Art collective's satirical YAGA routines help energize and pacify in these troubled times


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I don’t know about you, but current events have got me feeling tense. Anxious, outraged, achy, spent — whatever, you get the picture.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/02/2017 (2133 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I don’t know about you, but current events have got me feeling tense. Anxious, outraged, achy, spent — whatever, you get the picture.

As vulnerable populations and the rule of law come under increasingly violent attack stateside, in Quebec City and everywhere else, apparently, it’s been heartening to see resistance and solidarity given loud voice on city streets around the world. Still, as a sign at one recent protest put it, “I’m running out of poster board,” and we’re just getting started.

When “compassion fatigue” sets in, it’s important to step back, take stock of one’s inner reserves, practise “self-care.” YAGA, just one “lifestyle choice” offered by the international collective Desearch Repartment, aims to help you do just that.


“First you must discover your body-mind connection: the neck,” a gentle-voiced YAGA teacher announces near the beginning of a 20-minute instructional video, Starbucks coffee in hand, clad in a hooded bodysuit emblazoned with photos of world leaders, celebrities and corporate logos. “YAGA creates flexibility, especially in the neck area, so we can say yes to everything.”

I feel more acquiescent already.

From “Ground Zero” through Levels 9, 11 and 2001+, practitioners learn to awaken their “Shock-Awes,” “privilege and colonize the spine,” contain and integrate “free radicals” and channel their “whi,” which “floats freely across skin borders fuelling privilege, producing power.” The goal is to finish “energized but also pacified.”

The video, Neo-Lived Realism’s Torture Compassion A Way of Life, is currently screening at Platform Centre and on Desearch Repartment’s website. In a grassy park, the masked instructors guide viewers through key poses — lie on the mat under gold-and-silver Mylar blankets while drones hover overhead; lift your chin into “Rise Above” position, then lower into “Lockdown” and repeat, finishing with a palms-up shoulder shrug. There’s “underdog” and “upwardly mobile dog” to master.

Between lessons, the instructors assume other poses, miming airport security pat-downs and “stress positions” used by American forces and others to torture detainees. Naked except for their hoods, they act out S&M scenarios — direct echoes of physical and sexual abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison in the second Gulf War.


If satire is still a meaningful concept when reality is this deranged, YAGA is obviously satirical, and nobody is off the hook — some of the sickest burns are reserved for artists, and pioneering performance artist-turned-accessory Kardashian Marina Abramovic stands in as a serene patron saint of artistic narcissism.

The wordplay and doublespeak are incessant, and the imagery is jarring, but clever editing and soothing voiceovers help it go down easy. Indeed, the videos’ compulsive watchability offers its own indictment — one feels guilty for being entertained.

The drones, refugee blankets and frenetic mishmash of digital imagery are pointedly of-the-moment. Desearch Repartment critiques entrenched power structures by flamboyantly if dispassionately re-performing their most irritating excesses, a common tack of “post-Internet” art, but they never lose sight of how we got here and what’s at stake.

Neo-Lived Realism harkens back not just to ’90s-era “culture-jamming” and the second Bush regime, but to Reagan, Thatcher, the AIDS epidemic and the protest movements they inspired.

In 2017, when “Bush did 9/11” is an Internet punchline for kids who were toddlers when the towers fell, this perspective feels important.

Supplied Desearch Repartment is not afraid to call upon imagery from harrowing moments of the past decade, such as torture and abuses at Abu Ghraib.

The video leaves us with a storm coming in off the ocean, a potent reminder of the refugee crisis and what we turn away from when we turn inward.

The video is on at Platform until Feb. 18, but a member of Desearch Repartment (who asked not to be named) will be in Winnipeg this week and next. Tomorrow at MAWA you can drop in for a lunch-hour YAGA session; an artist talk follows next Monday at Cinematheque.


Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

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Supplied Satire is a clear theme in YAGA, though it’s unclear if there’s much of a place for it in a reality this deranged.
Supplied This project mixes crass commercialism and human rights atrocities like the best of 1990s culture-jamming.
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