Speaking today is Sylvie Frigon, Joint Chair in Women’s Studies, Carleton University and University of Ottawa.
Frigon has taught at Carleton U and the University of Ottawa for over 20 years, and has an interest in prisons and women, and how art effects the two. She has published extensively, including research, but also adult and childrens novels.
This talk today discusses the way we can use dance to describe the ways we teach confinement in society.
"How does prison permeate culture and culture permeate culture... how does art transform the culture of prison?" - Frigon
Frigon started project by coming into contact with a French choreographer who had been reading her work on the body - she then realized she could teach criminology and women's studies through the use of dance.
French choreographer was teaching contemporary dance in prisons, which they found was artistic and unordinary but also more accessible than ballet dancing. Frigon attended the performance in 2004.
Frigon: The warden was crying to see the prisoners perform that show
Frigon interviewed prisoners, the ex-prisoners, and the artists to understand the performance.
2012- 2014: French Choreographer named Claire teaches a class to Frigon's criminology undergraduate class. They enjoyed it, and they learned to feel emotions through the body.
Frigon: we did all the regular teaching of the course, and then we had four weeks of dance. I left them with Claire because I felt it was very special moment with Claire and not with me. At first they seemed [upset] to see me go, but when I came back two hours later they were smiling.
Frigon: We then had the opportunity to dance at the Old Ottawa Prison... on the eighth floor, which very much still looks like a prison... it was magical, we were doing a dance in such a constrained place. Students could understand the aspect of confinement a little bit, and understand how to move in that place.
The audience is filled to capacity, mainly full of women - generally to be expected at at Women's and Gender Studies event. Some students are here for fun, some are here for classes. One third year WGST class is here to look at her research methods and discuss them later in their course (not sure if for a discussion group or an assignment).
Frigon is now reading out testimonials from students who were in her criminology class.
Frigon is reading testimonials, and you can see the students struggle with dancing while not being "dancers", but they are realizing that Claire is okay with this, as when she teaches workshops in prisons she is not used to teaching professional dancers there either.
Frigon reading testimonials: speaking about how you can see tension in the Old Ottawa Prison space, realizing the small size of cell and how five prisoners were kept in there. Starting to realize confinement, and lack of personal space.
Frigon reading testimonials: Students realized the relationship between the keeper and the kept, the tension of being in a small place, the tension of being in a place and not wanting to be touched but being so close to another human being.
Audience now gets to see clip of performance at the Old Ottawa Prison
Clip is called "Standing"
This is because Frigon had gone into prisons with an author and done creative writing, and one female prisoner had written "I want you to love me standing." This was in reference to how anytime she wanted to find affection it was while she was laying down (generally engaging in sex), and she wanted to find some that loved her standing. In the clip there is a part where the dancers look into an institutional mirror, where they are reading excerpts from pieces by female prisoners.
Original undergrad criminology class was at University of Ottawa, but after Frigon wanted to run the same sort of course at Carleton U. Unclear as to whether Carleton class was with undergraduate or graduate.
Dance project at Carleton completed in tunnels, not Old Ottawa Prison. They are part of the DNA of Carleton, but are confining, creep students out, but are comforting when it is -30.
Frigon: Confinement is not just about imprisonment, it is larger than that. We decided to use the tunnels to give a sense of that confinement.
Carleton clip titled "A Void to Create"
Carleton students also performed in conference at the school, held November 2014
Frigon: Why am I doing dance in a women's studies class, why am I doing art in a criminology class? Dance is about knowing one's body, exposing one's body. Often it reminds us of our childhood... the idea is to anchor the experience around the body. This is, of course, around the experience of [traditional teaching].
Frigon: With dance of course, I think there is an element not in theatre and that is the body. Dance is about the body.
Frigon, on learning through art: It is a way to learn in a different way
Frigon: There are three levels - for prisoners, for students, and for research
Prisoners: it is a way to reinvent themselves
Frigon: you get all these kind of emotions coming out in this art setting
Frigon is speaking about her experiences teaching art in prisons and how the art workshops allow them to open up, but how they go back to being another person outside of the workshops. She says that you cannot improvise because it is such a controlled environment and it can cause emotional damage to prisoners.
Frigon: "I think it is a way for them to see themselves differently, and for us to see them differently."
Frigon speaks a lot about culture and prison, prison and culture because art helps to break bounds of stereotypes of the space and the people living in it.
Prisons are often a difficult and depressing atmosphere, but arts bring some sensibility into the space.
Frigon has now finished her lecture, stating that she does not want to see female prisoners as only victims, but that victimization is a part of the prison system.
Frigon completed her masters thesis on women and heroin addiction.
Question: is this similar to art therapy?
Frigon: I don't do art therapy, I do art as a creative process. I would never pretend that I have the expertise, I'm not an art therapist... it can be therapeutic, but it is important to make that distinction.
Frigon tells audience that a prisoner stopped self-mutilating while she was dancing - Frigon speaks about it as awareness of body and having a body-centred outlet.
Not a lot of funding in Canada for this type of arts program in the criminal justice system. Frigon says the thinking is "why give goodies to badies?"