by Eleanor Brown
Even a slug of a couch potato can become a utopian with the cheapest of
Utopian is a derogatory term for people who imagine there might
be any other way to organize society, announced Mark Saunders, the
keynote speaker at last weekends R/évolution conference,
organized by Concordia humanities doctoral students.
A media activist, Saunders titled his talk Do Utopians Watch TV?
The answer is yes, but only if they make and control it. And thats
where the video camera comes in.
Television news never visits your neighbourhood just to see whats
up. Its cameras are never out there on the streets, so everyday reality
is not reported.
People need to document their own history. What exists on film or
video is what is true, and its important we all engage in documenting
them. Even when the cameras are there, the message is often distorted,
In 1990, thousands gathered for a peaceful demonstration in London, England,
against the poll tax (which imposed a flat tax simply for being
alive and over 18, regardless of income). The next day, the television
media reported that protesters had attacked police and property.
But Saunders said everyone there had an experience of the event
that was dramatically different police had attacked the crowd.
Saunders team spent six months filming testimonials from those people,
watching their home-made video, and pulling together what Saunders calls
the real story.
Battle of Trafalgar ran on Britains Channel 4, won a series
of awards, and resulted in an investigation of police conduct that concluded
there had been some funny business. The documentary, said Saunders, is
a revolutionary example of community-led investigative journalism. Those
at street level know whats really going on, and they must present
their own stories.
Unlike most academic conferences, student organizers ensured R/évolutions
accessibility by making the conference free.
We did charge the presenters a small amount, said Jennifer
Willet, but this is grassroots revolutionary discourse. These are
kids who cant afford the groceries.
No registration was required for the public; anyone could just pop in
and out as they wanted. Willet, a student in the Interdisciplinary Humanities
PhD program, is also a part-time faculty member in Studio Arts. She estimated
that the March 22 opening night reception drew as many as 80 people.
The organizers hope to make the conference an annual event. Originally
planned as a single-day event, the unexpectedly large response convinced
organizers to make it a full weekend, eventually featuring 35 presenters.
Amid a sea of long and complex topic titles, Concordia student Kinga Arayas
was the pithiest: Grounded. The artist, who was profiled in
CTR last April, presented a critical yet creative essay regarding
my recent cyber performance. Her abstract goes on to note that the
performance tackles (im)mobility and features multilingual
narration on walking accompanying images of me walking with three
legs (one a real prosthesis).
Robyn Diner, also a Concordia PhD student, explained Ironic R/evolutions:
Unruly Figures in Contemporary Native Performance. She follows the
First Nations performance trio Spiderwoman, a stereotype-busting troupe
who play with irony.
These ironies-in-motion can be linked to an unruly bodily aesthetic
featuring the figure of the carnivalesque female grotesque who works to
disrupt and reconfigure representations of Indian-ness. Such
strategic interruptions also inevitably serve to unsettle seemingly stable
concepts like identity and memory.
Another Concordia student, Kahente Horn-Miller, presented the history
and philosophy of the indigenous Warrior Societys flag. It
rose to prominence during the Oka crisis and has been adopted by both
native and non-native activists in search of social justice, she
Here are the other Concordia students and faculty members who presented
papers or chaired sessions at the conference: Alana Baskind, Brian Crane,
Jason Morgan, Shawn Bailey, Iain McKenna, Meredith Browne, Jennifer Willet,
Ted Hiebert (chair), Isabelle St-Amand, Jason White, Owen Chapman, Anna
Friz, Joel McKim, Alexandre Pirsch, Raluca Marie Fratiloiu, Robert Robertson,
Katja MacLeod (aka Kessin), Shauna Yael Lancit, Terry Provost, Michael
Kaiser, Sylvain Duguay, and Arshi Dewan.
The organizers were Candis Steenbergen, Jennifer Willet, Sylvain Duguy
and Alana Baskind.