Living in ecstasy in St. Henri : Jacquelin van de Geer and Jean-Phillippe Luckhurst-Cartier

Fortner Anderson
October 13

Guy Debord in his 1955 Critique of Urban Geography defined psychogeography as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” Though the Debord and the Lettristes never actualized their ideas, these concepts were later developed by the Situationists, the Neoists and others. On the concluding night of the Viva festival, Jacquelin van de Geer’s and Jean-Phillippe Luckhurst-Cartier ventured into this realm with their performance re-searching the social history of the urban area surrounding the performance space at the Atelier Jean-Brillant.

For the evening, Jean-Phillippe Luckhurst-Cartier channeled the meme of an absent minded professor. Using piles of bulging file folders, reams of photocopies, Google searches, video clips, documentary film and numerous scholarly citations, he evoked various stories of the Montreal neighborhood loosely bounded by St. Jacques street, Greene Avenue, Rose de Lima street and St. Antoine street. As Luckhurst-Cartier worked through this history, he rummaged piles of misplaced papers, paced aimlessly, mumbled citations, and stentoriously proclaimed tidbits of knowledge concerning former proprietors of Greene Avenue, or Shell oil, or the grandeur of Rockhead’s Paradise, a jazz club on St. Antoine that was demolished in 1980.

For her part, Jacquelin van de Geer focused on an examination and convocation of the spirit of Rose-de Lima, the namesake for the street outside the Atelier. De Lima was the first person born in the New World to be canonized by the Catholic Church. For van de Geer’s action, she proposed a re-imagining of 10 of Rose-de-Lima’s good works and mortifications that led to her beatification in 1671 by Pope Clement IX.

As she channeled the spirit of Rose de Lima, van de Geer proceeded though a re-enactment of a list of mortifications and penances of Rose-de-Lima’s short saintly life. This included changing her name, eating only bread, wearing a crown of thorns, covering her face with pepper to ward off potential suitors, cutting her hair, and finally living a life in ecstasy. Concurrently, Luckhurst-Cartier told us of Canada’s first railroad that passed nearby in 1847, or the menu of the Green Spot restaurant or the racialist theories of Lionel-Groulx, an influential French-Canadian Catholic priest and historian who died in 1967. It didn’t take very long before the performance area was a jumbled mess of paper handouts, tufts of hair, paint, broken Coquille St. Jacques serving dishes, and red heart-shaped balloons that van de Geer had sent flying out into the audience.

While attention was diverted to a screening of a hagiographic clip of Lionel-Groulx from a 1950’s documentary, van de Geer became momentarily lost in the crowd where she spoke with spectators, presumably doing the good deeds of transmitting the faith and caring for the poor and sick.

Curiously, the presentation of Luckhurst-Cartier also covered similar ground of the event presented by Emilie Monnet the evening previous with longer more detailed investigations of the HMCS Donnacona Naval Reserve centre, the life of Chief Donnacona and the history of Jacque Cartier’s two voyages to the New World.

When van de Geer, crossed off the final steps in her 10-stage list of ten things to do to become a saint, Luckhurst-Cartier projected another Google search onto the huge screen behind him. Here were images of the 17th century bejeweled corpses who Reformist Catholics revered as early christian martyrs. At this point a member of the audience undid the clasps at the back of van de Geer’s red dress revealing her nude torso. Similar to the corpses, glued to her skin were hundreds of glass stones, rubies, sapphires and emeralds.

The action concluded after van de Geer took on a series of ecstatic poses while from a window above the performance space, à la Marinetti in his clock tower performance, Luckhurst-Cartier tossed out hundreds of his photocopies onto the heads of the spectators below.