A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

October 18, 2017

"I sometimes say I’m too much of an artist for my own good."


There are so many different ways of looking at this question. The world seems to be in quite bad shape these days – though this might have always been the case – and art seems like such a weak response when compared to all the overwhelming injustice and looming catastrophe that confronts us on a daily basis. What is a work of art when compared to rising fascism, climate chaos, the constant and unconscionable abuses of racism, patriarchy and capitalism. Art can often feel like sticking ones head in the sand and I have no real proof that it’s not. What’s worse, art can feel like an alibi for humanity. We might kill, torture, bomb and rape but we can’t be all bad because we also make beautiful things like art. This is normally the part where I’m supposed to come up with the counter-arguments: that art can change peoples hearts and minds. But I’m not so sure that it can, at least not in ways that are significant enough to make a difference. There are no individual solutions to collective problems.

So why do I keep doing it then? I have no good answer. I’m simply an artist (of some sort) and that’s what I’m here to do. I sometimes say I’m too much of an artist for my own good. As well, it might also be true that the ‘crisis of meaning and ambivalence towards art that is endemic within the field’ has little to do with such political questions. We live in strange times (and people in every age and era have also lived in strange times.) So many of the ways people have generated meaning for themselves during previous worlds and eras no longer seem to have the required support. A sense of place, connection and community are all difficult to come by today. (I would say that capitalism needs to destroy these things in order to have our labor when and how they need it for the best possible price.) But I also don’t want to romanticize the past. I suspect meaning has been difficult to come by at every point in history. Especially for those who can see through the empty platitudes that are so often used to stand in for it.

Nonetheless, I think these are important questions for art to ask itself. I’m all for an art that asks itself much harder questions, whatever form they might take.

- from an interview with Heather Jones in Contemporary Art Stavanger


October 17, 2017

that we bear responsibility


We were all raised in a sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic culture. No one is immune from it's influence. We all have these things inside us. They are equally structural and perpetrated by individuals. Those who most benefit from these power dynamics have the most to lose in their undoing, have the most to gain by perpetuating them, and, at the very least, find it easiest not to see the daily injustices they create and perpetuate. But I think change always begins with seeing the overwhelming degree to which power imbalances and hatreds are part of our culture, part of our lives, part of ourselves. And change is always stunted by denying that problems exist and especially in denying that we are a part of them and that we bear responsibility. The people who most benefit have the most to gain from such denials. Yet for anyone who substantially benefits, so often it feels so much better to say or think 'it's not me', it's not me who is being sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic. Or standing by and saying nothing while others do. The first step to honestly fighting injustice is seeing the many ways we are part of it, while - if we are well-meaning - finding strategies to never become paralyzed by this fact, strategies which also lead to action.


October 4, 2017

Jacob Wren / PME-ART in Stavanger, Bergen and Oslo



Every Song I've Ever Written - Solo
Thursday, October 19th, 2017 / 6pm-11pm
Facebook Event


Every Song I've Ever Written - Solo
Saturday, October 21st, 2017 / 6pm-11pm
Meteor Festival
BIT Teatergarasjen / USF Verftet
Facebook Event


Book launches: Polyamorøs Kjærlighetssang & Samferdsel
(Bergen launch for the Norwegian translation of Polyamorous Love Song)
Sunday, October 22nd, 2017 / 1pm
Visningsrommet USF 
Facebook Event


Every Song I've Ever Written - Band Night
Featuring: Elida + Johannes Fjeldstad + Kvit Skit + Second Pest + Craig Wells & Rudi Valdersnes
Monday, October 23rd, 2017 / 10pm-midnight
Meteor Festival
BIT Teatergarasjen / USF Verftet
Facebook Event


Lansering av Jacob Wrens «Polyamorøs kjærlighetssang»
(Launch of the Norwegian translation of Polyamorous Love Song)
Wednesday, October 25th, 7:30pm
Deichmanske bibliotek, Grünerløkka / Schous plass 10
Facebook Event

Every Song I've Ever Written is a project by PME-ART


September 27, 2017

Trophies Are the First to Go: A fiction


[This story was originally published in Raphaëlle de Groot: Rencontres au sommet / The Summit Meetings]

There are things I still have and things I have given away. Of the things I still have I also have lists of the things I still have. Of the things I have given away I now only have the lists. The lists were created with an absolute attention to detail. An attention to detail more detailed than my extremely accurate attention to my own ongoing thoughts. There are thoughts I still have and thoughts I have given away. The border between my thoughts and the objects, the thoughts I still have and the objects I still have, and the thoughts I have given away and the objects I have given away, is a hazy one. A hazy ever-shifting border that gives me little information I am able to make use of. I am beginning to realize that the objects are also thoughts. I understand what is needed and what is needed is wisdom and the objects have wisdom and the objects have thoughts.

The weight of objects is also of the people they belonged to. The objects belonged to me but they also belonged to others. Some of them belonged to others before me and others will belong to others after they are gone. But across this belonging is the freedom of these objects to move, meet and gather both in reality and in a space that is nothing like reality that I am here calling thought. Here we might wish to speak of a certain solidarity between objects, how objects alone can more easily be moved, disassembled or reorganized in a manner that could also be stated as a sort of ongoing misunderstanding between the objects and the world. But when the objects are experienced as concurrent, are allowed to meet, to work together, they also know that now they must be reckoned with. A new complexity develops and it is no longer as unthinkingly possible to do only as we wish. Each object on each list is no longer a single, isolated line but is joined towards some larger, perhaps ungraspable, statement and whole. At times even when things and objects meet it is as if they haven’t quite yet met. Various elements, various subtle and not so subtle conditions, remain necessary in order for the meeting to become more than a meeting that has simply taken place. These conditions might be classified as vibrations or thoughts.

Objects do not die and neither do thoughts. When objects are insecure they become more solid, more themselves. It is difficult to know how to record this additional stability, how to submit it, towards the careful logic of the lists. It is the same object, whether here or gone, but it is also no longer quite the same. It is more, and this more must be recorded along a register of insecurity. This insecurity belongs to each of the individual objects but also belongs to the resonances that occur and refract when they meet. We might understand each object, not only the objects that I know about, that I still have or that have left me, but in fact all things we wish to consider, as having gone through any number of stages. I could be one of these stages or my involvement might be too superficial to merit specific mention. Having been recorded on a list might be yet another stage. Rusting, having been buried, having been loved or stolen or set aflame or given as a gift – all of these occurrences might be considered as stages within the ongoing life of the object.

Most objects consist of varying materials. Each material has a specific origin and when all the materials come together they create a space that might be described as yet another origin. The relationship between the different senses embedded within each of these origins is complex. It might be described as akin to a body that has a home, or many homes, yet within this body there is also a spirit that comes from elsewhere. When the body dies the spirit returns to this elsewhere. But the object, like a thought, never dies, and therefore the materials must find other ways of returning to the place from which they came, chipping off particle by particle, spreading themselves out across an expanse as collaborative and ongoing as the seasons.

We also cannot ignore the fact that each of these materials has been extracted from its connection with other materials using a certain degree of violence. The history of this violence holds itself within the composition of each object. Things change and things stay the same. Holding a given object in your hand, you might feel a resonance or vibration. I am currently, as part of the lists, working on a theory, a sort of poetic spectrum along which it might be possible to map the various qualities of these resonances, both for the holder and for the object. Insecurity and violence might both be seen as specific points or areas along this spectrum. This theorized spectrum will of course be subjective, but it will also express itself as a desire to be universal. At the beginning, the spectrum will only explore an object in the palm of your hand, but I see no reason why from that basic starting point it might not continue outward towards other points of connection both physical and psychic.

It is most productive when the objects choose to work together. The added solidity of their collaboration is a phenomena that I can observe, but it is also a phenomena that significantly changes me in my observation of it. The precise ways in which I am changed are perhaps the point. At first I thought the point was mainly that some objects remained here while other objects have been given away, but now I suspect that this is merely a detail. The objects might find themselves working together either here or elsewhere, at any stage in time, and also in ways that have little to do with time. What is most important is that these things do not need me in order to meet, do not need my observation or categorization. They need only to come together within the thought of solidarity, only to find a certain realm of vibration that adds solidity to each of the objects in dialog with the solidity added to each of the other objects. Once the strengthening has begun there is no reason for the objects to abandon the constellation they have so recently discovered. Over time this constellation also solidifies, and once this has occurred, if the objects are to be moved, it is far more likely that they will be moved all together, as an entirety, and far less likely that any of the individual things will be separated, by me or of their own initiative, from the larger group.

There are many categories of lists and many contradictions between categories. There are lists that clearly undermine the tentative conclusions of other lists, and lists that summarize the findings of several lists in ways in which it is difficult to correlate the overall findings with the specific findings of each of the lists that have been aggregated. When put all together, the lists do not resemble any sort of useful entirety. They are more like thoughts. Nonetheless, compiling the lists is an act that gives meaning. I also suspect, in my more generous moments, that the objects intuit the existence of the many lists, that the lists provide information, information released into a continuum, that creates sympathetic conditions for potential object solidarity and coming together. The lists do not touch the objects but the objects entwine with a world in which the lists are now one additional thing that exist.

The relationship between the actual stages each object must pass through and the poetic spectrum I am gradually conceiving is both essential and under-theorized. Many of the same terms (insecurity, violence, solidity, contentment) appear within both of these speculations. The object has its particular life, a life that is never entirely available to my understanding of it, and within this life there are sections I am here referring to as stages. Some of these stages are fairly dramatic while most are not. A stage might last a single moment or a thousand years but for the object this way of measuring time will likely not affect either the quality or quantity of any particular stage. A stage might most be considered a stage if it in some way alters one or more registers of the object. In this sense it might be said that it tilts against or within a given point along the spectrum. If, when holding an object in your hand, you sense its spectrum-value resonate with what we are currently calling ‘contentment’, it is likely that at some point in either the past or future the object developed through a stage that drew contentment towards it, or generated contentment in some other way. I don’t wish to be vague. But in order to further theorize this dynamic between a given stage and a given moment along the spectrum I would require either thoughts or information not currently in my possession. It might also be possible for the objects themselves to theorize this relationship, and perhaps the manner in which they often form and hold themselves in constellation could even be seen as some form of theorization along these lines.

There is a special list, hidden away, for objects that have caused death. On this list I have also included objects that saved lives. There is no inescapable reason for this list to remain hidden, since the objects take on these experiences, these particular stages, without differentiating them from any of the others. The qualities these more dramatic events evoke or generate become non-dramatic as they are gradually reduced towards the level of vibration, as they are weaved into a region of the object’s poetic spectrum over time. The objects are not traumatized since they themselves do not die. It would be reasonable to assume that this special list might represent intensities of violence, but it also might just as easily evoke something else: for example, intensities of desire or warmth. Nonetheless, this hidden away list represents for me a noticeable, at times troubling, aspect of both the objects that remain here and the objects that have since gone elsewhere. Apart from the lists and my thoughts, there is little evidence or hearsay as to what may or may not have occurred at any given stage. You might hold an object in your hand and sense a certain contentment, or be surrounded by a constellation of objects and feel influenced by the striking echo of their increased solidity, but neither of these experiences provide anything resembling clear information as to the historical source of this contentment or solidity, or as to why it at first emerged. But with the lists at my disposal, working backwards from moments along the spectrum towards past or future stages, I can begin to formulate certain thoughts that merge with the objects themselves towards an ever-increasing understanding of what they are and, more importantly, how they themselves understand the interconnected histories we might in some sense be said to be co-composing. Most of this history, however strongly felt, would be of little interest to anyone other than the objects and myself within the thoughts that circulate freely between us. But when matters of life and death are brought to bear on the situation, it is possible but not inevitable that evidence might alert the curiosity of certain authorities. In keeping this life and death list hidden I worry I’m becoming paranoid, while at the same time reassuring myself that I’m simply exercising a reasonable degree of normal caution.

All of these things didn’t make themselves, but I didn’t make myself either. The materials of which I am made for the most part remain invisible to me, but might be drawn into the realm of visibility through certain forms of analysis. The materials the objects consist of can be subjected to analysis, but can also be felt as vibrations, or registered through co-felt insecurity. This dynamic might also be understood as an unresolved conflict, and over time my understanding of it has also considerably shifted. In trying to understand the importance of the objects and of the constellations they come together and self-organize within – trying to understand through thoughts, through composition of many contradictory lists, through lending myself to the resonances that contemplation of these things so readily concocts – what becomes most clear is that the objects have no particular desires they wish to enact upon me, do not want me to behave more in this way or more in that, do not mind if I continue to experience them or instead some day choose to put my energies elsewhere. The ways I change through them are procured only through my own commitment and contemplation. And, at the same time, it increasingly seems to me that the opposite is also true, that the objects do in some sense have plans for me, if only in the sense that my ongoing engagement with their spectrum brings a certain clarity to my own actions and trajectory. By keeping the objects and letting them go, by letting my thoughts bleed and blur with their ever-changing intensities, I find myself doing things that I suspect I would not have otherwise done, and am therefore forced to realize that the person doing these things is also no longer the same. The objects skilfully wear their wisdom through their solidity and vibrations, and when faced with wisdom one would be a simple fool not to listen and not to learn.

At the moment I am sitting at my desk surrounded by a constellation of objects that formed overnight as if by magic. But, of course, I know that it was not magic. That the objects found each other, and in finding each other became something else, a world that raises almost as many questions as it answers. I can pick up an object in order to feel its weight and examine it, but when I put it back down I already know I will place it more or less within its given place in the larger grouping. These things would not have it any other way. There is a kind of music to these choices. I am tempted to count how many lists I have already completed but know there would be little point. The lists are only lists. It is in the act of making them that certain epiphanies or correlations will occur. Perhaps all of this could have happened without the lists, but the lists were the particular tool I chose. I’m sure I had my reasons and these reasons seemed particularly sufficient at the time. Surrounded by this constellation, I was tempted to write ‘enveloped’ by it, I feel there is at least something in this world that supports me. I might, at times, become lonely but I am certainly not alone. Someone examining the situation from afar might say I have collected these things but I know, to the contrary, that they have collected themselves. They are gifts that have been caught in the act of giving and they are lessons that do not need to be taught in order to be felt. None of these objects have a price.


September 22, 2017

First draft of the Authenticity is a Feeling short description


Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART is a compelling hybrid of history, memoir and performance theory. It tells the story of the interdisciplinary performance group PME-ART and their ongoing endeavor to make a new kind of highly collaborative theatre dedicated to the fragile but essential act of “being yourself in a performance situation.” Written, among other things, to celebrate PME-ART’s twentieth anniversary, the book begins when Jacob Wren meets Sylvie Lachance and Richard Ducharme, moves from Toronto to Montreal to make just one project, but instead ends up spending the next twenty years creating an eccentric, often bilingual, art. It is a book about being unable to learn French yet nonetheless remaining co-artistic director of a French-speaking performance group, about the Spinal Tap-like adventures of being continuously on tour, about the rewards and difficulties of intensive collaborations, about making performances that break the mold and confronting the repercussions of doing so. A novel about PME-ART. A book that aims to change the rules for how interdisciplinary performance can be written about today.

[Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART is a new book I'm currently working on which will be published by BookThug in Spring 2018.]


September 4, 2017

"And whose work has no impact on their lives or the lives of the people around them."


This manual encourages us to find out what happens if we don't deliver. If we don't give students the standard slide show, but instead make them take off their socks and rub their feet with mustard.

We know that spicy feet will not be an instant salvation, but we believe in going outside, in using our bodies and not only our brains, in absurd interventions, in silly jokes, in creating atmospheres, in learning in the gap, in destabilizing our position, in talking about money. We believe in letting things go so wrong that thinking about them ten years later still makes our stomachs hurt.

Because this experimentation is more relevant to us than mindlessly repeating what doesn't work: breeding generations of artists, who religiously believe in self-expression and individualism but look the same, think the same, act the same. And whose work has no impact on their lives or the lives of the people around them.

- Teaching for people who prefer not to teach


August 20, 2017

Three Montreal Events in September


I will be doing three events in Montreal in September as follows: 

Tuesday, September 5th at 8:30pm:
Resonance Reading Series: September
with Stephanie Bolster, Kelly Norah Drukker, Dean Garlick, Christine McNair & Jacob Wren
Resonance Café - 5175A Ave du Parc
Facebook Event

Saturday, September 9th at 8pm:
The Desire that Crosses You / Le Désir qui Te Traverse
Presented by the QUIMERAS collective
with Sophia Dacy-Cole, Camille Käse, Csenge Kolozsvari, Mayra Morales, Mariana Marcassa, Eugene Park, Claire Skahan, Ludmila Steckelberg de Santana, Anique Vered & Jacob Wren
Eastern Bloc - 7240 Clark St
Facebook Event

Saturday, Sept 16th at 2pm:
Hard to Read: Process/processus
A bilingual event presented by Art Pop/POP Montreal Symposium
with Michele Nox, Alix Ferrand, Jacob Wren, Monique Palma Whittaker, Durga Chew-Bose, Trevor Gould / curated by Fiona Duncan
Ancienne École des beaux-arts - 3450, rue Saint-Urbain
Facebook Event


August 17, 2017

Stuart Hall Quote


Contrary to common-sense understanding, the transformations of self-identity are not just a personal matter. Historical shifts out there provide the social conditions of existence of personal and psychic change in here. What mattered was how I positioned myself on the other side - or positioned myself to catch the other side: how I was, involuntarily, hailed by and interpellated into a broader social discourse. Only by discovering this did I begin to understand that what black identity involved was a social, political, historical and symbolic event, not just a personal, and certainly not simply a genetic, one.

From this I came to understand that identity is not a set of fixed attributes, the unchanging essence of the inner self, but a constantly shifting process of positioning. We tend to think of identity as taking us back to our roots, the part of us which remains essentially the same across time. In fact identity is always a never-completed process of becoming - a process of shifting identifications, rather than a singular, complete, finished state of being.

- Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger 


August 13, 2017

“If the Soviet Union could dissolve, why not the United States?”


In this spirit Cherríe Moraga remains “passionately committed to an art of resistance to domination by Anglo-America.” And what is her vision for the future? She says the words few people utter aloud: “If the Soviet Union could dissolve, why not the United States?” Why not, indeed? And why not a new confederacy of equal, mutually respectful cultures and peoples? “The road to our future is the road from our past.”

- Elizabeth Martínez, The Third Eye of Cherríe Moraga