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.

Super-heroical : Arti Grabowski

VIVA! Art Action
October 15

If the Viva Art Action festival began with the ceremonial entrance of performance art royalty, it ended with feats of the spectacular by one of one its super-heros. Polish artist, Arti Grabowski is a consummate performer, part carnival huckster, part silent film heart throb, part b-boy hunk, part suave master of the Texas two-step, part used-car salesman and part poète maudit. For last Saturday night’s performance he blew some serious performative smoke for the capacity crowd at the Atelier Jean-Brillant.

Each year of the festival, before the evening’s events, the Viva Art Action festival invites the public to share a delicious and substantial communal meal with the festival’s artists, volunteers and participants. Each year this complex sometimes herculean endeavor is conferred to a different artist-in-residence. This year, Macedonian artist, Sonja Zlatanova took on the challenge to prepare the hundreds of dinners for the public as well as lunches and snacks for the artists and volunteers.

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.

Dancing Blind : Sylvie Cotton

VIVA! Art Action

Each night of the festival, Sylvie Cotton presented a thirty minute participative action as a kind of performance “hors-d’oeuvre” or “tasting” before the evening communal meal and the night’s events. For each of the performances Cotton asked for volunteers, and she could accommodate up to forty participants. Over the four nights, using a simple set of rules and with an economy of means, Cotton took these volunteers though a set of emotional states from quietude to vulnerable to intimate and lastly to joyous.

Few people were able to experience Dana Michel’s relational piece which took place off to the side of the evening’s events on Saturday night. Sitting in an infant’s inflatable bed, Michel involved participants in a long intimate conversation. When I stopped by to look at the work in the intermission after the action of Jacquelin van de Geer and Jean-Phillippe Luckhurst-Cartier, the line of those waiting to talk with Michel stretched back twenty or thirty people deep. Of these only a tiny handful experienced the meeting with Michel even after waiting an hour or more.

Rockin’ : Arkadie Lavoie Lachapelle

VIVA! Art Action
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.

Sylvie Cotton concluded her series of interventions at the Viva festival with a reading of text devised from one of her many one-day artist residencies, which have taken place in the homes of her friends and acquaintances. The text she read for the capacity crowd on Saturday night listed in alphabetical order all the names in the Montreal telephone book which signify something in the French language. These could be objects like Perron (exterior steps leading to the entrance of a building) or Marteau (hammer), or states of being like Léveillé (the awakened) or compounds like Beaulieu or Beaupré (pretty place and pretty field).

Over the past 15 years, the area surrounding the Atwater Market in Montreal has been smashed by gentrification. Thousands of new condo units have transformed the demographics of old industrial neighborhoods that once housed working class Irish and French-Canadian families. Now people who live here have money, free time and thousand dollar bicycles, that they ride along the bike path that goes past the market along the Lachine Canal.

The poetics of stone : Jason Lim

VIVA! Art Action
October 11

For the last action of Day 3, Singapore artist, Jason Lim built a vast and imposing silence that encompassed the studio Jean-Brillant and enveloped the spirits of the public. Bringing together a few simple elements, he constructed this experience upon the open plain of the room’s collective consciousness, holding it together with feathers, a candle and the sense of fragile equilibrium of a physical world precariously balanced upon the mind.

Blood Fountain : Emilie Monnet

VIVA! Art Action

The communication of information within the performance event often poses a central problem for both the performer and spectators. Often the site of performance is not ideal for observation, there is no seating, it is badly lit, the acoustics are poor, there may be ambient sound that drowns out all else and sight lines to the action can be obscured by obstacles and most commonly by other spectators. Witnessing an event, the spectator finds themselves asking, « What the hell is happening? », « What did the performer do or say? ».

To kick-off night three of Viva, Swiss-based dancer and performance artist, Dorthea Rust, presented a sometimes playful exploration of vulnerability and trust that occasionally threatened to cause someone or something real damage. She entered the space tentatively, wearing what appeared to be an expensive branded polar anorak whose front zipper went from the waist up past the neck continuing to the top of the hood.* With the zipper closed, the fleece enclosed Rust’s torso and head completely, leaving her blind.

The flowering of the performance event is fraught with the possibility for error, accidents, interruptions, lapses and other surprises both happy and less happy. Because actions are seldom rehearsed and often use contraptions that have never been tested, situations arrive that are unexpected for the both the audience and especially the artist.

For the concluding act of day 2 of the festival, Bulgarian artist, Boryana Rossa, provided a sly, droll and intelligent (re) presentation of Carollee Schneemann’s 1975 iconic feminist performance « Interior Scroll ». Photographs of Schneemann’s performance, show her naked, standing on a table, reading a long scroll of text that she has pulled from out of her vagina. Partial and incomplete news of this performance reached Rossa as a young woman studying art in Bulgaria. She immediately recognized the performance as an important and radical feminist critique and an affirmation of the body, just the things she needed to hear in one of the Soviet socialist republics.

Victoria Gray began the second night of performances at Viva with a powerful minimalist somatisation that held the two hundred spectators that surrounded the performance area in rapt attention.

As Gray’s website describes it, somatisation involves the work « to bring dormant psychosomatic / traumatic memory to consciousness. ». The idea that mental trauma and memory were imprinted in a physical form within the body was developed by German psychologist Wilhelm Reich in the 1930’s, following his break with Freud. In 80 years, this research has been refined so that it now includes a much more subtle understanding. In Gray’s work she is seeking to communicate memory and trauma that « subsists at the sentient level of the bones, muscles, organs, fluids, glands and nerves. »

The Stone We Each Carry : Sandra Johnston

VIVA! Art Action
October 09

In interpreting the oft-times private gestures, rituals and actions of performance art, the public relies in part on the mien of the performer to find meaning and engage with the performance. During the performance of Sandra Johnston, an artist from Northern Ireland, the public at Viva sat enthralled as she invested her action with the intensity of a spiritual conversion.

Tunisian/Quebec artist Soufia Bensaid began her action walking into the centre of the performance space, dressed casually and carrying an aluminum water bottle. Facing the audience, she turned slowly, looking each person in the eye. At the end of her visual circumnavigation of the space, she quietly announced that we were 201 persons.

The Quebec-based performance duo, Hélène Doyon et Jean-Pierre Demers, opened the 5th Edition of the Viva Art Action festival with all the pomp and circumstance of performance art royalty. With the measured steps and rigid postures of those born to high office, they entered the Ateliers Jean-Brillant to the canned cheers of multitudes and the expectant silence of the public in the studio.

Traddutore, traditore : Somewhere Else

VIVA! Art Action
October 08

Rebecca Belmore at the Oboro Gallery

The exhibition of three sculptural and one multi-media work by Rebecca Belmore at the Oboro Gallery poses a series of practical and aesthetic questions pertinent to the practice of performance art. In the exhibition notes, Florene Belmore, the artist’s sister and long-time collaborator, describes the exhibition as an « exploration »,

With Somewhere Else, Rebecca brings actions forward in time, re-purposing them in new ways…

The Papineau federal electoral district is one of the poorest and most densely populated ridings in Canada. The 2006 census, the latest available, showed that Papineau had a median annual household income of slightly over $29,605 per year.i The district has one of Quebec’s highest highest rates of unemployment and one of the highest populations of new immigrants, with almost 47% of the population speaking neither French nor English as their mother tongue.