Pageviews last month

Search This Blog

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New portrait by Tristan Harris (E x q u i s i t e C o r p s e)

Jordan Arseneault (author) for fall 2013: Photo by Tristan Harris

Monday, November 11, 2013

On socially engaged art and "It Matters How You Get Here" (Montréal, April 2013)

"There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard." – Arundhati Roy 

“We can never really challenge any form of social organization without challenging all of that organization’s forms of language. [...] When freedom is practiced in a closed circle, it fades into a dream, becomes a mere image of itself.”  - Guy Debord On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unit of Time (1959)

“This is the kind of artwork that makes cynics roll their eyes, because they feel that it limits what is often described as “the autonomy of art.” Referencing the pioneering beliefs of skeptics such as Theodor Adorno, they often voice a concern that this kind of work is neither good politics nor good art. Such critiques should be expected, for socially engaged artwork certainly does defy one of art’s most longstanding principles: uselessness.” Nato Thompson “Socially Engaged Art is a Mess Worth Making”, catalogue essay in Spontaneous Interventions (2012)
“A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity. In this nature of its origin lies the judgment of it: there is no other.” – Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet
“My milk shake brings all the boys to the yard / And they’re like / “It’s better than yours,” / Damn right it’s better than yours / I can teach you, / But I have to charge” Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, “Milkshake” (2013)

Jessica MacCormack and Jordan Arseneault (author) - photo courtesy of David Ward (April 2013, Montréal)

Can it Always Be Like This?

By Jordan Arseneault

When Ramona Benveniste and Muriel Jaouich invited me to participate in the round table “Socially Engaged Art – What Role can It Serve, Who is it Really For?” with Lisa Ndejuru and Jessica MacCormack, I had to start by immediately considering the three questions that I think should ground socially engaged art, and that ground my practice:
  • Whom are we speaking with and who has allowed/invited me to speak?
  • Who are my audience and how much participation would they like or need?
  • What do I have to contribute and what can I learn?

Arriving at the CRCS St-Zotique space, it was a brilliant sunny day, perfect for experiencing Courtney Maze’s hyperbolic reverse tourism performance in Sir-Georges-Étiienne-Cartier Park, which some may have had enjoyed in lieu of the round table. Unlike some in-situ art projects, ARTX480 chose to occupy the pool house in a period during which it was not being used by the local community, which, however coincidental that may have been, had a significant impact on the ethics of “It Matters How You Get Here.” While the works installed interacted to varying degrees with the specifics of the place itself, the overall effect was one that is often attributed to social engaged practice, that of utopianism. The fleeting sense of “Why can’t it always be like this?” that one often feels when united with peers or collaborators around a common goal in a situation somehow out of “regular time” was a quality that I feel whenever I interact with thoughtful socially engaged work, and was very much felt that day. 

The opportunity to sit in a circle with the nearly thirty people who came to the round-table was imbued with this feeling as well. (Rearranging the chairs in the room from rows to a circle was the first thing I did when I arrived.) For many of the students in the class, the chance to collectively consider ideas and produce work that is informed by group dialogue is not something that is a given in the “real world” of solo shows and art careers and “trying to get by on your art.” The opportunity for community exists if created intentionally, but for many, may not be continued after graduation. If utopia is a “no-place” then I would propose that a lot of socially engaged art deals with being “u-pragma” or “not a thing”: attribution becomes slippery, and ideally, the need for it slips away. It does not mean that it cannot be imagined, experienced, paid for, or appropriated, but it is difficult for socially engaged art to be bought, sold, or owned, at least in the same way that other so-called Intellectual Property is. This is one of its many challenges and opportunities.

Beside me, Lisa Ndejuru spoke to the themes and complications of her practice, which is conversational, performative, and inspired by theatre of the oppressed techniques. Her playback theatre interventions involve discussions with participants on topics of war and genocide, notably the Rwandan Genocide, of which some of her family were survivors. Her presentation focused on crucial themes of vulnerability and risk, of which practitioners must be aware if they dare to directly address triggering themes with their participants.

Lisa Ndejuru: “I have been struggling for decades with what it means to be Rwandan-Canadianwhat Rwanda’s tortured narrative of colonialism, war, genocide, dislocation and poverty has meant and could mean for my family, my community, my country, my world. I have some ideas. But before I can ask others to risk moving toward the wellness I long for, I must grab the talking stick, step into the story circle and explore those risks myself.”

After our two presentations, I divided the participants into groups – in a somewhat brutally arbitrary way, I’m afraid – to discuss what socially engaged art could be, and how to avoid the pitfalls of didactic or “missionary-style” art, where the artist alights with knowledge or skills that they assume the participants either don’t have or would necessarily benefit from. We reconvened as a group 45 minutes later for an all-too-brief plenary to share the results of the discussions. The ensuing conversation explored some heavy issues that often plague makers and participants in projects that seek to be socially engaged:
  • How do we deal with a privilege differential between the creator and the participants, especially when the participants are from a community with a history of oppression and the instigator of the project is from a different one?
  • How do we listen and engage respectfully with communities when we do not share their histories and experiences?
  • If we choose to address issues of oppression – violence, exclusion, lack – in our work, are we prepared to deal with disagreement, discomfort, and criticism?

The situation you place yourself in when doing socially engaged art is a risky one. You may not be able to own or control the end result. It may be utopian. You may not make any money from it. But you can hope to be changed, if you allow yourself to be open to the truly considering your participants as artists, on their own terms, in places that are safe enough for vulnerability and risk to occur. When creating a work with people instead of for them, you open yourself to transformation and to the possibility of learning, of action, and of believing, for a moment, that it could always be like this. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Biographie d'artiste - version septembre 2013

Version anglaise à venir... English version forthcoming. 

Interprète, artiste socialement engagé et militant de la scène queer montréalaise, Jordan Arseneault est membre cofondateur des collectifs SéroSyndicat et Radical Queer Semaine (2009 à 2012). Conférencier lors de l'édition inaugurale du festival VIHsion (Montréal, 2009), et animateur de nombreuses soirées de performance queer à Montréal, Jordan Arseneault crée des interventions performatives inspirées de ses préoccupations principales : l’homosexualité, le genre et les injustices sociales. Il emploie le chant, la parole, le violoncelle, le drag, l’autodérision, la voix préenregistrée et le mouvement dans ses pièces, souvent basées dans l’improvisation. Il travaille présentement sur l'élaboration de son atelier participatif « Fear Drag » à propos des préoccupations liées au sexe, à la santé et aux institutions oppressives. Il a conçu l'affiche « SILENCE = SEXE » avec AIDS ACTION NOW! dans le cadre du projet Poster/Virus 2012 qui a été exposé à la galerie Roots Division de San Francisco pour leur exposition « Strange Bedfellows » (juin, 2013). Sous son nom de scène principal, Peaches Lepage, Jordan a créé une multitude de courtes pièces vocales et performatives dans le cadre de nombreuses soirées de performance, dont Meow Mix, le Cabaret Faux Pas et la soirée annuelle STALLE, dont il était responsable de la programmation de 2009 à 2012 avec sa collaboratrice Laura Boo MacDonald. Autrement, Jordan collabore de près avec les artistes Stephen Lawson et Aaron Pollard (, ainsi qu’avec les artistes multidisciplinaires Jessica MacCormack et 2fik.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Je figure dans ce vidéo réalisé par le Projet VideoQueer "It Gets Better... Organized"

Le vidéo original "Comment faire une manifestation éclair" est un outil web au sujet de comment faire une courte intervention en place publique dans l'optique de la médiatisation et l'efficacité politique. Il est le premier d'une série produite par Projet 10 de concert avec Radical Queer Semaine 2011-2012, grâce à une subvention du Bureau de lutte contre l'homophobie (le Ministère de la justice du Québec, 2012). La documentation originale, filmée entre août et décembre 2012, comprend un atelier facilité par Jordan Arseneault dans le cadre de la Pervers/cité, ainsi que la manifestation "Sashes Action" lors du marche-a-ton "ÇA MARCHE" en septembre 2012, et la Vigile du 1er décembre avec le Sérosyndicat. Il incorpore également des extraits de reportages d'actualités et la documentation indépendante de plusieurs groupes militants LGBTQ.

"Comment faire une manifestation éclair" du Projet VideoQueer est destiné à informer et à stimuler des discussions sur les stratégies de manifestations militantes paisibles, démocratiques et efficaces qui revendiquent la cause des personnes lesbiennes, gaies, transgenre et queer. Un accent particulier est mis sur la stratégie de communication et de présentation des revendications militantes dans le cadre d'une manifestation de courte durée ayant pour but la promotion ou le soulignement d'une cause spécifique de la communauté LGBTQ.

Réalisé par Rémy Huberdeau en collaboration avec Jordan Arseneault et Bruno Laprade
Montage par Rémy Huberdeau
Vidéo et son additionnel par Marianne Ploska, Daniel Rodriguez et Jadis M. Dumas

Recherche et conceptuallisation du projet VideoQueer "It Gets Better... Organized" par An Thorne avec Ian Bradley-Perrin, Jordan Arseneault et Bruno Laprade. (Revision par Billy Hébert)

Nous aimerions remercier tou.te.s les participant.e.s de leur précieuse collaboration. Traduction et sous-titres vers le français par T&S Coop Montréal
À VENIR: d'autres outils militants vidéo sur

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Round Table on Socially Engaged Art for IT MATTERS HOW YOU GET HERE (Sat. April 6, 1PM)

I am excited and honoured to have been invited to speak at this round table event on socially engaged art practice for the Concordia Fine Arts forth year BFA ArtX final project It Matters How You Get Here. I will have the pleasure of sharing this conversation with play-back performance intervention artist Lisa Ndejuru, moderated by my friend and long-time supporter, Jessica MacCormack, and artist Ramona Benveniste. It's free and should be interesting!

Round Table Conversation on Socially Engaged Art 
what role can it serve and who is it really for?
@ CRCS St-Zotique, 75 Sir Georges-Étienne-Cartier Square, Montréal.  

For the last seven months, we have been working as a class both collaboratively and individually, on a group of projects that explore underlying theoretical concerns about the relationships concerning value and exchange, social inequality, and the determination of identity through popular culture.

The result is an exhibition in Saint Henri entitled,
It matters how you get here , consisting of multiple
site-specific projects located in the pool change
room, the community center, a storefront, online, the
park and the street.
Many of these projects reside in a critique of our current social habits and system – and some of these projects are structured to respond, producing alternative platforms to ‘perform’ society that include meetings, workshops, and collaborative compilations. Creating socially engaged projects that produce modes
of interacting instead of information, we suggest is
the challenge here.
And so we are exploring what art can do to facilitate
new opportunities for social interaction. And what are
the considerations and concerns that we need to address
when we work alongside communities and in
It is in this spirit that we would like to invite you, the
members, coordinators, facilitators and individuals
who live and work within the social fabric of this community.
Your experience and perspective we see as
In English - traduction chuchotée disponible
Au cours des sept derniers mois, nous avons travaillé
ensemble et individuellement en tant que classe sur
une série de projets explorant les préoccupations théoriques
sous-jacentes des relations relatives aux valeurs
et à l'échange, à l'inégalité sociale, et à l'évolution identitaire
à travers la culture populaire.
Le résultat: une exposition à St-Henri intitulée “Il importe
comment l'on s'y rend”, constituée de plusieurs projets
spécifiques aux endroits suivants: les vestiaires de la
piscine publique, le centre communautaire, une vitrine
de commerce, en ligne, dans le parc et dans les rues.
Plusieurs de ces projets consistent en une critique de
nos habitudes et de notre système social actuel, et quelques
uns d'entres eux sont structurés pour produire des
plateformes alternatives pour "performer" la société tels
des meetings, des ateliers et des compilations collaboratives.
Le défi réside dans la création de projets artistiques
socialement engagés qui produisent des modes
d'interaction au lieu de simple information.
Ainsi, nous explorons comment l'art peut faciliter de nouvelles
opportunités d'interaction sociale. Quelles sont les
considérations et les préoccupations à avoir lorsque nous
travaillons avec les communauté et les voisinages?
C'est dans cet esprit que nous vous invitons, membres,
coordinateurs, modérateurs et individus vivant et travaillant
à travers la toile sociale de cette communauté. Nous considérons
vos expériences et vos perspectives comme

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"They Built This City" Interview with filmmaker Nadine Gomez (The Horse Palace)

I interviewed filmmaker Nadine Gomez for about her new documentary feature The Horse Palace

This assignment was especially meaningful for me since I worked with Nadine over one very wild summer (2002) at a grocery store in Mile End, and along with many people from that time, we are still friends!

Menial labour / meaningful friends / big ambitions / beautiful conversations!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bible Belt Prevention: DiAna DiAna

Concordia’s HIV/AIDS 20th Anniversary Lecturer talks Curlers and Condoms 

There have been many illustrious and influential figures who have brought their stories and work to Concordia’s H110 auditorium for the Lecture Series on HIV and AIDS since its inception in 1993. Singer Diamanda Galas, dance legend Margie Gillis, General Idea surviving member AA Bronson, AIDS hero Steven Lewis, activist writer Sarah Schulman, South African documentarian Khalo Matabane, and recently, adult film actress Lara Roxx, to name only a few that come to mind. Fittingly, the Lecture Series team has chosen to invite a figure who was active at the height of the AIDS crisis for their 20th anniversary lecture, and have gone somewhat far afield of the global AIDS celebrity and NGO milieu to bring us a fierce grass roots activist who started the radical, up-hill task of doing HIV prevention in 1980s Columbia, South Carolina. Meet DiAna DiAna, the hairdresser who knew too much.

“It was in 1986 that I became aware of HIV and AIDS,” DiAna tells me over the phone as she prepares for a day of cutting, styling, listening and teaching at her salon in a primary black neighbourhood of Columbia. “I just saw [AIDS] on the front of a magazine. Nobody wanted to talk about it because it was all sexual and needles and of course nobody in South Carolina does any of those things,” she tells me, her beautiful Bostonian accent still intact after decades of living and working south of Dixie. In 1991, DiAna’s then-unorthodox methods for talking about sex and condoms were documented in the short film DiAna’s Hair Ego, which will also be screened on Thursday. Today, Columbia has the forth-highest rate of HIV infection per capita in the United States, she says, and according to one Centre for Disease Control study, HIV infection is the leading cause of death for black women aged 25 to 34, the same age of many of the women who visit DiAna’s salon. Black heterosexual women remain one of the populations most affected by HIV in the US, disproportionately so.

The magazine DiAna read that day, perhaps Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire or one of the more liberal magazines of the period, had a cover headline about a woman who had contracted HIV from her boyfriend, and she got thinking about how this could and would affect her community. “Both of them were ‘straight’ she yet she still got infected. I started to get curious because it was something that nobody really knew about... So I got the information, and people started sharing the articles that I was getting. It snowballed from there, and I eventually started doing presentations and going into churches where they didn’t want to talk about sex or AIDS or anything, especially in the Bible Belt. They were quite shocked that I was able to talk about HIV and AIDS,” she tells me with the fluid verbal arc of someone who has talked about her activist beginnings many times, with concentration and generosity.

“I had to figure out a way for people to start using condoms. So I started wrapping them up in wrapping paper so that clients would start taking them home. You didn’t have to be a client, you could just come and get condoms and information and see videos on HIV and AIDS,” she says with a smile her voice. She knew she was onto something: she had found a way past the sexual shame that prevented women from asking their male partners to use condoms, and eventually men would come into the salon and elaborately ask for condoms for their “friend,” or more sadly, to demand that DiAna stop giving out condoms to girls who would ask for them. She went on to found the South Carolina AIDS Education Network (SCAEN), which then spun off into the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council, a drastically underfunded charity run by her friend and one-time trainee Bambi Gaddist “I asked her ‘Do you wanna be the VP of a company that pays nothing?’ And she said yes,” DiAna laughs warmly as she recalls inviting her BFF to helm the organization that started in a salon and went on to do workshops in schools, and safer sex outreach with sex workers and with men in cruising parks. She would do HIV saliva tests in her salon, but found that people were reluctant, as they still are, to come in for their results.

“I gave the whole thing [until] 2000: by then everybody should be cured and we should know what AIDS is, right? It was very difficult to deal with agencies that didn’t want to give any money. Some of the politicians didn’t want to talk about AIDS at all because it would be bad for their election, and they gave no support,” she tells me with more than a hint of despair. Many of the men who opposed her grass-roots prevention methods are still in power in the heavily Republican state, and continue to defund and oppose her and Gaddist’s efforts to provide prevention at the grass-roots level. In the years since DiAna has stopped working on the front lines of radical sex ed in Columbia, South Carolina’s bureaucrats have shown even less support for initiatives that she and her peers have begun, even though grass-roots prevention and peer support has proven to be more effective than top-down methods.  

“I’ve had clients come in and ask me ‘Is the AIDS thing still going around?’” she laments. The lessons DiAna learned go deep. The effects of misogyny, homophobia, religious conservatism and bureaucratic public health policies lead to only one thing: more illness, less knowledge, and a crisis that may never end unless we stop it ourselves.

DiAna DiAna "Curlers & Condoms: Grassroots Prevention Then and Now"
Thursday March 21, 7 p.m. // Room H-110 of the Henry F. Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Ouest. FREE, followed by reception with DiAna DiAna and former guests of the Lecture Series

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Interview with Ange Loft from YT//ST on #IdleNoMore

Ange Loft is an artist and member of Canadian No-Wave band Yamantaka//SonicTitan. She hails from Kahnawake Nation outside of Montréal and is the instigator of the Idle No More Documentary Performance Projectan oral digital archive about the movement which she sees as intricately catalyzed by working mothers, older women, and youth involved in the struggle for First Nations justice.  reached her via telephone at her home in Toronto on Jan 21 to talk about what she calls the “vibration behind this movement” and how youth, women, and knowledge-sharing are central to its power and expression. 

The 26-minute interview (Starting at 12min, edited from a 48-minute original) aired today (Jan 30, 2013) on CKUT’s Wednesday Morning After. Special thanks to Courtney and Marc from CKUT for production assistance.