Sitting quietly watching the world go by : Francys Chenier

VIVA! Art Action
October 16

Quebec artist, Francys Chenier’s performance, Filiou Ideal takes place once a day, either between 7 and 9 am or 3 to 5 pm, in the plaza outside the De la Concorde metro station in Laval. I got lucky and saw a portion of Chenier’s afternoon performance a couple of days after the festival concluded. As I discovered after my visit, Chenier has published a complete schedule for his interventions on his web page at Following a regular work week, Chenier takes Saturdays and Sundays off, so his final performance will take place the afternoon of Friday, October 30th.

During rush hour, the plaza at the De la Concorde metro station fills with commuters making the transfer to a regional trail line that goes out to St. Jerome, north of Montreal, or which takes them back toward Central Station in Montreal. The rail line borders one side of the plaza, which is not that large, and before the arrival of the trains going north, the plaza can hold hundreds of commuters standing and waiting for their train.

At three o’clock in the afternoon, however, the plaza is completely empty. The afternoon I saw the piece, there was a strong chilly wind that blew through the open area. A couple minutes past 3, Chenier arrived, dressed in a sport coat and flat cap, carrying a sturdy wooden chair and a brown suitcase, that he has used in several other actions. He took up a position to one side of the plaza, facing the exit of the Metro station. Before sitting, he read a very short text.

Even though I was quite close, it was impossible to hear precisely what Chenier recited. I’m guessing that it was this action-poem by Robert Filliou written in Paris in 1964*.

Part-Two His Poem

As my name is Filliou,
the title of the poem is:
It is an action poem, and I am
going to perform it.
Its score is:
not deciding
not choosing
not wanting
not owning
aware of self
wide awake

As Filliou indicated in notes to the poem, the title should be changed whenever performed by an adult male to the form “Le (name of performer) ideale.”

Chenier significantly departs from Filliou’s instructions in several aspects. He had brought with him a sketch pad and he used it to create a visual record of the performances. As he sat, staring fixedly into the space before him, words, symbols and scribblings fused together on the sketchpad, resembling one of Henri Michaux’s turbulent investigations of the meaning of signs. The drawings may be found on posted on Chenier’s website.

Chenier had also brought with him several books in French that he placed next to his chair, The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, La Vie habitable by Veronique Côté and Kundera’s novel Slowness, as well as several others whose titles I couldn’t see.

Passersby often ignored Chenier, walking past without a glance. Others approached and asked him for directions, or posed questions, asking what he was doing sitting in the middle of the plaza. Chenier’s action was also interrupted by the arrival of a garbage truck that backed up over the curb onto the plaza to make a pick-up. Forced to move, Chenier found a new spot, sitting cross-legged next to one of the information signs, with books and suitcase now piled upon his chair. I left him as he sat quietly, staring fixedly at the entrance of the metro, awaiting the flood of people who would soon fill the space.



  • See the original formatting of the text in A Filliou Sampler, Robert Filliou, Great Bear Pamphlets, Something Else Press, 1967.