Encumbrance (Johannes Zits) SummerWorks 2019 Review

Photo of Johannes Zits lying bent backbackwards on a pile of clothes

Encumbrance, created and produced by Johannes Zits with the assistance of Holly Timpener, is listed on the  SummerWorks 2019 website as a live art performance. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. The listing goes on to say “…contemplating the relationship between the body, identity and clothing.” which, in retrospect, is quite funny because the four performers just wore hand-made thongs most of the time.

Before the show started I was poking around a bit and saw a huge pile of bundles of clothes; clothes wrapped in sheets and tied into balls. There must have 80 or 90 of them.

The show is in a large L-shaped mezzanine, essentially two rooms, with floor to ceiling windows along one wall. Benches were lining one of the walls in the larger room, and some folding chairs were available, but the audience was encouraged to move around to watch the four performers. There were three centres of activity.

When the doors opened Holly Timpener was already in the smaller room with a huge ball of fabric. As the show begins, Enok Ripley and Tess Martens come into the large room, each with a bundle of clothes, and stand facing each other, about 25 feet apart, next to the window. They begin cutting off their clothes in narrow strips.

At the same time, Zits starts throwing balls of clothes from the huge pile into the room. He then moves all the bundles to build a tower against a pillar.  It collapses. He falls.

I find myself wanting to offer to help him, he seems out of breath and tired. I resist. He builds another tower. He climbs it, holding a huge globe on his shoulder, looking like Atlas. I can’t breathe; I’m sure he’s going to fall.

He moves those bundles at least six times. Each time he seems more tired and less in control of his body. I realize that I’m emotionally invested in Zits’ progress and well-being; not something that I expected.

As I was slipping my SummerWorks donation into the bucket, a couple of the volunteers started chatting with me. One of them said that all the moving of bundles had made them think of Sisyphus and the futility of rolling the boulder up the steep hill. I’ve been thinking about that, and about the show.

Before it started, I decided that I would just accept the show for what it said to me; that I didn’t have to try and match it to the artist’s stated meaning. If I could great. If not, that was fine too. I didn’t want to spend my evening feeling intimidated because I couldn’t see what the artist said they were saying.

Did I ‘get it’? I don’t know, I’m still thinking. I enjoyed Encumbrance, I’m glad I had an opportunity to see it. There’s only one more performance. You should go.


Encumbrance is at Toronto Media Arts Centre – Mezzanine
32 Lisgar Street, Toronto, ON


  • Thursday August 8th 8:00pm – 9:30pm
  • Friday August 9th 7:00pm – 8:30pm

Warnings: Partial nudity

Information on tickets and passes:

SummerWorks tickets uses a Pay What You Decide system for every show: $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level.

Advance tickets are available up until 3 hours before show time and can be purchased as follows: Online, using the Buy Ticket link found on every show page; In person at the main SummerWorks Festival Box Office the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) – open August 8-18 from 12pm-8pm. Tickets purchased in advance are subject to a convenience fee of $2.50/ticket. Any remaining tickets will be made available for sale at the performance venue starting 1 hour before show time. Venue box offices accept cash only.

Money saving passes are available if you are planning on seeing at least 4 shows.

Photo of Johannes Zits by Henry Chan