Monday, May 9, 2011

Day Three - aussi

Today I spent some time walking Montreal.

I took some time around the old canal - the Canal de Lachine, which was the old canal through which goods were shipped out of the Ports of Montreal to other parts of Canada and North America. I am struck by how the socio-political terrain of a city can change vastly. Montreal is still an affordable city - well in terms of property, provided you choose wisely, the metro is fairly connected throughout the city and the Bixi system (a interconnected system of rental bicycles), and depending if you would prefer dense housing or a yard and greater space between you and your neighbours will often decide where you might live. Oh, and your $$ as well. The area that I am staying in is very working class and was even more so in the past - it included the factory workers and the dock workers who off loaded the ships and placed crates and good onto the barges and then floated them down in land and onto trains and trucks. This area of Sainte Henri, like all of Montreal is being gentrified - maybe this area more slowly, but it is happening. However traditional structures and homes are maintained and the past enthocultural threads remain of working class French and Irish.

It is only while walking up the hill from Sainte Henri to Westmount when I am struck with the significant change in architecture and roadways. This must have been where the bosses of the factories and ship yards have lived over looking the activities of their workers and at the same time the workers peering through their commoners' eyes would have been looking upon the noses of their bosses. Indeed the class superiors perhaps both physically and symbolically looked down on the workers.

As I am walking and thinking about Montreal and the psydo-psycho walking tour I think about my family. My Mother's Father was a fisherman and while he and his family lived on the eastern coast of Newfoundland after being forced to re-located from the islands that his family considered home for over 100 years; he worked in Boston, Montreal and in the Atlantic areas with the fisheries and in some factories. I think of him and what his early twenties and late teens must have been like and what he did and where he went to find work and money for his family and to make a better life I wonder if he spent time in places like Sainte Henri and if he marveled at the big houses up in Westmount?

At the end of my evening with Karen, Jack, Nathan and Gabe I walk down the tunnel separating Westmount and Sainte Henri and I sit down on the lush grass (rather quite lush for so early in the Spring) and I lay down and look up into the sky and think of a time about 100 years ago and just let my working class body create a deep imprint into the lawn. Tonight it is my act of rebellion and homage to my ancestors.

Day Three

It is Saturday and I want to go to Optica today and take in a performance by artist Cecila Brass who is performing as part of a group exhibition at Optica, curated by Lori Blondeau, presents a selection of archival documents (videos and photographs) relating the history of TRIBE, A Centre for Evolving Aboriginal Media, Visual and Performing Arts. Since its inception, the artist collective has publicly raised highly relevant questions of identity, territory, and politics regarding the status of native peoples and First Nations’ place in our history.

Before heading to Optica at the Belgo Building on Ste. Catherine I grab the Metro at Sainte Henri station and begin some furtive actions on the Metro. Today I am trying two activities:
Again smiling at people as it is my furtive action of infecting Montrealers with a sense of kindness - a passing opportunity of risky, no-strings attached flirting, warmth, and intimacy.
The second opportunity of to see if they will engage with me.

Usually I am sitting as the Metro is not as busy today and I have tried to take a car at either the back of the train or the front - most people seem to grab a middle car and they become crowed fast. It seems that the best possibilities for a smile exchange happen when I am seated (I think I look shorter and less intimidating then) and often the other person is standing. This time a woman sits down directly across from me. She sighs loudly and in an expatriated way. I look over at her - we make eye contact and I just smile (an innocent and friendly one), she takes a double take and then smiles teh largest smile back at me. Today will be a good day. The stop is announced, the doors open and I leave this car for the one in front of it.

In the next car I try the same thing. This time I am bolder and after I smile at the person I sit next to them and we travel together for another stop, I wait and neither of us leave. I then turn him to him and ask if he would trade me something for this quarter. He smiles and then laughs and ask what I want? I tell him that I want to trade him something for the quarter. He laughs again and produces a cigarette. I thank him and get off at the next stop - Square Victoria. I get back on and it takes about four attempts until I feel ready to trade again. Over the day I trade for a half pack of spearmint gum, a used nail file, almost used chap stick, a condom, a loonie, and validated transit ticket, and a kiss (on my cheek). It has been a great day, but the best part was when I had a person who said they had noting to trade and then I asked them to hold my hands...

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Day Two


adjective /ˈfərtiv/ 

Attempting to avoid notice or attention, typically because of guilt or a belief that discovery would lead to trouble; secretive
- they spent a furtive day together
- he stole a furtive glance at her

Suggestive of guilty nervousness
- the look in his eyes became furtive

So here is a definition that we will use as a base point, a starting point and as a point whence we might return in case I get arrested or considered mentally unstable for the courts.

Over the past few days and for the majority of this creative research residence I will be referring to this definition. And while a large portion of my artistic practice in the past has embraced this concept, I am uncertain if my work might really be categorized as furtive; but rather under-documented. For me I feel that documentation is somewhat of a necessary evil in terms of funding agencies and in terms of providing a trace or ephemeral stain of what has occurred. I would put forth the supposition that at its core performance art is about story telling and this story telling; either through movement, audio, and visual cues and attributes; focus upon the sharing of ideas, thoughts, feelings and often (though, not always linear) narratives. I find that direct documentation changes the reading of a performance and that bystanders (potential co-participants, or maybe, less active participants)often then read the performance differently - as video work, as something theatrical, and not just documentation. It might seem odd but I am less bothered by strangers video recording me on their phones and pdas then I am by direct documentations.

So if my practice is truly furtive, perhaps I should not be writing about it?

The definition above alludes to a romantic encounter and since the majority of my work over the last three years has dealt with intimacy, I find it funny and, well perfect as a discussion point. Since Friday, I have been spending time reading the Metro - Montreal's underground interconnected transit system. There are four interconnected lines, the orange, the blue, the purple and the yellow.

Broad sweeping generalization One: People in Montreal seem to walk less.

When I stop to ask for directions (this is a furtive act?) people often say rather quickly - "oh, that is far away, you could take the metro" Often the distance is not far and it is interesting to me that the response is such to utilize the metro.

Perhaps it is because Montreal has that critical mass, perhaps it is because there are three major universities and many students and also many individuals without cars... however it is, there are a significant number of Montrealers that utilize the Metro daily and often multiple times during the day. Just like the romantic large city - read NYC, Tokyo, London, etc. where people drone unto the metro and look pass others and do not connect, and like almost every public transit vehicle, people avoid eye contact with others, pretending to talk on their phone, or talk mindlessly to someone on the other end of their cell phone, or deep into their book/reader, or listening intently to their iPod - avoiding others' i's.

The first time on the Metro with Karen (elaine spencer) I notice the physical set up of the cars and where seats are and how oddly juxtaposed they are - as in that the seats are placed so that people are facing sideways with each other. Also the aisles are very narrow so that you might be able to stand however walking in the aisle is both awkward and uncomfortable for both those who sit and those who are standing. How you navigate a stroller, or a wheelchair I wonder? It's Friday afternoon - around 3 p.m. and rush hour has started. I hop onto the Metro and there are seats even though I am in one of the cars in the middle if the almost 20 car train. The doors close and we are off and at the next stop a woman sits down and I smile this big smile at her. She looks at me a bit shocked at first. She then smiles back and I think Yes, contact. There are different types of smiles - those parched stingy smiles, those polite smiles, and more; but her smile was real and honest - I feel that I am radiating. So I continue this subtle - maybe furtive action - where I establish eye contact with passengers, one at a time, and then smile at them and wait for a reply. A smile can be interpreted in various ways: a opening for a unstable person to take your precious alone time away from you; an opening for someone you fancy; or simple hello fellow human it's great we are here and sharing this moment.

So I continue this action in various cars, on various metro lines and with many different people. My success rate was good and it makes me think is a smile like a yawn - can you catch it? Does it cause you to infect others?

Friday, May 6, 2011

day one

Today started early as Doug came by and lit a fire early and started to prepare for some castings - he is using bee's wax that has been part of previous art projects and now using it to cast hollow models of garbage - a broken paint brush, a plastic coke bottle, and other treasures that he will leave behind as he picks up actual garbage during an upcoming project. We chatted then ate breakfast - yummy cereal.

Today I will be mapping out some perspective locales and maybe some chance encounters. It is really weird because I seem to have solid plans - or at least the potential for solid plans of what I want to do and hopefully, each day will be both different and enriching in terms of my practice and what comes out of it.

So I journeyed to SKOL to see the current exhibition and to connect with Anne Bertrand. We caught up on things - talked shop, talked about each other and the challenges of working on the job at artist-run central. We also talked about the projects of the other furtive artist and what various projects that they have done, or are continuing to do. Being geographically removed form the groups has created this dis-connect that may just be. I also feel that because we all have very busy lives that these things happen. I am hopeful to be able to connect with almost all of the artist while in town. Anne talked about the magical powers of art and artistic creation and how, especially for her, it is vital that we are afforded the opportunities created by the freedom of this project to not have to create anything that makes this activity fascinating that special moments are created and that by not setting parameters towards the outcomes of this project that significant steps can be achieved with the artists and their practices. It is great that artist-run centres create these spaces when funding structures are not as often able to move beyond their antiquated structures.

Not having to create anything.

I think about the Banff Centre for the Arts and their creative residencies; their mandate is inspiring creativity and the Director of the. Walter Phillips Gallery - Kitty Scott - has often said that at Banff there are no expectations for products to be created. Inspiring yes; daunting - definitely. Karen Spencer said to me that she hopes that all my plans get derailed and that I may not do what I wanted, but something completely different. I know that she meant this in the best possible way, but I have no real plans - just an outline of setting time aside each day to research and to begin creating -- or creative practices. In many ways the exciting contemporary art centres are not the ones that are animating and exhibiting the next best artist, but centres that are engaged in discourses that provide multiple points of entry into this dialogue and by diverse voices that are exploring new and different ways of thinking.

I am now off to furtive.

Note to Self: need to get bagels.

day zero / jour zéro

Hello, I'm Todd and I am an artist / bonjour je m'appelle Todd et je suis un artiste.

So maybe that will not work, but the positive parts of this is that Montreal is truly a Canadian city and fully aware of its duality of Languages, well at least its duex langues officielles anyway. And my work has been constantly moving away from speaking at all anyway, or at least speaking with out words. I arrived in Montreal after a little more than an hour of turbulence and it is more than slightly raining here - it is wet and pouring. Anne Bertrand meets me at the bus stop at Lionel-Groulx and we run to her car and go to my new home (for the next week) on Ste. Marguerite in the neighbourhood of Saint Henri. I will be residing at the CRUM residency - The Centre de recherche urbaine de Montreal (CRUM) is a symbiotic (parasitic) research group with no exhibition space of its own. It uses the pre-existing exhibition network to present diverse projects. The CRUM is an artists collective dedicated to exploring links between art and urban space. Once there we are greeted by Karen Elaine Spencer and Douglas Scholes; Doug is the Guardian of CRUM and a collective founder and also a great artist exploring aspects of urban wilderness and detritus (my words, not his).

We sit around and chat I try to collect my bearings and share that I have not really slept since I was traveling at six - had to be checking in by five and should leave home by four… why bother. After about an hour or so we depart and Anne drops Karen and off at a Metro station and we head downtown / Centre Ville where Karen and I grab some food and catch up. Karen is one of the most sensitive and perceptive artist I know and we chat about a spectrum of things and at one point she ask me about how I think my artistic career might have went if certain in my life had not happened?

I think I am probably rather dogmatic and maybe romantically practical (not practical in romance, but romantic about how practical I am) and respond that everything that has happened to me makes me who I am - both great and not so great -- we are all products of our environments and responding to those. I try really hard to take ownership of things that I mess up and to respond in the moment, to offer praise, to be honest with myself and those around me... we talk more and she opens her pack-sack and shows me a loaf of white bread and a spool of twine, not thread. We talk more about what she has planned and then she asks me about me - my least favourite topic - about loss and grief and about my changing body. We talk a bit about this and she ask to place the bread on a part of my body that is deficient (my words) or changed. As we are also talking about dance and dancing I immediately think about my feet - missing toe and all and since my feet have been such - pardon the pun - sore points for me I discredit that in my mind - I think of my legs - but lately my calves and think have grown larger and more firm so I think not. We talk about a project that I have shared with Karen about having my hands bound for 72 hours and I think no to this as well. More and more I am drawn to my face and mouth, my eyes. However, in the end I pick my neck. I think of dancers and the symmetry of bodies and the definition and definite lines of muscle and sinew. She slowly layers about six or seven piece of white bread on my neck and secures it by wrapping it with the thread. The bread smells of yeast of and carbs. I re-dress and we enter into the crowds at Place des Arts.

Later in the evening Karen notes that I look graceful and handsome and that people notice me - it probably has to do with the slices of bread wrapped around my neck - however I do notice that people notice me and stare. at the end of the evening the bread is dry and starting to crumble and I ask Karen to cut it off of me and we leave it to go back to the earth or at least to the pigeons.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane


Maybe you remember me?
It's me Todd.

I know, it seems like so long since we have chatted, since I paid attention to you…

Well tomorrow morning - early, I depart Edmonton and fly to Montreal for a exciting week of research creation.

I was invited many months ago by the amazing Karen Spencer and Anne Bertrand for a project at Skol. They have called it teasing the furtive or gosser le furtif which is an on-going curatorial project curated by Karen Elaine Spencer. Read more about this and the great furtives (that what I call them) at

Karen is awesome and I fell into love with her work by just reading about it many years ago and I have had the pleasure of curating her and working with her. While this will not do the work justice it often threads social justice and is often situated by the voices of disenfranchised people - often manifesting as one voice that is a collective of many. We are very similar in many ways in terms of our practice and our activities - but she is constant, focused, driven and prolific. Please read her at

Okay, I have to go pack - eight days - me being an artist - no work - limited emails - lots of talking, drinking, watching, and I hope be being ... silent.