The final “non-art” lecture @DHC/ART : RFAOH ex-resident, Rob Santaguida on “expectations vs reality”
Our “satellite office” residency at DHC/ART came to a close on March 3, with our final and sixth non-art lecture/workshop conducted by another ex-resident, Rob Santaguida. When the call for proposals for our third residency term came out in the summer of 2016, Rob was already planning to take a hiatus from film-making on his own. He expressed in his application how he missed the enthusiasm he had for making when he first started and longed to stay away from routinely accepting opportunities, with the hopes of “…replacing cynicism with youthful vigour, and renewed motivation”.
During his hiatus, the Montreal artist planned to move to the neighbourhood of Balat in Istanbul, and focus on simple activities, learn Italian, and maybe try out the oboe. In the end, none of these came true. His plan to live in Istanbul was unexpectedly cut short by the political upheaval that came following the attempted coup that July. After that, all we could gather from his short “end of the month” reports was that he was still travelling, somewhere, but no details as to where nor what he was doing. Then seven months later, he reported “At the intersection…the little green man appeared, urged me forward. Reluctantly I crossed”, and left RFAOH earlier than planned to resume his art practice.
When we were programming our satellite office events, we wondered if he was back in Montreal. We learned that his journey was continuing but he would be passing through town for several engagements, so the timing worked out perfectly to have him as our second guest for the occasion. Known as RFAOH’s most “mysterious” artist on-hiatus, once again, we were never exactly sure what he was going to do or talk about until the day of his presentation.
Rob’s presentation was composed with a series of loosely related dates, maps, pictures, and scripts, and at one point an attempt to play 20 different video clips of opera performances simultaneously. All together they hinted at various peripheral events and encounters that drove the direction of his hiatus, while remaining sufficiently open ended that we as an audience were left to formulate the connections and imagine the details based on a kind of forensic reading.
It was presentation as performance, but also obvious he is a filmmaker, with a love of the meta-narrative of story telling. Watching and listing to his presentation felt exactly like reading those monthly reports he would send us, with an image and ever enigmatic but beautifully poetic text that never explicitly explained much. (We often suspected he could in fact be making art!) Nonetheless, it was strangely fulfilling and we almost felt we finally understood what he got up to all those months.
Perhaps also because of the intimacy of the small audience, we had the most earnest and inspiring question and discussion period afterwards that gave yet another dimension to the questions of “artists and hiatus”. Rob openly talked about his complex relationship with artmaking, and his continuous mulling over leaving this activity, which he described almost ambivalently as his only or default option for living life even practically speaking. (We also learned what “the little green man” actually did!) Not only is he good at it, but he is also not “unsuccessful” as an artist, with professional opportunities and appointments that keep him creating. How, many of us may envy his circumstance, but then again, art and life and hiatus are not that simple.
Later, we chatted fondly over a quick drink in the “cinematic” neighbourhood of Old Montreal; we parted wishing him “good luck” on his upcoming projects, feeling a bit funny about the ambiguity of the choice of those words. He is once again off to somewhere we don’t really know, but we anticipate an off hiatus report could arrive when we are least expecting.