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March 15, 2007 Archives - Canadian Art
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Canadian Art

In Review

Pavilion Projects's “The Enterprise”

Articule, Montreal
Pavilion Projects, The Enterprise, 2006 Pavilion Projects, The Enterprise, 2006

Pavilion Projects, The Enterprise, 2006

Like many young artist collectives, Pavilion Projects have ambitions that far exceed their monetary realities. And so, like all smart young artist collectives, Pavilion Projects relies on the force of its ideas, not on expensive, polished exhibitions, to capture the attention of its audience. This is a polite way of saying that there was not a lot to actually look at when you visited Pavilion Projects’ latest intervention/display/political action, but there was more than enough to think about.

Comprised of three multimedia artists in their mid-twenties—Robin Simpson, Maryse Lariviere, and Francois Lemieux—plus a rotating gang of more senior (and even younger) Montreal artists, Pavilion Projects have quickly staked out a place for themselves in Montreal’s art world by blending action direct-style public interventions with long winded, fervent manifestos (that are, and are not, meant to be taken seriously), and carefully considered installations. They exhibit in found spaces and in professional, artist run centre spaces. They hold parties and orchestrate conferences on the arts. They publish in smart international art magazines and cause scenes at arts bureaucrats’ meetings, just to annoy people. They are very clever, very serious brats.

Wading through the stack of written material supporting their Articule event The Enterprise, I was able to ascertain the following with some certainty (with the proviso that any of the “facts” presented could well have been a hoax—the collective’s motto, after all, is “Art Tells Gorgeous Lies That Come True”).

The City of Montreal has granted a casino consortium permission to establish a new gaming house on an abandoned industrial site in Point Ste. Charles—an impoverished, working class part of the island. The social injustice of this decision prompted Pavilion Projects to engage in what they call an “open-source project”—i.e. an ongoing series of activities that mimic the practices of a marketing firm—in order to create a popular consensus among Montrealers that what the city really needs to build in the aforementioned quartier is not a casino but a “medium sized contemporary art centre”.

The first step in this process is the exhibition/outreach project The Enterprise, a collection of slogan-bearing art and marketing props designed to act as a temporary, introductory office for the projected campaign. After The Enterprise completes its run, Pavilion Projects will follow up the initial results with surveys, public talks, and, naturally, an advertising campaign (granted, one that will likely look far more like an artist prank, but it’s a start).

Given this agenda, it’s hardly surprising that the actual exhibition looked more like a hastily thrown together electoral headquarters than an art show. Black office chairs were casually positioned around mismatched tables and desks. A map of Montreal was pinned on the wall with thumbtacks, while on one wobbly table, cheery bright green pamphlets waited to be snatched up.

The only things that looked like art were a looped video on a tiny screen, a couple of PP’s trademark black fabric banners (a nod to traditional anarchist signage), a photo of two PP members standing, with black bandit masks covering their faces, amidst a crowd of seated, well dressed conference attendees, a small sign reading “No Commercial Value – For Cultural Purposes Only”, plus a wall-mounted mirror covered with some French text discussing the notion of Utopia. The cupboard (and Articule is a large gallery), looked a little bare.

On closer inspection, the video turned out to be a recording of Lariviere’s performance at a European soccer game, wherein she bravely threw black confetti into the testosterone-crazed crowd. The photo of the bandits was taken at a provincially sponsored forum on the arts in Quebec that PP was denied entry to—thus the masks—and from which they were eventually ejected. The installation, by artists Carl Bouchard and Martin Dufrasne, was part of a series of works that seek to instigate conversations about art’s role in society, and the sign, a rip from a Customs form, was by Montreal video artist Mathieu Beausejour, himself an artist-run centre director.

But even the office equipment turned out to be art—of a sort. The map on the wall invited viewers to mark with a highlighting pen the area of Montreal they felt most needed a new contemporary art centre. Visitors interested in making their own anarchist confetti were provided with a common hole punch machine and a stack of black construction paper. And the pamphlets, which I mistook for standard artist statement brochures, were actually survey forms designed to calibrate how much Montrealers value art. Granted, the survey was a cheeky rewrite of an addiction test given to cocaine junkies, with numerically graded responses sought for leading statements such as “My desire for art now seems overwhelming” and “I would accept some art if it was offered to me now”.

What, I had to ask the clever kids manning the Pavilion Projects store, was it all about? Are Pavilion Projects at the vanguard of a new fusion of art and marketing, or are they merely poking fun at the very idea? Or both?

Robin Simpson calls Pavilion Projects a kind of movable feast.

“Our mandate is to create temporary cultural centres—active homes that can pop up anywhere and be viable spaces for art. Every time we do a new project we create a new environment and people have to respond to it”

Thus, the office-like set up for their art-meets-marketing game at Articule.

Francois Lemieux suggests a more touchy-feely response (or, perhaps his broken English just makes him sound like a nice guy).

“We help each other out in Pavilion, and Pavilion suits my interests because it’s not a fixed structure. I can adapt it to what is needed. So can other participants. We want to dislocate the logic of the artist run centres and the museums.”

But not entirely, Simpson clarifies.

“Pavilion did start up in opposition to established display structures, but our goal has always been to be parallel, not to topple anything. The longevity of the established spaces in Montreal allows people to build up their practices between show times, and we tend to source material from the city’s healthy DIY and studio scenes. Pavilion wants to be transparent about who we are and what we do, and to have fun.”

Maryse Lariviere, the quiet one of the three, finally pipes in with a second clarification.

“Pavilion is not about expansion, about becoming powerful. We are not working to become stars, but only to make more things.”

Sitting inside a well-funded artist run centre surrounded by art designed to instigate the creation of yet another centre for the arts (even if the instigators are only joking), I had to ask if the exhibition on display was a direct contradiction to all I had just heard about DIY culture, flexibility, and tether-free art presentation?

“Of course it is,” Simpson admits with a smile, “but only partially. As I said, we’re flexible. Part of the reason we did this show at Articule was to ask the question: What the hell is an artist run centre? Is there a point when artist run centres become offensive? We felt we could only ask that question, and any questions about creating new spaces, from within one of the very spaces we’re puzzled by.”

“Our second goal, after creating a marketing and research campaign to see if Montreal’s artists and public even want a new contemporary space, was to find out more about how we present ourselves. Can we be an organized presenting system, an art marketing project, something that works with, outside, in and beyond the hype systems?”

Of course, only Pavilion Projects can answer their own tough questions, and one suspects they’ve set up these alleged public outreach programs solely to find out more about themselves.

But for the few moments I engaged their event as if I knew nothing about Pavilion or its clever, all-angles-covered mandate—especially once I’d marked off an obnoxiously posh strip of Sherbrooke Street as the perfect site for a new culture centre, and after I’d given my cravings for art shockingly low scores on the survey—I felt just the tiniest bit empowered, as if I were running my house keys across the marbled façade of the Musée Des Beaux Arts, or casting dandelion seeds on the pristine front lawn of the Centre For Canadian Architecture.

Futile and small gestures, perhaps, and likely the only kind Pavilion Projects trusts.

www.articule.org

www.pavilionprojects.com

Image captions:

Front page: Pavilion Projects, The Enterprise, 2006

1. Pavilion Projects, The Enterprise, 2006, Photo Guy L'Heureux

2. Pavilion Projects, The Enterprise, 2006 (Bain St. Michel press conference)

3. Pavilion Projects, The Enterprise, 2006 (Forum on the visual arts in Quebec at articule)

4. Pavilion Projects, The Enterprise, 2006, Photo Guy L'Heureux

This article was first published online on March 15, 2007.

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