Francisco-Fernando Granados

Flipping through corespond- dance- Version II, an artist book by Francisco-Fernando Granados, you notice there is a moment where the colourful geometric abstractions on each page begin to stir. Not unlike an autostereogram, where three-dimensional illusions emerge from a two-dimensional image, the dancing volumes in Granados’s piece appear but only with a bit of mental focus. After softening your eyes, gently blurring your thoughts and tilting your visual prism, synesthesia ensues. Within the world building of the book, an ethereal choreography materializes. Then, returning your attention to your thumbs, your fleshly hands holding the book, you are projected back into the physicality of your body.

Published and distributed by the Centre des arts actuels Skol in Montreal for Granados’s solo exhibition, the 54-page, limited edition book originated in response to the restrictions of the COVID- 19 pandemic. A selection was made from an ongoing body of “letters,” which the visual and performance artist describes as “oscillating between the alphabetic and the epistolary,” made up of more than 300 drawings designed to synthesize a variety of abstract compositional strategies. These “minor abstractions,” informed in part by the artist’s queer and refugee experiences, combine site-specificity, non-art contexts and ephemerality as a way of subverting modernist claims of autonomy. Foreseeing the impossibility of an in-person, onsite installation, the project instead embraced the mobile, portable and personable essence of mail art. Accompanied by two live events shared on Skol’s website—poetic and movement-based performances by guest collaborators kg Guttman and Kama La Mackerel—co-responddance- Version II offered aesthetic stimulation and community, a respite from the monotony and isolation of intermittent lockdowns.

Francisco-Fernando Granados, co-responddance- Version II, 2020, mail art publication, 54 pages, limited edition of 200 copies, 8.5 x 11 inches. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.

In a recent exhibition, “duet: Jack Bush + Francisco-Fernando Granados,” 2019–2020, Granados methodically positioned himself vis-à-vis Jack Bush, a member of the Painters Eleven, the influential group of abstract painters active in the 1950s. Juxtaposing Bush’s paintings and prints with Granados’s own contemporary site-specific drawings and digital pieces, the installation transformed the gallery to establish visual, gestural and spatial connections between two generations of abstraction in Ontario. Scaling down into a more intimate book form for Skol, and decoupling from the explicit art historical reference, co-respond-dance- Version II stands on its own as a collection of process- driven, performative scores and drawings. Situating this iteration of his work between the use of mail art for political purposes by artists resisting oppressive 20th-century dictatorships in Latin America and the French feminine literary practice of aristocratic women publishing their personal correspondences, the artist treads on the edges of personal, interior spaces of contemplation and the open arena of public discourse.

Holding up the letter-sized book, the front and back covers’ vibrant red-orange background immediately stands out. On the front matter, a canary-yellow square and sky-blue circle seem to extend beyond their borders, reaching for each other in an exaggerated stretch. This simple grouping betrays the complexity inside, where secondary and tertiary colours are employed in tableaux that combine line drawings, gradations and washes, stripes and patterns, large and loose gestures, and more precise angular structures. With no descriptive text other than the artist’s name, title of the work and Skol’s logo discreetly printed on the half-title page, a sensual universe unfolds. Each spread represents its own dance, always in relation to a larger notational ecosystem or conceptual constellation. At certain junctures, momentary alignments between floating figures grant some clarity. This is contrasted with jarring colour pairings, discordant diagonals, messy outlines and bisecting entities, which create dissonance. Distorting the ascetic and rational underpinnings of a modernist lexicon with kinetic force and performative flow, Granados produces lightness and joy through the gentle, bright touch of motion.

In kg Guttman’s performance for the camera, entitled your letters arrived just a bit smaller than when they were sent, the Montreal-based dancer-choreographer read an open letter to Granados in response to receiving the book. Standing inside Skol’s small entrance-way library, speaking in French and English as well as Spanish with the aid of an interpreter, Guttman anchored the piece in the artist-run centre while giving new voice, vocabulary and language to co-respond-dance- Version II. Interspersed movement sequences and handmade objects, like a pair of oversized, stuffed, red and white gloves that lengthen her fingers as she delicately manipulates a handmade miniature version of the book, gave body to her experiences of entering the work. Alluding to Granados’s personal history of displacement and translation as a Guatemalan refugee arriving in Canada, thinking about her own move to the city 20 years ago and reliving their first encounter as collaborators, Guttman introduced different shapes, other depths, and hinted at recognizable outlines hidden amongst the minor abstractions.

A few weeks later, Kama La Mackerel’s livestreamed event, copoétique- response-dance, was presented by the multidisciplinary artist on different social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram Live. Using a vertically oriented screen positioned towards a standing mirror resting at the corner of a room, La Mackerel used their refracted reflection as a way of dissecting their body. Wearing a bright yellow tunic, their fluent arm and leg movements accompanied a bilingual poem (English and French), accented by the breaths of their physical effort. In turn, they dynamically lifted co-respond-dance- Version II off the page and into space. The performance explored overlapping spatial, social and environmental concepts like framing, shaping, fitting and contouring with concrete wording and corresponding interpretative gestures. This expanded Granados’s letters into both a lyrical narrative and a collection of scores to be executed, aligning the work with traditions of performative mark making.

co-respond-dance- Version II reacted to the health crisis by reaching out towards the “other,” reinforcing communal bonds at a time when touch, sensuality and intimacy are critically constrained. By sharing his near-daily drawing practice, maintained since 2016, in the form of an open book of co-responding scores, Granados generously created opportunities for significant and spontaneous re-enactments to be completed at home. Filling the gaps between distant bodies, the work motions towards shared familiarity and brightness ahead. ❚

co-respond-dance- Version II, with video performances by kg Guttman and Kama La Mackerel, was exhibited at Centre des arts actuels Skol, Montreal, from November 5 to December 12, 2021.

Didier Morelli is a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois). His dissertation focuses on the relationship between the built environment and the kinesthetic nature of performing bodies. His work has been published in Art Journal, Canadian Theatre Review, C Magazine, Esse, Performa Magazine, and TDR: The Drama Review.