Saturday, July 13, 2013

We Want Our Utopia Now

A small intervention, but still, an intervention.

As grey and rainy as it was on Saturday, it was sunny and brilliant on Sunday.  During the lull due to wet weather, I came up with Plan B for the project:  scrap the treasure hunt aspect and use the signage to simply direct people to the tent, which I installed near the Vimy Memorial, along side the river.

A gorgeous spot and one, it turned out, that I would share with hundreds of dog owners (and a few intrepid cat owners).  Sunday also was "Pets in the Park" day in Saskatoon, with a full-on festival of dogs (and three cats and a bearded dragon lizard).

At first I thought this would mean I would have loads of takers for my utopian experience, but then I remembered owners really just care about their dogs.  They have a kind of penetrating single-pointedness of vision that does not allow for things like foot washing and contemplative conversation about utopia and temperance.  To be honest, I didn't mind.  I didn't really want dogs romping around in the tent.

So, it started out quietly, but slowly, people (without dogs) began to stop by.  The foot washing turned out to the pivotal aspect of the project.  Several people were openly reluctant to do it - I mean, you have to take off your socks and get your feet all wet and everything.  But the ritual of it...the water, the soap (it was a huge hit, btw! People wanted to buy it!), the did what rituals are supposed to do, which is alter the mood and establish a new frame of mind so that one is ready and able to experience something new.

The light in the tent - filtered through the white cloth - was gorgeous and mellow.

My original cross stitch pieces were hanging in the tent and, if there was an awkward, what-do-we-do-now moment, I used them to start the conversation.  But mostly people dove right in and shared very openly.  In fact, I stepped away to get some lunch at one point only to return to find a full tent (under the guidance of the wonderful Lana Wilson - thanks Lana!!) and everyone having a very intimate conversation about very personal things in their lives...and they had just met.

It was like that.

And so it continued until about 5 p.m. when I said good-bye to the last visitors and dismantled the tent.

The night previous, there was a panel discussion with the four featured artists, Shelley Miller, David LaRiviere and Corey Bulpitt, with the keynote speaker, Anna Waclawek, moderating.  For me, this might be the highlight of the whole thing.  I so enjoyed meeting the others and listening to how they talk about what they do.  So interesting!  At one point, I was asked about the participatory nature of my work by someone who had done a piece like that but felt that it had "failed" in as much as people didn't do or interact the way she wanted them to.  And that's the thing, isn't it?  One works for months to create an environment conducive to creating a certain kind of experience...and what if it simply doesn't work?  What if no one shows up?

The answer I gave, and the biggest lesson that I always need to learn over and over, is that this process is a gift.  And, having the nature of a gift, I can't control how it is received.  In fact, I almost can't worry about that at all.  I am giving without expecting anything in return, otherwise, it is not really a gift and I am not truly giving.

This can be challenging for the very reason I just mentioned - working for months to make something happen means one feels a huge investment in having whatever it is actually happen.  But have to let that go and just allow everything to come in and go out and know that, whatever happens, is exactly right.

This project is a case in point.  It did not turn out how I imagined it - many aspects were changed and even the main point of it shifted in response to what was really happening around me.  It was up to me to respond and be flexible and open - neither leading nor following exactly.  Or perhaps both at the same time.

Later Sunday evening, there was a walking tour of all the projects plus some other storefront window installations by local Saskatoon artists.  It was a long, full day.  Truly it was a long, full trip - the driving, the project, the city, the artists, the people who visited, the driving back.

Very full and very wonderful.

Thanks especially to Keeley Haftner, organizer of the Street Meet Festival, Dagmara Genda, director of AKA Gallery in Saskatoon, Anna Waclawek, the other participating artists, Shelley Miller, David LaRiviere, Corey Bulpitt, and JenSK.  And extra thanks to Allysha Larsen and JS Gauthier for hosting me in their house (and their cat Merlin who chewed me out every morning for not being Allysha).  Thank you all so much for everything!


Patti Blaine said...

Beautiful, Robyn. Well done!

dorinalouise said...

hear! hear! kudos :)