Meduse, 30 September
It’s day two in Quebec and another visit to Meduse cooperative takes us into La Bande Video and an installation by Sri Lankan artist Pavitra Wickramasinghe, ‘Refusing to Make a Scene’ – an elegiac installation drawing on her childhood memories of watching television when she thought that the scenes in the box were real and miniature misc en scenes. The photographic installation covering the windows of La Bande Video is called ‘Smog’ and is by Mériol Lehmann (who is also Director of Production at neighbouring Avatar, the organization for audio and new media in Meduse) and it mirrors the view of Quebec whose scenic panorama is jolted by the smoke from a local power processing plant (I think), an unusual sight in a city centre.
Alexis Bureau from VU recommends we visit two other organisations in the city, La Chambre Blanch and Le Leiu.
La Chambre Blanch
La Chambre Blanche is based in a former shoe factory and is one of two contemporary artist run spaces that are not based in the Meduse centre. They are currently collaborating with La Bande Video, Avatar and a Brazilian organisation, MIS, in a residency by Claudio Bueno, who isn’t present today but Isabell Demers and Catherine Blanchet are there to guide the visitor around and tell more about the work of their organisation. It is a documentation centre on contemporary art and has a massive collection of books, journals and magazines, all catalogued for viewing. Their current magazine shelf shows the range of publications produced in Canada today – Inter (Quebec based), Fuse (Toronto), C Magazine , Musicworks (Toronto – the last three are all based in 401 Richmond building), BorderCrossings (the successor to Borderlines), and I think more.
As well as their first floor library which contains back issues of probably all Canadian art publications and magazines, their are two spaces on the second floor which are used as working spaces for artists who are in residence and who also use it as exhibition spaces – artists are invited to create unique, ephemeral work, and the space is considered to be a laboratory. The public are invited to drop in and contribute to or quiz the artist on their processes. They have a membership which is categorised into ‘active’, ‘producers’, ‘friends’ and ‘support’. In their accreditation, it is members who are prioritised as supporting the organisation, followed by the Candadian Council for the Arts, the Quebec Ministery of Culture and Communications and the City of Quebec. Time did not allow any furthering exploration into the levels of funding and self-finance here, but I aim to follow that up in e-mail.
They also have a digital and web lab which encourages artists to create and rethink the idea of ‘site-specific’ within the context of cyberspace, and it is used by members for web art projects also.
La Chambre Blanche began their ‘artist-in-residence’ programmes in 1982 as a way of furthering the exploratory aspects of art making and the processes involved. Their large publication ‘Résidence – 1982-1993’ chronicles their first 15 years of in-situ residencies, looking at the delicate balance between individual research, public contact, and the nuances of residencies that result from collaborative efforts. It is also a useful record in printed form of their history. The gift of this book and the DVD of web performances from more recent residences are fitting memento’s of the visit and useful additions to our own archive at Street Level that folk back home can peruse.
Le Lieu (Centre en Art Actuel)
Le Lieu (Centre en Art Actuel) is the other artist run space that is not contained within the Meduse Centre. The Director here is Richard Martel, a performance artist, who, interestingly, was involved in the collective who started La Chambre Blanche. He talks of their festival Rencontre internationale d’art performance (RIAP) which has been running every year (sometimes every other year) since 1994, the latest being in 2010, the sixteenth edition. For that event he worked in collaboration with curators/artists in Brazil, China, South Korea, Mexico, and Singapore. The festival presents a wide range of artists working in the fields of action art and performance art. That event also included a programme of French-language action poetry.
He mentions some UK based performance artists that he has encountered and who are familiar to me from various events – Stuart Brisley, who he was involved in presenting in Quebec in the early days, Andre Stitt, Roddy Hunter, and John Jordan. As an artist, he has undertaken work in Belfast and Cardiff, but hasn’t had any dealings with anyone from Scotland, yet. I tell him of the National Review of Live Art and say I will pass on info to them. He shows me the substantial tome ‘Art Action – 1958-1998’ an abundantly illustrated book that covers 4 decades and nearly 20 countries/continents of Action Art practices which came out of a report and symposium held in Quebec City in 1998 and which brought together the historic protagonists of ‘diverse forms of Action Art: the
Happening, Fluxus, ZAJ, Body Art, Action Poetry and Actionism’. The back flap also tells us that the book is dedicated to Dick Higgins, who passed away in Quebec City on the final day of the symposium. There are, claims Martel, only 7 of these books left in the world, but after some chatting, he agrees to sell me one to take back to Scotland.
Now there are only 6. Martel, reveals his unique collection of video documentation of some of the major names – Jean Jacques Lebel, Otto Muhl, Beuys, Higgins, and others. It is yet to be digitised and preserved.
Le Lieu itself has a gallery space – the work on show at present is an installation of broken statues and plinths rescued from abandoned chapels, 19 studio spaces (which I am guessing here the rents from which pay the space?) and an archive library with a focus on the avant-garde lineage through Dada, Fluxus, Happenings, performance, actions, and critical art activities. It is somewhere to spend a lot of time. They also publish Inter magazine which Martel started in 1978 as ‘Intervention’, changing its name to Inter in the early 80s – a French language multimedia magazine which has just published its 107th edition, this time on the theme of ‘Art and Activism’. An earlier issue from the Autumn of 2008 is a dual translation edition and worth the purchase as it chronicles the evolution of the Quebec art scene of the last 30 years and it also coincided with the 400th anniversary of Quebec as a city, so it is a valuable resource in putting into perspective the history of the scene here. In here there are section on VU, La Band Video, Engramme, and the other organisations in Meduse. Martel resisted the temptation to move into Meduse when it was being planned, preferring instead the autonomy of their own space, which, as I can see, adds greater diversity to the city’s cultural scene.
A web search on Martel reveals he is also a poet, multimedia artist, curator and publisher, author of a number of books, numerous articles for catalogues, literary miscellanies and anthologies published in Quebec, Canada and abroad. He has undertaken more than two hundred actions and performances at various galleries and museums in America, Europe and Japan. His creative activities are of social character and is the subject for consideration for leading art critics. He is, also, a supporter of Quebec independence’.
I am grateful to Alexis for passing on the names of the two organisations above – it is easy to miss out on activities that are not on your radar when you visit a place, as it often the case when visitors come to Glasgow. Whilst Meduse is an artistic hotbed, the existence of Le Chambre Blanche, Le Lieu, and the latter’s activities and through Inter and the performance art festival, further edifies Quebec’s role as a hub of the cultural avant-garde, and the fact that they can and continue to work together creates a dynamic context for creative activities in the city.