Fillip 20 — Fall 2015

Yvonne Rainer, Hand Movie, 1966. 8 mm film.

Parachute: 1975–2007 and Its Afterlife
Chantal Pontbriand and Amy Zion

Amy Zion – Why don’t we start this conversation by working backward, beginning with the year Parachute ended—2007—which is coincidentally the same year I began at Fillip. At that time, I remember Parachute as the magazine that gave Canada a remarkable reputation in the arts internationally, and yet (and this is perhaps only a rumour) by its conclusion, I had heard that you were still only making something like twenty-five thousand dollars per year as the editor. Is this true?

Chantal Pontbriand – Not even! [laughs] No, that wasn’t the case, it was much less ...I always had to have another “real” job in order to do Parachute.

Zion – OK, but there is or was this rumour that you had claimed to produce the magazine under precarious conditions, and yet it was helping the GDP of your country, so to end the magazine in effect was a political statement, given those conditions. Is there any truth to this rumour?

Pontbriand – No, it was not a political statement; it is a complex issue. The decision to interrupt the publication was in fact based on very realistic and basic reasons—essentially financial reasons, which is what we announced at the time in a press release. We had founded Parachute in 1975 at a time when hardly anyone in the world could produce a magazine unless they had a financial backer or governmental support. We were in a country, Canada, where it went in the direction of governmental support, because there was no one who would decide to support a publication venture—as could be the case in a place like Paris or New York, for instance. And there was still no one like that even in 2007 when we decided it was best to end the magazine.

Here, in Europe now, you are seeing magazines such as Kaleidoscope or Mousse that are essentially backed by private funders. We could not find anyone like that in Canada. We could not even find anyone like that now, even though it has been seven or eight years since we had to interrupt the publication. Private funding is not sufficiently developed, or does not really exist, in Canada for contemporary art at this point. And, on the other hand, public support is diminishing in two ways: in the sense that there are many more clients than there used to be in every discipline and in every field in the arts. So for agencies like the Canada Council for the Arts or the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec there are more people asking for funding, even if some organizations have been funded for a long time. The increase in funding annually has not followed the increase in demand.

Other problems occurred. Around 2000, postal costs went up a great deal. That was after the oil crisis in the ’90s when everything such as plane tickets and transportation generally began to rise globally in cost. It came at a bad time since we started increasing our international circulation with the new formula initiated in the fall of 2000.

Also, we faced a third problem, which was the fact that both the Quebec and the Canada councils started to calculate much more precisely how much local content was in the magazine and how much foreign content was in the magazine.

Zion – That calculation is still in place in their publishing program and it is something to which Fillip must adhere as a funding requirement, but I didn’t realize that this content quota emerged as recently as 2000?

Pontbriand – I would say it began around 2000. So that became a problem, because we were always an international magazine and the richness of Parachute was to have both international and Canadian content. From the start that was an objective, to put Canadian artists and the Canadian art scene in the context of the wider, international scene, in order to increase interest in Canadian artists. Because it is a very simple rule—it is a marketing rule in my opinion—that people first recognize what they know, so with Europe and the United States, they could recognize this or that artist who we were publishing in the magazine, and then the hope was that they would then be interested in the Canadian content. And so actually it is the same device that I put to work in the International New Dance Festival, the FIND, which I did parallel to Parachute. The idea is always to offer an international showcase in which our artists, which are very good, can look even better. Unfortunately, I do not think our governments think that way, especially not nowadays. We seem to have closed ourselves off. We seem to be looking inward much more than outward at this point, whereas the whole world is looking outward, culturally.

Zion – Are you referring specifically to very conscious funding cuts that the Stephen Harper government has made?

Pontbriand – Even earlier, but the current situation is worse.

Zion – You are still referring to changes occurring around 2000?

Pontbriand – Yes. They had restructured the periodicals program at the Canada Council. In the end it was not for the better unfortunately, because faced with the fact that they had less money and were not going to have more, they had to develop criteria that would permit cuts in the grants, on top of already existing cuts. Canada Council had announced that they would be cutting so much—I do not have the exact figures in mind at this point—but there were to be further cuts in the following years, whereas we were asking for more just to remain afloat. And the Quebec Council had actually frozen our grant, so there was no hope from that side either. The situation was not looking good at all. Paradoxically, with the new format we came out with in 2000, our sales had increased 220 percent, which is an incredible achievement for a small magazine.

So what happened was sort of unfair. We tried to overcome the discrepancies between the expenses and the revenues by organizing systematic fundraising events. The first one was wonderful; the second one, the results were not as good as the first one; and the third one was even worse.

This was the case because Montreal is a relatively small art centre, Canada is a small country, and therefore we would always be asking the same artists for donations, because there is a small number of artists that sell in Canada and then there are not that many buyers in Montreal. We would do our benefit in Montreal, so everyone who was sympathetic to the magazine bought art the first time around, but after that there was no obligation for them to continue buying every year. That is one of the reasons that the board realized that this independent fundraising was not a solution to try to overcome our financial gaps (coming from diminishing government grants). It just did not work. The equation was not there.

I was very discouraged by all these factors, even though I was extremely motivated by the new series; it was much more interesting than what we had done in the years before.

Zion – Let’s go back to the beginning and trace the development up to this new “City” series—which we will get into—and also talk about how the Internet changed the networks of people involved in producing the project as well as ways of working. First, can you tell me how Parachute started in 1975, but also what your life was like at that point? What kind of energy was this project coming out of? And how did bilingualism affect the culture that this project came out of?

Pontbriand – The project initially was started by René Blouin and myself. René eventually founded his own private gallery after working at the Canada Council, but we had met at university and we both found ourselves at Véhicule, right almost at the same time we were finishing university. Véhicule was one of the first artist-run centres in Canada, together with A Space and the Western Front—there was just a handful at that time. And the big issue we had in those years was that there was really a new dynamism all over the world in contemporary art, which started in that period, because before that time we would talk of “modern art.” We used the term “contemporary art” in the first editorial we wrote and we did not even have to explain why we used it, because it was really familiar. But if you think of it now, in retrospect, it was the period when contemporary art really could be identified as something different from modern art. It was art that was addressing other issues and requiring, therefore, new practices: video, installation, conceptual art; it was requiring a new language, and so there was really a need to develop a new discursive tool. A magazine is like a tool—a platform more than a tool, maybe. A platform to develop these critical tools to deal with the new situation.

So that was one idea that was important for Parachute. The other idea was, because we were on the periphery (at the time anyone outside of New York or Paris was on the periphery), we felt that the platform needed to also take into consideration the idea of having international exchanges, not just identifying a local scene. For us at Parachute, a local scene was not just Montreal, it was the whole of Canada. We were trying to really identify who could be the future major artists coming out of the contemporary art scene and trying to publish, not heavyweight texts, but texts of consequence, reference texts.

Zion – So were you trying consciously to champion certain Canadian artists in the magazine?

Pontbriand – Well, the idea was more about trying to understand their work through essays that had some density, that could eventually become reference texts on their work. The idea of promotion or championing was not really in line with my way of thinking. We were not thinking along those lines at all. It was more the idea of trying to support and to understand, and seek recognition in this way.

And so then there was this idea of exchange with the international scene. We felt the need to know about challenging practices in other countries and we felt the need to put them alongside challenging practices in our local scene.

Zion – How did it come about that you and René were sitting around in Véhicule one day and decided that the “tool” you felt you needed to deal with the new situation, “contemporary art,” would take the form of a magazine? How did you decide that you wanted to engage in a project that you would do on top of that job at Véhicule as additional work?

Pontbriand – Well, I found university to be very boring. I studied art history, but the thing that interested me most was what they called “the group”: the Research Group in Arts Administration, which was a novelty at the time. Today they would call it curatorial studies, but we are talking 1972–73.

So René Blouin was also in that group and so was Claude Gosselin (who eventually founded the CIAC and La Biennale de Montréal) and André Ménard (who died young after becoming director of the Musée d’art contemporain). The four of us continued to do things after and became important players in the field.

Zion – How many of you were there in total?

Pontbriand – There were maybe two co-directors, but actually the real directors were the twelve people—mostly artists—who were on the board. I was on the board, too. I remember I resigned after about two years. At university, in this group, we did produce a magazine called Médiart. I had left Médiart and I had left the group because at one point I thought it was not getting professional enough. René had been involved with this first magazine, also at university. Barely finished with university, I had started writing for Artscanada and Vie des Arts, which were the only two art magazines in Canada at that time. I felt that these magazines were not equipped to deal with the contemporary art that was developing at that time; they had existed already for thirty or twenty years and seemed very old to me. They did not have a clear line or a clear focus on contemporary art.

Often you create things out of resistance, because you experience certain things and you find there is something missing, something lacking, and you try to imagine how you can do something else, that would be more appropriate; so this was exactly it, in my case anyway. René was not involved at all in writing, but he was interested in doing something about the development of the art milieu. In any case, he never got to do even the first issue because he was asked to become an agent for the Canada Council’s visual arts section. I carried on with France Morin.

The funding for the first issue came out of the Documentation Centre at Véhicule, which was supposed to produce something like a newsletter or a little publication that could relay information. Our obsession was information, because we had none since magazines from other countries did not come into Canada at that point.

Zion – In general?

Pontbriand – No.

Zion – You could not get Artforum, for instance?

Pontbriand – It was very difficult to find and so was the recently founded artpress. The only way was for someone to travel and pick up an issue or something like that.

Zion – So there was a necessity for art publications, not just based on what was existing in Canada at the time, but there was not even access to foreign publications: none from Paris or New York.

Pontbriand – No, no. That is why one of the things we did at Parachute was develop formal publication exchanges. In the end, I think we exchanged issues of Parachute with ninety other magazines.1

But back to the original group: René left, and then the Documentation Centre, which had received about five thousand dollars from the Université du Québec, had a new person to replace him. I was at the Basel Art Fair with Véhicule, so when I came back, this new person had come into Véhicule to take care of the Documentation Centre. Therefore, she automatically took René’s place for Parachute. I found myself together with France Morin, whom I had never met before, and we did the magazine together for four or five years until she left, and I continued alone.

In the first fifteen years or so, we had an editorial board full of sympathizers, either artists or art historians, intellectuals that believed in what we wanted to do with the magazine: to open up doors internationally and consolidate the situation locally by having the highest possible criteria and the choice of artists we would deal with. Of course, there was a wider agenda than that because we were also very concerned with interdisciplinarity, with conceptualism—we defended all of these ideas.

For the first decade, having an editorial board was extremely stimulating and it was a self-educating process because we did not really study contemporary art or theory that much at university. To have all of these curious people who were reading a lot and who would bring in different references from philosophy and the humanities in general—that was extremely important for widening the scope of references used in the language we were developing.

In relation to bilingualism, which you brought up earlier, it was immediately obvious that Parachute would be in English as well as French, because of this idea to expand, to open frontiers, the borders, to be more creative and more flexible culturally and linguistically. But also it was a great intellectual plus, because of the fact that we were putting together two great traditions of thinking: the Anglo-Saxon and the French European.

So bilingualism gave us even more intellectual tools in order to deal with this new work. I had all my elementary schooling in English, which was not normal in Quebec. Normally I would have gone to French school because I came from a French family, but my father was an opera singer who had lived in the United States for many years and he wanted us to be totally bilingual as quickly as possible, because it was obvious to him that this was the way the world was going to be.

Zion – Right, so just to clarify: the magazine came out of Véhicule as a sort of newsletter first and foremost?

Pontbriand – No, it came out right away as a magazine: an independent magazine from Véhicule. We incorporated ourselves separately, from the first issue on, and the incorporation was under the name of France Morin, as well as mine. Then we quickly got funding from the Canada Council and the Ministry of Culture of Quebec, before the Quebec Arts Council was formed—which was not so long ago. And eventually we got some funding from the City of Montreal, which now has its own arts council, so we were funded on three levels.

Zion – The funding did not increase very much?

Pontbriand – No, not if you calculate everything in terms of gross indexes. But still, it was very important that we got it because I was obsessed by this idea of being as professional as possible. That is why I had left Médiart magazine at university. I wanted things to be well organized. We got an office around 1977, two years after starting—in the first two years we did the magazine out of our apartments. Slowly, what helped us to organize the office was the fact that there were some work programs, governmental subsidies for salaries, and so we always used those specific types of grants, until they went out of existence in the ’90s. So maybe that is why I also found it so difficult after, because we had to pay any salary out of our grants and our own revenues; there were no longer any specific grants to pay a salary to anyone.

Zion – So not only was the funding not increasing that much by the time you got to the ’90s, even that subsidy started to pull out, and then by the 2000s even more was starting to recede?

Pontbriand – Yes.

Zion – If you had to pinpoint a moment when it became clear to you that the funding was starting to disappear, around what year would that be?

Pontbriand – I think it must have been clear the year we did the second benefit, which was mid 2005.

Zion – So it was late when you started to realize that this was a really desperate situation?

Pontbriand – Yes, because the new Parachute—what I call the new Parachute is the post-2000 Parachute—had come out, and that was very energizing because we got a lot of attention and a lot of enthusiasm from this change of formula and format.

There was really a lot of hope that things would get better and better, and slowly in the middle of the 2000s we realized that for the various reasons I mentioned, they were not getting better, and they would not be getting better. In fact, in the case of the FIND, which had to close at the end of 2003, the lack of government support in that situation had been blatant.

Zion – Also because of funding?

Pontbriand – Yes, but it was sort of a different story, a long story. It happened in the aftermath of 9/11 to make it short, which created a major loss of revenues already in 2001. That was really awful because it was a sudden ending. It was not really closed for the same reasons that Parachute had to stop. The festival closed really because of a huge deficit. It was an abrupt ending and not everybody could be paid. The board and myself did not want Parachute to finish the same way, so that is why I was thinking in terms of financial scenarios, and it was clear that Parachute would also crash if we were not careful, and the best way to be careful was to stop while there was still money. We paid everything we owed. If you consider that, it was a good ending, ultimately.

Zion – Can you give a loose description of how you characterize the first fifteen years or so? Can you trace an arc of what occurred in the beginning?

Pontbriand – In the first fifteen years we had an editorial board, with people like Melvin Charney, Robert Graham, and Raymond Gervais. We were all contributing to the magazine. Jean Papineau and Philip Fry were there in the beginning. Bruce Ferguson for a while. Then we started to have permanent staff with assistant editors, like a managing editor, an assistant editor in French, and an assistant editor in English. It became obvious that we were mature enough at that point that we could constitute a kind of internal editorial committee, rather than an external committee, and that worked very well also by that time.

But it was in the ’90s, after the first fifteen years, when I felt a lot of changes come about. That is when we started developing still another vision of what art discourse would be about, with cultural studies, gender studies, globalization—all these were new issues that came out strong in the ’90s.

Zion – Can we map out three different ways of existing within the whole span of the magazine as being the following: the first fifteen years; then the ’90s and the changes that you just described; and then the 2000s with the new series?

Pontbriand – I would say that is correct.

Zion – Can you give specific examples of how these issues of globalization, identity politics, and so on affected the magazine? Was it in terms of who was writing?

Pontbriand – In the first years, as I said, there was a whole new language in theory that came about and that could influence art criticism. We used writing such as that of Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan. This type of thinking was not being taught in university in art history departments—visual culture and departments of cultural studies as we know them today did not even exist during those first fifteen years. Then university curricula changed, and not only was this type of teaching in existence, with more philosophical or sociological content integrated into general art history, but independent departments were created in order to deal with visual culture in a more sociological or philosophical way. So yes, we started publishing texts from people that had a different type of knowledge that they had learned at university. We were self-taught, also. More and more, it became almost impossible to discuss art without having all those extracurricular theoretical inputs, which is something we had fought for in the beginning. By the ’90s we did not have to fight for it; by then it was integrated.

Zion – It was institutionalized.

Pontbriand – Yes. I think what is interesting is that contrary to other magazines, such as October, let’s say, Parachute did not put theory at the forefront. It put the new art practices in that place and looked for theory that could contribute to elucidating them concurrently.

There are a lot of magazines that started in the late ’70s that are still publishing today. For example, October started in the same year as we did; artpress began maybe a year or two before; and Parkett two or three years after Parachute, so there was a real need for a new type of magazine, new types of approaches to art. We were not the only ones who felt that need since other new magazines sprung up in other places—not that many, one here, one there ...> Of course the ’90s also coincided with a period in the development of art in general in which contemporary art started burgeoning in South America, in Africa, in Asia.

Zion – Coinciding with the rise of biennial culture.

Pontbriand – Yes. Whereas I would say until, maybe 1990, the ballpark was between Europe and North America. It was already a big challenge—and this was one of the challenges that Parachute took on in the beginning—just to create more exchange between North America and Europe. This is strange to say because today it is so obvious to the point that you can be accused of being Eurocentric if you limit yourself to that axis. In the ’70s, not many people from North America were looking at Europe, and vice versa. Compared to the US, Canada was more open to what was happening in Europe because of the string of art centres that had come up, which were very sympathetic to conceptual art and performance art coming from Europe, and a lot of practitioners of those new modes of making art were introduced to America through Canada, before New York, which was more commercial.

The challenges of the ’90s became different because everyone realized that now all continents had caught the contemporary art virus. In any case, I felt that we should change for many reasons. Prior to 2000, since 1975, Parachute had been published in black and white only. I felt we could change the magazine, that we should print it in colour, that it should have a smaller format, because this big floppy format before was difficult to manage and by that time it was clear that Parachute was really a reference magazine that people kept. The smaller book format also keeps better on a library shelf, and since people had started moving around so much, I thought that a smaller magazine would be easier for people to travel with, to take on the bus, or subway, or whatever.

And then I also felt that to continue to operate the way we had until then was no longer adequate because we could not really justify it in the context of the new world, where there were all of a sudden so many artists from all over the world, and so many directions in art also, because of all these sociopolitical issues that came up in the ’90s with great force. It made art discourse more complex. I felt that we should focus on what I call these axes (I do not like the word “theme”; it is too restrictive) that could help make more sense of the work that is happening instead of general issues, where we would put together six essays on this or that artist without there being any relationships between them. For example, at the turn of the millennium, the year 2000, the idea of community was an important subject. When talking about a globalized world, a world where it is important to preserve subjectivities and difference, we are talking about the issue of community. In order to understand what that really means, what that concept means, you really have to pay attention to it. So, when approaching this subject, which fostered the first three issues of the new formula, we assembled a list of authors and a list of artists who were dealing with that question of “community.” We sent out a synopsis to our contributors and they sent in proposals. This garnered so much interest that what was supposed to be one issue became three.

The topic covered almost a year. And, after that, if you analyze what became of the seventeen different issues of this new series, you realize they almost function like an encyclopedia in contemporary art: after “community” we did “resistance,” “democracy,” “violence,” “economies” ... The idea was to work on one concept at a time, a concept derived from a close observation of what was emerging out of the current art practices, almost like an investigation each time.

When you read the editorial for issue 100, I outline the new criteria by which we were going to function from then on. One could already observe in the ’90s that some cities were waking up—cities that you would not have ever imagined being important in the development of contemporary art. Something was happening, and I figured we should try to work on and in these new environments because they were becoming laboratory situations for what was happening in other parts of the world. The first “City” issue we did was Mexico City, then Beirut, Shanghai, São Paulo, and Havana. There were plans to do Istanbul and New Delhi, but they were never realized because we stopped publishing. Very often artists were at the start of the development in those City issues. Take Beirut; few people knew about the Beirut artists before we did that issue in 2002—Catherine David’s publication Tamàss and the Parachute issue were really at the start of that. As for Mexico, we really identified the situation through the now famous Cuauhtémoc Medina, taking him on as a guest editor and working the situation from the inside. That issue also helped a lot to bring recognition to that ebullient scene. Every time, the idea behind those issues was to work with artists and writers from that city, not to send our regular contributors to create an overview, as this was being done in other magazines.

Zion – That is an important distinction. So you would go to a city and you would find local writers and identify who were the “main instigators” in that scene and they would create the content.

Pontbriand – Back to your point about networks and the Internet: the latter was a burgeoning research tool at that time, so we would do some preliminary research on the Internet and through contacts first. But when you have done a magazine for so long, and have made it an international project, you find yourself with an international network—or “antennas,” as I call them—all over the world. For example, I met Cuauhtémoc Medina when he invited me to a magazine conference in Mexico City around 1997 or 1998. When I got this idea about an issue on Mexico City, I contacted him. Then, for Beirut, Catherine David (who has been a friend since 1984) had seen our Mexico City issue and mentioned we should do Beirut. Finally we ended up each doing a publication because she was offered to do an exhibition concurrently at the Antoni Tàpies Foundation. For the Shanghai issue, I found myself with a fantastic assistant, Kélina Gotman, who spent a month in Shanghai to gather the right information and network with the right people. When you look at these issues now, you really see things come full circle. We really identified the artists who are considered to be the major artists from these cities today, more or less ten years later.

Zion – And I would add that you had a hand in producing them as well, through the exposure that they were given in this international context.

Pontbriand – Well, I think that Parachute already had a reputation and had attracted people in other contexts for a long time. I am always surprised that wherever I go in the world, there is always someone who knows Parachute. It is really amazing because we never had huge distribution.

Walid Raad, for example, when I met him for the Beirut issue, knew Parachute. When I approached him to write a text (he was writing essays regularly at that time), he said he would prefer that we commissioned a text on his work, since none had been published yet, so we found Sarah Rogers. Although it was not so long ago, we were really in a sort of frontier land with Beirut. Or in the case of Havana, I was really almost scared to do this issue, because the Havana Biennale had existed for fifteen years already and so much information was available internationally in principle, contrary to other cities we considered. Nevertheless, in doing research there we found a lot of artists who had not yet become stars, but who were very important and who were considered important in Havana because of their great intellectual and artistic influence. So the issue, in the end, worked out, with the help of Eugenio Valdes, focused on language and education. Nobody had ever discussed what was happening in Havana through those frameworks before, which in my mind enabled continuous resistance. For them and for us, it was a path to discovery because these are tropes that are being explored more intensely now worldwide.

Zion – Do you see certain things that Parachute established, like this strategy to go to “emerging” international art cities and expose what was going on locally, as something that you can trace through other publications?

Pontbriand – No, not really. [laughs]

Zion – But there definitely is more interest now—maybe more on the level of art journalism—in other centres. Do you feel like that is something that came out of that energy Parachute spun?

Pontbriand – The reality is that you cannot ignore these types of situations anymore; they affect our way of thinking about art in general. These places are no longer on the “outside” of the art world. Now the traditional art centres are very much linked to what used to be the periphery—there is no periphery anymore. You could do a case study just based on what happened with Beirut. Parachute and Tamàss were there in the beginning. Then came the catalogue of Modern Art Oxford a few years later. The number of publications, exhibitions, and articles taking the Beirut milieu and artists as a departure point has skyrocketed.

Last time I was in Beirut in 2013, I went to a launch for the magazine Peeping Tom for an issue on Beirut. In it, there is an insert using the table of contents of the seven or eight publications that have come out on Beirut. Peeping Tom had never concentrated on a city in its other issues, and the publisher told me that Parachute was her model. The other person who worked on the issue is French; she is doing her PhD at Goldsmiths in London, lives in Beirut, and she obviously studied all these publications on Beirut, and says Parachute is really the reference. She studied the way we structured the whole issue, the way we went about it and everything, and she commented on it as being an incredibly elaborate structure. Whereas the way I developed it was very intuitive, only following my values and my personal demands on how things should be done.

My approach has always been very intuitive. It is the way that many people do a lot of good work—how can you not do a lot of good work when you are dealing with a subject like contemporary art, which is all about changing, all the time, and developing new ideas, and trying to explain new ideas theoretically? You cannot rely on existing formats or existing modes of thinking. That is the story of Parachute in a nutshell. It is close to art in the way it functions. As I mentioned earlier in the conversation, my conviction for Parachute was that we should really observe and analyze art practices, and that they sort of contain in themselves theory that can be drawn out and be completed by existing theoretical writings. I am very much against formatted theory inside art history.

Zion – Do you think that also played into the geographical heterogeneity that you developed? That in order to not create these teleologies, you have to move “horizontally” to different locations to see what is happening simultaneously?

Pontbriand – Yes, I can relate to that idea. I had that impulse already when I was still at university. You have to get to see or to understand what is beyond your own borders; when you are thinking about art or culture, you cannot just think locally or nationally. I was brought up—again, because my father was an artist who had this idea—that you have to think about art beyond borders, both in artistic and in geographical terms.2 At eighteen, I did my first trip to Europe with a group, and for my second trip I got a grant from the Ministry of Culture in Quebec to go explore contemporary art in Europe. (That is how I met Joseph Beuys in Düsseldorf one day in the Academy of Fine Arts and had an appointment with him!) It came out of a drive I had even when I was younger and had correspondences with people in France and the UK.

Zion – You mean pen pals?

Pontbriand – Yes.

Zion – I had actually wanted to meet you to discuss Parachute for quite awhile, back when there was only the first Parachute anthology published—

Pontbriand – Yes, that was done in 2004 in French only: twenty-three texts and two volumes came out with La Lettre Volée in Belgium.3

Zion – And then, recently, a new project came up with JRP|Ringier to do several volumes of anthologies in English and you also received the Governor General’s Award. So the publication, which ended only about seven years ago, is already becoming historicized, and in a very self-conscious way, and you are taking an active role in that historicization. How do you feel about the way that it is being taken up? That is, the fact that the first anthology is only in French and the second one is only in English, whereas the initial bilingual spirit was so intrinsic to the magazine?

Pontbriand – Well, with the new series published in 2000, if the budget had been there, the magazine would already have been published in two different editions, one published in French and one published in English, but with the same texts translated. To have French and English side by side from a business point of view is not the best bet. In any case, I was really strict with the idea that with the new Parachute (circa 2000) everything had to be at least translated, whereas before we would only translate certain texts, but not every text. I certainly feel that if the anthologies come out in one language only, that is completely all right. As far as I am concerned, it could come out in Chinese, it could come out in Italian ...

And actually we have been approached about producing anthologies in Chinese, Spanish, and Italian. I just do not have the time to engage in more anthologies at this point. But the legacy of Parachute is interesting. The publication of these anthologies is already something, but I think there is a lot more to be done. For instance, all the issues should be online at this point. I think that there should be something like a research project trying to understand what this phenomenon was over thirty years, how it was structured internally, and then its influence, its experimentation, its impact in Canada and in different countries, what maybe was developed with that platform ... That is way beyond my control, however.

Zion – That is something that will likely happen over time; different generations will take it up. A big difference between Parachute and Documents, another magazine we featured in Fillip (issue 17), is that it sounds like you were acutely aware of archiving the magazine and thinking about its historical significance throughout its existence through your insistence on professionalism, whereas Documents could be seen as a more informal project. They were surprised that after just ten years since its ending, I would want to rediscover it—they thought it would take much longer. But it seems like you were ready as soon as Parachute was finished to deposit it into the archives. You were really aware the whole time that this was a significant project and you had wanted the magazine to remain in circulation.

PontbriandParachute was—and still is, I guess— a project, so there is always something to do about it, I imagine, for others as well as for myself. Parachute went on for a very long time and we were continuously reassessing it along the way. However, in the beginning I did think five years would be the maximum run for the magazine. I had a sense that I didn’t want it to become old, obsolete, or no longer pertinent; maybe that is why it changed subtly over the years. I always had a sense it was unfinished—and it still is, in a way. For volume II of the Parachute anthology, which focuses on performance and performativity, the publisher asked me for a special new preface since this has been very much my field. I developed an essay in which I explained that we had been busy “writing through” performance and not writing “on” performance. I always have had a preoccupation with change and movement. Now, I have just released a book of a selection of my texts from 2000 to 2011 with Sternberg Press.4 The result is very close to what I did with Parachute during those same years, when you consider the problems I dealt with, even though most of the texts were published in catalogues, or other publications. One day, I would like to analyze how the evolution of my thinking in those years paralleled the evolution of the content of Parachute. There is a lot still to do ...

  1. All those issues went to Artexte when Parachute closed its office in 2007. The office archives were given to the National Archives of Quebec and the collection of books and catalogues to the Université du Québec à Montreal arts library.
  2. Henri Pontbriand was an opera singer who in the second part of his life developed a utopian garden city in the countryside near Montreal.
  3. Parachute : Essais choisis 1975–2000 (Brussels: La Lettre Volée, 2004). Volume I, 1975–1984 and volume II, 1985–2000.
  4. Chantal Pontbriand, The Contemporary, the Common: Art in a Globalizing World (Berlin: Sternberg, 2013). Pontbriand has published two other books of her collected essays: Fragments critiques (Paris: Éditions Jacqueline Chambon, 1998) and Communauté et gestes (Montreal: Parachute, 2010).

Image: Yvonne Rainer, Hand Movie, 1966. 8 mm film.

About the Authors

Chantal Pontbriand is a contemporary art curator and critic, whose work is based on the exploration of questions of globalization and artistic heterogeneity. She has curated numerous international contemporary art events, and she co-founded Parachute magazine in 1975 and the FIND (Festival International de Nouvelle Danse) in Montreal in 1982. Pontbriand was appointed Head of Exhibition Research and Development at Tate Modern in London in 2010, and more recently founded PONTBRIAND W.O.R.K.S. In 2013, she received the Governor General of Canada Award for Outstanding Contribution in the Visual and Media Arts, and in 2014, an honorary doctorate from Concordia University, Montreal, and the distinction of Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres in France.

Amy Zion is Associate Editor at Fillip.

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