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Local context

  1. Canadian Immigration Law, particularly the skilled worker category, is formulated in terms of human capital. The foreigner is evaluated on a point system to determine their adaptability and social worthiness in Canadian society.

  2. Nickel Arts Museum holds a significant numismatic collection, especially strong in Roman imperial coinage. At the same time instruments of propaganda, imperial identity cards and tools for the homogenization of conquered provinces, the links between coinage, power, sovereignty, warfare and symbolic authority are complex. Multiple contradictory systems of valuation come into play when considering these coins.

  3. Art auction taking place in the adjacent area of the Museum, consisting mostly of Canadian regional artists. During the auction, the value of Canadian-ism fluctuates as different bids are made. An exhibition entitled “Beyond the Beauty” is partially de-installed by the artists, leaving some works and fragments of didactic text on the walls, referring to notions of beauty and the Canadian landscape: the link between vision and nationhood.

  4. MS:2 Mountain Standard Time Performance Festival. As part of a larger performance festival, this social performance develops through a week of workshops with local participants to conduct a location-specific examination of "naturalization".

Local populations:

  1. Non-participants: refuse to give up their ID at the main entrance of the venue, and participate only in the auction. Agents do not grant non-participants access to performance area.

  2. Participants: are visibly marked by the valuation cards they carry around their necks, which they obtain at the front door of the museum in exchange for their ID’s. These cards grant participants access to performance area, and also contain specific directions for participation.

  3. Agents : recruited from workshops held at the University of Calgary and the Canadian Catholic Immigration Society. Workshop participants brought their life experience and understanding of citizenship to the performance: they helped define the questions, procedures and roles involved in supervising and controlling the entire venue. Agents and workshop participants are both Canadians and immigrants applying for citizenship or refugee status.

Description/Phases of the Event:

  1. At the main entrance, an agent greets and requests ID’s in exchange for a valuation card. Based on the ID, numbers are assigned designating an origin and a destination position on a grid.

  2. Past the auction and into the space of the procedure proper, agents check for valuation cards, give directions.

  3. Participants navigate the grid according to strict rules. In each position, they answer questions and give themselves points. Floor agents are overly “helpful”: cards are repeatedly checked, and may be voided for technical errors, returning the participant to the origin position and confiscating all points.

  4. Periodically, a disbursing agent converts points into coins: participants are paid for their progress. Periodically, participants are asked to count their own coinage, or have points in the negative: they risk having to pay the agents.

  5. Participants must raise their hand to attract the attention of an agent; they may not leave the grid without agent authorization.

  6. Points and moneys are tallied at the accounting table; disputes are settled.

  7. Participants cue at the evaluation table where they are told they do not have enough points to re-acquire their identification. A negotiation ensues. Extra points may be acquired by demonstrating special skills or valuable contributions one could bring to society, which will be evaluated on a sliding or elastic scale. Participants negotiate individually, offering such demonstrations as recipes, language skills, lesson plans, poetry, dramatic monologues, legal expertise, musical performances.

  8. A “ PENDING” tag is stamped and tied to the index finger of the participant, who is instructed to wait for further notification of status. Participants are not free to leave the space, unless they forfeit their ID’s.

  9. After 1 hour 15 min, all agents leave the space. Lights dim. Participants continue to await instructions, they have been abandoned by the system. After 10-15 minutes, the first participants venture outside of the authorized area in search of answers.

  10. All agents are at the front door of the building, returning ID’s. It takes the last participants over 30 minutes to leave the grid without authorization.


Thanks to everyone at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, especially Fariborz Birjandian, Barbara Wiebe, Esperanza Montalvo, Gile Mehanzel (our agent) and Viktor Safronov, for their expertise and invaluable creativity during workshops. Thanks to Paul Woodrow’s entire class from the University of Calgary for their workshop participation, and especially to our agents: Chad, Justin, Scott and John. Performance artist Jonathan, our accountant agent, has our gratitude, as does anyone who can supply us with last names for proper acknowledgement. Other agents included John Frosst, Kay Burns, John Burchie and Anita Ponton, whose collaboration and contributions were invaluable. John Hails, thanks for working on the multi-media aspect of the exhibit. Inspiration, insight, project support and more, generously provided by Calvin Burns.

This project made possible by MS:2 Mountain Standard Time Festival of Performance Art.