Art that gives the most vulnerable a voice

October 8, 2014

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To give a voice to Montreal’s homeless people, Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko is presenting a video projection during the Biennale de Montréal 2014. Homeless Projection: Place des Arts is an art project that features 25 homeless people who spend time at St. Michael’s Mission and in the Quartier des Spectacles. They will tell their stories every evening on the Théâtre Maisonneuve wall.

We spoke with Krzysztof Wodiczko and George Greene, the director of St. Michael’s Mission.

How did the Homeless Projection project originate?

Krzysztof Wodiczko : I was surprised to learn that homelessness was such a large problem in Montreal. In my work, I generally expose situations and give marginalized people a chance to state their point of view, or simply be seen. My aim with Homeless Projection is to make the public see the homeless as human beings who simply live in different conditions than most of us. And no one is immune to the risk of winding up homeless. My project gives these people an opportunity to speak, open up, tell us the truth about their lives. Through art, we see them and listen to them. Usually it’s homeless people who watch us, often from the ground, looking upward. I wanted to turn the tables and put them above us. We are below and must turn our gaze upward to see them. My work is not aimed at solving complex social problems; the purpose is to help make people more aware.

George Greene : The project was presented to me in January, with the explanation that the idea was to show the society of which homeless people are an integral part. I couldn’t help but agree with the idea.

How did the homeless people respond to the project?

K.W. : We met them several times. It was impossible, given the context, to get together just once and stick a microphone in their face. We had to build trust. It was not an interview, it was a conversation. After a few meetings and a lot of time spent just listening, we went into the studio at Centre Phi to make the videos. Some of them told us the experience was therapeutic for them.

G.G. : They were all very happy to talk about their lives. Krzysztof was able to restore some of their pride. They felt that someone was listening.

Is art is essential to dealing with issues around marginalization?

K.W. : More and more. We can always spend money, but the key is to communicate, to share experiences. And art is often the way to do that. Any form of therapy needs to be a marriage of medicine and art. The 25 people we see in Homeless Projection became my co-artists. They are the foundation of the work. They think, they open up, they give the best of themselves. They testify, they talk about their experience in public. That is the cornerstone of democracy: being able to speak one’s own truth in public even if it might seem inappropriate.

G.G. : This project was really a godsend for St. Michael’s Mission. For hunger, we have food. But culture allows us to touch men’s and women’s souls. This is absolutely essential today.

Homeless Projection : Place des Arts
Krzysztof Wodiczko
October 8 to November 23

Co-produced by the MACM, the Quartier des Spectacles and the Phi Centre, in collaboration with St. Michael’s Mission.

Part of La Biennale de Montréal 2014