Image: Zero Yen House by Kyohei Sakaguchi and ATSA / 10 ans d’Urgence. Photo by Martin Savoie.

10 Years of Urgency

ATSA (Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable)

June 27 to August 2, 2014

ATSA is a non-profit organization founded by artists Pierre Allard and Annie Roy. Their actions are born of a desire to raise public awareness on various social, environmental, and heritage issues that are crucial and need to be addressed. 10 Years of Urgency comprises sensitive, ludic, and impactful works by artists who have talked about the theme of homelessness and of the sometimes daunting meeting with individuals operating on the peripheries of society.

Essay: Ten Years of Emergency: Some insights into homelessness and social inequality

Produced by ATSA over a ten-year period, État d’Urgence (State of Emergency) was an urban intervention blurring the lines between art, activism, and community action, but it constituted first and foremost an encounter. The event initially focused on propagating a jarring image—that of a refugee camp in Montreal’s downtown core, taken over by homeless persons seeking refuge—but was gradually transformed into an art-driven celebration whose aim was to spark out-of-the-ordinary rubbings of shoulders between members of the general public, street people, artists and other participants. Within this meeting space—marked by a tenuous balance between a sense of social solidarity and a confrontation with otherness—visual artists were invited to express themselves. Thus, beyond rallying individuals of all stripes and backgrounds, État d’Urgence brought artistic practices in touch with the reality of homelessness.

By bringing together many of the artistic works featured during the event over the years, the Ten Years of Urgency exhibit offers multiple approaches to the topic of social precarity. It creates a dedicated space for reflecting on our relationships with others and on the phenomenon of exclusion. Whereas the event itself took place within the rough-and-tumble setting of street life and was at one with the tumult and tension it sought to describe, the exhibit presents a selection of works and documents that invites the visitor to discover situations of homelessness that are as singular as they are complex. Here, the shock value that was a hallmark of État d’Urgence gives way to another form of visibility, one set in a different temporality. This remove allows a more nuanced, multifaceted appreciation of the reality of others’ lives and of poverty, social marginality, substance abuse, mental health… and of resourcefulness and solidarity. The exhibit also enables a different take on the performance-based or process-driven works that may have garnered little attention in their original production setting.

Different artistic philosophies seem to emerge from this meeting of art and street life. Where some artists adopt a documentary approach through photo and video portraits, others hew to a more investigative path, gathering individual stories that convey the intimate aspect of the experience of homelessness. Still others create objects, images or installations that symbolically allude to exclusion, wandering or courage, as a way to stimulate debate or the collective imagination. Many artists also tackle the topic of informal architecture, for instance through the invention of prototypes of temporary dwelling units and the construction of mobile devices intended for urban nomads. Finally, some projects are the fruit of collaborative creation with organizations that work closely with street people; these works propound a view of art as a means of self-expression and self-representation. Common to all these approaches is their use of “poor” and found objects, their openness to different forms of collaboration, and their treatment of topics related as much to the root causes of social inequality as to its effects. An abundance of archival material on the event rounds off the exhibit, imparting to the visitor a sense of the good cheer and distress that commingled in État d’Urgence.

A veritable crucible of contrasts, État d’Urgence turned the public space into a forum for art that was focused on homelessness and exclusion, where visitors became, in a temporary reversal of roles, the outsiders looking in. This destabilizing aspect of the event succeeded in turning the stereotype of the homeless person on its head. Along the same lines, the works presented here seek to confound conventional approaches, notably by giving the subjects a voice of their own, thus providing the observer a more intimate glimpse into lesser-known facets of homelessness, and serving as proof that contemporary artistic practices can stimulate necessary reflection on the challenges facing our world.

Véronique Leblanc


ATSA is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1998 by artists Pierre Allard and Annie Roy. The pair creates transdisciplinary works and events for the public realm that take the form of interventions, installations, performance art and realistic stagings. Their actions are born of a desire to raise public awareness on various social, environmental and heritage issues that are crucial and that need to be addressed. ATSA is the recipient of the 2010 Pratt & Whitney Canada Nature de l’Art Prize awarded by the Conseil des arts de Montréal, the Citoyen de la Culture 2008 award handed out by Les Arts et la Ville, and the Artistes pour la Paix 2008 award.

This exhibition is supported in part by Conseil des arts et du lettres Québec and Conseil des arts de Montréal.

We produced a 27-page catalogue in conjunction with this exhibition. Available in our online store or as a free PDF.