Stopping – And Other Restful Interruptions

stopping action
photo by Jean-François Prost

In late August, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop facilitated by Jean-François Prost, founder of Adaptive Actions (AA), an artistic laboratory, that “gives voice to marginal causes, alternative urban lifestyles, counter-conduct and citizen artistic creation by which imagination and personal creativity influence daily life.” As the continuation of a project initiated in Mexico, AA set up shop in Montreal in partnership with the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, and carried out its current research – STOPPING/MONTREAL – with the collaboration of seven participants: Renee Baert, Mélanie Courtois, Marilyn Forget, Thomas Ouellet Fredericks, Alexandre Jimenez, Maya Nohra, and yours truly.

Reading the description of the workshop call, I clearly recognized a kindred spirit and saw a timely occasion to be part of an exciting dialogue: “With a strong interest in the singular reality of the grassroots creative appropriations found in the fabric of different cities, AA proposes an action-workshop based on the concept of stopping. Stopping is an activity that can be carried out in different ways by all as a gesture of resilience in a world designed primarily to encourage work, consumption, perpetual growth and efficiency…”

And so getting to know more about AA’s previous endeavours while meeting with this group of artists/cultural workers to exchange on ideas around what Stopping means to each of us (and how we could each carry our own brand of “Stopping Action”) ended up not only being an ideal way to wrap up the summer (of largely Doing Nothing), but also a perfect manner in which to create a bridge between my first official cycle of the Doing Nothing project with DARE-DARE artist-run centre, and the second cycle which is just about to begin at McGill University.

…In fact, while I hadn’t made the direct connection leading up to the conception and final carrying out of my “Stopping Action,” I clued in as I was describing it during our post-actions presentation that my repeated venturing into the middle of the intersection on a red light, to stand and stare dreamily at the cars and horizon stretched out in front of me, effectively encapsulated all the components proposed for this second cycle. Namely, Resting, Walking, and Place-Making.

The flash of this image of standing still in an intersection came as my response to the Stopping proposal (as outlined by Jean-François, and further elaborated upon by our group). That proposal included the notion of “interruption” – that a thing occurring as a break in an otherwise steady flow could constitute either an imposed pause or an unexpected one; a kind of disruption (of routine or conventional behaviour). Further, I was interested in the tension that could emerge from this interruption. These ideas became keys that unlocked this particular image: a situation in which stopping is inherent – yet limited; where a pre-determined “rule” would be re-interpreted through an exaggerated response. The light turns red, cars stop. The light turns green, I walk. The light turns green, cars go. The light turns red, I stop. But what if I walk on the green light, to then stop my walking in mid-path, in front of the cars, and stay still? Obviously I can’t stay still for longer than a set amount of seconds, otherwise, I risk being hurt (or at the very least, being honked angrily at). Hence an inherent (even if subtle) tension. We know that a stopping will take place, but the drivers – momentarily faced with me in front of them – are themselves now faced with the reality of their own stopping (at this red light) as something newly acknowledged possibly beyond a given: “I am here, sitting in my car. I am stopped by a red light.” A possibility for a certain self-reflexivity. We both (all) hold that space of stopping, together.

A few interesting things occurred: Because I continually walked back and forth, stopping in the middle each time before continuing on to the other side, I noticed that entering from one side of the street was vastly different than the other. Who would have thought? For reasons I have yet to understand, one side was easier, while the other more challenging, and it meant that my experience of standing in the middle was never quite the same either – depending upon which side I entered from. My experience of standing in the middle also varied depending on how many cars were stopped in front of me; and the kinds of vehicles they were. A motorcycle had a different impact than did a bus. In fact, I found the bus so imposing that it became nearly impossible to feel any kind of “rest” in this position; I felt my whole body go into “high alert” and like I couldn’t wait to complete my 10-15 seconds of stillness to then find safety on the other side of the street.

With most of the other moments of stopping, however, I felt a tremendous sense of relaxation, like I could just sink into that spot and stay there. For several minutes. Which obviously I didn’t do. But this revealed a secondary interruption; the reality that I had to stop my stopping! I didn’t want to terminate this break but wanted it to keep going. So several rounds of crossing back and forth were each continuously interrupted, a stop-and-start conundrum that could (if I chose) keep going indefinitely, with the non-stop changing of the traffic light from red to green, and back again.

And the connection to Resting, Walking, Place-Making? Well, in describing the experience after the fact, I saw all the components emerging, and merging: walking in a continuous loop to stop and receive (quite profoundly at that) the horizon in front me, while inadvertently reconnecting to an intersection that at one time of my life was integral to my everyday. The intersection in question, on Clark Street at Mozart (a couple of blocks away from AA’s famed terrain vague in Little Italy, Montreal), being the precise location of an apartment where I once lived six years ago.

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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