On October 14 and 15, Mitchell Larsen and Megan Zong will present Museum Studies, a series of movement-based performances taking place throughout the museum.
With shared experience in dance, theatre, and performance art, their creative collaboration was developed through elements of play and improvisation while drawing on various histories of performance art, with a focus on feminist and queer practices. The artists will be developing works for the unique physical architecture of the museum and will be conducting public rehearsals in the weeks leading up to their performance.
Their project is the culmination of Here and Now, a year-long engagement with Remai Modern that seeks to support local artistic practice in the realm of performance.
We asked Megan and Mitchell about their multi-modal practice and how they’ve prepared for their latest collaboration.
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your practice.
I’m a BIPOC multi-disciplinary artist who primarily works as an actor but has recently branched into playwrighting and producing as well. I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a BFA in acting. Although born and raised in Saskatoon, I currently split my time between the prairies and the west coast for most of my work. Because of my long and varied experience taking dance growing up, I have found that movement-based storytelling is a form I naturally gravitate towards when creating. As a performer, much of the work that excites me involves high degrees of physical and vocal characterization.
Having collaborated with Mitchell on a few movement-based projects now, I have come to really appreciate performance art. I find a lot of joy in being able to design costumes, set and props. I find a lot of inspiration from seeing the different exhibits in art galleries such as Remai Modern.
I’m a queer genderfluid artist based in Saskatoon. My primary passion is the creation and proliferation of new works. Some of my influences include spoken word poetry, modern dance, theatre, clown and recently, mime. I love research, collaboration — anything that connects me to other people and the world at large.
What drew you to live arts or performing?
I’ve always been immersed in art ever since I was a child. Growing up, my parents enrolled me in many extra-curricular activities such as drawing, dance, choir, and piano lessons. However, it wasn’t until high school that I found my passion for theatre. This discovery led me to pursue acting in university and I have never looked back since.
Through stories, we can learn about ourselves and the world around us. When a story is told right, it can make us feel deeply and evoke new thoughts and layers of understanding.
I often tell people that my favourite thing about being an actor is that it makes me a better person—by becoming different characters, you get to tap into their emotions, their inner psyche, and find out why they behave a certain way. Through this process, you get a glimpse of someone else’s life and can learn from it.
Humanity needs art. Empathy and love are the most important attributes of what makes us human. Being an artist, I get to bask in the beauty of that every day.
I was originally drawn to live art and performance pretty young. My mother was a singer and actor and my father was a musician and pastor, so drama was basically the name of the game. I remember helping choreograph feather boa tricks for a piano solo my mother was doing for a small town theatre show, doing puppet improv at schools and libraries, playing flute in front of a church-full of folks and writing my own song about talking to people on the phone just like Jesse from Full House. I really enjoyed the fun and the play of it — the act of creating with someone.
What is your primary medium?
My primary artistic medium is theatre but I find that much of the work I do has a blend of different art forms. As an actor, most of the shows I have been involved in have been musicals which have elements of acting, singing, and dancing. However, the visual arts have always been an integral part of my life as well. Ever since I was old enough to use a crayon, I would draw pictures and write stories. In my spare time, I enjoy crafting and being able to make personalized cards and gifts for my family and friends.
Being able to create something from scratch is something I find both mentally stimulating and at times artistically challenging. Recently, having moved out on my own, I have discovered how much I love cooking. For me, it is another artistic outlet in which I can express myself. The culinary arts are my new fascination as I spend hours in my kitchen chopping and mixing ingredients together to form a new product which will ultimately be consumed and hopefully enjoyed by myself and my friends.
Like a baker mixing together eggs, flour, and butter; I am an artist mixing together different mediums of art with the intention of creating something both exciting, unique, and palatable.
I would say that my primary medium is interdisciplinary performance. I’m really fascinated by the ways in which different art forms complement one another. Each form has its own strengths and challenges and in their combination there’s a lot of potential to create works that can impact the viewer from different angles.
What have you been working on lately?
Lately I have been busy submitting and auditioning for theatre shows and mentorship opportunities. I have also made it a priority to go and see a lot of theatre and movies as I believe that is one of the best ways to learn and develop our critical eye as an artist. Meeting new people and forming connections in a new city (Vancouver) has also been an exciting adventure for me. As for my long-term goal, I hope that spending time in both Saskatoon and Vancouver will allow newfound inspiration as I continue to learn and grow as an artist.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of theatre. I learned a bunch of French for a role at La Troupe du Jour; performed for my second year in Theatre in the Park; associate produced and performed in Logan Martin-Arcand’s The Gay Card for Live Five; completed a year-long mentorship in mime with Frank Engel and an extended mentorship in playwriting with Gordon Portman. I love theatre because, like performance art, it is an exceptionally broad category that allows me to indulge in a lot of different interests. I can dive as deep as I can into a particular subject (recently skating) over a period of time and then before it gets boring I can explore something new.
Why did you apply to Here and Now?
While working together on Tino Sehgal’s piece Yet untitled at the Remai, we noticed the call for the Here and Now program. This got us talking about past projects that we collaborated on, one in particular—Lipstick. Through movement, design, and improvisation, we explored the theme of gender.
As a child growing up, gender was described to me in very black and white terms. I felt so certain about my identity because I was never taught about what existed beyond what was traditionally considered female and male. It wasn’t until university that I became more curious about all of the nuances that make up a person’s identity, including my own.
In society there are gendered norms which people will follow and that is true even in dance. Thinking about my own experiences in studio dance growing up, there were always more boys in the hip hop class compared to the one boy in ballet class. Breaking down movement further, it is easy to see that free-flowing and graceful movements are prescribed to be feminine while hard-hitting and sharp movements are prescribed to be masculine.
With the Here & Now program, it is my goal to deviate away from my own habitual tendencies (feminine movement) by exploring more masculine movement. I want to challenge myself to move in a way that may be described as “ugly” or “uncomfortable” and to push myself to explore impulses that take me out of my comfort zone and require a great deal of vulnerability. Lastly, I want to explore non-gendered movement in the process of creating something new.
Growing up in a mix of small cities and rural Saskatchewan, I didn’t have a great grasp on gender diversity. There were moments of feeling constricted and moments of feeling free. Moments of feeling home and moments of feeling so lost and alone that I felt like some sort of alien.
Over the past few years I’ve had incredible experiences of connecting personally and professionally with a diverse range of people who openly identify with a variety of gender identities. It’s been these incredible people who have allowed me to more fully see myself, to explore who I am within and how I want to live in relation to others, including openly identifying as a genderfluid and genderqueer person.
Over the course of the project, the ways in which I’ve engaged with gender have morphed dramatically. I’ve come to realize that I bring myself and my gender complexity to everything I do. When creating art that incorporates my full self, I am intrinsically creating genderqueer art.
At a time where my existence is viewed by some as threatening or dangerous, I sometimes find myself wanting to hide, to disappear. I continue to remind myself of the bravery of my gender-nonconforming colleagues and friends and I work to stay present, to connect and survive.
What are you planning to do during this project?
While exploring gendered and non-gendered movement, I will create new architectural spaces and wearable architecture using the pre-existing black stools in the Remai Modern gallery. The idea to utilize the black stools came to me while Mitchell and I were being silly and seeing how many black stools we could stack on each other. Little did we know at the time that this would become the origin of my project. As a creator, I find that most of the time the best ideas come to me when I am having fun collaborating with others.
While using the black stools has been challenging at times, it has also been very rewarding when you can fit “x” amount of chairs on yourself and still move around. It makes me feel like a tightrope walker balancing and trying to stay calm while my internal dialogue is, “Don’t fall. Whatever you do, don’t fall.”
As I reach the final stages of my process, I will continue to live out my circus dreams while keeping in mind some main themes that I will be exploring: transformation, oppression, and interconnection.
Over the course of an AKA Artist-Run/PAVED Arts residency, we created an experience of a life-sized dollhouse with ourselves as the dolls. Inspired by children’s dress-up felt boards, we constructed paper costumes that used interlocking 2-dimensional shapes that came apart to form various outfits.
Acknowledging my gender dysphoria, we decided to break outside of that structure. With my dear friend and life-long collaborator, Lautaro Reyes, I explored costume and architecture as a method of expressing gender defiance and euphoria for LUGO All Together Now.
Megan and I researched various movements and artists throughout the history of performance art and explored themes of metamorphosis and suspension. I enrolled in aerial sling classes, purchased a slack line and began suspending myself from various places in the gallery and the city.
Currently I am developing a system of 10 minute micro-commissions, wherein I will create short dances, songs and poems based on gallery-goer requests.
What did you enjoy the most throughout your Here and Now journey?
Everything about this program and the pieces I am working on excites me. I look forward to every work session and opportunity that I have to develop my project further. Every conversation I have in collaboration with Mitchell and Troy brings the idea closer to fruition. At this point, I have a solid framework as to what my pieces will look like, what I hope people will gain from the experience, and why I am doing it.
Working in collaboration with Mitchell has been an amazing experience. They are such a good sounding board for me to run ideas by. Working with Mitchell is effortless — it often feels like our minds and hearts are constantly firing at the same pace. This artistic chemistry that we have together is rare and precious. Every time we collaborate together, I look forward to the next time we get to do it again. Working on my pieces has made me hopeful, inspired, and motivated to do more performance art in the future.
I cannot wait to share my pieces with an audience and to see how they interact with what is being created. My hope is for gallery goers to walk away feeling excited and challenged.
I am really excited to be working with Megan again on this project. She is one of my most consistent, long term collaborators and a dear friend. We’ve been a part of a lot of different projects together—theatre, dance, and performance art. Each time it’s a gift. The brilliance, artistry and beaming positivity that she brings to everything she does is as pleasant as it is inspiring. Which is to say, working with Megan is like going on an adventure with your friend from childhood: the one who helped you craft worlds from furniture and blankets; that had you running through hallways, and climbing up walls; the one that made you feel safe, and surrounded by infinite possibilities.
About Here and Now
Building off the success of its pilot project in 2021, Remai Modern launched a program that supports local artistic practice in the realm of live arts. Here and Now: A Live Arts Initiative engages up to three artists for a one-year period.
Successful applicants receive financial supports, access to museum resources and opportunities for informal mentorships with guest artists, cultural workers and community leaders. The museum works in collaboration with each artist to develop a program of activities including research, artist talks, workshops, and the development and presentation of new work or work in progress.
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.