Maylee Todd Lawnya Vawnya, St. John's NL, May 26
Published May 27, 2018Moseying through the front door of the Eastern Edge Gallery just across from St. John's harbour, festival goers found themselves standing at the opening of another door on Saturday. But this wasn't just any door — it was a kaleidoscopically decorated vulva, ready to embrace those who opened themselves up to the immersive experience of Maylee Todd's Virtual Womb.
The description of the installation/experience/performance made it sound slightly more structured than what it actually turned out to be: welcoming, consciousness expanding feel-goodery. But that is also selling it wildly short. Todd's vision for the Virtual Womb was to create a place of "gestation, meditation, rebirth, and deprogramming… Where birth and death are one and the same."
It was also heavily influenced by her experiences with psilocybin, and it's appropriately psychedelic, with projected visuals both behind and above Todd, who sits at her harp and machines for most of the performance. The projections are compelling and vivid, sometimes soothing and sometimes energizing in strange or unnerving ways, like the one that accompanies a song that Todd wrote after doing mushrooms and staring into a mirror, her skin and self melting away, revealing layers of muscle and bone.
Todd isn't the first person to explore life's questions and create art with the aid of hallucinogenic drugs. But she has done something with the things she's learned from using psilocybin that radiates with positivity, and the environment Lawnya Vawnya created, especially by the last day of the festival, was one that was decidedly conducive and open to those good vibes.
With participants lounging and laying in the dark on the floor of the gallery, and Todd guiding us through the Virtual Womb — not strictly but more like a friendly psychonaut willing to explore certain tangents — the experience was nothing short of rejuvenating, which is nothing short of necessary on the fourth day of a music festival. She stopped for jokes, to make sure she performed tracks properly, to walk around the room and consensually hug or provide small acts of affection to those on the trip. And damn, has she got pipes.
The spacey, soulful R&B, melded with the fluidity of her harp playing, provided the perfect sonic waves to surf for the hour-long ride. Todd passed out sheets of paper on which she encouraged participants to write down the acts of love they perform for themselves and others, being as specific as possible. And while everyone wrote them down, she ended the whole thing on the floor with everyone, on her knees, with the evening's most powerful vocal performance.
It was that rare kind of happening where environment, artist, audience, art, and timing create a perfect storm — something that would be difficult to synthesize again. On the way out, everyone passed through the trippy, glittery vulva again, refreshed and reborn into the chilly Newfoundland spring.