Non-Action #5 & 6 (revitalizing the “third place”)

Non-action #5 and 6, as part of res(is)ting / repos comme résistance

July 18 & 24, 2021
Marina Commodore,
333 Boul Lévesque E., Laval, QC

I recently read Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place. A deeply flawed text (i.e.: incredibly dated, and narrowly framed white, middle-class, patriarchal, American POV), it nonetheless puts forth a few important nuggets. Acknowledging its problematic set of assumptions, I do not want to wax effusive over this book (I honestly had a hard time getting through to the end) but I do mention it here because of its premise that, even if very skewed, challenges our late-capitalist, individualistic, fast-paced, consumer- (and car-) oriented culture.

The central argument of this book is that every community, and citizen within it, benefits from the social interactions that come from those gathering spots (cafés, pubs, bookstores) where people can come together in informal assembly. Naming this phenomenon the “third place” (whereby home is the first and work the second), the third place is a “core setting,” a space of public gathering within spontaneous and unstructured time that is away and outside from home and work. The author contends that such places are open to everyone and contribute to the cultivation of democratic life, healthy communities, and the happiness of those residing therein. With the advent of the suburb in a post-WWII context, tightly zoned areas that eliminated amenities within walking distance also gradually eliminated the third places that would have previously been at the centre of many people’s everyday lives.

Again, I need to disclaim: this is a predominantly heteronormative, white, Euro/American-centric, and generally sexist perspective (that barely discusses, for example, where women – never mind anyone from LGBTQ2+ or BIPOC communities – fit into this experience), but I can’t introduce the third place without providing some context of its origins. As such my goal here is to appropriate this notion and breathe another kind of life into it, because I think there is cause to consider how a third place and its insertion into the everyday as a point, location, time, and condition for pause, relaxation, recuperation, and rest holds something of value to this ongoing project around “doing nothing.”

Let’s call it “intentional misappropriation.”

Intentionally misappropriating Oldenburg’s third place, I am particularly wondering how the materialization of these informal gathering situations I’ve proposed (initially through DARE-DARE, then at McGill University, and now through the project in Laval) could themselves constitute a kind of third place, even if, in Oldenburg’s definition, such places are generally stable, permanent (neighbourhood) sites and a staple of the built environment; a bar or pub, as opposed to a shifting outdoor location. And how in his version, it is always the same people who show up, versus the more spontaneous arrival of whoever happens to be free and interested on that day (of my non-actions).

I am here reminded of Hakim Bey’s conception of the T.A.Z. (temporary autonomous zone), the anarchist version of (and answer – or antidote? – to) Oldenburg’s third place; where empty lots and abandoned, disused buildings become the sites of spontaneous (and temporary) squatting and play, a coming together outside of established (permanent) sites in order to co-create a zone of fleeting freedom (from controlling forces of law and government). While the T.A.Z.’s manifestation would have more likely been in the form of the large-scale raves that populate the late 1980’s to mid 1990’s imagination, its ideological premise (as I understand it) would be to encourage those infiltrating acts into otherwise increasingly privatized “public” spaces that counter the suppressive codification of public behaviour – and prescribed use of these spaces (skateboarding being another example).

Inadvertently on our last two days, we ended up in a private parking lot not realizing we were trespassing. When I had done the initial location scouting, the Marina Commodore had been closed since the early pandemic lockdown. Being attracted to the “terrain vague” quality of this site, and its proximity to the water, it hadn’t occurred to me that there could be an issue with our potential (very small-scale) occupation.

But trespassing we were and this unexpectedly “politicized” our presence. The owner/manage of the bar (one giant parking lot away from our truck-tucked-in-the-corner presence) came over to make it clear we were on her territory. We somehow managed to square away a deal on our first visit (convincing her that we weren’t selling anything therefore not competing with her business), which seemed to allay concerns. But when we showed up again the following week somehow the previous conversation disappeared from memory and now we were really treading dicey terrain. We were told (actually, yelled at) to get out.

I had a dilemma. I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t intending to raise ire, or do anything illegal but I also realized I had become very quickly attached to this space. I felt defiant in my “need” to be there and reluctant to acquiesce. I felt like this “outdoor living room” (as LF, a participant from the previous week had gloriously termed it) had revealed its magic – even in its slightly askew transitional state – and I wanted to quietly live-it-up here again.

So this interjection, at once offering a liminal moment in both space and time, also created a tension. It raised several questions: What does it mean to peacefully intervene on someone else’s property? How (and why) are we made to feel criminalized by an artful act of negligible disobedience? Why were we so unwelcome here? And finally, the most tension-inducing of all, would this have possibly played out differently if I wasn’t a White middle-aged woman?  How much did I actually “get away with,” not realizing that I was?

…Once I had decided we were staying everyone who arrived that day was on board with me. After the initial altercation the bar manager was so busy inside that she didn’t have the time to come back out and boot us off. Or call the cops. It all worked out fine. But, I can’t be naïve in neglecting to acknowledge that it could have worked out quite differently.

…These are questions that Oldenburg isn’t asking in his text. But, as I now also understand even better, I am not quite broaching these considerations as much as I could either.

The “third place” has a tremendous amount of potential but its potentiality lies not only in the declaration, and activation, of these sites – whether they be fleeting in time and transitional space, or in physically grounded locations – rather it is in their capacity for engendering such moments of rest, pause, and rejuvenation as available to everyone. Something Oldenberg claims his third spaces accomplish but I’m not convinced of this either.

Intentionally misappropriating Oldenburg’s third place, I wonder how I can propose a fresh take on his flawed and limited discourse. And how I may also challenge my own.

With thanks to Jean-Philippe Luckhurst-Cartier and Alexis Bellavance for the photos, to FL for driving Villa, and SC, KF, SW, PD, LF, GD, AB, ks, ALL, DM, MJ, and JP for sharing this space of conviviality.

Non-Action #4 (of stopping and being social)

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 (keeping it in the family)

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 (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.

Resting is Resisting: An Invitation to Do Nothing

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.

Slipping Into the Invisible: How Covid Is Shaping a Beginning

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.

À suivre de proche!
Victoria

res(is)ting // repos comme résistance

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 project, inscribed under their thematic rubric of Turmoil, Agitation and Systems, offers the following:

“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