Nakonechny - Visiting Professor, U of Ottawa
Elizabeth Pickett - ex-lawyer and law professor, poet.
Joanne St Lewis - Assistant Professor, U of Ottawa, Bencher, Law Society of Upper Canada
Ghislaine Sirois - Executive Co-ordinator of Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes
Thanks also to Arlene Mac Lowick, Adrienne Herron, Stephanie Williams

Artist’s Statement

The title, Hearings at the Rape Maze, refers to a symbolic 'court of law', and the way that this particular site of 'justice' metamorphoses through the actions and voices of a twenty five minute performance piece. This artified version of a 'hearing', a form of public ritual within a national legal conference, critiques the role of the law in producing conditioned unconsciousness to the violation of women's bodies.

"Contemporary feminist critiques of law have often cited the rape trial as embodying all that is problematic about the legal system for women" (Susan Ehrlich, 2001). Three forces significantly informed the collaborative envisioning processes of the art: the work of Elizabeth Sheehy, the
poetry of Elizabeth Pickett, ex-lawyer, law professor and poet and, the unchecked domestic and international phenomena of sexual assault. Considering the wider conference frame, Women, the Family and the State, a key vision emerged in the project's early conceptual phase - that of ceremonially placing a women's globe into a strategic and safe site. Thus a fictive legal arena was devised for the symbolic actions leading to this final gesture of survival.

This installation initially comprised a double layered textual ground plane, aural headdress'witnessed' by a jury of Aural Headdresses and a charred table of experience. The physical foundation of the Rape Maze was a dull gold grid mapping the oppressive language of the legal regulation of rape: words, phrases, legal criteria and judicial pronouncements. Unfamiliar and sometimes startling words led to complex and tricky intersections of terminologies utilized in the prosecution of rape, the juridical constructions of the woman who has been raped and the law's characterization and transformation of her own words and her own experience. Reflecting 'the institutional coerciveness of legal discourse'(Ehrilch), a dizzying space was created through the use of mixed fonts and letter orientations. Barely obscuring this foundational labyrinth was a second layer, a web of paper white sticks meticulously inscribed with feminist critique, bearing potent arguments from feminist legal, linguistic and human rights sources representing decades of work on the subject of rape.

The performance actions ritualized the quotidian and undervalued tasks of managing such marginalized feminist knowledge and of exposing the problematic maze of law's embedded histories. The transition to the performance piece itself , from the hubbub of the combined gallery and conference openings, was accentuated by the haunting melodies and percussive breaths of Melissa Pipe's baritone sax. Blowing female sound through an instrument of a male-dominated tradition, she marked a slow and decisive suite of intentions to "hear" and "voice" women's real stories. One by one, the performers silently emerged from the spectator's field in plain clothes. They entered the installation, partially disassembling the jury of Aural Headdresses, to claim the ceremonial listening garb and subsequently filtered back through the audience to a hidden area where they robed themselves in black judicial gowns. A stiffened and formalized entry procession ensued, where a high pitched, heckling verse terminated the dirge-like sax.

"Sticks and stones could break your bones ...
But words could never hurt you. HAH !! "

Then... simple, measured gestures of bending, reaching, gathering and carrying the sticks from the installation's ground plane to their place on the burnt table, led to the voicing sequence where a number of sticks were spoken and sung in English and French.

During the voicing sequence, the performers methodically built the sticks into a circular shape and then systematically repositioned themselves in the maze and jury sites.

The manipulation of the text covered sticks culminated in a large black and white nest of legal theory and women's knowing. In closure, an egg shaped globe, having been carried inside one of the Aural Headdresses,

was cautiously drawn out, held up as evidence and finally set within this space of feminist thought.


The Development of Hearings at the Rape Maze:

The notion of developing a work of art around the prosecution of rape was identified by Elizabeth Sheehy in 1999, during preliminary stages of the Templates for Activism concept. Later, legal colleagues and two artists joined the process, bringing their interests in law and contemporary art as well as their experiences and skills of mind, voice and hand to the collaboration. During various phases, a language scholar, a choreographer and others also contributed time and insight. Over a total of three years, the piece evolved in a number of modes and locations: at the University of Ottawa Law Building, in a Montréal music space, at social and academic law events, in private homes, a reading at a forest rock face, in my Québec and Toronto residency studios, on-line and in the gallery space prior to the exhibition.

The ground plane:

This element was originally developed by working with individual paper prototypes to explore and evaluate content, varying the effects, scale and layout of the performance setting and subsequently, the possibilities for related movement in, an around, the rape maze. Considering the size of the City's new gallery, the final maze was designed for a seven by nine foot area, using over four hundred 2" ceramic tiles to create a sense of constraint and stymied movement. The construction grade tiles and the grocery bag paper of the Aural Headdresses splice the materiality of public and domestic space. The same information, in slightly altered format, is available as the Paper Rape Maze.
The information on the sticks was edited and printed over the five month period leading up to the performance event. (Please see

The stick singers:

During the conceptual phases of Hearings at the Rape Maze Elizabeth Sheehy pushed the limits of the intended voicing sequence through the addition of uncommon song lines. To do this she brought University of Ottawa colleagues Rosemary Cairns Way, Joanne St. Lewis and Llana Nakonechny into the project. When these women arrived at the studio the performance plan underwent radical changes. It was stunning to see the way they leaned into a translation of what was then growing on the studio floor and drawing boards to intensify the very serious legal content with an exceptional coloring of operatic, African and jazz stylings. Among other intuitive actions they injected a famous judicial quote on males' objectification of women's bodily experience, a call-answer motif and a variation on a pop-culture rape anthem. The first voicing of the performance, the 'Sticks and stones' verse, was transformed into a repeated call-answer motif when the three women created varying lines of melodic replies, "No, no, no-o-o-o. She... said... no-o-o."

Ears and Burnt tables:

The installation integrates two established symbols from the artist's previous sculptural production. The burning work, employing furniture from management and education (further manipulated and strategically situated), has been used to convey problems of authoritative knowledge, its construction, distribution and relation to systems of power.

Series of carved and drawn ears point to listening concepts - specifically, the will to hear. However, the concept of ear as Aural Headdress takes its inspiration from
NAWL's Hats Off event. While the obvious reference in this context, appears to be to legal hearings and notions of listening to women's lived experience, the factor of twelve such pieces ties them to the contested position of women as jurors [until mid C20 in some Canadian provinces].


About the Artisit
c.j. fleury's art has evolved from drawing, performance and shield making, to several large scale public sculpture commissions in Quebec and Ontario, including Ottawa's "Women's Monument Against Violence". For the last decade, her work has focussed on the marginal area of collaborative practice and stretching public models of creative action involving non-art communities. Her projects have been taught and researched in universities in Canada and the States and c.j. has been invited to present these models through symposiums, The Ontario Arts Council, The National (US) Women''s Caucus for Art, The Canada Council and The Art Gallery of Ontario.

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