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.”
RFAOH x DHC, more “non-art” workshops : Macrobiotics as politics, Dubious self-defence
Around when our “nonart” workshops at DHC/ART started in January, our national art magazine called to interview us. One of their questions was “How does the Residency for Artists on Hiatus intersect (or not) with the current craze for wellness and self-care?” Until that point, we did not even realize that our conversation was to be part of their “Care and Wellness” issue, so we added at the end of our response that coincidentally, we were also offering workshops on “Macrobiotic food” and “self-defence”, if that counts. Truthfully, we had actually never considered these topics in that realm but more in light of politics. Either way, we were made to admit our unconscious leaning towards these “hippy” ideas, whether due to our generation or lifestyle backgrounds.
So for our 3rd “non-art” workshop, Shinobu shared her long-term interests in Macrobiotics — a philosophy, system, or way of life, and most commonly known as a type of diet — with an emphasis on how it initially started in Japan, as the title [The Unknown History Of Macrobiotics as Politics (+ recipes)] implied.
A radical self-educated thinker and activist Yukikazu Sakurazawa, aka George Osawa (1893 – 1966), founded Macrobiotics by developing ideas of “food medicine” originally proposed by a Japanese military nutritionist, Sagen Ishizuka (1851 – 1910). Later in the 1950’s, it was introduced and disseminated throughout the US by one of Osawa’s many students, Michio Kushi (1926 – 2014), who became a “guru” to the flower children generation, and later to Hollywood stars who touted the benefits of a Macrobiotic diet.
As a diet, Macrobiotics is pretty much like vegetarianism except, its principle is based on the Chinese concept of yin yang and partially derived from Zen Buddhism, adopting Japanese traditional food as a model. Back in Ishizuka and Osawa’s time, this now much praised culinary tradition was considered “outdated” against the wave of “modernization”, that followedthe country’s major political shift in international relations — which ultimately brought meat and changes to the Japanese diet. In the meantime, these key people from the three generations all went through different wars, feeling devastated about humanity’s seemingly unending capacity for violence, and pondered strategies to achieve peace. Osawa, who is said to have worked as a “spy” for the Japanese Imperial army and was renown for crazy anecdotes of his attempts (and arrests) to literally “stop” the war (like appealing to Stalin directly), later taught his students that “The melody of peace rings in diet” — that peace is not possible without a serious consideration that “we are what we eat”. He advocated Macrobiotic diet as an approach to changing the way we think and behave, with the same rigour as his foreign contemporaries who proposed change through the rule of law and organized the World Federalist Movement after World War II. How weird, how original, and how tasty!
Lately our jaw dropped seeing “veganism” making it in the list of the top 10 investment trends (or something like that), when it clearly started as a form of ethical and political resistance against certain industries. Macrobiotics too, has been adopted mostly as a healthy diet or lifestyle for individuals, whereas the concept was historically created with the ultimate aim to make society as a whole healthier. We hoped that the workshop participants who might have come primarily interested in recipes went home with something to really chew on — like one of Osawa’s most important principles of Macrobiotics: “You can ultimately eat ANYTHING as long as you chew it 200 times”. This must have been the first rule to go out the window, when Macrobiotics was “re-interpreted” in the West.
A week after Macrobiotics, Matt conducted our 4th “non-art” workshop titled [Dubious Self Defence: What to Do When Someone Grabs Your Wrist]. Participants were offered the opportunity to learn a few basic Aikido techniques to escape the grip of an attacker, while having a short, allegorical conversation around strategies for mitigating conflict in general and re-imagining our binary relationships within the wider culture or society.
Aikido uses spiraling and circular movements to blend with a vector of force and redirect it along its natural path of least resistance and into a void. Invented in post war Japan (again!) by martial arts genius Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido is a distillation of ancient samurai hand to hand combat techniques through Ueshiba’s own philosophical world view, that perceived all energy within the universe as naturally inclining towards harmony and balance, part and parcel of a overarching “oneness”. Ueshiba’s personal enlightenment was a realization that true Budō (i.e., the Martial arts) are not for the felling of an opponent by force; nor a tool to lead the world to destruction with arms, but rather to harmonize with the nature of this universal spirit, to keep the peace of the world by protecting and cultivating all beings. Consequently he developed aikido as his “art of peace” in which one may defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from harm.
This utopian idea is often dismissed or underestimated by practitioners of other martial arts who obsess to “winning” through overpowering or meeting force with force. Yet, throughout the afternoon, gallery visitors of all shapes and sizes were enthusiastic about the potential of these concepts and techniques — that size or strength actually do not matter when, by simply exploiting basic body mechanics and Newtonian physics, they could easily redirect aggression back onto the aggressor. They may have found this experience as a practical and metaphorical means to confidently negotiate dynamic systems, or catalyze flow for moving through the (any) world(s).
Video credit: Dahlia Cheng
We really did not plan it but the workshop after these, offered by our ex-residents MomenTech, again fell on the path of “self-care and wellness” (with a hint of politics) — Is Residency For Artists On Hiatus a new-age-y rehab centre for the damaged, by the Capitalist rhetoric and practice?? (:
RFAOH x DHC, the first “non-art” workshops : Functional Origami, Three Guitar Chords
Some may wonder about the random subjects of our “non-art” workshops we are offering as part of our satellite office operation at DHC/ART. As we touched in the previous post, the art foundation initially invited us because of the conceptual thread between the theme of their current exhibition and RFAOH, and asked us to “activate the basement space unfamiliar to some gallery visitors” (a fitting analogy for RFAOH, isn’t it?). The space is designated as a ‘reading room’ where you can reference material on the showcased artists, underneath their multi-level gallery. We knew we wanted to set up an “office” there and conduct some activities we had proposed in the past to other institutions. (hiatus proposal reviews, presentations by ex-RFAOH residents, and lectures by (rather famous) artists on what they do when not making art etc.) Some of these are logistically more feasible than others and this time, we decided to add free workshops to run ourselves on topics chosen from our limited skill-sets, knowledge, or long-term interests except art. We wanted the workshops to convey the idea of hacks, alternative notions of creative assets and achievement, and a bit of nonsense. And curiously, they happened to have some kind of association to the works in the exhibition.
The first workshop was “FUNCTIONAL Origami“. It turned out to be quite popular among gallery visitors of all ages who may have had little idea about RFAOH (and rightly so; there is no need for workshop participants to know that it’s part of our project). We showed how to make “functional” items using flyers and scrap papers, such as a “cellphone stand for smooth chatting and non-shaky selfies”; a “cat treat dog box”; a “wallet for alternative currencies”, and so on. Many people are familiar with and inspired by origami in its art of transformation — nothing (a piece of paper) turning into something (or something that looks like something). We of course wanted to add more to it, making nothing into something that you can actually use (although some of which were precarious^^). What really fascinates us about origami is that you do not transform the paper through cutting or gluing, so when “untransformed”, it goes back to the original form of a square piece of paper (with memories of the other state, perhaps). This is once again, quite metaphorical and anecdotal to reflect upon in this time of heated debates around types of institutionalization and approaches to conflict etc. Plus, the community of origami makers coming up with new ideas is ingenious! This “kids’ craft” is deep.
The second workshop was titled: “Learn three guitar chords (because you only need three)“. If this old school DIY sentiment didn’t betray our ages, our song list likely did. Participants were invited, two at a time, to sit with us and learn the chords, A, D, and E — the foundation of literally thousands of songs — as either “first position/country” chords, or Johnny Ramone style “barre/power” chords. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to each strategy. Power chords bring the advantage of all sharing the same basic hand shape so there is really only one chord to memorize which may then be moved around the neck to play the three chords (or any chord for that matter). In that sense they are a great hack for anyone wanting to learn enough guitar to start a band in under a week — as long as one can get past the hand stretch, which is a bit tricky for complete beginners. We gave our participants only 30 minutes to learn these chords in the method of their choice before quickly rehearsing and recording a song; a challenging task but one that sets up the possibility of simultaneous success and failure. The learners were generally split on which method they felt was easiest but all of them deserve a standing ovation for stepping outside their comfort zones and giving it a go. (Johnny would have been proud!) The notion of achievement is such arbitrary rhetoric without context. Messing with this relationship between rhetoric and context permits nonsense at times and a point of great potential where we can leverage one against the other in ways that sometimes even surprise ourselves (and others, too, or piss them off).
We have four more workshops/lectures coming up — let’s see if we could earn a philosophy degree out of these fun times (;
Official Retirement from Art : The case of RFAOH ex-resident Milena Kosec
Over the holidays, we received some heart-warming greetings from RFAOH VIPs. Among them, our ex-resident Milena Kosec, wrote to confirm her “official retirement from art”. (This is a follow-up of our October 9th news ) This time, it really does appear “official”; she has attached a press release with a seal (as a word document though), dated January 10, 2018 — you can click and enlarge to see all the beautiful details. What do we think about this?? Feel free to leave a comment for her; we will make sure she sees them all.
Happy 2018 and the latest news from RFAOH office — the “satellite” office, to be specific
Well, that WAS a pretty good “hiatus” — we have not posted any news since early October. Now the year has even changed and things have happened. If you are on our mailing list or following our page on Face Book, you might know that our local art foundation DHC/ART in our home base of Montreal has invited RFAOH to set up a satellite office in their basement in conjunction with their current exhibition L’OFFRE. (on view until March 11, 2018 — an invigorating group show with many of our favourite artists) While working on our upcoming publication in this temporary office, we will conduct a series of free events that offer visitors opportunities to embrace the notion of “hiatus as a gift”. This collaboration launched on December 14th when we presented our past three years of operation to our local audience, followed by an “Office Party“.
Image courtesy: DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art. Photo: Marc-Olivier Bécotte.
Today is our second (the first in 2018) “Open Office” day, and as we write this, we wait for visitors who may want to “discuss” about hiatus, or bring their on-hiatus proposal to be reviewed for a potential future RFAOH residency. Besides these “Open Office Wednesdays“, we will organize Saturday workshops and lectures on a wide range of subjects (except art) with some surprize guests…! All the programs will be updated on our dedicated page, and DHC/ART’s FaceBook event pages.
We have always wanted to run a “satellite office” within an art institution, as they would ultimately endorse “artists not making art”. “…These “in-person” interactions will allow us to manifest a virtual project within the real framework of the artworld, and provide space for discussion within the very context where a central paradox of RFAOH pivots.” We are excited about this first opportunity, and would love to see you who happen to be in Montreal this winter. We will also report what entails during our own residency at DHC/ART. Happy 2018 everyone, stay tuned!
PS: This Saturday, we’re demonstrating “functional” origami, that may totally change your idea of this “kids’ craft” (:
A little over a month ago, our ex and honorary resident Milena Kosec sent us an email about her decision to “pension herself off as a contemporary artist”, with a picture of herself in a RFAOH T-shirt, taken during her visit to Kassel – which she “will probably use for (her) last proclamation”. She added, “In Kassel and also in Munster I haven’t seen something new. But my garden is full of surprising harvest. I can’t believe”.
In another line, Milena touchingly hoped that we’re still satisfied with RFAOH as it was very important to her. We have kept this news to ourselves until now, not really knowing what to say or how to feel about it. We know that RFAOH has been all different things to different residents, and with her case, we wondered if it was a kind of epilogue to her art practice/career when she had already sort of been making her way out of the “artworld”, to instead devote her time to her life and organic garden. We feel grateful that Milena found us and for her enthusiastic participation, and even better, that we could meet in person and present together in her local Ljubljana about life and art and hiatus. We also remember having a dialogue that she started thinking about some “projects” for the upcoming year, but not quite ready yet.
Right from the start, “artists and retirement” was one of the topics we were curious about (with a nod to Duchamp’s case) and it’s a topic that becomes more and more pertinent as we get older or go through different life circumstances ourselves. Meanwhile, this is also one amazing thing about RFAOH, that we have had someone like Milena, who has gone through the cycle of an “artist life”, and also like Ramla, who had just graduated from art school only a few years ago, both responding to our project and using the opportunity totally differently. And we as RFAOH community members, are given opportunities to talk about these things openly.
In the last few months, even while we appeared or honestly felt a bit like being “on hiatus” ourselves, inquiries from potential future candidates-on-hiatus have kept coming. This is a reflective time for us to re-think about our own perceptions, and new implications/potential of “non-(art)production” (which now seems to be talked about everywhere) like our residents themselves have done. Milena’s announcement and note meant so many things to us that we needed time to digest it. Thank you Milena for keeping in touch and being communicative about such personal decisions; and to the rest of us, let’s keep the conversation going.
After exciting Venice and Portugal where we met Tehching, Wayne, and Marisa, we co-directors flew to opposite directions and have been running two satellite offices ever since. (this sometimes happens) While dealing with different kinds of realities, each of us has had moments to reflect on Martin Creed’s “the whole world + art = the whole world”, which keeps us wondering rather than discouraged.
Over three weeks in June, co-director (s) had to make multiple trips to the tax office in Japan to file her due on her own, unassisted by the “artsy” accountant who understands it all and helps her in Canada. As we had announced in different places, RFAOH was fortunate to receive some public support from Canada Council for the Arts this past year. At the office, she had a different tax officer every time, to answer to her “non-average” questions due to her peculiar “occupation” and “situation”. The first officer had very little clue that this kind of stuff or life existed. He was so puzzled but would kindly go back into his office and look up precedents in obscure cases in a book and gave her his best objective advice accordingly. The second officer seemed rather miffed about this “nonsense”, even though he wasn’t rude or anything. He kept giving her analogies with other professions, to prove what she was saying made little sense. She felt constantly challenged. The ultimate line in their conversation was “…so you are saying that the government supports you to ‘volunteer’?” Ironically, it actually made a lot of sense and she felt weirdly enlightened (after feeling slightly pathetic). Then the last officer seemed genuinely curious about this non-average case and even bothered to ask her questions to better understand about this “unconventional” art thing or a lifestyle or income sources he has never known or imagined. Obviously, co-director (s) could explain things much better with some kind of confidence than the second time around where she mumbled the whole time as if she was a criminal. After this entirely reflective experience about how we/art may or may not exist in our world of the sole, steadfast “currency”, here’s what she concluded on social media:
“Talking to a tax officer almost convinces you that “non-production” is the only solution to stopping the madness of our world, and I think more deeply about this producing “work” about non-production. It’s a bit like John Cage’s line: “there’s nothing to say and I’m saying it”. (I also produce my own jams and clothes and stuff)”
Meanwhile at RFAOH headquarters in Canada, the legacy of Venice Biennale had an interesting spin. Among our decent collection of tote bags, half of which we seem to have acquired in Venice, co-director (m) has lately been using the one we picked up at the Australian pavilion this year as it is a nice size and design to carry on his back while he bikes. The aboriginal artist, Tracy Moffat represented Australia this year with her work addressing various narratives around indigenous experience in Australia. The tote bag is black with the words “INDIGENOUS RIGHTS” on one side in yellow Helvetica, and “REFUGEE RIGHTS” on the other in Red. Even though Canada remains relatively open to immigration and refugees, the recent report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has spot lit our country’s own shameful history with our first nations people. So it’s a topic, especially this year as the country celebrates its 150 year of confederation (colonization), and RFAOH’s headquarters Montreal celebrates its 375th year. Meanwhile, debates around cultural appropriation continue to spiral throughout the arts blogosphere, and co-director (m)’s simple tote bag began to seem like a provocation on so many fronts. June 24 was Jean Baptiste Day — a tradition brought over to Quebec with the first French settlers, and which also carries with it certain amount of nationalistic fervour given the history and chronic political anxiety of our predominantly French province within a predominantly Anglophone nation(continent). There is usually a good representation of separatists enjoying the parade along with a few too many wobbly pops, a few of whom took issue with his tote bag promoting refugees and indigenous rights. And in English text!
As we reflect on all of this, we again come back, as we seem to constantly do with this project, to the relationship between rhetoric and reality, and the plasticity of both. We think about this bag which is not really art but perhaps could be collectable should Tracy Moffat’s career take off. Or perhaps it is an extension of her work at the Australian Pavilion as people carrying around the tote bag assume some agency for the questions she is posing in Venice. What is this difference between carrying it around the Giardini among the artworld players and wealthy holiday-ers, or down the east end of L’Avenue Mont Royal during the Jean Baptiste Day revelry, or past the group of first nation’s individuals who hang out at the corner of St Urbain and Sherbrooke every morning? What is a slipperiness between context and the language itself? To one group the text seems (apparently) to be a threat, to the other, perhaps meaningless or trite, or a gesture of solidarity to yet another. Co-director (m) just needs to carry his things: a bottle of water, his other glasses, and book of essays he’s working through on Institutional Critique.
Whoa, there’s less than a week left until the end of July 2017, and the end of RFAOH’s third year! As always, we have to deal with this overwhelming melancholy but maybe it is a good thing that our term ends in mid summer when the bright sun may cheer us up a little.
RFAOH office had an eventful and exciting May, and June and July have been all about getting back to other sides of reality, dealing with things like taxes, day jobs, or family matters. Yes, this is all excuse for our no posts in a while, but how non-artsy occurrences take up so much time and energy, and we understand 100%, the frustration (and guilt, perhaps) over “non-production” that anyone out there in whichever the artworld may go through. On top of that, our residents have to report their “on-hiatus” stuff. They cannot even just rest. How brutal is that??
And here we are, rather late but sharing some news since our last one in May. First and foremost, we have had four residents finish their hiatus at RFAOH — Rob decided to leave his term two months early as “…the little green man appeared and urged him forward” — to resume his art practice, we presume. His final report is chock-full with metaphor and ambiguity that is so Rob, until the very end. Meanwhile, George did not leave early but sort of disappeared as the end of the running season approached, and he started to take up many other interesting things that may be art or not art he told us in his final report. It sounds super exciting. Then, Wayne‘s term ended at the same time as he graduated from his MFA program (how ironic is it?) and Lee, who’s term also ended on June 30th, had to come back in July to post one last report, which, she had hoped to be a “…grand-finale type post about how everything is getting on track and I’m ready to spread my wings and excited to dance back into the ‘art world’”. Was it? You go check it out. Their final reports should be coming soon as well. After these four, plus Joyce who must be in full-swing right now in her brewing course at Oregon U, only Ramla and Marisa remain, getting ready (or not ready) for the end of their residencies. Listing our 2016/17 residents here now, we are once again reminded of our amazing cohort this year and feel super fortunate to have had them. And, it’s not quite over yet! Please make sure that you are connected with us in some way, so that you won’t miss any upcoming news from RFAOH. The future of “artists on hiatus” and our expanding community needs your continued attention and support!
What else has happened? Please read our belated June report in which we reflect once again on “the whole world + art = the whole world” through rather personal anecdotes.
As reported in our last post, we traveled to Venice during the biennale’s preview week to attend the reception and talk of our “advisory board”, the legendary Tehching Hsieh. Until the last minute, we had been waffling whether to go but an invitation to his private reception tipped the balance and off we went. It’s true that the preview week can be bit of a zoo with lineups and fancy eye glasses everywhere (like an Art Disneyland) but we all know it’s just part of it and there are many great things to see and reflect upon as Matt quoted to our own CBC. This, of course included Tehching’s exhibition Doing Time curated by Adrian Heathfield that featured two of his famous one year performances he had done in the early 1980s. We had seen his work at different institutions in the past but it was the first time that we saw his archived clothes(!) from his Outdoor Piece (1981-82). Plus, the short video that Adrian made with Tehching for the occasion showed a touching retrospective on his life and work at that time. Here’s a nice YouTube video summarizing his exhibition at Venice.
And it was indeed fantastic to meet Tehching in person, such a kind and humble individual, even in the somewhat surreal setting — his vernissage in a medieval court yard followed by a swanky buffet on a five star hotel terrace overlooking the Grand Canal, where some faces even looked familiar (to us, not us to them!) and we felt we had crashed the party. We were honoured, and also a bit humbled that Adrian and some others genuinely seemed to know about RFAOH. At a panel discussion the next day, Adrian Heathfield and three other researchers (Carol Becker, Peggy Phelan and Jane Rendell) spoke along with Tehching himself on the dominant themes of his work, which made us think of “hiatus”, “life and art”, and the “artworld” even more deeply. During the Q&A, we both felt compelled to ask questions; Shinobu’s question was about the arbitrary/uncertain division between art and life, which she summated in this simple line: “Would there be a ‘life biennale’ in the future?” It was partly a reaction to Peggy Phelan’s statement concerning Tehching’s work: “Let’s not frame it as ‘art’ but frame it as ‘life’”.
Then, unbelievably – and this REALLY HAPPENED – Ms. Marina Abramović, who was sitting two chairs down from us interjects, and after throwing shade at Damien Hirst for being too “commercial” moments earlier, launches into a long winded defence of the importance of art in life but completely missing the essence of the question, before pulling the conversation off point. We could only politely nod. As the panel was wrapping up the art diva stood and bid the auditorium farewell before quickly donning her sunglasses and beetling to the door (to “attend her own opening” she added). Shinobu tried to quickly thank her and offered our card but was completely ignored. Funny how “the artworld” functions, and persists on functioning in that way even at a talk by someone like Tehching, who appeared to be altogether nonplussed.
What made this Biennale truly special however, was of course meeting with our current resident Wayne Lim, who also somehow finagled his way into the preview week at the last minute, flying in from the Netherlands and attended Tehching’s talk. (We saw them chatting together in Chinese!) Afterwards, we talked about the talk, fascinating stories about Wayne’s “nomadic” journeys, his “hiatus” and thesis he’s trying to complete, and life in general over some spritz. (Of course, everyone needs one at day’s end at the Art Olympics) We were so happy that he came – Wayne posted a great report on this and the Venice Biennale, predictably, way before us!
In the second week, we decided to take advantage of being in Europe and visit another current resident, Marisa Dipaola and her hiatus project “moonfarm” in southern Portugal. This was an adventure to find a cheap flight again at the last minute, and try to get to the small coastal town of Zambujeira do Mar four hours south of Lisbon by bus, where even Google could not detect. The moonfarm is even further, and unless you know to turn at the peacock farm past the crooked oak, is impossible to find. So they came to pick us up.
As we’ve all seen, Marisa has generously posted many photos and videos of her home and gardens that we have become somewhat familiar with, but to see and experience them for real was no comparison – plus the real people!! – Marisa and her husband Mohamed were gracious to interrupt their rigorous lunar agri-schedule to give us a tour of their amazing project. It was a windy but beautiful day; we sat outside and chatted about Marisa’s past practice, her desire to make art at any moment with the materials she keeps collecting, what she wants her art to do if she starts it again, and just life in general. We took a walk around the farm and learned quite a few things we had never known (like about cork trees or her neighbour’s bamboo business to feed all the pandas in Europe). The fantastic tour was completed with some impromptu Fado songs on the ukulele from the littlest moonfarmer, the adorable nearly 4 year old Marmalade. Later, they drove us back to the town where Marmalade got an ice cream treat, and the next day we road the bus back to Lisbon. (Too bad no time for swimming at the beautiful nudist beach!) Marisa too has been faster than us reporting on this.
It was an amazing and a little surreal trip, to encounter such a range of “art and hiatus” or “the art (and hiatus) worlds”, which has made us re-confirm the richness of our community. We are already feeling a little melancholic that there are only two months left for our 3rd year. Regardless of what RFAOH’s future holds beyond that, it remains one of our goals to bring all our residents (and their endeavours) together, somehow physically, where our community of followers may experience the diverse existence of artists on hiatus and be reassured about the abundance of multiple “art worlds”. We are all so insignificant, but incredibly rich (even if literally broke).