I meet Marissa Sean Cruz in Hali Deli, under a white painted tin ceiling, for lunch. Their long dark hair is arranged in pigtails with a short bang peeking out from a black cap emblazoned with the nickname RISS—no mistaking them.

Born and raised in Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Cruz left enrolment at Mount Allison in 2018, switching to a BFA Intermedia in video, cyber art and performance at Concordia University, completed in 2020. They returned to the Maritimes the following year to pursue a career in the arts, initially working with non-profit arts collective, Radstorm, and now at the Centre for Art Tapes. In 2023 they were awarded the Emerging Artist Recognition by Arts Nova Scotia.

Their exhibition [AD]Venture Capital opened in late January at The Khyber Centre for the Arts, presenting a digital and performance based video work. Previously shared at Nocturne 2023, in this piece Cruz takes on the Halifax tourist staple, the decommissioned amphibious Vietnam-War era LARC-V turned touristic sight-seeing vessel, Harbour Hopper, embodying the vehicle’s froggy mascot. If Marshall MacLuhan’s assertion that “the medium is the message” is to be believed, we may wonder: what does it mean to use a vehicle of war to communicate a dominant historical narrative about this nation?

Alongside this work, Cruz has two supplementary videos; in one, we are surveilled by an acid-trip of red frogs eyes, and in the other (viewed from a screen perched on a giant wheel) we are invited to consider the interior material life of monster-trucks.

Monstrous Beasts, 55" Screen, two trucking tires | Red Eye, 135" projection screen, plinth, speakers | 2024 The Khyber Centre for the Arts | Halifax NS | Wren Tian

Delaney Ryan: You’ve been making videos for a long time. When you first started messing around with making videos was that outside of an art context?

 Marissa Sean Cruz: I would make movies growing up. I had a YouTube account that was me making skits with my friends but when I got to art school I don’t think they understood what was happening or why I cared so much about it. When I figured out you could make videos in an art context it blew my mind, cause I’d just never known. I grew up here, arts exposure wasn’t all that amazing, so I wasn’t learning about video artists working in the 60’s and 70’s who were making “challenging work” until I got into my twenties and I was like “Oh!”

DR: With this project you were filming outside of an indoor private studio, what’s that like?

MSC: I’ve definitely had people make funny side comments, but I don’t not expect those. One of the things I was originally going to do for the video was dress up as the Harbour Hopper and get on the Harbour Hopper but I cut that because as funny as it is for me, there’s a bunch of people and then this is a part of their journey. It’s not my bag to make people feel uncomfortable, I’m not trying to make the work about anybody else. Maybe there’s an argument to be made, but I don’t think I am trying to sway anyone away from buying a Harbour Hopper ticket.

My brother helps me a lot, he’s a very good liaison, it’s really helpful to have a “normal” guy [they laugh, revealing glinting tooth gems]. But you know, people act so differently when there’s a camera around. In real life I’m pretty identifiable [at this both we laugh, gesturing to their self-titled hat]. I don’t shy away from that, so I’ve probably had more instances of people being weird to me in public just in my normal clothes than in costume because there’s a camera around.

With my costume stuff, I’m trying to rework stuff that already exists in my life. I get stuff second hand. I do have a collection of stuff in a couple Tupperwares and I find ways to use them. It’s just like well I have this and I have this, so I’ll just see what I can do.

Monstrous Beasts, 55" Screen, two trucking tires | 2024 | The Khyber Centre for the Arts | Halifax NS Marissa Sean Cruz

DR: A supplementary video for this exhibition features monster trucks. It seems there is some anthropomorphizing, or really strong empathy for an imagined interior world for different creatures present in a lot of your work.

MSC: I went to a monster-truck show a few years ago and I’ve never experienced something like that before: larger-than-life, maximal, full-throttle. To me they’re as if a truck had really tried to work on their appearance: like they straightened their hair, and they put on lipgloss… And I think that’s why I’m so attracted to them, they’re gaudy and hideous and destructive. There’s just this sense of extremeness. I do feel a lot of empathy for objects—I feel like a monster-truck doesn’t really want to be crashed around. It seems like a lot! And with the Harbour Hopper as a machine, I kind of feel sympathetic for it. They don’t have agency, because we’ve decided with programming and design what their purpose is. Military vehicles are refurbished all the time.

I’m really interested in post-human and critical post-humanist theory, thinking about what could it potentially look like in a world that de-centred us. So, by dressing up or by considering narratives of traditionally non-human things, I feel like there’s a little bending and exploratory work in regards to what I think it means to try to de-centre a human perspective.


ADVenture Capital, projection and custom built boating seats | Monstrous Beasts, 55" Screen, two trucking tires | 2024 The Khyber Centre for the Arts | Halifax NS | Wren Tian

DR: You’ve taken on embodying this frog mascot, your way into empathy with these beings is often through this self-insertion. In your main video I felt this sense of yearning, like yearning for something different, is that something you are feeling?

MSC: Yeah completely. I’ve been ruminating about the tone that I approach in my videos and for the most part it comes across as desperation. I and many others feel really disheartened with the world—I try to obtain a fortitude for the future because otherwise why would I even bother? I think that sense of yearning is like, I so desperately want something liberatory.

I think now, too, we’re supposedly out of the pandemic, but we both know that’s not true. And so, we’re all kind of feeling this collective grief from such a traumatic time that is still going. I don’t know that we’ve had time to articulate how painful and hard it’s been. I think, in some ways, making these videos and trying to build narratives that do have this sense of yearning are an offering to viewers or collaborators or community members that there can still be purpose.

I’m trying to give visual language to this immense pain and mourning, that we’ve all felt. I just want to give people the impression that the good fight is worth fighting for, and this is just how I’ve been able to do it—it feels like the most fruitful for me, the most responsive.

Monstrous Beasts, 55" Screen, two trucking tires | 2024 | The Khyber Centre for the Arts | Halifax NS | Wren Tian

DR: In this exhibition you’re thinking about the ways in which tourism is white-washed for the purposes of commodifying nation-building and that it’s inherently disingenuous and dishonest. What got you started exploring these subjects?

MSC: Tourism is ever-present here in Nova Scotia and I feel that it’s been pushed onto us, as residents, for a long time. I think the catalyst was that I worked at an artist-run centre and then news broke that Tourism was now a part of Arts and Culture [The Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage] and there was a lot of pushback. I would walk by the Harbour Hopper often and I just thought it was absurd, and had this kind of strange fascination with it.

I’m not the first artist to think about surveillance in technology and its pervasiveness in everyday life, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, specifically how it’s connected to the tourism industry. There are all these ways that fun, pleasurable activities are now ways to document you—the exchange of information is part of the payment process in the digital space. This is the new transaction: private information.

Monstrous Beasts, 55" Screen, two trucking tires | Red Eye 135" projection screen, plinth, speakers | 2024 |The Khyber Centre for the Arts | Halifax NS | Wren Tian

DR: In this video you have these drone shots of high end real estate developments that are being put up all over Halifax. The kinds of spaces available here are impacted by tourism—as an artist in Halifax, where tourism and culture have been lumped together, can you speak to how that positions your artistic output is part of that system?

MSC: Yeah, booo, I hate that! I really don’t like the feeling that Halifax has a claim over what I make—I also don’t think that it does.

So many art spaces have been tossed around, based on what’s rentable. There is no venue space here anymore, and a lot of art centres are going to die and no longer be able to exist in the HRM—but that’s what [The Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage] are supposed to be funding.

Another thing that frustrates me is that a lot of those condos being built, for example in the North End, are really pushing the idea that you’ll be a part of this “culturally diverse and artistic community,” but they’ve actively pushed out everyone who fits those descriptions, so what “artistic and diverse community” are these buildings really going to be a part of?

I really love and admire people that are fighting the good fight to secure spaces and preserve the twinkle in the eye of the city.

There’s been such a misunderstanding of art’s value. There’s this idea that the arts is an easy thing to get rid of when we need to make budget cuts, but actually these are social spaces that have the ability to let us engage with each other so not to be so god-damn lonely. They’re integral to the functioning of a healthy and safe place.

[AD] Venture Capital, projection, and custom built boating seats | 2024 | The Khyber Centre for the Arts | Halifax, NS | Marissa Sean Cruz

DR: You have so much of yourself in your work, and being at the mercy of art systems where you have to perform and present yourself in certain ways, do you have a sense that you are being commodified?

MSC: The government loves when you identify. It’s so annoying that you have to be like “I’m a multimedia artist who does blah blah blah.” I’ve had to do that. Institutional art in Canada loves an identity, but I like when things are hard to categorize.

DR: Do you think that needing to self-categorize can be limiting for an artist?

MSC: Yeah, I do.

DR: Maneuvering institutional expectations like that must affect how you position yourself and your work in the art scene, though I imagine it helps you to recognize what you value.

You have to have such a sense of confidence and a belief that what you do is worthy, beyond just financially. Being an artist, I actually have a lot more of a relationship to failure than I do to success, and I think that’s just part of the process. I’d lose steam if I just kept doing everything that I was really comfortable with.

The best thing that’s happened to me since I’ve moved back home is making such nice, genuine relationships with other working artists here, and so I just hope to always expand that.

Red Eye, 135 projection screen, plinth, speakers | LARC-V model LARC-V model, "Water Lilies" bath mat, frog stamps | 2024 | The Khyber Centre for the Arts | Halifax NS | Wren Tian

My stuff isn’t made in a vacuum and I think it’s important to acknowledge labour, like “you lent me a camera, you gave me a drive,” to respect the amount of work that other people contribute. There’s stuff that I can’t do, and I don’t want to become a master in everything. I get help a lot—I’m very appreciative. I haven’t really taken hold of doing more collaborative work but it feels like the natural next step for me.