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 188 and it’s all about tilted angles, 95%

Day 188 and it’s all about tilted angles. I gave the last Intro to Film lecture at Vanier, as the final exam will be next week. Hint: there will be a question on tilted angles, which director used them in what film we looked at this semester, and why. 95%

Today I was very much aware of performing proximity, or rather trying not to do it pointedly or intentionally. There were a few students at Vanier who I happened to walk behind on my way from the metro to school, both wearing leopard print pants or leggings. I tried to keep my distance for fear of embarrassing them. However, I don’t have this consideration off campus.

Performing Proximity Cougar follow

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This was November 2nd (Day 155) where I got off the metro at the St. Laurent stop and followed this woman out the exit, up the escalator, and out the door. I took a series of stills with my iPhone and just got to making this video animation today. Performing proximity looks and feels fairly predatory here.

Performing Proximity: purse on the metro

20121202-132947.jpgAnother example of performing proximity- something that I’ve started doing where I stand next to people (usually women) who are wearing similar animal prints to me. I document this when I can without drawing attention to the fact that I am taking pictures with my phone. Here, I am on the metro beside a woman with a black and grey leopard print purse.

Performing Cougar Proximity on the metro

A few weeks ago, I posted about standing next to people (usually women) who are wearing similar animal prints to me. I’ve started documenting this when I can and it doesn’t interfere with my experience, the wearer’s experience, or a public audience’s experience, who I am now noticing the presence of in these passive interactions. Also, I’m documenting with my smart phone, so I think it just appears as if I am txting or playing a game. Notice the Tim Horton’s coffee cup, my purse, her purse, my coat. Performing Cougar Proximity on the metro, orange line

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.


Cougar Diary, July 10th, 2012

This is the cougar you were looking for.

This past week, I had the absolute pleasure to attend Phil Hoffman’s Film Farm which is just outside of Mount Forest, Ontario. I met lots of amazing artists and had an absolute blast. Here, filmmakers shoot, hand process, and edit 16mm film. I make videos, and this was my first time using film. It exceeded my expectations in every way, and I hope to continue with it in my practice.

Naturally, Film Farm provided a great opportunity to talk about cougars. At first, I debated not saying anything about the project, and just seeing what would happen, if anyone would notice, care, or comment about my 100% daily wearing of animal print, or as I like to call it, sporting cougar skin. But once we all met, talked about what we do, what we make, and how we work, this seemed unfair and dishonest somehow. How could I out myself as a performance artist in the get-to-know-me introductions, and then not talk about performing cougar while wearing head-to-toe leopard print?

One of the things that keeps coming up about this project that I hadn’t anticipated is it’s relationship to consumerism: it seems like I am always shopping. I know, I know, this may be obvious to you, but it really wasn’t to me when I started, but man, am I aware of it now. I do try to buy second hand or sale items, and people have been very generous with donations and gifts. Danette MaKay and Rebecca Emlaw at Arterie Boutique & Friperie in Montreal gave me this bathing suit pictured above. Isn’t it a stunner?

Anyway, I was super excited to go to Film Farm, and talked about it to friends like I was going off to camp. I threw this suit in at the last minute, even though the insecure inner camper part of me couldn’t imagine wearing it as it really does facilitate letting it all hang out, quite literally. But then the joke-telling, feminist performance artist side of me said, “Dude. The bikini top attaches to the bikini bottom with a cougar anchor. Put on the suit.”

This cultural evaluation of female bodies, body image, and constant judgement of what we look like, especially in context of women over-40, is at the heart of this project.

So put on the suit.

By using my own body, I hope to confront and examine the paradoxical reflection of a mediatized social mirror that catches all women over-40 in its glass as the (un)desired subject.

Put on the fucking suit.

With this project, I hope to push the punchline of this older-lady-as-sexualized-object joke where I can take control of it, tell it, and ultimately steer it, and be the cougar you are looking for.

Don’t forget the sunscreen, Cougar.



Cougar diary, June 13, 2012

By now you’ve noticed that I’m not a very good cougar.
I’m okay with that.

The intent for this project is one of endurance and continues my interest in producing durational works where the start and end of a piece is blurred by the time of contact with the viewer. It is also an homage to and 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, 1984-1998), 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).

This project also speaks to durational documentation and (digital) practices in which the artist is both subject and documentarian; Tehching Hsieh’s (second) one year performance piece in which he shot a single frame of film of himself punching a time clock every hour on the hour for an entire year (One Year Performance 1980–1981 (Time Piece)) and Wafaa Bilal’s online work in which he transforms himself into a human tripod, having had a titanium plate surgically implanted onto the back of his head where a camera is attached to record and transmit images to the internet every minute, 24 hours a day (3rdi, December 14, 2010-December 18, 2011).

I’m sorry if I’m not living up to your expectations of a cougar.
We’ll talk about this more later.