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PHI 15ans oct 05 2022 Vivien Gaumand 6

Interview with Kama La Mackerel

  • Article
  • PHI Foundation
By  Daniel Fiset
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Photo: Vivien Gaumand

As part of its public engagement project Incandescences, the PHI Foundation invited four artists to come up with different interventions to reactivate its archives. Designed in conjunction with the Lee Bae: UNION exhibition, Incandescences is inspired by Bae’s use of charcoal: a substance that is the remnant of a combustion and also allows other fires to ignite. Each participating artist combines their artistic practice with tasks related to teaching, research, mediation, or administration. This dual role, which is prompted by both the artists’ desire to actively participate in the formation of a milieu and by the necessity of the tasks that must be done given the precariousness of this same milieu, also evokes charcoal—a material whose uses are as practical as they are symbolic.

Our fourth and final invited artist for Incandescences is Kama La Mackerel, whose practice unfolds in the worlds of writing, performance, visual arts, cultural mediation, and translation, with a particular interest in narratives as places of resistance and resilience. The micro-residency allowed the artist to explore various magnetic objects found in our archives that became part of a site-specific installation: in particular, words from a set of poetry magnets designed by the PHI Foundation’s Education Department for a public activity. The research conducted during the micro-residency inspired a performance by La Mackerel, that they carried out in collaboration with Marjolaine Bourdua. It took place at an event celebrating the 15th anniversary of the PHI Foundation on October 5, 2022.

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Photo: Vivien Gaumand

Daniel Fiset: What were you interested in exploring when you received the invitation for the project? Did you have an inkling of what questions or materials you wanted to work with?

Kama La Mackerel: Most of the residencies I’ve done have been centered around a particular project of mine, or were aligned with ongoing research. I saw this invitation as a moment to move away from my own studio, to get out of my head—maybe even to step aside from a question that has been an obsession of the last few years, which has to do with figuring out what constitutes a “decolonial poetics.” I was really intrigued by this notion of an “education archive,” and by its potential materiality. I initially thought it might just be a shelf with publications, that it was going to be very text-driven. Entering the space, I realized that a different materiality was at play—that I was going to encounter material traces that are woven with the texts, and that have their stories to tell. I also saw an opportunity to engage with the part of my practice that is rooted in arts facilitation, cultural mediation, or education…

«Parfois, elle fait de l'art!»

On the untold stories de la médiation culturelle

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Photo: Vivien Gaumand

DF: Regarding that, what terms do you prefer to use to describe this aspect of your practice? And how does it relate to your practice in visual or live arts?

KLM: This is a very interesting question, because we have the term “médiation culturelle” in French, but there’s no exact translation for this, right? When I’ve used it in the past, I’ve tended to use this term in French, but substitute “curator” or “arts facilitator” in English. It has changed throughout the years. There was a point where I was using ‘cultural mediator’ in English and it seemed to generate a lot of confusion. It seems to me like the term is so proper to Québec, and is not encountered as much elsewhere, even in other francophone contexts.

And all of this brings me to a larger question: how do we translate? I’m not sure I have any concrete answer to this, but it seems to me like ‘facilitation’ is an interesting term to consider when we think about the act of translation that happens when we bring people into contact with art.

I think this relates to my artistic practice in that it enables me to think about how we make things collectively, rather than just me telling a story to an audience in a very direct way. How will I prompt a discussion, rather than just tell you what is? What can I say that will enable you to say something? How will we use our words, our voices, our hands, or our bodies to speak together? This is why I was struck by a lot of what was in the archive—lots of objects from past workshops, where the fun was trying to figure out how these objects were used originally. For example, I remember seeing these magnets with words on them, and trying to figure out the form of the text that could be composed with these fragments. It made me reflect on my own archive, and the fact that it can also be reactivated in this way.


Kama La Mackerel
Kama La Mackerel is a Montréal-based Mauritian-Canadian multidisciplinary artist, educator, writer, community-arts facilitator and literary translator who works within and across performance, photography, installations, textiles, digital art and literature. Kama’s work is grounded in the exploration of justice, love, healing, decoloniality, hybridity, cosmopolitanism and self- and collective-empowerment. They believe that aesthetic practices have the power to build resilience and act as resistance to the status quo, thereby enacting an anticolonial praxis through cultural production. Kama has exhibited and performed their work internationally and their writing in English, French and Mauritian Kreol has appeared in publications both online and in print.

To learn more about the projects of the other guest artists, please visit the Incandescences public engagement project webpage.

Author: Daniel Fiset

Daniel Fiset is a cultural worker based in Tiohtiá:ke/Mooniyang/Montreal. Holding a Ph.D. in art history from Université de Montréal, he has collaborated with numerous Quebec and Canadian institutions in the field of visual arts, including OPTICA, esse arts + opinions and the Musée d'art contemporain des Laurentides. He is currently the adjunct curator for engagement at the PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art, and curated the 2021 PHI MONTRÉAL exhibition.


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