Dossier : L’intelligence extraite du chaos quotidien – gestes d’artistes | esse arts + opinions

Dossier : L’intelligence extraite du chaos quotidien – gestes d’artistes


the wisdom of everyday chaos

Rachel Echenberg sharing symphonies of inner sounds through a double-headed stethoscope: STILL (from within, to without) ; Massimo Guerrera entrusting portable sculptures in Place Gérald-Godin: Darboral. Transposition d’un détail de trente-trois pieds carrés ; Devora consulting daisy oracles in her apartment, giving daisies in Place de la Paix: she loves me not she loves me ; Raphaëlle Degroot gathering and counting dust particles while inscribing stories in Square Cabot: Collecte de poussières; Carl Bouchard and Martin Dufrasne enacting a static nightmare armed with rat traps on the corner of St. Urbain and Réné Lévesque: Star Rats.

Within the word dialogue gushes a river. Within the word gesture agency forms by the act forming agency. Dialogues initiated with the 6 artists and countless intervenants of Gestes d’artistes form the nervous system of this text. A system nervously resonating through my spinal chord convictions: I don’t believe in stories. I believe in what they do: find the tiniest cracks in the One to spark the Multiples, not yet told.

Within a system of capitalist exchange that compromises one story for the sole purpose of monumentalizing another, the creative gesture intervenes. The story of how the five projects of Gestes d’artistes function within the family of public interventionist practices interests me much less than what these kind of creative gestures act-ually, and fact-ually do. That is, not only as they resonate in the aftermath space between memory and the real to provide other imaginative spaces of re-creative metaphors, but moreso how they play out multitudinous options of daily being in-relation with oneself and with another.

Less than a month before these options were to be played out on the streets of Manhattan in the context of La Saison du Québec à New York, one monumental narrative reached into the roots and radically shifted how Gestes d’artistes was being, and would be, told.

From the comfort of physical distance we could choose to allow the stories of September 11th and American retaliation exploding repetitiously across our television screens, to enter membranes of personal and social bodies. How close will I allow this story to touch, shift, my own? To listen, or not, to insisting questions rising as dust settles: where is the space for Art in this place so intent on the annihilation of the other? What can art possibly do? What is worth doing? As individual excavations flowed, a collective decision was finally negotiated on September 30th to continue a reconsidered Gestes d’artistes in New York.

Illuminated by the growing media-fed heroism frenzy, nos idées devenaient trop embarassantes, Carl and Martin admit. Projected actions performing seemingly paradoxical roles of a victim-hero dichotomy demanded reformulation. Carl and Martin listened, diving back into the gut of their intentions. How can we possibly play at performing in the public arena as metaphor what had become urgent reactionary defence mechanisms being played in Real Time? Four days before the event date American militaries began violent interventions in Afghanistan; the very idea of public intervention, seen through mediated perceptions of increasingly security controlled streets of Manhattan, solidified as abstract. There was, Carl acknowledges, nothing left. Nothing left except an image retained from one of seven initial performance proposals: the rat trap.

The corner of St. Urbain and Réné-Lévesque on October 12th at une heure de pointe.

Behind a street bench Carl and Martin stretched three green tarps intended to infer a game space, laying down numerous set rat traps shining with inlaid mirrors and inscribed with the orders "voyez vous" and "interroger le ciel". Carl recounts how, appraising each other across the tarp only through mirrored reflections, they enacted three dynamics of two engaged in a competitive game. Traps snap to exclaim points for each side. Renouncing the "game" after approaching each other as friends, they sat. Traps, set, sat at each others’ feet. Holding one in each of four hands. Immobile. Silent, for the following half an hour. What are you doing? a passer-by aggressively demands of the man sitting on a bench holding a loaded rat trap. Making a nightmare Carl responds.

Speaking with them over the phone I recognise that the performance of adversarial games framing their stasis resonates specifically within their creative team work. Carl and Martin were obligated to recreate the game for me because it is not what I remember from the video. It happened so quick, another viewer said, attempting to recall those initial few moments. For another informed presence, the tension was not necessarily triggered by traps exploding but by the insistent immobility that appeared as voluntarily-inflicted uncomfort-ability. I am not suggesting that what remains in the collective memory is "truer" than the artist’s own story. But what to do with the gaps? And with this old man who steps into the space between intention and re-creative meaning?

He approaches the loaded traps. There is a mirror laid into its surface and what else is a mirror for, but to look at oneself? And to look, is exactly what the trap is telling him to do: "Voyez vous". Those two boys dressed in blue are showing him how to do it. Moving carefully as if still. And so he does. Above him blue sky reflects his eyebrows framed by the mechanic of a trap.

It was not tiredness nor boredom that caused me to get up and walk Martin asserts, but the sensation that something was happening behind us. The traps were intended to create a sensation of public tension, not to actually hurt anybody! This man intervened without exploding the traps and they became almost domesticated, losing their intended functions. The two artists rolled the remaining traps in the green tarp and, stuffing the material into a nearby trash can, left the scene.

A rat trap is dangerous. You have to see it that way Carl insists; cette homme ne semblez pas voir . See what the artists intended the way they intended? Not necessarily. Not at all. If we hold up artists’ meanings and proclaim success or failure depending on how closely those intentions resemble perceived meanings -- then we either have to annihilate this man’s existence or perception from memory, or we have to question whether the artists had "failed" according to their original intention. If we do neither, then we are left with this Third Thing: the space between.

What is true is that Carl and Martin allowed personal and social sensations of fear, public tension and the loss of a project they had invested incredible energy towards, to form into a nightmarish paralysis cloistered by a dangerous game. What is equally true is that this old man’s curiosity, his willingness to face the fear of potentially getting his fingers snapped, ended the performance of a nightmare. And Carl and Martin got up to walk.

When circumstances become such that sitting down becomes unbearable at best, dangerous for self and other at worst, we will get up, we do get up, and begin to chose. With every choice of gesture, the creation of innumerable other gestures released into innumerable invisible possibilites until motions stops and things become, once again, still. How still can that be?

The cancelling of the New York sites while resulting in necessary administrative acrobatics also offers a "freedom" of new possible choices leading to other potential gestures circulating in groundlessness. Rachel peeled away from STILL (from within to without) that which would not stay still. Not even two days before planned dates, the project became what Rachel listened to it becoming: a temporary co-operative residence in the space between two sets of ears and two physical bodies connected by a thin black membrane of a double eared stethoscope.

To be one of two you have to make an appointment. A listening rendez-vous that you will honour, at a place you will choose even though today is not a good day (to be facing someone, still) ...vulnerable. She brings holes in her dress into which she inserts that little silver moon of the stethoscope. Understated, this "costume" marked with perfectly round holes Vida remarks, yet almost absurd. You bring whatever open listening potential you may possess on that day, shifting your movements spontaneously, accordingly. Shall we sit beside one another? stand facing each other? walk? it’s up to you.

What has to give way in order to for the other to take place within our own (still) breath?

I don’t think everyone realised how influential their smallest decisions were upon the whole Rachel remarks. The hole: she places the ear pieces of her stethoscope in your ears and the outside dissolves. Inside becomes outside and you fall in. Or out. It’s hard to tell. You need the outside even though it doesn’t exist. Without it, there would be no inside. Without the There there, there is no Here here. From the outside almost inaudible: the beat of a pulse, the wisp of breath. From the inside, operatic surround sound, the whole shifted by every slightest movement, a breath, a glance. A small hand gesture gives crackling stormy symphonies. A movement of the mouth sets off tremors. I find myself breathing at her own rhythm (or is she breathing at mine?);does this mean I don’t exist? With your eyes closed you can forget, the moment you release grasping the mon-you-mentality of your own matter, whose body you are hearing. Seen from a distance the interface appears as an intimate wordless conversation between two attached with a stethoscope. Enveloped in the sonorific cacophony of inner caverns we are one.

No, Catherine, another participant tells me, not one, but three. There was her. There was me. And then there was this "troisième chose". The me-her.

When the earpieces are removed, outside worlds rush in louder than you remember being held in that Third Thing. I didn’t want to bring Words into it Rachel laughs, but everyone wanted to talk afterwards. Here you are, you have just come as close to another person as you can possibly get. Here you are, a being becoming the other being you: com-passion. And then, there you are. I find myself wanting to babble on after the ear pieces are removed (perhaps if use enough words I can stretch that Here into this Here). But, Rachel laughs over coffee, when you’re busily speaking about being present, obviously, you’re not present.

Afterwards shaken for quite a while, Catherine recalls, it reminded me of how rarely we allow ourselves to listen to ourselves, still.

As bombs dropped over There, Devora sat with fear Here like one would an old friend. Dust settles. Anxiety over slipping self-authorities rises. The terrible damaging effects of one leader’s impositioned story upon entire nations: a catalyst for seeking alternative options of self-authority systems. Urgent. To love -- remaining open-hearted to multitudinous possibilities, or not to love. Devora chose to gather inside what had been intended for outside. And where else, she exclaims, to begin examining ones own authority to love and be loved, but in your home? The symbolic political layerings of gay pride, queer liberation, community and resistance offered by the New York site of Christopher Park had been stripped. What remained: the daisy’s stubborn stem of a question demanded by a heart pick, pick, picking petals one by one by one. Do I, can I, will I (think myself capable to) love? Not?

To consult the daisy oracle you must sit still and listen to the ripping of petals like tiny bubbles popping. If the petals fall to give distasteful answers you will inevitably insist on perceiving petals where there were only moments before little white bobbles of not-quite petals, not-at-all-petals, leaves! Anything, for a second chance to reformulate the question. And again. There are hundreds of daisies. Try another. The right one this time. With each petal picked the space between the idea and the real expands. The idea being a being convinced "enough" of their own love capacities. The reality being a being dependent upon the other to be convinced. The expanding of actual real space in the chest as daisy oil -- a homeopathic remedy for deep muscle healing -- released by plucking reaches the throat and begins its infiltrating descent into muscle cells of the heart. The social heart, in desperate need of faith reparation.

Her apartment performed quiet meditative space as a few informed visitors stopped by to tear petals from seed centres on October 12th. Intending to interface with a similarly calm centre she took the remaining daisies to Place de la Paix the following day. Like she said, intended. That is not what happened. At all.

Dangerous it is, she and Massimo both almost whisper, to assume that we are completely, or at all, in control.

There is this myth that we, as artists working in the public, remove all of our boundaries to be completely open to any and every possibility spreading everywhere at once, he flips a hand over mats lining the atelier floor. Travelling furry thresholds of mushy space between Massimo and another. Mats rolled out for the installation of the constantly fluctuating laboratory of Darboral at the Festival International de Nouvelle Danse, to be rolled out again only five days later in front of Metro Mont Royal. To create a gut calm space breathing between frantic rhythm moving in, out and about. Dialogues floating over strange shapes that sometimes settle into bobbles and bumps of collaboratively created objects passing from many hands into one. To be held. To be transported home. And returned at a mutually agreed moment.

With other projects like La Cantine I was still attempting to be for Everyone Everywhere at once. This time, I made choices. When I sensed a real opening of interest and respect, I responded openly and was extremely generous. With others, I was neither open, nor generous. The door is not always open.

What if he mis-take one’s assertive enthusiasm for arrogant aggressiveness? Who gives him the authority to decide? He does. The idea is initially troubling. Once digested though pervasive sticky public art myths (Artist as Enlightened Jam fills Unenlightened Public Bread Bowl with Sweet Understanding ) the initial choices made on the mats of Darboral -- how much to give -- reflect the constant shifting of malleable daily boundaries. The trust implicit in passing an object through a shared space for another to cherish is an extension of the initial trust of one’s decision to interface, or not: listening to self, remaining open to another. Not to suggest that Massimo hand-picked his Borrowers. The three I spoke to inferred that from all elements that could have demanded their investment on that day they chose Massimo. From the viewpoint of who we traditionally consider the Public, an Unidentified (and Uninformed) Stranger, Massimo is the Stranger. And a strange one too. Much stranger than they consider themselves.

The trust is mutual Rénée-Louise asserts over the phone on a Sunday morning. Those who approach him are already open to having a different kind of experience. Attracted to the space of Darboral calm in the aftermath of circumstances which had not only put into question the very issue of public trust but had also unleashed her own bodily inscribed memories of foreboding disaster as experienced during the second world war, Réné-Louise affirms as crucial and essential, the possibility of a gut to gut rencontre she co-created that day.

She, like the two other Borrowers, describes the process of object selection as a kind of pleasant mystery: a gift. I don’t know how he chose for me, Réné-Louise admits. We talked and perhaps he sensed something, yes, I am convinced he did. Her cat approves, sleeping on the sculpture during the night like it "pondait un oeuf" she laughs. Perhaps he heard me speak of my piano or saw my violin, I don’t really know Joana laughs but the object fit into her hand anyway; a supporting place for the young musician’s fingers worked daily.

We laughed and stuttered together trying to de-scribe the objects; to de-activate the inscriptions of dialogue interface between themselves and Massimo, physical manipulations of the object, their daily activities and domestic spaces was simply not possible. To Guillaume and his partner the object became an eye witness, holdings of a house-hold shared. Not because it resembled an eye although it kind of does although whether it really does or whether I just think it does because that’s where my own personal interests lie as a cinema student, could be debatable he laughs. Not that the object necessarily had the form of a recognisable uterus Réné-Louise remarks, but as I held it, it seemed to have this interior life so I began to see it as that. Not to suggest that objects have this kind of esoteric or totemic power Massimo reflects, but I do believe they are, or can be, a resting place. It reminds me, suggests Guillaume, how we infer upon certain objects this kind of totemic power according to the connections between things and certainly people, they are able to create.

Objects hold presence, but also absence Joana reminds me. Indentations recall another’s presence to remind us of someone having held it, "like this". Her object passed through hands of curious school mates before returning to Massimo during a following Daboral supper. It was so strange she said, because seemingly suddenly my classmates were having really personal conversations with others they don’t necessarily speak to. We began by talking about hands, attempting to fit it with each of our hands, and beginning with hands the conversation overflowed and out into our lives.

During the three days of Gestes d’artistes things were flowing all over the place as things tend to do when we’re not looking. Raphaëlle covering her mouth watching Carl and Martin, Rachel meandering a listening space from project to project, Devora examining dust under Raphaëlle’s magnifying glass, curators transporting dust and objects and traps from place to place, Marie Fraser walking down St. Laurent towards Place de la Paix, the songs of Rachel’s being still still here in her ears and something that looks suspiciously like a penis in her pocket and feels kind of like well never mind and where will she put it at home and what will her young daughter think and then everything stops. A guy on a bike insists on giving her a bunch of daisies. Devora’s daisies. This is not how this is supposed to go she is thinking as he disappears into traffic. What’s going on?

What is happening? Devora asks herself passing three pedestrians carrying daisies on her way to the site where Marie-Josée waits with the flowers. In the few moments of Devora’s absence she has given a few bunches of flowers away by request. One woman returns for another. She is obviously trading them for something, something she wants more than to sit with a stranger who has come into the square she hangs out in every day with all of these daisies and ask does she love me? or not? Devora hands her a single daisy and a smile. The woman throws the flower on the ground. Crushes it. Fuck the flower. I want a whole bunch, another one! Lovely flowers says another. But they can’t be worth anything if they’re free.

Faced with the story of another you can stick to yours and impose it wherever and upon whomever you need to. Listen lady, I got a project to do here. Or something like that. Of course this is not what happened. But it could have. And Devora certainly considered it. The whole point was to get rid of the flowers she exclaims. But based on whose rhythm and whose set of rules? The rhythm and the rules had been set without me! Was it okay if someone took a bunch when I only wanted to give them a flower? Was it okay if they came back for more because they were trading it for beer? What was I willing to give? In a moment, she loves me not she loves me became I love and so I will give it away. From the melancholic repetitive plucking of petals recalling the impossibility of perceiving love’s authority in self and other, to a direct affirmation of love’s capacity. I think the biggest lesson the people that day taught me she says, is you don’t have to sit there, all you have to do is give and inevitably, something will come back to you. And of course it did. Flowers given to doubting shy men and smiles of affirmed loved ones return three hours later to stretch into other daisies given and presents of presence exchanged. Daisies received by men not accustomed to perceiving themselves as receivers. Daisies grabbed in handfuls by an intruding aggressively bulking man. Devora watches, stunned, as a previously blushing Receiver appears to defend her daisies. Aggression evaporates in daisy-induced laughter. Daisies traded for other desirable move down streets to give elsewhere. Daisies passed across handlebars of bikes to return to Marie to give to another. Place de la Paix regulars whose daily lives are not what we might consider places of peace at all, receive and return with objects and conversation as petals are picked and scattered over sidewalks. The smallest gesture of a gift transformed by intervenants into a circuitous celebration of love’s faith.

Ce que je trouve le plus difficile en art c’est d’assumer les gestes qui sont presque rien à assumer Raphaëlle drips tea. Is this enough?

What is enough? To support her directional impulse towards the Almost Nothing she follows her rigidly constructed systems of the Small that expand with the intervention of another. Using energies of archaeological impulses to uncover, label, and let lie, and the habits of obsessive compulsive marginalized mental dis-orders she gathers to order that which has been pushed aside, unnoticed. Pointing over her shoulder for two days, the pigeon shit encrusted arm of Giovanni Caboto, a discoverer or a coloniser depending on whose magnifying glass you use. The Square regulars, mostly First Nations peoples, watch her from the grass as she stakes out a territory on the cobblestones.

What she does -- brushing the cobblestones, gathering residue into bags, extracting tiny particles painstakingly with tweezers to glue into her "catalogue", numbering each specimen -- makes no sense. It has to make sense, being so precise! says one. (It is something.) You are wasting your time another says. (It is nothing.) You are savouring time says another. (It is everything.) Pauvre -toi, eh ben, bon courage! says another thinking her a city employee like he who counts cars at intersections he tells her, or another who counts mineral deposits along the train tracks and describes the scientific investigative process in detail, peering over her shoulder at particles. You may not realise it he says, but you may very well be picking up the spirits of the person who passed away just around the corner from here last night. (Counting it makes it Something.) If I were to count even the garbage bags I throw out everyday my work would never be done exclaims he who Raphaëlle refers to as ""le concierge. He begins to imagine the Unknowns Contained in a Garbage Bag. She begins to consider all the unknowns: that which she has not yet, and may never, count. Somewhere in between they overlap for although he insists her gesture is use-less, he returns to her site of collection several times a day.

Tales pulsating from intervenant’s desire to make Meaning out of the ambiguous are recorded by Raphaëlle in minuscule print. A child examining her meticulous labelling and dust particles parading straight across the page exclaims a wow! t’es bonne! that re-formulates remonstrations from parents and teachers of why do you print so tiny? The child, whose mother insists Don’t pick things up off the ground! Dirty! pulling on his arm is under the kitchen table a few hours later with a spoon and a plastic bag, the contents of which he will bring back to Raphaëlle. What was dirt becomes precious treasures.

You should be glad you’re not in New York many said. A month previously Raphaëlle had labelled the gesture, planned for Manhattan laundromats, obscene considering the organic components of "dust" blanketing streets. Now, she is not so sure. For the intervenant acts spontaneously, not necessarily layering their responses with our preconceived and mediated notions of their dailies. And when things fall apart do we not instinctively touch, count, and order as if to convince ourselves of the stability of matter-that-matters? This insistent attention to the Something excludes all that is Nothing, and yet it is the same that allows the possibility of the Everything, as each conversationalist intervenes to place their own shiny atoms. The more accounted for, the expansion of the many unaccounted. Atoms of a world so small it is Huge, becoming itself and in becoming reminds me of how simultaneously big and small my being: a model for the quantum universe, for perception itself shifting at a single word, a glance, a movement. At what point do you have to accept the unknowns the impossibles and trust it is enough? At that point Raphaëlle’s finger comes down on a tiny cookie crumb.

In a straight line capitalist economy we give (up) suspiciously, calculating risks and guaranteed returns. Creative practices such as the projects of Gestes d’artistes insist on illuminating places we already are but rarely inhabit, doing what the atoms of our bodies do even while we train our minds to forget. Interrogations that attempt to examine whether Devora’s left hand holding the daisy witnessing her right hand pulling it’s petals off in the solitude of her own apartment is a public or a private gesture, often only succeed in reenforcing polarities these practices seek to diffuse. The most astonishing performance is the one we rehearse daily, performing each gesture as if it was not inextricably linked to innumerable other gestures always fluctuating at a just a movement of the hand, weaving multiples of multiples rippling like kaleidoscopes of dust or stars unmapped.

How objects breathe flowing webs between strangers.

How daisies can travel through streets to touch innumerable hands and hearts breathing.

How the smallest of body caverns and dust can become the Universe becoming me.

How a rat trap can be held in the hand as both dangerous and desirous.

How a green tarp thrown into the trash by Carl and Martin can end up embracing someone’s wintering trees.

At what point do you have to accept the unknowns the impossibles and trust it is enough?

In this sense, I consider these kinds of creative practices as spiritual practices. I know that we, that is, the contemporary art community, are highly suspect of the word. Perturbed, perhaps, are we, to dis-cover underneath a volonté to perform relational options through public art practices lies a motivation to serve, or even to heal the fragmented, hurting self. But within the word, the rhythm of breath, belonging both to the world and the self, simultaneously.


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