LAL: Asking audiences to figure out deportation struggles for themselves

lal-Candid4BW.jpg Photo courtesy of Lal

By Tim McSorley

Frustration, confusion, disorientation – it’s never easy making your way through a maze. Being lost can be the most frightening event of your life. But finding your way out can also help to create a greater understanding of yourself and the society around you.

On April 9th, a collective of artists based around Toronto electronic band Lal will be challenging visitors to the Montreal MAI to go through a new multi-media maze, and see what they feel like on the other side.

Entitled Deportation, the audio-visual installation will question Canada’s role in the War on Terror and Canadian society’s views on racism, immigration and, of course, deportations. Along with the five members of Lal, collaborators will include Montreal filmmaker Jose Garcia, Montreal DJ Moonstarr and Toronto multi-media artist Faisal Anwar.

“[D]eporation, or any kind of enforcement, has a very narrow and dark side to it. You don’t know why you are in that situation, you are scared, you are frustrated,” explains Anwar. “And at the same time you are asking so many questions to yourself, to a political structure, to your own faith. So the installation structure is actually questioning this notion of how you could feel isolated, suffocated, frustrated […] and how it feels to be in a position where you are forced upon and yet you are given so much information at the same time. “

Deportation is rooted in what Lal lead singer Rosina Kazi refers to as interference art. She came across the concept several years ago when she heard the term used by educators working with native youth. “The idea was to create interference with what they had been taught. I can’t remember the exact context, but I remember it striking me. We then tweaked and added to the concept.”

To create this interference the group will be incorporating real time audio and visual recordings of the audience itself into the maze. Cameras and microphones positioned throughout will be used by Moonstarr, Anwar and Garcia to create omnipresent sound- and audio-scapes that combine the words and movement of the audience with pre-developed visuals and sounds.

Audience members will be able to walk through the maze-like structure, finding their way through passages walled by screens. The maze itself will centre around a central stage where Lal will be performing new material created for the event.

The seeds for the project have been planted in the minds of both Kazi and Anwar for several years. Both point to the 2003 arrest of 23 Pakistani men and one Indian man living in Canada on accusations of having links to terrorism. None of the men were ever found guilty and the operation, known as Project Threadbare, eventually fell apart – but that still didn’t keep all of the accused men from being deported.

“We need to be addressing these issues now,” says Kazi. “We want people to be talking about them and realizing the direct impact these policies have on people’s lives.”

Kazi realizes that often art can end up distancing itself from its subject. To make sure that this link remains, the collective has made sure to work on the ground with community organizations in Montreal. Groups like Solidarity Across Borders, No One Is Illegal and others have been invited to table at the event and participate in the discussion following the piece.

“We’re hoping that the audience will stay around afterwards and discuss how they felt and what they saw,” says Kazi. As a traveling exhibit, which will be moving to Toronto after Montreal, the artists’ hope that Deporation can grow – both artistically and politically – along the way, based on the feedback they receive from participants following the presentation.

“We want to let people figure things out for themselves,” says Kazi. “We want to go beyond the traditional route of pamphlets and speeches.”