Non-action #4, as part of res(is)ting / repos comme résistance
June 20, 2021 Berge du Crochet, 118 Boul des Prairies, Laval, QC
“There is no protocol,” I announced to my current guests, “Aside from the ones that guide our being together under Covid rules. But otherwise, I’m not directing how we spend this time together. If you want to talk, you can, if you want to read, or zone out, you can. We’re just here and this just goes as it wants to.”
I somehow felt compelled to say this to everyone as we settled in, perhaps because there were artists in the ensemble who were familiar with my work, and the history of this project, and I projected onto this awareness an as-yet unspoken question on their behalf: “So what are we supposed to do, this time around, now that we’re here?”
I also think that creating a set up to come together and “do nothing” might bring with it a set of expectations: are we meant to be quiet and meditate collectively for the next two hours? Or attempt to commune with nature?
In a past iteration of this work, I went on to explain, I felt the need to impose (in a gentle way) a space of non-talking. Not meditation so much as just being – with thoughts, with each other. However this time, I feel no such need. I just want to hang out. And this collective space, our coming together, is not in the express service of listening to the environment or observing the goings on around us but in being together and spontaneously sharing. In whatever way that should come about. Perhaps this is an unconscious response on my part to the fact that we’ve been in isolation for several months and are finally out in the world in public places, meeting new people. Being social. At last. It feels like a true novelty. So this time around, this occasion for (and particular brand of) “doing nothing” is not so much about putting a halt to any activity but about not defining what this space should be. It’s about being in an activity that isn’t intending to achieve anything beyond its just being. Participating in any way that seems genuine (and dare I deploy that overused word – authentic) in a convivial coming together.
And this is what authentic non-doing is looking like for me, right now.
With thanks to HS for once again driving Villa, and SC, DM, MJ, M+J, and SC for the lovely time spent and nourishing conversation shared.
Non-action #3, as part of res(is)ting / repos comme résistance
June 6, 2021 Berge du Crochet, 118 Boul des Prairies, Laval, QC
I think difficulties – whether technical, environmental, social or otherwise – are part and parcel of performance. The unexpected situations that compel (more like force) you to have to make snap decisions and (hopefully) have the capacity to own these wholeheartedly. Of course it’s those unpredictable facets that make performance what it is – a live art that responds to situations, environment, others and time. It’s what makes performance (to my mind) an inherently site-specific practice. At times a bit taxing on the nervous system, but this too is how it encourages a practice of “letting go.”
And so: the specificities of our gathering on June 6 came with the surprise of the Verticale vehicle not being able to leave the parking lot. A mechanical issue had befallen Villa (as it’s known); a solid, but finicky (and let’s face it, ancient) truck, which left us scrambling for another solution to get all our stuff over to the site.
Somehow, with the previous gathering’s foibles (namely not being able to put up the banner) none of this fazed me. It was more a matter of once again not so much abandoning the script but relinquishing my preconceived ideas about how things should – or will – roll. In light of this development, the even bigger surprise was suddenly having access to a camper van, via my intrepid companion Jean-Philippe – a performance artist with a robust practice in his own right, and a keen capacity to meet this kind of “performative of circumstance” head-on. Enlisting his parents’ help (and their wheels), we were able to schlep our chairs, banner, and Covid paraphernalia in one go, as opposed to carting this stuff somehow on the back of my bike, or just not having it there at all.
The reason why I mention this all is twofold. I again want to acknowledge the role of failure (in this case of an initial plan and, further, of a technical resource) and how the resulting creative “effort” required to quickly figure out how to solve something in a pinch – like I said, a phenomenon of live art – can drive or impact a work in interesting ways. It added another layer, flavour, hue – and relationship – to the ensuing interval that followed. For coming together with JP and his mom, we mobilized the non-action toward its location with this “interval of beginning” (the space before the non-action “formally” started) providing an unexpected “back-stage” encounter with my colleague’s family.
Which, to my mind, at once set the tone for our time together while unwittingly abiding by what seems to have become an established (non) protocol with the unfolding of this series, namely to not have things be perfect – not even have things prepared – prior to guests arriving. This slow-fade in beginning now becomes part of the non-action, and riding up together, bumping slowly along Boul. des Prairies while chatting about Laval & JPs mother’s history with this section of the north shore, the opportunity to share in the finding of solutions and setting up contributed to the camaraderie and informal quality of this series of (non) actions; very much in line with the decisions that spontaneously arose from the time before.
The fun paradox of this day’s assembly was how JP and I got the banner up in a matter of about 3 minutes. A veritable contrast to the prolonged and several failed attempts of the previous non-action. And then the rest continued, lounging on Adirondack chairs and chatting.
In the company of Jean-Philippe, his dad (NL) and mom (SC) and MB, we sat, relaxed, listened to NL play his flute and had various spontaneous discussions ranging in topic from MB’s experience being in the first cohort going through UQAM’s studio arts PhD program to SC’s recent discovery of these welcoming green spaces.
I was delighted, in fact, to learn that SC – an intrepid birder, lover of trees, experienced explorer of local and national landscapes, and socially active inhabitant of Laval, although living here for several years, had never really discovered the riverside parks (les berges) peppered along the shoreline. Existing right here in her neighbourhood and the surrounding areas along the water, this moment hanging out virtually “in her backyard” was apparently a revelation. In all her years here, this was her first visit.
And this time to stop, look around, take advantage of this space, and in the company of her family, seemed to contribute to the specialness of this extra-ordinary occasion. And how quietly gratifying and also quite (extra) ordinary for me, to be able to witness this.
With thanks to Jean-Philippe Luckhurst-Cartier for the photos
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. 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.
 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.
On July 30, 1961 Ray Johnson presented the first in his series of non-performance events he called “Nothings,” what he considered “an attitude as opposed to a Happening” – the Happening of course being the more well-known antecedent of life-meets-art performance events initiated by Allan Kaprow and other Fluxus artists, leading to performance art as we understand it today.
Exactly 60 years later, this spring and summer, in various public sites and “non-places” across Laval, Quebec, I will be proposing six instances of Doing Nothing – non-actions as part of the series res(is)ting / repos comme résistance being hosted by Verticale – centre d’artistes in Laval (see Sept. 12th entry below).
Doing Nothing (as many of you know) is my ongoing proposal to resist. To resist the toxic culture of over-productivity. To keep pushing back against ubiquitous hyper-acceleration and find ways to create more sustainability for just everyday being. To approach living in a more restful way. To rest. Period.
I invite you to join me. Bring a book to read, a notebook to write in, a scarf to knit. Or bring nothing. We can sit and contemplate this past year: collectively mourn what (or who) we’ve lost, celebrate what we’ve (hopefully) gained, mull over what we’re still trying to transform, understand, learn. To breathe. Stopping long enough to appreciate the world that keeps turning all around us. And ultimately just hang out.
As per Covid protocols, space is limited to 8 people per gathering. If you’d like to attend contact me and I’ll give you more info.
Correspondence #1: Having Trouble Getting Started. (The following is an email I sent today to the team at VCA. I had initially proposed a series of encounters with them in a workshop format, as a way to enter into this project, with the idea that our planning would demonstrate the invisible parts made visible. But to see if planning could in fact not be planning —instead perhaps a time to be together in restful pause. We have yet to start, and I am stymied.)
Bonjour Gabrielle, Charlotte, Lawrence,
Pour faire suivit… Oui, comme Gabrielle vous a écrit, nous avons parlé et j’ai constaté que dans les circonstances actuelles je ne me sentais pas à l’aise à venir en transport en commun. Et finalement il parrait que nous embarquons de nouveau dans un autre (type de?) confinement.
Alors c’est bien ça, je vais revenir sous peu avec une proposition de date pour une rencontre par zoom. Toutefois je voulais vous envoyer là quelques mots pour embarquer dans le processus.
Avant que je parle avec Gabrielle j’ai commencé à réfléchir sur le format de notre première rencontre. Un workshop, oui, mais avec quel sorte de contenu. Pas parce que je n’ai pas d’idées mais parce que j’aimerai vous proposer une manière d’aérer. Et non pas un fardeau de plus. Est-ce possible?
Je disais à Gabrielle comme quoi il y a quelque chose qui m’échappe avec ce projet en se moment. Ça glisse.
J’ai repensé à la thématique, comme proposé par VCA et je me suis rendu compte : maintenant que j’embarque concrètement dans le contenu, et dans la forme (du projet, des rencontres) que c’est un vrai trouble. Je suis profondément troublée. Je dois complètement repenser à comment agir dans un contexte de pandémie qui empêche à continuer de la même manière que dont je suis habituée. Ce n’est pas un problème, c’est en fait exactement la question que j’ai à me poser, pour pouvoir pas seulement embarquer dans ce projet, mais pour continuer à vivre dans ma vie —et dans ce monde. Dans ce contexte. C’est un genre d’aller de l’avant qui ne veut pas nécessairement répéter ou reproduire les mêmes structures. Là je parle de mon projet mais aussi des structures dans le sens plus large.
Je pense que le fait que ça glisse (l’essence du projet? Le but au delà du projet en tant que tel?) est une bonne chose; mon défi sera de trouver non-pas comment l’attraper mais plutôt comment le recevoir. Ce sera plus un travail dans l’invisible : à moi à être prête de le reconnaître (de nouveau, dans les circonstances actuelles desquelles je ne peux pas faire abstraction).
Finalement je constate que ceci est le début du projet, cette échange de courriel qui commence avec le premier envoyé par Gabrielle.
Je vous laisse avec une question. Aucune obligation de répondre (à mon courriel). À vous de voir comment vous la recevrez, si et comment ça résonne.
“Avez-vous un lieu (espace-temps) dans votre quotidien qui vous permet de reposer? Ou est-ce que ce lieu vous échappe?”
Merci encore pour votre grande ouverture envers cette démarche.
We just watched a lecture online in my doctoral seminar that Brian Eno gave in 2016 at the AA School of Architecture in London. In it, Eno addresses the question: “What is Art actually for?” A meandering, entertaining and thought-provoking series of insights are offered, although apparently not completed, according to Eno, who ran out of time before he could fully wrap his thoughts up. A lot of ideas were crammed into that tiny hour, however one in particular stood out for me. Albeit, hard to take out of context, given that the whole premise of his talk was how all these processes in art and design exist on a continuum, from function through to style, I’ll nonetheless pinpoint one pearl, at the risk of misinterpreting and misrepresenting his eloquent treatise (which I encourage anyone who is interested in musings about art to check out, in any case).
Eno reflects on the question of aesthetics and stylistic decisions, on how “context means everything” especially in formulating any coherent understanding of what we might be seeing or experiencing – in particular in the face of more opaque works of art. In unpacking this (and so many related notions) Eno refers to Morse Peckham and to the idea that art comes after things we need to do. He says, “You have to move around, but you don’t have to dance; you have to speak but you don’t have to develop poetry; you have to make noise but you don’t have to make music.” According to Eno, Peckham’s concept of “non-functional stylistic dynamism” apparently addresses how the “not having to” moves along this continuum to become a (artful) thing you do – a thing conceptualized, crafted, created… toward being an “artful moment.”
Eno conceives this as: “Art Is Everything You Don’t Have to Do.”
I’ve been contemplating what it means to “do nothing” for the last four years. In particular I’ve been wondering about what it means to make, and whether/how “making” is necessary. This raises many questions about the role of the artist, my role as an artist (and maker) and my evolving relationship to the notion of aesthetic value (apparently) inherent in (works of) art. In furtive and infiltrating performative practice if there is any kind of aesthetic being enlisted it is an “aesthetic of the everyday,” essentially underscoring what is already around us, elevating this (as it were) to the realm of artful living/experiencing. Seeing the world artfully. Listening to Eno discuss and interpret Peckham’s concept of “non-functional stylistic dynamism” brought me straight back to these questions again: where/how am I (am I?) choosing, making, doing, enacting “stylistic decisions?” Where does the notion of “style” come into these infiltrating, relational processes? How am I considering/constructing/integrating these? How do places of pause (the crux of my current preoccupation) render style visible? How does “style” render space? Can style inform more artfully rendered moments of pause, of doing nothing?
How do I think – and RE-think aesthetics? In particular in the context of rest, and “doing nothing?”
Perhaps doing nothing is everything that art doesn’t have to do. Or everything that art is, in fact, doing?
A meta cycle commences: I’ll be starting my PhD in Art Education at Concordia University in Montreal this September. The subject of my research: “Doing Nothing” – and the role of rest/pause/interval in both performance art contexts & everyday spaces like the classroom).
I’m thrilled, I’m daunted, I’m in awe. I never thought I’d go to grad school but somehow this seems like the perfect place, context (and timing, as it turns out) to be carrying out this research.
Seriously: what strange timing, to be taking this project (that began just over 4 years ago) to the next level, given how “next-levelled” the whole discussion around Doing Nothing has become since the beginning of this international health crisis…
I’ll keep this intro short. It’s mostly to initiate the construction of an even wider frame – and net – cast around this amorphous, prescient, ubiquitous life/art project; a loose container to hold (and hold space for) the myriad facets of related research material; a repository for the bits and pieces that I imagine I’ll continue accumulating over the next 4, 5, 6, (???) years in my quest to keep unpacking, and deliberately keep attempting, to Do Nothing.
Another cycle commences. Continuing with the “Doing Nothing” project (adapted to Covid-Times), I’m so pleased to officially announce that Verticale – centre d’artiste (VCA) in Laval will be hosting the next iteration, res(is)ting – repos comme résistance during their 2020-21 season. I’ll start (with a slowwwww fade in) this September and wrap up (with an even slowwwwwer fade out) next summer. But – alas – this is a lifelong art/life project, so I’m really delighted that VCA has agreed to be a gracious host along the way…!
“The structure upon which we’ve built our work expectations has been hurting us for a long time. When you combine our culture of chronic overwork with the distraction inherent to technology and social media, at a time when people are forced to stay at home, you have a recipe for amplified anxiety and shame. This puts people on a fast-track to burnout.” – Rahaf Harfoush
The SYSTEM wants us to keep moving, keep doing, keep producing, keep consuming. The TURMOIL comes from pressures one faces in a perceived need to have to conform. The AGITATION arises as a result of believing we do not have a right to pause.
The SYSTEM supports a ubiquitous structure that we feel trapped into following. The TURMOIL it creates within us becomes more apparent when we feel a need to stop. The AGITATION experienced is both internal and external; we’re all in the same boat.
How do we build an antidote?
I want to propose a space of co-creation in which we come together specifically to rest. To carve out moments for action – or non-action – that is effortless and allows the mind to unwind.
It’s a group that assembles – whether collectively with safe distancing IRL, individually in our imaginations, or simultaneously on a screen – and chooses to spend the afternoon reading; walking; knitting; daydreaming; baking a cake. We unite in a daylong Digital Sabbath, shutting all devices, and dealing with the withdrawal symptoms. We unite to reflect upon/raise intention about/hold space for what comes next: mentally constructing a time after the pandemic. We unite to quietly mourn our Old World. Calmly grapple with the present. Rejoice in capacity for breath. Momentarily resist doing.
It’s a workshop, it’s a performance, it’s a public infiltration, it’s a conversation. It’s a curated experience. It’s a group nap. It’s all of these at once. It’s none of these at all. It looks like Nothing but a lot like LIFE. Like life but framed by ART. Subtle resistance.
“What this pandemic shows is that we can stop everything in a moment’s notice. I hope that rather than panic and try to rush back to normalcy, people will reflect on what it is we should leave behind, rather than resume.” – Andrew Smart