Art Shmart: Artivistic Canadian Conference

Nikki Sansone

This weekend, in that far away land called Canada, tucked away in the lovely city of Montreal, in a remote and sterile abandoned warehouse, Artivistic’s conference “Unoccupied Spaces” called together a meeting of the minds between artists and activists alike. Cary Peppermint’s ARTS 405 class and select students from Lynette Stephenson’s Practice and Theory class made the six hour bus ride up to the land of hockey and Mike Meyers to participate in what was an experience unlike any they had ever encountered before.

Artivistic is an international, trans-disciplinary, three-day gathering that focuses on where art, information and activism all intersect each other. Artists, activists and academics hail from all over the globe and all fields of study to create a diverse network of thinkers and to push themselves, their art, and their activism to new levels.

This weekend’s Artvistic conference focused on linking issues of environmentalism, indigenous and migrant struggles and urban practices together as seen through the notion of occupation. The cr??me de la cr??me of Colgate’s art department along with other conference attendants participated in various roundtables, workshops, exhibitions and performances to tackle the issue of what space means in our increasingly global, 21st century world.

As far as what really went down, your guess is as good as any. In the foreign land of Canada, in the bizarrely bilingual and bicultural city of Montreal, in that remote and sterile abandoned warehouse, the flow of the conference was less cohesive than the Artivistic website would have you believe.

One memorable art presentation included a video by Gina Badger, a senior BFA student at Concordia University. The video was prefaced with the distribution of small packages containing a single garlic clove, the idea being that recipients were to plant this garlic clove in a small part of their city. Garlic was apparently chosen for its medicinal purposes; beyond that the logic of Badger’s piece seemed confused.

Other memorable performances came from representatives of Boredom Patrol, CIRCA (Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army) and The Boredom Patrol had conference attendants crawling and running (and sometimes even crawling and running simultaneously) with activities from the Theater of the Absurd They paired up strangers and asked them to either keep their face within twelve inches of their partner or chose a random person to follow/avoid.

German representatives Ralf Homann and Farida Heuck asked the group to think conceptually about borders — what they mean, what they are, etc. — before eventually assembling people into small groups to make “Border Manifesto’s.” These manifestos were the collaborative efforts of conference attendees to visualize what they wanted a border to be, and were later documented in colorful markers on brown paper. The border manifestos weren’t actually discussed after they were made, but they did add to the overall shabby, terribly un-chic d├ęcor of the abandoned warehouse.

Attendees were later directed to a different venue at the end of a long street of anarchist clubs and bookstores. This time there were no border manifestos or even shabby, terribly un-chic streamers. Instead, the place teemed with new and familiar artists and activists from the first section of the conference, all meandering through the dim red light in an inconspicuous effort to make their way to the bar.

This session featured performance art: two women danced to the melody of a female voice telling a story in Spanish, followed by another dance performance, followed by an avant-garde jam session by six men and their laptops. These men played random clippings of sounds they had recorded from all over the world, some of which included birds, street traffic, casino mumblings and children on swings.

The random noise collection lasted about a half an hour and received a more applause than the dance piece, which had preceded it. The preceding piece had become infamous amongst Colgate attendees as “that piece,” and the only noteworthy observations that survived was that the performers danced to a band that was best listened to on mute, and that they also moaned into their hands and groped the walls under projections of oil-slicked ducks.

The Artivistic conference may not have been a totally successful exploration of unoccupied space, but it certainly served as a lesson in art and art making. Art making at its core serves to disrupt the norm, the way one normally thinks about things or normally sees things. For our Colgate liaisons/budding artists, a disruption of the norm is not an uncommon feature of their daily art and art history curriculum. The Artivistic conference was, however, disruption enough to have even these weathered pros wondering, Where do these people come from?

In art and Artivistic, it takes all kinds.