“Migration is performative.” That’s the concept behind a project making its first appearance of a multi-stop international tour at Montreal’s Blue Metropolis Literary Festival, April 21-26.
Performigrations is a research and art collaboration co-organized by an array of 16 European and Canadian institutions, including Concordia’s Mobile Media Lab, the Italian Cultural Institute, Ryerson University, and coordinated by the University of Bologna.“The engine of the whole thing is seven artists collaborating on adaptive travelling work that will move from city to city, addressing the theme of migration from very diverse perspectives,” says Ben Spencer, a researcher at the Mobile Media Lab and coordinator of the Montreal presentation of Performigrations. When it leaves Montreal, Performigrations will travel to other cities in Europe and Canada including Vancouver, Toronto, Lisbon and Athens, with Malta as its last stop in March 2016.
Suitcases, surveillance and the Snowden Archive
With its focus on mobility and migration, the project was a natural fit for Concordia’s Mobile Media Lab, which looks at understanding mobility, the movement of people, immigration, disabilities and social activism. One of the main Performigrations installations is “Mobile Interventions,” a metal luggage rack filled with nondescript, vintage and antique suitcases. Each one contains an individual project such as a DVD, an artwork, a sound recording or a scrapbook. The audience is offered the opportunity to ‘migrate’ to the work — approach the rack, take a suitcase, sit down and engage with what’s inside. “It’s a new concept of a gallery that both literally and figuratively connects to the theme of migration, movement and mobility,” says Spencer.
One of the suitcases features a project called “Secret School” by Mobile Media Lab post-doctoral student Evan Light. Collaborating with Iannis Zannos, Light created a suitcase that emits a wi-fi signal that allows the audience to connect and engage with the Snowden Digital Surveillance Archive. The online repository contains copies of documents leaked to the media by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden. “Secret School” allows people to anonymously discover issues around migration and surveillance, Light explains. “As an immigrant, just by the nature of moving between borders on a temporary or permanent basis, you’re subject to a lot more surveillance and analysis than somebody who stays put.” Another suitcase contains a project called “Perform Your Migration,” by Roberta Buiani, Juli Saragosa and Montreal-based artist Natalie Doonan. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure immigration game for mobile devices, where the objective is to get visa paperwork, encountering twists and turns along the way, Doonan explains.
In addition to the “Mobile Interventions” installation, Performigrations features artist performances, talks and round-tables. Doonan, a PhD Humanities candidate in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, will present her own research work on the cloudberry, found on the northeastern coast of Quebec. “My research looks at the way that berries have moved people and are moving people now, and contemplating how that movement will change with potential economic development,” says Doonan. She has spent two summers visiting communities, collecting video, sound and photographs — all of which will be incorporated into her talk on April 25.
A brainstorming way station
There are seven artists and researchers from two continents behind Performigrations. Last November, the Mobile Media Lab hosted the participants for a week of brainstorming, workshopping and idea sharing. It was important for the artists and researchers to have a place to collaborate before hitting the road, explains Giuliana Cucinelli, an assistant professor in the department of Education.
“The Mobile Media Lab has been pivotal for having that space to foster this kind of discussion with all the artists and the academics combined,” says Cucinelli. “It’s community, artists and academics coming together for a really large project and sustaining that for two years.” In addition to Performigrations, Concordia University has partnered with Blue Metropolis in hosting events, brainstorming ideas and sponsoring writers. Concordia is also involved in the Blue Met’s film series that explores the intersection between literature and cinema.
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