Non-Action #2 (failure and the motivation to stop)

Non-action #2, as part of res(is)ting / repos comme résistance

May 22, 2021
Stationnement du centre communautaire arménien de Laval /
pavillon arménien du ROCAL
397 Boul des Prairies, Laval, QC

The location
When we got to the site and saw that several men (friends or members of the Armenian community centre) were out cooking up a BBQ at first it seemed like a golden opportunity to create a friendly disturbance, perhaps strike up a conversation. But I realized as we got into Verticale’s truck (AKA, Villa) and attempted to find another angle to park, to support the display of the banner as our backdrop (see above/below), our disturbance was mildly aggressive; as if we showed up and decided to abruptly move our weight around (quite literally).

This played negatively into my approach of wanting to be welcoming; I’m a guest in their space (not the other way around), and so to act as if I can just go ahead and decide how I want to occupy their turf would have been, I thought, quite presumptuous. And just plain rude. So I reconsidered. I could have made the attempt to ask questions, to ingratiate myself, but again wondered if this would have been viewed with suspicion – and would have also had to assume that they would even want to engage with me. Maybe they would have, who knows. But there was something of my parachuting in, “the artist-in-residence” with the attendant (privileged) attitude (encountered too many times) that turned me right off. I didn’t want to turn on charm and demonstrate interest for the sake of getting something.[1] As such, being very cautious to not want to instrumentalize (the other, the situation), I opted instead to just leave them their space and go occupy another. As was our plan A. And we brought Villa to the front lawn that faces Boul. des Prairies.

The banner
Generously driven by Hannah, Villa found a good spot to set up shop and Hannah and I set to work putting up the banner. Our guests (Hannah’s friend JS, my ARTE colleague SC and stunt-double JS) congregated happily on the grass under a big tree a few feet over from us.

Several attempts at trying to mount this 12 x 5 foot vinyl slogan became an exercise in futility, not to mention failure. And at one distinct moment I felt something shift. I think this was the crux of the non-action, and the significant occurrence of that day’s (non) event.

The decision to stop.
To say no.
To let go.
The decision to give up…
Because this, I decided, was NOT the point of being here today.

The decision to be good with this unexpected outcome… because that’s the essence of not being in the image of the work – of what I thought I was going to do, of how I thought this was going look – as opposed to staying with what is actually happening. Or, more precisely, to make the decision to choose to abandon the aesthetic script.

The question stung fiercely and rung fantastically true.

The irony of my own question coming to confront me head-on.

I did envision a kind of staging and framing and that composition, very clearly articulated in my mind, would have been nice to see. But also, nice to document. Ah yes. It would make for a good image to represent this “performance.” The performance’s aesthetic. But this work isn’t necessarily about producing nice images. No, I wasn’t here to spend over an hour trying to unsuccessfully put up a banner and try to make that image manifest. I was here to hang out. So I dropped the damn thing on the ground, and joined my guests. Best decision ever.

The non-action
This constituted the five of us, sitting in a circle (socially distant) in Adirondack chairs, on the fresh-cut grass, under a beautiful tree. We chatted very informally about art, studies, upcoming projects, and the multitude of serendipitous occurrences and personal overlaps that had us unknowingly previously connected in surprising ways. 

It was pleasant. It was refreshing. It was soft. It was sparkly.

Perhaps in part because we are still only slowly coming out of a year-and-a-half of pandemic isolation and with that for the most part have been a combination of very alone and/or having not met new people for a long while outside our immediate bubbles. This I’m sure added to the gentle excitement of the moment: the fact that we were hanging out – safely – but together and bouncing off each other’s energies, and the joy of sharing; of making contact.

The non-documentation
In line with everything mentioned above, somehow I wasn’t inspired to take pictures. I didn’t feel like removing myself from the circle to stand outside it and look in, with the camera. Nor did I feel like pulling (putting) Hannah outside the circle either. So I decided to let that one go too.

The non-art moment
I’m in the midst of an important crisis. Small “c” crisis. There are far more important things going on the world right now. …For some time I’ve been referring to that ambiguous space: the thin zone that sits – rather imperceptibly – between the art event and goings-on of everyday life, which I have insistently defined as a space of artful making. This everyday occurrence, framed as “art,” therefore being (previously, in my work) called art is slipping further and further away. It becomes increasingly ambiguous and I actively encourage it. By inactively doing more than what the moment calls into being. I can’t help but again ask: is this thing I am doing even art? But the new facet of this questioning is the direction it’s now taking. For while I previously spent a lot of time finding ways to articulate this practice as art, now I am feeling as though I’m really not sure whether it is. And I’m not sure that I need to know. I’m not sure how much it really matters (to me, anymore). And… dare I say, that I might just not care.

But that’s a scary position for me to take on. And I’m not sure that I’m totally there.

I think this will be part of the discourse that I will continue to explore and develop; wanting to keep excavating that ambiguous in-between where these processes (conversation as a kind of making, the event of the hangout, what it means to make less) might be defined within art contexts but might want to also find a home in other areas that I haven’t yet identified…

For the next time(s)
In the meantime, in talking about these various reflections with Jean-Phillipe (another generous soul who will accompany me on future non-actions) we both laughed at the thought that this could become the initiation ritual for each time we arrive on-site and begin the next non-action. I attempt to put up the banner, fail, attempt again, fail, try once more, fail (miserably), and finally give up. Clearly motivated to stop because really, I’d rather be sitting down to rest, join my guests, and hang out.


[1] I want to acknowledge here too how, while VCA has been very slowly building a relationship to this community over several years and several projects, this is the first – and quite likely – only time I will be encountering these people. If I decide, however, to come back and spend more time here in a regular way – to attempt to create connection in a meaningful way with this community – than that would present a different set of circumstances and approach to thinking about my contact and how we could, in the future, share space and time.

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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