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Arts

Got Any CHANGE?

Posted by Sisi / October 8, 2008

20081008_change.jpgPhoto of Pierre Allard and Annie Roy courtesy of ATSA.

“Est-ce que l’argent c’est important dans la vie?” asked a young woman to a handful of children. “Non!” they exclaimed, and proceeded to throw fistfuls of change on the floor.

Word-play abounds in CHANGE, a new projec by Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable (ATSA) located at the corner of Saint-Laurent and Marie-Anne.

No, ATSA isn’t out to bomb you. Although the name raises quite a few eyebrows, the group’s mandate, as expressed by co-founders Annie Roy and Pierre Allard, is to stage “urban interventions.” These installations and performances view the public realm as political spaces that can be reclaimed by ordinary citizens.

CHANGE is such a space. A hybrid between a gallery and a store, 4351 Saint-Laurent confounds the artistic and the commercial. Visitors are invited to toss their small change on the floor, lending a literal and metaphorical interpretation to the project’s name. Like a traditional art exhibition, the store is only temporary.

Shopping carts sit at the storefront while an assortment of buyable curios line the western wall. A cash register sits ready in the back, complete with an Interac machine.

“On est branchés icitte!” cries a volunteer.

Among the items being offered for sale are a full-colour, 144-page retrospective of ATSA’s body of work since 1997, as well as wool socks "to be given with love to someone on the street who needs it,” hankies that advocate tree saving, and used toy cars made into key chains and damaged to echo a series of previously-staged car explosions. Although limited, the merchandise is quirky, thought-provoking, and made in Montreal.

Photographs and mementos from previous interventions adorned the walls in eye-catching fashion. In one corner, a collage of newspaper clippings attests to ATSA’s media-grabbing credentials throughout the decade they’ve been in existence.

CHANGE
was packed to the rafters for the opening party last Thursday evening. The crowd was made up of artists, the curious, and a good number of kids. Annie Roy was on hand to talk about the project’s duality.

“CHANGE is a place for exchange and a play on words,” she said in French. “We give life to inanimate objects through the commercial process. Here, people take off their shoes and walk into a paradox, a place of both cult and derision.”

The concept of an artistic/political/commercial hybrid is nothing new. Started in 2004, Adbusters' Blackspot campaign designed a shoe to resemble Nike's Chuck Taylor All-Stars, but devoid of any logos. Seen as an experiment in "alternative branding," the campaign was met with considerable success. But like Blackspot, CHANGE risks getting criticized for marketing hypocrisy.

"We offer ourselves more as guinea pigs than the Blackspot campaign did," explained Roy. "We are self-branding rather than transforming the products of others. In this manner, we offer deeper reflection on the nature of marketing."

When asked about ATSA’s pertinence today, Roy responded passionately, “We are more relevant than ever. We still feel such a need to create, but we are maturing, we are happy. We’re gaining traction bit by bit and are always looking to make new works.”

After CHANGE, what does a group like ATSA target next?

“The election. We have to stop Harper at any cost,” said Roy. “For me, Quebec is a progressive nation that wants to project art, not bombs, into the world.”

CHANGE will remain open at 4351 Saint-Laurent until Dec. 20.

Discussion

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