Artist Spotlight: Collectif Bus 1.2.3

The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most. We want to highlight the work and voices of local artists and organizations to inspire and encourage further conversation, collaboration and engagement throughout the Canadian creative community.

The Collectif Bus 1.2.3 is a multigenerational, multi-lingual and multimedia artist collective whom utilize unique participatory approaches to explore questions of identity in a polycultural society. This week’s Artist Spotlight feature highlights some of the most recent works from the collective, as shared by Dominique Banoun.

Q: Your most recent works converges theatre and multimedia to explore the relationship between language, identity and communication. Can you share a little more about your approach to this project?

Our latest production, “Babel-o-drome NUGEN”, is an online performance bringing together interdisciplinary members of our collective. This particular piece relies on several languages – oral, textual, visual and sounds – to create a specific style of scenic writing.

The themes proposed by “Babel-o-drome NUGEN” are current and urgent. The question at the heart of the show: “what is our own reality when around us, fiction and reality collide?” An army of social, political and commercial networks spread their version of the world in real time around the globe. They’ve invaded the virtual space, our physical space and are stepping into our mental space.

We want to explore the effects of globalization by questioning our relationship to all forms of media as rapporteurs and interpreters of current events. These means of mass communication interpret our world and, as a by-product, interpret us as well: they reflect a filtered image of ourselves, manipulated and distorted according to the needs of the cause which they serve (political, touristic, economic …). In doing so, they try to redefine us. Who are we when faced with this hyper-mediatisation of the world and ourselves? The loss of our own identity, an identity formulated by us and not by their manipulative pressures, is imminent. In other words, who we are is being determined by others and who’s to tell what’s real and what’s fiction.

Q: Can you share a little about how the pandemic and physical distancing measures affected your ability to collaborate on this performance?

The collective was preparing to present Babel-o-drome this past summer at the Toronto Fringe festival. We had the collaboration of the Toronto Railway Museum and were going to perform the work on the expansive grounds of the museum; utilising the trains, cabooses, turntable platform and train stations as places for interactive scenes. The Element choir —with whom we’ve been collaborating on this piece and performing it together in various locations including Toronto, Montreal and Hamilton since 2018 —was going to be part again of this in situ version. Then the pandemic hit.

At first, it was disorienting because we weren’t sure whether the festival would take place. The lockdown at the time was just going to be for a couple of weeks. Then, as the lockdown extended, as the physical festival was cancelled, and all kinds of distancing and mask-wearing restrictions were implemented, there was a feeling among members of the collective that we should at least get together virtually. Zoom conferencing technology was suddenly ubiquitous. Everyone was using it and we decided to experiment with the possibilities and the constraints of the platform. The Fringe festival decided to hold a virtual festival after all with all the proceeds shared equally among all participants. We took a chance and said we would participate, not knowing what final form it would take. We soon realized Zoom was not optimal for music played by several performers. We had to pause our relationship with the Element choir and work only with the six performers of the collective.

It was hard to transform the piece into an online live performance. We’re used to occupying a large space and having physical interaction between performers, choristers and audience members. Suddenly, everyone was in a little square box facing the screen. We explored which scenes we could convert to an online Zoom format, what virtual backgrounds we could add, what presentation styles would work and how to record them. There were several failed attempts but eventually, we started to enjoy our virtual get-togethers sharing puns and stories. As we became familiar with the platform, the scenes started taking shape and there were several scenes that we improvised. As the fringe festival requested pre-recorded videos rather than livestreamed performances, it gave us a chance to tighten some of the scenes in editing. We ended up making two twenty minute videos, subtitled in French and English (which was a lengthy process!). They were broadcast as part of the festival and later as part of Culture Days’ online festival. We’re now actively looking to having these stand-alone works broadcast in other online venues.

Collectif Bus 1.2.3 BBL GEN 1

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Collectif Bus 1.2.3 BBL GEN 2


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“We have taken several scenes from ”Babel-o-drome” and have reworked them to fit into a recorded performance via zoom that we rearranged in order to create a show full of personal stories, anecdotes and thoughts about our multigenerational and multicultural backgrounds. From Iran, to Montreal, through Russia and France, the collective is questioning and enlightening some aspects of their everyday life and experience in Canada.” – Dominique Banoun

Q: How do you envision the future of in- person/ interactive events like dance and art shows and live music events, given physical distancing measures, masks, and reduced capacity of indoor spaces? Is the future all digital?

It’s very hard to know what future live events will look like. In the summer, it’s easier to organize events outdoors, limiting the number of people who attend and ensuring everyone wears masks, even the performers. But in our case, for “Babel-o-drome” —our interactive promenade with choristers, performers and audience members interacting closely— we’re still working on an alternative, in addition to our online videos version. It may include a smaller choir, all performers and audience members wearing masks and direct interactions between them kept at the prescribed distance at all times. As for the new piece “Post-Humanum”, the first phase is planned for performances inside a theatre where it’ll be easier to control spacing between audience members. Our costumes will also include some kind of face mask or covering. Because of the restrictions on the number of audience allowed, we may have to present our work in shorter sections to allow for multiple shows the same day, to make the best use of the theatre rental costs.

Other live events are presenting hybrid versions, part digital, part live, with drive-ins seeming to be the preferred presentation format. Some are doing live zoom shows from their living-room and favouring a much closer contact with the virtual audience, bringing them into the show by asking them to share personal stories connected to the theme of the performance. Others are finding ways to have the audience stay in their “bubble” by performing to people watching the show from hotel balconies. Because of these examples, we don’t believe live events will only be digital. Artists are creative and we will find new and old means of connecting in innovative ways. 

Festival PhÈnomena. Images Courtsey of Collectif Bus 1.2.3.


    Terms Used:

    Polycultural – (Polyculturalism) is an ideological approach to the consequences of intercultural engagements within a geographical area which emphasizes similarities between, and the enduring interconnectedness of, groups which self-identify as distinct, thus blurring the boundaries which may be perceived by members of those groups. (via Wikipedia)

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    About the Author: Meagan Barnes

    Meagan is a content contributor and partnerships coordinator for artsUNITE/UNITÉ des arts. Prefers flora over fauna.

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