Like many artists, Montreal writer and multidisciplinary artist, Taien Ng-Chan sees her work as an opportunity to interrogate the world around us, to reach the public, and to work towards a more progressive society. Although she questions whether or not art can actually make an impact in our collective cultural consciousness, or change anything politically, she’s willing to try. As she says, “looking back, historical art movements do seem to end up gaining traction in ways that seem important in hindsight, so we’d better keep doing it, just in case.”

Indeed, Ng-Chan was part of last year’s massive student uprising in Québec, a movement that saw thousands mobilize–first in response to the provincial government’s plan to raise tuition at post-secondary institutions, and then in response to the same government’s oppressive strategies to keep the protests under control. Ultimately what happened in what was called “le printemps érable,” or the “maple spring” (in keeping with the name the Arab Spring), resulted in a provincial election that brought down Québec’s Liberal government. At first it seemed like the incoming Parti Québécois would bring new hope; instead they wore the red square – symbol of the student movement – and at first cancelled the tuition hikes, but they also cut the province’s education budget, and then ended up imposing tuition hikes anyway. Ng-Chan comments that it’s easy to grow cynical when politicians can be so duplicitous; however, she also suggests that it’s important to keep building community to affect change in small ways, and art is just another way to accomplish this.

While it was the student movement that was behind the mass protests in Québec, Ng-Chan and other artists were there to witness and register the undoing of a government that did not respond to its citizens’ calls for post-secondary education to be a spending priority. Along with so many others, Ng-Chan was outraged, as she says, at the corruption of government that allowed corporations to get tax cuts, while education, healthcare, and social programs were being slashed. Clearly, it is important to keep bringing attention to these issues through whatever medium one has at his/her disposal.

Ng-Chan, who is herself a Humanities doctoral student, studying film production, film studies, and art history at Concordia University, has been known to use her platform as an artist to illustrate various social issues. She describes, for example, how her interest in maps and geography brought her to investigate what is known in Montréal as the Acadie Fence. This landmark is a long fence that literally separates two neighborhoods: one affluent and mostly comprised of Anglophones, and one comprised of much less wealthy immigrant families. Using photography as her main medium, Ng-Chan made an extremely long collage that represents the whole fence with insets that explore different elements of the fence from a social perspective. This project can be viewed on Ng-Chan’s website here.

Ng-Chan also has other social concerns: notably, she worries about the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the environment we live in. Using the medium of video poem, Ng-Chan aptly expresses her concerns in her work “Orange,” which was released as part of a CD-ROM of video poems along with her book Maps of Our Bodies and the Borders We Have Agreed On. “Orange” can be viewed below.

Ng-Chan muses that artists and activists cannot be in the streets every day all the time, as they were during last year’s student uprising; however, she notes, the work towards a progressive society still needs to be done, and art is one way of figuring out how this work is to be done.

Taien Ng-Chan’s video “Orange”:


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