The Punctuation in Waiting

At the invitation of Folie/Culture artist-run centre in Quebec City, I invested the space of The a-Post Office, (Bureau de l’a – POST –), a portable structure set up in strategic locations in Quebec’s city centre. Taking inspiration from the idea of the Post Office, this two-day durational, and relational performance became an annex of research into another kind of Doing Nothing – that of Waiting. Standing inside my little kiosk, this Office on wheels transformed into a site of pause: The Waiting Room / La salle d’attente, where I contemplated what it means to wait, while demonstrating waiting (as we once did when, in a previous era, when we mailed letters and had to be patient about getting a reply).

Sitting at my station, this fire-engine red shelter became like a miniature observation tower. And observing, as I was, the circulation of schoolchildren, delivery trucks, cars, tourists, retired folks and working parents, I couldn’t help but ponder my performative action through the lens of Resting, Walking and Place-Making. My kiosk was situated smack dab in the middle of a neighbourhood that felt very much like a little village, the same people possibly strolling past me several times in one day. While I observed their walking, some actually stopped to consider my resting, and verbally expressed wonder at what the Post Office – and I in it – were doing here.

This intersection of their walking and my “doing nothing” became the very site of place-making; for at the instance when someone would decide to stop and approach me, their otherwise fluid passage was brought to a temporary halt. Why is she inhabiting this spot, why now?

– “What’s going on here, what are you doing?”
– “I’m waiting.”
– “What are you waiting for?”
– “Nothing. I’m waiting. Just to wait.” (“Rien. J’attends, juste pour attendre.”)

…And from this entry point, The Waiting Room / La salle d’attente became a locus of inquiry; a place that when unnoticed, sat latent (yet attentive), and waited, but when remarked upon transformed into a site where questions, values, reflections, local history, concerns, and confessions, were all conferred not only upon me but the situation as a whole (me, and this little booth).

These punctuations in waiting gave the project of waiting a whole other flavour. It was as if I could (and did) occupy two distinct zones: one of actively spacing out and one of actively listening. The two continuously bounced back and forth and definitely complemented each other; I felt myself go into a calm and comfortable lull (in my own head) staring off into the beautiful view of a steep street lined with staircases and overgrown summer flowers when I was unnoticed… And was reanimated when someone came up to me and started to speak. It made those moments more precious too – because the piece was just as much about the waiting as it was about the interactions (which inevitably had us collectively reflecting on waiting).

These punctuations in waiting were also made possible precisely because of the structure surrounding me – this flaming red booth. If I had been sitting on a park bench, no one would likely take notice at all. So in eking out an autonomous space, and putting a sign on it (two signs: Folie/Culture’s Post Office signature and my little “La salle d’attente”) I contributed to creating a place where these exchanges could occur. It should be noted however, that these exchanges did occur entirely because of people’s curiosity. Clearly the kiosk was an eye-catcher, but I was genuinely surprised by the number of locals (and tourists) of all ages who did approach to ask what it was, and why I was there.

And so this coinciding of walking and resting – punctuating waiting (as it were) – became a place where unexpected conversations between strangers could spontaneously happen, with us then collectively establishing our individual and unique positions (who am I, and who are you, as we now meet in this conversation)? What place we do create and inhabit together – both within this specific conversation, and within the world immediately around us.

(Photos above are by Fabien Abitbol, who also wrote a nice little piece about the performance here).

Waiting as a Form of Restful Creativeness

I often refer back in my memory to my first major art residency, the time I spent a year and half traveling between Montreal and the city of Granby, to the artist-run centre 3e impérial (just south of Montreal, in the Eastern Townships). The reason I do is because that was the place where, for the first time, I experienced the possibility of having a long period in which to really get to know a site in order to propose the definitive form of a work. To be able to delve deeply into a process and recognize this as a form of creative making. It’s a very rare opportunity and one that I have consistently sought out since.

The opportunity occurred again with my project at DARE-DARE last season and, once again, I find myself with the incredible spaciousness of a context that allows me to explore on a slow, meandering path.

In a culture where we are often faced with a pressure to produce (and to do so with a certain acceleration) this kind of movement (while happily encouraged within these contexts) can nonetheless occasionally feel stagnant and faltering; like some kind of failure. These feelings don’t take over for very long but when they do emerge, I can find myself entertaining doubt and a feeling of some kind of deficiency. I’m not doing enough. My doing (or non-doing, as it were) is too invisible.

In preparing for a course I’m teaching this fall I came across a quote in an interview with installation artist Ann Hamilton. I was looking at her work for another set of reasons but to my surprise, I found this helpful bit of creative wisdom. What resonated for me was the way in which she described entering into her process of making. In detailing this trajectory, she clearly emphasized the importance of a kind of meditative reception as an integral part of her uncovering the work that will be made. This process is essentially one of waiting. She states:

“I listen to all the millions of small things that give a place its sense. I try to walk it into my body, to feel it, to understand it by moving through it, rather than looking at it. I make lists of words that describe the physical circumstances. I look for their metaphoric possibilities. I wait. That is the practice – to be blank and to listen – and to wait.”

To be blank and to listen, to my mind, is a form of actively doing nothing. At least on the visible surface (as we have repeatedly come to understand that “Doing Nothing” basically masks a whole host of imperceptible, yet present, processes). Her description of “walking it into the body” – hence a direct correlation between walking and receiving (from a space) as a way to reveal the (art)work to eventually be made also acts as a timely inspiration, while I tentatively become familiar with my new residence “home.”

And so this is how I have decided to begin my process in residence at McGill; to walk, and look, and sit, and listen, and wait. To rest, while I receive this new place (and the people who populate it).

Also very timely – and serendipitous – in all of this mix is an intervening performative art project that I have been planning to carry for artist-run centre Folie/Culture’s season opener: Bureau de l’a – POST –. My proposed project has me in the province’s capital of Quebec City over the next two days, occupying a traveling kiosk disguised as a Post Office. The Office on wheels will be my site of pause: A Waiting Room (Salle d’attente) where I consider what it means to wait, and demonstrate waiting (as we once did when, in a previous era, we mailed letters and had to be patient about getting a reply). As I spend this time thinking about waiting, I will also sit and wait, and invite people to come and tell me their stories about waiting…or to simply sit and wait with me. Eventually, something will come.

When a Familiar Place Becomes New Again

view from the Faculty of Education, McGill

Sept. 1, 2017: Day one on campus at McGill University. … Honestly, I feel like I am visiting another city. McGill is of and in Montreal (with the great landmark of Mount-Royal looming majestically behind it) but McGill is, for real, its own universe. This isn’t groundbreaking news, but it nonetheless surfaces as the most striking sensation while I sit at a picnic table up on the hill of McTavish, outside the Faculty of Education. I’m overlooking the recently relandscaped reservoir and noting:
1. How new this all seems to me, like a place I hardly know;
2. How easy it is to just completely zone out;
3. How the security guard across the way leaning against the railing seems to be zoning out too. It’s been a good ten minutes that he’s been standing, more-or-less motionless, staring at the field. (This last doesn’t present any kind of problem to me. More so I’m interested in having inadvertently witnessed someone in their own bubble – in the middle of their workday – in a moment of momentary “downtime”);
4. How so many of the people (not student-y looking but tourist-y and of various ages, younger, elderly) make really great use of the benches, sitting down to rest, before continuing on their way up the hill.

… I’m from Montreal but didn’t attend McGill, so my dealings are indirect; I’ve been a user of various resources and spaces (seeing concerts at Pollock Hall, visiting semi-precious stones in the Redpath Museum, eating lunch on the grass just inside the Roddick Gates) so it’s no wonder I feel like a visitor now. But a visitor, plus. For it is not completely unfamiliar, just… like I’m moving temporarily into the house of an old friend; I’ve known this person and been in their home several times, it’s just not the same as (now) living here.

…So this is what I’m most struck by, on my first day on campus: the intensely familiar revealing something new.

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.

Resting, Walking, Place-Making: The Invisible, Liminal Spaces in Art

Recognizing a need to continue this line of inquiry around the complex quest to Do Nothing (and taking this on as a lifelong preoccupation), I decided to look back to previous projects, to see how work from my past was actually paving the way for this current endeavour to come into being.

The result is a second cycle of the Doing Nothing project, expanded to include other processes that have informed my art-making, and, in my perception, encapsulate what I think of as The Invisible, Liminal Spaces in Art.

In an incredible turn of events, this next foray into Nothing has found another home: The P. Lantz Initiative for Excellence in Education & the Arts Artists in Residence program at McGill University (in the Faculty of Education).

Resting, Walking, Place-Making, therefore identifies three major components that, whether taken on their own terms or seen as intermingling within a single trajectory, each underscore the implicit mandate of revealing the more invisible aspects of artistic process.


emerges (as readers familiar with this blog have already encountered) as the continuation of the yearlong project The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred. Collectively enacted moments of downtime in a variety of public locations in Montreal were carried out alongside a program of curated dialogues (Talking About Nothing With…), both of which generated extensive discussions around the complexity of this quest. A general consensus repeatedly rose to the surface: that there is a need to carve out such spaces (and times) for deep pause within our personal lives and within our professional sectors – albeit that this is a very difficult thing to actually (or consistently) do. Sitting with the intricacies of these questions affirmed that (non)activity is an inherently political act: one that challenges notions of productivity, of what constitutes “failure” (and success) and our capacity to comfortably engage in “non-productive” uses of time.

issues forth from a series of residencies in Quebec and beyond in which geopoetic meanderings and one-on-one interactions considered such questions as: What consciousness do we bring to places we occupy? How do places inhabit us? How do we interact with the surrounding environment – and with others who we may encounter there? In a mindful habitation of successive sites, I undertook several accompanied trajectories; transactions that consciously situated themselves in relation to both “the other” (as we each become the other to one (an)other) and to the context in which we found ourselves. Unpacking the process of how we come to understand a place – and the conditions required to feel some sense of “belonging” – this was an inquiry into how “place” is indeed constructed. The goal was to activate these sites by introducing a performative element via a relational exchange – collaboratively working toward expanding a moment in time while collapsing an already diminishing space between the artist/audience and art/life. The art frame (while more-or-less imperceptible) provided an invaluable context and container within which to carry out this research – a rather delicate form of personalized social engagement.

is the inexorable by-product of both of the above. As a conscious act within these varied projects, walking has occupied the role of an embodied encounter with the surrounding environment: at once a means to get from point A to point B, while also creating connection to (and understanding of) “place,” through subtly integrating aspects of the particularity of “places” in a circularity of identity construction (place informs who I am; I imprint my identity onto a place). Walking is also, however, the most banal of pursuits, a “non-action” sitting at the threshold of liminal space as it exists as a largely invisible activity. Walking is slow, inefficient, unproductive. Rebecca Solnit writes: “[T]hinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking.” This succinct correlation accurately highlights the role of walking not only in my most recent research but also as a process that has become an increasingly central element of my post-studio art practice.

…Bringing the foundations of these lines of inquiry to the Artist in Residency program, my desire is to continue exploring these themes within a collective framework. To examine the roles of rest (slowness, stillness, spaces of pause and interval), connection to place (the way we invest of ourselves in the environments that frame our day-to-day activities both professionally and personally) and walking (an everyday activity that at once serves a practical function but also allows for freedom and fluidity of thought), as parallel forms of creative and intellectual expression that can enhance pedagogical methods while providing valuable tools for social engagement and change.

Notes From a “Finissage” – Saying Goodbye to DARE-DARE

Some weeks before the finissage, while I was planning the “final” non-active action (in quotes because, like I keep saying, the project will continue) I had this despondent sensation about me. The very distinct feeling that you can’t go back.

In this case, the going back would be to the same apple trees where we had met, one year earlier. The return to the place of the first encounter would not only mark an anniversary but also provoke a kind of nostalgia. It had me questioning, “Why is it so important to me to finish where we started?” And “Is it possible, or even desirable, to repeat the same experience?” And I know the answer to that question already. It’s one that comes up time and again within performance art practice: even if you do the same action, the context, the audience, the time have all already changed. It is never an identical thing twice.

So there is the feeling of “no looking back” that comes from the knowledge that even if you attempt to repeat something (same place, same action) with the hopes of recreating a specific experience, or set of sensations, you are inevitably going to be disappointed. But there is also the reality which dictates that it is just virtually impossible to recreate a particular experience. In other words, that aspiration is doomed to fail.

Fate would have it that we would not be back under those trees after all. The weather was abysmal and I had no desire to sit in the rain. Besides, the grey and cool climate in the days prior made it such that the trees hadn’t even come into bloom. Circumstances basically determined that we would not go back.

There was a loss. A moment that we missed. A failed attempt at reproducing those specific sensations. But inevitably, something else happened. An encounter tailored for this time and place. An acceptance of what will happen, in opposition to what I think I want, or imagine I can impose. Which pointed to another, fundamental aspect of the project: that failure is a foundational component. Every attempt to Do Nothing, to bring people together to engage in a moment of non-action was accompanied by a persistent doubt: are we doing this right? Is this what Doing Nothing is supposed to feel like? Is this what Doing Nothing is supposed to do? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not so much hung up on a correct or incorrect structure/method/outcome but more so thinking about the accomplishment of desire. And the framing of this experience as Art.

If we understand that Doing Nothing (on one level anyway) is a reaction to over-consumption, over-stimulation, unnecessary depletion of resources and the rest of the rhetoric that surrounds a progressive, preservation-of-humanity ideology, then the whole program is going to run counter to official culture, accepted art-market mechanisms and a ubiquitous pressure to PRODUCE BE ACTIVE MAKE WORK SHOW WORK NETWORK STAY VISIBLE. Failure is necessarily built into the fabric of the piece. And a double-failure at that: for in the midst of this anti-art proposal which inscribes itself in the claims made above, I am nonetheless here, being productive making myself/these non-actions visible: keeping a project blog, posting on Facebook, inviting people to participate through a mailing list, organizing, planning… A failure, failed (versus a successful one??) The multiple paradoxes inherent in the Doing of Nothing just keep coming… (but as a result could in fact find much solace and kinship within the lineage of anti-art).


I realized through doing this project that I have been deliberately proposing processes that take time. That make time. That waste time. Initiating long(ish)-term operations that meander and prolong contact with the matter at hand. It’s about wishing to luxuriate in a context where connection, dialogue, research, and reflection circulate continuously (even with pauses). Kind of like being at school without being at school. But I have to come clean. I’m a human-connections addict. I hate saying goodbye. Even with all my Buddhist education, my awareness of the importance of cycles starting and finishing, of letting go and of a universal impermanence, I still don’t relish an end.


The gathering itself, in the trailer at DARE-DARE was somewhat subdued, most likely due to the grey day outside but also to my state as predicated by the words written above. Solemn too, and quite grounded. A tranquil appreciation and engagement. Having not been granted the initial action under the trees, the encounter became about bringing things forward through our memory of them. And about how we occupy space (when) in awkward silence. I wanted to let those silences sit. And to refer to them (thank you John Cage). In the absence of the trees with their seductive pink petals was a circle of people. In the absence of the trees that would draw all of our (floating, daydreaming) attention so that we may be less conscious of each other and self-conscious of our selves in a circle. A few texts read out loud and several, prolonged pauses. The silence of these pauses became our collective non-action. Pauses then punctuated by short anecdotes around the circle about Doing Nothing. Again followed by intervals of quiet; i.e.: Nothing. I began by leading the non-action, but gradually it took on its own rhythm; organically emerging through the group; I ended up just following it. I stopped being stuck in what was not, and listened to what was. In the absence of the trees were our stories and stillness. It was a beautiful landing.


On May 14, I officially said Goodbye to DARE-DARE. And then the very next day, as I was coming home from an appointment on the other side of town, I decided to take a detour. The sun had finally come out and so I disembarked at an earlier metro stop to take advantage of the mild day and walk. I came out of the station and the trees had just exploded. Literally overnight. I was near the trailer. I stopped in to say hello. Julie took the picture (at the top of the post) after I handed her the branch from the tree I’d just visited (below). And then I left to go home. The first cycle now ended and life (with its intervals of Nothing) continuing…

Online Business News Takes on Doing Nothing

I am fascinated to read not one, but two articles that, within a week of each other, have appeared in an online journal billing itself as a news outlet “for business people in the new global economy.”

I am wondering: what is this trend that seems to be emerging, whereby people who think, talk and write about global markets are pushing the “idleness is good” agenda…?

I don’t necessarily want to plug this online outlet but I do want to put it forward as interesting case study: “Like Wired in the 1990s and The Economist in the 1840s, Quartz [said magazine in question] embodies the era in which it is being created. The financial crisis that recently engulfed much of the world wasn’t just a cyclical decline or a correction or even a bubble bursting. It was a breaking point. And its shockwaves exposed a fundamentally changed economic order with new leaders and ways of doing business.” …This is how they describe themselves in their About section. And perhaps they just might be genuinely attempting to see business & economics (and the human factor that circulates within each) through another lens – given their propensity to publish pieces with titles such as this:

The psychological importance of wasting time

and this:

The transformative power of doing absolutely nothing

…So let’s see if this does continue as a mere “flavour of the month” phenomenon, of if a real paradigm shift is actually under way…!

The First Yearlong Cycle of Doing Nothing Comes to an End

Watching the Apple Trees Lose Their Blossoms, May 2016, Photo by: Csenge Kolozsvári

The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred Presents:
Watching the Apple Trees Blossom (le début est la fin d’un cycle continu)
A project (for life) by Victoria Stanton

Sunday May 14, 2017

2pm to 3:30pm: collective non-action under the apple trees
***UPDATE*** due to rainy conditions, the collective non-action will NOT be taking place under the apple trees in Parc Atwater-St-Charles but instead be happening at the DARE-DARE trailer (Intersection Atwater, Greene & Doré in front of the Atwater Market)

4pm to 5:30pm: finissage at the DARE-DARE trailer (see address above)

As part of DARE-DARE’s 2016-2017 cycle of programming, “La Société des Rendez-vous,” The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred proposed a yearlong residence in which I instigated publicly held “non-events”: collectively enacted moments of downtime in a variety of public locations, mainly around the South West of Montreal. Non-active (and largely invisible) actions were carried out alongside a program of curated dialogues (Talking About Nothing With…) in which artists, researchers, thinkers and practitioners of various disciplines – both within and outside of the arts – were invited to present their reflections in an open format around the idea of Doing Nothing. The ensemble of gatherings generated extensive discussions around the complexity of this quest: What does it even mean to “Do Nothing?” Is it a state of “pure being?” Or does it simply mean “not working?” (As in, “if I’m not working I’m doing nothing.”) Is it a form of resistance? Is it an assertion of Freedom? Is it necessary for our wellbeing? Doing Nothing is clearly paradoxical, and perhaps quite impossible to do. At the same time a general consensus repeatedly rose to the surface: that there is a need to carve out such spaces (and times) for deep pause within our personal lives and within our professional sectors – albeit that this is a very difficult thing to actually (or consistently) do. Sitting with the intricacies of these questions it has become clear that the affirmation of such (non)activity is an inherently political act; it challenges notions of productivity, what constitutes “failure” (and success) and reconsiders “non-productive” uses of time.

…And what about bringing this quest into an art context? The opportunity to embark on this slippery, if not contradictory task (that of Doing Nothing) within the frame of DARE-DARE’s mandate became an instance of prolonged embodied research into the more imperceptible areas of art-making and artistic process. Exploring the invisible, liminal spaces in art has been a long-standing preoccupation of mine, and The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred became an invaluable container, and occasion, within which to delve even more deeply into this fertile area of performative practice.

…And so…How to wrap up a project that I know needs to keep going? I feel like I’m left with as many questions as when I started. But this is encouraging; I think my questions got more interesting. And as all good things must come to an end, this finissage marks what I think of as one end – the completion of a first cycle. The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred began exactly a year ago, under the blossoming apple trees just as their bloom was in descent. We come back to the same spot, this time at the commencement of the blossom season, to mark new beginnings, and to celebrate a full year of… Nothing.

I will continue to enthusiastically insert this Nothing into my everyday, however; to see/accept/appreciate Nothing as Something and hold the space of Nothing in the company of others who wish to continue to accompany me in this quiet, open, sacred, and decidedly un-productive, lifelong project.

« Nous terminerons là où nous avons commencé; nous recommencerons là où nous allons terminer. »

Temps Libre Meets Doing Nothing: An Accidental Moment of Free Time Dectection!

Following yesterday’s posting which was a recap of our time with Sylvie Tourangeau, I was on a walk today to an appointment. My walk had a purpose (getting from point A to point B) but it was a relaxed affair seeing as I had (for once) given myself a lot of leeway to get to where I was going. En route, I passed a crosswalk lady named Carole who smiled serenely at me as I traversed her corner. Just then, when I had turned to look in the direction she was facing, I noticed a line several magnolia trees in full bloom. These were mature trees, tall, majestic and absolutely glorious.

“Oh my!” I exclaimed and turned back again to face Carole. “What an amazing view you have from here, getting to see those incredible flowers at your station.”

“Oh yes,” said Carole. “I take great pleasure in having this beautiful landscape. But it’s not just now: even though those trees are amazing I actually love this corner all times of the year. Each season it’s beautiful for different reasons. But yes, those trees are spectacular, and I see them every year. Although when school lets out and traffic is busy, I don’t really get to pay much attention, I’m too preoccupied with my work. It’s this time of day now, when traffic is quiet that I can just stand here and take it in.”

“…Ah-ha!!” I thought to myself. My Free Time Detector was on (see yesterday’s post) and it effectively sniffed out a moment of pause for this employee of the City of Montreal. This pause, an instance when she wasn’t officially working (though ready, at her station) just “naturally” inserted itself into her day: a moment of daydream, of very subtly Doing Nothing; an interval of free time (a time when her thoughts and gaze could wander freely, without concern for helping the cascade of students to cross safely as she does, when on duty).

Noticing her moment of “Free Time” spilled over to my own sense of pause, making my walk today that much more nuanced and spacious. My mission to get somewhere was now infused with the light scent of magnolia, and a partaking in another being’s delicate joy.

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.