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.

01stanton_placemapping

Resting
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.

Place-Making
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.

Walking
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.