Medium: Video performance in public space

Date: Fall 2019

Burden is a video performance that navigates through the routine places of my daily life in downtown Calgary. As I traverse through the streets, my material body gives presence to a materially absent object. The presence of this object is activated by the ways my body is contorted and constrained to engage the object in different spaces. A non-physical and invisible object comes to occupy real space with palpable presence through the public spaces of my daily route. By giving presence to an absent object, I am performing presence in absence, substance in the invisible, and exploring something in the nothing.

Through the orientation of my body, spatial knowledge of an invisible object is developed. As I move from one street to another, my bodily gestures continuously and incrementally outline an enormous chunk of missing visual data. My hands, shoulders, and head cast around negative space to mold a shape out of negative information. The visible gestures of my body sculpt out a body of invisible matter and map its spatial occupancy throughout the streets. As my body becomes bound to and mutated by this object, the object becomes highly calibrated with a palpable agency even in its unseen state.

Burden performs “phenomenology of absence” as a mismatch of expected presence with a null feedback of sensorial data that fulfils those expectations. The performance creates an expectation for something to be found in a space where there is nothing. This forces viewers to re-conceive the scene in view of the missing body of information. The absence of the object become seen and felt as intensely as the presence of my body. It redefines the entire space according to absence. Viewers experience the space with a centralized focus on what is missing from it.

Burden performs absence as immediate presence or the “feeling of real presence”. Kaye and Giannachi define presence as a sign rather than a quality. Presence is identified not by a quantitative measure or qualitative materiality, but by a simple signifier that something is there. As my body signifies an object through my bodily engagement, I create the real presence of a non-quantitative entity. By performing the presence of absence, Burden challenges the association of absence with nothingness, to question what could be in the immaterial and invisible space of absence.

Emotional and mental burdens are invisible and immaterial agents that have real presence in our lives. We carry our burdensome feelings or thoughts through ordinary social spaces and experience their presence, even as they remain unacknowledged and undetected by our physical and social surroundings. The performance physically locates and spatially identifies the presence of my psychological burden, showing its existence, its agency, and its spatial occupancy throughout the places of my everyday life.


  • Farennikova, Anna. “Seeing Absence.” Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, vol. 166, no. 3, 2013, pp. 430- 431. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42920280.

  • Kaye, Nick, and Gabriella Giannachi. “Acts of Presence: Performance, Mediation, Virtual Reality.” TDR (1988-), vol. 55, no. 4, 2011, pp. 88–95. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41407109.