Tracey Vath started making art later in life. She was an avid music fan, attending many shows and supporting her friends who made music, but she never really thought she could be an artist herself because she wasn’t an “expert”. When she turned 30, she decided to pick up an instrument for the first time and formed a band with some of her friends, and the idea that she could make art without needing it to be perfect or even “good” was a liberating discovery for her. She realized that she loved performing, and she began to develop characters that she embodied while performing music, sometimes dressing as a robot or having stuffed animals in her band. Throughout this time, however, she remained oblivious to the contemporary art world, and most of her energy went towards her job as a support worker for schools. She began to feel stifled by her work life identity, and made the decision to go back to school. Today, Tracey is in her third year as an Emily Carr Visual Art student.
For her new piece for Shooting Gallery, Tracey is exploring her upbringing in the Pentecostal church, specifically the lack of sex education she was exposed to and the lingering effects this has had on her life. The Pentecostal Church had its heyday in the 80s and 90s, and distinguishes itself as the only faction of Christianity that speaks in tongues, something that Tracey only experienced once. Making work about her Christian past is not new to her, and in fact it was seeping into her art practice unbeknownst to her. “I found I was making work about it without even knowing that I was, and some friends of mine would say, you know you kind of refer to this church side of yourself quite often…so ya…I guess I do” she says. She grew up immersed in southern gospel music within the Pentecostal church, which she says is a very capitalist institution that sells countless DVDs of Evangelical preachers spreading the word of God while gospel choirs sing. She began using these bizarre clips in her performance work, exploring feminine tropes by shaving her legs on stage or stuffing her bra with communion bread, and prescribing new meaning to the hymns she grew up singing by changing their lyrics and injecting humour into them. For her new piece she is examining the repressed sexuality of the church and the methods that were used to shelter children from learning about this basic human function. “If their parents didn’t want them to learn about sex ed in school, then that was totally fine. So I didn’t get to have that same talk that other kids would, I would get pulled out. I didn’t get to learn about evolution either” says Tracey. As she grew older, her confusion and curiosity around sex only grew, and this anxiety is at the heart of her exploration for her new piece.
Her process involves a dialogue with herself, and she will often text herself ideas or phrases that she will then process, edit and brainstorm on later. She also spends hours digitizing bizarre old Christian “Jesus type” instructional videos on how to be a Christian, which in the context her adult life as a non-Christian, holds very different meaning for her. Looking at her old family movies and photos also serves as a jumping off point for her working process, as does Youtube. “There is a Christian artist from back in the day that is still making Youtube videos, and he’s a big Trump supporter…so I’m kind of revisiting things from the past by using Youtube…Wow, I wonder if this person is still around? Oh wow, ya, still totally active…” says Tracey about her internet deep diving.
Tracey uses video in her work, but considers herself to be primarily a performance artist, although she has begun to incorporate conceptual drawing into her practice. “The drawings that I’ve been trying to do lately, and have done in the past, have a performative element to them” says Tracey, referring to a work she made where rode the number 20 bus for ten hours a day 12 days in a row, making repetitive line drawings referencing the physicality of the movement she experienced in this durational work. Physicality and vulnerability factor largely in her work, which she often struggles with because she also likes to use humour. “I like to use humour, and sometimes I think I’m not blurring the line between humour and vulnerability enough…I think it really feels good when there’s a good mix of the two…the sweet spot” she says.
Tracey’s Instagram takeover this past week has also served as a great platform for her to explore characters, or aspects of her own character. A few years ago she had a Youtube channel where she made similar videos exploring quirky and awkward characters. Her channel “was kind of like the Instagram videos, and I was trying to get that feeling again, because I really enjoyed making those videos and I haven’t done anything like that for a while”. She is also influenced by performance artists like Bridget Moser, who also uses humour and props to explore issues of vulnerability, as well as stand up comedy. A few years ago she hosted stand up comedy nights at Toast Collective, experimenting with performing comedic work within that context.
As an adult, Tracey met more non-Christians that questioned or challenged the beliefs she grew up with, which eventually led her to expand her mind and reject the teachings of her youth. However, the context in which she was raised clearly provides her with an abundance of issues to explore in her art practice.
Come to Left of Main March 28, 29 and 30 to see Tracey Vath’s brand new performance work for Shooting Gallery Performance Series.