Carlos Maria Romero in Muy Serio

Celebrating performance art and diversity at the MAI

Curator/artistic director Michael Toppings on the return of the Taking Place series and the resurgence of an art form.

Taking Place was inaugurated by the MAI in 2016–2017 to serve as an alternative dialogue on body and placehood during the anniversaries of Canada, Montreal and Expo 67. Now in its second edition, the series offers a glimpse into the multiplicity of contemporary performance art, with performers from Paris, New York, London, Los Angeles, Barranquilla and, of course, Montreal.

Curator Michael Toppings, also the MAI’s artistic director, noted that part of the aim of a performance art series in particular is to create a bridge between the MAI’s “two programming components…the visual arts and the performing arts” as well as to give an opportunity for Montreal audiences to see more live performance art.

The series is very diverse, something Toppings mentioned as a feature that distinguishes contemporary performance art from some of its historical antecedents. “The works that are being created and presented…are all coming from very different perspectives, from very different lived experiences. I think in the ’60s that wasn’t quite as true. Now we have a lot of artists [who are] either racialized or indigenous or artists with disabilities, that are using performance art as their vehicle for expressing their difference.” He also observed that the MAI’s programming of underrepresented artists has resulted in an audience demographic that is as diverse as the performers.

The title of the series, Taking Place, references the simple yet powerful potential of underrepresented artists grabbing hold of their space; physically being there. The body and the interpretation of the body are constants in the series, often with an eye to re-inventing symbols and places, from Carlos Maria Romero’s Muy Serio (playing with symbolic conventions of the masculine wardrobe) to Yunuen Rhi’s Neuter Ality, a “ritual performance” designed to “neutralize” a WWII Nazi trophy.

Toppings observed that the late ’90s and early aughts marked a “backlash against performance art” but that, seeing a resurgence of the form, he’s particularly interested in what contemporary performance art has come to mean, both for audiences and performers alike. Taking Place makes its nod to the Fluxus movement, and likewise values the implicitly ephemeral nature of performance art, but Toppings also delights in the reinvention happening as a new generation of artists discover for themselves the political and artistic dimensions of performance art. ■

Taking Place is happening at the MAI (3680 Jeanne-Mance) May 15–18, various times, $15 for an individual ticket (excepting Undress/Re-Dress, free), $50 for the Taking Place Passport (access to all performances)