A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

November 24, 2015



Reading Carl Wilson on Adele started to make me incredibly nostalgic for a time "when self-consciously cool people put populist music down on principle." (But if I think about it more, I feel what we need isn't a return to cool elitism but rather more praise and attention for work that is in continuity and dialog with the rage of Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, The Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo, current feminist waves, etc.)


November 23, 2015

My answers to THE PARADISE Questionnaire


[Awhile ago I filled out a questionaire as part of the process for THE PARADISE by Maria Kefirova & Hanako Hoshimi-Caines. For some reason I thought I would now post my answers here as well.]

1. What is your image of paradise?

I’m fairly sure I don’t have one. But since that doesn’t seem like a very useful answer, how about: a moment in which everything stops, everyone feels somehow good about this moment of stopping, and then things continue more or less as they had before, just with a little bit more calm.

2. Do you prefer a lake or an ocean?

An ocean.

3. Do you prefer palm trees or pine trees?

I don’t really know anything about trees but I’m going to go with palm. Because I don’t like winter.

4. Name a difference between you and a person you love.

I feel completely different from everyone in almost every way but know there is no way this can be factually true. Also, I fear I don’t really love anyone. A simpler answer: I always drink coffee black.

5. If you could have any one wish granted, what would it be?

15% less work.

6. What will help you to find paradise?

Believing it exists or, put more simply, belief.

7. What is your favorite movement?


*****Can you describe how it happens?

Without my conscious awareness.

8. If you could have a second wish granted, what would it be?

Feeling okay from time to time.

9. How do you define grace?

You know it when you feel it.

10. Describe a part of the body of someone you love.

It’s there and not there at the same time.


November 19, 2015

I've started saying I'm semi-retired


"Beware the barrenness of a busy life." - Socrates

I've started saying I'm semi-retired. It's both a light joke and deadly serious, as if my life depended on it. So far, in what we might call reality, I'm working more or less as much as I ever have. But my attitude towards this work is hopefully, gradually starting to change. Saying I'm semi-retired is a critique of the fact that, as an artist, I feel I'm under constant pressure to over-produce. As soon as I finish one project I'm already being asked what the next project is. It seems there is a natural, unspoken assumption that what an artist does is produce a never-ending supply of works that fulfill an equally never-ending series of empty slots within various institutions, projects and structures.

I'm naturally somewhat prolific, so overproduction has never seemed like an impossible task. But I've also felt that, for me, being artistically prolific is almost like a bad habit. I think the absolutely hardest thing to do as an artist is to keep making good work, work with integrity, over an entire lifetime. (I have now been making work for twenty-five years which is perhaps why these questions are now hitting me with such peculiar force.) I've always thought that the best way to last is to produce less, to really consider each step and never unnecessarily rush into anything. At the same time, at certain moments, a sense of recklessness and spontaneity is also essential. It's not like I've got it all figured out. And I don't exactly want to figure it out. I want to remain open enough to whatever happens that I might still end up somewhere I previously didn't even have the tools to consider possible.

Nonetheless, I've started saying I'm semi-retired. It has something to do with no longer feeling I have to do everything, feeling some things are more important than others and my actions have to reflect such values and realities. One definition of capitalism is an insatiable need for growth, for more, always more, and I feel as an artist, often living hand to mouth, I am also expected to do both as much as possible and often more than I can. I am searching for ways to say, more clearly than I have before, that this is not where it's at. Time needs to be understood in other ways. We'll still have to see in the future whether saying I'm semi-retired is only wishful thinking or, to put it more bluntly, to what degree I end up a hypocrite. But more is certainly not always more.

Finally, as a critique of many of the assumptions in what I've just written, I will finish with - and very much hope you will read - this piece by Pampi Thirdeyefell: Art with Teeth because #CreativesLabor


November 17, 2015



Last night I dreamt I was an arsonist. As I headed to set one last fire, I got a text saying "it's a trap," turned around, and decided to go see art instead.


October 15, 2015

Fred Moten Quote


with nothing it’s impossible and easier, the same but really close to one another but unbridgeably far from one another, the way we flee a broken park when the island is a shipwreck and a language lab and half of school falls away.

- Fred Moten, The Feel Trio


The mid-career blues...


Of course, in a way, I meant that I have something like the mid-career blues: a feeling that I've done a lot already and it's not as clear as it was before what else I should do, how or why. If I can actually do anything better than I've done before and what attitude I might take, or what kinds of changes I might make, to make it so. But I also had the thought that 'the mid-career blues' are something that exists, something that's going around: that many people who have been making art for a good while, who most likely have as much behind them as they perhaps have ahead, might feel something a bit like this. That it might be normal, and even that it is perfectly understandable.


October 14, 2015

letters we wrote to friends after reading "polyamorous love song"


Jasna Zmak in Croatia has started this beautiful thing:

letters we wrote to friends after reading "polyamorous love song"

An excerpt:

"It was then when I decided this was something I ought to do. So, I am giving this book to you, as a present. I am giving it to you, but on one condition. Or actually two. The first one is that you read it. The second is that, upon reading it, you do the same as I did: you think of a friend who you think might like it, who you think will be a nice addition to our small community, you give it to him/her as a present and along with it, write a letter to explain why you think this person and this book might go so well along. Then you give them the letter and the book, and you forward the letter to me, so I could publish it here.

You decide on the length of the letter, I am just asking for the language to be English so that more people could understand it… and, of course, at the end of the letter you make a small note about this principle so that when your friend is done with reading, he or she can send it to the next person, including a personalized letter, so that this circle could go on expanding…"


September 26, 2015

Introduction: Can’t leave interdisciplinary performance alone the game needs me


[This is the tentative opening for a book I'm planning to write to celebrate PME-ART's twentieth anniversary which will take place in 2018. The working title for the book is Perfection Made Easy: 20 years of PME-ART.]

This is my version of some of the things we made and some of the things that happened in and around the things we’ve made and performed together. The work of PME-ART has always been highly collaborative. Therefore, there are many different versions of these stories, many different ways of telling them. Some of these stories could also be told by Sylvie, Richard, Mathieu, Martin, Tracy, Julie-Andrée, Alexandra, Benoit, Simone, Samuel, Gaetan, Laure, Caroline, Claudia, Adam, Marie Claire, Nadège, Ashlea, etc. Each would have their own ways of describing events, placing emphasis on aspects of the work and process that are perhaps completely different from what I have chosen to describe in the pages that follow. The work of PME-ART has been highly collaborative – we sometimes describe it as pseudo-collective – but I now find myself, it seems I now choose, to write this book alone. It is a book to mark our twentieth anniversary and only three of us have lasted the full twenty years (Sylvie, Richard and myself.) I will try my best not to do the pleasures and difficulties of the past twenty years a disservice, but with every sentence I can’t help but think that there are also so many other ways of telling these stories.

+ + + +

When people ask me about PME-ART I always do my best to describe it accurately and, at the same time, I often find myself describing it in wildly differing ways. It is a bilingual French/English interdisciplinary performance company based in Montreal. However, I am the Co-Artistic Director and I basically don’t speak or understand a word of French. The work is always based on the paradox and vulnerability of being yourself in a performance situation. Already here my perspective most likely differs (slightly or greatly) from many of our co-conspirators, since I am certainly the one who first set us on this course. I have always been interested in what it means to stand in front of a room full of people, often strangers, who are watching you, and to do so with as little armouring as possible, not hiding the fact that the situation is potentially unnerving or even nerve-racking, being as vulnerable as possible without turning vulnerability into any kind of drama or crutch. I often say that I personally find performing to be humiliating, and do my best, while performing, not to conceal this aspect of my experience. I often wonder why I have spent the past twenty-eight years of my life obsessively working on this particular question and practice. Perhaps it is only because it is a kind of impossible undertaking, always leaving me artistically destabilized and therefore always leaving me wanting more.

Destabilizing is another word we often use to describe the work of PME-ART. Vulnerable, intimate, destabilizing, direct. Unafraid to speak directly to the themes and questions we find ourselves exploring. Bringing imperfection into the performance space. These are all words and phrases I have used over and over again in artist talks and grant applications. They are the sentences I repeat to give those who have never seen our work some sense of what it might be like and, more importantly, of some of the impulses that lie behind it. I often worry these explanations have supplanted the work itself, especially in my own intimate understanding of it, that there is some feeling, perhaps the most important one, regarding how and why I am doing it that these explanations don’t even begin to touch. If explanations could suffice there would of course be no need to perform.

+ + + +

What exactly did we want so badly to destabilize? And is it still the same thing or things I might want to see destabilized today? In the late eighties, when I was starting out, I would watch theatre in Toronto. I was a teenager interested in art. I also felt extremely alienated (this unfortunately hasn’t changed much.) I had the feeling, the hope, that live theatre might be a place to partly break this sense of alienation. That the communal experience of being in a room with others, of watching something all together, might be a way of being together that was also art and also somehow more live, immediate, intimate and collaborative than anything one could experience on television or in the movies. I didn’t exactly see this as a reality but more as a possibility or desire. I also didn’t have many, or any, friends.

I went to the theatre and what I saw hinted at my desires but mainly felt like their frustrating opposite. If in conventional theatre you had costumes, characters, acting, scripted narrative, piped in music and artifice; instead I wanted people dressed in their normal clothing, being themselves, walking a tight-wire between structure and spontaneity, music we loved that we played on vinyl, CDs or with instruments, anything and everything that might bring us just a little bit closer to authenticity or reality. There was a kind of theatre that already existed and a kind of theatre that didn’t yet exist, might never exist, and I knew which side I was on.

+ + + +

This is the way I most often tell the story of my formative years, but there is another side to the story that I somehow talk about less often. The reason I, at times, conceal this other side is nothing for me to be proud of. Like many artists, I prefer the mythology of the figure who invents himself. But once again, there were many, many other players directly and indirectly involved in my so-called self-invention. There were shows I saw by international artists like Robert Wilson, The Wooster Group and Needcompany. There was a small theatre community I was quickly becoming a part of with groups like DNA Theatre, The Augusta Company, Da Da Kamera, Mammalian Diving Reflex, Sto Union and so many others. An entire book could easily be written about this period, Toronto in the nineties, and the community of artists who were all searching for new ways of using the stage, for confronting the audience more directly, trying to update theatre and bring it into dialog with our contemporary world. So many artists who influenced how and why I was asking myself these questions. An entire book could be written about this period but this is not that book and I don’t think I could be the one to write it. I’ve erased so much of that time in my memory of it. Over and over again I have wanted to start again, clearing away the past as much as possible in an attempt to find out what may or may not be possible now and in the future.

+ + + +

The title of this introduction is Can’t leave interdisciplinary performance alone the game needs me and, though it is often a terrible idea to explain a joke, this particular joke might have a kind of explanation. It is of course a play on the well-known Jay-Z line: “can’t leave rap alone the game needs me.” But while millions of people love and follow Hip Hop, and it is possible to imagine a fan base who might be disappointed if Jay-Z stopped making music, it is difficult for me to imagine anything similar pertaining to the more marginal field of interdisciplinary performance. Hip Hop is a living popular art form, with a well-documented, well-loved history and millions of artists competing to bring this vital history into the present. Interdisciplinary performance is something else.

My performance work began as a kind of anti-theatre, as a desire to change theatre and see theatre change. But theatre didn’t change, the struggle of always working against an unchanging status quo became exhausting and counter-productive, and therefore gradually my work transformed into something else, a game that also doesn’t need me but not the game I was previously pushing so ineffectually against.

+ + + +

What does it mean to be vulnerable in a performance situation? What does it mean to be generous? Critical? Self-critical? Confused? I am writing this book for our twentieth anniversary and literally cannot believe we have been doing it this long. I often say I don’t necessarily relate to people who make art, performance or literature, but I do relate to people who make art, performance and literature that think of quitting every fifteen seconds. Those are really my people. I call us the boy-who-cried-wolf-set, since we always announce we’re quitting but never do, and therefore no one believes us anymore. It seems to me that anyone who works in the arts today and doesn’t have serious, ongoing doubts as to the validity or efficacy of the situation is not facing all of the current, inherent problems and questions with open eyes.

I have been making performances and literature for almost thirty years and – despite or perhaps because of my incessant doubts – I apparently have not quit. I constantly wonder what keeps me going. In one sense I feel that when you’re an artist the only way to keep going is to believe you have no choice. Believing one has no choice is also a form of privilege. I also receive more than my fair share of praise for my work and this encouragement must certainly be a factor in how and why I continue. But if I look back over the last twenty years it becomes clear to me that the most significant factor keeping me in the game are Sylvie and Richard.

Something else I often say: that all the artists I admire are such a strange combination of completely open and completely stubborn. I cannot think of two people I have met who are more stubborn and more open, more sincere and more baffling, more consequent and more playful than Sylvie and Richard. Sylvie Lachance and Richard Ducharme. Lachance meaning chance and Ducharme meaning charm. Chance and charm. This book is obviously dedicated to them.

+ + + +

My performance work has been a search for authenticity but I don’t think authenticity is something that exists. A work of art cannot be authentic, it can only feel authentic for certain people at certain times. Which is to say that, for me, authenticity is a feeling and about what we feel. In much the same way one might feel sad or feel joy, one can feel something to be authentic. It is a word that suggests engagement and connection. If you feel that Beyoncé is authentic and I don’t, this simply means that for you Beyoncé is authentic and for me less so. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about Beyoncé. However, what works of art we feel to be authentic can also tell us a great deal about how we see things, what we value, and can at times also potentially change how we see and feel about the world that surrounds us.

A good conversation is a conversation in which one might change ones mind. I am a ridiculously stubborn person and in fact change my mind rarely. Yet, at the same time, I am constantly searching for ways to push myself towards openness, for situations and conditions in which some shift as to how I see the world might become possible. This is my dream for art, a dream that so often feels like empty idealism, since the vast majority of my art viewing experiences do little more than make me feel empty. My greatest fear as an artist is making empty work while not knowing I am doing so. When something it is rare I suppose that also makes it precious. (I don’t like this way of thinking because it reminds me too much of capitalism. I prefer a worldview based on plenitude as opposed to one based on scarcity.) The most intense experiences I’ve had making and viewing art continue to resonate and return to me. Why do I continuously focus on the anxiety that they are so few and far between?

+ + + +

The work of PME-ART is highly collaborative and is also very much about collaboration, about people working together, trying to negotiate what is meaningful to them, where and how they disagree, and how such agreements and disagreements might be evocatively conveyed. Collaboration is definitely not easy. As a teenager in Toronto I would see many one person shows and think the reason there is only one person on stage has little to do with art and much to do with economics. I would see many shows where the people on stage felt like employees primarily doing what they had been told. Instead I wanted to see people on stage doing what they wanted to do, and felt that this wanting should include active, alive ways of working together.

However, looking back over the past twenty years, I also have to admit that I’m not completely sure collaboration is the place for me. It seems I am somehow temperamentally ill-suited for it. Twenty years of doing something I’m ill-suited for and justifying it to myself through compelling artistic results. (This book is in many ways the story of this struggle.) Because even though collaboration has never felt good, I still believe in it. Perhaps I believe in it even more because I find it so difficult. Perhaps I even believe in it too much. We are all here on this planet, in our various societies and communities, and like it or not we must find ways to work together. The fact that it is often not easy makes it all that much more necessary.

I sometimes wonder if over the years I have over-relied on the metaphor of the collaborative process as microcosm for various global-political realities. It must be a way for me to feel that what I’m doing is more important than it actually is. I think this might be true of all art. Art is a place where the artist feels what they are doing is more important than it actually is. I sincerely wonder if we’ll make it another twenty years.


September 12, 2015

Forty-two Sentences


Either you're with us or you're with someone or something else that might be equally worthwhile.

Freedom of speech is most often the freedom to be celebrated for saying things that support the status quo and to be ignored for saying things that challenge it.

Instead of freedom of speech, freedom to establish a more egalitarian alternative to capitalism.

In my two year attempt to write a kind of strange, fictional-autobiography I now realize the block is very simple: I don't want people to know about my life.

Jealousy of other artists is perhaps the most natural part of being an artist.

Artists should have honest discussions about ambition.

Having the courage to be very briefly arrested for your artistic convictions.

If there was no capitalism I would still have desires. But what would they be?

The feeling that I'm trying my best mixed with the feeling that my best isn't actually very good.

Time before clocks.

Christmas is proof that the dominant culture is in fact dominant.

Vulnerable paradoxes.

Mohammad Mosaddegh, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, Patrice Lumumba, Salvador Allende.

It is completely possible for an argument to be both brilliant and wrong.

It’s going to get worse before it gets even worse.

Remembering that neoliberalism began not with Thatcher but with Pinochet, and suspecting it will return to its roots.

The best thing to do is apologize, but one should perhaps not already be planning one's apology before one does the bad thing.

It seems everyone needs an other against which to compare, but some of us find this other within.

Markets will self-regulate themselves into ever increasing, more volatile speculative bubbles that sporadically crash.

If there really was a free market it would collapse of its own accord.

When working on a new project, for me the hardest question is always when to fight and when to compromise.

All the artists I admire are such a strange combination of completely open and completely stubborn.

There are already so many books and movies and songs and wars: why make more.

The importance of writing books that are compelling in such a way that they will never be nominated for any awards.

I feel like other writers are trying to write the perfect book while I’m trying to write brilliantly imperfect ones.

I'm hopeless but not without hope.

Reinventing the reinvention of the wheel.

Emotions, one might suggest, are always left unfinished.

During the final game of the world cup, the star player decides to score on his own team's goal as an act of treason.

Solitude versus loneliness.

Desire without expectation.

The assumptions that are in a discipline's blind spot are in fact the same assumptions holding the discipline together.

Money is the lie that makes things possible, so possible we could weep.

Feeling desire is beautiful. But acting on it requires a certain degree of ethical reflection.

If there wasn't a heaven why would anyone bother dying?

Men emotionally recounting how when they were younger they were repeatedly told not to cry.

Posting the same thing over and over again seems, to me, the more I consider the matter, to be the true essence of the internet.

A feeling that the things I'm most interested in generally don't exist.

Keeping art boring in the name of artistic excellence.

Letting things not work.

This feeling that I’ve never been in more intense despair, a feeling I’ve certainly had before.

Racism and sexism are the gasoline of capitalism.