A woman wearing a leather cat suit and yellow blazer speaking in to a microphone. A shirtless man is standing behind her.

If It Bleeds

Isabelle Pauwels
Friday, October 12, 2018 at 7PM

Commissioned and produced by EMPAC, If It Bleeds is a moving-image work inspired by recent events in the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Historically, MMA was promoted as something very distinct from both boxing—a sport so corrupt that the best hardly ever fight the best—and from pro wrestling, which is totally scripted and driven by mic skills, costumes, and bad acting. But in seeking to expand the audience, MMA promoters increasingly court the artifice of wrestling to privilege the showman over the sportsman. If It Bleeds follows the fighters, commissioners, reporters and a promoter as they battle through post-fight pressers, promotional tours, and disciplinary hearings. The narrative unfolds in a game of one-upmanship as the characters are seduced by their public image and driven by the fiction that everything happens “for a reason.” If It Bleeds uses the pageantry of sports-entertainment to explore the grotesque and sublime spectacle that is everyday survival.

Canadian artist Isabelle Pauwels works primarily in video and installation. Her blend of performance and documentary realism explores the fraught relationship between narrative conventions and everyday social interaction. If It Bleeds follows Pauwels’s 2014 EMPAC-commissioned multimedia performance ,000,.

Main Image: Isabelle Pauwels, If It Bleeds. Production still: Mick Bello/EMPAC.

A rubber snake holding a cut out of a bald eagle attacking a cupcake surrounded by plastic cockroaches.

Main Image: Isabelle Pauwels, If It Bleeds. Paula Court/EMPAC.

Excerpt from If It Bleeds, (2018). Courtesy the artist.

Program Notes

Pauwels describes If It Bleeds as a “workplace pageant” whose colorful characters and garish camera-friendly sets provide a backdrop to trace the intricacies of workplace hierarchy. Her subjects revolve around intra-group dynamics and the transactional structure of work. Ranging from the world of an online dominatrix and her customers (in the case of her recent installation ,000,) to the systems of behavior and psychological dynamics involved in the televised spectacle of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (the point of departure for If It Bleeds), Pauwels’ blend of performance and documentary realism explores the fraught relationship between narrative conventions and everyday social interaction. 

Pauwels approaches the process of making each new artwork from the position of editor, both in the sense of a video editor who cuts recorded footage on a timeline and the sculptor that chips away at physical material until it takes shape. Pursuing a deep engagement with the linguistic structures around any given group or community, Pauwels starts by listening: amassing notes, found footage, fragments of speech, and snippets of conversation. From these textual and visual materials, the script is assembled and adapted through the process of directing the cast. In post-production she strips the performances to their constituent parts through fast paced cuts until a play of gesture emerges that distills the vernacular dynamics of each character.

—Vic Brooks, Curator, Time-Based Visual Art

Dates + Tickets

Time-Based Visual Art
If It Bleeds
Isabelle Pauwels
Friday 12
7:00 PM
October 2018
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Production Credits

Writer, Director, and Editor / Isabelle Pauwels
Line Producer / Julie Niemi
Photographer / Sam Quinones
Additional voice recordings / Lotas Productions, Ny
And The Western Front, Vancouver
Hair & makeup / Genn Shaughnessy, Muah Makeup and Hair
Music / Harmonica by Chris London
3D modeling / Chris Kowal
Additional assistance / Sharon Kahanoff, Valérie Pauwels, Jean Marc Périn


If It Bleeds is supported by Canada Council for the Arts and British Columbia Arts Council.

EMPAC 2018–19 presentations, residencies, and commissions are supported by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Jaffe Fund for Experimental Media and Performing Arts.