Bridget Moser in Every Room is a Waiting Room Pt 1

Art of the absurd

Bridget Moser gets satirical with an installation and performance in Montreal this week.

Performance artist Bridget Moser’s installation at the VOX, part of MOMENTA’s The Life of Things, has the lights dim and her 2017 video “Every Room Is a Waiting Room Pt 1 playing projected as a loop. Moser, the lone star of all her videos, appears dressed in pink and blue athleisure while interacting with a series of objects in ways that would doubtless confound their original manufacturers. In front of the video is a pink shag rug (a prop from the video) and chairs to sit in, along with several magazines and a box of tissues. It feels remarkably like a real waiting room, yet I assumed at least two of the magazines were mock-ups created by Moser for effect until I flipped through both Mindful Magazine and Happiful Magazine and realized my error.

Moser’s cunning in using objects is such that they often look commissioned specifically for her work. She has a knack for estranging objects from the world, a subversion of meaning with an often absurd and darkly comic mien. Take a close peek at “Every Room Is a Waiting Room Pt 1” and you’ll see a glimpse of that loneliest of rooms at the end of the universe from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Moser’s gone and snuck in Pantone promotional material in place of the art on the walls.

Moser and I spoke about her upcoming live performance at the VOX, her inflatable pink coffin and the Infinite Jest joke that took her two years to use.

Nora Rosenthal: What’s the longest you’ve ever dwelled on an idea?

Bridget Moser: Oh God. I guess no one project has taken up more than maybe six months out of my lifetime but then there will be things like, I might write a joke that’s on the surface very stupid but I know it has to live somewhere that’s just perfect for it, so I’ve waited two years to use a throwaway joke for the right performance.

NR: What was the throwaway joke?

BM: It’s a joke about Infinite Jest. Basically the joke is being asked by a man if I’ve read this famous long difficult novel and then I’d say, “No but I have been in a hot tub that had infinite jets.”

NR: To what extent do you embrace or reject humour in your work?

MB: I think it’s probably the starting point for a lot of ideas just because that’s what I find very satisfying, but I also like the things that comedy can do. If you look at fundamental joke construction, the basic idea is that you take something totally expected or easily understood by an audience and you do something to turn that on its head, and in doing that, that’s what elicits a laugh from a crowd. That’s kind of similar to the way I think about working with objects: you can take these things that are very quotidian and have these very expected uses or understood meanings and that will point you to untether[ing] them and to think[ing] about things in a new way. But [humour’s] not the only thing that’s important to me. If I was trying to do stand-up, what I did would look pretty different. 

NR: Could you talk about the blue and pink pastels that dominate the colour space of the Every Room Is a Waiting Room series?

BM: That specifically came out of the 2016 Pantone colour of the year. Every year they put out a colour of the year that is supposed to indicate where we’re at culturally and what consumers will want to buy and then they develop all this absurd language around it in order to sell this palette. Anyways in 2016 they released a colour that was in fact two colours [Rose Quartz and Serenity] and the language around it was all about how consumers would be looking for peace and tranquility and harmony and because it was pink and blue they were, like “Yeah we’ve solved gender finally” — just this totally absurd stuff and also completely discounting that those colours together are deeply significant and have already existed as symbolic colours with the trans pride flag and that they’re also colours that are prominent in internet subcultures like Vaporwave. Then also 2016 being a year where Donald Trump was elected and Brexit happened did not in fact feel like a time when people were embracing tranquility, harmony and balance. I’d been waiting for a while to work with some Pantone stuff and it felt like the right moment. Also when I started to put these videos together it was the beginning of 2017 and there was a new colour, [Greenery] so anything that was no longer the current colour was suddenly in liquidation mode. There were a lot of things I was able to buy; suddenly their value was gone.

NR: Did you commission that pink inflatable coffin?

BM: No that you can just buy.

NR: You’re very prolific but always alone in your work, and in fact so much of performance art takes place alone. Is there ever the impulse to, for instance, direct a play?

BM: [laughs] I have friends who work collectively or in pairs and it seems so nice to have someone there with you willing to do all this weird stuff. That seems nice. I’ve thought about trying to work with somebody else but for the type of work that I make, it feels like it has to be alone in a way.

NR: What can we anticipate from the performance at the VOX?

BM: There’s a lot of self-massage tools. There are objects that don’t look like known objects but they’re tools meant to massage oneself. This performance is one that I made when I was living in Cleveland and was thinking a lot about malls. I was thinking about wellness and wellness culture, activities that amount to self-soothing.

NR: Do you feel that audiences — and I mean they’re art audiences typically — but do you think they grasp what you set out to tell them?

BM: I assume something’s got to be affecting them but my expectation is never that someone will understand what I’m doing in the same way that I do. There are reference points that are available to some people but if you don’t get the reference or know where it’s from you’re not missing out on something. To expect everyone to pick up on everything would also be to expect everyone to be coming from the same kind of background that I’m coming from and I think that would be very unfair, or just not realistic.

NR: There’s never a whole lot of text accompanying your videos by way of explanation. Why this opacity?

BM: For me what’s really important is that you can watch something and just by virtue association you will automatically start to draw together some type of meaning. My goal is to steer that as closely as possible to what I’m trying to get at but if I fail at that it’s okay as well. I think part of the experience is really about not knowing and trying to figure it out. To me that feels a little closer to the experience of living. ■

The Life of Things continues at the VOX (2 Ste-Catherine E. #401) until Oct. 13. Bridget Moser performs at the VOX on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 6:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Free but space is limited. Doors at 6:15 & 7:15, respectively.