John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Even for performance art, this is pretty weird.
Is this what Spider-Man will be like once he hits 70?
In a double-slap to the eyeballs, a flock of old people recently descended upon Montreal to roost on the sides of buildings like huge insects. They sat on white chairs that were somehow stuck to the 90-degree surfaces, engaged in activities best described as "surreal mundane." One elderly woman folded laundry on her lap before carefully stacking it on her head. Others smoked cigarettes, read the newspaper, arranged flowers and, in the case of one happy grandpa, rocked out to an unknown rhythm with his hands.
The bending of the known laws of public space was performed by German choreographer Angie Hiesl, who in the 90s began mounting the elderly high up on facades for a long-running performance piece called "X-Times People Chair." Hiesl arranged the Montreal mind-screw in late May for the city's Festival TransAmériques, using performers within the geriatric sweet spot of 60 to 70 years old. The fest's organizers have cheekily dubbed her project "Old Masters," and describe it's concept thus:
Twenty feet above the sidewalk, white chairs are attached to the walls of buildings in the Latin Quarter, with ten senior citizens sitting on them.... All of them appear to be floating above everyday concerns, their strange position adding an enchanting note to the cityscape. Old age becomes urban poetry, insisting that we stop and take a look.
Affixed to the façades of buildings on St. Denis Street, they are an evocative display of passing time, blurring distinctions so that life becomes art. Some might walk by without noticing them, but others will raise their heads and stop to gaze at this surprising image of mature angels adding a touch of grace to the urban space.
Hiesl's goal apparently is to make us appreciate the elderly as works of art. While I can see how this performance accomplished that mission, when I'm in an art museum I've never fretted so much that a painting could slip off the wall: