Politicking as performance art

We spoke Chris Lloyd, the independent candidate for Papineau who trolled the Conservative Party for years.



Chris Lloyd

Admit it — after nine years in office, we’ve all felt the urge to take the piss right out of Stephen Harper’s coffee cup, but one Montreal-based artist-turned-federal candidate has been doing just that for years through a stunning long-term work of performance art that began with writing near-daily letters to the Prime Minister’s Office since 2001. Chris Lloyd is currently running as an independent candidate in the Oct. 19 federal election, against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP candidate Anne Lagacé Dowson in the Papineau riding — but until a few weeks ago he had been the acclaimed Conservative candidate after having infiltrated the party in a Yes Men-style feat of role-play that slid under the radar of an oblivious Conservative party until he was outed as an artist in a CBC profile back in May. We caught up with Lloyd by phone to find out more about his art practice and his politics:

IMG_5165(1)Lisa Sproull: Can you tell us a bit about your background as an artist?

Chris Lloyd: I went to NSCAD in Halifax, a school that’s really well known for its conceptual art. It led me to devote a lot of time to an ephemeral art practice such as writing letters. I started writing to the PMO when I was a student because I wanted to explore how political the personal really was — if the choices we make on a day-to-day basis, what we do for a living, etc — if those things are actually political choices or if they have political ramifications, and I still think they do.

LS: How did you become the Conservative candidate for Papineau?

CL: Right after the Harper government won their majority in 2011, I reached out to the local riding association to see if I could represent the Conservative association at their national conference. Every step of the way I wondered, when are they going to put two and two together, when are they going to know that this is the guy that’s been writing letters to the Prime Minister? Harper knew all about my political leanings. During elections I would write about politics, and in off-election years, I’d kind of revert back to talking about my daily life.

_B5A2012A(2)LS: At what point did the project move from being a prank to being an authentic political campaign?

CL: After the CBC broke the story that made it more obvious about who I was and I was asked to resign, It took me a couple of weeks to digest what had happened to the four years of infiltration that I’d been doing and the plan of trying to represent the Conservative persona to Papineau. To me this would have been the most evident performance art part of the project, using their re-election campaign strategies but in a more satirical manner. I thought I would just take it and maybe just go a little bit further with it, put them even further on the right of the spectrum.

I thought about how I would wrap up that project and it just seemed to evolve quite naturally that I should just continue as an independent so I could use the election period itself as a public forum and platform.

LS: One thing you’ve been using this opportunity for is to call for reinstating funding for the arts that the Conservative government has decimated over the years. Can you talk a bit about that?

Campaign poster illustration by Clément de Gaulejac

CL: I think we’ve seen in the last number of years under the Harper government, a death by a thousand cuts. They’ve maintained funding for the Canada Council for the Arts, but meanwhile they’ve cut just about everything else, and you can’t just rely on one grant. Ultimately it comes down to less money for artists, and if you don’t have all sorts of other programs and things that you can juggle together, how are you supposed to make a living on that? Generally artists are really underpaid, and working as one and trying to find other jobs such as teaching or working in museums or galleries or things like that, artists are usually really well placed to navigating the complexities of just surviving in life.

As an artist running for politics, to me there are not enough artists involved in politics because they’re too busy making art, which is more important to them. But maybe we should have more artists in government because we understand how budgets work, although which much less money. Artists can do a lot with very little.

Investing in culture has been proven time and time again, even in economic circles, when you invest in culture, you get a sevenfold return. Just take the oil and gas subsidies and turn them into arts and culture (laughs).

LS: What other election issues are most important for you?

CL: It’s unexpectedly become more about examining the electoral process itself. What started for me as just a sneaky artist trying to infiltrate the party and the political process became something more personal, in that I really feel that we keep getting shafted by this system. There are tons of people who don’t agree with the three or four main parties, but as long as we have first-past-the-post, we’re always going to get the same results: Liberals, Conservatives, maybe NDP and maybe flirt with this coalition thing, but we’re never going to see the diversity of voices that is what truly makes up Canada. All the 338 different ridings and voting areas are different, and they shouldn’t just be represented by Brand A, B or C.

Hopefully at the end of the day, we’ll end up with 33 per cent NDP, 33 per cent Liberal, 33 per cent Conservative, and that 0.9% difference will be Elizabeth May’s seat, and all the parties realize we’ll never get anything done unless we let her be Prime Minister. She’s the only party leader who could probably get consensus. That would never happen, but it’s nice to imagine it. ■

A Papineau riding candidates debate will take place at the William Hingston Centre (419 St-Roch) on Monday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m.

Check out Chris Lloyd’s website here, and see his Twitter.

* Please note that this article does not constitute an endorsement. *