Knocking at the door

I push at words all week, but they refuse to make a line. I climbed into bed with one word, wait.

This morning, I went running. Stir up the blood, as my Grandmother would say, but it also clears my mind. Ideas started to come and I can’t stop to write, so I have to count on my feet to pound the rhythm of the words and images into my memory. I ran to Le Jardin des Plantes, a perfect place for chasing chaos and order.

This past week has been very chaotic, with many hellos and goodbyes. A lot of people, events and thoughts have invaded my routine, turning things upside-down. But, the kernel of my chaos this week has to be pushing through the “aloneness” I am living here.

This reality was magnified by my decision to demonstrate in front of the Canadian Embassy in solidarity with the artists at home in Montreal, protesting conservative government cuts to arts and culture. I couldn’t find any Canadian artists able to join me, but Nadja, my Swiss-Italian sculpture mate willingly accepted to accompany me and to document the event. With Paul’s encouragement, (he and Nikki Forest were doing similar actions in Berlin) I prepared my sandwich board images and got ready for Wednesday. I wore white clothes and covered my face and arms with white clown make-up as metaphor for the removal of culture, pulled the sandwich board on and stood under the Canadian flag in front of the embassy. Immediately, I felt discomfort.  I knew something was up. Two minutes pass and a security guard came to tell me that I could not demonstrate in front of the embassy property and that if I wanted to demonstrate in Paris, I needed to apply for a permit. I knew that I wouldn’t be applying for a permit, but I did ask him where I could stand and he pointed down the street. He then agreed to excort me to the limits of the embassy.  So, for the next two hours or so, I greeted passers-by with, “A little bit of poetry, un peu de poésie?”  offering them a small version of the blowup of the Canadian twenty dollar bill that was on my sandwich board with the passage by Gabrielle Roy, “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?”

None of this was terribly upsetting or demanding and the rest of the afternoon unfolded somewhat as I expected with a predominance of outright ignoring, many rejections, some furtive smiles with head shakes of no-thank-you, a few acceptances of the poem and the occasional acceptance, with questions and discussion -perhaps one out of twenty, as Nadja suggested. But, it was the subsequent interview over the phone that I had with a CBC reporter from Montreal that clearly exhausted me. Immediately, I sensed that between us, there truly was an ocean of understanding to bridge. Recently, I feel that more and more as an artist, I am asked to defend who I am, what I do and to explain why it is important that I continue to be able to function in Canada. The reporter wanted concrete examples of how these funding cuts would affect Canadians. I sense that I need some kind of simple parable that shows what the arts can do for us as human beings. It has initiated a conversation in my head that I believe is life-long.

There is a dynamics of fear that underlies all human interaction, fear of the other. Fear is natural. It is part of a survival instinct, but the human race also has an instinct for communication. Communication of many different types is part of what I would call our culture.  The arts is one way we have developed to communicate who we are. Through danse, music, words, shapes and images, I can experience different ways of being, ways of doing.  War communicates power, war feeds fear.

This world grows closer. What happens here has an effect there. I sense there is no future for us if the dynamics of fear cannot come undone. The arms trade continues to nourish this fear. Exchange through the arts offers a more complex long-term conversation. Being in Europe, I feel that pressure of closeness, one we do not sense so immediately at home in our big space. There are many suffering peoples knocking on our shiny doors. If we cannot find a way to open them, chaos will come knocking and if we do not open them, chaos will bring them down. 

These huge cuts to major institutions as well as to individual artists is a sign of this government’s desire to censure the arts. These cuts are not about fiscal responsibility. This is about a need for control, a fear of the other and a desire for sameness. Military spending continues. I am curious to know about the Canadian arms industry. What are we busy making to sell to desperate people?