It-Girl Artist Genevieve Belleveau on Mister Softee, Minnesota and Finding Zen in an RV

It's called the Mobile Monastery. And it'll soon be hitting a New York City neighborhood near you.

By Amanda Gray

Working as an artist in New York City has never been an easy feat. Sky-high rents and the city’s frenetic pace leave little room for one to quietly meditate on the creative process. That’s why the Bushwick-based Genevieve Belleveau, an artist of many mediums who was recently named the “Queen Bee of the Brooklyn contemporary art scene” in Interview magazine, will move her operation to an RV (paid for through crowdfunding.)

Belleveau calls this still-in-the-works project her Mobile Monastery, a sustainable space where she can work on her projects while creatively considering things like spirituality, social media and consumerism. Essentially, she’ll attempt to live a monastic lifestyle in an RV.

The artist remembers when she first got to New York City in 2008. “I started working on a Mister Softee ice-cream truck with this woman who was trying to create an all-female ice-cream brigade,” she says. “That experience has proved to be a really important part of this project.” Aside from learning to drive an oversize vehicle in New York City (an art in its own right), she got a quick primer on living in the city. “It introduced me to street culture and thrust me into dealing with traffic and cops and street workers. And I feel a lot of those experiences really helped pushed this project,” she says, indicating that her Mobile Monastery will indeed be an itinerant home.

Belleveau’s parents run an artists’ residency in Minnesota. Recently, while they were away for a month, she offered to care for the property and maintain the garden — under the condition that she could bring some friends. “I ended up going there with three of my best friends and artistic collaborators, and we decided to log-off of social media for the whole month,” she says. Instead, they spent that time in nature: canning tomatoes, chopping firewood and reconnecting with what it means to have a homestead. “We were to [transfer the energy] we constantly give to the Internet and social media to our art, and live in a physical way.”

Her time in Minnesota was a revelation — it was the longest amount of time she’d been offline since she joined Facebook. “I re-entered the stratosphere as a different avatar with a very different purpose,” she says. “I realized that I didn’t want to always have to be hustling in a city to barely make rent. I wanted to put my energy towards something more organic.” She returned to New York City, asking the question, “Do I really need all of these things?” And that inspired her Mobile Monastery idea.

Although her motivations may seem righteous, Belleveau will greet observers of her Mobile Monastery without any preachy or didactic rhetoric. “I want to lessen my impact, loosen my attachment — which is really influenced by the ways that monks live,” she says. “I want to explore existence with that type of self-discipline, while still living in an urban setting,” she says.

While living in her RV, Belleveau will work on a variety of projects — from music to writing to learning ikebana (a traditional Japanese form of flower arrangement that emphasizes the convergence of nature and humanity). “I really respond to the comforts of home and the freedom of movement, which is why I think living in an RV is [best] for this project,” she says. “If I need to sit quietly among the trees in the woods, or if I need to park in Times Square and observe the traffic patterns, I can do that, too.”

Image by Ki Hyuk Ahn

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