Rockin’ : Arkadie Lavoie Lachapelle

Fortner Anderson
October 12

At many times it is hard to determine with any certitude exactly where the work of performance art is taking place. Is it in the fiery spectacle filled with sharp objects and video projections? Is it that odd woman in the corner who seems to be talking to herself? Is it somewhere deep within our heads as artists scramble our ideas of our history and our identity? Or perhaps it’s contained in a chance encounter over grilled root vegetables or in a conversation over what seems to be about nothing in particular.

Quebec artist Arkadie Lavoie Lachapelle poses several versions of this question with her extreme rocking chair on display for nine-months at the Mont de la Salle secondary school in Laval. The project is sponsored by Verticale an artist-run centre with no fixed address for its exhibitions. It is one of two such projects found in public spaces in Laval that will continue beyond the framework of the Viva Festival.

Lavoie-Lachapelle’s rocking chair has been elongated along its horizontal axis to a length of 7.3 meters. Made out of linden or basswood, the chair is very solidly constructed using traditional mortice and tenon joinery. It resembles the wooden furniture found in early 20th century institutions, solid and built to last for centuries, and nothing like the Bauhaus knock-offs now occupying church basements and government social welfare offices.

Lavoie-Lachapelle knows that furniture embodies a set of social codes. Beds are made for one or two, not four or five. Modern chairs resemble thrones and the kitchen stool is made for quick morning meals before rushing off to work. Working with this idea, the artist has created a rocking chair that is capable of welcoming twenty souls and she has placed it in the entrance hall of a high school, where it sits under the watchful eye of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God.

When the school bell (which is no longer a bell but a sound similar to an alarm found on the Spaceship Enterprise) sounds at Mont de la Salle, the whole building shakes with the vibration of the movement of hundreds of students.

The time at the school will undoubtedly transform this object. One can imagine the usual signs of wear and tear, but also stains, hidden wads of gum, inscriptions and the graffiti that will erupt out of the hormone-addled imaginations of the students. Intentionally, the chair as installed is covered with a thin coating of wax. At the end of the nine-month period a more permanent covering will be applied to the basswood.

In this way the artist hopes that the chair will become at some distant time a strange artifact from the past. Its form and the traces left upon it will evoke conjecture from future generations as to the mores of this people who left their indecipherable signs in its pale solid wood and who sat together and sometimes succeeded in rocking together.