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.
How we all got “(re)connected” : RFAOH ex-resident, MomenTech’s “online meditation” workshop
So this experimental and slightly ridiculous endeavour, “the co-directors giving free non-art workshops”, came partly as a solution to logistics and resources, as we said. Ideally we would have preferred to invite all our ex-residents to come and talk about their hiatus and offer their own “non-art” workshops — well, maybe one day! (Is any institution reading this interested in helping us organize this??)
We were fortunate however that some ex-residents whose circumstances were more feasible than others found ways to join us. MomenTech was one of them, whose enthusiasm really touched us from the beginning. Some of you might remember their six month on-hiatus project, a rigorous research into and collective practice of meditation. When we first received their proposal, we said, “It’s totally like an art project.” They reassured us otherwise, signed our contract, and off they went, sharing so much on their page and bringing a large “non-art” audience who animated their comment section. They were also the first applicants who applied as an “art collective-on-hiatus”.
Knowing that two of the trio are located in New York, we had hoped to bring them to Montreal to conduct a meditation workshop in person. Instead, they suggested we run the workshop online, that all three of them could present from their respective locations and where not only the attendants in Montreal, but also anyone with an Internet access worldwide could participate. We “met” with them online, tested the connection a couple of times, corresponded to discuss the workshop contents and create instructions for the online participants, and we were ready to go.
On February 24 at 2 pm EST via Google Hangout projected onto the wall in our satellite office, we welcomed Rey from Brooklyn, Maciej from Grahamsville, NY, and Mika from Prague. We were also joined by several online participants who appeared in small squares, at the bottom of the projection below whoever was speaking. To begin, Rey, Maciej, and Mika each talked about their encounters with and relationship to meditation, and offered a whole range of fascinating anecdotes and perspectives. Maciej’s first meditation practice, for example, was an attempt to endure the political turmoil in his native Poland as a temporary, fleeting moment. Mika’s initial interest came through his experiments with psychedelics and eventually lead him to reside in a Zen temple in Japan. Rey shared a slide of the Calm City Meditation Truck he had just witnessed — driving around New York and providing a serene space for people to meditate, for about a dollar a minute. (It looked like an art project!) And as a whole they seemed to agree that the “de-institutionalization” of meditation as a result of its current popularity and consequential commercialization is generally a positive phenomenon, making it accessible to everyone. They also revisited an idea from one of their past reports, that meditation is an amoral practice; it certainly can be used to help people de-stress or reach higher plains of creativity, but it’s also used by the military for instance, to train snipers to be more efficient killers. There is no inherent judgement, and in that sense is truly zen. (We will add the audio recording of more of our conversation here soon. )
Rey prepared a handout with quotes for participants
Then Rey took the lead and guided us through a 20 minute meditation session, in a make-do gallery basement with a dimmed light, sitting on rather uncomfortable stools. One experienced participant took the liberty to lie down on the wheel chair access platform. Because it was a regular day at the gallery, visitors passed by, peeking in (well, we didn’t see, but felt them) and whispering about what the hell was going on in this darkened room with a projection of a sunset beach and a bunch of us sitting with our eyes closed. A great challenge to clearing our minds, and we kept hoping they would also join us somehow. 20 minutes came to the end rather quickly for some and perhaps finally for others — did we manage to reach our “inner silence” or even “relax”? It felt strangely sadder to say good bye to the trio who were only virtually there, while participants hastily left for their next appointments.
The next day, we received warm responses from each member of MomenTech to our thank you email, and we thought Maciej summed up our experience nicely.
“It was great to see you on screen, since now your names, well known to us, acquired a physical form. Also a miracle of technology allowed us to connect Prague, Montreal, NYC and Grahamsville. It makes me think how most advanced people in meditation feel reality as one continuous dimension. It happened during our session! Of course it is a metaphor, but also a bit of epiphany.”