Refugia is a performance of domestic landscape, a disturbed relational field activated (and repaired) by a collective inhabitation of space. Its elements were:
-a contextual text, sent to participants in advance, which acted as both a glossary of terms and an entryway to the work; and an introduction to the speculative fiction text Dhalgren (1974) by Samuel R Delany. The keywords explored were: Refugia, The Reserve, The Wild, The False, Landscape, Architecture, Utopia, Wildness, Capitalism, and (Art) Worlding.
-the setting of a field of relations between my apartment, the apartment above me and the apartment above that;
-a reflection on my closest friend, who passed away at the end of 2015;
-textual excerpts from Dhalgren placed throughout the three apartments, described disturbed landscapes;
-a series of projections, prints and installations placed throughout the three apartments;
-and a collective commitment to attending to, and being present in a domestic landscape healing from disruption.
"Refugia" is a concept developed by the anthropologist Anna Tsing: she suggests that all biological process (large and small alike, from species evolution to our own sleep cycles, or the bacteria in our gut) have a stage in their lifespan in which they rest, regenerate, and renew. The project, taking place over the three apartments, was in a sense a journey of renewal after a dramatic event - in my case, a dear friend’s death. I asked: What happens to a relational field when it is dramatically jarred? What form of refuge does the domestic landscape look like, become?
Over four evenings, participants in the performance would meet in my apartment near to sunset in a century-old building in Montreal. Once everyone had arrived, I would show them a brief slideshow comprised of pictures of me and David; alongside these, memories, musings - priming the field. At my invitation, the participants would head to the top floor of the building and work their way down through three apartments, returning to my own. The first apartment was warm and cozy, almost nest-like. This was the 'before'. The second was empty, with nothing but cool projections of the other two units superimposed on its architecture - the ‘moment of trauma’. Finally, they would return to my unit, which had a continuation of the installations and projections, but in addition, I had prepared a meal for them. Over the meal we would discuss the work, feelings that they had moving through the work, the different affective tonalities of the spaces that they had traversed.
In order to meet the audience with generosity, I believe it is critical to provide multiple points of entry to a work. Another way ‘in’ that I offered the audience was through small excerpts of texts placed through the the three apartments. The majority of these texts were from the book Dhalgren, by Samuel R Delany. Dhalgren is a work of speculative fiction, set contemporaneously to its writing in 1973. In it, the reader is taken on a journey into the fictional city of Bellona, which has been nearly emptied of its population after some catastrophic, but unnamed event. All who are left are drifters, the socially disenfranchised, racial and sexual minorities... The city, nearly empty, becomes a site of social and economic experimentation and alterity. In the book, what I found most compelling was the description of architecture, environments, and the city itself largely through descriptions of affect, rather than by its physical attributes. Time is slightly awry in the book - one could say that it is queer(ed) - and so it feels like the city of Bellona and its denizens are suspended within a perpetual moment of environmental, social and psychological trauma. The feeling that the room hasn't quite come back into focus, hasn’t totally reoriented itself after you've been (metaphorically) blindsided, smacked upside the head; the feeling of the laws of physics having been temporarily suspended after sudden death or betrayal. These textual excerpts helped to set the mood in that they described landscape in an eerie, affective manner which is familiar to many.
Artworks in the form of projections, prints, and small interventions were placed throughout the three spaces. These were repetitions of architectural flaws (the print of a crack in my apartment placed in the approximate same location in the other two units), patterns in rugs and chairs turned into 'blinds', and projections of objects that had particular significance taking on larger-than-life proportions, if I or the other tenants felt they had significance and memory.
I saw the creation of an open dialogue, trust, a social environment and temporary community to be the true 'artwork' of Refugia. Activating a feeling - many feelings - that couldn’t be put into words.