Photo by Joshua Storie
Parking Lot is our lax interview series where we get to really know a creative. We get to learn about what they've been creating, some random facts about them, some telling ones, and just about anything else that comes up. In this installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with Edmonton's Nathan Levasseur. We learned quiet a lot from Lavasseur as he shared with us how he thinks through his predominately design based approach to his practice, his thoughts on emotional labour, male vulnerability, and bit on what he was like as kid among other talking points.
"it’s really interesting that people who produce most of the visual language we engage with are not trained or pushed to dismantle or reject harmful stereotypes— I wonder how it all feeds into patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism. This shows up in most of my work—I’ve approached it in a few different ways, digital drawing, sculpture, writing"
PP: How are you doing ? How has your year been? Any highlights? Some personal highlights:
NL: I won a National Art Award, which is amazing, I feel really grateful that I was able to receive that, my dog, Natasha, turned 13, I visited Toronto and New York twice, met a lot of amazing people, developed new friendships and worked on existing ones. Some academic highlights: Graduating very soon, which I’m pretty nervous about, I’m currently applying for graduate school, I did an internship at FREE, was a teaching assistant, and I’m the lead designer at the SDA (Student Design Association). It’s been a great year for me—I’ve been making lots of work, reading lots, seeing people. Some days are hard but I’m very lucky to have the people in my life that I do. I feel good about my emotional movement as a person / artist / designer.
PP: What’s the arts scene in Edmonton like nowadays?
NL: I think it’s quite small and specific — with focuses in painting and sculpture. There isn’t too much focus on work outside of Edmonton which is frustrating.
PP: What kind of a kid were you growing up? Did you do any extracurricular activities?
NL: [Laughs] That’s a very complex question to answer. Until age of 12 I was the only child (my dad re-married and now has 6 kids so now I have 6 siblings very intense), my parents split up when I was 3, so I would always be going back and forth between their houses, which was difficult / strange, it was difficult to establish connections with people because I was always sort of in-between. I spent a lot of time alone—which I still value. I think I was mostly quiet, shy and nervous. I played soccer and was enrolled in swimming lessons, I’m not sure I did either of those things because I enjoyed them, I was just placed in.
PP: What’s your earliest memories of making you can look back on and consider a creative tendency?
NL: I did draw a lot as a kid and made little books and narratives. When I was younger I went to a therapist with my parents just to move through the divorce and I have a bunch of drawings of my dad with horns, which he keeps (and likes / thinks they are funny, I think…) They’re pretty wild, whenever I look at them I simultaneously feel sad / happy, because I love my dad, he’s a sweetheart, drawing someone as the devil is pretty intense but they’re also just unbelievably funny. I imagine these drawings reflect feeling frustrated and I used drawing as a way to communicate that, which isn’t so abstracted from why I enjoy making work now. You can communicate in so many different ways, so it feels pretty limiting to do it only through vocal language.
"...there is a high / continuous expectation that non-male identified persons must be ready to engage in emotional labour without consent, which is highly problematic. I think it would be great if more male-identified people took the time to learn about emotional labour, to thank and acknowledge all the people that have done it (and continue to do it) in their life and start supporting others"
PP: Have you always been inclined to create?
NL: I don’t think so. I was kind of all-over the place until I came to the University of Alberta, I think mainly because I hadn’t found anything that really resonated with me. For as long as I remember I have always been interested in unpacking things—understanding their meaning and how it comes to work in the world but I never really felt supported or pushed to do that. Intersections of queerness, race, colonial theory and art / design are spaces where I can do some of this work and contribute and speak in a positive way.
PP: How do you think you arrived at the work you are making now, the choices you make in your work and how you think about the work?
NL: In short, lots of reading, lots of self-driven working, conversations with friends, peers and professors, and continued support from my beautiful / amazing friends and family. I’m also afforded a lot of privilege (whiteness, gendered perception, class), which is most definitely complicated in my ability to be in this position / making this work.
PP: Why do you think it’s a way you’ve adopted to communicate ideas as opposed to just image work?
NL: Think it’s a culmination of my interests in typography, language and meaning making — in some ways imaged based work is a lot more abstract. With language you almost know the person engaging the work is going to read the text and relate to it in some sort of way. I think it creates an interesting access point and allows for a lot of nice generative dialogue.
PP: What can you tell us about normative design theory? Some of your work seem to be engaged with this theory…what got you interested in this concept and how is it operating in your work?
NL: Normative design theory as I understand it is basically design that creates / upholds negative or harmful stereotypes. A few pervasive design flaws include pubic perception of disability, gendered space, harmful representation — racist / colonial sports logos. It’s really interesting that people who produce most of the visual language we engage with are not trained or pushed to dismantle or reject harmful stereotypes — I wonder how it all feeds into patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism. This shows up in most of my work—I’ve approached it in a few different ways, digital drawing, sculpture, writing.