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Instructor takes performance art project to U.S. presidential primaries

With Ambivalence Blvd, artist Dick Averns aims to engage with strangers and authorities

Dick Averns performing Ambivalence Blvd at a Sanders rally in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, N.Y. on April 17, 2016

By Aurélie Maerten

Since 1999, art instructor Dick Averns has taken his unusual, provoking performance art project on the road, marching it boldly through the corridors of power internationally.

With a street sign in hand, spelling out the text AMBIVALENCE BLVD, he has paraded his way at the G8 summit, parliament buildings, embassies, Buckingham Palace, and, just last month, through the presidential primaries in New York.

“The street sign functions as a mobile sculpture. It is either installed to rename sites, or promenaded at venues where ambivalence may be used,” explains Averns.

According to Averns, ambivalence is often misinterpreted as indecision, ambiguity or even worse, apathy. “But at its core is engagement with oppositional thoughts or feelings toward another situation. It’s a potential means for negotiation and reconciliation,” says Averns.

“I figured that the concept of Ambivalence Blvd could be fabricated as a custom street sign, using the white on green format of New York City, and installed at various sites of political and societal contestation,” says Averns.

Goal of the project is to foster dialogue

Ultimately the goal of the project is to engage with strangers and authorities and foster dialogue around notions of social and political order, while at the same time enabling access to a range of public spaces that might otherwise remain inaccessible.

“Many of the places I visit have unclear boundaries in terms of authority, public territory and security. Even in democracies, the corridors of power are often secretive, hard to access and closely guarded,” says Averns.

The Ambivalence Blvd project was inspired by the work of artist Joseph Cornell, who engaged with audiences by rearranging easily recognizable materials into new forms that provoke enquiry. Since its beginnings, Averns has taken the performance internationally. Just last month, the project was performed publicly at candidate rallies for the presidential primaries in New York, where the main focus was to open up access to the democratic process and find ways to promenade Ambivalence Blvd in settings that had heavy restrictions on signage and were invariably heavily policed.

Averns’ performances can be viewed on Akimbo TV, or during the Us-Them-Us group exhibition in the Art Building during Congress, curated by Jennifer Eiserman. Ambivalence Blvd is also featured in a new major publication by Glenbow Made in Calgary: An Exploration of Art from 1960 to the 2000s that will be launched on June 1.