PROMENADES by Sylvie Cotton

TORONTO, Canada ... From February 19 - March 1, Montreal-based artist Sylvie Cotton will undertake a residency project as part of Fado's ongoing PUBLIC SPACES/PRIVATE PLACES series.

PROMENADES is a socio-artistic experiment featuring one-one meetings between the artist and selected participants. Participants will agree to spend between 3 - 8 hours with the artist, either in silence, or looking after the artist while she is temporarily blindfolded.
Sylvie's Promenades Video
Lathwell Productions
Zero Dollar Productions
Catherine's Home Page
Fado's Home Page

Excerpts from Catherine Lathwell's Daily Journal
Entries Feb 24 - Mar 2, 2003

(click on photos below to enlarge)

24/2/2003 (Monday)
In fact, this summer I should be doing very well - My vision for myself is with two good legs. Which reminds me that if I can get out of here in good time I would like to walk to College and Spadina. It works well when I walk to College at the very least. I am meeting Sylvie at 11am. So - if I am out of here by 9:30 I will be in great shape to do my banking on top of everything else. I will propose that we walk around Kensington and China Town until we are too cold and then go underground for a while in the financial district and then head back here for supper.

11:37:52 AM Sylvie is getting ready to leave the Second Cup where we met.
25/2/2003 (Tuesday)
Don't want to lose my impressions of a day with Sylvie - where Sylvie, Sylvie Cotton was blind. She wore safety glasses with cotton balls covering her eyes for 6:05 hours. I felt that the position of caretaker increased the level of intimacy and my compulsion to make her comfortable in this unseeing world lead me to talk more and also come out with more personal details about myself than I would with someone I just met. Also the formality of contributing to a project created space for just being together and experiencing the day as it unfolded. There were several obstacles - snow and ice and slush and water everywhere. It was cold but no wind and we were both dressed well for the winter. I wore about 2 sweaters + a turtleneck plus my long wool coat and jeans. Sylvie is 40 - her birthday is in September. This makes her Maria's age. At first I though that people would look at us like we were artist freaks - but it seemed that with the cotton over Sylvie's eyes, people thought she was sick - we attracted attention but it was the kindly, solicitous, trying not to look kind of attention a sick person gets - not unlike the attention I received when I was walking on crutches last summer. The kids, of course, gawked - openly and honestly. And in the Second Cup, north of Augusta on College, where we met and Sylvie donned the glasses, people were curious and seemed excited by what we were doing. Later one woman on Spadina actually asked - "What's the matter with her eyes?" in an open and honest way and kindly.

2:04:52 PM Lunch at Asakusa (King and Spadina).

She was not thrown when Sylvie said we were doing an experiment. I felt at times I was expected to speak for Sylvie because most signs which initiate conversation were visual. Sylvie usually waited for me to say something like, "Sylvie, this person is ready to talk to you." I found myself fighting the urge to do everything for her. Where are the boundaries of "caring for" and "allowing for" - This is a power boundary really. I made the decision to try to intervene as little as possible - to make sure Sylvie was comfortable and safe - but to allow and even to push her to be self-sufficient. I think this was a decision that I made early in the day. We didn't really discuss it directly, but I sensed it was what she wanted - or at least it was a position that she was agreeable to. Sylvie was also forced to articulate her own needs - she had to ask if she wanted anything like a bathroom or a cigarette. [Now I feel myself begin to think more carefully about what I am writing after thinking I will type this and send it to Paul + Sylvie]. I will try to stop "seeing the reader" now and shall send only what I want and perhaps allow for an edit - so I don't do this here as I write. An audience changes the process. Which brings me to my relationship with my camera - I wanted to be able to document what was happening throughout the day - also bring my art to the project - but felt aware of the pressures of bringing in the outside world - the audience to the performance - Promenades which is more of a personal experience - and the experience of the people we encountered throughout the day. I wanted the piece to be a piece without much influence from the camera but also didn't want the camera to be invisible. All of the shots were taken indoors where it was safer for Sylvie and where she felt more secure.

2:05:58 PM In Asakusa, Sylvie takes a photo of me.
She definitely didn't want to be left alone on the street. - and made this very clear when I wanted to run quickly around the corner at King and Spadina to see if Asakusa was there. NO! She said. When I insisted she needed a pole to hang on to - which remained strong in her memory - later when we were drawing - more or less with our eyes closed - at least mine where closed some of the time - Sylvie was still blindfolded. Sylvie drew that post - and it was one of the first things she pointed out to me when we were done - her goggles came off and we talked about what we had drawn. This pole was very important to her. So, all of the shots were taken when we reached a destination. And even then it took a transition or mind shift for me to bring out the camera. It gave me two jobs - to photograph and to take care of, both. Perhaps having my attention shift to the camera also gave Sylvie more freedom to move of her own free will. It removed me from her physically - so she had to feel her way - on her own - as I was distracted I was not anticipating what she would need or want in those moments. This was probably better.
2:31:14 PM On the TTC going east on King Street. 26/2/2003 (Wednesday)
I feel a bit like I'm in the twilight zone. I feel a bit disconnected and out of sorts. In general my body is less stressed than it was a month ago but I feel in this weird timeless zone. A little surreal perhaps. Like I live in a weird under-water life. I am floating like a weed in the ocean. Last night I began thinking about how touching the video I made of Sylvie is. I think the relationship - the trust of the relationship comes through the little clips. Maybe I'll talk to Margaret about how they can be hooked together. Maybe I can make a short video of them, and dump it to video tape. It really comes through. I'll talk to Sylvie about it. See what she thinks. It breaks my heart. Maybe I can edit in some of the still photographs as well. This would be so cool. I'll ask and talk to Margaret. See where this goes.

2:52:46 PM Sylvie looks for something to buy me at Goodwill Buy the Pound on Adelaide St.

27/2/2003 (Thursday)
I do want to follow up the Promenades piece with writing about my impressions because it is interesting how people treated us. The whole medical angle of the whole scene - made the space that we inhabited more private and people more furtive when they looked at us. Interesting. My talk with Leena today made me begin to think about the piece more in terms of the premise of the project - Private Spaces/Public Places. I want to write my thoughts to complete my end of the piece. I will be sure to get email from Sylvie. I already have Paul's so I can email him if I don't manage to get Sylvie's email. I feel caught up in the professionalism of this piece or my role in it. It is like I am professionally compelled to complete this piece. Very cool feeling. It adds to my feelings of professionalism towards my art. I am feeling less and less apologetic or tentative and more and more like a professional in my field. Like I needed to walk around the block a few times over the last years.

28/2/2003 (Friday)
I think it helps me to be around people in transition. To see how people are dealing with this. I feel like my emotional trauma stems from wanting to walk softly on the planet but feeling too that this makes life very difficult. I need to wash the sweater Sylvie picked out for me and burn some CDs. It's Jody's birthday. I sang the happy birthday song alone this year. She liked it.

4:24:44 PM We take a short nap at Paul's place. 1/3/2003 (Saturday)
It seems that most of the people at the party know each ther. Or some or some of them do. The woman who MC'd at Colin's memorial was there. I took this as a huge omen that I was in the right place. As if I didn't already feel this. I ate too much and feel this today. We watched the videos and people seemed to like them although all the fussing on the computer between clips is distracting and gets people talking so they missed some of the things I was saying to Sylvie, which would have been extremely important to her blindfolded world. I will find somehow to glue the clips together and put them on video. Call Margaret.
5:12:50 PM Sylvie wants us to draw together. Also I'm thinking more of my conversation with Leena on Thursday. Prompting me to consider how Promenades #21 of Private Spaces, Public Places related to the project as a whole. I felt that Sylvie and I had created a private intimate space between us. We walked very close together and I felt that closeness still remained even last night when I left the party and she went out to buy cigarettes. We still walked close together - almost touching. Sylvie was more comfortable (and so was I) when she held tightly to my arm. Also, my focus - my attention while we walked was reigned in, cut short - much closer to my body than it is normally when I am out. I paid close attention to where we were both putting our feet - and what was in our immediate vacinity. So my awareness was not so much open to the people and places we passed by. Sylvie's blindfolded world, I imagine, was composed of my voice, very close to her, and the noises of the street, sometimes traffic would pick up and she would become suddenly frightened - as if the car drove into the living room. Sylvie was contained by her inability to see while I was contained by my responsibility of ensuring she did not get hurt - It is hard work to keep track of someone else's feet. I noticed on our way to Paul's place later in the day, that I let her walk in to streetcar shelters at least twice.
5:38:18 PM Sylvie takes of her goggles at Paul's place. With our physical closeness and drawn in attention we began to feel emotionally close and talked about private things - painful sometimes even. I felt much less reserved than I normally would. And perhaps this was encouraged by her inability to see - if I did not talk - I did not communicate. She did respond to body pressure - but also sometimes she would push me in one direction or another. Or stop in the middle of the street - "For some reason," I said, "you seem to want to go North." She answered she felt like we were in the middle of the street, close to traffic. We were safe - but there were a lot of cars passing. Talking allowed her to remember that it wasn't appropriate at this particular moment - to be in control. Brave Sylvie! I will type what I have written and email it to Paul. Also to Sylvie. Close the piece - complete my part of the piece. I will figure out somehow. Make a short video. Add more of my voice - because this is Sylvie's world. I can see the video in my head.
  2/3/2003 (Sunday) while typing my notes
In several places I wrote: the space that we inhabited was more private. I now think this is inaccurate - that actually while the care taking, etc made the space more private and intimated for us - it also made us more conspicuous and people felt a vaguely uncomfortable desire to look at us. If we were just two women walking down the street no one would notice us but in this piece we lost some anonymity and became uneasy-making public domain. And people thinking Sylvie was sick added a particular nuance to the attention we received.