The following text is a discussion between artist Michelle Bush, and Artexte’s Information Specialist Felicity Tayler.
FT: In 2003, you accepted to continue Linda Montano’s performance of Seven Years of Living Art. Can you tell us a bit about how and why you have adapted this performance to be part of your own artistic practice?
MB: Linda Montano’s way of working, her openness and her ideas around Life/Art is, to me, a commitment, and an ever present consciousness. As a performance artist interested in collaboration, community, and endurance in a real life context, I love the idea inherent in Life=Art and Art=Life.
When I was a student, I researched Linda’s works quite a bit and was thrilled to meet her when I participated in her overnight workshop in Montreal (2003). I was not a spiritually invested, yogic, chakra, artist at the time, nor am I now; but there is something within these investigations (and even by being conscious or aware of these notions) which make a lot of sense to me and my practice. I have always been interested in breathing. I am also interested in using my life as fodder for my art. Linda’s use of the chackra system to contemplate energies, and life forces, seemed right to me.
FT: Your Research Residency at Artexte was the fourth year of your engagement with this performance. How did your experience here reflect the central themes you have investigated through this performance in previous years? For example, the obsessive quality of repetition, or ritual and collaboration within public space?
MB: The obsessive, repetitive part of it all seemed to come quite naturally. In previous years I have taken on one colour as a personal favourite throughout the year. I wear that colour, host themed events (like birthday parties or interventions), and then adapt some kind of saying or slogan. For the green year, I started with “The grass is always greener”. As part of this reflection process, I asked people who came by Artexte to see me, those who work there, and those who attended the presentation (at La Centrale), to draw me a blade of grass. This Research Residency will be part of the whole year of green intervention work, or accumulation work in the case of the blades of grass. One project is not separate from the whole of the year.
The collaborative aspect comes from asking people to be generous towards an idea, and then returning that generosity. During my research at Artexte, this collaboration was lovely. Everyone came to me with articles that they found related to what I was doing, or to conversations we had. They would even just come to work wearing green, or start noticing green elements in the space and then wondering why they were green. They began to question the process that went into choosing that colour to represent something, such as labels on the boxes for exhibition centres, in the Artexte collection. It is as much fluid and spontaneous as it is obsessive and repetitive, if that makes any sense. But I honestly believe this is what Art/Life is and does.
FT: Artexte is committed to supporting alternative research methodologies through its Researcher in Residence program. As an artistic intervention, your residency paralleled traditional methodologies of information seeking; however it was also a performative act of research. Can you talk about your methodology and how it responded to your research subject?
I began the residency thinking ok, I need a system, a methodology, something concrete using the database. Keyword searches using GREEN and COMPASSSION gave me hundreds of items to investigate. I became very caught up in the data base research, trying to search the letter G, or V (for vert) and then LOVE. At first I thought I would search all the letters that spell out G-R-E-E-N and then V-E-R-T. As I looked through the titles and documents coming up, I then realised how many of these publications or titles had some coincidental link to my art practice, or my life.
Going through the boxes of files, I would locate the item I had found through the database and then I would scrounge around in the box for other articles that were the colour green. Through this process I was accumulating a huge variety of ephemera and other publications I would perhaps not have found otherwise. The staff at Artexte also brought me material that had links to green, compassion, or art/life practice. I decided to accept all these gifts and add them to my collection. This collection of materials was the foundation for the presentation at La Centrale as well as the display of research “findings” at Artexte.
For the display at Artexte, I also generated a list of all the ISBN numbers, a list of all the classification numbers (ie. 420, for American artists’ files), and the types of items: audio-visual, exhibition catalogue, ephemera, etc. I wanted these lists to refer to Artexte’s collection in an abstract yet curiosity-driven manner. If you were intrigued by the ISBN numbers and why they were all listed together, the books they represent are easily found again through the database.
FT: During your time with us, I was reminded of the quality of presence that is essential to research activities, and that it is an act of endurance to seek out knowledge. How do you feel your experience reflected this or diverged from these qualities?
MB: I find researching a luxury. I find it overwhelming in an almost orgasmic way. There is so much out there. When you are given the time and information to be able to research, to sit for hours reading, looking, seeking, learning, it is (and has been since my childhood), one of my greatest pleasures. Libraries were spaces for reflection for me, quiet, indulging. I always feel so at peace surrounded by books, by information I don’t know yet, and could never entirely know of. So, I don’t think I can qualify it as endurance. The quality of presence you speak of is heaven to me.
FT: How did the public presentation you gave at La Centrale, and the exercises you gave to the audience, fit into your interpretation of the Seven Years of Living Art? Did the fact that many more people attended than was expected change the experience?
MB: The way I see it, it is all of the unexpected moments during the research, the undetermined results and the coincidental links between subjects of database-researched publications from the collection, or even the high concentration of green coloured items (books, ephemera, theory, publications, invites) that had some link to my personal experience and practice. In order to present my findings, I wanted to make sure that everyone could experience these odd links and thoughts that happen when you bring your life and art (or research on art) together. It is like making them collaborate. In many ways it is about taking the time to think, all over the place, not narrowly and restrictively.
To engage people, I gave them the exercise of finding 4 pieces from the collection of documents that I had compiled. I asked them to make a link between these documents and their own personal context – keeping the green chakra, compassion and love in mind. Having more people there than I expected made their engagement more exciting. I was humbled by the amount of thought people put into the exercise, by what they wrote, and how generous they were.
FT: It was a pleasure to have you with us for the duration of your residency. Thank you for your thoughts in response to these questions. We look forward to your next 3 years of living art. Peace!
MB : You guys rock!
Love and compassion!
And always think green…
A bibliography of the material she made use of in the Artexte collection is also available: Michelle Bush Bibliography
Consult other bibliographies