self checkout : post-project reflection blog!

©Jaime Hewat

Hello to the Foolish Operations community,

This is Anna Lamontagne for my second and final blog post about self checkout

March 14th to 19th was a week of collaborative creation with the group of participants who registered for the Spring Break intensive workshop of the first iteration of self checkout. My collaborator Jaime and I met six inspiring artists between the ages of 14 and 18: Baz, Ace, Navy, Maxx, Jodie and Daniel. Together, we created a group performance in less than 12 hours of work, the official title being Trouble in Cheddardise!

Today, I’m sharing with you some reflections I had during this creative process.

Thank you for your interest in my project. Enjoy!

The inherent political value of community-oriented art work 

I have been thinking about how the values I held at the heart of this project have given it an inherent political value. In other words, how community-oriented, collaborative, queer creativity is part of an effort to rewrite the way we work outside of toxic educational systems. As a queer emerging artist myself, I carry a lot of questions about queering art practices through care and unapologetic exposure of self. Via self checkout, I reflected on how my facilitation methods could prioritize dialogue as a way to challenge power dynamics and encourage knowledge sharing among artists. Therefore, this community-based artistic project acknowledged, like all others,  that the person in front of the room doesn’t necessarily have the best idea in the room! 

 Without the initial intention of directly engaging in activism, I relied on my instincts, sensibility and the strong reverberations of my teenage years to conduct the project. I trusted the fact that I was queer enough not to fall into queer baiting – marketing technique in which one hints at, but then does not depict 2SLGBTQIA+ representation. This may sound simple but in fact, it is not at all ! I can only hope that doubts make me smarter, because they really won’t go away… Ah, the queer imposter syndrome! Bottom line, I did not identify myself extensively with the participants, nor did I ask them to: I trusted the project and the values placed beforehand. self checkout was a queer creative safer space because I was at the head of it, and because I had put a lot of thoughts into its structure.

Impossible not to mention… This month the US news has exploded with anti-trans reforms that I can barely read about. The timeline of these events overlapped with the timeline of the self checkout activities, intensifying the social and political significance of the project. I felt the intensity of it. The relevance of queer creative spaces such as self checkout is beyond question. I wanted this project to elevate queer and trans creative voices, and it did so in troubling and dangerous times. At least, without any guarantees other than my own, I can say this: this project has raised my voice and I hold it within me as a catalyst for revolution.

During the process at Collingwood Neighbourhood House!
©Jaime Hewat

Complicity and leadership 

I am twenty-two years old, so I am officially in the young adult age range myself. Being up close and personal with 14-18 year olds reminded me that my teenage years are not far away after all, whether I like it or not!  I was able to connect with the interests of the participants, build a warm and friendly relationship with each of them, and poof! Before I know it, I have my hands on a Fruit by Foot and a giant screen to play Mario Kart. These connections were very refreshing and rewarding for me, full of complicity and laughter. My energy, enthusiasm, sense of humor and casualness have found a new echo.

That said, I am aware of the teenage paradox: wanting to be treated like an adult before having the maturity to assume all the responsibilities that come with it. It’s not always easy to navigate this paradox for those around them. It takes confident and smart leaders to lead a group of teens for three hours in an empty room! Unpretentious, humble leaders. And then, more specifically for Jaime and myself in the context of self checkout, leaders who are on the same page about the importance of elevating emerging queer and trans voices.

As the majority of self checkout participants will soon be making early career decisions, I wanted to make this experience a positive one, that would hopefully inspire them to pursue in the field of performance art. I saw in each of them a unique potential that has renewed my entire perspective on the future of the performing arts. I close this project on a very optimistic note!

Group picture at the closing night! From left to right : Jaime, Jodie, Anna, Maxx, Navy, Ace, Bay, Daniel.
© danielle Mackenzie Long

All in all, the project was a huge success in every way I could think of. It was my first time directing young artists, directing a group piece, organizing an event, coordinating a team of volunteers… blah, blah, blah, so many new things I’ve learned in the past few months! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for self checkout and Trouble in Cheddardise!

If reading this has made you want to chat with me about self checkout and the possibilities for development, please do not hesitate to write to me! Let’s have coffee! I also invite you to visit my personal instagram page, @lamont_anna_gne, to see my upcoming projects!

A big thank you to the organizations that supported the project: ArtStarts in Schools, the City of Vancouver, Collingwood Neighbourhood House, QMUNITY, Foolish Operations, Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre and What Lab.

And a special thank you to people who offered precious help during the project: Ry Forsythe, Julie Lebel, Jaime Hewat, Audrey Sides, Alyssa Favero, Jarin Schexnider, Danielle Mackenzie Long, Ryan Jackson and the one Home Hardware Employee who spent an hour brainstorming with me on how to hide cereal boxes under the seats of folding chairs.