Portrait | Alexia Bréard-Anderson
Alexia is nothing if not endlessly enthusiastic and 15 minutes late. But by the time she gets to you her boundless energy and slightly scattered charm will definitely win you over. Plus, you can never really fault her as she has probably spent her day doing a million projects at once. Fluent in three languages, English, Spanish and French, Alexia Bréard-Anderson speaks in a certain kind of Spanglish and in casual conversation she replaces filler word “Ummm” with “Aiiii”, and it’s really endearing. Despite her excitable first impressions, she gets down to business, and her website Lexiquette is a perfect example of that. By the end of this year she says it will have amassed approximately 200 artists interviews - not to mention they are all written by her.
Though Alexia born in Toronto, after the passing of both her Grandfather and Uncle her Argentine parents made the executive decision to move her and her siblings back to Buenos Aires to experience a more family-centre upbringing. “Our original plan was to stay for two years, but after a year and a half had passed they asked us do we want to stay or move back to Toronto and all of us were like ‘We want to stay.’” In retrospect it’s clear that the vibrant city impacted her greatly in her teenage years by fostering her passion for arts and culture which is her biggest motivation now at 22. “At that point I must have been 13 or 14 and I felt completely in my element, I felt completely connected to my roots. I wouldn’t have really acknowledged that in the moment but now I can see that what’s it was.” In Buenos Aires Alexia went in a private mainly English-speaking high school “which is a really strange dynamic, being in a first world high school in a third world country creates a lot of confusion and tension.” The income disparity in Buenos Aires was cited by U.N Habitat as some of the most unequal in the world. This divide is starkly apparent between the Northern regions being the richest and the Southern being the poorest with 10% of the population living in improvised housing. “[In high school] I was introduced to both extreme [wealth] and extreme poverty at the same time.” This lived duality is a theme that continues to pattern Alexia’s life. “Besides being born here, funnily enough, I had no connection whatsoever to Canada, besides my passport. Because I didn’t relate to the culture. [In] primary school I’d always been marginalized and bullied, I was always in the “ethnic” group … But in Buenos Aires I felt much more at ease. But at the same time being [in Buenos Aires] I was always the Canadian girl, so I wasn’t [considered] Argentine. Going back to that idea of cultural hybridity and stuff like that, I never felt quite like I belonged [in Buenos Aires] either. But I was okay with it.”
“MURAL Festival introduced me to a work environment I could see myself in."
After graduating high school at 18 Alexia had dreams of being an actress as she had spent the years of high school doing theatre as a way of working her outgoing nature and fluency in English to her advantage. “I had been doing musical theatre for like 5 years. That’s how I made friends … and all the plays were in English, so I got all the roles.” But her parents had other plans. Despite being supportive of her artistic pursuits her Dad especially told her to study something ‘“more concrete”. Naturally stubborn, Alexia still bent the rules enough to study Combined Arts at the Public University of Buenos Aires. “And I took three theatre courses on the side cause that’s what I actually liked.” But the experience wasn’t what she thought. The art department of the university was falling apart, flooding regularly and the more theory-based classes though interesting, proved to be difficult for her Spanish skills. “Being in that setting was really difficult for me .. My Spanish was clearly not at an academic level [in reading and writing] because I had gone to an English high school.” Alexia ended up dropping out in October, two months before she would have graduated her first year (in Buenos Aires the semester run from February to December). After hearing from OCAD U from her brother on his trip to Toronto, she decided to make the move. In the mean time before OCAD's semester started almost a year away in the following September, she moved to Montreal to learn French. It was also during this time that she started her website Lexiquette, which was originally a tumblr called “Forget Coquette”. “I don’t know why [it was called that], it was stupid. I was learning French. It felt French”. After just a couple months of posting about art and events from both Montreal and Buenos Aires Yan Cordeau, Co-Founder of MURAL Festival in Montreal, reached out and invited her to join the team. “Out of the fucking blue he was like 'Hey, I like your website do you want to come work for the mural festival?' They hadn’t even begun yet, it was their first year [and] they were starting from scratch, it was a team of 10 people.” Since then MURAL Festival has blown up to span 11 days and with 50 murals all made live in front of the public’s eyes in the streets of Montreal. Alexia has continued to go back every year since to work on the team. “It was awesome. [MURAL Festival] introduced me to a work environment in which I could see myself in. I was working with creatives and they were actually making change in a city. I saw for the first time in my life the professional side of art which hadn’t been introduced to me in Buenos Aires cause I had only been involved in the more Bohemian sort of underground theatre vibe. I had never really seen how one could earn a living off of art.”
Once she started at OCAD in the following September, Alexia used Lexiquette as her platform to meet artists and learn to navigate the Toronto arts scene, which was frankly lacklustre in comparison Montreal. “Now you see the [arts] culture has grown in a way that everybody is aware of it ... but three years ago? No. Especially coming from an overdose that was the [MURAL] festival to nothing.” In addition to her academic studies in Curatorial Practices, Lexiquette has helped her find the missing link within the Toronto arts scene and use the platform to offer a solution. “The first motivation [for making Lexiquette] was moving to the city and trying to find these artists in the first place and realizing that there was nothing written about them. There were no profiles, [and] the event coverage was normally photo based, there was nothing written. Galleries weren’t quite promoting themselves online so it was it was very much a face to face interaction that needed to be had to sort of figure out whats going on in the arts scene.” And it was that face to face interaction that Alexia thrives in as her passion for working with people was developed back in those high school drama classes. “I’ve always wanted to work with people, to be honest. Even in theatre what I liked the most about it was interacting with people and creating these stories and acting them out and sharing them with an audience … I loved it, I always loved that.” So conversations grew as an organic extension of this desire for storytelling and connectivity. "Its always been conversations with artists. Just coffee, tea, cigarettes (usually) and chatting.”
"I see what they’re inspired by. I see inside of their minds and I find that that process is super important to share cause it makes the art so much more relatable."
But far from chasing big names and celebrity, Alexia’s focus has always been the up and coming artists who may still be developing their style and identity as creators. “I find seeing the approach that emerging artists have with their work is just completely raw. They just want to get their voices out there. They’re experimenting, they’re fearless. They’re just like ‘This is my shit, I don’t care if you don’t like it or not cause I don’t even know what I want.’ They’re just throwing it out there, and its super unique and fresh.” Going back to that theme of duality, Alexia explains that it is because she isn’t a visual artist per se that she can act as a liaison between the artist’s world and the broader arts community. “I can see the bigger picture. I can see the space that they’re in. I see what they’re inspired by. I see inside of their minds and I find that … that process is super important to share cause it makes [the art] so much more relatable."
So far 2016 has seen her kicking that role into high speed, curating another show with WIMA, an arts collective devoted to supporting and empowering women, and curating a year long exhibition series highlighting emerging Toronto artists entitled The Pendulum Project (which Portrait is collaborating on as well!). These plans, and the presumably many more she has in the pipeline, are the culmination of the years of artist conversations. “The past three years all I’ve been doing is collecting, collecting, collecting. People, places, thoughts, ideas. And now its like I have this huge world now where I’m just seeing all the separate dots and putting them together.” A sentiment reminiscent in curator Hans Ulrich Obrist’s essay Infinite Conversations, “Conversations … are obviously archival, but they are also a form of creating fertile soil for future projects.” And in that sense, Alexia’s 2016 plans are ready to harvest. “I’ve realized that I want to help [up and coming artists] achieve that potential. It’s that simple. And I find that because I’m not creative physical work myself I’m able to see both sides of the situation so I can sort of guide [them] … [But] even more than a mentoring it’s just a simple connecting.” As for the future and what will happen to Lexiquette? “I'm doing my best to connect people and get that exposure of emerging artists [to] make sure they’re getting recognized. That they’re given equal opportunities throughout … [In the future] I want to do an agency or an artist collective, somewhere in which I can manage specific artists and bridge them to other people and make those connections. But that's gonna last for two years then I’m gonna get sick of it and it will get all business-y and then I’m gonna go teach art to kids and write.”