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Michael Dudeck Speaks!

VoCA has long championed Winnipeg as a hotbed for contemporary artists – Guy Maddin, Sarah Anne Johnson and Paul Butler among them.

Since he was included in AA Bronson’s School for young shamans at John Connelly Presents in NYC last year, along with other VoCA favorite Item Idem, young Winnipeg artist Michael Dudeck is fast emerging as one of the country’s most intriguing performance artists.

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Michael Dudeck, Parthenogenesis at Pari Nadimi Gallery. Image: courtesy the artist.

Fresh from his first exhibition at Toronto’s Pari Nadimi Gallery, VoCA contributor Whitney Light caught up with Dudeck in Winnipeg:

VoCA: You do sculpture, drawing, performance. Why not focus on just one?

Michael Dudeck: The Gesamtkunstwerk, the total artwork—I crave that experience. I think film is at the forefront of culture because it is that sort of totality that contains everything. And I’m really excited by contemporary art that seeks to create an experience of that magnitude. All those layers of production enable the viewer to become totally encompassed to the point when you’re actually watching a strong film that you almost don’t exist as an independent entity.

VoCA: When did you know you wanted to make art?

MD: I was always a drawer. It was important for me to create myself. So as soon as I turned 18, I went to Burning Man by myself. I needed to experience a world of artists. As soon as I did that, everything in me was changed.

VoCA: What was it about Burning Man that changed you?

MD: Have you read Dante’s Inferno? I think that what (Burning Man) offers is just pure, raw, Dionysiac creative energy. Everything unrestrained. Sexuality. There is no division there. No skins. Everything is out in the open and you’re surrounded by this overwhelming totality that is all created, because that whole place prior to anybody being there is completely blank, it’s a blank canvas. But it’s nature, and then all of a sudden you’re there and you’re overwhelmed with this multiplicity. And it almost feels like if you could live in the ocean with…predators, prey, fairies, religions, spirituality, capitalism. It’s like a big primordial soup. So I think for me it justified and showed me that there are lots of people that live as intensely as I—especially at that point when I was younger—whose lives are based around that intensity and it really gave me hope and inspiration.


A photograph from Burning Man. Image: celebratebig.com

VoCA: Did your interest in shamanism and paganism start around that time also?

MD: Yeah, there are two things that started that. Before I went to Burning Man I was involved with an environmental organization and I worked with a bunch of witches who were saving the forest. I ended up being involved in the Green Peace action when they came to Winnipeg and we shut down the Morden Research Station. And we were dressed in these biohazard suits and the whole event was so powerful and artistic. It was wonderful. And it ended up working. It was to stop genetically modified wheat being ok’d by the Wheat Board. When I went to art school and heard about performance art I saw it was the exact same (approach).

VoCA: How did you get involved with AA Bronson’s School for young shamans?

MD: I came to the conference here that Plug In put on, Art Tomorrow, for their new building. I went up and introduced myself because I was working on an artist book and I knew that he ran Printed Matter. As soon as he left I just wrote to him, “You have spirituality in your practice and I feel like that’s something that’s really criticized and laughed at, so I wonder what advice you could give me?” We just started talking and he said, “Oh well you know I’m just making this show for young shamans, are you interested?”


AA Bronson as healer. Image: hragvartanian.com

VoCA: Generally, the purpose of the shaman is to cure. Is that how you would describe what you’re doing?

MD: I have a quiet shamanistic practice where I’ll do traditional hands-on body healing, energy work, everything like that but—AA Bronson, he doesn’t put any divide between that. In his installations, people will come in and he’ll do healings on them. It’s part of the work. I keep those things separate. My work is based upon undergoing these ritual transformations but we’re still dealing with similar energy.

VoCA: So you exhibited work that you had already completed?

MD: I exhibited three drawings that I had already completed but I created a performance specifically for the environment, which was a conclusion of two works that I was doing which featured a fish. One of them, I beat myself the fish, performed fellatio on it, ate it, spread it all over. The fish was sort of a mediator and a narrator of a variety of sexual questions and confusions I’ve had and then the commencement of it was done in New York where I sort of held the fish as my baby in the gallery, naked, for three hours and just looked at people and held it.


Michael Dudeck at AA Bronson’s School for young shamans. Image: timeoutnewyork.com

VoCA: How did that feel?

MD: It was one of the most fascinating situations. On some levels, because the fish was a metaphor for love in my life and up until then it was like the fish dance. The difficult things I endured with the fish was me going through my history with men and I felt also when I did the performance like it was an exorcism. I took the fish to be a metaphor of my love. So I felt really protective of it. I felt like honoring it, and also it was my first experience of the New York art world and I was sitting there naked—I felt almost like an immigrant would feel first coming to Canada with a child and nothing and all of these hyenas surrounding me and looking at me. It was actually the most fascinating way to experience New York to be an art object.

VoCA: With the fish, some people will read that as a biblical reference. And you also did the performance Only One Who Draws the Knife Gets Isaac. How much does the Bible enter your work?

MD: The relation to the Bible is always in my work. This whole issue of the pharmakos, the sacrificial victim, Christ is just another one of those. So, to pose as a Christ-like figure is no different than posing as any other sacrificial victim. Throughout the Bible and throughout all of our stories, mythology is replete with these sorts of images, so definitely that was intentional and by situating myself as a quasi-prophet I’m also exploring and negotiating the fact that being a male, if I have long hair and pose in any sort of sacrificial posture, I’m referencing Christ. And art history is so much about Christ that you can’t escape that.

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Michael Dudeck, Parthenogenesis at Pari Nadimi Gallery. Image: courtesy the artist

VoCA: What projects are you working on now? You’ve gone around Winnipeg sometimes as Boudicca. Are you still doing that?

MD: Boudicca is an underground figure. It’s interesting, because that’s part of me that doesn’t exist in the high art world. I also like to perform and just be punk. In the art world you have to be responsible for everything you do. Boudicca allows me to just lose it. So I do Boudicca, I pull her out. She’s like another entity of mine and that’s where I’ll try out a lot of stuff. And if it works out I’ll try to bring it into the other practice. Having that other entity is really helpful for me. Right now I’m developing a new project for Pari Nadimi Gallery. I’m going to have another solo exhibition in 2010. Now what I feel what I’m doing with my practise is almost like creating a new religion, like Parthenogenesis was the birth and now I’m sort of planning its life.

VoCA: There’s also this idea of dismemberment linked to shamanism. Does that come into your work?

MD: For sure. In some cases I feel like having an exhibition of multiple media is actually dismemberment because I think of each of them as a different organ of something that I’ve ripped open. And that whole idea, that by ripping open yourself and pulling everything out and putting it back in, you are involved in a deep ritual cleansing. I think of it metaphorically obviously. Mummification has also become important, again, with this recent [work].

VoCA: Is there anything that grosses you out, that makes you uncomfortable?

MD: Truly yes, there is. Fascinating because, I recently watched a documentary on a ritual sacrifice murder of three boys in Iowa and it fucked me up.

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