The Art Gallery of Mississauga presents The Meeting Place, a project by AGM Young Canada Works intern Aisha Simpson that engages Mississauga-based artists in conversation about the shifting, displacement, and relocation of communities within the city of Mississauga.
In this post, Aisha speaks with spoken word artist Matt Miller.
Matt, please introduce yourself and do tell how you came to Mississauga? How long have you been here? As a spoken word artist, how and why have you chosen this form of communication?
My name is Matt Miller. I was born at Royal York Hospital and moved to Mississauga when I was one. I’ve been here since and am still planning my escape. I came into spoken word through stand-up comedy. I started as a comedian and soon realized that stand-up wasn’t so much an art form as it is a business. I would say that because it’s a business it’s extremely cut-throat. I always knew I enjoyed elements of it but I knew I had more to give than just laughter. Spoken word allows you to take the audience on a journey.
How has Mississauga’s cultural landscape influenced your practice?
I wrote a book called skydiving in suburbia with a backpack i thought was a parachute. It’s a series of reflections on the pressures and frustrations of middle-class life, as well as the impressions left on us by traces of the past. The incessant exposure to commercial television and literature, consumer culture, materialism, and the apparent necessity of finding a place for oneself within the standard checkerboard pattern of the suburbs are impossible to ignore.
Mississauga lives in “the self-reflexive bubble.” We can’t look out – we can only look at ourselves. It’s like an obsession or something.
To a resident and to a non-resident— how would you describe Mississauga?
Mississauga doesn’t really have an identity but they’re pushing for it, especially with this whole downtown thing. Between downtown Erin Mills and downtown Mississauga I wonder: after which building do we became a downtown?! To a non-resident, it’s huge. It would take you an hour to go from one side of the city to another.
To a resident I would describe Mississauga as suburbia.
What would you attribute to the appeal spoken word has to audiences perhaps not familiar with the art form or even the topics you discuss? How would you describe how you use language?
A poet at a workshop gave me two pieces of advice once, 1-Everything must rhyme, and 2- Nothing has to rhyme. I use rhyming as a device, but it’s really about the words, they can’t be secondary. I memorize my poems beforehand because spoken word is performative. There are times I may even end singing. I just try to experiment. You have to bring up important core issues because people WILL remember what you say. Spoken word is about what you’re saying and this is why the art form resonates so strongly. We (spoken word artists) tackle issues that often don’t come up in everyday conversation. People come to listen. I stress freedom of speech in what I do and so normally our audiences are hearing things they haven’t heard before at the poetry slams. A lot of people don’t know this but the content of spoken word changes drastically from city to city.
Can you give an example of that?
Well, in Toronto, all you hear about right now is Rob Ford. It’s all about Rob Ford. In Guelph you’ll hear a lot about women and gay rights. In Mississauga, it’s mental health. The content changes geographically.
Describe your relationship to the culture in Mississauga? Also, what are your thoughts on the Culture Map project being developed by the Culture Division?
For me, art is my culture. It’s what I’m most connected to and it’s the one community that allows me to do what I do and be who I am at my core.
The map that’s been developed by Culture Division, supposedly to connect artists to people that need an artist, is useful to an extent but virtually no one knows about this map. There are also bigger problems, like the affordability of the facilities being built up, and how inaccessible they are to local artists let alone the average Mississauga resident. I would love to host the Canadian Spoken Word Festival but that won’t happen at The Civic Centre. As an independent artist, it’s great to be working with the Mississauga Arts Council because they have access to venues that I don’t.
You’ve noted that much of the infrastructure being built and renovated in Mississauga doesn’t reflect its residents. How has your spoken word been impacted by this?
There is such an exclusion of Mississauga residents from intensive projects around the city. It’s a major concern, it’s sad. The big shiny buildings aren’t being built for the average Mississauga resident and a lot of them are empty for that very reason. We spend all this money dolling up but we have no one to show off to. Local artists aren’t getting the attention, or opportunities they deserve.
About The Meeting Place
Has the pluralism of belonging and practicing more than one culture created a new kind of artistic practice in the 905?
The Meeting Place aims to map the constellation of thought belonging to artisans of diaspora that are continuously mediating between cultures. Are the convergences and divergences happening by force or choice as one moves between boarders?
Join Art Gallery of Mississauga—Young Canada Works intern Aisha Simpson for a series of interviews, as she engages local diaspora and cultural producers in conversation over the shifting, displacement, and relocation of communities within the city of Mississauga.
About the Author
Aisha Simpson is the Project Assistant, Young Canada Works — Canadian Heritage at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, Summer 2013.