Post-(Non)Action Thoughts: Sylvie Tourangeau on Doing Nothing

In true Sylvie Tourangeau fashion, this pioneer of Canadian performance art had us carrying out a very personalized form of performative encounter during the presentation which revisited her own year-and-a-half-long residency titled Temps libre. Temps libre (or Free Time, in English) was a project in which Sylvie questioned how we individually embody a sense of internal freedom; where/when we make space to welcome ourselves and create what it is in our day-to-day lives that we turn to accommodate this form of downtime and accomplish our self-nuturing. … This description is my words, you can read about it from Sylvie’s perspective on the 3e impérial’s website (the artist-run centre that hosted her research).

While her project at the 3e culminated in an exploration of what it means to be a “faiseur de temps libre” (a maker – or doer – of free time), for the Talking About Nothing With… series she decided to transform this role into a “detector of free time” (“des détecteurs de temps libre”). Kind of like what a smoke detector does, sniffing out the fire before it bursts into flames, a detector of free time wanders freely and sniffs out the invisible zones where states of free-ness – of time not being counted on the clock, or space being taken without necessarily any real mission to accomplish – might be circulating around and between us.

Describing her ideas to the group of assembled participants, Sylvie recounted the evolution of her approach to thinking about what role Free Time plays, and how we can try to get there. She pointed to it being a kind of state of mind (“un état d’esprit”) in which we may experience a “non-anticipation,” a state in which there is little, or no imposing of one’s will (onto a situation), nor are there any expectations. She underlined these facets to then propose the possibility that when we arrive in a space, this “Free Time” might already be present and floating around us. “Et si le temps libre existait déjà?” She asked. … Hence our role of becoming Free Time Detectors.

So she then dispatched us out into the environs of the Atwater Market in a duet of exercises, the first part with each of us dispersed through the market’s various interiors, looking for surprise instances of a preexisting Free Time. After coming back together for a group discussion, we were sent back out again, this time to wander around the outside of the market, into the parking lot and over toward the canal and foot bridge, and to the train tracks and various other elements in the surrounding landscape, to now consider where we find “mobility within immobility.”

This second exercise was inspired by a succinct remark one of the participants in her residence at the 3e impérial had offered her during one of their accumulated meetings: “Le temps libre c’est le temps qui se trouve juste avant le geste” (free time is time that can be found right before the gesture). So the idea here was to see if we could locate, as the Free Time Detectors that we had become, a sense of movement within that which is seemingly still (and vice-versa). In other words, what is the relationship of stillness to movement – in particular within those spaces where free time is often found (like where we were here, at a farmers’ market).

Assembled once again, we exchanged our respective experiences. The breadth of observations from the two activities provided the following:

– I had a strong sense of free time at the moment when I spontaneously exchanged smiles with a stranger, and then again when the merchant at one of the kiosks shut the lights to close up shop.

– I looked at compost in a bin, rotting, and wondered: is this a form of free time?

– I saw employees in some of the shops kind of standing around, because they knew the day was coming to a close and I thought this was small window of free time in their work day.

– I was looking for who or what might be feeling free time around the market: were products on shelves in a kind of free time; the pot of flowers or the smoked ham?

– I didn’t so much feel like a detector, but like a porous entity, like I was a walking state of welcoming; to have free time, one needs to be able to welcome…

– My reflex was to move slowly, because I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, so I needed to make sure I was slow enough to be sure not to miss it!

– After being very still I wanted to interact with everything in the environment.

– Observing all the lines around me: I wanted to be part of these lines but break with them as well. It had me wondering whether my free time would exist after my gesture as well…

– I didn’t, or couldn’t, really feel (or find) immobility; everything is constantly moving in some way or other, including the thoughts in my head! I found a kind of peace with this, however; knowing that everything does just keep moving…

… And this, I found, was the perfect presentation with which to wrap up the Talking About Nothing With… series, an extended moment of combined individual/collective contemplation about the invisible spaces that fill our day-to-day, those instances in which pause (as possibility and as phenomenon) can flourish to (even if only momentarily) become opportunities for revelatory moments about the self.

Author: Victoria Stanton

Montreal-based performance artist, writer, and educator Victoria Stanton explores live action, human interaction, video, film, photography, and drawing.

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