Cougar Diary

Day 364: the last day, 100%

Day 364: the last day posing for a pic with Val Desjardins at La Centrale at the official closing of the project where the amazing and talented Nikol Mikus and Alyson Wishnousky worked their respective bags off styling subjects and taking wicked pictures of people who came to try on my animal print wardrobe, get their picture taken, and take an item or two home with them to make it part of their daily lives. Many pictures to follow!

I also performed Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, a performance in which members of the audience are invited to cut off a piece of my clothing until I am left naked.

Thanks to everyone for coming out and making this a very memorable end to a year of wearing animal print 24/7 for 364 days straight.


Day 317 with Michele Clarke, 100%

The selfie
This is Michele Clarke and I in a selfie at the end of our day together. Michele is a photographer who is interested in vulnerability and the seams of emotional discomfort. I met her through 52 Pick Up, a video-a-week project that I created and manage where she is currently in week 34. I finally met Michele in person about a month ago at the Edgy Women Festival and later at a mutual friend’s super fun birthday party where the birthday celebrator got into an over-guests/furniture wrestling match with an MMA fighter with feet headlocks and everything as a kind of birthday present.

It was pretty awesome.

At the party, Michele and I got to talking about vulnerability in relationship to this project and my daily wearing of animal print. She had noticed that there was no documentation of people around me or me in public settings on this site representing the project aside from selfies, portraits, and performing proximity images. I talked about my definite interest in getting these types of images, but what I saw as difficulty in taking them as I did not want to draw more attention to myself with a visible photographer. I mentioned that I had considered a Sophie Calle approach of hiring a detective to follow me around, but with my penchant for paranoia, decided that this was not the best idea. Michele offered great insights into my relationship with performing in public spaces and vulnerability which I am grateful for, pointing me to Haley Morris Cafiero’s work, and offered to come back to Montreal and follow me around with a telephoto lens in the hopes of capturing public interactions.

Below is one of the images she took from a two-hour walk today around the Plateau which is fairly representative of the looks and stares I got during this time and through which, Michele was fairly invisible. She was usually across the street and people were not noticeably aware of her, but were of me. As you may or may not be aware, this outfit is pretty reflective of what I have been wearing daily since June 1st, 2012.

I encountered a family in which a girl who was about 7 wore a leopard print coat and stroked it as she stared at me when I passed. I said hello to the family and I think she wanted to say something, but she just kept rubbing her coat. Another girl with her mother exclaimed “C’est beau, c’est beau, c’est beau!” over and over again to me which frankly, was awesome. I said “bonjour.”

I was called “la Gazelle” as I passed a couple (not sure what that is about- this is just the wrong animal, but I’ll take it for my research), and there were a handful of snorts by passersby (usually women). One woman who was by herself said “Calis” under her breath as she passed. The rest of the commentators that I heard were in couples or groups. I got growled at by a middle-aged man in the park who was with his female friends- it was playful and not aggressive, and 2 separate women laughed with their group as I walked by on St. Laurent Blvd.

Obviously, I’m going to have to start wearing a wire.

The old man

Cougar Diary: More on Intent and Duration

Estelle Rosen asked me this as part of her column “The Question” at the Charlebois Post. It details my intent with the project in relation to the female body and about durationality and was published on Monday, February 4th. I’m posting it here in it’s entirety with embedded links:

Estelle: I read about your current project Cougar for a Year on your website This project involves wearing animal print  “for every moment of every day for one year” including daily documentation of this project. What was the inspiration/motivation for this project and will this ultimately become one of your performance pieces?

Dayna: The simple answer to the first part of your question is that Cougar for a Year reflects my negotiation with a mid-life crisis.

On June 1st 2012, I turned 40. About a year leading up to this birthday, I had been thinking a lot about the body and how female performance artists like Carolee Schnemann, Yoko Ono, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan, Marina Abramović, Vanessa Beecroft, and Jess Dobkin have used the body and continue to use the body in their work now that they are over 40. I wondered, for those hiring out younger bodies like Beecroft and Abramović, what the criteria for doing so was, and how much their own aging body played in their choices and creation of work. What also factored into this was my aging body, and stereotypes about an older woman’s body that we see reflected back to us in pop culture like the ‘cougar’, a woman over 40 who aggressively demonstrates her (hetero)sexuality and may seek a younger sexual partner. What I came up with was the idea for a durational endurance piece that required me to wear animal print every day for an entire year. I named animal print as the uniform of the cougar for the sake of this project. I created an online interactive database ( which includes daily documentation, diary entries, photographs, and a public comment section that all serve as an archive of the performance. My intention with this yearlong project is to normalize the stereotype of the ‘cougar’, and investigate what this stereotype extends to feminist performance artists within a mass cultural context.

To answer the second part of your question, my wearing animal print every day for an entire year is the performance.

Documentation becomes key to this work and addresses the documentation/performance relationship (if it wasn’t documented, did it really happen?). This is why I am keeping a blog of what I wear everyday. Once the performance is finished, I will have this archive of the project, which will surely be presented in an exhibition, video and/or stage performance.

The durational aspect of this project continues my interest in producing performance works where the start and end of a piece is blurred by the time of contact with the viewer. It also continues a tradition of durational work by performance artists like Linda Montano who wore one colour of clothing each year for 7 years (7 Years Of Living Art, 1998), Tehching Hsieh and Linda Montano who tied themselves together with an 8-foot rope but not allowed to touch for one year (Art/Life: One Year Performance (a.k.a. Rope Piece), 1984), and Marina Abramović who sat immobile while visiting spectators took turns sitting opposite her for 736.5 hours accumulatively, at the New York Museum of Modern Art (The Artist is Present, 2010).

Within my own practice, I have been interested in duration and direct contact with an audience and taking work off of the stage, or at least performing in a way that is less about spectacle. I had experimented with this with Santa Beaver, a Cabaret character I transformed into a hands-on Santa bag where audience members are invited to sit on the Beaver’s knee, tell her what they’d like for Christmas, get on their knees, reach into the velvet, satin, fun-fur vagina sewn into the beaver costume that I am wearing, and pull out a gift. Come Shred My Heart and Monarchy Mama also reflect this interactive and durational interest, and something that I tried to achieve with both of these pieces was disinterest; I wanted to become the object like the lamp in the corner that you know is there, but don’t pay particular attention to. That’s how I would know the performance was finished, when this happened. So for example, I would enter the designated space, which is received by the audience as an “entrance” moment or start of a spectacle, and once people understood that there was no monologue, that there was no “shh, she’s performing’ moment and that they could come talk to me, interact with me if they wanted as a vagina dentata in the case of Come Shred My Heart where people were asked to write a note to their younger selves and shred it in a false vagina that I wore while I was seated on a gynecological table, or suck vodka from one of twenty-one vinyl breasts in Monarchy Mama, they could. Once the thrill of this interaction was gone, I continued to sit there, looked at or ignored, and this entire tableau would become another spectacle for new people entering the space.

With Cougar For A Year, I am focusing on a public examination of the female body, especially an older woman’s body in a cultural space where this body has somehow become public property ripe for commentary. My live encounters with people vary depending on whether or not they are ‘in’ on the performance. For those who are not ‘in’ on it, I am viewed as a colossal #FashionFail, an eccentric, a weirdo, but it is difficult to assess your own subjectivity through someone else’s eyes without direct confirmation. So far, not too many people have yelled at me, or made their disapproval known. Friends, family, and Facebook friends are all very generous both in their comments and support of this project, and I often get a message that says, “I thought of you today” because they saw animal print that reminded them of my project. For some, this project resides solely within the context of a documented practice housed on the Internet and within collected photographs i.e. the capture of the performative act instead of the initial experiential act itself.

But what does it mean? It’s hard to really get to the meat of “what this project is about” while it is happening and while I am performing it. I know that these are some of the reasons why I started, and that over the course of the 245 days that I have been performing this, other things have come to light that I hope to continue to explore.

So the next time you see a woman all dressed in leopard or snakeskin, ask yourself what your first impression of her was, and let me know.


Day 249 in the Provigo, 95%

Day 249 in the Provigo buying groceries. This is one of my favourite places to ‘perform’ this work. I take off my winter wear and pile it in the shopping cart to drive around the vegetables, meats, cheeses and snack products under the bright bright lights. I generally try to let the muzak lull me into a Stepford Wives state of mind because I am usually tired and just picking up dinner fixings on the way home from where ever I am. If people stare, I smile at them.

Day 227 in the mirror with press and dreams, 95%

Day 227 in the mirror. As my Dad pointed out over Xmas, this project seems to be a study in bathrooms. I guess there is always that to fall back on if this whole feminist-performance-artists-using-the-body-now-that-they’re-over-40/cougar analysis doesn’t work out. But how can it not with press like this?! Note to self: speak in more of a monotone! Next time! For print! And web! Interviews!

I now dream in leopard print. It started about a month ago. Shopping, folding clothes, getting dressed. Friends showing me animal printed things. Fairly banal, shallow, dreamscape consumervision. I also have nightmares that I am wearing plaid or that I am all dressed in black. That I have forgot. That I have lived a few days without the print, and realize that it’s too late. That my project is broken. That I broke it and it’s too late to fix it. That it’s wrecked. That I failed. Sometimes when I get dressed, I fantasize about wearing black cords and a soft red sweatshirt, wondering what that would feel like. Not the fabric, but the patternlessness of the material.

But onwards and upwards, I’m more than halfway there. No sense getting all Apocalypse Now on you (I’m debating about showing this in Intro to Film at CEGEP when I teach it again).

As for the pictures, I will try harder to mix it up or at least take you to bathrooms that you haven’t seen because you’ve pretty much experienced the whole wardrobe which I may or may not burn on June 2nd, 2013.


Fall Winter YYZ Cougar Diary

As I write this, Dayna has completed 221/365 days of her Cougar For a Year project. I am in no way a “fashionista” and when I began snapping photos for Cougar Sightings, I had no idea how popular animal prints are. I quickly realized that this was a much larger phenomena than I ever imagined. I have gone from taking photos of every animal print I encounter to being more selective. At first I photographed clothing that was for sale, but that is such an easy target that I rarely do it now, unless it it something exceptional. Sometimes I shoot from afar, sometimes I shoot from the car. Often I ask permission and give a vague explanation that a Montreal artist I know collects images of animal print clothing for an art project. I am surprised at how willing strangers are to let me take their photograph. I give them the option of recognizable face or not. Most often they don’t mind their face being exposed.

This batch of photos was taken from the end of the summer of 2012 until January 2012. The photos have been taken while walking, visiting and shopping with my mother, driving, watching TV, going to the doctor and attending events, such as Calgary’s first Nuit Blanche, the Calgary International Film Festival’s gala opening, Banff Wordfest, La Nostalgia Remix: Solid Gold performance, ACADFA Pizza Party and a 100th birthday celebration.

By the way my mother is 89 and has just become “friends” with an 84 years old man in her apartment building. She probably doesn’t know what a “cougar” is, but perhaps she is one.

Day 197 and this outfit has caused some reactions, 95%

Day 197

I took the metro to Vanier this morning and noticed that two women seemed not to like how I was dressed. One woman in her 20s stared at me and looked me up and down (I was sitting). I smiled at her. She looked away.
The woman next to me also stared at me with a bit of a scowl on her face. I smiled at her. She blinked, and looked away.
I was reading the Art History exam on the metro, so maybe they didn’t like that and it had nothing to do with my new shirt and jeans. Also, my knee touched the 2nd woman’s knee when the metro left the station (twice) and I moved my leg away.

After I gave the final exam in my Art History class a student said, “Can I ask you a question? You wear a lot of animal print.”
“Yes,” I said.
“So why?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you really like it?”
“I’m doing a project in which I wear animal print every day for a year. This is day 197.”
“Oh wow! I thought it was just a Thursday thing.”

Because of the exam, I was 2 hours late to the department meeting. Once I sat down and settled, Thomas said, “Liberace called and he wants his clothes back.”
“Good one,” I said.
“You really look fantastic,” he whispered.
“What? You can’t lead with Liberace and then end with fantastic. It makes ‘fantastic’ meaningless.”
“Why not? Liberace was great.”
Thomas also told me that he has a stuffed python that he got as a young man in Zaire if I wanted to borrow it. “I know about your project and thought of you. But you can only use it if you have something specific in mind.”

After the meeting, some of us went to Justine and Terryll’s house for a few end of term drinks (Thomas did not come). I met Louise, who teaches painting, and she told me that when she saw me come into the meeting she thought to herself, “there’s someone who doesn’t care what anyone thinks- there’s someone living outside of the box.” She also wondered who I was and thought I was a friend of Cheryl’s. She did not know that I also taught in the department. She is going to Jamaica for a month to shoot a documentary.

Day 138: Cougar Diary, 95%

Today a woman in my class (did I mention I am doing my PhD?) said I should “tone it down” if I wanted people to “get” the cougar reference in my year long, daily wearing of animal print. (She was talking about my eccentric colour choices, and thought I should stick to the browns and recognizable leopard prints associated with the cougar.) She asked if I was “performing” cougar. I said I was trying to live it as best I could. (I meant the daily wearing of the animal print, not the predatory cougar lifestyle that the stereotype implies, which I should really articulate more clearly.) Someone else wanted to know if I was more aggressive (I know- more aggressive than what?!), and again, they meant in reference to the cougar stereotype, and I said that I wasn’t jumping 19-year-olds for the project, but I had been surpassing my self-imposed rule of wearing 60% visible animal print to 95-100%, and had started to stand next to animal print wearing women on the metro. Women over 40, if they notice, move away from me however subtly, and younger women have pointedly laughed, stared or not noticed. I also mentioned that I had successfully and confidently walked down Crescent Street (at 3 in the afternoon) a few weeks ago, and stopped myself from executing a plan to return in different outfits and walk the same route at various times to log deprecating, cougar-calling comments as data for my research. I decided against this awesome plan because although I am sure that it would generate data similar in depth and scope as the reddit conversation did about an image posted on this site, this isn’t a project in humiliation, although depending on the day and the outfit, it can be (awwww). This brings up a whole other conversation about predetermined outcomes in research and “asking for it,” which I will need to address, especially in light of rape “culture where women’s bodies are public property.”

So. I am still not the cougar you are looking for.
Not even in an academic setting.

And that’s cool because although the cougar stereotype is the root of this project, I think I have established early on that sporting a house-high hair-do with full make-up in a tight leopard print dress in stilettos with attitude to match is simply not sustainable for me everyday of the year. Nor is it comfortable. Nor is that the point. But it’s great to have these conversations, because I am interested in her and what people have to say about her- this cougar we all seem to know and have (strong) opinions about whether we embrace, mock, sexualize, or vilify her.

I also mentioned to my classmates that with my 2-inch roots, need of a mustache wax, and extra pounds, obviously, I’m a pretty shitty cougar. And that’s kind of the point too.


Day 99 and I think the animal print is speaking, 100%

Day 99 and I think the animal print is speaking to men in their 40s-50s. This at least, is a working theory.

Today on the metro, a man in his 20s offered me his seat, and I thought “wow, do I really look that old?” When I offer up my seat, it is usually to an older person who is 60+or a pregnant woman. I was yawning on the way into the metro car, and I am sporting a bit of a spare tire these days, so perhaps the gentleman thought I was both tired and preggers. Also, I could have appeared 60+ to him. I know I am roughly 100 years old to some of my CEGEP students. Or, he may have simply been acting polite based solely on traditional gendered etiquette rules and regulations. This ‘analysis’ of course is completely biased and dependent on my interpretation of events. Factual data collected: He offered his seat in french, he had a suitcase, he was fairly insistent. I declined, and the seat remained empty until I got off of the metro 4 stops later. My pride prevented me from taking the seat. I did not “need” it. I was embarrassed and felt old. I wondered at what age or in what condition I would start to take the seat if and when it is offered again. I tried to see and decode the image of myself that was being reflected back to me from this man and it was blocked by the image I have of myself being seen by others.

<Read this, which was not my experience at all, but has me thinking a lot about misogyny, gender, etiquette, and both the Canadian and American war on women. It was the first article I read from facebook when I got home.>

Later this afternoon, a man in a red truck (this is where the 50-something analysis comes in) slowed down, said “Miss!” rather urgently, and I turned in response thinking he wanted directions. We are in the Plateau. His face broke into a smile, and he said, “Bonjour.”

Now, I’m sure this happens to other women fairly regularly in both positive and negative ways as demonstrated in the recommended link above, but this does not happen to me and did not happen to me before I started wearing animal print for this project. My gf wanted to know how old the Vanier car guy was (as he is now being referred) and suggested that the animal print was somehow a generational code that perhaps spoke to these men on some level. This theory dovetails quite nicely with my project about Cougars and their ‘uniform,’ so I am aware that our exploration of this idea is again, biased.

When we got home that evening, we drank some champagne to celebrate and mark the start of school and new projects for both of us and we took a few pictures. This is where our theory may come apart as perhaps it is not the animal print that is talking to men in their 40s and 50s as much as it is the cleavage. I had not noticed how cleavage-y this shirt was before. More research required. 266 more days to go, 100%.