Artist Archive

2009-2010. Adaptive Actions. INFLEXIONS IN THE GENERIC CITY, 2002-2003




Jean-François Prost spent five months scouring and infiltrating generic places with the help of a specially constructed set-up. Begun in Granby as part of the Supra Rural residency program at 3e impérial, the project continues at the 2002 Biennale de Montréal he opened an office for six weeks, where he was present to document the places under study and share impressions with visitors in the course of casual discussions.

Jean-François Prost resorts to mimesis in one of his extramural projects. From April 15 to June 15, 2002, during his residency at the 3e impérial, and in following autumn at the Biennale in Montreal, the artist occasionally parked his white camper van in the parking lots of various shopping malls in the suburbs of Montreal and in Montérégie. This perfectly ordinary vehicle, concealed the fact that the interior was covered in styrofoam, which, despite the limited space, created a comfort zone reminiscent of a makeshift bedroom or a hotel room. Prost spent time there – sometimes entire days – sheltered from the traffic and surrounding activity. He read, wrote, thought, and sometimes received guests. He also took opportunity to visit the big commercial strips, where he collected observations on their layout. During these excursions, he sometimes left the rear door of the van open, exposing the unusual interior to the passing consumers. Prost says that he sometimes found, upon his return, people sitting around in the van – an indication of the vehicle’s agreeable interior.
As the title suggests, the aim of the project was to modify the use of the ‘generic city’ – the identical architecture of the urban an suburban agglomerations that are found throughout North America, from Montreal to Mississauga to Seattle. The phenomenon is widespread (as observed in the uniformity of fast-food chains in both their design and their products), - but the proliferation of vast commercial complexes at the edge of cities is one of the most significant manifestations of this homogenization of the urban landscape. Prost explains that the layout of Wal-Mart and Costco branches are planned right down to the smallest details, so that to shop in Longeuil, Philadelphia or Los Angeles, is to be subtly forced to use the same perceptual routines and to exercise one’s choice from a predetermined set of options; the experience of the city as something unique is blanked out, negating all local identity.


This generic city has an unequivocal normativeness that Prost wants to thwart; he seeks to express his disagreement in situ and in vivo, to pit himself against the dependency that it induces. In order to do so, he allowed himself to loiter, without being a consumer, in a place where the entire spatial structure is devoted to consumerism. He tested the potential of his van to occupy a spot without being noticed. The parking lots, despite their appearance of good-natured receptivity to consumers, are private and not public spaces, and are thus discreetly supervised. He used a place of transit as a place for dallying, and so suspended productive and goal-oriented time in order to create an enclave of free time in which the tactic norms are momentarily eclipsed. Prost thus created a kind of cell hollowed out of the very public space that is the most exposed, a place that is in principale the least inhabitable spot of all (the flat and empty space of a parking lot). The white van became, by means of its anonymity and banality, a mimetic tool, the Trojan horse of a subtle, critical dissent that allowed him to establish an alternative use of the site.

Here we observe the double phenomenon of the indiscernible and undecidable. The average shopper would be unlikely to perceive the vehicle as the site of artistic activity, or to recognize a work in progress in the calm, observant presence of this young man who was
often found reading, observing, or taking. What in fact was the nature of Prost’s project? Was it urban research mixed in with a new kind of ethnography? Was it an individual act of resistance to the market? A work of conceptual art? It was probably all these at once.

We notice in all of these projects that the object is placed without artistic mediation, it tends to blend to its surroundings in such a way as to reduce the effect of its intrusion. Far from actively attracting notice, the work seems to lie in wait in the public space, as though designed to take the unaware observer by surprise. Such a practice involves a play that hovers between dissimulation (because interventions mostly avoid the spectacular and are somewhat secretive) and irruption (because, the moment it is perceived, the gesture or object appears as a disruptive anomaly in the unusual order of things).

Prost’s work, as described above, also participates in the second kind of undecidability mentioned earlier. Here the work is more of site-specific activity than a form of representation; it is more a way of testing a particular context that has inspired the artist to experience it concretely. The van is thus a means of organizing a period of time, and preparing a use of place, different from those anticipated by the parking lot and the shopping mall. Whereas MacLean’s and Bélanger’s interventions consisted of the objects or gestures occupying space, this second type of intervention takes place in time, activating a process that occurs in lived reality.

Patrice Loubier, Shortcuts and ambushes, Forms of Undecidability in Contempory Art Interventions from the book: The Undecidable, Gaps and Displacements of Contemporary Art, 2008, ESSE editions,




















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