Mothergirl “Don’t Sleep, There’s A War Going On”

Posted by on Jun 7, 2013 in artists, performance art
Mothergirl “Don’t Sleep, There’s A War Going On”

There are a lot of duos at Rapid Pulse. In the first three days of the activity, we’ve already experienced the work of three sets of duos. In total, there are 6 pairs of duos performing at the festival this year. It’s almost a theme. But who doesn’t love a duo? There is something about the twinning that is endlessly fascinating, charming, endearing. They are the same, but completely different.

In January, I was invited to participate in a writing project initiated by Ame Henderson and Evan Webber (two Toronto-based performance creators) called How to Work: A Performance Encyclopedia. Seven performance makers (a dancer/choreographer, two actors, a director, a visual artist and a writer; I am the only performance artist) met everyday for three weeks in a small storefront gallery space, sat down at our computers and attempted to collectively write an encyclopedia. The document we produced (which is both always complete and never finished) consists of over 150 pages of definitions (citations, entries, our own method of cross referencing) for the words we find ourselves consistently and habitually using when talking about making, or experiencing, performance. As you can imagine, despite our shared inclinations, we each create our own meaning for the same word. We’re kind of all the same, but we are all completely different.

With the experiment of the Performance Encyclopedia fresh in my mind, I asked each half of Mothergirl to do a bit of homework the evening before their performance. I wondered what would happen if I gave each better-half the same words to define (without telling them!). I invited them to consider the words from their own experience making performance, or thinking about their upcoming collaborative action at Rapid Pulse. I chose these words imagining that they might be some of the things I would find myself reflecting on after watching their action, titled Don’t Sleep, There’s a War Going On. The Mothergirl Mini-Encyclopedia for Rapid Pulse is included for your reading pleasure, and can be found at the end of this entry.

The two halves of Mothergirl are so genuinely sweet and infectiously enthusiastic people that it makes me happy looking forward to watching them bash themselves in the face with pillows for a couple of hours. I head over to the off-site performance, and I admit it, I am full of evil glee. On a small triangle of grass framed by the intersection of an off-ramp, on-ramp, bike path and pedestrian crossing, two women wearing identical simple denim shifts are hitting themselves in the heads with your standard-issue bed pillow. Immediately, I’m reminded of the Quebecoise trio Les Fermières Obsédées and their library of absurd, almost childlike actions delivered with an undercurrent of warped adult viciousness. Like Les Fermières Obsédées, it’s clear that Mothergirl knows how to cooperate with each other and are capable of playing nice, but there is something about the whole scene that is just a bit sadistic. In good company, Mothergirl has somehow managed to take a benign material – a pillow – and by messing with the intention, weaponize it. If they were grandmothers already, they would both be standing on their front verandas, maniacally beating the living room rug with a switch. Of course we know that children are the cruelest of them all, and in keeping with this idea, Mothergirl’s performance is bullying turned inwards. If tickling is fun only until it starts to feel like torture, Mothergirl has perfected the pillow fight version. Self-inflicted.

In spite of the twinning thing, or perhaps because of it, it’s hard not to spot the differences between the performers. But it’s half the fun too. Sophia’s flagellations are the more aggressive of the two. She has a hilariously serious intensity to her expression, she seems a little mad even, and she’s staring down the people that pass by in their cars and on their bikes with a crazy look in her eye. She seems to be challenging the voyeurism. It also reminds me the kind of look you get from an older sibling just before they jump on you, hold you down, and pound the crap out of you. It hurts, but for whatever reason you laugh all the way through. Sophia adjusts her grip several times, from one-handed to two-handed action to get the best velocity and torque. It suits her style.

Katy, on the other hand, sticks with the one-handed method throughout and she seems almost serene in comparison (if it’s possible to be serene as you repeatedly bash yourself in the head with a pillow). She seems calmer, more resigned. Like she has a strategy at play, like she’s researched how this is all going to go down. If this was a real life flat-out pillow fight, Katy might not win, but she would probably squeak out a super close second, wearing you down with her brute stamina.

I opt out of my favourite part of durational performances – being bored – by arriving after the action has already started, and walking away from the performance before it is over, because I want to have the image of Mothergirl hitting themselves with pillows looping repeatedly in my mind, and the only way to do that is to cut off the bookends. Sophia’s nose is bright red. Katy’s right cheek glows. It’s not all that funny, but it’s somehow still a comedy.

The Mothergirl Mini-Encyclopedia for Rapid Pulse


1) The feeling that you get when you don’t have anything constructive to do. I don’t think I have felt bored since I was a kid – over time, this feeling has been replaced with a kind of anxiety that I’m not accomplishing enough if I have any down time. I was recently speaking to a friend who spent several months in India studying yoga, and she told me that she thinks this anxiety and shiftlessness is an American (or maybe Western) phenomenon – the inability to sit around the house thinking without inwardly accusing yourself of being lazy or unproductive. (SH)

2) A feeling that occurs when nothing around you appears attractive or worthwhile. In performance, I do not want to be bored as a performer, ever. As an audience member, sometimes it is nice to get bored, the thought process can often loop back to the performance and once attention is regained it can enrich the performance. I think that in durational work boredom can be very present in the audience. In this piece, a majority of our intended audience will only see a minute of the action at most (car and bike traffic). So, in fact, it is more likely that their drive is boring them and we are the visual that shakes them from that boredom. (KA)


1) The work and work-related negotiations of two or more people. Also, a state of symbiosis in which all parties in a working relationship are getting out more than they’re putting in. Also, the attempt to strive for that state, even if you’re not there 100% of the time. I think this usually means finding the common ground in terms of knowledge, experience, and frustration and working through these feelings together. (SH)

2) Working together with as much grace and patience as possible to complete a task. Trust and respect are essential components of this action. However, cooperation does not always mean agreement. (KA)


1) Can you fail in performance art? Does a scientist fail if they do an experiment and the result doesn’t match their hypothesis? I think usually that’s considered progress toward a larger goal. Mothergirl has been surprised on more than one occasion by the difference between a work as conceived and the same work as performed (especially in public spaces), but I would never consider this to be a failure. As long as we do not compromise our respect for others/demand for respect of ourselves, I think everything else is just nerves. Also, we sure as hell aren’t making any money, so what’s the world going to do? Fire us? (SH)

2) An outcome usually following an attempt. Something not to be scared of, and generally in any performance work failure is nestled between a bit of success. In any action we like to imbed the possibility of failure, otherwise there is no great risk involved. It’s also important for me to set unattainable goals. For example, a goal for myself with this performance is to hit myself as hard as I can with the pillow. I am betting I will fail at this several times, for many different reasons (I am tired, I am paying more attention to another goal I have set within my performance, I am regaining grip on my pillow, etc.). However, having big goals will maintain my focus, provide a constant stream of energy, and create something for me to struggle against. (KA)


1) The givens. The things you do with. The things you communicate through and about. I hesitate to use the word “tangible.” Mothergirl just did a performance at an event called Garbage World in which we were both covered in hair, and I was a comedian and she was a heckler. I’d say that shitty offensive jokes and self-protective anger were as much material as our hair suits were. (SH)

2) Any tangible object, action/choreography or dialogue within the performance. The body is material. I would say that intangible objects can create material (ideas, identity, etc.), but is not material. With this performance I would say that the material is our costume, makeup/hair (which, for this, is pretty minimal), the pillows. I could argue either way for the space that we are contained in—usually I would say that this is more of a consideration for what materials we use as opposed to a material itself. Audience is not a material, but again a consideration for the materials we use. (KA)


1) The cerebral work that is done in preparation for performance, and, at times, during performance. The opportunity to learn for and through. (SH)

2) Can be anything relating to the development of an idea or concept that will eventually apply to a final product, in this case, a performance. It can take many forms—videotaping your body in space, watching youtube, reading books, talking to friends or strangers, looking at pictures, making collages and drawings. Sophia and I usually do a lot of research alone and then compare notes. This way we can cover more ground and teach each other. (KA)

Photo by Carrie Ruckel

Shannon Cochrane is a Toronto-based performance artist, and cultural producer. She is the Artistic and Administrative Director of FADO Performance Art Centre ( Established in 1993, FADO is an artist-run centre that presents, champions and disseminates the work of Canadian and International performance artists year-round. Shannon is also a founder, co-curator, and organizer of the 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art ( Run by a collective of performance artists, 7a*11d was established in 1997, and presents an international festival every two years. The tenth 7a*11d festival will take place in October 2014.