How to TURN*ON an Insurrection? A Post-Curatorial Statement

What did it mean to us to put on a “sexy” event? Sex and/or sexuality was the starting point, a general framework, from which we had numerous hours of discussions, Skype sessions, food, alcohol, coffee, tea and cigarettes in order to figure out a way to design an event that was not going to be about sex, that is, in any normalizing, pathologizing or victimizing way, but that was going to be a pretext for emancipation and conducive to creative political (everyday) action. As a collective, we met during more than a year to define our common vision for the 4th edition of Artivistic (15-17 October 2009), an international transdisciplinary event on the interPlay between art, information and activism, founded in 2004, which aims to bring together artists, theorists and activists in Montreal every two years around a transversal topic. From the outset, it emerged from the specific composition and the unplanned process of forming the collective behind the 2009 edition (which included French-only and English-only speaking members based in Montreal, NYC and San Diego) that our intention was going to be to focus on action, on ‘beyond critique’, and on current practices, not on patterns, and not on negative experiences, which are usually the first things that come up when we start talking about sex. So that the curatorial process needed to be ‘disciplined’ towards the constructive, so to speak, or else our event would lose all its significance. Therefore, the idea behind Artivistic 2009 was political, as was, at every step, the process that led to its unfolding.

[TURN*ON / Artivistic 2009 - Le Milieu, Montréal]

From the moment we came up with the title of “TURN*ON”, our imaginations united and we began our march. Like in real marches, some people were present at the beginning and later left, some people joined after, but all introduced new footsteps that inflexed the configuration of our collective project-in-the-making. With a strong awareness of the way we functioned as a collective and of how we desired to structure the event, we devoted much thought and energy in making TURN*ON actually turn-on. In our own words, a space and place where peoples, energies and ideas would congeal into something that energized them even more.

[Kiminike: Indigenous Voices Rise Up Raw!… from Under the Blanket performance by Moe Clark and Emilie Monnet, Cabaret Cafe Cleopatre]

Our main drive in selecting the projects to be included had been a deep desire to TURN*ON ourselves, the participants, the audience, the city, the world(s). We were mostly interested in unleashing energy that could be used for creating new worlds, in making connections that destroy limits, not close off avenues. We desired a situated, embodied, sweaty exchange where the participants are all equally implicated and stimulated. TURN*ON was driven by a desire to engage and to expand participation beyond acceptable proportions. We selected the projects primarily on how well they might spur action and create unexpected explosions. Beyond asking for artwork, we called for and tried to organize events that included multiple dimensions of activity and multiple registers of engagement, resonating on political, aesthetic and erotic dimensions at once.

[Montrer TURN*ON à TURN*ON via la valise exhibition by the Dyke Rivers collective]

As in earlier iterations, Artivistic 2009 attracted and was attracted to collectively-run projects. Most of the content presented at TURN*ON were by collectives (of various politics and structures), both online and offline, including curated work. The Dyke Rivers collective (France) curated an entire exhibition with more than 30 contributors who compose various entry points into the collective’s genealogy of sex activism and art in France. Thus their project Montrer TURN*ON à TURN*ON via la valise was at once a tribute to that political and artistic history as well as a clever take on the meaning and purpose of TURN*ON. On the other hand, a project like the un-workshop on lawn wrecking by the Furtive Furry Creatures (Canada) embraced another tactic of engagement, by inviting participants to spontaneously create sexy moles throughout the gathering.

As far as Artivistic initiatives for collaboration are concerned, they were various, be they events co-presented with local artist-run centres or online projects involving multiple participants. Indeed, since its inception, Artivistic has been tempted in experimenting with the idea of collaboration. Collaboration, mutual exchange, openness, dialogue, all that good stuff is inherently sexy; and how we approached the event imbedded this sexiness in its very infrastructure. Thus, on top of presenting collaborative projects, we came up with the term infraCrews in order to carve a platform for our desired types of engagements. The idea was to deal with the material or infrastructural needs of the event by engaging participants to take charge and, in so doing, closing the gap between their work and the conditions under which it is enacted. This could be done for many facets of life during the event, from food to safety and communication, but not others, such as space, as we shall see later.

[TURN*ON welcome table and live schedule]

In our wild imagination, infraCrews would serve several purposes through the power of naming. Firstly, to make the infrastructure of event organizing visible (which is usually not the case at most of the events we have been to), for instance, through our p2p funding initiative for international participants who did not have access to funding sources. Second, to distribute decision-making and opportunities to structure the event beyond the Artivistic collective. Third, to generate collaborations, for instance, between participants, organizers, and audience, and to intensify a spirit of self-organization and mutual aid at all levels. We wanted infraCrews to become projects in themselves (as they in fact they were listed) – around food, equipment, logistics, space design, documentation, safety/vibe watching, translation and so on, that is, elements that are usually ‘outsourced’ in the context of events. From infraBouffe and inFrenglish to infraVibe and infoCrew, all were invited to self-organize TURN*ON.

[Detail of infraCrew sign-up board]

In experimenting thus many were a lesson learned. Throughout the organizing and promotion of the event, we had striven to emphasize that Artivistic is an event, not a festival, not a conference. Our hope was to foster new configurations of exchange outside of the traditional formats of panels and exhibitions, in order to release new trajectories by breaking with old habits. The latter constituting a great challenge, we realized to what extent self-organization requires to be organized beforehand. In other words, it needed its own infrastructure or else people, devoid of a medium, would not know where to start. During TURN*ON, that medium was lacking, leaving infraCrews without the proper tools to engage into the infrastructure and actually make the difference that both they and the organizers sought. Indeed, one cannot put people in a space and simply say, “There, now collaborate!” That process has to be prepared for. And although, through our months long communications via a mailing list with the participants, we set the stage for a certain “ethos of collaboration,” we did not do so for the material aspect.