Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives 9781442697522

The rigorous essays and original works of art collected in this volume present a compelling demonstration of the strateg

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Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives

Table of contents :
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Off Base
Part 1: The State and the Negotiation of Taste
1. The Wrong Commemoration: Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith’s Paintings of the State Funeral of Sir John Thompson
2. A Drive through Canadian History: People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s
3. Camouflage Series
4. Public Art and Canadian Cultural Policy: The Airports
Part 2: Memory, Politics, and Controversies
5. I nostri grandi Padri … Heroic Nationalism and the Italians of Montreal: The Monument to Giovanni Caboto, 1935
6. What’s the Point?
7. Mémoire ardente by Gilbert Boyer, or When Politics Penetrates Contemporary Art
8. Edmonton’s City Hall as Visual Archive and Collector of Memory
Part 3: Activist Practices in Public Art Today
9. Cultural Interventions in the Public Sphere
10. Queering the Streets: Johannes Zits and Contemporary Public Art as Activism
11. Exhibiting Madness in The Weyburn Project: Situating Performance/Installation in an Abandoned Mental Asylum
12. Model for a Public Space
13. Dark Forces at Mount Allison University
Part 4: Contemporary Perspectives on Public Art
14. Emerging Urban Aesthetics in Public Art: The Thresholds of Proximity
15. Window (Dis)Plays: Reality Shopping
16. Framing Temporality: Montreal Graffiti in Photography
17. Stardance
18. The Public Part of Public Art: Technology and the Art of Public Communication
Works Cited
Illustration Credits

Citation preview


Arguably, public art is experienced daily by more people than most offerings in galleries, yet our notion of what constitutes public art is surprisingly limited. Public Art in Canada broadens the critical discussion by exploring public art’s varied means of engaging with public space and the public sphere. Annie Gérin and James S. McLean have assembled contributions from new and established Canadian scholars, curators, and artists. Each contributor enlivens our understanding of public art as a practice and its place in the social and aesthetic formation of which it is a part. As a result, the book provides an overview of the current debates in the field of public art that are informed by the theories and critical literature of art history, communication studies, cultural studies, sociology, and urban studies. The rigorous essays and original works of art collected in this volume present a compelling demonstration of the strategies, aesthetic and otherwise, used by artists to elicit intellectual, sensual, or emotional responses that can only be obtained through artistic practices in public places. Public Art in Canada is a major contribution to the study of Canadian art and culture. ANNIE GÉRIN is a professor in the Département d'histoire de l'art at Uni-

versité du Québec à Montréal. JAMES S. McLEAN is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University.

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Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives

Edited by Annie Gérin and James S. McLean


© University of Toronto Press Incorporated 2009 Toronto Buffalo London Printed in Canada ISBN 978-0-8020-9847-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-0-8020-9568-8 (paper)

Printed on acid-free paper

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Public art in Canada: critical perspectives / edited by Annie Gérin and James S. McLean. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-8020-9847-4 (bound) ISBN 978-0-8020-9568-8 (pbk.) 1. Public art – Canada I. Gérin, Annie, 1969– II. McLean, James S., 1956– N8846.C2 P83 2009



University of Toronto Press acknowledges the financial assistance to its publishing program of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. This book has been published with the help of a grant from the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, through the Aid to Scholarly Publications Programme, using funds provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. University of Toronto Press acknowledges the financial support for its publishing activities of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP).





Introduction: Off Base


Annie Gérin Part 1: The State and the Negotiation of Taste 23 1 The Wrong Commemoration: Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith’s Paintings of the State Funeral of Sir John Thompson 25 Eva Major-Marothy 2 A Drive through Canadian History: People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 45 Joan Coutu 3 Camouflage Series


Jason St-Laurent 4 Public Art and Canadian Cultural Policy: The Airports Bernard Flaman




Part 2: Memory, Politics, and Controversies


5 I nostri grandi Padri … Heroic Nationalism and the Italians of Montreal: The Monument to Giovanni Caboto, 1935 97 Anna Maria Carlevaris 6 What’s the Point?


Jeff Thomas 7 Mémoire ardente by Gilbert Boyer, or When Politics Penetrates Contemporary Art 125 Véronique Rodriguez 8 Edmonton’s City Hall as Visual Archive and Collector of Memory 145 C.S. Ogden Part 3: Activist Practices in Public Art Today 9 Cultural Interventions in the Public Sphere

163 165

Bruce Barber 10 Queering the Streets: Johannes Zits and Contemporary Public Art as Activism 183 Daniel Faria 11 Exhibiting Madness in The Weyburn Project: Situating Performance/ Installation in an Abandoned Mental Asylum 201 Kathleen Irwin 12 Model for a Public Space


Adrian Blackwell 13 Dark Forces at Mount Allison University Rebecca Burke


Contents vii

Part 4: Contemporary Perspectives on Public Art 247 14 Emerging Urban Aesthetics in Public Art: The Thresholds of Proximity 249 Julie Boivin 15 Window (Dis)Plays: Reality Shopping


Kim Morgan 16 Framing Temporality: Montreal Graffiti in Photography


Ella Chmielewska 17 Stardance


John Noestheden 18 The Public Part of Public Art: Technology and the Art of Public Communication 303 James S. McLean


319 333



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List of Illustrations



2.2 2.3 3.1 3.2 4.1 4.2 5 6 7.1 7.2 7.3 8.1 8.2 9.1 9.2 9.3

Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, Queen Victoria’s Tribute to Her Dead Canadian Premier (1896), photograph of The Arrival of the Blenheim at Halifax (1896), and The State Funeral of Sir John Thompson in Halifax (1897) 27 William Lyon Somerville, C.W. Jefferys, Frances Loring, and Emanuel Hahn, Clifton Gate Memorial Arch, Niagara Falls (1936–8, demolished 1967) 50 Aerial view showing the Oakes Garden Theatre, the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch, and the Canadian Approach to the Rainbow Bridge 50 General view showing the Honeymoon Bridge, American Falls, Clifton Gate Memorial Arch, and Oakes Garden Theatre 56 Jason St-Laurent, Montréal / L’homme (2005) 67–9 Jason St-Laurent, Ottawa / Maman (2005) 71–3 Alfred Pellan, The Prairie (1964) 85 Gerald Gladstone, Solar Cone (1964) 88 Guido Casini, Giovanni Caboto (1933–5) 98 Jeff Thomas, What’s the Point? (2007) 117–23 Gilbert Boyer, Mémoire ardente (1994, removed in 1997) 127 Mémoire ardente 130 View of the interior of Mémoire ardente 131 Gene Dub, Edmonton City Hall (Edmonton, Alberta, 1992) 150 Lionel J. Thomas, The Migrants (1957) 156 WochenKlausur, Intervention to Provide Activities to the Mentally Disabled (2003) 174 Critical Art Ensemble, Halifax Begs Your Pardon! (2002) 176 City Beautification Ensemble (2003) 179

x List of Illustrations

10.1 Johannes Zits, Good Looking (2002) 192 10.2 Johannes Zits, Jacob’s Coffee (2002) 194 11.1 The Weyburn Project: The Chorus, performance at the Weyburn Mental Hospital (2002) 214 11.2 Randal Fedje, Mixed-media installation at the Weyburn Mental Hospital (2002) 215 11.3 The Weyburn Project: The Chorus, performance at the Weyburn Mental Hospital (2002) 217 12 Adrian Blackwell, Model for a Public Space (2000–6) 224–7 13.1 A.G. Smith, Dark Forces (2002) 234 13.2 Iain Baxter, Ten Carts of GMOs (2002) 238 13.3 Meghan Barton and Natalie Woyzbun, Missing (2002) 243 14.1 Marie-Suzanne Désilets and Jean-François Prost, Cohabitation hors-champs (2002) 254 14.2 Rachel Echenberg, Body-house: Les paroles autonomes (2002) 257 14.3 Devora Neumark, She loves me not / She loves me (2001) 259 15 Kim Morgan, Window (Dis)Plays: Reality Shopping (2007) 266–9 16.1 Montreal graffiti 277 16.2 Transformations to OMEN’s piece (1999–2001) 282–3 17 John Noestheden, Stardance (2007) 294–301 18 Centre Ice, the Montreal Forum / AMC Forum 22 Cinema 308


This book project was conceived during a moment of ambition a full half-decade ago in the depths of a winter’s day on the Canadian prairies. Since then it has grown from inkling to reality, from a scarcely hoped for possibility to a full-grown presence. And it has shown us that an undertaking such as this is truly grounded in what has come before, in the years of reading, writing, teaching, making art, organizing exhibitions, and coordinating public art commissions, in the dedication and experience of all who contributed their words and works of art to Public Art in Canada. For their generosity and patience, we thank our contributors, our colleagues in this endeavour. We thank also those who have stood by, encouraged us with their enthusiasm when the pieces fell together and supported us with a quiet nod and an open mind when they seemed to fall apart. To you, our families and friends, our co-workers and students, we offer our heartfelt gratitude. For the preparation of the book, special thanks must go to Siobhan McMenemy, our editor at the University of Toronto Press, who has believed in this project from the start and has lent us her support and expertise. We are also grateful for the insightful comments and the collegial criticism of the anonymous assessors chosen by the Press, who read the first few drafts of the manuscript and meticulously commented on all contributions. A much stronger book came out of this exchange of ideas. We also wish to acknowledge those who assisted us in various stages of manuscript preparation: Renée-Claude Landry and Émilie Houssa, both graduate students at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and Wendy Smith of Concordia University.

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Introduction: Off Base annie gérin

During excavation of Montreal’s Notre-Dame Street in the summer of 1834, workers preparing to put down water pipes made an unexpected discovery. In a long-forgotten civic drinking well lay the slightly bruised head of a finely sculpted marble bust. The severed head of King George III had once belonged to what was likely Montreal’s first public monument, erected on the nearby Place d’Armes roughly sixty years before its recovery. The bust, a symbol of the might of the British Empire, had originally been shipped to Montreal in 1766, less than three years after Canada had come under British rule. It was sent by Jonas Hanway, a London merchant and philanthropist, along with two fire pumps and a relief contribution of £8500 sterling. The donation was intended to show the support of the British people for the colony following a 1765 fire that had razed most of Montreal’s business core (now Old Montreal). The combined gift of relief funds and public art demonstrates that, for the British philanthropist, charity was also an act of patriotism. The monument, sculpted by Joseph Wilton, the king’s official sculptor since 1761, had a short but turbulent life. It was installed in 1773 near Montreal’s Église Notre-Dame on Place-d’Armes, a then popular meeting square. Over the next few years the sculpture, installed at eye level under a small canopy, was repeatedly vandalized with painted graffiti. As the Quebec Act came into effect in the spring of 1775, subjects of British extraction protested around the sculpture, angered by the new privileges granted to French Canadians. The bust was once again defaced. This time, the marble head was coiffed with a makeshift mitre, a rosary of rotten potatoes was strung around its neck, and it was draped with a banner that read: ‘Le pape du Canada et le sot

4 Annie Gérin

anglais.’ The authorities ordered the monument restored to its original appearance and a ‘deux-cent piastres’ bounty was offered for the capture of the vandals. They were never found.1 The bust disappeared the following winter during the American invasion of the city. American soldiers, it would seem, ripped the monument from its base and disposed of the vilified symbol of British rule by dropping it into the well near Place d’Armes, where it lay, out of sight, for the next six decades.2 The recovered head of George III was eventually claimed by the Natural History Society of Montreal. It now belongs to the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal.3 The tumultuous history of the bust of George III testifies to the cultural, economic, and political struggles that involved British interests, those of early Canadians (of French and English extraction), as well as those of the Americans who invaded Canada in 1775 during the War of Independence. A further analysis of the artist’s and the donor’s intentions – as well as the relations the work instigated within its actual geo-political environment and among its various publics – reveals how public art participates in discourses that contribute to the production of space4 and that are particular to a given historical period. Similar claims can be made for the analysis of other instances of high-profile Canadian public art. They become truly meaningful when they are explored within concrete networks of Canadian concerns and forms of agency. For example, Corridart, an exhibition of contemporary public art commissioned by the Arts and Culture Committee of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, also benefits from an examination in relation to an extended context. For the event, twenty-two large-scale works were installed along Sherbrooke Street on 7 July, about ten days before the opening of the games. These works followed a route eight kilometres long, stretching from Atwater Avenue in the west, through the heart of the city, to the Olympic site in the east. The works were by prominent Quebec artists, many of them with international credentials, including Melvin Charney, Françoise Sullivan, Bill Vazan, Pierre Ayot, and Michael Haslam. But few viewers had the opportunity to see these artworks, let alone ponder their meaning or contemplate their aesthetic quality. With police protection, following orders issued by the mayor of Montreal, municipal employees dismantled the works during the night of 13 July, three days before the opening of the Olympic festivities.5 What does this blatant case of censorship tell us about cultural and political perspectives in Quebec in the 1970s? What does it reveal about access to

Introduction: Off Base 5

public spaces in this context? What does it say about the perceived role and power of art and self-representation in the community? And how would the answers to these questions influence interpretations of the works of art that constituted Corridart? Analogous questions need to be asked of the string of memorials built across Canada following the 6 December 1989 massacre of female students at Montreal’s École Polytechnique.6 More than fifty commemorative works of art were erected across the country in solidarity with the victims and their families. They were commissioned and installed in communities as diverse as Charlottetown, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Vancouver and other towns and cities. In each project, aesthetic choices were clearly motivated by the need to create sites where communities could physically come together to mourn the fourteen young victims. But beyond strict remembrance, the artworks also functioned (and continue to function) as strong visual condemnations of violence against women in Canada, and sexism in general. What does this approach to monumental / memorial art tell us about Canada’s changing attitudes and cultural perceptions of gender? In what ways does it evoke the potential of art to inspire social change? And has the meaning of the works evolved in the years that have followed the tragedy as memory itself has begun to fade? The territorial and temporal analysis proposed in each of these instances, rooting the works firmly in the Canadian context, goes beyond Fredric Jameson’s plea to ‘always historicize!’7 Indeed, the conditions of meaning for art in general and public art in particular constitute nodes where time and place are inextricably and fundamentally bound. It is crucial to understand this issue of particularized production and reception of meaning in public art because it challenges a canon in the discipline of art history that oscillates between two distinct poles. In the more traditional scholarship, works of public art are often discussed as sculpture, painting, or mosaic – in abstraction from the temporality and environment in which they evolve. Artworks are then conceptually forced into the a-historical white cube where iconographic or formalist readings of art can be performed with little interference from extra-aesthetic discourses. But an exclusively iconographic or formalist reading of the bust of George III would fail to recognize the complex cultural and political roles ascribed to public art in Canada’s colonial period. It would most likely ignore the fact that styles, in and of themselves, may represent ideological (or in this case colonial) positions. It would also circumvent

6 Annie Gérin

significant debates about how meaning is formed, how it varies in specific contexts and in intercourse with actual publics. In fact, the bust of George III gains from being appreciated as an agent involved in the struggle over space, language, identity, economy, and politics that shaped Canada in its early modern period. At the other end of the spectrum, a great deal of recent scholarly work, rooted in the social history of art, cultural studies, and activist practices, tends to perceive public art as always and necessarily polemical and political. Suzanne Lacy’s seminal Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (1995), W.J.T. Mitchell’s Art and the Public Sphere (1992), Rosalyn Deutsche’s Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics (1996), Sergiusz Michalski’s Public Monuments: Art in Political Bondage, 18701997 (1998), Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics (2002), Miwon Kwon’s One Place after Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (2004), Jacques Rancière’s The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible (2004) and Grant Kester’s Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art (2004), all argue in their own way that, in public spaces, the boundaries between art and social / political practices are increasingly blurred, to the degree that art in public places is often inextricable (and sometimes indistinguishable) from social engineering, activism, or political action. This critical practice is actually in line with current art production. Much contemporary art attempts some form of thoughtful participation in today’s great cultural, social, and political debates. As Christian Katti observes, ‘The concept of the “political” in the field of art has gained new systematic meaning and appeal after a seemingly misunderstood “postmodern holiday” that today appears more productive than the average vacation, and more inventive than good intentions and a politically correct realignment.’8 Yet, while contemporary critical and situated understandings of art, place, and history are often extended to promote broader conceptions of public art, this approach becomes problematic when the quality or success of the artwork is mainly measured through the lens of its effect on civil society. There has indeed been a tendency in recent art history and art criticism to consider public art primarily in terms of extra-aesthetic concerns. Often motivated by a desire for a meta-experience of space inspired by the rediscovery of the work of Guy Debord, Michel de Certeau, and Henri Lefebvre, much contemporary scholarship situates the quotidian reality of users of a given place at the centre of their inquiry. The poster work produced by the art / activist group Gran

Introduction: Off Base 7

Fury, for example, has often been discussed in terms of queer politics, arguably to the detriment of the sophisticated aesthetic strategies the work deploys. The same applies to much of the artistic production by Dick Averns, a Calgary-based sculptor and performance artist whose work denounces the commodification of space as well as social and spatial exclusion in Canadian public spaces, or to the work created by the artists associated with Quebec’s Boréal Art / Nature artist-run centre, who explore links between contemporary artistic practices, nature, and ecological sustainability. The value of their work, which fully engages with contemporary aesthetic debates, has even been questioned when it did not measurably change popular attitudes towards homosexuality, democracy, or the environment. While the examples cited above undoubtedly participate in debates that far exceed the aesthetic reaches of the work, art should never be reduced merely to its context or potential performativity. In the Canadian context, this question is compounded since Canadian art has often been studied in terms of its contribution to identity formation and nationalism. As a case in point, both the Group of Seven and the Montreal Automatistes intentionally sought to provide Canada and Quebec with self-images through art, whether it was by exalting the beauty of the Canadian Shield or by provoking, through the means of abstract art and radical subjectivity, a break with colonial visual and intellectual traditions. Contemporary artworks by Korean-born Canadian artist Jin-me Yoon and by Brian Jungen, a Canadian artist with Swiss and Dunne-za First Nations roots, prolong this cultural process while revealing the complexity of identities and nationhood that challenge earlier, more homogeneous visions of the nation and of the public discourses of identity. Both draw upon clichés of Canadian culture – the art of the Group of Seven or West Coast Aboriginal art – to evoke specific cultural traditions. They simultaneously expose processes of cultural diversification, hybridization, and assimilation by confronting these symbols of the nation with their own body or consumer objects produced in a global economy. The examples of Yoon and Jungen seem particularly relevant since, in a similar fashion, viewers in public places are constantly called upon to reflect and make sense of their world through a variety of divergent public representations (for example, in the media, fashion, architecture, and public art). Public art is therefore even more dependent than other artistic manifestations on the ongoing processes of identity formation. This should not be surprising to the readers of this book since,

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to borrow a thought from Erin Manning, ‘the practice of superimposing identity onto questions of national territory has long been the norm in Canadian cultural politics,’9 and, like urban planning and architecture, public art is a direct form of inscription onto the land. However, if public art can be seen as an attempt to petrify accepted notions of collective identity in a given place because of its daily engagements with increasingly diverse publics – actual bodies and subjectivities – it also becomes a site where the homogeneity or legitimacy of these representations is constantly challenged and reframed. This crucial link between art and place also shifts traditional conceptions of an artwork’s medium. In public art practices, whatever the medium used, it is always coupled with place, a complex material that combines visual and tactile textures with spatial practices, local histories, and other specific properties. Take, for example, a series of public walks performed in Canada’s capital by artist Robert Watson in 2005. Equipped with a surveillance camera fixed to his chest and a viewable LCD screen buckled to his back, Watson walked through the urban environment, creating real-time black-and-white digital sketches of the city as he encountered it. Passers-by, following the performance on the streets, experienced a mediated rendering of what the artist saw, as if they were looking not just through his eyes, but through his body. In analysing this kind of work, viewers must, of course, consider histories of art, public performance, and new media, as well as understand critically the processes of artistic and digital mediation. But certain conditions, including those created by the omnipresence of surveillance technologies in Canadian cities, stricter policing, increasing gentrification, and specific urban smells and textures that David Howes describes as the cultural life of the senses,10 Canada’s specific climatic conditions, and what Canadians consider acceptable public behaviour, have made this type of artistic practice – where the artist plays the role of the flâneur wandering through the city core, equipped with thousands of dollars of sophisticated equipment strapped to his body – not only possible but safe, at least in this specific urban context. We need to make sense of the current circumstances in which public art is installed and experienced, a challenge rendered increasingly complex by the proliferation of spaces that seem public but are in fact private (such as shopping malls or the places of transience that Marc Augé has termed non-places).11 We must also recognize that, after 9/11, it has become more difficult than ever to think in generalities about the conceptions and uses of public space. Arguably, Robert

Introduction: Off Base 9

Watson’s work – and all the other works presented in this book – could not have materialized (or their meaning would have been significantly altered) in places such as Washington, DC, Moscow, or Phnom Penh. That is to say, when the complex organization of space is recognized as a material constituting the work, the possibilities of meaning of the work are significantly enriched, as is the understanding of art’s conditions of production. All the concerns outlined above tear public art from its conventional base. Although what has mainly been addressed so far is the metaphorical rejection of the base, as marking a physical or rhetorical division between art and life, much contemporary public art also develops aesthetic strategies that avoid the use of a pedestal. Such art dissolves into sound or code, or anchors itself directly into a concrete place or into the body of the artist. Furthermore, Canadian public artworks are literally being torn from their base and re-examined in relation to contemporary discourses on race, gender, and politics.12 These issues that so manifestly call for a reconceptualization of public art in the Canadian context are what motivated the choice of the essays and artworks printed in this book. Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives combines contributions from well-established Canadian scholars, curators, and artists and also introduces a new generation of intellectuals and artists attracted to the fertile field of research afforded by public art. While their concerns and interests range over the historical, the contemporary, and the theoretical, they are all struggling to find richer means for addressing public art, means that will reveal its broad and multifaceted engagement with public space and the public sphere, further an understanding of the aesthetic commitment of public art practices, and demonstrate how aesthetic strategies are often used by artists to elicit intellectual, sensual, or emotional responses that can only be obtained through artistic practices in public places. Our attempts to engage in contemporary discussions about Canadian public art have been organized along four main lines of inquiry: – Part One: The State and the Negotiation of Taste – Part Two: Memory, Politics, and Controversies – Part Three: Activist Practices in Public Art Today – Part Four: Contemporary Perspectives on Public Art Addressing specifically state-led public art projects, the first section introduces a broad reflection on how styles and artistic practices become equated with social values and come to serve perceived shared

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interests. When this happens, preference for certain aesthetic forms no longer corresponds to personal taste. Instead, art conceals the cultural, political, or economic positions it serves, evoking the fiction of a ‘national taste.’ The four contributions in part 1 reveal how, by scratching the patina of public artworks, viewers can uncover the manipulation of place and the complex negotiation of social desires and values performed and perpetuated through what has come to be accepted as national aesthetics. The first contribution to the book, ‘The Wrong Commemoration: Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith’s Paintings of the State Funeral of Sir John Thompson’ by Eva Major-Marothy, delves into a long-forgotten public art controversy that goes right to the heart of the political nature of public representation. Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith painted three monumental works to commemorate the passing of Prime Minster Sir John Thompson: Queen Victoria’s Tribute to Her Dead Canadian Premier, The State Funeral of Sir John Thompson in Halifax, and The Arrival of the Blenheim at Halifax. The artist expected the Canadian government to buy all three paintings for display either in the National Gallery or on Parliament Hill, where a few commissions and portraits were installed. Yet the works were not purchased by their intended patron and were, for all intents and purposes, erased from the history of Canadian art. Discussing the process of federal art commissions in Canada in the nineteenth century, in the absence of an actual public art policy, Eva Major-Marothy proposes that Bell-Smith’s failure resulted from a misconception by the artist about the nature of commemorative public art and, equally, his misunderstanding of the nature of political power in the developing Canadian democracy of the time. Joan Coutu’s ‘A Drive through Canadian History: People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s,’ examines a shift in conceptions of the role of public art in the wake of the First World War. After a decade of frenetic production of war memorials, in the 1920s and 1930s public art moved away from the visual glorification of leaders and heroes to representations of the ‘people.’ Nearly all the sites discussed in this essay celebrate the middle-class lifestyles and identities that helped to shape common experiences and construct a form of popular nationalism, what Warren Susman describes as a ‘collective consciousness.’13 This shift, Coutu argues, was the result of a reinvigorated sense of nationalism and a democratization of culture fuelled by the economic, political, and social conditions of the post-war years, coupled with an unswerving belief on the part of the ruling federal Liberals in

Introduction: Off Base 11

the potential benefits of the automobile and a revolution in tourism. ‘A Drive through Canadian History’ focuses on a complex public art scheme, realized in a Canadianized version of the City Beautiful and Beaux Arts styles, along the Queen Elizabeth Way linking Toronto to the American border as it runs through the Niagara Peninsula. Coutu’s theoretical concerns find an echo in the artist’s statement and artwork that follow her essay. Here, Jason St-Laurent provides two visual excerpts from the Camouflage Series, part of his ongoing ‘performative photography’ project. Since 2004 this artist and curator has examined and questioned the relation between public art and architecture, as well as the accessibility of major art commissions to the general public. Like James Young, St-Laurent is concerned with the way that public artworks ‘suggest themselves as indigenous, even geological outcroppings in a national landscape.’14 Wearing materials that more or less mimic the colour and texture of large-scale public sculptures, St-Laurent attempts to camouflage his own body in the works and photograph the results. The viewer of the resulting photograph is then invited to participate in an uncanny and somewhat tragic game of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ Ultimately, the artist hopes to communicate his belief that interaction with public artworks is not only possible, but vital. Bernard Flaman continues this discussion about the creation of national aesthetics in ‘Public Art and Canadian Cultural Policy: The Airports.’ Here the author examines the role The Massey Report (1951) played in recording the state of cultural production in the period that immediately followed the Second World War, but also in interpreting Canadian cultural needs and setting new standards for popular representations. The report corresponds to a decision by the government to embrace modernism and fashion its Canadian expressions into a recognizable aesthetic identity for Canada, in reaction to both American modernist art and mass culture. In this inquiry, Flaman focuses specifically on the artworks and the architecture of Canadian airports built in the 1960s for Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. In each case, art and architecture were combined to create places that were inspired by the natural landscape of Canada, but reinterpreted in the modernist idiom. For Flaman, the scope of this discussion exceeds historical perspectives and points to issues that concern the current construction and use of airports and other public places. As he argues, ‘if The Massey Report’s greatest triumph was the promotion of a national identity based on diversity, then its greatest failure may have been the inability to imagine concretely the various modes of artistic production that would serve

12 Annie Gérin

this goal, particularly the emerging broadcast media and the acceleration of communications and computing technology. Now art is replaced by advertising.’ The texts and artwork that constitute the first part of Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives expose instances of public art that have clearly been instrumental to the formation of collective identities in Canada. The second section, ‘Memory, Politics, and Controversies,’ also pursues this general goal, but shifts its focus specifically towards commemorative projects and the complex processes of collective memory.15 The function of generating public sites for commemoration and memorialization has traditionally been assumed by governments and community leaders. Consequently, commemorative activity is highly political and involves a power struggle over who and what is to be remembered or forgotten, a process firmly bound to the constitution of what Benedict Anderson terms ‘imagined communities.’16 In this sense, commemoration is not simply backward looking or satisfied with the disinterested recovery of past events. By shaping into durable materials versions of history to be consumed by future generations, memory in the guise of public art always looks forward. The commemorative activities in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta that are explored in this section testify to how certain groups stake out their long-term interests by asserting their histories and their ownership of the land at the expense of others’ through the process of building memory. In ‘I nostri grandi Padri … Heroic Nationalism and the Italians of Montreal: The Monument to Giovanni Caboto, 1935,’ Anna Maria Carlevaris explores the problematic of commemoration from a different point of view: that of immigrant communities trying to weave their versions of history into the official histories of their adoptive country. Her essay chips away at the complex history of the Cabot monument installed in Montreal in 1935, during a period when public opinion in Quebec was shifting from a pro-Italy to an anti-Italy stance in response to the rise of fascism in Europe. It also reflects on the Italian community’s attempt to align itself politically and discursively with the English and French communities of Montreal, demonstrating how representations of history are used instrumentally in order to shape the past according to the complex and shifting needs of the present. According to Carlevaris, to study Cabot and the other icons of this period is to reveal the significance of founding myths in the shaping of collective identity, community belonging, and the narrative structure we call ‘national history.’

Introduction: Off Base 13

In a photo-essay titled What’s the Point? photographer, independent curator, and member of the Six Nations Reserve Jeff Thomas also ponders how perceptions of public art and actual works are transformed as communities reflect on their history and identity over time. What’s the Point? features the Champlain monument located on Nepean Point in Ottawa (by Hamilton McCarthy, 1915). The work was originally envisaged as a complex group, including the one-and-a-half-times life-size bronze figure of the explorer / cartographer Samuel de Champlain standing atop an enormous stone pedestal overlooking the Ottawa Valley and a life-size Aboriginal scout figure sitting in a canoe on a ledge below the towering Champlain. While the Champlain sculpture was installed in 1915, the second part of the monument came later, in the early 1920s. The sponsoring group had not found sufficient funds to complete the original configuration, and McCarthy created an alternative canoe-less figure, crouching and holding a bow instead of a paddle. In 1999, following three years of debate, the crouching figure, now renamed the Anishinabe Scout, was removed and relocated to Major’s Hill Park across the street. The debate, documented by Susan Hart in ‘Lurking in the Bushes: Ottawa’s Anishinabe Scout,’17 reveals how some publics lobbied to ‘rectify’ the problematic representation of a white explorer towering over a submissive Aboriginal figure by moving the scout, even as others argued the historical representation should be maintained and the value system it originally served exposed and discussed. With the collaboration of First Nation artists Greg Hill and Bear Thomas, who both appear in What’s the Point? Jeff Thomas reflects on the evolving representations and self-representations of and by Aboriginal people in the public spaces of Canada. Shifting the focus to contemporary art and mapping an ongoing controversy in her essay ‘Mémoire ardente by Gilbert Boyer, or When Politics Penetrates Contemporary Art,’ Véronique Rodriguez brings a different perspective to the issue of public representation. Here, the author makes the important case that, in public art controversies, arguments are often drawn from a variety of registers (economic, purifying, functional, and hermeneutic) that may exclude, to a large degree, the aesthetic. Through this meticulous case study, the author demonstrates how a controversy that plagued Gilbert Boyer’s Mémoire ardente (on site from 1994 to 1997), a work intended to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Montreal, was disputed on the exclusive basis of sketches, photographs, and unfounded information, all before the piece was even inaugurated. Failing to quash its installation, the debate ceased

14 Annie Gérin

immediately once the piece was exposed to the public. Rodriguez’s sociological approach to art controversies leads her to survey responses to the work in newspapers and other public forums. From this archive, she draws the conclusion that the debate around the civic commission mainly served political interests in a pre-election period in the urban community of Montreal. Finally, in an attempt to historicize the public production of memory, C.S. Ogden tackles Pierre Nora’s conceptions of history, memory, and lieux de mémoire in ‘Edmonton’s City Hall as Visual Archive and Collector of Memory.’ Nora clearly articulates a distinction between the processes of history and memory in modern societies.18 For Nora, history is constituted of records and dates; it is inevitably rigid, and attempts to pass as objective reality. Memory, by contrast, is a dynamic social phenomenon, the result of the active and selective recollections of certain events, both constitutive of and reflective of the changing needs and aspirations of a given community. Furthermore, groups purposefully enshrine (and thereby transform into history) collective memory in publicly accessible sites. There it becomes an essential part of the socialization of individuals. In contemporary scholarship on public art these sites where history and memory merge are becoming known as lieux de mémoire. Here, Ogden chronicles the demolition and reconstruction of the Edmonton City Hall in order to ask a crucial question: If the City Hall that constitutes an archive and a lieu de mémoire is constantly altered, can the alteration of this space redefine the Edmonton community itself? The author is particularly interested in the manner in which civic administrations use public spaces, architecture, and public art in order to activate collective memory and represent contemporary notions of collective identity. The third part of Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives, ‘Activist Practices in Public Art Today,’ scrutinizes specific artistic projects that aim to destabilize hegemonic discourses in public space by the introduction of dissonant aesthetic and cultural discourses. In doing so, public art can effect a temporary disruption of place, providing openings where new debates can be articulated, and inciting the public to reacquaint itself with its evolving cultural, social, and political surroundings. These practices are examined from the points of view of site-specificity, intervention, and the type of community involvement that Suzanne Lacy has termed ‘new genre public art.’19 To open this section, Bruce Barber steps back in time in order to trace a short history of nineteenth- and twentith-century utopian and Marxian

Introduction: Off Base 15

writers. According to Barber, these politicized artists and cultural producers saw the role of theoretically informed art practices as part of the avant-garde of the processes of social transformation. Barber draws from his own engagement in politicized art practices and critical thinking, and deploys the concept of operative art practices, those that attempt to put theory into action, ‘to wed theory to practice’ as it were. In ‘Cultural Interventions in the Public Sphere’ the author examines the work of contemporary art collectives and some of the interventions that have garnered much media attention over the past few years for innovative approaches to theoretically informed and politically motivated art. These include the WochenKlausur, the Critical Art Ensemble, and the City Beautification Ensemble. In ‘Queering the Streets: Johannes Zits and Contemporary Public Art as Activism,’ contemporary art curator Daniel Faria teases out distinctions between what is considered political art, activist art, and activism, particularly in the form of the poster. Discussing the assumptions of many critics and artists who have argued that public art and activism have become inseparable, united in an inherently cooperative model of social-aesthetic practice, the author attempts to determine whether it is the form of the poster or its content that engages the public. In doing so, Faria compares art posters by Toronto-based artist Johannes Zits to posters produced for the AIDS Committee of Toronto’s Condom Country campaign. This case study leads to a discussion of the potential for ‘queer-forward’ public art to open up ‘queer spaces’ in the hetero-normative spaces of Canadian cities. Following in the tradition of art and social involvement, Kathleen Irwin recounts her own experience of facilitating an interdisciplinary arts and community project in ‘Exhibiting Madness in The Weyburn Project: Situating Performance/ Installation in an Abandoned Mental Asylum.’ For a year, Irwin and her collaborators (artists, intellectuals, and community members) researched the site of the former Weyburn Mental Hospital in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. Their efforts resulted in The Weyburn Project. For two brief weekends in September 2002, more than a thousand spectators took in a dizzying forty-eight performances of this unique, public mixed-genre event. Each performance was the equivalent of a walking tour through memory and experience situated within the corridors of the decaying mental hospital, an invitation to discover the site along with (and through) works of visual art, theatre, and music. The event focused the attention of the visitors on the material traces of the hospital’s past, thereby implicating the

16 Annie Gérin

underlying regimes, structures, and hierarchies of institutionalized mental health practices and illustrating how social experience, specifically the experience of ‘madness,’ is embodied and embedded in the architectural structure. Irwin candidly recounts the genesis of this community-based, site-specific work. She also explores how new arguments that employ the vocabularies of cultural sustainability have emerged since the project ended to refuel the public debate surrounding the hospital’s relative value to the community. The issue of producing new locations for collective action and discourse is then taken up in a way that is both pragmatic and utopian in Model for a Public Space. Here, artist, architect, and public activist Adrian Blackwell provides drawings and instructions for the construction and use of a structure suited to open and democratic public discussion and agency. Model for a Public Space is an open source document that provides instructions so that anyone, anywhere, can build a fullscale version of the structure. Blackwell’s system is flexible, allowing for modification in relation to specific cultural and spatial situations through alternative material choices. With this work Blackwell builds on a decade-long practice anchored in collective agit-prop projects and critical examinations of homelessness, spatial dislocation, social exclusion, and what seems to be a general feeling of hopelessness in the Canadian public with respect to these pressing social concerns. Finally, Rebecca Burke’s ‘Dark Forces at Mount Allison University’ pursues this collective reflection on art, politics, and activism. By building on the writings of Hilde Hein and Lucy Lippard, Burke proposes a pedagogical understanding of public art that is activist or socially involved, an art that aims to stimulate active audience participation and mobilize its publics for social change. She focuses specifically on two public art interventions by Iain Baxter and A.G. Smith, both of whom came to Mount Allison University in 2002 to participate in the Department of Fine Arts’ Visiting Artists’ Program. An artist and an educator, Burke brings notions of activism in art to her classroom in order to advance an exploration of how public art interventions might affect the development of Fine Arts students, as well as impact the various publics who circulate on the university campus. Without making claims for the transformation of her students into activist artists or for a profound change in the university community’s perception of art, Burke describes how the visit and work of Smith and Baxter (and subsequent student attempts at activist art projects) provided a number of thought-provoking examples of publicly accessible

Introduction: Off Base 17

artworks whose goal was to expose social and political problems and question value systems. The final part of the book, ‘Contemporary Perspectives on Public Art,’ is not an epilogue. Rather, it opens the discussion to contemporary perspectives that fuel current explorations of public art. This section emphasizes the readability, sensuality, and performativity of public spaces. It also directs the reader’s attention to the mediations that render this art legible. Drawing from her background in architecture and historic preservation, Julie Boivin investigates how contemporary ephemeral public art practices intervene in the experience of urbanity. In ‘Emerging Urban Aesthetics in Public Art: The Thresholds of Proximity,’ Boivin seeks to examine the convergence of contemporary reflections, elaborated in interconnected theoretical fields, that investigate art and urbanity. She introduces into the discussion a sense of the material and aesthetic dimensions of the city, as well as of forms of sociability, notions of mobility, and the organization of daily life. Through the lens of what she terms ‘thresholds of proximity,’ she examines the hybrid public art practices of Montreal artists Marie-Suzanne Désilets and Jean-François Prost, Rachel Echenberg, and Devora Neumark. Their performed gestures in public places, individual, collective, or relational, foster direct and sensual encounters, passages between art and life that allow viewers to reflect on their own sensual experience of urbanity in the contemporary city, an experience that is grounded in concrete places. This performance of everyday activities in public spaces is a growing concern among contemporary public artists. In Window Dis(Plays), artist Kim Morgan proposes exploratory musings for a time-based work that would archive daytime consumer activities to re-present them at night, in real time, as projections on the windows of a shopping mall. This work opens up to a number of pressing issues that occupy much scholarship on public art, public space, and the public sphere, including consumer fetishism, technologies of surveillance, public agency, and the right to privacy. Ultimately, the work suggests that a public debate has become inevitable on contemporary uses of the places of consumer culture. This concern for the use of space over time is reiterated in ‘Framing Temporality: Montreal Graffiti in Photography’ by Ella Chmielewska, a text that brings together questions that often elude discussions on public art: the legitimacy of graffiti as public art, its insistent materiality, and the role of photography in documenting ephemeral artistic

18 Annie Gérin

practices. Chmielewska opens her discussion with an exploration of the long-standing love affair between photographers and graffiti, a discussion that culminates in the examination of the work of Montreal graffiti artist OMEN, whose work the author photographed over several months. She argues that graffiti art, even though it might seem generic in nature, is topo-sensitive (a term, borrowed from Umberto Eco, meaning that the sign is partially determined by the place where it is generated or located.)20 Yet, to visibly last, it must be detached from its material substrate and transported into a less substantial, less rooted medium. For her, the photograph of a graffito becomes even more exciting when it engages with time, that is to say, when it documents the slow transformation of a site through visual alterations on this site. For Chmielewska, the process of obliteration of a signature piece by OMEN, now only preserved in photographs, contains an important clue to the relationship between graffiti and their context. The process of layering inscriptions through subsequent acts of graffiti, she argues, constitutes a visual archaeology that may tell us more about the relationship of the markings to their context than a single static image of a completed piece ever could. The relationship between public art, space/ place, and the users of a given place is also at the core of Stardance by John Noestheden. Starting from tiny star diagrams, the artist produced a solid three-dimensional model he then attached to the joint of a fully articulated robotic arm. In the pages of this book the artist presents models and visual fragments, giving insight into the process that led him to imagine an interactive public sculpture that transforms ambient sounds into the swaying movements of a highly polished stainless-steel model of the star group Canopus. Here, Noestheden merged scientific and aesthetic imaginaries with mechanical / digital technology and poetic musings on the sensual properties of space. In the very last contribution to Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives, ‘The Public Part of Public Art: Technology and the Art of Public Communication,’ James S. McLean reframes the issue and, in a sense, uncovers a point of re-entry into the field of public art, encouraging the reader to mentally retrace the steps s / he has taken through the preceding essays. He proposes that a public sphere, a public realm that affords common ground for the open discussion of matters pertaining to the public good, is at the conceptual heart of public art. Engaging with Habermas’s conception of the public sphere, as well as that of his critics, McLean points out that the contemporary public sphere supports a

Introduction: Off Base 19

particular kind of consensus while dismissing most dissent. So, if the public sphere is actually a conservative force, what drives the conditions of change in civil society? For McLean, the discussion gains from being shifted from the ideal of a public sphere to that of publics (as crowds) and counterpublics, and their relationship to the circulation of public discourses. While monumental public art has often served the role of preserving the status quo and muting dissent, McLean argues that certain works of contemporary public art are not merely expressions of human creativity; they correspond to the basic human concerns that speak to matters of consensus and dissent. In doing so, he examines critically the built-in conditions, possibilities, and failures of new media works that rely on communication technologies, works such as the web / radio sound piece Freedom Highway by Montreal artist Emmanuel Madan. This essay will be of particular relevance to readers interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the concepts of ‘public sphere,’ ‘public,’ and ‘counterpublic.’ In the twenty-three decades since the installation of the bust of George III on Montreal’s Place d’Armes, conceptions of public art have undergone multiple tectonic shifts. Against the backdrop of the great variety of interests outlined above, readers of this collection will discover how understanding of public art in Canada has evolved along with shifting concepts of art in general. We have indeed understood that by placing art in public places – actual or virtual – we wildly multiply the possibilities for meaning, for the production of knowledge, the potential for subversion and resistance, and for concepts of community. This short-circuiting of arts, culture, and politics allows us to conceptualize public art as having the potential to bring to public consciousness the unremitting imperative to think critically about the relations that go on around us, alerting us to specific encounters in culture between people and their very particular spatial and temporal environment. This is a breathtaking endeavour. As readers will realize when perusing the pages of Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives, artists have always been at the forefront of the exploration and the reexamination of traditional responses to the temporary problems that take shape in public space. They have also often pointed to new ways of thinking and organizing our world. As an exploration of public art in Canada, Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives is designed to foster more discussion along lines that are already being developed in Canada as elsewhere, and others that have not yet been drawn. Further investigations will undoubtedly

20 Annie Gérin

pursue emerging reflections on the use of the Internet for thinking the deterritorialization of public art. They will examine conservation issues that are inhibiting the integration of new media works into public art collections. They will engage with the contradictions inherent to public arts festivals, where international artists unfamiliar with the specificity of a given place are nevertheless invited to create sitespecific works. They are also bound to contribute to ongoing, broadranging, interdisciplinary debates about environmental ethics and ecological sustainability, about advocacy and grass-roots participation in public representation, or about the sensual nature of space that extends well beyond the regime of the visual. While this collection is by no means exhaustive, it will, we believe, provide a well-rounded tool and point of departure for readers beginning their own reflection on the topic of public art.

NOTES 1 G. B., ‘Réponses: Le Buste de George III à Montréal,’ Bulletin de Recherches Historiques, June 1915: 21–5. The history of the bust was debated regularly in the BRH from 1897 to 1915. 2 Earlier that year another bust of George III had suffered the same fate when American revolutionary troops seized New York. See E.A. Collard, ‘American Invaders Threw King’s Bust Down Well,’ in The Gazette, 15 November 1986: B2. 3 This event is recounted in J. Coutu, ‘Philanthropy and Propaganda: The Bust of George III in Montreal,’ RACAR 19:1–2 (1992): 59–67, and in Alan Gordon, Making Public Pasts: The Contested Terrain of Montreal’s Public Memories 1891–1930 (Montreal, Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001), 73–4. 4 According to Henri Lefebvre, the ‘production of space’ involves the production of knowledge, conflicting ideologies designed to conceal that use, and technological frameworks embracing existing and projected modes of production. H. Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 8–9. 5 See J.P. Lefebvre and B. McKenna, À propos de l’affaire corridart, About the Corridart Affair, B. McKenna (dir.), M. Guy (prod.) (Montreal: Cinéma libre, Productions Multi-monde, 2002). 6 On 6 December 1989 Marc Lépine stormed an engineering class at the Montreal Polytechnique, separated the men from the women and opened

Introduction: Off Base 21

7 8



11 12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20

fire on the women, screaming out his hatred of feminists. Lépine continued his rampage in other parts of the building, opening fire on the women he encountered, before committing suicide. He killed fourteen women and injured thirteen others. F. Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 9. C.S.G. Katti, ‘Mediating Political “Things,” and the Forked Tongue of Modern Culture: A Conversation with Bruno Latour,’ Artjournal 65:1 (Spring 2006): 96–7. E. Manning, ‘I AM CANADIAN: Identity, Territory and the Canadian National Landscape,’ Theory & Event 4:4 (2000): 2, at journals/theory_and_event. D. Howes, ‘Architecture of the Senses,’ in M. Zardini, ed., Sense of the City: An Alternate Approach to Urbanism (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2005), 322–31. M. Augé, Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (London: Verso, 1995). See S. Hart, ‘Lurking in the Bushes: Ottawa’s Anishinabe Scout,’ Espace 72 (Summer 2005): 14–17, and the artwork by Jeff Thomas in this book. W. Susman, Culture as History (New York: Pantheon Press, 1984). J.E. Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 2. In Edward Casey’s terms, collective memory refers to ‘the circumstances in which different persons, not necessarily known to each other at all, nevertheless recall the same event – again, each in her own way.’ E. Casey, ‘Public Memory in Place and Time,’ in K. Phillips, ed., Framing Public Memory (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004), 23. B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983). See n. 12. P. Nora, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,’ Representations 26 (Spring 1989): 7–25. S. Lacy, ed., Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (Seattle: Bay Press, 1995). U. Eco, A Theory of Semiotics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979), 3 and 6.

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THE STATE AND THE NEGOTIATION OF TASTE Public art in Canada (at least the imported European variety) predates by a good measure the Victorian cobbling together of the vast territories that would become Canada. Our colonial administrators, after all, knew the value of a good monument to the sovereign. Yet there are conditions of genesis in the political construction of this nation state that speak to a great deal more than the much-vaunted federation with its orderly division of powers. We tend to forget that Canada was once a very new idea, caught up in its own enthusiasm for the possibilities of building a civilized future among the great nations of the world. Enough possibilities, realized and potential, for Wilfrid Laurier to declare in 1904: ‘The twentieth century shall be the century of Canada.’ From our perch in this century we may choose to question Laurier’s optimism, but we cannot challenge the momentum of his modernist vision, the lines of force that, for good and ill, emanated from the colonization of the land, the exploitation of its resources, the extension in space of vast transportation and communication networks in support of the growth of industry and rise of great cities. And it is here, within the crucible of the modernist project so deeply implicated in the rise of this nation state, that the beginnings of a truly Canadian public art start to take form. To be sure, much Canadian public art of the early twentieth century merely continued the old tradition of homage to powerful patrons, the collective tugging of forelocks in respect of our betters. But some works of art contributed to a subtle shift in perception, a shift that would become tectonic in a remarkably short period of time, and one that would lodge public art as a central feature of the Canadian modernist project: nothing less than the construction of a nation and its people.

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Of course powerful interests were behind this shift, administering the public funds and the public works that would inevitably yield a measure of acclaim, playing into that nexus of class interests that was seen by so many to be the natural order of things. Artists who assumed too much of that natural order (like those of centuries past) ran the risk of offending their would-be patrons. Some became casualties of the whims of the mighty. But just as surely, the use of the public purse to exploit the new and rising fact of private mobility, the construction of public roads to carry newly minted Sunday drivers to accessible natural wonders such as Niagara Falls, also provided an opportunity to construct a vision of history, a way to think about ourselves. The building of public airports and the collapse of distance across an unimaginable geography coincided with a first, tentative embrace of modernist architecture both led and pushed by the Canadian modern art that would adorn and define these new public spaces. Slowly, in this time and place, we are beginning to realize that these great modernist projects are disappearing along with their constructivist intentions. Other tectonic shifts have occurred. The bits and pieces that remain still somehow resonate, and, once in a while, an artist in the here and now questions the modernist traces, interrogates them for an answer to a deceptively simple query, one lies at the heart of all public art: Is this art for everybody? We begin this first section of Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives with a bit of a mystery. A prime minister felled in his prime, political changes at the top, an artist crushed by presumption and circumstances. And some very large paintings that appeared, somehow, to have disappeared.

1 The Wrong Commemoration: Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith’s Paintings of the State Funeral of Sir John Thompson eva major-marothy

Canadians might be intrigued to discover that they have been living for more than a century with a significant mystery involving some very large missing paintings. We know from newspaper accounts that three monumental canvasses were painted to commemorate the passing of Prime Minister Sir John Thompson. Here is a quote from an article published in the Halifax Herald in January 1895: ‘Mr. Bell is preparing for a historical painting of the state funeral. It will be in three panels and be about 25 feet long. The painting is intended for the National Gallery at Ottawa.’1 We also know that Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, the ‘Mr. Bell’ identified above, completed his paintings and offered them up for public viewing. Their official debut in Toronto is announced in a report from the Toronto Globe of 15 September 1896: ‘It will be welcome news to thousands to learn that Mr. Bell-Smith’s series of paintings depicting the burial of the late Sir John Thompson are on view here. They are entitled, “The Queen’s Tribute to Canada,” “Arrival of the Blenheim to Halifax,” and “The State Funeral in St. Mary’s Cathedral.”2 What we have not known until recently is why these grand works of public art vanished from public view for more than a hundred years. Were they stolen? Were they destroyed? Or did other forces intervene to make Bell-Smith’s efforts slip quietly into a peculiarly Canadian limbo? According to the Globe article, the display of the three panels at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (which became the Canadian National Exhibition) was welcome news to ‘thousands’ of people. Journalistic hyperbole aside, the report suggests that a sense of anticipation had surrounded Bell-Smith’s efforts. This is not surprising since this

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exhibition of large-scale historical works, intended as a single public art project, was very ambitious and the artist had dedicated a yearand-a-half of his life to it. With this degree of public anticipation, culminating in exposure at a major trade fair, it seems inconceivable that Bell-Smith’s works could somehow be expunged from the collective memory. Yet no references to these paintings appear in mainstream Canadian art historical texts. In the 1977 retrospective exhibition of the career of Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, Roger Boulet, the author of the catalogue, declared two of the paintings unlocated, perhaps destroyed, and the third, unsold, as remaining in the collection of the artist at the time of his death.3 Boulet was partially right. The Arrival of the Blenheim at Halifax was indeed destroyed in the fire that razed the Parliament Buildings in 1916.4 But Queen Victoria’s Tribute to Her Dead Canadian Premier and The State Funeral of Sir John Thompson in Halifax are both in the collection of Library and Archives Canada (LAC). The Tribute was located at the National Archives (now LAC) during an inventory of large-scale rolled-up items. The State Funeral was donated by the descendants of the artist in 1998. The ‘discovery’ of Bell-Smith’s surviving canvases permits a fresh inquiry into the reasons for their apparent disappearance. And the culprit would seem to be politics. As a public art proposal, and in spite of the hyperbole surrounding it, Bell-Smith’s project was a failure. The artist expected the Canadian government to buy the three paintings to display either on Parliament Hill, where a few commissions and portraits were installed, or in the National Gallery. This failure resulted from a misconception by the artist about the nature of commemorative public art and, equally, his misunderstanding of the nature of political power in the developing Canadian democracy of the time. Yet the very failure of Bell-Smith’s vision – the genesis, execution, and outcome of this huge and misguided public art project – reveals much about both the evolving state of public art in Canada in the late nineteenth century and the assumptions that artists such as Bell-Smith made about such art. Given the proposed size of the triptych, twenty-five feet in length, it is unquestionable that the artist was preparing a work meant for permanent public display as an inspiration for the following generations of Canadians.5 In addition, the announcement of this project in the same newspaper that was covering the prime minister’s funeral made Bell-Smith’s undertaking seem an integral part of the state proceedings.6 But what exactly made Bell-Smith embark on such a grand and

1 Top: Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, Queen Victoria’s Tribute to Her Dead Canadian Premier, 1896, oil on canvas, 220.1 335.3 cm Middle: Cunningham Photographic Studio, Hamilton, Ontario, The Arrival of the Blenheim at Halifax, 1896, photograph after a painting, 53.3 86.4 cm Bottom: Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, The State Funeral of Sir John Thompson in Halifax, 1897, oil on canvas, 220 330 cm

28 Eva Major-Marothy

elaborate project? Contrary to what the artist told the Halifax Herald, he had not received a commission to paint these images. The social position and reputation of the deceased presumably played a significant part in his decision. Although Sir John Sparrow David Thompson had only been prime minister for two years at the time of his death, he had played an important role in Canadian politics at both the federal and provincial levels for more than two decades. Born in 1845 into a Halifax Methodist family, Thompson trained as a lawyer and was admitted to the Nova Scotia bar in 1865. His early career in provincial politics was marked by a meteoric rise to powerful positions. One of the most significant acts of his early life was a public conversion in 1871 to Roman Catholicism, at a time when religion was an enormously divisive issue in Canada.7 However, such were Thompson’s political skills that the conversion did not appear to hurt his career. Indeed, in 1882, at age thirty-six, Thompson became premier of Nova Scotia, but left provincial politics in the same year to accept an appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1885 he was appointed minister of justice, the most senior portfolio in the federal government even though he was the youngest member of the cabinet. Thompson so impressed the British during the 1888 fisheries negotiations with the United States that Queen Victoria awarded him a Knight Commandership of St Michael and St George. By all accounts, Thompson was an extraordinary man, known to be hardworking, fair, of sound character, and as respected by his opponents as by his supporters.8 At the time of Sir John A. Macdonald’s death in 1891, Thompson was the obvious choice for a new federal leader. However, the government was facing the Manitoba Schools Question, at the time the most complex of Canada’s crises involving minority rights. The crisis centred on Manitoba’s provincial right to abolish funding for Catholic schools and the conservative party feared (with Thompson’s concurrence) that his religious affiliation would be a divisive factor. Eventually, however, after Sir John Abbot’s resignation in 1892, Thompson was asked to lead the government. In October 1894, two months before his sudden death, Thompson was in Toronto to unveil a bronze commemorative statue of Sir John A. Macdonald and one of the newspapers remarked on how well Thompson looked, with a rose in his buttonhole, a man in the vigorous prime of his life.9 That December he travelled to Windsor Castle in London to receive yet another high honour. Henceforth, he would be known as the Right Honorable Sir John Thompson, member of Queen

The Wrong Commemoration 29

Victoria’s Imperial Privy Council. The ceremony took place on the morning of 12 December and was followed by a luncheon. Thompson collapsed at the luncheon and died of a massive heart attack. He was forty-nine years old and at the height of his career. Thompson’s obituaries and his eulogy elevated him to the ranks of ‘great men,’ those who came from humble origins to achieve extraordinary positions in life and whose life stories were a lesson for all.10 The cult of the great man as a model to be emulated by citizens had been promoted since the eighteenth century.11 The great man represents the path of personal merit as opposed to the privilege of birth.12 Before the Enlightenment the idea of personal merit did not exist and it was believed that a person could only achieve greatness by being selected by God.13 The concepts of personal virtue, merit, and achievement are the products of the Enlightenment and in liberal democracies of the nineteenth century the great man established himself as a compelling alternative to the king or nobleman. He did not inherit his titles and positions; he owed them to his own merit and talents.14 In Canada, the elected representative replaced the nobleman, the king, or queen. John Thompson was home-grown proof that every citizen was capable of reaching the higher echelons of the regime. By painting a series depicting Thompson’s funeral, Bell-Smith believed he was both commemorating an important Canadian and producing history painting, a rare genre in Canada. What he failed to realize was that history painting was rare for a reason: Canadians and their government preferred their commemorations in bronze or marble, as the sculptures on Parliament Hill of George-Étienne Cartier and of Sir John A. Macdonald demonstrated.15 Significantly, no commemorative paintings had been made of the state funeral of Macdonald, who had died three years earlier in 1891, and who was also considered a ‘great man.’ It was most likely the singular circumstances of John Thompson’s death at Windsor Castle – his tragic demise in the residence of the queen at the very moment of his entry into the highest rank of Empire – that provided Bell-Smith with the impulse to take upon himself the task of commemorating the Canadian politician. Furthermore, the wealth of pictorial detail found in the regal location and the eminence of attendants at the event made the funeral significant enough to be commemorated. Indeed, the connections to Britain and the monarchy would have appealed not only to the artist, but also to a large and influential segment of the Canadian population.

30 Eva Major-Marothy

Frederick Marlett Bell-Smith had a personal connection to Britain. Born in London in 1846, he immigrated with his family in 1867 to Montreal, where he became a prolific landscape painter, especially of the Canadian West, having been one of the first artists to travel to the Rockies in 1887 on a free CPR pass.16 His connections to England remained strong. He married the niece of an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria and enjoyed the patronage of Governor-General Lord Aberdeen and his wife.17 In addition, Bell-Smith regularly exhibited paintings on British themes, including familiar cityscapes and celebrations such as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. With the sudden death of Sir John Thompson at Windsor Castle, Bell-Smith was presented with an extraordinary opportunity to depict a subject that resonated with connections to Britain, the Empire, and the monarchy. For this reason, the artist always considered these paintings to be his greatest artistic achievement.18 As for the rest of the country, the years between Confederation and the end of the century were filled with intense debate about Canada’s place in the world. Canadians were pondering whether the nation belonged with the Empire or with the continent and the United States, or whether, as French Canadian nationalists believed, it should stand on its own. This question was endlessly discussed in newspapers and magazines, speeches, pamphlets, sermons, novels, and poetry.19 English-speaking Canadian nationalists defined the essence of being Canadian as ‘pride in being associated with the British Empire and subscribing to the idea and ideals of British imperialism.’20 The supporters of imperialism saw a leading role for Canada as an equal to Great Britain in the administration of the Empire.21 Such were the times that the sudden deaths of heads of state were considered ‘shocks that arouse and concentrate strong emotions in a short interval of time.’22 The initial telegram from London announcing John Thompson’s death was regarded as a hoax.23 But once the news was confirmed, Canadian newspapers were full of every detail of the sad event. For the three weeks between Thompson’s death on 12 December and the funeral on 3 January, the media teemed with the extraordinary preparations required for a trans-Atlantic state funeral, which would begin in England and end in Halifax. A state funeral gives governments an unprecedented opportunity to turn the largely invisible state into a visible and palpable entity.24 The function of this public ceremony is to transfer the great man from the world of the living to the world of the dead and to the status of a

The Wrong Commemoration 31

venerated ancestor.25 But in order to bring about the desired effect the Thompson funeral had to be magnificent. It also needed to reach the widest possible audience. Honouring the politician with an opulent ceremony would reflect the power of the state, which glorified itself through the great man and, simultaneously, enhanced its own legitimacy. As the finance minister, George Foster, expressed it, the funeral had to have ‘pomp and circumstance … showing in some degree, the sorrow that filled the hearts of the people.’26 The extraordinary state funeral, organized by both the British and Canadian governments, was a prime motivation for Bell-Smith to record the events in painting. He had every reason to believe that his work would be well received and supported by the states that were jointly honouring this great man with such elaborate ceremony. State funerals also unite a nation in mourning.27 As Lady Aberdeen, the wife of Governor-General Lord Aberdeen, wrote in her journal: ‘It is unnecessary to record the details of the event here; every newspaper is full of them & his death seems to have caused as profound an impression in England as here.’28 An ‘imagined community’ formed around the grand public ceremony of Thompson’s funeral, fostered by detailed daily newspaper accounts.29 Strangers from all corners of the Dominion became united in a sense of shared national participation in the unfolding events. Canadians came to know every detail of the funeral, including the key figures who took part in the ceremony. For this reason, Bell-Smith had every confidence that his paintings would reach the widest possible audience. The published details of Thompson’s extraordinary state funeral offer another explanation for Bell-Smith’s initiative. The British government decided that Thompson would be given the highest honours that his station in life deserved and that it would cover the costs of transferring the body to Canada.30 Thompson’s body lay in state in Windsor Castle and a funeral mass was held at the request of the Queen, who also personally laid a wreath on the casket. The next day the body was taken to London in a plumed hearse to be embalmed by a French specialist and placed in the Chapel of St James, where a requiem memorial mass was held. Meanwhile, preparations were made for the transportation of the body to Canada. The fastest British warship, the HMS Blenheim, was ordered to Portsmouth from Gibraltar. Its sides were painted black and the gangway draped in black. The transport of Thompson’s body from London to Portsmouth had the trappings of a British state funeral: the funeral train was draped in

32 Eva Major-Marothy

black and the ships in Portsmouth harbour dipped their ensigns when it arrived. The Roman Catholic bishop of the city met the train and followed the gun carriage bearing Thompson’s coffin, which was in turn followed by naval and military officers in full uniform. Senator William Sanford, who had been in Europe with Thompson, embarked on the Blenheim to escort the body. The ship left on 22 December, with instructions to arrive in Halifax on 1 January in time for the Canadian state funeral on January 3rd. The Canadian government was not to be outdone by the British. As expressed by Finance Minister George Foster: ‘When the British Government evidenced such a high appreciation of the worth of such a distinguished colonial statesman, it was only natural that it should evoke a due response on the part of Canada.’31 There was an extraordinary outlay of funeral pomp: the legislative chamber in Province House in Halifax, where the body lay in state, was draped in black and purple, with a profusion of flowers: two thousand roses, four thousand carnations, three thousand ferns, and an equal number of hyacinths. One hundred extra electric lights were installed because the windows had been draped to keep out natural light. The body lay in state for a day. Twenty thousand people filed past the body to pay their respects. The streets were decorated with ‘festoons’ and wreaths of white flowers, bay, and laurel; flags flew at half-mast; and many shops were decorated in mourning. St Mary’s Cathedral, where the funeral mass was held, was draped in black inside and out. Although Lady Thompson had objected to it, the funeral carriage was covered with heavy drapes and a profusion of black plumes. Lady Aberdeen sewed the gold braid on the funeral pall with her own hands. She also ordered a wreath of maple leaves to symbolize Canada. When the florist ran out of leaves, an advertisement was put in the newspaper requesting more. People sent them in by the hundreds.32 Fifty thousand people attended the funeral and seven thousand rushed to get the seven hundred seats in the church.33 Thompson’s funeral surpassed any spectacle of the kind ever witnessed in Halifax.34 All this was faithfully reported in great detail in local and national newspapers. Bell-Smith travelled to Halifax to witness the events. There, he received encouragement for his memorial project from both Lord and Lady Aberdeen and from Senator Sanford.35 Bell-Smith’s three paintings not only depict the three most significant events of Thompson’s state funeral, they also record activities to which only a small number of select people had first-hand access. In

The Wrong Commemoration 33

addition, the paintings correspond to the tripartite structure of secular and religious rituals, such as funerals, that mark rites of passage.36 The first part consists of the separation. In the case of a funeral, the lying-instate represents the period when honours are paid to the deceased and farewells are made. The second part is the transition, when the body is carried towards its final resting place. The last part is the incorporation, the ceremony where the deceased is incorporated into the world of the dead.37 During the first phase of the ritual the subject is detached from his or her place in society, and during the last phase it is attached to its new station. The phase in between is the liminal phase, where the subject drifts between established states.38 The Tribute, depicting the separation phase, shows Queen Victoria in the Grand Entrance Hall of Windsor Castle, surrounded by her daughter, Princess Beatrice, and other members of the royal household, Indian attendants, representatives from Canada such as Sir Charles Tupper, the Roman Catholic priest who performed the last rites and mass, the doctor who attended to Thompson, and other dignitaries.39 Queen Victoria says her farewell and pays tribute to Sir John by placing a wreath on his coffin. The standard iconography of Queen Victoria consisted of one of two complementary images: the regal queen, enthroned and imperial, or the compassionate, maternal woman, usually located in a domestic setting.40 Here, Bell-Smith depicted the queen as a mixture of the two. She is regal and imperial, surrounded by her court, but she is also the compassionate wife and mother in mourning. In its composition, this painting makes reference to religious triptychs where the centre panel shows the focus of the painting, such as a nativity or crucifixion, while the two side panels show saints, attendants, or patrons. The Queen and the coffin occupy the central part of the composition, which also includes one of the Indian attendants, a visual reminder of her role as Queen of the British Empire. The carefully delineated and individualized portraits are the artist’s main focus. Although he relied on photographs for all the other portraits, for Queen Victoria Bell-Smith managed to arrange a sitting, and painted her portrait while he was in London during the summer of 1895.41 The scene depicted in the second painting, The Arrival of the Blenheim, takes place on board the Blenheim and shows the ship’s arrival in Halifax in rain and fog. The largest of the three paintings, it shows sailors carrying the Union Jack–draped casket, symbolic of the fusion of the dead man with his country.42 This scene represents the transition phase of the funeral, showing the passage of the body from England to

34 Eva Major-Marothy

Canada, from the ocean to land. As in the previous picture, the focus is on meticulous portraits of the people involved in the event.43 The third painting, The State Funeral, shows the interior of St Mary’s Cathedral, with more than a hundred recognizable portraits of government officials and members of the Canadian elite who attended the final part of the ceremony.44 This is significant. While the scene corresponds to the third part of the funeral ritual, the incorporation of the dead into the pantheon of the dead, Bell-Smith has turned his focus away from the altar and the religious significance of the ceremony’s final phase and instead, concentrates on depicting the select group of the Canadian elite who both organized and attended this event. The foreground of the painting, on either side, is crowded with members of the Catholic clergy and altar boys who served at the mass with Canon Bouillon of Ottawa, Archbishop O’Brien of Nova Scotia, and Canon O’Donnell (shown to the left of the coffin). Lord Aberdeen, elevated to emphasize his status, stands to the left, flanked by General Sir Alexander Montgomery Moore, British General Officer Commanding in North America, who organized the impressive military component of the funeral. Next to him are provincial governors Sir George Kirkpatrick from Ontario, Sir Joseph Adolphe Chapleau from Quebec, Sir Malachy Bowes Daly from Nova Scotia, Sir George Howlan from Prince Edward Island, and Edgar Dewdney from British Columbia. Senator Sanford, who figured so prominently in the arrival of the Blenheim, is also depicted. In the background stand Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell, Lady Aberdeen, and the sons of Sir John. Numerous ministers and other officials, such as John Haggart, J.A. Ouimet, and Adolphe Caron, are also represented, all clearly identifiable. There is an art-historical precedent for such a ‘non-spiritual’ treatment of a funeral, although it is unlikely to have served as a model for Bell-Smith. Gustave Courbet’s highly controversial Burial at Ornans of 1851 also denied the religious or spiritual components of the burial scene.45 Instead of showing a group of people united in a spiritual ritual, Courbet focused on their distraction and inattention.46 Courbet’s image ignores the significance of the funeral as an occasion for the celebration of the eternal fusion of heavenly and earthly reality.47 He did not, however, substitute the social hierarchy (of Ornans) in place of religious symbolism, which is exactly what Bell-Smith did. Bell-Smith turned his depiction into a worship of state power as vested in the individuals of government, monarchy, and empire, even elevating the short-statured Governor-General, Lord Aberdeen (the bearded figure on left), to make him at least as visible as the crucifix in the centre.

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In its composition, the State Funeral scene is essentially an enormous composite copied from a great number of heterogeneous photographic portraits.48 One of the salient characteristics of most composite work is the lack of character differentiation and interaction between individual figures.49 Perhaps the most famous Canadian example of this technique is William Notman’s photographic composite from 1870, Skating Carnival, Victoria Rink, Montreal, which shows the Prince of Wales surrounded by members of Montreal high society.50 To signify the social hierarchy, Notman placed the Prince of Wales in a slightly elevated position, a device that Bell-Smith emulated twenty-five years later in his depiction of Lord Aberdeen. For most of the portraits Bell-Smith made use of photographs taken by C. Lewis’s studio in Charlottetown.51 All heads are lined up in stiff and formal rows, with each person staring without expression at the viewer.52 From its outset to its conclusion, no other nineteenth-century Canadian art undertaking had such extensive press coverage and, arguably, no other paintings were as extensively exhibited. Bell-Smith used the momentum of the funeral coverage to keep his project in the public eye. In this he was something of an early media promoter, sending regular progress reports to some Toronto papers and inviting journalists to visit his studio.53 Upon completion of the paintings in early 1896, Bell-Smith organized venues for showing them outside of the usual ones. In addition to the Ontario Society of Artists and Royal Canadian Academy exhibitions, he presented the paintings at significant non-art events such as the Industrial Exhibition in Toronto in September 1896. The three paintings, accompanied by a booklet identifying the depicted figures, were displayed in special rooms usually reserved for foreign artists.54 According to newspaper reports, hundreds of sightseers expressed their admiration for them.55 The paintings were also shown in London (Ontario), Hamilton, and Brantford, and in the artist’s own studio in Toronto.56 Bell-Smith supplemented the showings with lectures about the genesis of the paintings, and even travelled to Montreal to talk about them.57 To further promote his project, Bell-Smith wrote to some of the ministers who had attended the funeral, asking their permission to include their portraits in the paintings and requesting their support for the purchase of the works by the government.58 The ministers were delighted to be included and promised to support the project. In the nineteenth century, such lobbying was the normal process in Canada for initiating government patronage because there was no established art policy at the federal level and all commissions had to

36 Eva Major-Marothy

be passed by Parliament.59 This practice limited the nature of commissioned artwork to commemorative pieces worthy of national attention.60 Canada was no different from other countries in attempting to create ‘usable pasts.’ Indeed, the same type of commemorative activity was going on in the United States and Europe. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the celebration of great men and great events of the past, and the erection of public monuments to commemorate them, were distinctive features of both North American and European society.61 The drive for commemoration sprang from the theory that memory shared by a people was vital to that people’s strength and independence.62 In the course of the nineteenth century, nations came to worship themselves through their pasts, ritualizing and commemorating to the point that sacred sites and times became the secular equivalent of shrines and holy days.63 The unveiling ceremonies of these monuments, accompanied by speeches, processions, and banquets, resembled paraliturgical events.64 Local examples abound. In Ontario, for example, between 1884 and the First World War, United Empire Loyalists, whose American ancestors moved to Canada at the time of the American Revolution in order to remain citizens of the British Empire, constructed a history that established the Loyalist tradition as the foundation of English-Canadian identity.65 Such history, aiming to emphasize the differences between Canada and its southern neighbour, was composed through public celebrations, such as the 1884 Centennial of United Empire Loyalist settlement, as well as the raising of monuments to heroes such as Joseph Brant and Laura Secord. During the same time the province of Quebec was drawing on quite a different history for its monuments and shared memory. ‘Between 1880 and 1930, the entire history of New France – the ‘Golden Age’ of the homeland – was cast in bronze.’66 The decorative program of the new National Assembly Building in Quebec City was intended to transform it into a pantheon honouring the memory of important French and French Canadian historical figures.67 The federal government also commissioned commemorative pieces. Robert Harris had been contracted to paint The Fathers of Confederation, which he completed in 1884. Louis-Philippe Hébert’s bronze sculpture of Sir George-Étienne Cartier was installed on Parliament Hill in 1885. A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was commissioned immediately following his death in 1891.

The Wrong Commemoration 37

The deputy minister of public works, Antoine Gobeil, visited BellSmith’s studio in March 1896 when two of the paintings, The Tribute and The Arrival were completed.68 His report, prepared with the assistance of J.H.W. Watts, curator of the National Gallery collection and member of the Royal Canadian Academy, reveals the process and attitude adopted by the federal government with regard to public art.69 The criteria used by Gobeil and Watts were ‘intrinsic artistic value’ and ‘value from a historical standpoint.’ Gobeil’s report recommended the purchase of The Tribute, but not The Arrival: Any person looking at that picture [The Tribute], and seeing the reproduction of the well known figure of her Majesty in the centre of the picture, is bound to reflect that he views a most important event in the history of the country. When a royal personage is seen as the most prominent person in the scene represented, and when one is told that the remains of the person to whom the Queen paid such a high honor were those of the Prime Minister of Canada … then the whole scene presents a vivid picture recalling to the mind the life of one of the most illustrious sons of Canada, as well as the remembrance of a great compliment paid to an important colony by the ruler of the whole Empire.70

As for The Arrival, the deputy minister could find neither artistic nor historical merit in the painting. As regards the ‘Blenheim Scene,’ I am sorry to say that I do not see that it has the merit of the other painting, and even that it is a work of art that could be admitted to our National Gallery. The work on it appears to be rather of the ordinary kind, and I do not think that, outside of the figure of Senator Sanford, which I must say, is as near perfect as possible, the other figures have the merit of being a good likeness of the persons represented, nor is the scene itself in general one that could not have taken place upon any ship where an officer might have died at sea and the remains taken for interment. What I mean to say is that the scene does not present any special characteristics calculated to impress the visiting public as being the reproduction of any great event that might have taken place in our history. It represents, on the contrary, a scene that may be of ordinary and every day occurrence. As to the picture itself, Mr. Watts coincides with me that its superiority of coloring and grouping of figures is not such that it could be taken as a model by young artists and have on that score, a well deserved place in our National Gallery.71

38 Eva Major-Marothy

Gobeil enumerates the criteria required for acquiring works of art for the National Gallery: artistic value so that it may be an example to young artists, verisimilitude in portraiture, unique characteristics that identify the scene as being specifically Canadian, and some element to signify that the event being depicted is out of the ordinary. He seemingly objected to the lack of the theatrical dimension, which is so significant in differentiating state funerals from other funerals and from everyday events.72 Many critics, in contrast, considered The Arrival to be very successful and noted the addition of umbrellas and mackintoshes as interesting realistic details.73 There were, however, reasons unrelated to artistic or historical merit that prevented the purchase of these paintings as public art by the National Gallery of Canada. While Bell-Smith was working furiously on completing the paintings, the Conservative government, whose members figured so prominently in the paintings, was unravelling. The death of Sir John Thompson had left the government without an able leader. The first indications of direct trouble with the purchase of the paintings surfaced during the summer of 1895 when the artist was in London sketching Windsor Castle and arranging to paint a portrait of the Queen. In June the government sought parliamentary approval for $25 thousand to pay for Thompson’s funeral.74 The opposition was outraged at such an extravagant sum, especially since just four years earlier only $6900 had been spent on Sir John A. Macdonald’s funeral, and he was considered the father of the nation!75 One newspaper headline termed it ‘The Halifax Funeral: A Reckless Waste of Public Money.’76 The opposition was especially critical of Joseph Ouimet, the minister of public works and head of the department responsible for the funeral arrangements. Since Ouimet was also responsible for the National Gallery and its acquisitions, he was not enthusiastic about garnering more public criticism by purchasing The Tribute. Indeed, the government would have found it very difficult to request more money for anything related to the Thompson funeral. But extravagant funeral expenses were only a small part of the problems faced by the Conservative government. The Manitoba Schools Question was boiling over and the federal government had to decide whether to intercede in a matter of provincial jurisdiction. The resolution of the crisis required strong leadership, which Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell could not provide. By January 1896, when two of the paintings, The Tribute and The Arrival, were nearly completed, the

The Wrong Commemoration 39

Cabinet was in open revolt against Bowell. Seven of his ministers resigned, followed by Ouimet, the minister of public works, a few months later.77 An election was set for 23 June 1896, and the Liberals under Wilfrid Laurier won. The paintings remained unsold and BellSmith came close to an emotional breakdown. Bell-Smith did not give up. He organized a number of exhibitions and continued to ensure that journalists saw his paintings and reported on their importance to the nation. In April 1897 the artist wrote to both Prime Minister Laurier and the new minister of public works, Israel Tarte, offering to sell The Tribute at a price to be determined by the government. To sweeten the deal he would donate The Arrival and The State Funeral.78 Gobeil’s report, recommending the purchase of The Tribute, was given to Tarte; however, a final terse recommendation not to acquire any of the paintings was presented by the new curator of the National Gallery, L. Fennings Taylor, who had inspected the paintings and wrote that he was ‘unable to recommend their purchase by the Government for the National Gallery.’79 In the end, Taylor’s view prevailed. Commemorative activity is highly political and involves a power struggle over whom and what is to be remembered or forgotten.80 The commemorative activities in Ontario and Quebec are indicative of how certain groups assert their values at the expense of others’. In Ontario only the United Empire Loyalists were commemorated and in Quebec only the heroes of New France. Bell-Smith’s paintings were, in reality, not so much a tribute to Sir John Thompson or a depiction of him as they were homage to those in power, in this case the leaders of the Conservative party and other dignitaries appointed by them. But such power is transient in a fledgling democracy such as the one operating in Canada in the late Victorian period. The new Liberal government was not interested in acquiring portraits of its opponents or paintings of activities that glorified them. The Tribute was purchased by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Toronto in about 1914 and donated to the National Archives some time before 1931. The Arrival was purchased by Senator Sanford, whose portrait figured so prominently in it. Upon his death in 1899, his widow donated it to the National Gallery. Transferred to the Railway Room on Parliament Hill, it was destroyed in the 1916 fire. The State Funeral remained with the Bell-Smith family until 1997, when it was donated to the National Archives, now Library and Archives Canada.81

40 Eva Major-Marothy NOTES 1 Halifax Herald, 4 January 1895: 14. 2 The Globe, 15 September 1896: 2. 3 R. Boulet, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith (1846–1923) (Victoria: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1977), 27–8. 4 ‘Precious Paintings Lost in the Big Fire,’ Robert Borden papers, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), microfilm reel C4315 and D4183. 5 The role of the newly formed National Gallery was not yet well defined and its budget was frequently used to buy art works, which would then be kept on Parliament Hill. C. Hill, ‘Collecting Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada 1880-1980,’ in C. Hill and P.B. Landry, eds., Canadian Art: Catalogue of the National Gallery of Canada, vol. 1 (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1988), xii–xiii. For the purposes of this paper both Parliament Hill and the National Gallery are sites for public art because the federal arts administration was not yet clearly established. 6 Announcements in The Globe, 5 January 1895: 2, and in Saturday Night, 19 January 1895: 9. 7 ‘It was a measure of the respect that he enjoyed in Halifax, that not one of his Protestant clients left him.’ P.B. Waite, ‘Thompson, Sir John Sparrow David,’ in Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 12: 1040. 8 P.B. Waite, The Man from Halifax: Sir John Thompson, Prime Minister (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), 427. 9 Ibid., 417. 10 Halifax Herald, 4 January 1895, and Funeral Sermon on Sir John Thompson by the late Most Rev. C. O’Brien, D.D., Archbishop of Halifax (Halifax: E.P. Meagher Ltd, 1906). 11 A. Ben-Amos and E. Ben-Ari, ‘Resonance and Reverberation: Ritual and Bureaucracy in the State Funerals of the French Third Republic,’ Theory and Society 24 (1995): 167. 12 J.C. Bonnet, ‘Naissance du Panthéon,’ Poétique 33 (February 1978): 50. 13 M. Ouzof, ‘Le Panthéon,’ in P. Nora, ed., Les Lieux de Mémoire, vol. 1: La république (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1997), 162–3. 14 Ben-Amos and Ben-Ari, ‘Resonance and Reverberation,’ 167. 15 ‘… within weeks of Sir John’s death, proposals to erect monuments were announced in Montreal, Hamilton, Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto.’ C. Hill, ‘George Wade’s Monuments to Sir John A. Macdonald,’ Journal of Canadian Art History 22:1–2 (2001): 7. 16 Boulet, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 19.

The Wrong Commemoration 41 17 R. Hubbard, ‘Viceregal Influences on Canadian Society,’ in W.L. Morton, ed., The Shield of Achilles: Aspects of Canada in the Victorian Age (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968), 269. 18 Boulet, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 29. 19 Ibid. 20 R.J.D. Page, Imperialism and Canada 1895–1903 (Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972), 1. 21 Manitoba Free Press, 6 January 1896: 32. 22 B. Schwartz, ‘Mourning and the Making of a Sacred Symbol: Durkheim and the Lincoln Assassination,’ Social Forces 70 (2 December 1991): 358. 23 J.T. Saywell, ed., The Canadian Journal of Lady Aberdeen 1893-1898 (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1960), 160. 24 A. Ben-Amos, Funerals, Politics and Memory in Modern France, 1789-1996 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 326. 25 Ibid., 267. 26 Ben-Amos and Ben-Ari, ‘Resonance and Reverberation,’ 174. 27 Ben-Amos, Funerals, Politics and Memory, 278. 28 Saywell, Journal of Lady Aberdeen, 160. 29 B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, New York: Verso, 1991), 6. 30 The British chancellor of the exchequer, Sir William Harcourt, proposed that Britain could not do less for Thompson than they had done for the American philanthropist George Peabody, who had died in London in 1869, and whose body was transported in a warship. Waite, The Man from Halifax, 427–9. I have taken all the details of the funeral from this book and from the Halifax Herald, 4 January 1895, which was almost completely devoted to the funeral’s description. 31 The Globe, 15 June 1895: 11. 32 Halifax Herald, 4 January 1895: 13. 33 The Globe, 4 January 1895: 2. 34 Halifax Herald, 4 January 1895: 3. 35 The Globe reported that Lord and Lady Aberdeen received Bell-Smith in Halifax and commissioned a painting of the Blenheim; The Globe, 5 January 1895: 2, and F.M. Bell-Smith, ‘How I Painted Queen Victoria,’ in Boulet, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 145. 36 ‘Rites of passage are rites which accompany every change of place, state, social position and age.’ V. Turner, ‘Variations on a Theme of Liminality,’ in S.F. Moore and B.G. Myerhoff, eds., Secular Ritual (Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 1977), 36. 37 Ben-Amos, Funerals, Politics and Memory, 263.

42 Eva Major-Marothy 38 Turner, ‘Variations,’ 37. 39 Among those depicted are, from the left: Sir Charles Tupper, High Commissioner for Canada, Mrs Sanford, and Miss Sanford (who had accompanied Thompson to Europe), and Lord Edward Pelham-Clinton, Master of the Royal Household (who made the funeral arrangements in England; in the centre, Queen Victoria, and behind her, to the left: Princess Beatrice and ladies in waiting, and an Indian attendant; to the Queen’s right: her Indian secretary, Hafiz Abdul Karim, and at his side Sir Henry Ponsonby, former secretary to the Queen; in front of the pillar on the right, Sir James Reid (the Queen’s doctor who looked after Thompson’s last moments) and slightly further right, Father G. Longinotto (who performed the mass). 40 V.R. Smith, ‘Constructing Victoria: The Representation of Queen Victoria in England, India and Canada’ (PhD dissertation, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, 1998), iii. 41 Boulet, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 145. In addition, Bell-Smith painted a self-portrait in the act of painting Queen Victoria: The Artist Painting Queen Victoria (1895), National Gallery of Canada, Accession no. 6510. 42 Ben-Amos, Funerals, Politics and Memory, 293. 43 The scene shows Thompson’s two sons; Senator Sanford, who had accompanied the body on the ship; officers holding the Queen’s wreath and T.M. Daly, Minister of Interior; W.B. Ives, Minister of Trade and Commerce; and Charles Hibbert Tupper, Minister of Justice. Louis Coste, the Chief Engineer in Public Works, who was in charge of the funeral arrangements, is standing on the far right. 44 Saturday Night, 5 September 1896: 9. 45 L. Nochlin, Realism (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1983), 78. 46 T.J. Clark, Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (Berkeley, Los Angelesk, London: University of California Press, 1999), 81. 47 Nochlin, Realism, 78. 48 Bell-Smith was both a painter and photographer and produced numerous composite photographs. A. Thomas, Fact and Fiction: Canadian Painting and Photography, 1860–1900 (Montreal: McCord Museum, 1979), 79. For this project we know that he used photographs of Queen Victoria (Boulet, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 42–3) and Lady Aberdeen recorded in her diary on 13 February 1895: ‘Bell-Smith came from Toronto to carry H. E. off to Topley for a preliminary photo for his picture of Sir John’s funeral’ (Saywell, Journal of Lady Aberdeen, 196). For other photographic sources see note 49 below. 49 Thomas, Fact and Fiction, 79. 50 Photographic composites are made by photographing each participant separately, cutting each figure out, pasting the cut-outs to an appropriate

The Wrong Commemoration 43


52 53 54

55 56 57 58


60 61 62

63 64 65 66

background, and then re-photographing the whole collage. S. Triggs, The Composite Photographs of William Notman (Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History, 1994), 11. ‘A fine lot of Photos, taken by Mr. C. LEWIS, were laid on our table a few days ago. These Photos are of gentlemen who attended the funeral of the late Sir John Thompson at Halifax – Lieutenant Governor Howlan, Bishop MacDonald, Dr. Doyle, and many others. They are to be put in the large picture, which is to be painted at Toronto, of the interior of the Church, representing the funeral.’ Daily Examiner, Charlottetown, 17 April 1895: 1 (I thank Charlie Hill and Gary Carroll for bringing this announcement to my attention). Triggs, Composite Photographs of Notman, 19. The Globe and Saturday Night had regular reports. A Full Description of the two Historical Paintings of the Funeral of the Late Sir John S.D. Thompson KMG, MP, QC, PC etc by F. M. Bell-Smith, RCA (Toronto: Apted Bros., 1896). The Globe, 3 September 1896: 4. Saturday Night, 14 November 1896: 9; The Globe, 29 October 1896: 12; 12 November 1896: 12; and 14 November 1896: 24. Montreal Daily Star, 27 January 1897: 4. Reply from John Haggart to Bell-Smith, 15 March and 8 April 1895, LAC, J. Haggart fonds, R2325, vol. 3, Letter Book, March–June 1895; A. Caron fonds, Letter from Caron to Bell-Smith, Letter Book, March–May 1895, MG 27, ID 3, vol. 53. E. Ramsay, ‘The Promotion of the Fine Arts in Canada, 1880–1924: The Development of Art Patronage and the Formation of Public Policy’ (PhD dissertation, University College, London, 1987), 72. Ibid. N. Knowles, Inventing the Loyalists: The Ontario Loyalist Tradition and the Creation of Usable Pasts (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 7. K. Savage, ‘The Politics of Memory: Black Emancipation & the Civil War Monument,’ in J.R. Gillis, ed., Commemorations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 130. J.R. Gillis, ‘Memory and Identity: The History of a Relationship,’ in Gillis, Commemorations, 19. B. Hébert, ‘L’art de la commémoration,’ in Louis-Philippe Hébert (Quebec: Musée du Québec, 2001), 167. Knowles, Inventing the Loyalists, 4. D. Martin, ‘The Heroes of the Homeland: The Façade of the Hôtel du Parlement,’ in Hébert, Louis-Philippe Hébert, 89.

44 Eva Major-Marothy 67 Ibid. 68 The Globe, 10 March 1896: 1. 69 Memorandum to the Minister from A. Gobeil, Deputy Minister, Department of Public Works, 11 March 1896, LAC, RG 11, vol. 1184. 70 Ibid. He proposed that although The Tribute had historical value, its artistic value did not warrant the $7000 price that Bell-Smith was asking, and suggested $3000. 71 Ibid. 72 Ben-Amos, Funerals, Politics and Memory, 268. 73 The Globe, 26 August 1896: 5; The Week, 14 February 1896: 283; Saturday Night, 25 January 1896: 9. 74 As a comparison, the total annual salaries in 1894 for 17 officers of the Department of Justice was $28,570. Canada: Public Accounts for the fiscal year ended 30th June 1895 (Ottawa: printed by S.E. Dawson, 1895), table following p. xii. 75 Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, vol. 40 (Ottawa: S.E. Dawson, 1895), 2500–1, 2632–49, and 2673–83. 76 The Globe, 15 June 1895: 11. 77 B. Murphy, ‘Sir Mackenzie Bowell and the Cabinet Revolt of 1896,’ unpublished manuscript. 78 LAC, Laurier papers, MG 26 G, microfilm reel C748, p. 14070; Department of Public Works papers, RG 11, vol. 1165. 79 Memorandum to the Chief Architect, 10 November 1897. LAC, Department of Public Works papers, RG 11, vol. 1184. 80 Gillis, ‘Memory and Identity,’ 4. 81 LAC, Documentary Art, F.M. Bell-Smith, Accession files 1994-315 and 1998-22; Department of Public Works papers, RG 11, vol. 1354.

2 A Drive through Canadian History: People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s1 joan coutu

Historically, public art is invested with memorial intent. In Canada, the examples from the late nineteenth century (there are few from before) and the early twentieth century mainly consist of statues of male politicians and of Queen Victoria staring sternly down from granite pedestals on Parliament Hill, around provincial legislatures, or in city parks and squares. These statues were consistent with public monuments erected at the same time in the United States, Europe, and the far-flung reaches of the British Empire and they represented the leaders of society. The people who looked up to view them were the led. By the 1920s and into the 1930s there was a shift in the tenor of public art in the British Empire and across Europe and North America. While still inherently memorial and still generally commissioned by governments, the emphasis moved away from representations of the leaders to the ‘people.’ The shift was the result of a reinvigorated sense of nationalism and a democratization of culture that was intensified by the First World War and was later fuelled by the economic, political, and social inconsistencies of the post-war years, years in which Europe struggled to rebuild as North America boomed and then collapsed, ultimately dragging the world economy into the numbing hardships of a depression that would last a decade. In Europe, the Nazis and their aggressive memorialization of the Volk represent an extreme example of the state capitalizing on nationalist tendencies through identification with pure historical ‘types.’ As far as the visual arts were concerned, Hitler authorized two styles: the classically inspired beaux-arts idiom that spoke of leadership, control, and victory, and the quaint depiction of the blonde ‘Heidi’ and ‘Hans’ wearing their Dirndl and Lederhosen and standing outside their mountain

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Häusle. This so-called Arian style was meant to enunciate the earthy naturalness of the German Volk.2 In the United States, under the Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal program unprecedented (some would say un-American) interventions in cultural and economic matters were arguably no less persuasive in contributing to a strong nationalistic ethos. These interventions were embodied in such programs as the Public Works Arts Project, the forerunner to the Federal Arts Project, and the Works Projects Administration. Art Deco, grounded in the beaux-arts tradition, was the predominant style because it was considered easily understood. It was replete with accessible symbols that clearly celebrated ‘the American way of life’ and ‘the American dream,’ phrases that, as Warren Susman has pointed out, only came into common usage in the 1930s.3 Immediately following the First World War, all levels of government in Canada raced to commission war memorials, caught up in a wave of nationalistic fervour provoked, in part, by the victories achieved by Canadian soldiers on the battlefields of Europe. Almost all these memorials celebrated the common soldier.4 But by the 1930s, as the Depression increased its stranglehold on the country, government leaders exhibited little if any interest in commissioning art or assisting artists, much to the frustration of Canadian artists who frequently pointed to the American New Deal programs as examples of muchneeded state support. Indeed, both the federal and provincial governments dithered about initiating assistance programs for anyone until well into the decade. However, Thomas Baker McQuesten, an Ontario politician who had a keen interest in history as well as a love for landscaping, initiated and largely brought to fruition a complex public art scheme at Niagara Falls that rivalled anything produced in America and Europe during the same period. A lawyer born into the genteel poverty of a Scottish Presbyterian Whig family in Hamilton, Ontario, McQuesten was appointed minister of public works and minister of highways after Mitchell Hepburn’s Liberals swept the provincial elections in 1934. He was also named chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission, established in 1885 to develop and maintain parkland on the Canadian side of the Niagara Gorge and River.5 McQuesten had already demonstrated his park interests in Hamilton where, as chairman of the Works Committee on the Hamilton Board of Parks Management, he helped to amass the largest amount of developed parkland in any Canadian city.6 The highlights of his tenure were the transformation of an old gravel pit into the Royal

People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 47

Botanical Gardens, the building of the grand High Level Bridge (designed by John M. Lyle) at the northwest entrance to Hamilton, and the hosting of the first British Empire Games (later renamed the Commonwealth Games). McQuesten was also instrumental in luring McMaster University to Hamilton, where its campus became yet another large and formally landscaped public site.7 Because of his celebrated achievements in Hamilton and his widely acknowledged reputation for integrity, McQuesten was the first person invited into Hepburn’s cabinet in 1934.8 His reputation served him well, enabling him to stand apart from both the premier and the scandals that would rock the government.9 Indeed, McQuesten was able to pursue his own grand plans and ambitions almost entirely unfettered. By the time the Liberals were thrown out of office in 1942, he had conceived and implemented an astonishing number of public building projects. Many of these were either significant tourist attractions or elegant parkways that brought large numbers of tourists to sites located in McQuesten’s home territory of the Niagara Peninsula. There he reconstructed Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Fort Erie in Fort Erie, and the William Lyon Mackenzie House in Queenston.10 He laid out the 40-kilometre Niagara Parkway to link each of these sites to Niagara Falls, where he built the Oakes Garden Theatre, the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch, and the Rainbow Bridge. Consistent with his interest in formal landscaping, in 1936 McQuesten also opened the School of Horticulture at Niagara Falls. By far McQuesten’s greatest achievement was the Queen Elizabeth Way, which would link Toronto and his beloved Hamilton to Niagara Falls and thus to the American border. Although now much maligned, the QEW was the most technologically advanced motorway in North America when it was officially opened by the Queen (later the Queen Mother) on the now legendary 1939 tour of the Commonwealth by George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The QEW was also intended to be aesthetically pleasing. In Toronto, a column topped with the royal crown and embellished with portrait medallions of the King and Queen and guarded by the royal lion marked the entrance to the highway. Each interchange was lit with lamp standards in a green patina, stylized with a calligraphic ‘ER’ (Elizabeth Regina), and each bridge carried a relief of the Ontario coat-of-arms, a pointedly Anglo-Canadian emblem consisting of a crest of three golden maple leaves below the cross of St George, surrounded by a moose, a deer, and a black bear.11 At St Catharines, the Henley Bridge was

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fashioned into an Egyptian barge, meant to establish a metaphoric connection between the ancient Pharaoh’s Way and McQuesten’s modern wonder. The barge incorporated reliefs of the coats-of-arms of Canada’s then nine provinces, indicating that the QEW was a significant link in the Trans-Canada Highway, a project that existed mainly on paper in the 1930s.12 Beyond the Niagara Peninsula McQuesten reconstructed Fort Henry at Kingston and built the Ivy Lea International Bridge at Gananoque, connecting these two projects with the elegant St Lawrence Parkway. In southwestern Ontario he built the huge Blue Water International Bridge in Sarnia. Ontario’s north was also not neglected: McQuesten embarked upon a road building and road-paving program that was unprecedented in size. McQuesten’s grand building campaigns were rooted in his generation’s unswerving belief in the potential benefits of the automobile. By 1924 Canada ranked second only to the United States in per capita car ownership. The Depression did little to dampen enthusiasm for the car. Following a drop in the production of automobiles in Ontario at the beginning of the 1930s, demand rebounded and, by 1937, production exceeded pre-Depression levels.13 Such widespread ownership of automobiles, combined with the massive increase in road building supported by Depression-era ‘make-work’ projects, prompted a revolution in tourism. Automobile touring was no longer the exclusive domain of the rich. In the 1930s the typical Canadian middle-class family took to the roads for weekend and holiday travel. Cars freed tourists from the constraints of the limited destinations and fixed timetables of the railroad. Such ease of travel spawned new genres of tourism in North America and in Europe, including greater access to national parks; the creation of monumental national sites in hitherto remote areas such as Mount Rushmore in South Dakota; the opening up of grand historic homes; and the reconstruction or invention of entire historic villages. Some of these initiatives came from governments. Entrepreneurs whose own interests were intimately linked to the automobile and a newly mobile society, and who capitalized further on the phenomenon they helped to create built others, such as John D. Rockefeller’s Williamsburg, Virginia, and Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.14 With the democratization of tourism came a democratization of culture. Nearly all the sites celebrated middle-class lifestyles and identities. This was most apparent in reconstructed villages where day-to-day

People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 49

activities of the average man, woman, and child of past centuries were re-enacted, allowing middle-class tourists to see how their ancestors had contributed to shaping the modern world.15 Flinging open the doors of the great homes of Europe and North America further contributed to this popularization of culture: middle-class tourists could now vicariously live the lives of the nation-builders as they wandered through their richly decorated bedrooms.16 As Warren Susman has suggested with regard to the American experience, the democratization of culture is linked to the domestication of culture, that is to say, the development of a shared concept among members of a community of what it means to be part of a nation, ‘based on patterns of behaviour and belief, values and life-styles, symbols and meanings.’17 McQuesten’s public works projects, like the war memorials of the preceding decades, were prominent and tangible manifestations of the democratization and domestication of culture in Canada. Yet much of McQuesten’s inspiration came directly from the United States. The reconstructed forts, with soldiers marching in formation in the parade grounds and women baking bread in the kitchens, are clearly indebted to the ‘living’ historic village of Williamsburg, which opened in the late 1920s.18 The idea of putting people to work building roads, bridges, and parks during the Depression was clearly a spin-off of the Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal programs and the employment of artists to embellish these projects found specific precedent in the Public Works Arts Project, which had been implemented in 1933 just a year before McQuesten was appointed to his provincial portfolios. The Americans had also built thousands of miles of highway before McQuesten embarked on the Queen Elizabeth Way, although the QEW owed much of its sophistication to Hitler’s Autobahn, an even more massive make-work scheme. Rather than examining each of McQuesten’s public art projects, the remainder of this essay will focus on those at Niagara Falls: the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch (figure 2.1), which was demolished in 1967, and the Oakes Garden Theatre (figure 2.2). Niagara Falls is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. As Andrew Haswell Green, the commissioner of the New York State Survey of the American side of the Falls expounded, with some hyperbole, in 1880: ‘No other like gift of Nature equally holds the interest of the world or operates as an inducement for men to cross the seas.’19 Initially, a visit to Niagara Falls was, like most other tourist destinations, the purview of the wealthy. But, with the rise of rail travel and relative ease of access, the

2.1 William Lyon Somerville, C.W. Jefferys, Frances Loring, and Emanuel Hahn, Clifton Gate Memorial Arch, Niagara Falls (1936–8, demolished 1967). Photographed by Ron Roels.

2.2 Aerial view showing the Oakes Garden Theatre (1936–7), the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch, and the Canadian Approach to the Rainbow Bridge, top right (1938–41), by William Lyon Somerville with Lorrie and Howard B. DuningtonGrubb.

People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 51

Falls became a magnet for tourists of increasingly diverse means. With the popularization of the automobile, the fate of Niagara Falls as a democratic tourist destination was sealed. As such, it was an obvious focus for McQuesten and his building campaigns. The Clifton Gate Memorial Arch and the Oakes Garden Theatre were simultaneously conceived and built on the site of the majestic Clifton Hotel, a late-nineteenth-century structure that had burned to the ground on New Year’s Eve, 1932. While the name of the arch recalled the site’s earlier history, the theatre commemorated the mining magnate Harry Oakes, who had bought the site following the fire, then gave it to the Niagara Parks Commission in exchange for a smaller parcel of land on top of the escarpment where he would build Oak Hall.20 With the acquisition of the Clifton site, the Niagara Parks Commission considerably extended its property north along the Niagara Gorge, allowing for a sweeping vista of both the American and Canadian Falls. Indeed, the American Falls form the backdrop for the open-air Oakes Garden Theatre. As a type, the arch is one of the most ancient forms of public art. The Clifton Gate Memorial Arch can trace its genesis to the triumphal arches and gateways of ancient Egypt and ancient Rome, and was meant to serve as a gateway for tourists who came to see Niagara Falls. The arch was entirely symbolic because it was too narrow for cars to pass through. Similarly, the Oakes Garden Theatre finds its antecedents in the classical tradition, specifically in the gardens of ancient and Renaissance Rome. Yet both the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch and the Oakes Garden Theatre were thoroughly modern in design and were therefore in keeping with McQuesten’s architectural preferences. Both were also considered to be entirely Canadian: the sculptural ornament on the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch chronicled McQuesten’s version of Canadian history, the same version that was celebrated with memorial plaques and reconstructions along the Ontario–New York border. The sculpture in the Oakes Garden Theatre commemorates indigenous wildlife. Both the arch and the theatre were designed by William Lyon Somerville, who was destined to become McQuesten’s favourite architect. Somerville, originally from Hamilton, was described in the 1931 Who’s Who in Canada as ‘inclined toward liberalism,’ hardly surprising given his Christian names.21 This type of favouritism underpinned the political system of the day. As far as McQuesten was concerned, it was the duty of government to see that positions were filled by office holders

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who were responsible to the government.22 Somerville was joined by landscape designers Lorrie and Howard B. Dunington-Grubb, the painter/ historian C.W. Jefferys, and the Toronto-based sculptors Florence Wyle, Frances Loring, and Emanuel Hahn, all of whom were feeling the economic pinch of the early 1930s. The Clifton Gate Memorial Arch and the Oakes Garden Theatre were designed in the classically grounded beaux-arts style, with a particular nod to the American City Beautiful Movement of the turn of the century.23 The City Beautiful Movement advocated a preference for the classical style and regularised town planning as a solution to the urban decay of the 19th century. Usually this included grand avenues overlying a grid pattern with many open spaces. Somerville had studied at the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects in New York in the 1910s before setting up his own practice in Toronto where he worked closely with John M. Lyle, Canada’s pre-eminent proponent of the beaux-arts style.24 The Dunington-Grubbs meanwhile had trained in Britain with the City Beautiful Movement landscape architect Thomas Mawson before immigrating to Canada in 1911.25 The beaux-arts style continued to dominate design throughout the 1920s and, as was mentioned earlier, underpinned the nationalistic styles evident in Europe and the United States during the same period. In Canada a specifically ‘Canadian Style’ was consciously created in the late 1920s by a group of architects and landscape architects that included Somerville and the Dunington-Grubbs. The group met on an informal yet regular basis at the Diet Kitchen Restaurant on College Street in Toronto. John Lyle was their de facto leader and spokesperson. Essentially, the style they articulated consisted of a beaux-arts base embellished with Canadian motifs carved in sculpture or in topiary. Occasionally, specific Canadian materials and Canadian plantings would also be incorporated into their designs. As such, the Canadian Style was very similar in spirit to its counterparts in other countries. Because of the economic Crash of 1929, built examples of the Canadian Style are rare. McQuesten’s projects were to be the most comprehensive.26 The Oakes Garden Theatre, created according to this Canadian style, consists of a sloped grassy bowl bounded at the upper end by a curved ashlar stone pergola terminating in copper-topped square stone pavilions. The sides of the bowl are defined with pleached linden trees, while the parterres along the side of the theatre that fronts the river are laid out in a wave-like design that alludes to the roaring river below.27

People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 53

The beaux-arts theatre is ‘Canadianized’ with relief medallions carved by Loring and Wyle on the pergola that depict indigenous birds: a Canada goose, an owl, seagulls, a blue jay, catbirds, and orioles. Models for bronze lamp standards representing an otter and a skunk were designed by Thoreau MacDonald, but were never cast.28 The Canadian Style was mainly articulated on the memorial arch by the historical relief panels that decorated it. These panels were designed by C.W. Jefferys, who had established himself as Canada’s chief artist-historian. They were carved by the Toronto-based sculptor Emanuel Hahn.29 Chronologically, the earliest event depicted was the discovery of the Falls by Europeans in 1679. René Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle and Père Louis Hennepin are represented. Above this panel was a relief medallion of La Salle’s ship, the Griffin. The next panel commemorated the arrival in southern Ontario of the United Empire Loyalists during the American Revolution. A weary mother holding a baby rides in a cart full of the family’s possessions that is pulled by a pair of oxen. The father, anxiously gripping his rifle, and two sons, armed with a pike and an axe respectively, vigilantly escort the cart through hostile rebel American territory. The third panel (visible on the right of figure 2.1), dealing with the War of 1812, shows a British soldier standing at the ready with a musket firmly braced across his chest. A North American First Nations person, who we know from McQuesten’s correspondence to be a depiction of Tecumseh,30 waits in anticipation with his rifle at the ready. A Canadian farmer /militiaman with his pistols drawn occupies the background. Above this panel a relief medallion, matching that of the Griffin, contained an image of the St. Lawrence, the flagship of the British naval forces in Canada and the largest vessel sailing the Great Lakes at the time. Finally, the last panel honoured William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion of 1837. In this image (also visible in figure 2.1), Mackenzie is seen to hold forth, presenting his Seventh Report to the Upper Canada House of Assembly. This report listed the grievances that Mackenzie and his Whig companions felt Canadians had suffered at the hands of the closely knit ruling clique known as the Family Compact. The report is considered to be particularly important to the history of Canada because its offhand dismissal by the colonial governor, Sir Francis Bond Head, and his cronies, ultimately led to open rebellion in 1837. Below the Mackenzie panel were inscribed the names of the thirty-two ‘rebels’ – mostly farmers and labourers – who were arrested and tried by the governments of Upper and Lower Canada following the uprising.

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To either side of the list, carved medallions portrayed the leaders (the ‘martyrs’) – Samuel Lount, a farmer, and Peter Matthews, a blacksmith – hanged for their part in the Upper Canada Rebellion. With the exception of the panel that honoured the explorers, the events from Canada’s past commemorated on the arch were recounted in terms of how each affected the common settler or soldier. Similarly, other historic sites commemorated by McQuesten – from the simple memorial plaque at the site of the Battle of Crysler’s Farm during the War of 1812 to the huge reconstructions of Forts George, Erie, and Henry – celebrate the common people and their everyday lives in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Canada. Through this emphasis on the common person, McQuesten was, in a sense, targeting like with like: he gave the middle-class motor tourist a sanitized, nostalgic version of what life would have been like a hundred years before. Just as the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock and the colonial settlers of Williamsburg, Virginia, were enshrined in the mythology of America,31 McQuesten contributed to making the United Empire Loyalist settler and the lowly British soldier iconic within Canada’s history. His intent was neatly summed up in the inscription on the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch: This memorial was erected to honour the memory of the men and women in this land throughout their generations who braved the wilderness, maintained the settlements, performed the common task without praise or glory and were the pioneers of political freedom and a system of responsible government which became the cornerstone of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

The version of Canadian history espoused by McQuesten was the standard of the time. Textbook histories of Canada, such as C.W. Jefferys’s The Picture Gallery of Canadian History – ubiquitous in Canadian schools for decades – similarly focused on the ingenuity and industriousness of the settler, whether Habitant or United Empire Loyalist, who carved a life out of the wilderness, as well as on the battles and rebellions that defined the Canadian people as something other than British or American.32 Where McQuesten departed from these standard histories is in the decidedly Whig emphasis he adopted. Indeed, the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch was mostly about William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion of 1837. The arch and the reconstructed Mackenzie House in Queenston (where the Seventh Report had

People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 55

been printed) were both unveiled and opened in June 1938 at a ceremony billed as the centenary of the Rebellion. In bringing the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch and Mackenzie House to completion, McQuesten had enlisted the assistance of the pre-eminent Whig of his own time, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, the grandson of the rebel leader. By extending such an invitation, McQuesten may also have been pursuing his own political ambitions to move into federal politics, ingratiating himself with King and thereby sidestepping the acrimonious relationship between Hepburn and the prime minister.33 McQuesten solicited King to write the dedicatory inscriptions for the arch and to unveil it officially, as well as to open Mackenzie House. True to form, King sought his grandfather’s assistance in one of his mystical revelations, recording in his diary that his grandfather appeared in a vision ‘floating across the page,’ dictating several suggestions ‘from the skies out of the Invisible.’ ‘After 100 years,’ wrote King, ‘it is all too marvellous for words.’34 The inscription that resulted was less than subtle in implying that the actions of King’s grandfather had led to the foundation of the entire postEmpire British Commonwealth. In the end, although King thought the arch was an adequate ‘record in stone of family tradition and public service which I do not think is paralleled in Canadian history,’ he was disappointed with the size of the arch, writing in his diary that it should have been something more on the scale of the Arc de Triomphe.35 For his part, McQuesten was soon exasperated with King’s continued lack of commitment to public works and, after briefly trying to reconcile the provincial and federal Liberals, he retreated into Hepburn’s camp.36 Yet despite the ‘intergovernmental cold war,’ as John Herd Thompson and Allan Seager have described it,37 the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch remained an emphatic memorial to the Whig version of history in southern Ontario, much to the chagrin of the Conservative Party. The specific location of the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch was significant in terms of the possible interpretations the monument would invite. The arch stood at the southern end of the Niagara Parkway, which was lined with numerous historical sites, mostly commemorating events in the War of 1812. It also stood at the terminus of the Queen Elizabeth Way, which was landscaped to leave the impression that one was driving through orchards and woodlots along a nineteenth century colonial concession, one that happened to have all the trappings of a state-of-the-art 1930s highway.38

56 Joan Coutu

2.3 General view showing the Honeymoon Bridge, American Falls, Clifton Gate Memorial Arch, and Oakes Garden Theatre, Niagara Falls, Ontario, June 1937.

Finally, and most significantly, the arch was strategically located adjacent to the international Honeymoon Bridge, which American tourists had to cross in order to have the best view of Niagara Falls. Indeed, it was the American automobile tourist that was McQuesten’s primary target. He was not the first to recognize the economic possibilities represented by American tourists in their automobiles. The Middle Road from Toronto to Hamilton, the forerunner of the QEW, had been conceived as early as 1913 with the American motoring tourism industry in mind.39 Canadian politicians were anxious to build road links to the United States to capitalize on the phenomenon, so much so that by 1929 it was estimated that American car tourists brought in, Canada-wide, $225 million annually.40 During the Depression, enticing American tourists to visit Canada became that much more important. At Niagara, Americans could drive across the Honeymoon Bridge, look at the Falls, and then either take a leisurely tour along the Niagara Parkway and visit some of the historical sites or enjoy a speedy drive on the Queen Elizabeth Way deep into the heart of southern Ontario, where they could

People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 57

spend more money. Elsewhere in Ontario, McQuesten’s Ivy Lea International Bridge at Gananoque and Bluewater Bridge at Sarnia also brought Americans to the border. Ultimately, McQuesten’s road network and tourist attractions were probably second only to the Dionne quintuplets in terms of generating tourist dollars for the Ontario government.41 McQuesten and his team presented to the middle-class automobile tourist a history of middle-class Canada that was grounded in its own British imperial heritage but also defined according to its relationship to its neighbour to the south. Indeed, in his bid to distinguish a Canadian identity separate from that of the United States, McQuesten made the most out of a version of early Canadian history that was formed out of antagonistic encounters between Canadians and Americans. Ironically, by the time he had finished his series of memorial projects, McQuesten had reconstructed a replica of a defensive line along the Ontario–New York border. During the military re-enactments in the reconstructed forts, cannonballs were routinely lobbed at the ‘invading’ Americans, while on the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch, the carved War of 1812 soldier stood steadfastly and resolutely facing the American invaders with his musket at the ready (visible in figure 2.1). By a twist of fate, the situational significance of the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch was defused before it was even presented. In January 1938, six months before the arch was unveiled, ice built up along the abutments of the Honeymoon Bridge and caused it to collapse into the gorge. Plans were immediately drawn up to replace the bridge – again a testament to the importance of the lucrative American trade – and McQuesten was appointed chairman of the Niagara Bridge Commission. A new bridge, christened the Rainbow Bridge, was constructed several metres downstream from the site of the Honeymoon Bridge and out of range of the usual ice build-up. The new bridge was about ten metres taller than the old one, and thereby loomed over the Memorial Arch, negating its intended role as the main gate to both the Niagara parks and to Canada. The redirected Queen Elizabeth Way now terminated at the new bridge approach (visible at the top right of figure 2.2), and American tourists would have to take a convoluted route around the Oakes Garden Theatre and double back if they wanted to get to the arch. The Falls, which was their main objective, lay in the opposite direction. The arch, then, was left to serve as a gateway only for those people driving along the Niagara Parkway, which runs under the bridge approach along the bank of the gorge. As a ceremonial, symbolic gateway the approach to the Rainbow Bridge also supplanted the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch. In addition to

58 Joan Coutu

a restaurant and gift shop built under the deck of the approach, it boasts a customs house, offices, a bus terminal, and an elegant carillon tower (visible in the background of figure 2.1), an imposing landmark in itself. Both the approach and tower were designed in an updated version of the ‘Canadian Style,’ with a crisper rectilinear quality that heralds the International Style of the 1940s and 1950s. The garden that connects the bridge approach with the Oakes Garden Theatre is as formal in design as the theatre and is embellished with cast bronze and limestone fountains in the form of Canada geese, arching salmon, and dozing owls. The approach itself is ‘Canadianized’ with sculpted panels of indigenous wildflowers, such as daffodils and ladyslippers, while the theme of settlement is continued with panels that depict homesteading. McQuesten chose to lay aside the military topos evident in so many of his earlier projects. Indeed, he did something of an about-face, emphasizing the cordiality between Canada and the United States by commissioning a large relief panel from Florence Wyle (an American-born artist who had settled in Toronto) that shows Johnny Canuck shaking hands with Uncle Sam. This panel was completed in 1941, after Canada had entered the Second World War but when the United States was still neutral, a time when Americans were more than a little apprehensive about Canada’s involvement in the war. The ceremonial opening of the bridge in 1941 provided a further opportunity to emphasize Canadian congeniality, and when the final section of the QEW was opened, McQuesten took the opportunity to blame ‘fifth column activities’ for discouraging American tourists from coming to Canada when Canada was at war and the United States was not.42 The less prominent functional and symbolic role that the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch played following the construction of the Rainbow Bridge ultimately contributed to its demise. In 1967, after three decades of rankling those of a Tory turn-of-mind, the Whig memorial was torn down by the Conservative government of the day. The former beacon for automobile tourists was deemed to be a traffic hazard. In a further ironic twist, the only pieces of the arch that could be salvaged (beyond the ship medallions) were the very ‘Whiggish’ Mackenzie panel, the inscription bearing the names of the executed men, and the portraits of Lount and Matthews. The Mackenzie panel, the inscription, and the portraits were re-erected in the garden at Mackenzie House in Toronto. The ship medallions now grace the corner of Jarvis and Front Streets in Toronto.43 Seen across the distance of time, 1930s state-of-the-art technology and formal moderne beaux-arts styling might seem wholly incongruous

People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 59

when set beside the roaring cataracts of the Falls and the adjacent ‘natural’ Olmstedian Queen Victoria Park. Yet it seems the incongruity did not pose a problem for McQuesten and most of his generation. At a time when Canada’s rugged landscape was often seen as a deterrent to much-desired immigration, McQuesten capitalized on one of the wildest natural tourist attractions in North America to present a ‘civilised’ Canada to Americans and to the world beyond. Like the Canadian exhibits at the international expositions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that focused on lumbering, mining, and agriculture, all of McQuesten’s public works projects, including the Rainbow Bridge approach, the Clifton Gate Memorial Arch, the Oakes Garden Theatre, and the QEW, were about taming the land for human exploitation and enjoyment. Well-built highways, meticulously clipped formal gardens, or historic sites about settlement were all concerned with portraying a wilderness that had been brought under human domination. The sculptural embellishments on the beaux-arts sites illustrate Canadian flora and fauna at its tamest; no bears or wolves threaten the tourists. Delicate flowers and panels celebrating homesteading are favoured over windswept pines and rocky, barren landscapes. Even the mighty Niagara and Horseshoe Falls would fall prey to the march of civilization: relief sculptures of turbines and alternators on the Rainbow Bridge approach allude to the harnessing of the roaring cataracts in the massive hydro-electric plants just downstream. Hydroelectricity, like the automobile, was also considered a great democratic industry, transforming the lives of middle-class Canadians. It is no coincidence that McQuesten was appointed a member of the Ontario Hydro Commission in 1934. It is one of the enduring paradoxes of the time that the automobile, the most sophisticated form of travel for its day, provided the primary form of access to the wild, natural Falls. Like the railway tourist who, from the late nineteenth century, was encouraged to revel in the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies while simultaneously marvelling at the wonders of modern train travel, the automobile tourist was encouraged to cross the modern Rainbow Bridge or speed along the Queen Elizabeth Way to wonder at the unleashed fury of the Niagara River. The automobile had quickly outpaced the train as the ‘democratic’ mode of travel. McQuesten was able to bring his version of Canadian history and Canadian civility to an increasingly predominant middle class of unprecedented size and mobility. The car was literally the vehicle by which he conveyed his vision of the modern nation state with reference along the way to its past, its present, and its potential.

60 Joan Coutu NOTES

1 This essay is dedicated to Mario Gasparotto and Michael Auger. 2 Peter Cohen’s film The Architecture of Doom (1989) remains one of the most vivid accounts of Hitler’s manipulation of the visual arts. 3 W. Susman, Culture as History (New York: Pantheon Press, 1984), 154. 4 The largest example, the Vimy Ridge Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France, commissioned by the federal government and designed by Walter Allward, is extraordinarily moving. It builds on the powerfully evocative simplicity of the beaux-arts style, with immense mourning figures emerging serenely from granite pylons and a granite base. The Vimy Ridge Memorial figures prominently in J. Urquhart’s compelling novel The Stone Carvers (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2001). The war memorials found in cities and towns across Canada are much smaller but they are also almost exclusively about mourning and loss. Very few are about victory and conquest. Like the Vimy Memorial, they too are, on the whole, powerfully evocative in their simplicity: a single soldier standing with head bowed, a grieving mother, an Egyptianinspired ponderous pylon. A comprehensive study of Canadian war memorials as objects of art has not been written. Some useful sources on individual examples include C. Boyanoski, Loring and Wyle Sculptors’ Legacy (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1987), 31–47; V. Baker, Emanuel Hahn and Elizabeth Wyn Wood: Tradition and Innovation in Canadian Sculpture (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1997), 27–34 and passim; L.F. Borstad, ‘A Catalogue of Drawings and Sculpture of Walter Seymour Allward (1876–1955)’ (unpublished MA thesis, Kingston: Queen’s University, 1990); and T. Urquhart, Vimy and After: Drawings by Walter Seymour Allward (Stratford, ON: Gallery Stratford, 2005). See also A.R. Young, ‘We Throw the Torch: Canadian Memorials of the Great War and the Mythology of Heroic Sacrifice,’ in Journal of Canadian Studies 24 (Winter, 1989–90): 5–28; and R. Shipley, To Mark Our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials (Toronto: NC Press, 1987). 5 The Niagara Falls Park Act was introduced in the Ontario Legislature by Oliver Mowat on 20 March 1885. G.A. Seibel, Ontario’s Niagara Parks 100 Years (Niagara Falls, ON: Niagara Parks Commission, 1985), 26. 6 R. Barnsley, Thomas B. McQuesten (Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1987), 26. 7 Barnsley, McQuesten, provides a good overview of McQuesten’s park and construction projects. J.C. Best, Thomas B. McQuesten: Public Works, Politics and Imagination (Hamilton: Corinth Press, 1991) is a far more detailed and critical account of McQuesten’s political career. 8 J.T. Saywell, ‘Just Call Me Mitch’: The Life of Mitchell F. Hepburn (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 166. Immediately after the 1934 election,

People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 61





13 14

15 16

17 18 19


Hepburn embarked upon a tour of southern Ontario. His first stop was Hamilton, where he invited McQuesten to join his cabinet. The worst of these was Hepburn’s overreaction to the strike at the General Motors Plant in Oshawa in 1938. He claimed the strike had been prompted by American communists and promptly usurped the power of both the attorney general and the minister of labour. Hepburn was also dogged by questions concerning his health and moral character. Best, McQuesten, 120–1 and passim. The rebuilding of Fort George and Fort Erie were the result of a costsharing agreement between the federal and provincial governments. Seibel, Ontario’s Niagara Parks, 258–68. The Latin inscription below the crest, which translates ‘Loyal she began, loyal she remains,’ refers to the United Empire Loyalists who fled the American colonies during the American Revolution. D.F. Davis, ‘Dependent Motorization: Canada and the Automobile to the 1930s,’ Journal of Canadian Studies 21 (Fall, 1986): 125–6. For a more detailed history of the Queen Elizabeth Way refer to J. van Nostrand, ‘The Queen Elizabeth Way: Public Utility versus Public Space,’ Urban History Review 12, (1983): 1–23. R. Bothwell, I. Drummond, and J. English, Canada, 1900–1945 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 251. On the popularization of culture in the United States refer to Susman, Culture as History, 150–83. On motor tourism and culture refer to S. Kostof, America by Design (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 188–99 and 247–60; P.S. Sutter, Driven Wild (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002); and L. Jessup, ‘The Group of Seven and the Tourist Landscape in Western Canada, or the More Things Change …,’ Journal of Canadian Studies 37 (Spring, 2002): 144–79. The earliest of these seems to have been Skansen in Stockholm, which opened in 1891. Kostof, America by Design, 252. In Britain, several country houses were opened to the public in the interwar years also out of necessity as the fortunes of the ancient families continued to erode and many were faced with crippling death duties. Susman, Culture as History, 154. For a recent study on Williamsburg, see A. Greenspan, Creating Colonial Williamsburg (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002). From J. Foord, ‘The Life and Public Services of Andrew Haswell Green,’ in A. Fein, Frederick Law Olmsted and the American Environmental Tradition (New York: Braziller, 1972), 43. Seibel, Ontario’s Niagara Parks, 293. Oakes, who had made his fortune in gold mines in Kirkland Lake, served briefly as a Niagara Parks Commissioner,

62 Joan Coutu

21 22 23







during which time the land transfer was made. Oakes left Canada for the Bahamas in 1935 after the Canadian government introduced strict tax reforms. He was brutally murdered in his bed in 1943 and the case has never been solved. Oak Hall is now the headquarters of the Niagara Parks Commission. B.M. Greene, ed., Who’s Who in Canada, 1930–31 (Toronto: International Press, 1931), 352. Best, McQuesten, 99. On the City Beautiful Movement in the United States see W.H. Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989). On the beaux-arts generally see A. Drexler, ed., The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts (London: Secker and Warburg, 1977). Some of the grander examples of the City Beautiful Movement were the various world’s fairs, most notably the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago and, more recent and more consistent in style with the Niagara projects, the layout and buildings of the 1924 Wembley Empire exhibition in London. For a discussion of beaux-arts architecture in Canada and John M. Lyle see G. Hunt, John M. Lyle: Toward a Canadian Architecture (Kingston: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1982). On Mawson see E.J. Morrow, ‘Thomas Mawson,’ in MacMillan Encyclopedia of Architects, 3rd ed., ed. A.K. Placzek (New York: Free Press, 1982), 124. The Dunington-Grubbs established Sheridan Nurseries. Their papers are in the collection of the University of Guelph. For excerpts of their writings see E. von Beyer and P. Crawford, eds., Garden Voices (Toronto: Random House, 1995), 49–52 and 113–17. Before the Depression cut short construction projects John Lyle also had the opportunity to erect a few Canadian Style buildings. These were mainly banks, although his Runnymede Public Library in Toronto (1930) is a wonderful whimsical example, with totem poles replacing columns to either side of the front entrance. The most comprehensive study of the Canadian Style remains Hunt, John M. Lyle, 42–60. The plantings include golden privet, santolina, althernanthera, Korean boxwood, and red-leaf Japanese barberry with begonias, lantanas, fuschia, and cone-shaped yew topiary. Some, but not all of these, are indigenous. See Seibel, Ontario’s Niagara Parks, 298–302. Archives of Ontario, RG 38, C-3, box 34, Lighting, P.H. Mitchell to C.E. Kaumeyer (general manager of the Niagara Parks Commission), 9 December 1937. The plaster models for the bird medallions are in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Louis Temporale was also involved in the commission. Personal communication with Robert Stacey, 2001.

People, Cars, and Public Art at Niagara Falls in the 1930s 63 30 Best, McQuesten, 127. Tecumseh, a warrior chief of the Shawnee, had attempted to preserve land from American encroachment by creating a confederacy of tribes west of the Appalachians. The confederacy, always tenuous, was dealt a crippling blow at the Battle of Tippecanoe in the Indiana Territory in 1808 (Tecumseh was not present at the battle). Tecumseh then sided with the British in the War of 1812 in the hopes that if the British were victorious they would return the land to Tecumseh and his followers. He was killed in the Battle of the Thames, in south-western Ontario, in 1813 after British soldiers had fled, abandoning the Indian warriors to fight the Americans. Tecumseh was subsequently touted as the great ally of the British, not unlike Joseph Brant during the American Revolution. 31 Williamsburg had become so significant in contributing to the mythology of America that troops were brought there for inspiration during the Second World War; Kostof, America by Design, 250. On the role of Colonial Williamsburg on the American psyche generally during the Second World War, see Greenspan, Creating Colonial Williamsburg, 60–76. 32 C.W. Jefferys, A Picture Gallery of Canadian History (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1946). K. Moore and J. McEwen, A Picture History of Canada (Toronto: Thomas Nelson & Sons [c. early 1930s]) is typical of an earlier elementaryschool Canadian history textbook. 33 J.H. Thompson with A. Seager, Canada 1922–1939: Decades of Discord (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985), 296–7. 34 National Archives of Canada (NAC), MG 26, J, Queen’s University Archives, transcript/typescript (QUA) 110, 27 March 1937. 35 NAC, MG 26, J (QUA) 123, 18 June 1938. 36 Best, McQuesten, 136. 37 Thompson with Seager, Canada 1922–1939, 296–7. 38 H. Carver, The Compassionate Landscape (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975), 47–8. 39 Davis, ‘Dependent Motorization,’ 125. 40 Ibid., 126. On the impact of American tourism on the Canadian economy and Canadian road building see ibid., 123–7. 41 The Dionne quintuplets, born to nearly destitute parents in Corbeil, Ontario, were the first quintuplets known to have survived infancy. Shortly after birth they were made wards of the provincial government and displayed in a pseudo-scientific nursery to millions of gawkers. It is estimated that the government and nearby businesses made over $500 million dollars at the quintuplets’ personal expense. In 1994 CBS television and CINAR films produced a four- hour reality-based drama about the early lives of

64 Joan Coutu the quintuplets, entitled Million Dollar Babies (directed by Christian Duguay and produced by Bernard Zukerman). 42 Best, McQuesten, 147–8. 43 For the history of the arch after its demolition see M. Frank, The Mackenzie Panels (Toronto: Red Robin Press, 1987) and Frank, ‘Niagara’s Fallen Arch,’ Weekend Magazine, 3 December, 1977, 10B.

3 Camouflage Series jason st-laurent The Camouflage Series is an ongoing ‘performative photography’ project initiated in 2004. So far it has taken place in Montreal, Helsinki, Saint John, Winnipeg, Detroit, Ottawa, and Toronto. At each chosen site, I integrate my body into a major public artwork by wearing common materials chosen to match the colour and texture of the work. These have included aluminum foil, garbage bags, and packing tape. The final artwork consists of a diptych: a full-body photograph of myself in costume together with a photograph of myself integrated into the monument or sculpture. Although my attempts at integration are inherently flawed (I never quite manage to disappear into the art), the work nevertheless raises a series of questions about the role of public art in a given environment. It questions how the public relates to large-scale, or otherwise significant sculptures in the public realm. It also asks if there can be universal aesthetic acclaim for a work of public art or if public reactions depend on the specific cultural make-up of the people who view it. Essentially, it invites viewers to reflect on whether art can be for everybody. Ultimately, the Camouflage Series alludes to Andreas Huyssen’s ‘warning that monuments can freeze memory,’1 and Norman Kleebatt’s call for ‘more performative, or active, monuments.’2 In my efforts to locate myself within these heroic, idealistic, or aesthetic structures, I hope to communicate to the public that interaction is not only possible, but vital to the understanding of art in general and public art in particular.

NOTES 1 A. Huyssen, ‘Monument and Memory in a Postmodern Age,’ Yale Journal of Criticism 6:2 (1993): 249–61. 2 N. Kleebatt, Curator of Fine Arts at the Jewish Museum, New York, paper delivered at ‘In Memoriam,’ a symposium organized by Artery: The AIDS–Arts Forum, 2000.


Jason St-Laurent, Montréal / L’homme, 2005. (Sculpture by Alexander Calder, 1967).





Jason St-Laurent, Ottawa/ Maman, 2005. (Sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, 1999).




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4 Public Art and Canadian Cultural Policy: The Airports BERNARD FLAMAN

It is desirable that the Canadian people should know as much as possible about their country, its history and traditions; and about their national life and common achievements. Vincent Massey1

Eager to abandon its antiquated and often embarrassing facilities, the Canadian Department of Transport (DOT) began planning in 1952 for a system of sleek, up-to-date airport terminals to be built across the country.2 Smaller terminals in the system were designed by DOT, while major terminals were contracted to architectural firms. The first new major terminal was constructed at Gander in 1958 because of the high volume of trans-Atlantic flights handled by the airport.3 This was followed by terminals in Halifax, Montreal, and Ottawa in 1961; Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton in 1964 (arguably the high point of the program); and Vancouver in 1968, the last project before the second round of expansion was initiated in the 1970s. The new terminals shared a common design theme that employed the latest Canadian and international furniture and lighting within a backdrop of modernist architecture in the international style. The resulting interiors were intended to evoke the atmosphere of an art gallery. This ‘gallery space’ would showcase the largest public art project ever realized in Canada.4 For Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton, twenty works incorporating painting and sculpture were commissioned with the guidance of the National Gallery and installed by the Department of Transport in and around the three terminal buildings. The interiors of these buildings represented a new type of public space,

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one intended to provide visitors with a dramatic first impression of a particular city, a function performed in the past by the traditional civic square or Main Street. But because of the predominant use of international style modernism, embellished by large-scale abstract murals and sculpture, these spaces were no longer just related to a particular city: they were meant to project a national image.5 Federal government sponsorship and policy coalesced to create a ‘cultured’ atmosphere, open to all Canadians, combining fine art, modernist architecture, and elegant furnishings. The collection of works chosen for the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton terminals provides us with a broad panorama of the Canadian art scene in the early 1960s. Several artistic movements or groups from different regions of the country are represented: surrealist Alfred Pellan and Automatiste Jean-Paul Riopelle from Quebec; Painters Eleven members Harold Town, Kazu Nakamura, and Walter Yarwood; structurists Eli Bornstein and John Graham; and West Coast artists Jack Shadbolt and B.C. Binning were all commissioned for major works. The list also included sculptors Ann Kahane, Norman Slater, Louis Archambault, Armand Vaillancourt, Gerald Gladstone, painters Jean McEwen, Graham Coughtry, Louis de Niverville, and Dennis Burton, and what was then known as the Cape Dorset Eskimo Cooperative. The public art program for the 1964 terminals depended on a larger vision of social engineering. The artists who were commissioned and the location of each work in or around the buildings was meant to create a sense of national identity and expose audiences from one part of the country to artworks produced in another. The political underpinnings of the program, a conscious effort by the Canadian government to represent a shared national culture, are part of the legacy of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences. Struck in 1948, and chaired by Vincent Massey, the commission spent two years producing an extensive document now known as the Massey Report. Based on the overall concept of portraying Canada as a modern and unified country, the Massey Report resulted in the creation of several new institutions, including the Canada Council for the Arts and the National Library. It would shape Canadian cultural institutions and the activities they generated throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Writing to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the report in 2001, cultural critic Robert Fulford described it as ‘the most important official document in the history of Canadian Culture.’6 However,

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Fulford went on to criticize the elitist stance brought to the report by Vincent Massey himself. For Fulford, the chairman directed the report towards a narrow focus that excluded emerging media such as television and popular films. He also instilled a defensive tone that warned against the constant threat of American cultural assimilation. Fulford’s criticism echoes that of Vancouver artist Ken Lum, who, in 1999, had come to similar conclusions when he published an astonishing analysis of Canadian cultural policy in the period following the Second World War. Lum posits that the Massey Report attempts to deal with the pervasive Canadian question of how ‘to forge and project Canadian culture’ by promoting a recognizable expression of ‘true Canadianism.’7 This challenge, Lum claims, is ‘rooted in paradox because the multicultural composition of Canada’s population was to a significant degree a consequence of its social engineering of culture that began in full force immediately after the Second World War.’ In other words, forging a ‘true Canadian’ culture is a paradox in a nation state that is actively seeking and promoting multicultural diversity. Lum raises another fundamental and very Canadian issue when he states that the Massey Report ‘was in fact a document of the intellectual anxieties of Canada’s ruling anglophone elite worried about the ascending signs of regional discontent to which they believed themselves historically designated to resolve.’8 Yet, in spite of Fulford’s grievances and Lum’s critical analysis, the Massey Report still has contemporary relevance if only to point out that the level of public awareness of cultural production in Canada has not changed much in fifty years.9 While certain sections of the report, particularly those devoted to mass media, give credence to allegations of elitism by its critics and seem rooted in a Victorian bias towards high culture, other sections seem visionary. Indeed, concerns about a lack of public awareness of architecture – concerns similar to those raised by the Massey Report – find direct resonance in a report entitled ‘Support for Architecture’, produced in 2003 by the Visual Arts Section of the Canada Council. The report states baldly: ‘Fifty years after the publication of The Massey Report, the Canada Council for the Arts does not seem to have taken a leadership position on any of these matters.’10 From our current vantage point, the contradictory nature of the Massey Report, rather than being taken as the flawed logic of a Victorian mindset, actually offers a fascinating record of the state of cultural production in the period that immediately followed the Second World War. This record allows an analysis of the state of public art production

78 Bernard Flaman

in Canada between the 1930s and the mid-1960s. The report also offers a record of the development of federal policy for commissioning public art, policy that culminated in the airport projects. Its timing corresponds to a stylistic shift that saw visual artists embrace an international perspective that brought with it an increasing level of abstraction. The changes taking place in the world of the visual arts at the very time the Massey Report was being produced can be illustrated by briefly reviewing a variety of landmark events. It was in 1948 that a group of Quebec artists known as the Automatistes, lead by Paul-Émile Borduas, produced the now famous Refus Global, the manifesto of an artistic movement that challenged the stultifying and repressive partnership of church and state in Quebec, and a document now credited with being the first shot in the Quiet Revolution.11 In the same year the government of T.C. Douglas, the first socialist government in North America, created the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the first publicly funded and administered arts board in Canada. Shortly thereafter, in 1950, artist Ken Lochhead arrived in Regina to direct the School of Art at the University of Saskatchewan, Regina College. With the support of the Saskatchewan Arts Board, he would go on to organize a series of now renowned artists’ workshops at Emma Lake near the city of Prince Albert, workshops that would attract some of the biggest names in the world of Canadian and American modern art, among them, Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, and the critic Clement Greenberg. Lochhead and the experience of Emma Lake would also become a driving force in the formation of the home-grown group of modernist painters known as the Regina Five.12 Back in central Canada, the experience of Borduas and his colleagues would give rise to international recognition of, among others, Françoise Sullivan and the celebrated Jean-Paul Riopelle. Not to be outdone, the Toronto-based Painters Eleven held their first exhibition of largely abstract work in 1953.13 Developments within the architectural profession were in a similar state of transition. The RIAC (Royal Architectural Institute of Canada) Journal provides a record of the stylistic changes that were taking place in Canada. The May 1948 issue was devoted to an overview of student work, much of it modernist in nature and arguably of a sophistication that outstripped the design of the actual built projects designed by professional architects found elsewhere in the publication. John Russell, the director of the University of Manitoba’s School of Architecture, wrote in the issue’s introduction: ‘Recent trends in the curricula of the schools of architecture have emphasized architecture as design and

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construction as well as its sociological aspect. In addition they have attempted to survey and to correlate various allied creative design functions – notably city planning, housing, industrial design and the various other phases of visual design.’14 This statement, and the fact that student sculpture projects were included alongside architectural design work, suggests that a broader approach to design was being encouraged. Architects still occupied their traditional role as coordinators of several artistic and engineering disciplines, but it appears that the 1948 article depicts a profession in the midst of a transition. Yet not all the projects depicted in the RAIC Journal were modernist. A significant few still used traditional drawing techniques of ink and watercolour and a simplified neoclassical style. However, three years later, in 1951 (the same year the Massey Report was published), a similar article in the RAIC Journal published student projects that were uniformly modernist. The challenge that the Massey Report presented was how to make this increasingly abstract and internationally inspired artistic production recognizably Canadian. The Massey Report was structured around a series of discussions that summarized consultations that had taken place regarding a variety of artistic disciplines.15 Chapter 15, entitled ‘The Artist and the Writer,’ includes separate sections on music, the theatre, ballet, painting, sculpture, architecture, and town planning. It is telling that the report lacks a section specifically entitled ‘public art.’ This is possibly because there was an understanding that sculpture and large paintings or murals traditionally served as public art. This understanding is supported by an RAIC Journal article of 1948, ‘1939–1948 Observations on a Decade: Canadian Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking.’ In this article, surprising for an architectural journal, we are given yet another illustration of the changes taking place at the moment that the Massey Report was being produced. The introduction by Charles Comfort, ‘Transition,’ takes the unusual step of citing the contribution of the Group of Seven as a leap forward in the realm of Canadian painting in the interwar period. Comfort predicts similar advancement in the postwar period: In the crucible of the first Great War the elements had been fired which led to the first conscious movement toward a national art form in Canada, the Group of Seven. In the intervening years, ‘the Seven’ completed the first phase of their influence and wisely expanded their sphere into the wider inclusiveness of the Canadian Group of Painters. As the Second

80 Bernard Flaman World War enveloped the globe, we find in Canada vast developments in the arts which were but dreams in 1914.16

Further to the observation that ‘vast developments’ were taking place in the art world, Comfort reviews events in the United States and claims that mural painting had become a ‘moving force’ in the 1930s.17 This supports the notion that public art at this time was understood as mural painting and architectural sculpture. Comfort goes on to identify the influence that the American ‘New Deal’ program had on Canada, an influence that resulted in the 1937 commission for Comfort of eight murals in the Toronto Stock Exchange and, as Joan Coutu has pointed out earlier in this volume, sculptural embellishments to public works projects such as the Queen Elizabeth Way.18 The accompanying RAIC Journal article on sculpture suggests that, amid a decline in interest from galleries, most contemporary sculpture was found on buildings in the form of architectural sculpture or stone carving and that architects had become one of the main ‘appreciators’ of the art form.19 The Massey Report appears to echo and summarize the observations presented above. It also seems to place individual disciplines at different stages of evolution in relation to the influence of modernism and an understanding of the nature of public art. The chapter on architecture, for example, appears to embrace modernism and, in fact, presents a case for a Canadian role in the development of the international movement: A specific problem of architecture in Canada has been the tendency toward imitative and derivative styles of architecture. Nonetheless many hopeful signs of a growing architectural sense in Canada have been brought to our attention. There are the possibilities of the new ‘engineering architecture’ symbolised in Canada chiefly by grain elevators, whether in wood as is typical on the Prairies or in concrete about the Great Lakes.20

These ‘possibilities’ would become clear in the ensuing years when elements of this so-called engineering architecture, including a variety of formal elements and materials such as exposed concrete and curtainwall glazing systems, would find their way from industrial buildings to institutional and residential projects, a process already well underway in Europe. Engineering architecture was also an attempt to place Canadian industrial structures in an influential role vis-à-vis the development of modernist architecture.

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The report’s chapter on painting expresses ambivalence about the role of modernist art in Canadian culture. The point is made that painting in general is not seen by the public as a necessary part of Canadian culture, the suggestion perhaps being that anything more challenging than the work of the Group of Seven would be difficult for the public to accept. Much is made of the Group’s contribution and the ‘romantic naturalism’ of their work. They are termed ‘the first truly Canadian school of painting’ – a surprising statement given that their work represented only one aspect of the country and its art. There is a recognition, however, that a new trend is on the horizon. The chapter cites the contribution of Alfred Pellan and his move towards abstraction (following a residency in Europe), and it is noted that many students were attracted to Pellan’s new work. Yet this is accompanied by a wistful tone, the sense that a truly Canadian form of painting was about to be swept away by international modernism: The tendency of this new school is to move away from romantic naturalism to the abstract painting, which is international in vogue. International influences have not been inimical to a vigorous Canadianism; on the contrary, new developments, international as well as national, have helped to create a new Canadian art. Canadian painting no longer seeks to express itself through the Canadian landscape but for all that, it is maintained, it is nonetheless Canadian.21

The report offers no specific examples to illustrate the meaning of this curious statement, making it difficult to imagine the nature of this abstract yet truly Canadian form of painting. It might be interpreted as hopeful encouragement for artists to combine ‘Canadianism’ and abstraction. The chapter on sculpture suggests that demand for this sort of art was at a high point, largely due to demand for architectural sculpture and small pieces for domestic interiors.22 A sentiment that appears throughout the report is perhaps best articulated in the chapter on sculpture. It is related to the role of the federal government as a patron and cultural policy maker: ‘Whether used as an integral part of the buildings or in relation to them, sculpture, it is suggested, should have an essential place in any such plan. It was stated to us, moreover, that the Federal Government has not only shown itself unaware of its opportunities as a patron, but is even neglectful of its obligations as a consumer.’23

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Of all the visual arts, architectural sculpture would suffer the most from the emergence of modernism. The emerging preference for sleek, undecorated buildings would eradicate the demand for traditional architectural stone carving. By connecting the discussion on sculpture to that of architecture, we are able to glimpse an interdisciplinary mode of artistic production that flowered briefly, but would be largely lost as modernism developed through its successive phases. As traditional architectural sculpture and decoration disappeared, modernist sculpture suddenly found itself placed next to a building or sited in a public plaza rather than integrated into the building’s physical structure. In fact, sculpture and mural painting increasingly followed a design concept that separated them from the building structure and opened the door for their eventual removal. In cases where building budgets became too tight, or where the proposed art was deemed to be too controversial, commissions for sculptures and murals were simply dropped. The progressive stripping away of all kinds of decorative public art would, by the 1970s, contribute to a reaction against the starkness of modernist architecture. By this time, the understanding was largely lost of the architect’s traditional role as a coordinator and collaborator with painters and sculptors on public art projects. Initiated in the immediate aftermath of the Massey Report, the airport art project would provide an example of the federal government finally acting as a patron of artistic production. More importantly, it represented a decision by the government to embrace modernism and fashion its Canadian expressions into a recognizable identity for Canada. Indeed, Eric Arthur, dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Architecture, in a special study he produced on architecture for the Massey Commission, pulls together the report’s discussion on architecture, painting, and sculpture and gives concrete direction on the issue of public art, direction that the airport project would make tangible. Recognizing modernism as the new paradigm, he points out how public art presents an opportunity to lend richness to the new architecture. Arthur writes: Contemporary architecture in Canada today is admirably suited to the complete collaboration of architect, painter, and sculptor. With our modern appreciation of light, both artificial and daylight; with broad surfaces of unbroken wall and a free and open plan in public areas, there is every opportunity to make the utmost of the art of painter and sculptor.24

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The airport art project was an attempt to convey ‘true Canadianism’ to Canadians and the world. It involved several visual arts disciplines and was supported by the federal government with the involvement of institutions such as the National Gallery of Canada. The initiative to commission art for the terminal buildings started as a modest idea with no obvious link to the Massey Report: the architects for the Gander terminal (Durnford, Bolton, Chadwick and Ellwood of Montreal) suggested that an area of the international waiting room might be appropriate for a mural.25 A limited competition led to the commissioning of Flight and Its Allegories, a mural three metres high and twenty-four metres long by Regina-based painter Ken Lochhead, and of Welcoming Birds, a bronze and aluminium sculpture by Ottawa’s Art Price. The brief for the limited competition that would choose the artists for the terminal stated that the work be ‘not non-objective’ and result in works that were contemporary, but still employed representational imagery. Flight and Its Allegories, for example, depicts human figures enacting the stages of flight against a background of the flora and fauna of Canada. Art pieces were commissioned for subsequent terminals at Halifax, Montreal, and Ottawa without the benefit of a structured selection process. However, the art programme reached its high point with the commissioning of the terminals at Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton, where twenty significant paintings and sculptures were commissioned and installed. This decision marks a watershed in federal public art commissions, with a government department allocating a portion of the construction budget to art. In the case of the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton terminals, the amount was a not-insignificant one-half of 1 per cent. Rather than selecting artists through a limited competition, similar to the one that resulted in the Lochhead mural at Gander, John R. Baldwin, the deputy minister of transport at the time, solicited the collaboration of Charles Comfort, director of the National Gallery, John A. Russell, the chairman of the University of Manitoba School of Architecture, and John C. Parkin, director of the National Design Council and the architect for the Toronto Terminal. Comfort and Parkin were asked to compile a list of prominent Canadians who would sit on three committees that would select the artists and oversee the work.26 Unlike the Gander experiment, there was no longer a stated requirement that the art be ‘not non-objective.’ A much greater degree of artistic freedom was to be permitted. The artists explored several themes that combined highly personal imagery with inspiration drawn from the natural landscape of Canada.

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The pieces were also meant to anchor a sense of time and place in the new modernist buildings. The large murals, in particular, served as powerful orientation devices for travellers finding their way through the new jetports. For example, Riopelle’s Point de Rencontre (painted in the artist’s Paris studio) was a heroic 4m × 6m composition on five panels – a triptych over a diptych – that marked the entrance foyer of the administration building at the Toronto airport. The lower diptych is covered in 100 kilograms of heavy oil impasto in reds, blues, and greens referring to earth, water, and vegetation. The triptych above conveys overtones of an atomic bomb blast, a visual metaphor that places the work (and the terminal) in time; that is, at the height of the cold war. Pellan’s 2m × 11m mural The Prairie (figure 4.1) was mounted on a free-standing curved screen between the entrance and main space of the dining room in the Winnipeg terminal. The highly controlled yet swirling composition is consistent with his surrealist style, with the vibrant colours referring to the light and landscape of the Winnipeg area. Architect and artist B.C. Binning created a tile-and-glazed-brick mural that covered an entire wall of the arrivals level in Edmonton and provided a backdrop for the luggage carousels. It combined a subtle combination of bas-relief and interlocking horizontal lines with a highly personal and idiosyncratic interpretation of the prairie colour palette, including bright greens and reds punctuated with black. The murals by John Graham, Eli Bornstein, and Jack Shadbolt are the only pieces of those commissioned for the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton airports still on public display in their original locations. Covering the north wall of the Winnipeg concourse, Graham’s Northern Lights, a 12.2m × 45.7m structurist27 composition of mosaic tile, coloured plexiglass, and vertical aluminium bars still catches the late afternoon sunlight (especially in autumn) and glows with yet another interpretation of prairie light and colour. Perhaps the ‘prettiest’ of all the pieces, the combination of pastel and primary colours evokes memories from the early 1960s of distinct fashion styles and product designs. Eli Bornstein’s 12.2m × 45.7m Structurist Relief in Fifteen Parts on the south wall of the Winnipeg terminal acts as a partner to Graham’s on the north wall. The two pieces frame the vast, clear-span space of the terminal and can be viewed from both the entrance and mezzanine levels. Now mostly obscured by a small aircraft suspended from the ceiling and a clutter of advertising from real estate companies, it remains one of the most visually challenging of the works. Once again, the inspiration comes from nature, here interpreted as a cool, pristine, and

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4.1 Alfred Pellan, The Prairie (1964). Oil on canvas. Located at the entrance to the dining room at the Winnipeg International Airport.

controlled composition of three-dimensional, coloured enamel metal cubes arranged on a series of white ‘fields.’ It relies on colour to engage the space of the terminal when viewed straight-on from the upper mezzanine of the concourse. Viewed from the ground level, the cubes seem to stretch out into the space, creating a dynamic terrain. Shadbolt’s 5.5m × 11m Bush Pilot in the Northern Sky, in the concourse space at the Edmonton terminal, reverberates with the vastness of the tundra. Contrasting whites and blues dominate the composition, overlaid with densely integrated imagery of aviation and nature. Shadbolt’s preliminary studies which were preserved, provide a unique window onto the artist’s creative process. They are helpful in explaining the imagery that he used, imagery often fittingly inspired by frequent airplane trips over the northern landscape. The work was painted in Vancouver on a series of vertical canvas strips, transported to Edmonton, and glued to the plaster wall with contact cement. Shadbolt’s work was located in the centre of the departures concourse facing a grand

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stairway that connected the three levels of the terminal. The mural underwent extensive conservation work in 2006 and is still in public view, possibly saved by the unusual use of glue as a method of installation, since any attempt to remove it would cause its destruction. The nature and size of the spaces within the airports provided the setting for some of the largest pieces of interior art to be produced in Canada. It must be remembered that, in the 1950s, public art galleries did not exist in Canada to the same extent as they do today. The construction of the terminals in the early 1960s coincided with the building of some of the first purpose-built galleries in the country (outside of Montreal).28 The sheer size of the pieces, coupled with their level of abstraction and the cost of the program, would create a storm of controversy. The program was ridiculed and lampooned when it was revealed that a quarter-million dollars, a princely sum for the time, had been set aside for ‘abstract art.’ ‘Modernistic blobs,’ ‘paint smears,’ ‘welder’s experiments,’ and ‘carpenter’s leftovers’ are some of the descriptive terms that appeared regularly in the Canadian popular press throughout the period. Architect Stanley White, who served as the secretary of the fine art committee and was instrumental in coordinating the overall vision, defended the project in an article by Frank Lowe written for Canadian Art magazine. ‘There was no catering to popular taste. We were trying to achieve for Canada the most sophisticated image we possibly could.’ There was no regional favouritism, claimed White. He felt that it would be a service to Canadian culture to expose a ‘Vancouver artist in Edmonton, Montreal artists in Toronto, Toronto artists in Winnipeg.’29 In his 1964 review of the airport art project, Evan H. Turner, then the director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, alluded to the aesthetic debates that had been simmering under the surface to this point and which are still discernable today in the minutes of the art committee meetings. The battle lines seemed clearly drawn between those who promoted a national perspective that was largely based on international modernist ideas of abstract expressionism and those who preferred to project a regionalist image, synonymous with representation and folk art. Turner’s position is clearly stated in his review: ‘The Department of Transport’s selection has been exemplary for selecting outstanding artists and not sacrificing standards to the undue pressures of regionalism that might have been feared.’30 Yet the artists appear to have simultaneously embraced both international and regional influences. The most extraordinary aspect of the

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airport art project is that the artists combined the formal rules of international modernism with an inspiration rooted in a sense of regionalism. This resulted in tangible examples of directives to bring ‘Canadianism’ and abstract art together that had been contained in the Massey Report. While the paradox sited by Ken Lum earlier in this essay, one of ‘Canadianism’ within a multicultural society, hovered over the entire project, the work did not repudiate the Group of Seven, Emily Carr, or other ‘names’ from the Canadian art establishment that aligned mainly with an Anglo-Canadian experience. Rather, it extended a conceptual idea by drawing inspiration largely from the Canadian landscape. There is also something of a declarative nature in this pursuit of Canadianism; if artists from all regions of the country participate, including First Nations, then it must be Canadian! When Canadian modernist artworks were installed in and around the new Canadian modernist airports, the result was a Canadian representation of nature: urbane, dramatized, stripped-down, and abstracted into the basics of colour and form. If ‘popular taste’ was offended, it was generally blamed on the general public’s inability to access these ideas and relate them to the artworks. After all, the Massey Report had described a mass Canadian public that lagged in its appreciation of art in general.31 This lack of appreciation coincided with an artistic expression that was becoming more personal and derived from the artist’s own experience. Where the Group of Seven’s work touches many sensibilities and is understood or at least appreciated by a wide audience, the public art that was installed in the airports is only appreciated by a few, even to this day. In spite of the nationalistic mandate of placing art across Canadian airports for the benefit of all the nation’s peoples, the artists represented regions of the country that would very shortly be clamouring for either a greater voice on the federal scene or separation from it. The fate of most of the pieces seemed to parallel this political upheaval. Gerald Gladstone’s 8.5m-high sculpture /fountain Solar Cone (figure 4.2) and a totem by Walter Yarwood that graced the open courtyards at the Winnipeg terminal have disappeared. Alfred Pellan’s mural, originally curved and dramatically lit, was stretched flat and looked forlorn high on a wall at the north end of the now closed Mirabel terminal near Montreal. Recently it has been installed in the new trans-border wing at Pierre Elliot Trudeau international Airport (formerly Dorval) after undergoing conservation treatment. Ann Kahane’s bust of pioneer aviator Frederick Stevenson, carved from a

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4.2 Gerald Gladstone, Solar Cone (1964). Bronze. Located in the exterior courtyard of the Winnipeg International Airport.

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massive block of mahogany, was put in storage. It was shown at the Manitoba Modernist Architecture 1945–1975 exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2006. In Edmonton, Dennis Burton’s mural Flight without a Vehicle, painted on a freestanding curved screen, was repeatedly vandalized and eventually thrown out. B.C. Binning’s tile mural has been covered with revenue-generating, back-lit advertising panels. Norman Slater’s sculpture, composed of natural gas jets, grew unsteady and has been dismantled. Most of the pieces from the Toronto airport are now in storage, with at least one notable exception; Riopelle’s Point de Rencontre was returned to Paris and presented as a gift to the people of France during the bicentennial of the revolutionary founding of the Republic. It now hangs in Paris at the Opéra Bastille. In the early 1990s Canada began to experience another airport building boom caused by ever-increasing passenger flows and the shift from government to private ownership of airport facilities. While ownership of the artworks still rests with the Crown, the private authorities that now run the airports list a series of concerns with the three remaining murals, the two structurist pieces in Winnipeg and Shadbolt’s Bush Pilot in the Northern Sky in Edmonton.32 These range from a difficulty in properly maintaining the pieces in an airport environment to complaints about constraints on expansion plans related to the size of the works and the spaces they occupy. The incorporation of shops and advertising has become a prime concern of airport authorities, since most modern airports now derive a substantial portion of their income from retail sales. There is now a concerted effort to evoke a regional flavour inside the shells of the modernist buildings, mainly through themed retail concepts. In other words, the spotlight is on promoting parts of the city or region where the airport is located rather than on placing it in a national context. As air travel has become commonplace, the public space of the airport has merged with the shopping mall and amusement park in the sensibility of the crowd. The public space now derives its excitement and vibrancy from the sheer number of people that move through it rather than from the power of the space itself. This trend is highly evident in the current state of the Winnipeg airport, where murals by Eli Bornstein and John Graham have been all but obliterated by advertising and retail kiosks. A regionalist connection is attempted, with palpable if unrecognized irony, by designing shops around architectural details lifted from the restored warehouse district in downtown Winnipeg.

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The progression from the cool, minimalist ‘high culture’ atmosphere of the original spaces to the revenue-driven, themed retail of the current interiors was encapsulated during the fall of 1999 in the exhibition The American Century: Art & Culture 1900–2000. Part II, 1950–2000 presented at the Whitney Museum in New York. It began with abstract expressionist work by Jackson Pollock from the early 1950s and ended with films of advertisements for The Gap retail chain. Perhaps ‘khakis rock, khakis groove and khakis swing’ expresses the spirit of our time (especially when displayed on Sony plasma screen monitors) as well, and with as much style, as Pollock’s abstract ‘drip paintings’ of the early 1950s. It could be argued that the trend strongly symbolizes the decline of nationalism and the rise of globalism, where advertising is public art sponsored by the corporate world. The graphic quality of current advertising can arguably rival that of the mural paintings of the past. In new airports it is certainly displayed with the same chic style as the freestanding murals installed in the Toronto terminal in 1964.33 But elevating advertising and retail to an art form allows the corporate world to define our visual and cultural landscape. Although there are exceptions, advertising does not endure, record, or challenge in the same way as commissioned public art because its intentions are different. Advertising, however artful and appealing, is temporary and created to sell products. It will certainly never allow the Canadian people to ‘know as much as possible about their country.’ Nor will advertising ever take a critical artistic stance. Because of the rapid pace of change and technological development, airports represent the leading edge of a troubling condition in our current architectural environment. Buildings of all kinds need to be planned to accommodate change or become subject to obsolescence and disposal. The 1964 terminal constructed at the Toronto airport is a prime example. It did not survive past its fortieth anniversary. As architects struggle with this reality, artists must become aware of the problem as well and be challenged to produce art that will have meaning in this new context. If the Massey Report’s greatest triumph was the promotion of a national identity based on diversity, then its greatest failure may have been the inability to imagine concretely the various modes of artistic production that would serve this goal, particularly the emerging broadcast media and the acceleration of communication and computing technologies. The photographs of the airport art project of 1964 serve as a record of the collective cultural aspirations of a nation and a visual representation

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of a country searching for a place on the world stage. The images depict spaces that immediately evoke the writings of Deyan Sudjic and Pico Iyer, who describe the interior of airport terminals (and give a nod to McLuhan) as the public space of the global village,34 yet without the placeless anonymity that plagues most airports.35 In a world accustomed to seeing the landscape of Canada represented through the romantic naturalism that produced the Group of Seven and an architecture derived from the French chateau style or the beaux-arts tradition described by Joan Coutu in the previous chapter, the artworks and the architecture of Canadian airports of the 1960s, particularly those built for Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton, combined to create spaces that were inspired by the natural landscape of Canada, but brilliantly reinterpreted in the modernist idiom. That the artworks did not endure provides a direction for decisions about future artistic production in public spaces of this kind. A commitment to public art in public architectural space must balance the freedom of the artist with the rigours of change in the public realm.

NOTES 1 V. Massey, chairman, Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1951), xi. 2 News item in Canadian Architect, January 1959: 33. The item is not attributed to an author, but references other sources to provide a picture of the state of Canadian airports in the 1950s: ‘In 1957 the Toronto Globe & Mail said that Canada’s international airports “which provide many throughtravelers with their only view of Canada and many immigrants with their first look at this prosperous country, are squalid.” The newspaper said Malton airport in Toronto was a “national disgrace”; Dorval “tight, tawdry, tumultuous”; Gander, “a poor advertisement for Canada”; Winnipeg “totally inadequate.” In 1958 the magazine Saturday Night said Canadian airport buildings were recognised as being “undoubtedly among the world’s worst.”’ 3 ‘By 1954 it became apparent that a new terminal must be erected to handle an estimated 13,000 aircraft a year and the quarter million or more passengers aboard them.’ Department of Transport, press release (undated), 3. Ken Lochhead papers, University of Regina Archives. 4 F. Rasky, ‘Canada’s New Temples of Travel,’ in Canadian Weekly, 2–8 May 1964: 12.

92 Bernard Flaman 5 As Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe wrote: ‘Modernist design, typified in the federal airport building programme of the mid-1950’s, acted as an iconic and functional agent of a supposedly unifying but ultimately contested collective identity.’ ‘Grounding the New Perspectives of Modernism: Canadian Airports and the Reconfiguration of the Cultural and Political Territory,’ Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada 28:1–2 (2003): 3. 6 R. Fulford, ‘How Massey Smothered the Arts,’ in National Post, 22 December 2001: A16. 7 Massey Report, part 2, Introduction, 271. 8 K. Lum, ‘Canadian Cultural Policy,’ Canadian Art 16:3 (1999): 76. Other recent analyses of the Massey Report include M. Tippett, Making Culture: English-Canadian Institutions and the Arts before the Massey Commission (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990); P. Litt, The Muses, the Masses, and the Massey Commission (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992); and Z. Druick, ‘International Cultural Relations as a Factor in Postwar Canadian Cultural Policy: The Relevance of UNESCO for the Massey Commission,’ Canadian Journal of Communication [online] 31: 1 (2006), at http://www 9 As Massey wrote: ‘In general, ignorance of them [architecture and town planning], ignorance even of their existence is widespread.’ ‘The Artist and the Writer: Architecture and Town Planning,’ in Massey Report, part 1, 216. 10 B. Desrochers and F. Lachapelle, ‘Support for Architecture’ (Canada Council for the Arts, February 2003). This statement refers to the continuing lack of public awareness for architecture in Canada. 11 K. Yakabuski, ‘The Lost Children of the Revolution,’ in Globe and Mail, 2 April 1998, A2. 12 J. O’Brian, The Flatside of the Landscape: The Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops (Saskatoon: Mendel Art Gallery, 1989), 15. 13 I. Holubizky and R. McKaskell, 1953 (Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2003), 17. This exhibition highlighted the cultural changes taking place in Canada in the late 1940s and early fifties, focusing on the formation of the group of artists known as Painters Eleven. Two years earlier the Massey Report had concluded that the condition of culture in Canada was ‘virtually barren.’ Ironically, 1951 was the same year that Marshall McLuhan published his first book, The Mechanical Bride, Folklore of Industrial Man (New York: Vanguard Press), a prelude to the infatuation with pop culture in the 1960s. 14 J.A. Russell, ‘Vocational Opportunities for the Architectural Graduate,’ RAIC Journal, May 1948: 139. 15 ‘The Nature of the Task, the Conduct of the Inquiry,’ in Massey Report, part 1, 8. ‘In all, the commission has held 224 meetings, 114 of these in public.

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16 17


19 20 21 22 23 24

25 26 27

28 29 30 31

We have received 462 briefs, in the presentation of which over 1,200 witnesses appeared before us.’ C. Comfort, ‘1938–48 Observations on a Decade, Canadian Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking,’ RAIC Journal, January 1948: 5. Ibid. ‘The … moving force in American art at the beginning of this decade (the 1930s) was the widespread public patronage of mural painting. The impetus for this manifestation may have originated in Mexico where mural painting is as readily and widely accepted as the need for food and shelter. In an extraordinary project, the United States government authorised an Art Procurement Division within the Treasury Department, the role of this division being to commission painting and sculpture for the decoration of Federal Buildings.’ Ibid. ‘In Canada there was no parallel government program in the arts. There was a mildly reflected stimulation of private interest. Several of our more progressive architects did persuade their clients to risk the adventure of mural painting, and the Ontario College of Art set up a department to train students in the problems of this exacting art.’ E.W. Wood, ‘1938–48 Observations,’ ‘Ten Years of Canadian Sculpture,’ RAIC Journal, January 1948: 16. ‘The Artist and the Writer: Architecture and Town Planning,’ in Massey Report, 217. ‘The Artist and the Writer: Painting,’ ibid., 206–7. ‘The Artist and the Writer: Sculpture,’ ibid., 213. Ibid., p. 214. E. Arthur, ‘Architecture,’ Royal Commission Studies (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1951), 429. The Studies were a selection of essays prepared at the request of the Massey Commission. F. Lowe, ‘Art in the New Airports Gives Canada a Sophisticated Image,’ Canadian Art 21 (1964): 144. F. Rasky, ‘The Agony and Ecstasy of Our Airport Art,’ Canadian Weekly, 9–15 May 1964: 10. The Structurist is an international art journal, founded in 1960 at the University of Saskatchewan by Eli Bornstein. ‘Structurist’ artistic production, influenced by constructivist art, ‘is concerned with the building processes of creation in art and nature.’ See Holubizky and McKaskell, ‘1953,’ 44. Lowe, ‘Art in the New Airports.’ E. H. Turner, ‘Art at Airports,’ in Canadian Art 21 (1964): 135. As Massey wrote: ‘Painting in Canada is not yet fully accepted as a necessary part of the general culture of the country, to the detriment both of the painters and of other Canadians. Canadian painting does not receive

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34 35

sufficient recognition from either official or private sources.’ ‘The Artist and the Writer: Painting,’ in Massey Report, 207. Email correspondence, 23 June 2000, between the author and Claude Corbin, Manager, Financial Analysis, Airport Programmes & Divestiture, Government of Canada, clarifying the ownership of artwork at Canadian airports in relation to the transfer of the airport properties from the Government of Canada to private airport authorities: ‘At the time of transfer all Artwork at the Airport is loaned to the Airport Authority from Her Majesty. Her Majesty owns all the artwork before and after transfer.’ Advertising in Terminal 2E at Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris incorporates advertising panels that are similar in concept to the freestanding screens that displayed murals in the 1964 airport terminal in Toronto. D. Sudjic, The 100 Mile City (London: HarperCollins, 1992), 159. The artworks attempt to provide the airports with a memorable identity and a sense of ‘place’ in an effort to rescue them from the anonymity and the lack of significance that plagues the transient spaces that anthropologist Marc Augé has termed ‘non-place’ (airports, shopping malls, and freeways, for example). See M. Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (London: Verso, 1995).


MEMORY, POLITICS, AND CONTROVERSIES If the bricks and mortar of the great modernist public-works projects were meant to reify a symbolic reality, as a touchstone of how we might think about ourselves, they did so while whistling past the graveyard of the we in question. The we of Northrop Frye’s ‘garrison mentality’ may well have gained solace from the anchoring of common concern in public art and public places that, at last, attempted to put the riddle of the ‘Where is here?’ to the question of ‘Who am I?’1 But the nous of Paul-Émile Borduas, the petit peuple he challenged to awaken in Refus global, would eventually know themselves and their place ‘in the north of this immense America’ not by building roads to tourist attractions but by throwing off the yoke of church and state.2 Much public art, raised on the new secular altar of an emergent Québécois sensibility, would be harnessed to a political purpose, a politics that would inevitably confront the viscera of that nation state of which it was a founding part. In doing so, it would challenge the very idea of Canada. While two founding colonial peoples struggled with the contradictions of shared dominance in a singular political geography, the rumbling of another great social shift was beginning to shake the walls of both the garrison and la ville. Sometimes the rumblings would emanate from an accusation that began as a whisper. Indian peoples across the country transformed themselves into First Nations, claiming a tacit sovereignty that struck at the roots of embedded colonial power, whether manifested in French or English. Their whisper would become a shout at places with names like Kanesatake. Elsewhere, immigrant populations in the great cities and beyond resisted the pressure to assimilate. In ‘Little Italies’ and ‘Chinatowns,’ in

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vibrant neighbourhoods where Russian or Hindi, Spanish or Arabic, Jamaican English and Haïtian Creole forms the language of daily use, another whisper began to shape a thought, and a thought to pose a question: ‘Are we not part of this nation?’ ‘Does our history with this land not deserve to be remembered, recognized, celebrated with our own symbols, within the spaces we all share?’ The struggle for such recognition still rumbles beneath the surface of the commemorative impetus, emerging here and there in the lasting traces of brief engagement with the inevitable politics of memory. Public art, commissioned with the best of intentions, becomes the symbolic ground for unintended public confrontation, debates within debates, masked by the age-old non-question: ‘Is it art?’ Some public art merely proposed for a resonant public space unmasks the question for what it is: an excuse for the resumption old competitions of dominance, shielded by a measure of false civility. Other works, bits and pieces, displaced and marginalized in a bizarre search for civic meaning are subsumed into a redefinition of forward-looking public intentions conducted through the use of a wrecker’s ball. Works of art, salvaged reminiscences, are resituated to perform as sites of shared memory in spaces where memory has been intentionally expunged. These works are elegant contradictions. We begin this section on the inevitable controversies that arise from contestations of memory and politics with the tale of Giovanni Caboto, a.k.a. John Cabot – a Venetian hired by the English to claim newfound-lands inhabited by First Nations, later to be claimed and commemorated as the symbol of belonging by the Italians of Montreal.

NOTES 1 N. Frye, ‘Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada,’ in The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (Toronto: Anansi Press 1971), 220. 2 P.-É. Borduas, Refus global (Montreal: Mithra-Mythe, 1948).

5 I nostri grandi Padri … Heroic Nationalism and the Italians of Montreal: The Monument to Giovanni Caboto, 1935 anna maria carlevaris

Giovanni, they erected you a monument, but they changed your name; here they call you John.1

On Saturday, 25 May 1935, a bronze statue of the explorer John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) was unveiled in Montreal at the corner of SainteCatherine and Atwater streets in a small park directly across from the hockey arena known as the Forum. Typical of such inaugural ceremonies, the atmosphere was both festive and formal. The fanfare included marching bands, parading cadets, banners, children waving flags, and dignitaries in silk ties and morning coats. Guests included delegates of several countries, federal and provincial representatives, municipal leaders, local businessmen, clergy, and a large number of the city’s Italian community which numbered about 25,000. They had come to see their gift of a public monument officially presented to the city of Montreal (figure 5). In a newspaper photograph published in The Gazette, Montreal’s English-language daily, one can see the officials, Mayor of Montreal Camillien Houde and Italian Consul General Luigi Petrucci, among others, lined up on the grandstand. Below them are the heads and shoulders of young men, cadets, and boy scouts standing among the flags. These include Canadian members of the avanguardiste and ballila – Benito Mussolini’s ‘young Italians.’2 The photograph, and the event it documented, was intended to be seen as a portrait of international cooperation, civic solidarity, and social pluralism. In retrospect, this constructed confraternity appears illusory at best and deceptive at worst.

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5 Guido Casini, Giovanni Caboto (1933–5). Bronze. Located on the corner of Sainte-Catherine and Atwater streets, Montreal.

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It is indeed a troubling ‘family portrait.’ Only a few years later many of those present in the picture would be labelled ‘enemy aliens’ and interned as prisoners of war at Camp Petawawa in Ontario.3 This essay will explore the complex history of the Cabot monument – the reasons it was commissioned, the controversy it engendered, and the participation of the artist who produced it – in an attempt to illustrate how history is governed by the expectations and present realities of those who come together to commemorate it. Marked by rituals, legends, and monuments, the past becomes a disputed territory claimed by many who are often motivated by conflicting ambitions. The story of the Cabot statue is a case in point. The monument to John Cabot stands in Cabot Square (formerly Atwater Park) in downtown Montreal. It is 4.4 metres high and comprises a bronze statue on a six-sided granite pedestal and base elevated on three steps. On the bottom of the pedestal, three low-relief bronze panels illustrate scenes of the navigator’s voyage from Bristol, England, to the New World. The artist, Guido Casini (1892–1981), has rendered the figure of Cabot according to conventional pictorial depictions of the explorer that show a bearded man in Renaissance dress. The multilayered clothing gives the figure the appearance of a large frame. Feet are planted well apart as if balancing on the heaving deck of a ship. The body twists slightly, turning forward at the waist with the right hand raised high over a deeply furrowed brow. The face, crowned by thick hair pushed back by the imaginary wind and outlined by the heavy beard, recalls Michelangelo’s stern portraits of male prophets. The hand that hovers before the face is large and heavy, like the colossal hands of Michelangelo’s David. In 1935 a magazine article described the scenes that adorn the monument’s base as follows: ‘Cabot and son Sebastien from Bristol receive blessing of the Bishop of Bristol and “bon voyage” from the authorities’; ‘Cabot receives from Henry VII the patent to travel and takes possession of new lands in the name of His majesty’; ‘Cabot and Sebastien plant flags of England and Venice on Canadian soil.’4 Those who believed Jacques Cartier was the first to stand on Canadian soil viewed the last panel, showing the planting of flags and the claiming of territory, as a direct affront. The monument’s assertion, that Cabot was the discoverer of Canada, had been debated long before the artwork was ever completed. Indeed, the debate had already been ongoing for a decade, ever since the idea for the monument was first proposed. The argument centred on which national linguistic group could assert a claim

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to being the first in Canada – Cabot and the English, or Cartier and the French. The verdict would be critical to the Italians, who also had an important stake in the outcome. When the monument was finally unveiled in 1935, the controversy was far from over. The principal speaker on the day of the inauguration was the Italian consul general in Ottawa, Luigi Petrucci, who was accompanied by the Montreal consul, Giuseppe Brigidi. Brigidi, who was stationed in Montreal from 1934 to 1936, had become a familiar face on the local scene.5 He had immersed himself in public life, participating in festivities, banquets, and ceremonial events across the city. His colleagues and superiors regarded Brigidi’s activities with anxious concern, worrying that his actions could be construed as political meddling during sensitive times. Regardless of perceived political recklessness, Brigidi’s political savvy was successfully deployed in raising the public profile of the city’s Italian community. Nevertheless, concern for the social conditions of Italian immigrants in Montreal were secondary if not absent from the consul’s list of priorities because his duties and loyalties lay with the Italian state. The primary task of embassy officials in the Fascist era, which had begun with Mussolini’s rise to power in 1922, was to maintain normal relations between Italy and Canada. They accomplished this by emphasizing similarities between the two nations and overlooking their differences. In his speech at the inauguration, Brigidi’s superior, Petrucci, focused on Italy’s historical ties with the city’s two main linguistic groups, stressing their common status as ‘world powers.’ The diplomat reminded his audience of the debt owed to Italy’s great navigators, whom he cast as the civilizers not only of the New World but of the Western World: ‘[They] ignited the torch of civilization even as Rome and the Occident was still under the barbarians.’6 Legitimized by historical precedent and made fashionable through historical romances popular at this time, the story of John Cabot served as an excellent instrument in the rhetoric of national propaganda. The date of the unveiling, 25 May, coincided with three important national holidays: in Canada it marked Empire Day (now known as Victoria Day); in Quebec it was celebrated as Dollard-des-Ormeaux Day; and in Italy, 25 May commemorated the nation’s entry into the First World War alongside the Allied Forces. The consuls’ joint strategy in promoting Italian interests in Canada drew strength from the legacy of the Great War. As Petrucci said, ‘[The day] served to cement the bonds of friendship between Italy and the British Empire and the Republic of

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France.’7 Since the early 1920s, Italian war veterans in Canada had participated in commemorative events such as those in honour of the Unknown Soldier. The first commemorative public art commissioned by Canada’s Italian community was a bronze relief of a laurel crown that, in 1922, was added to a Toronto monument to First World War nurse Edith Cavell.8 The inscription ‘Lest we forget, Società Italo-Canadese, 11 Nov. 1922’ testifies to a shared past of suffering and valour. Against this background of lingering common memories of the Great War, Benito Mussolini’s activities, although of concern to some, generally did not raise significant objections in Montreal or elsewhere in Canada. In fact, for a time Mussolini was admired by a wide range of Canadians for his ability to curb government corruption and for his forcefulness in blocking the socialist left and the threat of communism. With the Concordat of 1929, a pact between the Vatican and the Italian state recognizing their mutual sovereignty, suspicion about Italy’s expansionist ambitions had been temporarily allayed. This agreement was especially pleasing to Quebec, whose Roman Catholic majority viewed it as a safeguard of its religious and cultural heritage. Even by 1935, as the invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) made clear Mussolini’s imperial aims, the public remained mostly ambivalent. The Cabot monument, therefore, emerged at a time when Canadian public opinion was in the process of, somewhat reluctantly, redirecting itself from a pro-Italy to an anti-Italy stance. The evidence of these shifting, contradictory political sentiments is apparent throughout the course of the ‘Cabot affair.’ Fascist parades in the streets of Montreal were neither unknown nor illegal. Only members of the local Communist Party (which also included Italians) actively protested against them. For this reason, it was not at all curious to have Petrucci present as an official guest at the 1935 Empire Day celebration in Montreal, or to have him address the public on the main local English-language radio station that same day.9 To a general public, the participation of Italian officials and local Fascist groups at Empire celebrations was not offensive or even remarkable. In this atmosphere, when the Cabot statue was unveiled only a few days later, Montreal mayor Camillien Houde could not but agree that the gift was a welcome symbol of the historical and modern ties ‘binding Montreal’s descendants of Italy, France and England.’10 The 1925 launch of the campaign to build the Cabot monument had taken place on a date meant to coincide with the annual Birth of Rome celebration held by Fascists in Italy. Although Montreal’s first Fascio

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(Fascist) club would not hold its first meeting until later that same year, many on the membership list were involved in the monument project.11 However, the history of the Cabot campaign is also marked by anti-Fascist protest. Anti-fascists, such as the journalist and editor Antonino Spada,12 criticized the Fascist appropriation of the Cabot legend and what he saw as the Italian state’s interference in local affairs. Yet to limit the Cabot story strictly to a Fascist or anti-Fascist context would be to distort the significance of Cabot to Montreal’s Italian community and reduce nationalist sentiment to a purely political reading. For most Italian immigrants, nationalist fervour had little to do with political ideology and more to do with a social sense of group belonging and the desire for a distinctive history. Cabot, along with other ‘founding myth’ figures such as Jacques Cartier, was a charged symbol whose historical value was intimately tied to a need to assert a cultural identity. Because of Cabot’s key role in what Benedict Anderson has called ‘national imagining,’13 a process of collective identity-formation that mythologizes historical origins, the history of the monument is coloured by the ethno-linguistic arguments of the day, debates that were grounded in a contest for social power and cultural legitimacy. Patriotic one-upmanship was one way of symbolically extending the thrust and parry of political wrangling. As wreaths were being laid at the foot of monuments to Queen Victoria on Empire Day, the Dollarddes-Ormeaux monument and Quebec heritage were being celebrated in other parts of the city. Not to be excluded from press coverage, government and social representatives scrambled from one ceremony to another in a delicate political dance in which the Italian diplomats also participated. The Italian consular staff saw the benefit of adding an Italian figure to the landscape of city monuments and actively helped the Cabot project become a reality. Although the statue had been almost entirely funded by the local Italian community, which was able to raise $10,000 (to which the city added $1000), Brigidi helped to defray expenses by absorbing the cost of the shipment from the foundry in Florence where the bronze had been poured.14 For some years the campaign to erect a monument to Cabot had been viewed by French Canadians as favouring the English community and challenging Jacques Cartier’s primacy. After nearly a decade of fundraising, spearheaded by the Italian Montreal-based weekly Il Cittadino, the simmering argument erupted onto the pages of Il Cittadino and Le Devoir. After two more years of public wrangling, a compromise was reached and Cabot was mutually recognized as the ‘man

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who first landed on the shores of Labrador.’ The final dedication was abbreviated to ‘Giovanni Caboto – L’Italianni del Canada’ (John Cabot – the Italians of Canada). But the inauguration itself had to be again postponed so as not to overshadow the four hundredth anniversary of Cartier’s landing, which was to take place in 1934.15 It should be noted that all the while Brigidi played an active role in the debates by soliciting academic support for the pro-Cabot side.16 For the Italians of Montreal, who as immigrants felt themselves to be outside the centres of social and economic privilege, claiming Caboto as one of their own was an especially pressing concern. This is why it was important at the launch of the campaign to have the backing of civil authorities such as Canadian prime minister Mackenzie King and Mussolini himself, both of whom sent congratulatory telegrams. In his ‘greetings from the homeland’ (saluto della Patria) Mussolini took a sentimental tack, reminding those who had emigrated of their great and ancient heritage as a seafaring nation to which they were tied as brothers and sons.17 But while Mussolini used the event as an opportunity for promoting the Italian state abroad, many local Italians saw the figure of Cabot as a symbol of their own diasporic identity. The idea of a transnational Italianicity was both reassuring and empowering to people geographically dislocated from origins that they regarded as bound to town and family rather than to any notion of a nation state.18 However, these desires, and the attendant fears they were based on, were easily exploited and appropriated by Fascist propaganda efforts. In the first congress of ‘Fascists abroad’ held in Rome in 1925, the ‘problem of emigration’ was turned into an instrument for promoting Fascist expansionist ambitions. Acknowledging the economic conditions that generated emigration, and not wanting to alienate emigrants’ sentimental and cultural ties to their homeland, the Italian state actively lobbied for their allegiance by allowing for dual citizenship. In addition to welcoming those who had left back into the Italian citizenry, the state actively supported emigrant activities in their ‘host countries,’ recognizing the promotional prospects inherent in such a strategy. The instrumental role designed for emigrants in Italy’s dream of empire was evident on the day of the Cabot festivities. Fascist youth organizations, parading in uniform, displayed a banner that read ‘Half of the world would belong to Italy if we were to claim all the lands discovered by Italians.19 The Italian regime’s ambitions were also apparent in the editorial ‘Ethiopia Is Italian,’ which appeared in the Torontobased Il Bollettino, May 8 1936: ‘[The Blackshirts] have begun where the

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legions of the Roman Empire had left off and have gone beyond, reaching the Ethiopian plateaus which ancient Romans had never conquered.’20 Italy’s imperialist aspirations were championed in Italy with a call to romanità, the mythologizing of Ancient Rome, and the active pursuit of colonial conquest, most obvious in the invasion of Ethiopia.21 The strategy implicit in colonial aspirations was explicit in the demographic campaign to have Italian women produce more babies. While emigration had earlier been championed as a way of dealing with the lack of work, it now became a means for expanding Fascism abroad. When the Fascists published the new Italian encyclopedia, the term emigrante (emigrant) was replaced with italiani all’estero (Italians abroad).22 In other words, in a reversal of power relations, the emigrant had become the colonizing agent. When Mussolini sent his congratulatory telegram on the occasion of the launch of the Cabot campaign, he clearly referred to the Italian emigrants as ‘guests’ who, like the preceding voyageurs, were carrying with them the memories of an ‘ancient and great race’ (stirpe millenaria … l’antica grandezza).23 The aim was to de-nationalise (snazionalizzazione) emigrants’ attachment to their new country by fanning the flames of Italian patriotism. National pride and Italian political propaganda efforts were most evident when General Italo Balbo, the head of Mussolini’s air force (along with his squadron of seaplanes), paused in Montreal on 14–15 July 1933 on their way to the Chicago World’s Fair. Cabot monument supporters took advantage of a planned fuelling stop at an airport in Longueuil, directly across the St Lawrence River from Montreal, by arranging to have the general officiate at the campaign inauguration. In a tactical move the month before Balbo’s arrival, pictures of the monument (which at that point was still in storage) were used in an article in the Canadian Geographical Journal supporting the idea that Cabot had indeed been the first European to reach Canada. One of the captions stated: ‘It is singularly appropriate that [the monument] is being unveiled on the occasion of the visit to Canada of the Italian Air Force squadron which is flying from Italy to the World’s Fair at Chicago. Aerial trail blazers pausing to honour a pioneer compatriot explorer in the land he discovered.’24 It is easy to see how, in the popular imagination, Cabot the navigator and Balbo the flying ace were conflated into a heroic type associated with notions of national supremacy and territorial expansion, ambitions that for many at the time were non-threatening. The enthusiastic reception accorded to Balbo by the general public and the wide newspaper and radio coverage he received inflamed the

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political rhetoric on both sides of the Cabot debate. Those in favour of the monument tried to exploit the opportunity; those against it sought to diminish the public-relations impact. Balbo’s celebrity status reveals the public’s fascination with aviation and the perception of him as the quintessential symbol of the modern adventurer. According to the newspaper accounts, Balbo’s political function, as the head of Mussolini’s air force, seems to have played a secondary role to his cult status as a daring aviator. In fact, when questioned by reporters on Mussolini’s intentions, Balbo’s reassuring answers went unchallenged in the local press. This public acceptance is reinforced by the fact that his visit to the cenotaph in Montreal’s Dominion Square (where he laid a wreath) was met with enthusiastic applause, notwithstanding the ‘one hundred Black Shirts’ that accompanied him.25 Balbo’s published memoirs include recollections of the visit to Montreal and reveal his view that a natural confraternity existed between Montreal’s French and Italians, a link he believed was forged in a shared ethno-linguistic origin (la race latine) and religion. Unlike Montreal’s ‘nude and severe’ churches of the English ‘conquerors,’ he praised the city’s French churches such as the ‘miniature Saint Peter’s with the façade of Bramante, cupola of Michelangelo, and colonnade of Bernini’ and the ‘three towers, squared flanks, and Gothic rose window of Notre-Dame-de-Paris.’26 Nevertheless, because of the ongoing controversy surrounding the historical claims made around Cabot’s contribution to Canadian history, Balbo came and went. The monument remained in storage until 1935, when the various factions finally reached an agreement on the wording of the dedication. While Balbo was not present to assist at the inauguration of the monument, his appearance in the city had certainly boosted Mussolini’s public profile in Quebec and Canada. The promotion of the Italian state outside Italy was a regular duty of consular staff stationed in Canada. Canadian historians such as Roberto Perin and Angelo Principe have examined the means and methods by which Italian representatives became involved in the everyday lives of Italian immigrants. They have shown, for example, how staff facilitated the integration of newly arrived priests and nuns, bankers, and diplomatic staff into the social-institutional network. The support was implicit in the growth of three fascist newspapers in the 1930s that were forums for news and propaganda (it should be noted that Italian socialist and anti-fascist newspapers also circulated in Canada, assisted by activists such as Antonino Spada). However, the consular staff’s promotional efforts

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succeeded because the majority of Italian immigrants were grateful for the financial and institutional support they received. Ambivalence also colours the relationship of Italian immigrants to the English and French communities in whose political arguments they became entangled.27 Some French-Canadian politicians, such as Mayor Camillien Houde, supported Italian community initiatives because Italians as a group were seen as pro-Catholic. As a case in point, Houde donated the land for the building of the Casa d’Italia, inaugurated 1 November 1936. Montreal’s Casa d’Italia was one of a series of buildings (but the only one to remain after the war) that were direct importations of what in Italy were known as Case del Fascio (Fascist centres). Houde’s open admiration of Mussolini, and his anti-federalist stance, may have contributed to his four-year internment at Petawawa for inciting civil disobedience against mandatory registration for military service.28 However, the historical record of support for Italian Fascist politics per se has been difficult to clarify and continues to be debated today. While an unpublished sociology thesis written in 1939 by Charles M. Bailey indicates that the Fascio membership totaled 210, of which 60 were regularly active, Canadian historians such as Perin have questioned the accuracy of this estimate.29 One of the internees at Petawawa, along with Camillien Houde, was the Cabot monument creator, Guido Casini. Casini had emigrated from Castelfiorentino, near Florence, to Montreal in 1924. From 1905 to 1915 he trained in the fine arts in both Florence and Rome and excelled as a student, winning a scholarship for further study. His scholastic life was interrupted by the First World War, when he was conscripted into the Italian army, emerging as a lieutenant in the Alpinist Regiment. Casini, like so many other Italian artists and craftsmen, emigrated because their skills were in high demand in all major North American cities, including Montreal. Through friendships established at fine art academies in Italy, emigrant artists built an international professional network.30 At times they presented unwelcome competition to local artists such as the successful Alfred Laliberté (1878–1953), who publicly ridiculed fellow Montreal sculptors Italo Balboni (1860–1947) and F.S. Sciortino (1875–1958).31 In part this rivalry was a product of the marketplace, but it was also ideologically and aesthetically driven because French-speaking artists, by and large, trained in Paris or with Parisiantrained teachers and were, therefore, formed by a different (albeit related) academic tradition than that of the Italians.32 Once in Montreal Casini, like other recent immigrant artists such as Guido Nincheri (1885–1973), became employed in the production of

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sculptural and decorative work that was being commissioned throughout Quebec. This ranged from churches and public monuments to funerary sculpture and portrait busts. Casini’s Montreal commissions included the relief medallions of the Stations of the Cross in the Church of Sainte-Catherine (demolished), and the Churches of SaintLéon-de-Westmount and Madonna-della-Difesa,33 where he worked with Nincheri. Outdoor works include the monument to Jean de Brébeuf and the Canadian Martyrs in Quebec City.34 As an academically trained artist, Casini quickly integrated himself into the institutional fabric of the local fine-arts scene and began to exhibit with the Royal Canadian Academy as early as 1927. Starting in 1928, he appeared in the annual spring exhibitions of the École des Beaux-arts (now known as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), where in 1931 he exhibited the plaster model of the Cabot sculpture. As a veteran of the Great War, Casini became active in Montreal’s Italian War Veterans Association, and in the months before Canada’s entry into the Second World War he was its president. At this time the group was strongly linked to the local Fascist movement. Nevertheless, Casini had earlier applied and been granted naturalization status, a fact he deliberately emphasized, likely in an effort to be accepted by the Canadian art establishment. One of the works he exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy was a photograph of a war monument he had created for his hometown in 1924. The monument is unusual. It breaks with the conventions of the Tuscan region by depicting the war hero as dead rather than living. Casini shows the nude corpse being carried on the shoulders of fellow soldiers, displaying an idea of martyrdom that was to become such a prevalent iconographic theme in the visual culture and ‘sacralized’ language of Mussolini’s regime. In this manner Casini is in tune with the idea of the soldier as ‘martyr’ and the religious association this suggests, a theme that was developing in the war mythologies of all nations impacted by the First World War, especially once ceremonies to the Unknown Soldier began to take place.35 The relationship of Italian immigrant artists to the Second World War and in turn to the nationalism that was developing in modern Italy (a country that had only been officially unified since 1864–5) is a difficult question. Role models like the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio joined the artist’s self-image as ‘visionary’ to the civic role of citizen. D’Annunzio, in particular, became the type for a new romantic ideal of the poet-soldier (poeta-soldato) and first developed the rhetoric of religious politics that Mussolini would adopt as his own. Coming out of the Great War, where he had witnessed trench warfare first-hand, and

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influenced by D’Annunzio’s status as a national hero, Casini may well have seen his professional role as an artist as inextricably tied to his military experience. In the American-based Italian-language newspaper Il Carroccio, Casini is described as having participated in the March on Rome in 1922, when Mussolini made his audacious move into the heart of Italian politics, an event that eventually led to the capitulation of the government and the beginning of the Italian Fascist state. Casini’s supporters admired his fidelity to ‘our glorious traditions of classical art’ and his enthusiasm for Fascist ideals, and saw him as the ‘spirit of the new Italy.’36 Il Duce’s analogies to art may have registered with the young Casini who, shaped by the D’Annunzian landscape of the poet-soldier, was drawn to the aesthetics of power. Italy’s exploitation of earlier high points of Italian civilization in the service of a modern, national mythology was certainly not an isolated or unusual practice of historical recycling. History as ‘legend’ is a common ploy in the fabrication of all modern nation states. As Benedict Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm have separately argued, it can be ‘imagined’ or ‘invented’ as needed. Hobsbawm writes that ‘facticious continuity’ is necessary for creating a sense of legitimacy based on permanence, a reification process he describes as the ‘invention of tradition.’37 Italy’s relationship to its cultural past is especially significant in terms of its artistic traditions, which at this time were being reinterpreted to meet its modern predicament, conditions that included a fragmented, barely formed state and a citizenry still largely composed of a peasant class. The Renaissance became a powerful symbolic ground for creating a sense of a national self, given even greater weight by the universal meaning it held for Western culture as a whole. Thus, Renaissance heroes such as the artist Michelangelo, the poet Dante, and the explorers Columbus and Caboto made frequent appearances in rhetorical displays from staterooms in Rome to Italianlanguage schoolrooms in Montreal. Absorbed by the nationalist fervour of the time, Casini’s statue was admired because Cabot was a cultural symbol that belonged to the same legacy of illustrious men – Michelangelo, Dante, Caesar – that now, more than ever, came to represent the ‘New Rome.’ However, it cannot be said that the icons and the visual rhetoric of Fascism were solely Mussolini’s creation. Although Renaissance historical figures were frequently inserted into Fascist propaganda, their cult status as national heroes had been developing since the middle of the nineteenth century both inside and outside Italy. At that time, Italians

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remade the medieval poet Dante into a symbol of italianità and modern Italy. When the six hundredth anniversary of Dante’s death occurred in 1922, the Italian community in Montreal marked the event with a bronze portrait bust commissioned from the Italian-born sculptor Italo Balboni (they had also petitioned to rename a street in the Mile End district in the poet’s honour). Dante not only represented the beginnings of the Renaissance, but was also a model Christian and considered the progenitor of the Italian language. He was a trans-national hero whose anniversary was also celebrated in the English and French press in Montreal, where he was admired as one of the founders of Western literature. Montreal’s first figural monument to an Italian hero was made possible by the legitimacy granted by the dominant ethno-cultural groups of the city. Although the bust is now in a small park on Dante Street in ‘Little Italy,’ originally it held a privileged place in Lafontaine Park facing the city’s municipal library.38 When the idea of the Cabot monument was officially announced in 1925, it emerged out of the same patriotic wave that bore figures like Dante out of the distant past into the realities of the present, and onto Montreal’s cultural horizon. While it is clear that the Cabot story includes Fascist protagonists, there were certainly non-Fascists, including Italian Communists, who welcomed such public displays of Italian cultural pride and heroic adulation. They may have argued against the icon’s appropriation by Fascists, but they did not challenge its figurative value. On one hand, this complex cast of players and their contradictory motives seems to obscure the field of inquiry. On the other, it demonstrates how representations of history are used instrumentally in order to shape the past according to the complex and shifting needs of the present. In terms of nationalist sentiments, what Cabot and the other icons of this period show is the significance of founding myths in the shaping of collective belonging and the way they help to form the narrative structure we call ‘national history.’ For the Italians of Montreal, Cabot not only belonged to the Renaissance and the beginnings of modern Italy, he also embodied the continuity of that heritage into this ‘New World,’ where it could claim its own authority alongside the patrimonial pantheons of the English and the French. The metaphoric power of the historical figure of Cabot as explorer, sea traveller, and displaced person was not lost on immigrants who recognized its symbolic worth as they jockeyed for social space between the more powerful English and French. Cabot was many things to many people, but what he had in common for all was the charismatic aura of the hero: forward-driven, victorious,

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and virile. In the contest for power, and the struggle for ethnic and cultural legitimacy, Cabot was valuable currency indeed. Postscript In 1997 Guido Casini’s statue of John Cabot was returned to Atwater Park after a lengthy absence due to much-needed restoration work. The return was expedited because of the festivities planned for the five hundredth anniversary of Cabot’s arrival in the New World. Ceremonies were held in Italian communities across Canada and also at the Montreal site, now named Cabot Square. A representative from the Italian embassy was present, as was the mayor of Montreal. This international event was augmented by an earlier visit by the president of Italy. Once again, the statue was celebrated as a symbol of cooperation and civil harmony. A new plaque was unveiled that refers to Cabot as the ‘first Italian to discover Canada’ and as ‘he who helped [Italians] discover this land now become their second homeland.’ The careful wording adroitly avoided engaging in the ‘Cabot vs. Cartier’ controversy of an earlier time that, however polemical, is central to the complex history of this important Canadian monument.

NOTES 1 F. Salvatore, ‘Poems for Giovanni Caboto I and II, 1980,’ in J. Pivato, ed., The Anthology of Italian-Canadian Writing (Toronto: Guernica, 1998), 166–7. 2 ‘Statue of Cabot Is Given to City,’ in Montreal Daily Star, 27 May 1935: 5; avanguardiste and ballila are para-military ranks created during the Fascist era for boys aged 14–18 and 8–14 respectively. 3 For a critical, comparative study of the internment of Italians in Canada during the Second World War see F. Iacovetta et al., Enemies Within: Italian and Other Internees in Canada and Abroad (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). 4 Two years before it was officially erected, pictures of the statue were published in L.J. Burpee, ‘John Cabot, Who Sought Cipangu, and Found Canada,’ Canadian Geographical Journal, June 1933: 259–67. The article mentions that the inauguration of the statue will coincide with the arrival of General Italo Balbo, head of the Italian air force. This article was attacked by pro-Cartier supporters in Le Devoir, 10 July 1933, for what they considered unsubstantiated historical claims.

The Monument to Giovanni Caboto (Montreal), 1935 111 5 For detailed studies on the political context of this period of Italian Canadian history refer to writings by R. Perin and A. Principe, ‘Making Good Fascists and Good Canadians: Consular Propaganda and the Italian Community of Montreal in the 1930s,’ in G. Gold, ed., Minorities, and Mother Country Imagery (St John’s, NF: I.S.E.R., 1984), 136–58; and A. Principe, The Darkest Side of the Fascist Years: The Italian-Canadian Press: 1920–1942 (Toronto, Buffalo, Lancaster: Guernica, 1999). 6 ‘La colonie italienne présente à Montréal la statue de Cabot,’ in Le Canada, 27 May 1935 : 14, 7. ‘Dans un moment ou Rome et l’Occident gisaient sous l’étalon des barbares, et tout flambeau de civilisation semblait éteint.’ 7 ‘Empire Day Views of Italian Consul,’ The Gazette, 25 May 1935: 5. 8 G. Scardellato and M. Scarci, eds., A Monument for Italian-Canadian Immigrants: Regional Migration from Italy to Canada (Toronto: Department of Italian Studies, University of Toronto, with the Italian-Canadian Immigration Commemorative Association, 1999), 3–4. 9 The annual Empire Day celebrations of this year were more significant and fêted more lavishly than usual because 1935 was also the Jubilee Year marking the 25th anniversary of the reign of King George V. 10 ‘Cabot’s Statue Is Presented to City,’ The Gazette, 27 May 1935: 4. 11 A. Principe, ‘Chronicles from “Cabotia”: 1925-1935,’ in R. Mamoli Zorzi, ed., Attreversare gli Oceani Da Giovanni Caboto al Canada Multiculturale (Venice: Marsilio, 1999), 109–27. This is a detailed account of the Cabot campaign. 12 Spada was a Montreal journalist and Italian-language newspaper editor; see A. Principe The Darkest Side of the Fascist Years. 13 B. Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1991). 14 Il Cittadino, 27 September 1930, cited in Principe, ‘Chronicles from “Cabotia,”’ 121. 15 ‘Le monument Jean Cabot,’ Le Devoir, 27 May 1935: 8. 16 For a detailed discussion of Italian consular staff’s involvement in local politics see Perin and Principe, ‘Making Good Fascists.’ 17 ‘Italians of Canada:– I am grateful, while accepting the courteous invitation given to me by the committee in Honour of Giovanni Caboto, to send you greetings from the fatherland [la Patria], across the oceans on whose extreme limits the great Navigators first dared to bring the signs of civilization. Giovanni Caboto, whose name you wish to honour as the man who discovered the land where today you live as hardworking and appreciated guests, is a symbol of the ingenuity and audacity with which our great fathers and now our tenacious brothers brought and bring work and life to a new land – Mussolini.’ Il Carroccio (New York) September 1925: 271. Author’s translation of original in Italian.

112 Anna Maria Carlevaris 18 For a discussion of Italian diasporic identity see P. Verdicchio, Bound by Distance: Rethinking Nationalism through the Italian Diaspora (London: Associated Press, 1997). 19 L’Italia, 18 May 1935, cited in Principe, ‘Chronicles from “Cabotia,”’ 125. 20 Il Bollettino, 8 May 1936, cited in Principe, The Darkest Side of the Fascist Years, 210. 21 One should also note the inscription in the Casa d’Italia in Montreal, which refers to Mussolini as imperatore (emperor). 22 The Enciclopedia italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti was published serially 1929– 36 under the direction of Giovanni Gentile, considered the philosopher of the Italian Fascist movement. 23 L’Italia, 18 May 1935, cited in Principe, ‘Chronicles from “Cabotia,”’ 125. 24 Burpee, ‘John Cabot,’ 259. How Burpee attained the information is unknown, but Roberto Perin’s study of the propaganda efforts of the Italian embassy suggests an avenue of enquiry. Perin and Principe, ‘Making Good Fascists.’ 25 ‘Blackshirt’ refers to the uniform of the Fasci di Combatimenti, the militia units of the Italian Fascist party founded by Benito Mussolini in 1919. 26 The two Montreal churches referred to are Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral and Notre-Dame Basilica. ‘Against the naked and severe Calvinist, Methodist, [and] Evangelical cathedrals of the English conquerors, the French Canadians [i canadesi di razza francese] have built the golden baroque vaults of the Sun King, in fact, they have even remade, in the centre of Montreal, a miniature Saint Peter’s with Bramante’s façade, Michelangelo’s cupola, and Bernini’s colonnade: else they have reconstructed, as always in miniature, the two truncated towers, squared sides, and Gothic rose window of Notre Dame de Paris.’ Italo Balbo, ed., La Centuria Alata (Milan: Mondadori, 1935), 258. Author’s translation of original in Italian. 27 Perin and Principe, ‘Making Good Fascists.’ 28 Houde’s mayoralty was interrupted in 1940 when he was arrested by the RCMP and interned at Petawawa from 5 August 1940 to 18 August 1944. He was mayor of Montreal 1928–32, 1934–6, 1938–40, and 1947–50. 29 C.M. Bayley, ‘The Social Structure of the Italian and Ukrainian Immigrant Communities in Montreal, 1935–37,’ MA thesis, McGill University, 1939: 183. However, Roberto Perin in his study of Brigidi’s government correspondence states that Brigidi was suspicious of Bayley’s motives, thus suggesting that the latter may have been impeded from gathering accurate information. Perin and Principe, ‘Making Good Fascists,’ 156–7n6. 30 Since many Italian artists lived a migratory existence, frequently moving across national borders as work demanded, in some contexts ‘migrant’

The Monument to Giovanni Caboto (Montreal), 1935 113

31 32







may be a more appropriate term. For a discussion of Italian Canadians’ labour history see B. Ramirez and M. Del Baso, The Italians of Montreal: From Sojourning to Settlement 1900–1921 (Montreal: Éditions du Courant, 1980). A. Laliberté, Les Artistes de mon temps (Montreal: Boréal Express, 1986), 130– 1; and Mes Souvenirs (Montreal: Éditions du Boréal Express, 1978), 83. For further reading on national and historical differences in academic teaching styles see C. Goldstein, Teaching Art: Academies and Schools from Vasari to Albers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); and N. Pevsner, Academies of Art Past and Present (New York: Da Capo Press, 1973). The Madonna-della-Difesa church in Montreal is named after a neighbourhood of the Italian town of Casacalenda where many of the parish originated. ‘Le monument aux Martyrs Canadiens,’ Guido Casini and Barsetti & Frères (Québec); erected 1940 on the grounds of the Church of St-Michel de Sillery, Quebec. P.A. Lamontagne, Quelques notes d’histoire sur Saint-Colomb de Sillery (Quebec, 1941), 70. In Montreal, in 1922, a church ceremony in honour of Italy’s Unknown Soldier took place, with guests that included Italian veterans. Some later became active Fascists when the first fascio (Fascist association) in Montreal was instituted in 1925. ‘[Casini is] an example, alive with enthusiasm and Italian passion, with dedication to duty, revealing in his everyday life the spirit of the new Italian [man]. Loyal to the glorious classical traditions of our art … today as yesterday he is in the breach, ready to give the best part of himself for the triumph of the good fascist cause, of which he was a tenacious supporter at the beginning of the movement, in the days of the revolution, in the March on Rome, in which he participated as a valorous officer of the Militia.’ L’Araldo del Canada, 1 November 1930: 3. Author’s translation of original in Italian. (My thanks to Angelo Principe for supplying me with a copy of this newspaper article.) E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). See also work by Quebec historians Ronald Rudin and Gérard Bouchard, who study the links between Old and New World cultures. For a discussion of the nationalist context of Lafontaine Park see A. Gordon, Making Public Pasts: The Contested Terrain of Montreal’s Public Memories 1891–1930 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001).

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6 What’s the Point? jeff thomas When I began making photographs in the late 1970s I was influenced by American photographer Edward Curtis and The North American Indian, his photographic study of Indian people. I was captivated by the powerful people he met and photographed, but was also intrigued by what Curtis had apparently not considered: how his subjects would have photographed themselves. I could also imagine how odd it would have been, back in the early twentieth century, for white people to see an Indian using a camera to photograph their world and then actually photographing their world from their perspective. So when I first went out on the street and set up my camera, I could sense people watching me. I think they were a little surprised to see an Indian (complete with long hair) using a camera, and maybe they wondered what he could possibly be photographing because there was nothing ‘Indian’ about streetscapes. For me, the act of image-making is twofold: the first step is making the decision what to photograph, visualizing what the environment I’m working in looks like with me in it, and making the photograph. Second is seeing how my photographs contrast with historical images of First Nations people and the Edward Curtis photographs. A form of conversation emerges from this. I do not see the photograph as the end result but as a step in creating a performance-based environment in which the viewer of my photographs can take part. The curiosity factor, watching me work, and then noting what I’m photographing – all of this, in a sense, becomes the photograph.

116 Jeff Thomas In 1992 a friend and I took a road trip across the United States. The trip was inspired by the five hundredth anniversary celebrations for Christopher Columbus. I was especially intrigued by the phrase ‘Discoverer of the New World,’ which I found offensive because it dismissed the ancient Aboriginal world that was already here when Columbus showed up. I wanted to see for myself what the ‘New World’ looked liked. Later that same year I made a trip to Ottawa to see the Samuel de Champlain monument at a small park named Nepean Point. I had heard that a life-size Indian figure was kneeling at the base of the monument. My visit took on the hallmark of a pilgrimage once I arrived at the site and stood at the base of the steep hill that led to Nepean Point. I saw Champlain looming in the sky like a god with one outstretched arm and a flowing cape. It was only when I reached the top of the hill that I saw the noble Indian figure. I walked right over to him and marvelled at the detail the sculptor put into his physical features. His bronze sheen tempted you to run your finger along his contours. But why was he kneeling? Was he intended to appear subservient to Champlain? Was he Champlain’s scout? I looked around the monument for a plaque that would tell me who this Indian was. But there was nothing to read, just the familiar silence I have come across so many times before.


Hot Air Balloon near Nepean Point (black and white photograph).


A View of Parliament Hill from Nepean Point (black and white photograph).


Seize the Space F.B.I. (black and white photograph). Who is the real Indian? Over the years I have watched many tourists visit the site and almost always stop to photograph the view of Parliament Hill. They then pose for a picture with the Indian. This scene, enacted over and over again, always reminds me of something I saw during my trip across the United States in 1992. I had stopped at a Wild West town re-creation in South Dakota. An old Lakota man dressed in tribal-style clothing posed with tourists. He was probably the only real Indian they would ever meet.


FOR RENT (colour photograph). The Indian man was removed from his spot in 1999. I decided to take advantage of the now empty space and invite people to pose on the platform. How often do we see a prominent national monument altered? It is usually only on TV news reports when crowds topple statues of deposed dictators. In this case, the Indian was removed as the result of a 1996 protest by the Assembly of First Nations, whose members covered the man with a blanket and called for his removal. The AFN argued that the Indian man misrepresented the contributions Aboriginal people have made to the development of Canada and that he was inappropriately dressed. I thought he should have stayed in place because the monument did in fact symbolize how Canada sees Aboriginal people. But in hindsight the removal and relocation of the Indian was a perfect example of how Aboriginals were moved from their homeland and placed on reserve lands – out of sight and out of mind.


Indian Canoe, maker /artist Greg Hill (colour photograph). Shortly after the AFN protest, a public debate took place in the pages of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper asking if the Indian should remain or be moved. Many Aboriginal people thought he should be removed. My opinion was that he should stay, but only if a plaque was put in place describing why he was there. An interesting fact emerged from this public debate; the Indian was kneeling because the original plan for the monument was to have him in a canoe, but the funding ran out and the canoe was never added. Would the AFN have protested if the Indian was in a canoe?


Bear Making a GPS Marking (colour photograph). Who will guide Champlain through the New World now that the Indian has been taken away?


Why Do the Indians Always Have to Move? (colour photograph). The Indian man didn’t go far once he was removed from the monument. He now resides just across the street in Major’s Hill Park, surrounded by a small plot of indigenous plants. You can almost see him once the fall weather comes and the leaves fall off the trees. Once again there is a noticeable absence of information stating that the Indian once knelt at the Champlain monument. Now he appears to be kneeling before Parliament.

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7 Mémoire ardente by Gilbert Boyer, or When Politics Penetrates Contemporary Art véronique rodriguez Translated from the French by Pamela Lipson

There is not one rejection of contemporary art, but rather different layers of rejection; people accept this, but refuse that. Nathalie Heinich1

The culture of debate that has grown up around contemporary art, especially since the 1980s, remains concerned mostly with matters of ontology. However, there is an increasing sense that such debates may also be used to judge the public response to objects that often fall outside the recognizable limits of traditional genres, media, or styles. By analysing the arguments used in recent controversies about art it is possible to shed new light on what Nathalie Heinich has called the ‘quarrel centred on contemporary art,’2 a ‘quarrel’ that enables us to better identify what it is that we criticize about works of art, artists, art institutions, and so forth. Some of the best-documented instances of art-generated controversy include Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc, installed in New York in 1983 and removed in 1989, Piss Christ (1987) by American photographer Andres Serrano, and My Bed by British Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin (1999). The controversies that arose around these works engendered arguments that reached beyond the aesthetic realm. They went as far as to challenge us to consider issues of public security or even morality. Canada is no stranger to controversies around works of art. Indeed, some of the debates around specific works have been exceedingly public, generating extensive media coverage, especially when the National Gallery of Canada is involved. The purchase in 1989 of Barnett Newman’s painting Voice of Fire, for example, has become part of the

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mythology of the Canadian art world, largely because of extensive media coverage that whipped up a generalized and mostly negative debate on the merits of spending large sums of public money on a painting that had little resonance with average Canadians. The 1991 display of Vanitas, Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic by Jana Sterbak, and the exhibition of works by Attila Richard Lukacs in 1997 also generated considerable public reaction. The intensity of the debate over art seems to heat up exponentially when public space outside of the museum is involved, when contemporary public art is at issue. But what exactly is so contentious about these works? To better understand what drives various publics in their response to contemporary works of public art, it might be useful to examine a specific debate, one that originated in Montreal around a plan for a monument proposed by a local artist with an international standing: Gilbert Boyer. It should be noted that Montreal’s art environment seems, at times, to exist for controversy, so it would be a surprise if the installation of Boyer’s Mémoire ardente in Old Montreal in 1994 did not cause a degree of heated discussion. However, to examine the Mémoire ardente experience is to uncover a richer-then-usual array of choice conditions, each speaking to the very nature of controversy in contemporary public art. First, the debate around Mémoire ardente was fierce. Second, the decisions that led to its installation are still considered controversial in many quarters. Finally, the public controversy over Mémoire ardente is only now gradually slipping from public awareness, giving us an opportunity to discuss how such controversies wax and wane.3 Mémoire ardente was well known to Montrealers even before it was installed. It ignited a very public uproar that lasted more than a month, an open quarrel among politicians, journalists, and the general public as to whether it should be permitted to take up residence on its intended site. Yet, strangely, in 1997 (just three years after it was set up) Mémoire ardente was discretely dismantled against a backdrop of near complete lack of interest from the critics who, in April and May of 1994, would have rejoiced to see the project fail. Mémoire ardente has since been taking up public storage space provided by the City of Montreal in the hope of eventually finding a new home. Was the original public debate surrounding Boyer’s work ultimately responsible for its quiet relocation to a city storage facility? In 1992 Montreal was in a festive mood. The municipality of Montreal had raised close to $40 million to commemorate the city’s

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7.1 Gilbert Boyer, Mémoire ardente (1994, removed in 1997). Granite, stainless steel, paint. Place Jacques-Cartier, Montreal.

350th anniversary. Yet the city was going through the same recession that had plagued all of Canada since the late 1980s. The favoured theme for politicians, from federal to provincial to municipal, was the public debt. Political speeches invariably talked about deficits, the deficit struggle, zero deficits, the need for budgetary restrictions, and spending cuts. On one level, Montreal’s anniversary celebrations may have given average Montrealers an opportunity to forget about economic bad news, but the grand public party was laid out against the backdrop of a fiscal crisis. In order to orchestrate the festivities, Mayor Jean Doré, head of the municipal party Rassemblement des citoyens et des citoyennes de Montréal, set up the Corporation des célébrations du 350e anniversaire. Its sole aim was to promote, coordinate, and manage the anniversary celebrations. The festivities were launched on 16–18 May 1992 in Old Montreal and continued for 150 days with a host of celebratory events spread across the city. When the celebrations ended, the Corporation had some money left over. It was decided (in line with the program’s objectives4 and in conjunction with the municipality) ‘to have a monument created to remind future generations of the festivities that surrounded Montreal’s 350th anniversary.’5

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The Executive Committee of the City of Montreal recommended that the monument be located in Place Jacques-Cartier.6 This public square is the historic heart of Montreal, the site where Château Vaudreuil once stood, the official residence of the governors of New France in Montreal. It became the city’s marketplace in the wake of the fire of 6 June 1803,7 laying the ground for what would become Montreal’s original business district. With its location at the heart of the historic centre of Montreal, Place Jacques-Cartier continues to link the city hall on its northern edge to the Old Port to the south. By 1994 this historic urban square housed a flower market, outdoor cafés, and adjoining restaurants and was a favourite destination for locals and tourists alike, especially in the summer. Plans for the new monument called for it to be erected in the ‘heart of the heart,’ so to speak, ‘in the block between rue St-Paul and rue de la Commune.’8 It would therefore have utmost visibility. According to the instructions included in the commission’s terms and conditions, the successful monument would be historical by nature. It would evoke the year 1992 as well as the celebrations surrounding the city’s anniversary and pay tribute to the main location for the celebration, namely, Old Montreal. It also had to ‘honour Montrealers, those who organized and financed the celebration and those who participated in this festivity.’9 This would be done by including a short text to explain the monument’s significance as well as a list of those who had sponsored the event. Furthermore, given the chosen site, it was determined that the work needed to be constructed in ‘noble,’ or more traditional, materials such as marble or bronze.10 It was also clearly stated that ‘the finalists would have to develop a concept of the contemporary monument that would embody current aesthetic trends.’11 Archaeological remains beneath the site meant that the monument’s foundations would have to be built with a minimum of disturbance to the underlying strata. Since the old wall of the city’s fortifications from the eighteenth century ran directly under the chosen location, the work’s maximum weight would be limited to three metric tons. The specifications therefore demanded a work that would be specific to a predetermined site, Place Jacques-Cartier, and to an event, the festivities in honour of Montreal’s 350th anniversary. Yet the ‘site’ the artist had to consider would also have to exceed the physical or architectural location of the square, encompassing a conceptually broadened place: the Montreal community and the history to be commemorated. Invitations were sent out in 1993 to launch the competition. Twentyone Quebec artists, architects, and designers were encouraged to produce

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submissions. Out of this group, four artists, Louis-Paul Lemieux, Jacques Trousseau, Louise Viger, and Gilbert Boyer, were selected. At this point they were called upon to present a model of their project along with samples of their proposed materials and three sketches illustrating the monument’s site-specificity,12 depicted from different points of view. The maquette was to be accompanied by a text explaining the concept behind the work, a technical estimate, and a detailed budget. A seven-member jury was formed. It comprised five representatives from civic and governmental institutions and two active members of the Montreal art community.13 The committee was asked to judge the artists’ proposals based on artistic merit, on how directly the works addressed the commemoration, on the extent to which they would enhance the location, on their compliance with the specifications and public safety standards, and on their compliance with the budget. Unanimously, the judges agreed that Gilbert Boyer’s entry stood head and shoulders above the others. Boyer, a renowned Montreal artist, had already successfully completed several works of public art in Montreal and abroad. On 23 December 1993 he signed a contract with the Société immobilière du patrimoine architectural de Montréal (SIMPA) and the Corporation des célébrations du 350e anniversaire de Montréal to create a monument. It was to be dedicated on 17 May 1994 by Mayor Jean Doré. After undergoing several adjustments, the assigned budget was set at $70,000.14 Boyer’s work, Mémoire ardente, is structured around competing concepts of tension: ‘visibility/invisibility, interior/exterior, intimate/ public, history/memory/archeology/stone, party/celebration/light/ fire-fly …’15 Since Place Jacques-Cartier (which is dominated by a monument to Horatio Nelson) is overloaded with visual signs, notably advertising and informational signage, the sculptor preferred to design the monument ‘as an intimate, internal, almost invisible experience, to be discovered and rediscovered each time. Each time, the memory itself will be conjured up during the monument’s visual experience.’16 Boyer’s intention was to have the monument reflexively address the central notion of tension by having it blend in with its environment without going unnoticed. He would accomplish this by using a sparkling pink granite-clad cube, perforated by round holes five centimetres in diameter that would both filter and emit light. Its distinct surface treatment (from a distance the stone cube would appear isolated in its location) was meant to be reminiscent of an axis around which Montreal could have been constructed. Through its location, orientation, and size (roughly 1.75 metres) the monument would also

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Mémoire ardente.

create an accessible link of human scale between the Old Port and Montreal’s city hall. The work would invite passersby to come closer and discover what lay within this cubic mass of granite. With an eye fixed on the rough surface, the spectator would be drawn into this blazing commemorative room while reading phrases in English and French with verbs conjugated in the past tense such as ‘I wandered around,’ ‘you sang,’ ‘we loved each other.’ Also included would be place names such as ‘Parc Ahuntsic,’ ‘Île Sainte-Hélène,’ and ‘Fabre Street.’ These fragments of meaning were meant to trigger memories of the city’s history and topography, and thus underscore the reasons for the 350th anniversary celebrations. In context, the spectator would evaluate the elements before him or her and establish relationships, placing the festivities of 1992 into a frame of associations provoked by experiences and personal memories related to the City of Montreal. A small stainless-steel column would stand next to the hard-rock cube. It had been added to the second version of the project in light of recommendations made by the selection committee and was meant to acknowledge the ‘having taken place’ aspect of the work by exhibiting a written commemorative text and a list of sponsors, as required under the commission rules.17 By its form and treatment, this element would

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View of the interior of Mémoire ardente.

form a visual contrast with the cube while establishing a luminous link, especially when the shadow cast by the column would skim the stone. (It would also attempt to overcome the problem of presenting this kind of material without undermining the integrity of the main work, a common difficulty in public commissions of this sort.) Installed towards the southern end of Place Jacques-Cartier, the column and the cube would act as city landmarks from both physical and historical standpoints. The debate around Mémoire ardente began following a meeting of the Municipal Board on 11 April 1994. A photograph of Boyer’s maquette had been unveiled at the meeting accompanied by one of the artist’s three ‘landscapes.’ The debate got under way in earnest after Montreal’s daily newspapers published various reactions to the work on 14 and 15 April. Journalists, attracted by the emerging controversy, interviewed several of the involved players, including politicians from different parties. Clément Bluteau, leader of the Parti civique and chief of the municipal opposition, declared to the Journal de Montréal that ‘a dollar invested in this monument is a dollar too many.’18 Sammy Forcillo, the independent municipal councillor for the Saint-Jacques district (who happened to be running for mayor in the upcoming election) also

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argued that the Urban Community was squandering public funds. He declared bluntly, ‘This monument is Doré’s latest invention to distract our attention from the Corporation’s finances. Mémoire ardente will remind us that the City of Montreal has indeed a short memory when it comes to its promises to reveal administrators’ salaries, the sum of contracts given out and the hypothetical surplus.’19 In addition to financial concerns, Forcillo asserted that Place Jacques-Cartier was not an appropriate site for such a contemporary work of art. Another councillor and candidate for the mayor’s office, Jérôme Choquette, also expressed his position on the contemporary aesthetics of the work: ‘The style of this work is not suited to Old Montreal and its architecture.’20 These political leaders, all members of the municipal opposition, used the occasion to take a public stand against the monument. Their opinions contrast with those of other participants in the debate. Marie-Michèle Cron, an art critic who was also a jury member, Michel Petit, the director of the Corporation des célébrations du 350e anniversaire, and Francyne Lord, head of Montreal’s Service de la culture, all defended the low cost of the monument and stressed its originality. Journalist André Beauvais was onside, quoting Lord in an article written for Le Journal de Montréal: ‘With regards to the expense represented by this commission, ‘it is very modest when compared to the Maisonneuve Monument inaugurated in 1895, which commemorates the 250th anniversary of Montreal,’ commented Ms Lord. The century-old monument originally cost $100,000 and its current replacement value has now reached 2.2 million dollars.’21 It is important to note that the artist was not present during the early public discussions. He was in New York opening a group exhibition in which he was participating. Editorial writers for Montreal’s daily newspapers also took up the growing debate around Mémoire ardente. On 14 and 15 April they immediately attempted to contextualize comments about the work by introducing Gilbert Boyer’s achievements as an artist and affirming that the politicians involved in the controversy were grandstanding in order to gain points in the upcoming municipal election campaign. The discussion surrounding the monument could have stopped right there had Doug Camilli, a journalist from the daily English-language newspaper, The Gazette, not aggravated the situation. Up to this point, journalists had been dealing mainly with arguments presented by elected officials. Suddenly, on 16 April, the debate developed into a personal crusade waged by Camilli on behalf of common sense against the ‘art experts,’22 a debate that was perpetuated by The Gazette in various guises.

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Between 16 April and 17 May, The Gazette published one letter to the editor and nine articles expressing opposing points of view written by the newspaper’s national editorial writer, the people in charge of the travel or literature sections, and its arts journalists. In contrast, during the entire month that Mémoire ardente was in the news Montreal’s three main French-language daily newspapers, Le Journal de Montréal, Le Devoir, and La Presse published a total of just three letters and two articles dealing with Boyer’s work.23 Following the opening of Mémoire ardente on 17 May 1994, the media adopted a number of different positions. While some newspapers soberly announced the event, with a photograph of the work surrounded by several dignitaries and accompanied by a description,24 others jumped at the opportunity to comment on the work now that it had finally been revealed.25 In any case, once Mémoire ardente was unveiled it very quickly fell off the media’s radar. Within a few weeks, no more articles about it were published. There is something peculiar about this debate. As has been mentioned, the controversy was triggered by the unveiling at a municipal board meeting of a photograph of the monument’s maquette and by a landscape work-up of the site that Gilbert Boyer had presented to the selection board. All those who entered the debate, whether by defending or condemning the work, made their case based on these two images, or by relying on documents that had been reproduced in newspapers. Absolutely no one involved had seen the actual monument in its location at Place Jacques-Cartier. So what arguments were used to rile up the public and attempt to derail the completion of Boyer’s work? The discourse of those who either praised or reviled the work is revealing. Studies on art controversies, some of which were carried out by Nathalie Heinich on contemporary artworks (but also more general ones by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot), have specifically focused on the types of arguments used to justify the critiques.26 By using these examples it is possible to create a list of argument strategies, or registers, in order to analyse statements made throughout the debate about contemporary art in general and Mémoire ardente in particular. These include strategies that belong to the ‘aesthetic,’ ‘economic,’ ‘purifying,’ ‘functional,’ and ‘hermeneutic’ registers, as well as matters pertaining to the artist’s nationality and reputation. An analysis of newspaper articles about Mémoire ardente enables us to observe certain recurring features in the discourse about the work. Since this was a debate triggered by a work of art, we should expect arguments centred on the aesthetic quality of the work and its style to

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predominate, arguments taking a position such as ‘it is beautiful,’ ‘it is ugly,’ ‘it is in bad taste,’ etc. Surprisingly, however, these types of statements do not dominate the controversy surrounding Mémoire ardente. This does not mean that aesthetic pronouncements were entirely absent from the discussion: the art critic Marie-Michèle Cron, for example, qualified the work as a ‘brilliant sculpture that evokes a love for a city,’27 while Public Art Commissioner Francyne Lord recounts how someone called her to congratulate her for ‘the magnificent work.’28 However, these two positive qualifications (from two members of the monument’s selection board) were in contrast to the blunt opinion voiced by a local souvenir-shop worker who was quoted in print. ‘It’s ugly – plain and simple,’ said Tarek Namour. The work was elsewhere described as a ‘hideous five-foot granite cube’ and as ‘big and boxy and ugly.’29 However, most of the comments at this point were not about aesthetics, probably because the work itself had not yet been unveiled. It may also have been because of critical discussions and biases surrounding the contemporary monument that have shifted conventions of aesthetic appreciation to other forms of questioning, or perhaps because one cannot adequately judge a work from our own time, as André Pratte suggests when he compares Gilbert Boyer to Auguste Rodin and Mémoire ardente to Monument à Balzac.30 This discussion of the aesthetic register must also take into account various designations of the work that peppered the controversy. Indeed, few references were made to Mémoire ardente by its title. It was instead referenced according to its function as a monument or to its shape, namely, ‘the cube’ or ‘the block.’ Those opposing Mémoire ardente established their position by qualifying the work in this manner. Some simply indicated their reservation with respect to the artistic status of the work by hesitantly placing the word ‘art’ in quotation marks. Others resorted to a more colourful vocabulary, calling Mémoire ardente variously a ‘thing,’ ‘blob art,’ ‘wallpaper,’ or simply ‘junk.’31 Shifting arguments were also regularly used. For example, journalists, who often warned the reader about their ignorance of art, then moved on to subjective description. This strategy was employed by Doug Camilli and Brian Kappler. ‘I can’t define art,’ they wrote, ‘but surely art should make us feel, or understand, something about the human condition.’32 As the following quotes indicate, a variety of ‘critics’ were too unsure of themselves to formulate an objective evaluation. Instead, they took refuge in the meaning they perceived in the work or the indifference Mémoire ardente seemed to provoke: ‘Not sure that the box-shaped rectangles with equal sides are speaking to me.

Mémoire ardente by Gilbert Boyer 135

Not sure that Voyer’s [sic] work … is stopping me in my tracks … I finally wonder what it is doing there, this block, that is. Neither big nor small, neither ugly nor beautiful, let’s say that it floats between the ashtray and emmenthal … It doesn’t assault, shock or disturb.’33 And in the same vein: ‘The surprise is found on the inside, as we see in Chinese fortune cookies. The block attracts, intrigues and disappoints some, shocks others, but leaves most in a state of indifference.’34 The tentative use of the word ‘art’ can be used to explain the small number of aesthetic judgments that populate this debate. If most of the detractors did not confer artistic status upon this monument, it follows that Mémoire ardente could not be judged from an aesthetic perspective and, therefore, would not obtain the same level of artistic legitimacy that a traditional sculpture would expect to elicit. This tactic – the denial of artistic status – may be observed in the writing of The Gazette’s national editorial writer, Brian Kappler: ‘Mémoire ardente is just a cube,’ and not art.35 Here, not only is the aesthetic register not appreciated, it is discounted altogether. The public, therefore, is led to focus on the monetary evaluation, otherwise known as the economic register, which is omnipresent throughout this debate. A focus on monetary matters provided the grounds for a vehement denunciation, specifically, the waste of public resources during tough times. The first economic argument directed against the work (originating from comments made by Clément Bluteau, leader of the opposition Parti civique) illustrates this. Bluteau argued that it would have been appropriate to ‘return [the money] to the public funds rather than spend it in this manner … the Doré administration could have shown some imagination by encouraging private enterprise to participate and finance such a contest.’36 Coming from the leader of the opposition, such arguments were meant to establish Bluteau’s concern for civic financial matters. However, he also clearly over-simplifies the situation in a bid for popular support. Indeed, from the very start, the budget for the Corporation des célébrations du 350e anniversaire came from several sources, including grants from different levels of government and money from private sponsors, as the list of contributors erected with the monument confirms.37 Furthermore, the money that supported the commission was left over from the festival and did not actually belong to the City of Montreal, so it could not be used for any other purpose in spite of political claims to the contrary.38 This raises another point. Several political voices, reflected in the public discourse around Mémoire ardente, suggest that the $70,000 allocated to the sculpture should have been invested, or spent on

136 Véronique Rodriguez

something else. Yet the politicians remained evasive on how the funds should be redirected. The public, however, had many opinions on the matter, as expressed in open-line radio shows and letters to the editor. Many said it was unacceptable to spend such an amount on a monument in times of restraint and that by doing so elected officials were showing contempt for voters. Others said the money would be put to better use filling the potholes in the streets, maintaining outdoor skating rinks, restoring heritage buildings that were in poor condition, or even subsidizing youth associations.39 In one way or another, all journalists seemed to focus on the costs associated with the work. Several questioned the motives of the politicians, wondering why a mere $70,000 was being contested while the Corporation had already spent between $40 and $50 million. They questioned the distribution of the Corporation’s budget, observing that the lion’s share was dispersed to Quebec creators and businesses. In response, comparisons were made between money spent on culture and the budgets of other government ministries, comparisons which seemed to indicate that cultural expenses do not generally place governments in a state of financial difficulty.40 Supporting this position, André Beauvais of the Journal de Montréal published details of an interview with Francyne Lord that detailed the costs attached to the work and compared Mémoire ardente with the previously mentioned Maisonneuve monument.41 Lord insisted that the replacement value of the earlier monument would total more than $2 million. The Public Art Commissioner used this comparison to challenge the ‘cost’ argument by claiming that a contemporary work such as Mémoire ardente was a bargain compared to a traditional bronze statue. Lord’s line of argument hints at what Nathalie Heinich has called the ‘purifying register,’ which is concerned with maintaining harmony between the chosen site and the work of art. In the case of Mémoire ardente, it is generated when those opposed to the work ‘express an opinion, not on the intrinsic value of the artistic proposal, but on its congruence with its surrounding space, or with the temporality in which it finds itself.’42 According to this logic, the nature of the historical site must be respected. Therefore, in the name of the preservation of heritage, a contemporary work of art should not be allowed to take up physical residence on Place Jacques-Cartier. This is also one of the registers most often used by politicians, frequently in conjunction with the reactions to public spending. Along these lines, it was argued that ‘Place Jacques-Cartier is not suited to this work’43 because ‘this work’s

Mémoire ardente by Gilbert Boyer 137

style is not a natural choice for Old Montreal and its architecture.’44 Furthermore, according to The Gazette’s Paul Waters, this object was typical of ‘blob art’ because it could and should be installed anywhere other than at this site, surrounded by nineteenth-century architecture at the heart of the historical city.45 Again, this was not a reaction to Boyer’s actual sculpture, but rather the terms of the monument’s commissioning and the choice of site. On this issue, the artist defended his project in interviews published in The Gazette, La Presse, and Le Journal de Montréal after he wrapped up his commitments in New York and returned to Montreal.46 All interventions made in this register did not necessarily express the desire that the work not be seen. Some simply wished it could be seen elsewhere. They argued that it would not be properly featured at this bustling location; that vestiges of history would be covered by the work and would thereby be denied to future generations; that the work would be better suited to a site close to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, at Place des Arts, where the 1960s environment and the architecture of the Complexe Desjardins would support a recent, cubic work of this kind.47 By questioning the appropriateness of the site, many ended up questioning the need for such a monument altogether. This is what Heinich calls the functional register. The media texts from the period of the debate reveal that politicians remained consistent with their denunciation of the project’s expense. They inquired whether a more understated commemorative mark would have been more suitable in such a difficult economic climate. One even suggested ‘a commemorative plaque displayed in the lobby of city hall,’48 a reference to a similar memorial austerely installed in 1942 at the height of the Second World War. But it was primarily Montreal voters who raised arguments from the functional register. ‘It would certainly be preferable to give money to these organizations … to help the youth stay alive and express talent. Let’s invest in life rather than death.’49 Some, with great practicality, asked what purpose such a monument could serve once Montreal’s 350th anniversary celebrations were long forgotten? Certain caricaturists found the solution in an idea put forward by Mayor Doré: Mémoire ardente could be used for dog urinals!50 The Gazette’s travel writer imagined that ‘the holes in our monument sound like ideal places to stuff love letters, suicide notes, petitions to the Almighty and microfilms of state secrets. And I think I can confidently predict that thoughtless Montrealers will find all sorts of other uses for it, too.’51 In

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these discussions, Mémoire ardente’s original function as a monument commemorating Montreal’s 350th anniversary was not acknowledged. This lack of recognition comes in large part from the fact that many did not grasp the relationship between the form and materials used and what the work was intended to commemorate. Reproaches, stemming this time from the hermeneutic register, reveal this misunderstanding. The work was criticized for not adequately representing Montreal from its founding in 1642 until its anniversary in 1992. This criticism was accurate, but failed to note that it was not Mémoire ardente’s raison d’être to undertake such a representation. It is clearly indicated in the terms and conditions that the work would commemorate the celebrations honouring the city’s 350th anniversary and not the full 350 years of Montreal’s history. This confusion, which lasted throughout the debate, gave rise to arguments based on misinterpretation.52 Some who were interested in the meaning of the work simply wrote that ‘it’s unintelligible,’ but that all ‘world-class cities’ exhibit this type of art.53 Others considered that the concept was forced to such an extent that it became incomprehensible and that ‘if we shipped it to Toronto as an artistic homage to the Blue Jays, nobody would know the difference.’54 The officers in charge of the project publicly responded that the work complied with the terms of the commission. They did not discuss Gilbert Boyer’s work as such, since no one had yet seen it. Furthermore, journalists who were in favour of waiting for the work to be installed before judging it observed that contemporary art requires the viewer to shift position, experience the work, and to reflect upon it because it is ‘not as easily and as readily viewed as prime-time television.’55 They made the point that the photograph of a maquette was not sufficient to properly grasp the meaning of Mémoire ardente. The Gazette’s visual arts critic, Ann Duncan, even published an article in which she explained what contemporary art is and how it should be experienced. She wanted to encourage the public to go to see the work and discuss it once it was installed. Duncan wrote: ‘The essence of contemporary art is about just that [contempt of ideas] – it’s about new philosophies, visions and ways of seeing, digesting and interpreting the world.’56 Finally, two additional registers occasionally arose in discussions about the work, but in a more marginal manner. These are the domestic register and the register of the artist’s reputation. There was a surprising absence of commentary on the choice of artist. From 14 April,

Mémoire ardente by Gilbert Boyer 139

journalists had acknowledged that Gilbert Boyer was a Montreal artist and that the competition had been won by a local candidate, someone familiar with both Montreal and its history.57 Several journalists also identified Boyer as an artist of international repute, having exhibited in major artistic capitals such as New York and Paris. From the beginning of the controversy, journalists made a point of mentioning that they had been unable to obtain any input from the artist because he was in New York participating in another art project.58 Ann Duncan and Jonathan Goodman, both with The Gazette, revealed that the city of New York intended to purchase a work by Gilbert Boyer for a public site. They claimed this as proof of the value of Boyer’s work, a point, however, that seemed to get lost in the general bickering.59 In the end Gilbert Boyer’s Mémoire ardente was able to survive a heated media debate that went on for more than a month, an experience that tends to underscore Nathalie Heinich’s observation that different ‘levels of rejection’ exist. Indeed, as we have seen, the work as such was hardly discussed at all. What was being disputed here was not the quality of the work as it can be defined within the parameters of fine arts practices and discourses, but rather a perceived inappropriate use of public funds in a pre-election climate, funds that did not all originate from public sources. Indeed, it seems that if Mémoire ardente and Gilbert Boyer garnered more media attention than might have been expected during the period of 11 April to 18 May, it is mainly because of the political opportunism brought on by the upcoming city elections. The work – symbolic of the Rassemblement des citoyens et des citoyennes de Montréal government that had commissioned it – would, after all, occupy a highly visible location just 300 metres from City Hall. Given the political climate in which this debate arose, it is likely that the controversy surrounding Mémoire ardente would have been much more muted, perhaps even non-existent, if the monument had been unveiled after the municipal election.60 For all this, the artist remained mostly unaffected by all the media attention. Furthermore, the work itself was discussed very little in the lead-up to its inauguration and even less once it was installed. In the end, members of the general public who viewed Mémoire ardente seemed intrigued by this pierced cubic mass that invited them to look inside to confirm what lay hidden there. There appears to be no connection between the dismantling of the work in September 1997 and the debates of 1994. By 1997 Montreal’s city planners had decided to rework Place Jacques-Cartier, a project

140 Véronique Rodriguez

that had been in limbo for many years.61 Yet it is of passing interest that, in the end, the purifying register was used without fanfare to justify the decision to remove the monument. City officials decided that the location and the aesthetics of the work were no longer suited to the new public-square project and they simply trucked it away into storage. A ‘suitable’ site has yet to be found.

NOTES 1 N. Heinich, ‘Il n’y a pas un rejet de l’art contemporain mais des strates de rejets, des gens qui acceptent ceci mais refusent cela.’ In L’art contemporain exposé aux rejets: Études de cas (Nîmes: Jacqueline Chambon, 1998), 211. 2 Author’s translation (AT). This notion of a quarrel centred on contemporary art (also referred to as the crisis in contemporary art) developed mainly in France during the 1990s. It concerns the ontology of contemporary art as well as its appropriate aesthetic appreciation. In her work, Nathalie Heinich proposes a resolution to the debate by considering the term ‘contemporary’ as a genre instead of a period (as is done in music, for example). For a synopsis of the controversy, see N. Heinich, Pour en finir avec la querelle de l’art contemporain (Paris: L’Échoppe, 1999). 3 I wish to thank Bernard Lamarche for allowing me to explore this work as part of a case study published in the journal ETC Montréal. See V. Rodriguez, ‘Quelques éléments sur l’insituabilité de Mémoire ardente à la place Jacques-Cartier,’ in ETC Montréal no. 42 (June–August 1998): 36–7. 4 In the proceedings of the board of directors of the Société immobilière du patrimoine architectural de Montréal (SIMPA), held on 17 December 1992, it was written in article 92-102 that ‘the 350th anniversary celebrations planned for the erection of a monument dedicated to the population of Montreal, and to the organizations and corporations that helped finance the celebrations.’ (p. 6). Archives municipales de la ville de Montréal, Société immobilière du patrimoine architectural de Montréal (SIMPA) funds, box 120-03-05-00. 5 AT: Concours d’art public. Monument pour commémorer le 350e anniversaire de Montréal. Cahier des charges no. 2 (17 March 1993): 1. 6 ‘After consulting with CIDEC and the Service de l’habitation et du développement urbain, it was agreed that the Monument Commémoratif would be erected at the foot of Place Jacques-Cartier, a decision approved by the Executive Committee of the City of Montreal at its meeting of 28 August 1992.’ Proceedings of the Assembly of the Board of Directors of SIMPA, article 92-102, p. 6.

Mémoire ardente by Gilbert Boyer 141 7 J.C. Marsan, Montréal en évolution: Historique du développement de l’architecture et de l’environnement Montréalais (Montreal: Éditions du Méridien, 1994), 515. 8 AT: Concours d’art public, 1. 9 Ibid., 2. 10 AT: ‘The commission excludes the use of water, integrated light and kinetic objects. Prohibited materials include wood, glass, plastic, weatherized steel (Corten) and aluminum.’ Concours d’art public, 3. 11 Ibid., 2. 12 The notion of site-specificity is discussed at length in Kathleen Irwin’s contribution to this volume. 13 This jury comprised Michel Petit, general manager of the Corporation des célébrations du 350e anniversaire; Allan Knight, an architect representing the Service d’habitation et du développement urbain (SHDU); Daniel Forgues, an architect representing the Société immobilière du patrimoine architectural (SIMPA); Gérald Savoie, an architect representing the Ministère des Affaires Culturelles; Francyne Lord, board member in charge of the public art program for the City of Montreal; Marie-Michèle Cron, an art critic; and Rose-Marie Arbour, vice-dean of the Famille des arts of l’Université du Québec à Montréal. 14 In the proceedings of the assembly of SIMPA’s board of directors, section 92-102 stipulated a lump sum of $116,000. This amount was adjusted downwards in the proceedings of the assembly of SIMPA’s board, held on 26 January 1994, in section 94-1, p. 1. According to the Concours d’art public, 7, this amount includes the creator’s fees, the purchase of materials, production, subcontracting, workshop rental, insurance, transportation, setting up, and administration. The City of Montreal was in charge of excavation expenses, foundations, earthworks, plant arrangement, paving, and the planting of trees. 15 AT: ‘La mémoire ardente,’ project by G. Boyer, unpublished document, [n. p.]. 16 Ibid. 17 In the first version of the work, the granite plaques rested on a flat surface, framed by tabs on which the text and the sponsors’ names would be engraved. This version of the work was not kept because the written portion of Mémoire ardente would not have been visible during the winter. 18 AT: ‘Un cube de granit de 70,000$ qui fait parler l’opposition,’ Le Journal de Montréal, 14 April 1994: 8. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid. 21 A. Beauvais, ‘“Mémoire ardente,” on s’en souviendra longtemps,’ Le Journal de Montréal, 14 April 1994: 8.

142 Véronique Rodriguez 22 D. Camilli, ‘Cube Has No Place in Square, but Might Help Solve Miron Quarry Problem,’ The Gazette, 16 April 1994: C7. 23 A. Beauvais, ‘Mémoire ardente, l’artiste se terre à Laval. Il ne croyait pas soulever une tempête,’ Le Journal de Montréal, 21 April 1994: D20; C. de Lespinay, ‘Montréal au cube’ (Letters), Le Devoir, 4 May 1994: A8; J. Dufresne, ‘Argent mal utilisé?’ (Letters), La Presse, 8 May 1994: B2; and Gérard Cloutier, ‘Le cube: oui, mais ailleurs!’ (Letters), La Presse, 15 May 1994: B2. 24 ‘Le cube de Boyer,’ Le Devoir, 18 May 1994 : A1; ‘Mémoire ardente,’ La Presse, 18 May 1994: A1. 25 F. Nuovo, ‘La verrue sur le nez de la Place,’ Le Journal de Montréal, 18 May 1994: 61; A. Duncan, ‘Maybe the Cube Is Not So Bad After All,’ The Gazette, 21 May 1994: I5. 26 L. Boltanski and L. Thévenot, De la justification: Les économies de la grandeur (Paris: Gallimard, 1991), and Heinich, Pour en finir, 216. 27 A. Derfel, ‘Multi-sided Debate Greets Cube Monument to 350th,’ The Gazette, 14 April 1994: A3. 28 AT: S. Baillargeon, ‘Controverse au cube,’ Le Devoir, 14 April 1994: A3. 29 A. Derfel, D. Camilli and B. Kappler, ‘Big and Boxy and Ugly: Editorial,’ The Gazette, 14 April 1994: B2. 30 F. Nuovo, ‘La mémoire qui flanche,’ Le Journal de Montréal, 15 April 1994 : 28; M. Abley, ‘The Contemporary Question: Is It Art? It’s Too Soon to Sneer,’ The Gazette, 30 April 1994: A1, A13; and A. Pratte, ‘Le cube de Rodin,’ La Presse, 19 April 1994, A5. 31 See D. Camilli and B. Kappler, ‘The Contemporary Question: Is It Art? “Meaningless” Perspective,’ The Gazette, 30 April 1994, A1, A13; and P. Waters, ‘Travellers Know That Blob Art Is Important,’ The Gazette, 23 April 1994, I1, I2. 32 Camilli and Kappler, ‘The Contemporary Question.’ 33 AT: Nuovo, ‘La verrue.’ 34 AT: A.K. Lepage, ‘Autour de l’art public,’ La Presse, 9 June 1994, D3. 35 Kappler, ‘The Contemporary Question,’ A1, A13. 36 AT: ‘Un cube de granit.’ 37 The witness column of the monument lists the names of those who financed the festivities: ‘Major partners: The City of Montreal, the Government of Canada, Tourisme Québec, Coca-Cola Ltée, Ford, la Brasserie Molson-O’Keefe, les Pétroles Esso. Les commanditaires d’activités: Bell Canada, Bombardier Inc., Hydro-Québec, IBM, Imasco, l’Agence de coopération culturelle et technique, la Banque Amex, the Bank of Montreal, Laurentian Bank, Royal Bank, la Fédération des Caisses populaires

Mémoire ardente by Gilbert Boyer 143

38 39

40 41 42 43 44 45


47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55

56 57


Desjardins de Montréal et de l’ouest du Québec, SIMPA. Official suppliers: Air Canada, Bell Cellular, Xerox.’ AT: ‘Un cube de granit’ and Baillargeon, ‘Controverse au cube.’ ‘Question of the Week: Is a $70,000 Granite Cube a Suitable Monument to Montreal’s 350 years?’ The Gazette, 24 April 1994, B3; de Lespinay, ‘Montréal au cube’; Dufresne, ‘Argent mal utilisé?’; and Camilli and Kappler, ‘The Contemporary Question.’ Nuovo, ‘La mémoire qui flanche’ and Abley, ‘The Contemporary Question.’ Beauvais, ‘“Mémoire ardente.”’ AT: Heinich, Pour en finir, 205. Sammy Forcillo, quoted in ‘Un cube de granit.’ Jérôme Choquette,  quoted ibid. AT: ‘Un cube de granit’; Waters, ‘Travellers Know’; J. Ward, ‘Another Monument to 350th Not Needed’ (Letters), The Gazette, 1 May 1994, B4; de Lespinay, ‘Montréal au cube’; G. Cloutier, ‘Le “cube”: oui, mais ailleurs!’ (Letters), La Presse, 15 May 1994, B2; Nuovo, ‘La verrue’; A. Picard, ‘This Public Art Isn’t Just a Block of Granite,’ Globe and Mail, 24 May 1994, A5. A. Derfel, ‘Cube Artist Surprised by Reaction. Let Skeptics Wait till They’ve “experienced” Monument, He Says,’ The Gazette, 20 April 1994, A3; Pratte, ‘Le cube de Rodin’; and Beauvais, ‘Mémoire ardente, l’artiste se terre à Laval.’ Ward, ‘Another Monument’; de Lespinay, ‘Montréal au cube’; and Cloutier, ‘Le “cube.”’ AT: ‘Un cube de granit.’ AT: Dufresne, ‘Argent mal utilisé?’ or read the comments in ‘Question of the Week.’ See the caricature published in Le Journal de Montréal, 15 April 1994: 4. Waters, ‘Travellers Know.’ See, for example, Derfel, ‘Multi-sided Debate’ and ‘Question of the Week.’ Waters, ‘Travellers Know.’ Waters and Kappler, ‘The Contemporary Question.’ J.V. Dufresne, ‘Le Bloc,’ in Le Journal de Montréal, 15 April 1994, A4. A. Duncan, ‘Usual Standards Go out Window When Judging Contemporary Art,’ The Gazette, 23 April 1994, J5. Duncan, ‘Usual Standards.’ G. Gauthier, ‘Le monument destiné à commémorer les Fêtes du 350e anniversaire de Montréal sera installé place Jacques-Cartier,’ La Presse, 14 April 1994, A3; Derfel, ‘Multi-sided Debate’; Kappler, ‘Big and Boxy and Ugly’ and ‘Trous de cube!’ L’Actualité 19:9 (1 June 1994): 10. Baillargeon, ‘Controverse au cube’; Nuovo, ‘La mémoire qui flanche’; Pratte, ‘Le cube de Rodin’; Beauvais, ‘Mémoire ardente, l’artiste se terre à

144 Véronique Rodriguez Laval’; J. Goodman, ‘Wanted in New York. While Controversy Swirls around Boyer’s Cube, Americans Plan to Use His Work in a Major Project,’ The Gazette, 23 April 1994, J5. 59 Goodman, ‘Wanted in New York.’ 60 AT: ‘It is expected that the Commemorative Monument will be unveiled on the day of Montreal’s anniversary in 1993, i.e., on 17 May 1993.’ Proceedings from the assembly of the board of directors of SIMPA, 17 December 1992, article 92-102, p. 6. 61 R. Clermont, Le concours international de Montréal, place Jacques-Cartier (Quebec: Ministère des affaires culturelles, 1993).

8 Edmonton’s City Hall as Visual Archive and Collector of Memory C . S . OGDEN 1

The demolition and reconstruction of a public urban space can provoke a multitude of changes in the relationship between an urban community and its public space. When the public space is something as crucial to the community as a city hall, can the alteration of this space redefine the urban community itself? This is the central question that arises from a particular case study: the demolition and rebuilding of Edmonton City Hall in the early 1990s, an act that also involved the reconfiguration of the public art around the new structure.2 Pierre Nora’s work with the concept of the lieu de mémoire is particularly interesting in exploring issues related to the transformation of the site. This conceptual frame offers insight into how a public space can spatially sustain the junctures (and disjunctures) between history and memory. Of particular interest is the manner in which a civic administration simultaneously uses public space and public art as a visual archive and as a representation of contemporary notions of collective identity. Indeed, in Edmonton, successive city hall structures and even the plans that never made it off the drawing board illustrate how each generation of city leaders anticipated how their city hall could symbolize a particular civic vision.3 The Hudson’s Bay Company founded Fort Edmonton in 1795 on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, and by the 1820s the settlement had become a major distribution point for the fur trade in the Canadian Northwest. Intense economic and social growth characterized the area through the 1870s and 1880s and culminated in the incorporation of the city in 1904 with a population of 8350. The following year the new province of Alberta was formed, and the year after that Edmonton became its capital. In the years following incorporation,

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Edmonton experienced another economic boom resulting in the construction of a provincial legislature building at the site of Fort Edmonton, the completion of a bridge to join the city with the town of Strathcona on the south side of the river, and the eventual amalgamation of the two municipalities.4 Edmonton has used several buildings to house its city hall in its comparatively short history.5 The first was a room above a butcher’s shop operated by the son-in-law of Edmonton’s first mayor, Matthew McCauley.6 By 1893, a two-storey brick structure had been built, but it also housed the main fire hall, a police station, and a number of municipal offices.7 The Civic Block, constructed beside a fire hall in 1904, served as city hall into the 1950s. In 1950 a new plan for a civic centre (the Detweiler Plan) was proposed to city council, but was rejected by the ratepayers. During the early 1950s, four city blocks on a north– south axis situated in Edmonton’s downtown core were designated as the site of a future civic centre. This strip of land was intended to hold a new city hall building as well as an urban park.8 The local architectural firm of Dewar, Stevenson, and Stanley designed a Le Corbusier– influenced forty thousand square metre modernist structure, which was completed seven years later.9 In 1957 Mayor William Hawrelak proudly described the newly constructed city hall as ‘in keeping with contemporary architectural trends’ and boasted that ‘succeeding generations will be able to place it in its period of history and by doing so, will pay their tribute to our citizens of today.’10 The connection made by the mayor between the choice of modernist architecture and ideas of longevity and civic pride is significant. With this construction project, the city established a benchmark of sorts, marking a period of civic history in durable materials and a recognizable architectural form so that succeeding generations of Edmontonians would be given the necessary tools to read the building contextually.11 The reference to ‘succeeding generations’ made by Mayor Hawrelak emphasizes an important notion concerning the formation and preservation of memory and history within public spaces. Pierre Nora describes memory as a constantly changing experience ‘embodied in living societies and as such in permanent evolution.’12 That is to say, memory is a social phenomenon. It is the result of the active recollection of certain events by groups or individuals. Even though memory always draws upon the past and preserves a sense of historical continuity, the recollection constantly changes with time, hence the idea of a permanent

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evolution. History, however, is viewed as a static construction. It is an analytical representation of the past, of what is no longer there.13 In this sense, history becomes a reconstruction of distant events that have become fixed moments in time and can be retrieved if need be. Although memory and history often run parallel to one another, Nora argues that the contexts for collective memory are actually disappearing because of trends in globalization, rapid progress, and the influences of mass culture. Engagement with collective memory is increasingly replaced by the writing of history and other types of historical representations that analyse and attempt to fix certain aspects of memory while letting others disappear. The collective myopia generated by this loss of memory provides ample opportunity for history to rush in and fill the gaps. In this way, history is seen to gain in importance over lived memory. While the structures that served as Edmonton’s city hall in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries coincide with the city’s increasing socio-political and economic influence, they also point to a succession of economic and political shifts that pose problems with the embodying of memory ‘where a sense of historical continuity persists.’14 Each successive structure works to subsume the collective memory linked to the previous one by physically replacing a building deemed inappropriate for a growing city. This tenuous relationship between memory’s replacement and its preservation is particularly noteworthy in Edmonton’s last two city halls. Edmonton’s modernist city hall was intended to anchor in public space a new forward-looking sense of identity for the city, rather than act as a monument to its past. For this reason, virtually no historical motifs or styles were included in the chosen architectural design. There would be no references to the historical fort, the fur trade, or the economic boomtown of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Instead, city hall would express a civic ideology that was thoroughly modern and international, full of the confidence fuelled by a prosperous decade. Ironically, this tribute to 1950s prosperity was torn down within three decades, the casualty of an oil boom that made previous economic good times pale in comparison. Two important artworks were commissioned specifically for the 1957 city hall. The first was a bronze fountain called The Migrants (1957).15 The work by Lionel J. Thomas was designed specifically for a pool at the centre of the forecourt. It depicts various configurations of migrating Canada geese in flight and at rest. The Migrants was

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promoted as a symbol of Edmonton’s importance as an aviation gateway to Northern Canada as well as a reference to its place as a progressive urban centre.16 The title also acknowledged Edmonton as a destination for many immigrants. A second major commission for the city hall was a cast aluminium bas-relief sculpture by Henry George Glyde, commonly known as The Glyde Commemorative Mural (1957). Located in the main foyer above an archway, the mural was meant to depict the industrial developments that shaped Alberta ‘from the days of the Indian to today’s modern industrial age.’17 The representations of technology are interspersed with distinctive features lifted from the prairie landscape such as hoodoos and wheat fields, as well as regional architectural forms such as grain elevators. Although it drew from historical motifs, the narrative structure of the mural clearly proposed to its viewers a sense of things to come. Like the modernist building they complemented, these two prominently placed commissions were intended to draw attention to the achievements of their day rather than to celebrate past accomplishments. By highlighting the present, the works acted as means for focusing a collective memory that was also conscious of its own presence in historical processes. The artworks, like the building, were symbolic of their era and reflect Mayor Hawrelak’s earlier quoted words concerning the links between artistic style, history, and anticipated memory. Yet, if the 1957 city hall and its major public art commissions were meant to embody Edmonton’s collective memory as a modern city with a distinct vision of its future, this vision underwent a fundamental change between the 1950s and the 1980s.18 By 1980 Edmonton’s city hall was already considered outdated by a civic administration ready to recreate its public image. A national competition was held and ninety-nine entries were submitted. The project’s objective was to ‘develop a city hall and urban park which [would] serve as a major civic focus.’ For this reason, the competition was intended to encompass the city hall site and the park area immediately to its south, an area now known as Sir Winston Churchill Square.19 Edmonton architect and former city councillor Gene Dub made an anonymous submission that won the competition.20 However, his design for a stepped, nine-level ziggurat-style building, which included retail spaces, restaurants, and a combination pool and skating rink, was defeated in a plebiscite. The project was briefly set aside.21 Interest in a new city hall structure re-emerged in the middle of the 1980s. Gene Dub was appointed by City Council as the project

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architect in recognition of his moral claim from the 1980 city hall design competition.22 Dub’s second plan called for a building topped with a large conical element. This feature was altered in 1988 following strident public rejection of the cone design.23 In the end, the new city hall reverted to the pyramidal elements of Dub’s 1980 scheme. Two elongated pyramids in blue-tinted reflective glass were built, back-to-back, atop a three-storey Tyndall stone base.24 These two pyramids permit natural light to enter the two most significant interior spaces: the City Room, a public area on the ground floor that can hold over one thousand people and features a monumental staircase, and the Council Chambers, staged like an amphitheatre and accessible through the large staircase emerging from the City Room. A large skylight that splits and retracts in order to display natural light coming through the glass structure of the smaller pyramid emphasizes the theatrical effect in the Council Chambers.25 The building’s main ceremonial entrance is located at its south end, facing the park area of Sir Winston Churchill Square.26 A long corridor extends southward from the main complex. This extended arm contains offices for city politicians on the upper level and a restaurant and public change room for skaters on the lower level. It also provides a sheltered walkway, intended for processions, that leads from the large glass-covered main doors to the avenue fronting the building. Directly in front of the doors is a series of six large red granite pillars. Although the pillars do not support the pyramidal roof, they provide, from a distance, the illusion of a colonnaded temple façade. Directly in front of the south entrance is a large pool / skating rink /fountain space lined with trees. In the immediate vicinity of this south entrance stands a Tyndall-stone clock and bell tower, sixty metres high, as well as several public monuments.27 This twenty-six thousand square metre complex houses only the ceremonial, legislative, and ‘storefront’ functions of the civic government.28 As the modernist city hall was demolished, Dub arranged to conserve pieces of granite, slate, and travertine. These materials were incorporated into the new structure in places such as the floors, the windowsills, and the large granite pillars on the south façade.29 This link between the two buildings adds another element of longevity and continuity that would have been completely absent in the actual constructed fabric of the new city hall. Since it was razed and replaced, the modernist city hall is, of course, no longer identifiable within its historical context; however, the presence and re-integration

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8.1 Gene Dub, Edmonton City Hall (Edmonton, Alberta, 1992). South-facing façade, Sir Winston Churchill Square in the foreground. Photographed by C.S. Ogden, 2007.

of its materials within the new city hall establishes a palpable connection to the city’s past. The Glyde and Thomas public artworks, commissioned in 1957 for the modernist city hall, were also conserved with the aim of eventual placement within the new building, as were other works of art donated in the early 1980s. The recycling of materials and the conservation of artworks at this site helped to construct a concrete physical link to the past. Edmonton’s city hall buildings have housed progressively fewer administrative functions even as the buildings have grown in dimension. The multi-purpose Civic Block of the 1910s housed the volunteer fire department, the police station, and a number of municipal offices. The building from the 1950s embraced the three main functions of municipal government: legislative, administrative, and public service. The design of the most recent city hall, however, conceals the daily work of civic government in order to emphasize a kind of ceremonial functionality that is obvious in the large audience-centred spaces, such as the City Room. Furthermore, the monuments, materials, and the building itself do not participate in a straightforward historical construction of Edmonton. Instead, they take on a less rigidly defined role by collecting and

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historicizing certain memories of Edmonton’s citizens and allowing for the evolution of memory to occur through the use of these public spaces for public events. They also highlight Nora’s view of archival memory that ‘relies entirely on the materiality of the trace,’ ultimately framing the performative memories that occur within the new city hall’s open public spaces.30 In this particular context, the city hall’s present functions suggest a move away from conceptions that oppose history and memory as poles in a strict binary opposition. Instead, the environment reflects some of the more complex concerns developed in Nora’s work. The new city hall structure has become a site for both immediate and archival memory while also attempting to provide a conduit between memory and history. It is, in fact, a type of lieu de mémoire.31 Several artworks that had contributed to the construction of meaning throughout the site of the previous city hall are now accessible to the public on the south side of the new building. For example, the cenotaph dedicated to the memory of Edmontonians who served and died during the First World War was erected in 1936 at a prominent downtown intersection.32 It was later moved and, in 1978, was rededicated by Queen Elizabeth II at its present site. This traditional war memorial was intended to occupy an important (and perpetual) function in the production and preservation of collective memory. As Harriet F. Senie has written, traditional memorial sculpture was often built with the ‘assumption that the community that commissioned it existed as a historical continuity and that the values it expressed were shared.’33 Yet, the assumption that the memorial still functions in the same way and that the community at large continues to share the expressed values of the private donors is highly problematic. The values of the society in which the cenotaph was created have changed and so has the cenotaph’s location. Furthermore, the entire context of the public space occupied by the relocated cenotaph changed with the construction of the new city hall building and the installation around it of public art that, while still commemorative in intent, testifies to a different sensibility. One of the works in the immediate vicinity of the cenotaph is Madonna of the Wheat (1981) by John Weaver, which was commissioned and donated by the Ukrainian Women’s Association for Alberta’s seventyfifth anniversary project. The work commemorates the pioneer women of Alberta and serves as a symbol of the Ukrainian community. It is now located on the southeast side of the new city hall. Ludmilla Termertey’s Ukrainian Famine of 1933 (1983), commissioned and donated by the

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Ukrainian Canadian Committee to commemorate the infamous Ukrainian famine, is now located at the southwest corner of the new city hall grounds. The importance of this type of community initiative for the general meaning of the site cannot be overlooked. Indeed, according to California artist and community activist Judith F. Baca, presenting public art that has a function within a particular community – in this case the Ukrainian community – often leads to harmony between that community and others who share the public space.34 In other words, Baca views public art as possessing the potential to function as an important voice for a given community, establishing bridges to other communities by communicating shared concerns, histories, or social agendas. These two sculptures are the only works in the immediate vicinity of city hall that refer directly to a specific cultural community. By drawing attention to the Ukrainian community in particular, the city of Edmonton may be criticized for failing to address the contributions of its other cultural communities. Indeed, there have been no recent public suggestions to artistically commemorate any other specific ethnic/ cultural community on the grounds of city hall. However, it may also be argued that the strategies deployed in the sculptures actually address this apparent gap. With their proximity to the heart of the city and its governance, the sculptures demonstrate that the Ukrainian community has maintained a strong cultural presence in the Edmonton area. The first wave of Ukrainian immigration to Canada’s prairie provinces occurred during the 1890s. With assistance from the Canadian government and Josef Oleskiw, an agriculture professor based in Lviv, Ukraine, many were encouraged to colonize the prairies and establish homesteads.35 By 1941, citizens of Ukrainian extraction accounted for 9 per cent of Alberta’s total population.36 John Weaver’s Madonna of the Wheat stands as a symbol of the Ukrainian community, but it also functions as a monument to pioneer Albertan women in general, bridging the gap towards the wider community with a work of apparently specific cultural content. This play of meaning is interesting considering that the mandate of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada is to ‘preserve, develop and nurture the Ukrainian cultural heritage and traditions as a distinctive contribution to the national culture of Canada.’37 The woman depicted in the sculpture holds a sheaf of wheat, symbolic of the agricultural origins of the province, of the abundant and fertile nature of the land, and of the women who laboured on it. Ukrainian women, and other pioneer women, were commonly left to

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tend the farm and raise the children while their husbands earned money through seasonal labour, primarily on the railways.38 This sculpture explores another kind of history of recollection since it does not celebrate specific and datable achievements. Instead, it celebrates the land and its European pioneers while also commemorating the contribution of women, a role that has often been neglected in prevailing historical narratives. Ludmilla Termertey’s sculpture of a large, severed metal ring deals with a specific event: the famine engineered by the Soviet government under Josef Stalin and imposed upon millions of Ukrainians as a means to force the collectivization of agriculture on a resistant population. The sculpture’s base bears the inscription ‘In memory of the millions who perished in the genocidal famine inflicted upon the Ukraine by the Soviet regime in Moscow 1932–33.’ This work is an example of how many contemporary memorials have shifted from commemorating the heroic acts of soldiers or political leaders to the commemoration of the anonymous victims of a political regime’s excesses. James E. Young has written that monuments invite the ‘collaboration of the community in acts of remembrance.’ This is especially true with regard to the contemporary remembrance of events that have been suppressed or reconstructed by governments and their standard histories.39 Indeed, when Ukrainian Famine of 1933 was publicly unveiled on 23 October 1983, Edmonton’s mayor, Laurence Decore, established a direct link between the genocidal famine in the Ukraine and its effects on people in Edmonton, stating that the famine ‘inflicted a deep and lasting scar on the Ukrainian people in Edmonton and throughout the world.’40 In this manner, the representation of historical events that occurred in a distant geographic and cultural community became the site for remembering past political injustices, regardless of chronology, culture, or geography. This sharing of memory is especially poignant with respect to Termerty’s sculpture. Representatives from fourteen ethnic communities attended its unveiling ceremony in 1983.41 The expression of such community-wide interest and solidarity lends credence to Baca’s conception of the creation of harmony between communities through an engagement with public space that contains functional public art. In the case of Ukrainian Famine of 1933, such notions may be extended to include attempts at recognition and reconciliation between many cultural communities and their diverse past experiences. This is especially pertinent in a city such as Edmonton, where a wide range of communities live and share a multitude of

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past socio-political and cultural experiences. Furthermore, the ceremony of unveiling a memorial to commemorate and publicly proclaim the existence of an event whose record had been largely suppressed demonstrates an attempt to bridge memory with history and, by doing so, to establish a type of lieu de mémoire. Pierre Nora defines lieux de mémoire as those points in time where memory and history intersect, motivated by a community’s will to remember. This is where memory frays and history begins its deliberate analysis. The lieux de mémoire, for Nora, appear to compensate for the erosion of milieux de mémoire, the palpable environments of a living memory.42 Here, the active exchange of collective memory is buttressed with a constructed historical analysis at a site where it can be strategically accessed and also performed by the community. These intersections, when they take material form, may include architectural structures and the art that is chosen to surround and interact with them. In this context, a population is made aware of history and invited into memory simultaneously and in various ways. History can be interpreted, for example, through the iconography in artworks that symbolize an event, person, or group of people, while memory is often shaped, revived, and shared through ceremonies and gatherings in public areas. It is with this in mind that Edmonton’s most recent city hall can be read as a type of lieu de mémoire, particularly with respect to its specific use of public space. It is worth noting that the events and objects made to participate in the lieu de mémoire are carefully selected and displayed. For example, the commissioned works that were originally installed in the most visible locations at the city hall in the 1950s no longer occupy prominent positions at the new city hall. The Glyde Commemorative Mural, originally located above the main archway of the modernist city hall’s foyer, was re-installed in the 1990s at the entrance to the Heritage Room, a main-floor meeting room. The Migrants by Lionel Thomas, initially installed in the forecourt pool, is now located in the west courtyard, where it no longer functions as a fountain. These two works that once occupied prime locations have now been relegated to areas of much less importance. The change of location, and related change in public access (and awareness) of these works, reflects a shift away from an artistic sensibility that relied on a standardized theme for the city (such as representations of geographical locations or present and future civic aspirations) to a focus on works that represent the lived struggles of those who have chosen this place as an adopted home.43

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As a consequence of this shared awareness, the community can no longer be viewed as a single homogeneous entity, but is seen as a place that is made up of a multitude of memories and aspirations, as well as histories and peoples. The manner in which space itself plays a role in the production of the city hall as a type of lieu de mémoire is also important. Although both the 1957 and 1992 Edmonton city halls may have represented their own eras in architectural form, the 1992 city hall consciously provides spaces that facilitate the production of lieux de mémoire. The modernist structure of 1957 was intentionally designed to break with the past by making no reference to Edmonton’s history. Rather than providing the groundwork for a relationship between memory and history, the building was later interpreted by community leaders as too outdated for the city and in need of major reconstruction. By stripping the 1992 building of its many administrative functions, the new city hall became, in essence, a space devoted to civic ritual, allowing diverse communities to gather and attach (or perform) memories to the site. The reconstruction of the Edmonton city hall has encouraged several construction and renovation projects in the immediate area. The Francis Winspear Centre, a music auditorium and home of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, was constructed at the southeast corner of Sir Winston Churchill Square in 1997.44 The Stanley A. Milner Library, the main branch of the Edmonton Public Library located directly south of Churchill Square, has undergone extensive expansion and reconstruction. This included the addition of a new large-scale façade facing the square and extensive interior renovations. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation moved its facilities to the City Centre shopping plaza located on the west side of Churchill Square. Sir Winston Churchill Square itself was the focus of a redesign project that coincided with the city’s centennial celebrations in October 2004.45 The original design for Churchill Square envisioned the extension of city hall into the square, with ten towers extending from the building’s carillon tower southward. It also proposed the addition of various public buildings in the square. The plan was altered in late 2002 in order to include more green spaces.46 Three artworks were commissioned for the newly designed square: Darci Mallon’s Catching Neutrinos, Clay Ellis’s Lodge, and Terry Frost’s Lady Venturi.47 Public art and architecture display a constructed and selective engagement with a community’s past, present, and future. Concretely, in Edmonton, the city hall has taken up this role by shifting its function

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8.2 Lionel J. Thomas, The Migrants (1957). Located in the west courtyard of the Edmonton City Hall. Photographed by C.S. Ogden, 2008.

from that of a functional administrative centre to a receptacle and showcase of history and memory. In this context, the building and its adjacent park can be viewed as a lieu de mémoire with all its complexities and contradictions. It is a place that establishes and enacts the collective aspirations of today, while also safeguarding a visual and material archive of yesterday. If this latest version of Edmonton’s city hall remains successful as a lieu de mémoire, if it maintains its tenuous balance between the intersecting elements of history and memory, this balance may be the key in determining whether it manages to survive the fate of its predecessors.

NOTES 1 This paper is based on ‘Edmonton City Hall: The Re-Building of Civic Pride,’ presented at the Universities’ Art Association of Canada’s annual conference at the University of Calgary, Alberta, 1 November 2002, for the panel entitled ‘The Resilience of Memory/ La persistence de la mémoire.’

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3 4

5 6

7 8



11 12

Special thanks to Colleen Skidmore (University of Alberta, Edmonton), who read the preliminary version of this paper. Although there is an abundance of art in the interior of the city hall that is worthy of analysis, many of these works were specifically intended for the new structure and therefore fall outside the parameters of this particular examination. For example, there is a replica of the Civic Block and Fire Hall #1 at Fort Edmonton Park. The first Calgary-to-Edmonton railway line reached Strathcona by 1891, establishing a link with southern Alberta and the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. An airfield was constructed in the 1920s. The construction of the Alaska Highway in the 1940s helped to consolidate the city’s position as a gateway to the Canadian North. J.G. MacGregor, Edmonton: A History, 2nd ed. (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1975), 112. Matthew McCauley (1850–1930) was the first mayor of Edmonton when it was incorporated as a town in 1892. Kenneth W. Mackenzie (1862–1929) was the first mayor of the newly incorporated city of Edmonton in 1904. MacGregor, Edmonton, 112. A general contractor named Kenny Macleod built it on 98th Street. City of Edmonton, ‘Edmonton City Hall, Architects: Dewar, Stevenson & Stanley,’ The Canadian Architect, May 1960: 49. M.C. Dewar, as the city’s chief architect in the 1940s, presented the previous scheme that was rejected by city council in 1947. The civic centre would have been located in the area between 102A and 103A Avenues and 99th and 100th Streets. For the modernist building, the architects sought to symbolize the three functions of municipal government: legislative, administrative, and public service. Each was housed in a different area of the structure. The council chamber was raised on granite-faced stilts, while administrative and public service offices were located in a nine-storey, lozenge-shaped tower decorated with sun shades. The forecourt, paved in various colours of slate, contained a pool with a large fountain sculpture. For more information and photographs see City of Edmonton, ‘Edmonton City Hall.’ City of Edmonton, Your New City Hall (Edmonton: City of Edmonton, 1957), 1. William Hawrelak (1915–75) was city councillor 1949–1951 and mayor 1951–9, 1963–5, and 1974–5. For more information concerning post–Second World War era internationalstyle architecture in Canada see Bernard Flaman’s article in this volume. P. Nora, ‘General Introduction: Between Memory and History,’ in P. Nora et al., Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, vol. 1: Conflicts and Divisions (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 3.

158 C.S. Ogden 13 Ibid. 14 P. Nora, ‘Between Memory and History,’ trans. Marc Roudebush, in G. Fabre and R. O’Meally, eds., Les Lieux de Mémoire: History and Memory in African-American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 284.  15 A bronze plaque that accompanies this sculpture refers to it as Migrants. The literature about the sculpture, however, tends to refer to it as The Migrants. 16 B. O’Rooney, Public Art in Edmonton (Edmonton: City of Edmonton and Canada Council, 1989), iii. 17 City of Edmonton, Your New City Hall, 4. 18 There are several books that cover various aspects of Edmonton history of the twentieth century. See, in particular, L. Goyette and C. Jakeway Roemmich, Edmonton in Our Own Words (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2004); T. Cashman, Gateway to the North (Edmonton: Duvan House, 2002); A. Mair, Gateway City: Stories from Edmonton’s Past (Calgary: Fifth House, 2000); and J.G. MacGregor, Edmonton: A History, 2nd ed. (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1975). 19 ‘Stop Press: Edmonton City Hall Competition Results,’ The Canadian Architect, March 1981: 19. 20 Eugene (Gene) Dub (b. 1943) was a city councillor 1977–80, in which capacity he submitted a proposal for a national design competition to city council that was subsequently adopted as a city policy. He is the principal at Dub Architects Ltd. See T. Boddy, ‘Civic Lessons,’ The Canadian Architect 40: 2 (February 1995): 13. 21 ‘Stop Press,’ 21–3. Plans of Dub’s winning 1980 scheme are included here. 22 This decision was disputed by other Edmonton architects who argued that, owing to the money collected by Dub in competition fees for the previous proposal, a new competition was required. 23 Boddy, ‘Civic Lessons,’ 13. 24 Tyndall stone, quarried in Manitoba, is a cream-coloured limestone that owes its mottled appearance to small fossils. It has been used in the construction of many high-profile Canadian buildings, including the House of Commons in Ottawa, the legislature buildings in Regina and Winnipeg, the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. 25 ‘Edmonton City Hall, Edmonton, Alberta, Dub Architects Ltd.,’ The Canadian Architect 40: 2 (February 1995): 21. 26 There is another entrance at the north end of the structure – a smaller covered entrance with a circular driveway that permits cars to approach the doors. There is one sculpture located to the immediate west of the doors: Caravel by Isla Burns, a work made specifically for this new structure and therefore was not discussed in this chapter.

Edmonton’s City Hall as Visual Archive and Collector of Memory 159 27 The tower, originally cut from construction in order to keep costs down, was built with the funds of private donors. 28 ‘Edmonton City Hall,’ 21. It was completed in 1992 at a cost of $38.7 million. 29 Mature trees on the site were also preserved. 30 Nora, ‘Between Memory and History,’ 290. 31 There have been a number of writers that have examined Nora’s strict binary relationship between history and memory in depth. See, for example, N. Wood, Vectors of Memory: Legacies of Trauma in Postwar Europe (Oxford, New York: Berg Publishers, 1999); S. Goebel, ‘Intersecting Memories: War and Remembrance in Twentieth-Century Europe,’ The Historical Journal 44: 3 (2001): 853–8; and P. Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting (Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press, 2004). Pierre Nora himself has noted changes in how history and memory now interact in ‘Reasons for the Current Upsurge in Memory,’ Eurozine, April 2002, at http://www 32 Funding for this project was initiated by a First World War veteran and entrusted to the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, who invested the initial donation in a Victory Bond. The interest from this bond, once used to assist soldiers’ wives in pursuing higher education, was used for the construction of this memorial. The cenotaph was originally erected at 102nd Street and Macdonald Drive (100th Avenue). See A. Mair, ‘Happy Birthday to the Edmonton Cenotaph,’ Real Estate Weekly, 20 August 1998: 10–11. 33 H.F. Senie, Contemporary Public Sculpture: Tradition, Transformation and Controversy (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1992), 15. 34 J.F. Baca, ‘Whose Monument Where? Public Art in a Many-Cultured Society,’ in S. Lacy, ed., Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (Seattle: Bay Press, 1995), 135. 35 Dr Josef Oleskiw (1860–1903) was a professor of agriculture at the Teacher’s Seminary in Lviv, Ukraine. A populist committed to aiding the peasantry through education and emigration, he visited Canada in 1895 to examine conditions first-hand and was impressed by the possibilities of western Canadian settlement. He published a number of pamphlets encouraging emigration to Canada. Oleskiw’s efforts were supported by Canadian government officials such as Clifford Sifton (1861–1929), federal minister of the interior 1896–1905. See O.T. Martynowych, Ukrainians in Canada: The Formative Period, 1891–1924 (Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 1991), 60–4. 36 A. Rorick, ‘Ukrainian Settlement in Alberta,’ Canadian Slavonic Papers 10:3 (1968): 290. Of a total population of 796,169 inhabitants in the province, 71,868 were of Ukrainian extraction.

160 C.S. Ogden 37 Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada, ‘Goals and Objectives.’ at http://www. 38 O. Subtelny, Ukrainians in North America: An Illustrated History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 50–1; see also 57. 39 J.E. Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation (Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988), 189. 40 T. Barrett, ‘Agony of Ukraine Recalled,’ Edmonton Journal, 24 October 1983: B1. 41 Ibid. 42 Nora defines the lieux de mémoire as turning points, ‘where consciousness of a break with the past is bound up with the sense that memory has been torn – but torn in such a way as to pose the problem of the embodiment of memory in certain sites where a sense of historical continuity persists.’ See Nora, ‘Between Memory and History,’ 284. 43 I acknowledge that The Migrants can also be interpreted as reflecting the idea of movement to a new land. It would seem that in view of this work’s move away from the main sculptural area of the grounds (as well as changing its primary function from fountain to sculpture), the interpretation as I have stated in the main text may be more appropriate to consider here. 44 The Winspear Centre was designed by Cohos Evamy Partners and Artec Consultants. A feasibility study was completed as early as 1983, which coincided with the establishment of the Edmonton Concert Hall Foundation. By the late 1980s, a large donation by Dr Francis G. Winspear (1903–97), a one-time E.S.O. board member, led to the construction of the facility, which was opened in September 1997. 45 The Edmonton 2004 Celebration Committee was formed by 1999 in order to organize events and to develop several celebratory projects, including a legacy project for the city’s centennial in 2004. In November 2000 City Council approved the selection of Sir Winston Churchill Square as Edmonton’s major legacy project. The committee’s decision ended years of fruitless debate about seemingly inadequate proposals and temporary alterations to Churchill Square. 46 In the spring of 2002 a scale model of the preliminary design travelled to various locations in Edmonton for public consultation. Between 21 and 30 September 2002 another scale model of the final design scheme travelled to several Edmonton venues for public viewing and commentary. The final design was presented to City Council in October 2002. The square’s redesign was financially supported by private donations as well as funding from the municipal, provincial, and federal governments.

Edmonton’s City Hall as Visual Archive and Collector of Memory 161 47 Two sculptures occupied Sir Winston Churchill Square before its redesign in 2004. J. Seward Johnson’s Lunchbreak (popularly known as Lunchbox Joe) was located at the northeast corner of the square. The Devonian Foundation donated this work to the city in 1983. Oscar Nemon’s sculpture of Sir Winston Churchill was located at the square’s northwest corner. The Sir Winston Churchill Society donated it to the city in 1989. These artworks remain in the vicinity.

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ACTIVIST PRACTICES IN PUBLIC ART TODAY Public art in Canada has emerged as a conceptual terrain coeval with the gradual revelation that this nation state is as richly complex, as vast in the generosity of its most helpful contradictions, as the territory it occupies. Activist public art in Canada, as elsewhere, faces the challenge to expose those contradictions, to uncover the injustices that inevitably pepper the status quo. But in Canada such art must also somehow deal with a self-affirmed public character, a Canadian character, which is mostly generous, helpful, and (with some notable exceptions) willing to address the most blatant questions of inequality and unfairness. Activist artists, operating in the public domain, are still charged with exposing the classic dislocations that persist at both the margins and the heart of our social and political formation, but they do so within a societal embrace that remains essentially supportive. Nobody disappears in Canada for making controversial public art. Yet it is worth keeping in mind that much activist art has roots in the best intentions of revolutionary movements, with their willing investment in cultural production backed up by new forms of political power. It is art in the service of social and political change, art made to empower average people or those who fall outside the norms of everyday pursuit, those dispossessed of material and spiritual comfort by modernity’s more wasteful attributes or the residual prejudices of much older power structures. For this reason, activist art inevitably takes a moral stance, a minority appeal to the basic decency of the dominant collectivity. Lodged in this manner within the fundamental tenets of humanism, activist art draws its power largely from some of our most cherished, collectively held myths even as it pushes the boundaries of those mythologies, sometimes to the breaking point.

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For this reason, we are often taken aback by the vehemence of activist practices, by their pushiness, their willingness to use a metaphorical club to get a point across where (we often feel) a reasonable discussion of common concerns would do. Yet we overlook an entire sub-genre of activist practices, the quiet assertion of small actions meant to resonate in specific ways: the interventions by artists to beautify the grey and grim spaces of depressed neighbourhoods, the application of an aesthetic sensibility to lighten the psychological weight of physical space for people. Just as surely, a cadre of ‘hyphenated artists’ reaches into a conceptual terrain enriched by the hybridity of their experience. Foremost is the artist-architect, whose break with the symbolic systems of brick and mortar, of the ideologies of ‘development,’ returns the flesh and bone of human beings to models for public space. There is room in this activist realm for clever challenges to established norms, for drawing upon low-tech means to insert counternormative ideas into that most basic of public spaces, the streetscape. Posters, plastered around urban neighbourhoods, challenge the invisible boundaries of the ‘heteronormative.’ Artist-performers join with a prairie community to tease out the complex embedded meanings that resonate within an abandoned mental asylum. Art students are invited to engage the ancient practice of learning-from-the-master in an apprenticeship of conceptual exchange, one that asks the apprentice to become the field for activist enquiry and, by doing so, reproduce the field. This section of Public Art in Canada begins with a foot in the constructivist past, the first step in a symbolic (and literal) walking tour of activist concepts in action and, necessarily, of meanings also in action – of public art, intervention, and community.

9 Cultural Interventions in the Public Sphere bruce barber

In a famous pamphlet published almost a century ago, V.I. Lenin outlined several problems within the social democracy and labour movements in pre-Revolutionary Russia, arguing strenuously for the institution of an all-Russian political newspaper. In so doing, he affirmed the signal role of the media – writers, artists, designers, photographers, as well as the bourgeois intelligentsia – in fomenting revolutionary activity on the part of the masses. Lenin also discussed problems of organization within the social democracy movement, forms of struggle and political agitation that today we could regard in terms of patterns of resistance, action, and intervention in the public sphere. As he famously affirmed, ‘without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.’1 Following the example of Frederick Engels in Der Deutsche Bauernkrieg (The German Peasant War, 1875), Lenin emphasized the need for theoretical struggle to be placed on a par with the political and economic: ‘three coordinated and interconnected sides, the theoretical, the political and the practical / economic.’2 On several important levels Lenin echoed the thought of the French utopian socialists Henri de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, who were among the first to argue that artists should form the advanced wing of the political avant-garde, a position that would have become increasingly hollow, even untenable, in recent years if it were not for the evidence provided now by certain artists, art theorists, and art groups that engage in various forms of functionally transformative, oppositional / operative and littoral art.3 This essay will briefly explore the terms and conditions of oppositional art, which I prefer to designate as operative art practice. A brief discussion of the origin of the word ‘intervention’ in cultural terms will

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be followed by an exploration of strategic (exemplary), interventionist, instrumental, and communicative actions as these have been articulated in the work of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. I will follow this with a discussion of several operative artworks: the first by the Austrian group WochenKlausur (Weeks of Enclosure), the second by the U.S.-based Critical Art Ensemble, and the third by the Canadianbased group the City Beautification Ensemble. Strategic (exemplary) actions, as forms of agitational protest and /or resistance, were subjected to criticism by many politicized art groups of the sixties, including the Situationist International, who participated in the events of May 1968 in Paris and other so-called countercultural demonstrations in various urban contexts throughout the world in that decade. Strategic actions were criticized not only for their implicit absence of theory, but also their anarcho-individualistic, heroic, and spectacular character. Advocates argued, however, that the exemplary action has a symbolic use value that is only fully understood after the event – usually as a result of mediation (framing) through the media, and, moreover, that its spontaneous character encourages the fusion of various political tendencies that otherwise would not coalesce as collective protest. Exemplary subversive actions often precipitate the reproduction of a vicious cycle of provocation-repression, ironically identified by those engaged in this form of social protest as a mark of success. Like the union tactic of the wildcat (illegal) strike, the repression precipitated by such actions is usually so severe that it blocks the formation of all other types of legitimate protest. Furthermore, these subversive actions often serve to reproduce the very mechanisms of authority at which they are aimed. By way of contrast, intervention as a prelude to instrumental or communicative action permits a range of critical and/or resistant strategies to be attempted without (usually) precipitating a crisis or ‘culture war’ of the kind evident throughout the 1990s in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere.4 In the form of an interruption, or mediative action, a cultural intervention within a context characterized, for example, by its resistance to change, may encourage several positions (and responses) to be adopted by those engaged in the enactment or performance of social protest, as well as those at whom it is aimed. The major problem is that an intervention may simply remain at the level of theory, instead of engendering (and engineering) an authentic state of praxis on the part of those participating.

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The origin of the use of the term ‘intervention’ in contemporary art discourse can be traced to the writings of Karl Marx, specifically his famous Theses on Feuerbach (1845). Here Marx argued that ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in different ways; the point, however, is to change it.’5 Almost a century later Bertolt Brecht paraphrased Marx: ‘The theatre became an affair for philosophers, but only for those philosophers as wished not just to explain the world, but also to change it.’6 Brecht coined the term umfunctionierung (functional transformation) to enable theatre to become an instrument to serve the interests of class struggle. And in his famous essay ‘The Author as Producer,’ Walter Benjamin, Brecht’s contemporary, extolled the virtues of the ‘operating’ (operative) artist, providing as his example the communist author Sergei Tretiakov, whose mission was ‘not simply to report but to struggle; not to play the spectator but to intervene actively.’7 Benjamin’s prognosis for the political project of the photographer was similar: ‘What we require of the photographer is the ability to give his picture the caption that wrenches it from modish commerce and gives it a revolutionary useful value.’8 His concept of the operative artist ‘intervening actively’ implied both the subordination of any impulse to aestheticize and the sovereign ordination of critical strategy as a modus operandi for operative cultural practice. In other words, intervention could be characterized as a post-aesthetic strategy – one that could nevertheless contain those values nominally subsumed under several progressive political/ aesthetic ideologies. In company with Tretiakov, Walter Benjamin recognized John Heartfield as the exemplary artist for this type of work. Along with his fellow Berlin Dadaists George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch, and Max Ernst, Heartfield developed photomontage as a form of graphic intervention. Photomontage procedures consisted of excising, juxtaposing, and recombining material from more than one photographic source, often with the addition of a critical text to produce a highly charged form of political counter-propaganda. Hearfield’s two montages for the cover of the Jedermann sein eigner fussball (Everyman his own football) was distributed in the streets of Berlin in 1919. Inside the newspaper, a banner headline read: ‘Revolutions are the Locomotives of World History.’ In the late 1950s the Situationist International endorsed Heartfield, Brecht, and Benjamin’s functional transformative, operative, and interventionist projects. In the very first issue of their journal the Internationnale

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situationiste (1958), they outlined the foundation of the ideal Situationist project and endorsed the fundamental importance of intervention as a post-theoretical and practical aspect of the critique of the ‘society of the spectacle,’ as theorized by Guy Debord: The constructed situation is bound to be collective both in its inception and in its development. However, it seems that at least during an initial experimental period, responsibility must fall on one particular individual. This individual must, so to speak, be the ‘director’ of the situation. For example, in terms of one particular situationist project – revolving around an emotionally charged meeting of several friends one evening – one would expect (a) an initial period of research by the team, (b) the election of a director responsible for coordinating the basic elements necessary for the construction of the decor, etc., and for working out a number of interventions during the course of the evening (alternatively several individuals can work out differing series of interventions, all of them unaware of all the details planned upon by the others), (c) the actual people living in the situation who have taken part in the whole project both theoretically and practically, and (d) a few passive spectators not knowing what the hell is going on [who] should be reduced to action.9

If exemplary actions are without theory, interventions such as those promulgated by the Situationists attempt to put theory into action, to dialectically transform theory into practice. Both are intrinsically related to one another, as was understood clearly by those who participated in the occupations, sit-ins, teach-ins, theatrical agit-prop events, and other forms of protest evident throughout the 1960s. The intentions, however, and ultimately the ‘audience’ response are different. The exemplary action consists, instead of intervening in an overall way, in acting in a much more concentrated way on exemplary objectives, on a few key objectives that will play a determining role in the continuation of the struggle.10 The table of binary oppositions (9.1) represents general differences between two types of political action (performance), configured as acts of protest or resistance. Depending upon the circumstances and the type of event, intervention can become an exemplary action, and thus devolve into a form of political posturing, closely implicated in extreme versions of behaviour characterized by violence, anarchist rejection, and destructive nihilism.

Cultural Interventions in the Public Sphere 169 Table 9.1 Exemplary /Strategic Action

Intervention/Instrumental Action

anarchic /individualistic action

collective /collaborative or participatory in form



dynamic / direct /focused action

exhibits less dynamism / indirect

absence of theory

theory-laden/ movement towards praxis

induces repression/ confrontation

integrative, meditative and interruptive, provocative




attempts to lessen provocation/ encourage dialogue


usually undialectical







The meanings of these political distinctions become patently clear, of course, when we consider the use of the terms direct / strategic action and intervention in the power vocabularies of the state, NGOs, nonaligned political factions, special interest groups, political cells, and terrorist groups. Intervention as indirect action is usually precipitous. As both historical and contemporary events testify, intervention as a euphemism for neo-colonial or imperial incursion can lead to forms of local resistance that will eventually lead to armed struggle and, ultimately, war. Intervention (strategic interruption), particularly when it is used by a group attempting to counter or resist the power exhibited by another group that is in control, is very different from the interventions used by a controlling group attempting to reinforce its power over a situation. When employed as political rhetoric by the state, intervention is usually synonymous with incursion, an action that will reproduce /reform or transform already existing or previously extant relations (axes) of power.11 U.S. government–sanctioned CIA incursions (interventions) in Chile in the early seventies, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere in Central and South America, as well as more recent Russian intervention in Chechnya and its other republics, and

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the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, attest to the major differences between the two. Interventionist strategies employed by the left attempt to interrupt the passive consumption of the dominant ideologies and contest the hegemony of the state, whereas the interventionist strategies used by the right tend to reproduce them, thus exercising or maintaining their control. The axiom of difference is the disposition of power and one can devolve into the other without obtaining the desired results of progressive change, peace, and stability. Communicative action is very different from direct /exemplary actions or interventions as it is described above, although it may seem to employ some of the characteristics of both. Jürgen Habermas has arguably done more than anyone to theorize various forms of political action within the public sphere.12 He distinguishes between strategic, instrumental, and communicative actions. The distinction between actions that are oriented towards success and those that are oriented towards understanding is crucial. He argues: Whereas in strategic actions one actor seeks to influence the behaviour of another by means of the threat of sanctions or the prospect of gratification in order to cause the interaction to continue as the first actor desires, in a communicative action one actor seeks rationally to motivate another by relying on the illocutionary binding/ bonding effect (Bindungseffekt) of the offer contained in the speech act.13

He distinguishes between openly strategic actions and those that are covertly strategic. The first category involves the systematic distortion of an event and unconscious deception on the part of participants; the second, involving various types of conscious deception, is manipulative and therefore inherently propagandistic. Habermas argues that art has an important place as a critical mediating agent in what he terms the ‘decolonising process’; how art could, or should mediate decolonization is less clear in his work. If science, philosophy, and art are thoroughly institutionalized and therefore subjected to increasing ideological incursion by what he terms ‘the legitimating practices of the state,’ how can any one ‘sphere’ – such as art – become the privileged site for communicative action? The question, he writes, ‘is how to overcome the isolation of science, morals and art and their respective expert cultures’ and return them to the public sphere.14

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Habermas has consistently affirmed that art, along with philosophy, law, politics, and economics, is an important site for mediation, communicative rationality, and pragmatic action. He is somewhat ambivalent, however, about the extent to which this can occur in an institution that the forces of an increasingly technocratic and bureaucratic modernity have rendered into increasing autonomy from the lifeworld. As a Kantian, he has remained somewhat resolute in his defence of the separation of pure and practical reason from aesthetic judgement. In modern societies, the spheres of science, morality, and law have crystallised around these forms of argumentation [instrumental reason]. The corresponding cultural systems of action administer problem-solving capacities in a way similar to that in which the enterprise of art and literature administer capacities for world-disclosure.15

It is clear from this last statement, employed in his extended critique of Derrida’s purported collapsing of the genre distinction between literature and philosophy, that while Habermas views art and culture generally as an important locus for theoretical attention, he maintains a boundary between forms of communicative action that can occur within the sphere of political, legal, or philosophical discourse and those that can occur within the domain of art and literature. For Habermas, art remains at the level of representation, distanced from the material reality and ‘spatial-temporal structures’ of the lifeworld, and, as such, cannot be considered as ideal a site as language – or rather speech – for the development of communicative action. At an early stage in the development of his communication theory, Habermas recognized the inherent problematic of communicative actions that do not offer the possibility of their own (dialectical) transformation. While his system / lifeworld paradigm could adequately describe the instrumental logic behind the progressive development of administrative bureaucratization and the economic forces driving the conflict(s) between system and lifeworld, communicative actions, wrongly used, could have, as his intellectual mentor Walter Benjamin himself understood, wholly undesirable consequences.16 Following his Frankfurt School mentors, Habermas does recognize an important place for art as a critical mediating agent in the decolonizing process. By the mid-eighties it seemed as if Habermas was beginning to heed Marx’s injunction in the Theses on Feuerbach. And by

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this time he had fully articulated the restrictions wrought upon lifeworld activities by the hegemony of expert cultures and their rarefied esoteric languages. However, Habermas’s own work as a philosopher still remains somewhat distanced from that very lifeworld which he so wished to protect. In this respect, I agree somewhat with Terry Eagleton’s prognosis that, as an academic, Habermas is ‘aloofly remote from the sphere of political action,’ but that his work as an intellectual represents a ‘political strike for the lifeworld against administrative rationality.’17 Eagleton also generously admits that ‘art itself is for Habermas one crucial place where the jeopardised resources of moral and affective life may be crystallised; and in the critical discussion of such art, a kind of shadowy public sphere may be re-established, and so mediating between the separate Kantian spheres of the cognitive, moral and aesthetic.’18 With these theoretical concerns as a prelude, I would like to now compare and contrast several art interventions by two internationally recognized operative art groups, the Viennese group WochenKlausur and the U.S.-based Critical Art Ensemble, and one less well-known group, the Canadian City Beautiful Ensemble. Although these art groups all frame their operative art practice in terms of intervention, I will argue that the tactical work of CAE and CBE is direct and exemplary in the senses described above, whereas WochenKlausur’s actions attempt to become communicative in the best Habermasian use of that term. WochenKlausur’s From Place to Place and Intervention in Community Development: Seven Austrian Cultural Initiatives (August and September 2001) was conceived as an interface between scientific analysis and practical realization.19 Three artists from the group teamed up with several experts from the fields of urban planning, landscape design, and energy technology. Working out of a mobile office housed in a customized Unimog – a German all-terrain vehicle – and a large tent, they travelled to a number of towns in Lower Austria and Styria: Hohenau a.d. March, Gleisdorf, Greinbach, Friedberg, St Magdalena, Laa an der Thaya, and Reitz. The group stayed for four days at each site, communicating with members of each town’s various communities and with their designers and planners, applying their specialized knowledge and skills in the generation of a diversity of ideas for improving the social organization of the towns they visited. At a concluding event on the fourth day, the WochenKlausur results were then presented to the town council and

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the public for their response. The analyses and ideas included new proposals and suggestions for community development, such as a space for youth or the elderly to gather. Acting like engaged anthropologists or development specialists, the WochenKlausur group’s participant-observer status enabled them to offer other perspectives and new opportunities for development. In most of the communities the suggestions stimulated energetic dialogue between the actors, a prime characteristic of communicative actions, and several of the ideas were realized. In Gleisdorf, the mayor decided to reduce the excessive signage in the urban centre. In Friedberg, the council initiated an intensive search for a suitable meeting place for the youth of the town. Many other proposals were retained for further discussion in the town councils of these communities. Subsequently, other communities expressed interest in the continuation of the project for another year. One of WochenKlausur’s aims is to have ongoing relationships with all their projects, engaging in a form of due diligence in assessing the results of their interventions over time. In a more recent project, Intervention to Provide Activities to the Mentally Disabled (2003), the group planned a year-long series of activities for mentally challenged residents of the Kainbach Nursing Home near Graz, Austria. The Kainbach houses approximately six hundred mentally disabled people, some with severe handicaps and many of them over the age of seventy. After their characteristic preliminary research, members organized a year-long activity program for these residents. Various local companies, institutions, associations, and individuals were asked if they could donate one day of the year to undertake some sort of activity with a small group of Kainbach residents. More than fifty potential donors agreed to host an activity or event for every week between May 2003 and May 2004. Among them, the Aquarium and Terrarium Association ‘demonstrated methods for analysing water quality and identifying the fish and frog species found in a nature reserve pond.’ The Styrian Aviators Association ‘offered a tour of the hanger and a chance to try out the flight simulator.’ After this introduction the group was taken on a balloon flight over Graz. Another sponsor, Liebherr GAK, a local soccer team, ‘showed visitors around the field and dressing rooms before inviting them to a game against Salzburg.’20 These two multifaceted cultural ‘interventions’ conform to a number of Habermas’s key prescriptions for communicative action. For example, the rational motivation of each participant through the ‘illocutionary binding / bonding effect’ is obtained through an open dialogue

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9.1 WochenKlausur, Intervention to Provide Activities to the Mentally Disabled (2003). The Kainbach Nursing Home near Graz, Austria.

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between those primary agents in the communicative process. In order to secure a more cohesive and meaningful dialogue, the communication is optimized by those willing to divest themselves of their titles, overt expertise, and competence in their discipline or field of knowledge. The actions are also similar to the Situationist International (S.I.) prescription for the situation: for example, (a) the initial period of research by the team, (b) the promotion of a director responsible for the coordination of a number of interventions, (c) some type of coming together (bindungseffekt) for a discussion/ debate that may or may not result in a resolution or construction and promotion of new ideas for further articulation and action. In this sense, the WochenKlausur interventions can be characterized as forms of communicative action, arguably life enhancing as opposed to system reproducing. The work that the Critical Art Ensemble undertook in Halifax, from 7 to 13 July 2002, began as a multifaceted tactical media event somewhat similar in form to many of those idealized by the S.I. and practised by WochenKlausur and other operative and littoral art groups around the world, groups such as RepoHistory, Projects Environment, Ala Plastica, and TEA (Those Environmental Artists). In the event entitled Halifax Begs Your Pardon! the CAE tactical media workshop engaged some dozen participants from both the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the Khyber Centre for the Arts. As the CAE website now describes the work, their goal was to produce a series of ‘friendly interventions designed to interact with the urban landscape of Halifax in a manner that would elicit reflections, considerations and ideas that would challenge or expand the usual geopsychological set of notions guiding the habitual activities of people in the public sphere.’ The description outlined methods employed in the project: ‘Gizmos, pamphlets, “sorry” bricks, and “sorry” flags were used to highlight various contested cultural and historic sites around Halifax. Pirate radio was used to announce the sites that tourists could visit in order to learn an alternative view of the city.’21 This basic description of their intervention is followed by a general observation about urban tourism: Cities that depend on tourism have a tendency to intensely illuminate and centralize a narrow set of cultural meanings and locations while leaving many marginalized, darkened and silenced. Our goal was to bring out occurrences / histories, opinions, and meanings that have been dispossessed, silenced, or ignored. While many of these things are generally

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9.2 Critical Art Ensemble and Beatriz da Costa, in collaboration with local activists and artists, Halifax Begs Your Pardon! (2002). Installation of Gizmo in Ferry Station women's washroom, Halifax.

unpopular, people still have a right to express them in spite of majority distaste for them. In fact, the possibility for minoritarian expression is key to a healthy public sphere. No city is a seamless network of consensus as typically represented in tourist literature. We attempted to focus on some of the points of difference in a manner that would be fun and as unthreatening as possible for Haligonians and tourists alike.22

The tactical workshop organized by CAE produced several elements for a four-day series of public interventions, including the sorry bricks for various permanent markers and sorry flags for the tops of phallic information kiosks. A tactical ‘Gizmology’ workshop was undertaken during which the students under the direction of CAE members produced short political messages for small LCD screens that were to be strategically placed around the city. A tour announcement for pirate radio broadcasts and the building of a sandwich board announcing the station number completed the agitational aspects of the work. Sorry T-shirts were silkscreened for CAE Tactical Action Coalition members to wear while engaged in the distribution of pamphlets. The sorry bricks were placed on seven sites around Halifax deemed suitable to receive them, including a downtown statue of one of Halifax’s colonizing

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founders, the historic Africville site that was bulldozed in the sixties to make way for urban redevelopment, and The Wave, described in the pamphlet as a ‘scandalously bad public sculpture’ (produced incidentally by a NSCAD alumna). The LCD Gizmos were also installed with removable tape in six contexts. The placement of one in the washroom of a harbour commuter ferry resulted in a surprising response from the city police department. The installation of the LCD Gizmo in the washroom of the Halifax to Dartmouth Ferry set in motion a series of events that are still resonating in the art community in Halifax. An unidentified young woman, one of CAE’s tactical media agents, was seen attaching a small black box to the interior wall of the washroom. In the paranoid context of post-9/11, one of the ferry workers interpreted this as some type of terrorist bomb.23 In hindsight, the results of this sighting were somewhat predictable. The police were called in and the ferry was taken out of service for two hours while this black box and others like it, placed strategically around the city, were investigated by the tactical bomb squad of the Halifax Metropolitan Police. During the late-afternoon rush period the ferry stoppage held up hundreds of commuters. The media networks were called and suddenly, on the radio, television, and front pages of the Daily News and Mail Star, the headlines announced that Halifax had received a ‘bomb threat,’ implying that a group of terrorists was targeting the city. The police posted a warrant for the arrest of the perpetrator of this event. It took two months for an individual to be identified and charged with public mischief. Although the police had no suspect they could charge, they required a volunteer from the group to quell their embarrassment. This resulted in one young woman being introduced to a section of the criminal law known as ‘Adult Diversion,’ a minor charge that the guilty party must respond to by compensating the aggrieved party – in this case the Metropolitan Ferry Corp – for loss of income (there was no damage to property), and/or the performance of thirty or more hours of community service. The extraordinary range of meetings that occurred at NSCAD among the president, members of the administration, the students, faculty (including myself, since I was involved in extending the original invitation to CAE), and a high-powered criminal lawyer hired as a consultant, revealed how easily in this post-9/11 context an innocent object placed in a public place can precipitate a political event with criminal implications. While CAE’s original goal was to stimulate public debate that would ‘elicit reflections, considerations, and ideas

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that would challenge or expand the usual geo-psychological set of notions guiding the habitual activities of people in the public sphere,’ their ‘friendly invitation’ – a communicable action – had devolved into its direct / exemplary form, thereby precipitating the vicious cycle of provocation-repression. In these times, cultural intervention requires a re-consideration of ethics and, at the very least, an attention to the political dynamics of action and protest that would minimize the risk of reproducing the very power structures that are being undermined.24 My last example is the Toronto-based City Beautification Ensemble, a collective that also engages in tactical interventions in public space. Their work operates as a reminder of how public performance art can be received as both creative and entertaining and as criminal invention. The three artists of CBE have been selectively targeting what they call ‘the grey-level’ zones of the urban environment. CBE states: ‘Let’s face it, our city can be a little bit hard to swallow, what with an increasing flood of media images, advertising venues and sorry architectural and planning choices. It gets to the point where one isn’t even sure where to look anymore. And that’s where the City Beautification Ensemble comes in.’ The primary goal of the CBE is to descend on grubby urban sites and to embellish them with some colour; in their words, reducing the ‘grey level’ of the built environment by replacing or masking it with appropriate site-specific, mood-enhancing colours, otherwise known as ‘Rainbow Energy.’ CBE’s axiomatic phrase for their activities is ‘spreading beauty throughout the city one neighbourhood at a time.’ Their straightforward method involves choosing something that looks boring, utilitarian, and grey, then painting it a new colour, usually in a pastel tint. Dressed somewhat like Ghost Busters in work suits and armed with Krylon spray cans, the three CBE members travel discreetly about the city, tactically spraying grey zones with new colours in order to enhance their aesthetic potential. For their efforts they have been arrested several times by the Toronto city police, but have managed to evade charges of mischief or wilful damage of property by claiming their practice is a community art service. The interventionist model that the CBE approximates through their work is closer to an instrumental direct action than a communicative action, with the corresponding potential for undesirable outcomes. Politically speaking, their actions remain at the level of representation, symbolically taking the work of the conventional studio artist into the public realm. But their interventions also provide

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9.3 City Beautification Ensemble, intervention at Young and Dundas Corner, Toronto (2003).

members of the public with a rich stimulus to relieve them, if only momentarily, from the aesthetic poverty of contemporary urban life. In order to become fully communicative the beautification project would also have to enhance the possibilities for critical dialogues such as those initiated by WochenKlausur and other littoral groups practising what critic Grant Kester has identified as a dialogical aesthetic.25

NOTES 1 V.I. Lenin, What Is to Be Done: Burning Questions of Our Movement (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1902, 1975), 28. 2 Ibid., 31. 3 Henri de Saint-Simon writes: ‘It is we, artists, who will serve you as avantgarde: The power of the arts is in fact most immediate and most rapid:

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5 6 7

8 9

10 11

when we wish to spread new ideas among men, we inscribe them on marble or canvas; … and in that way above all exert an electric and victorious influence.’ Henri de Saint-Simon, ‘Opinions littéraires, philosophiques et industrielles’ (Paris, 1825), cited in D.D. Egbert, Social Radicalism and the Arts: Western Europe (New York: Knopf, 1970), 121. Littoral describes the intermediate and shifting zone between the sea and the land and refers metaphorically to projects that are undertaken predominantly outside of the conventional contexts of the institutionalized art world. The first Littoral: New Zones for Critical Art Practice symposium was organized by Ian Hunter and Celia Larner of Projects Environment in Manchester, England, in September 1994 and attracted artists from over twenty countries. The second Littoral symposium, ‘Chimera,’ was organized by Neil Berecry and Adrian Hall, members of the Australian group Synapse. The many artists and theorists who have pioneered the practice of littoral art include Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison, Suzanne Lacy, Martha Rosler, Hans Haacke, Fred Lonidier, Alan Sekula, Adrian Piper, John Stezacker, David Medalla, and Stephen Willats; art historians and art critics include John Berger, Lucy Lippard, Suzi Gablik, Hal Foster, Sarat Maharaj, Grant Kester, Wolfgang Zinggl, Rosalyn Deutsche, John Latham, and Barbara Steveni. See R. Bolton, ed., Culture Wars: Documents from the Recent Controversies in the Arts (New York: The New Press, 1992), and B. Barber, S. Guilbaut, and J. O’Brian, eds., Voices of Fire: Art, Rage, Power, and the State (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996). K. Marx, ‘Theses on Feuerbach,’ in R.C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W.W. Norton, 1972), 145. B. Brecht, ‘Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction,’ in Brecht on Theatre, trans. S. Willett (London: Methuen, 1964), 71–2. W. Benjamin, ‘The Author as Producer,’ in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Schocken Books, 1978), 223. The essay was written for a meeting at the Institute for the Study of Fascism in Paris in 1934. Ibid., 230. ‘Rapport sur la construction des situations,’ Internationale situationniste no. 1 (1958): 15. See also my essay ‘Notes towards an Adequate Interventionist [Performance] Practice,’ in Bruce Barber: Reading Rooms (Halifax: Eyelevel Gallery, 1992), 106–16. See A. Willener, The Action-Image of Society: On Cultural Politicisation (London: Tavistock, 1970), 163. I am employing axes here as the heteronym plural of axis and axe.

Cultural Interventions in the Public Sphere 181 12 For a discussion of Habermas’s concept of the public sphere and public art’s potential to contribute to debates in the public sphere, see James S. McLean’s contribution to this volume. 13 J. Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 58. 14 Ibid., 19. 15 J. Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), 207. 16 As Habermas has argued, the system has penetrated deeply into the lifeworld, progressively reorganizing its practices according to its own rationalizing, systematizing, and bureaucratic logic. The instrumentalizing of human activity, he posited, destroys the possibilities of democratic participation in social interaction and political decision-making. See J. Habermas, Legitimation Crisis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975). 17 T. Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 402. 18 Ibid. 19 WochenKlausur collaborators include Norbert Bacher, Dagmar Buhr, Claudia Dankl, Wolfgang Fichna, Andrea Hubin, Pascale Jeannée, Matthias Klos, Helmut Lang, Andrea Mann, Alexander Risse, Heide-Maria Schatzl, Oliver Schmid, Martina Wäfler, and Andreas Zinggl. 20 WochenKlausur, Project to Provide Activities to the Mentally Disabled, Graz, Austria, April–May 2003, at 16p_kurz_en.htm. 21 Critical Art Ensemble and Beatriz da Costa (in collaboration with local activists and artists), Halifax Begs Your Pardon! (2002), at http://www 22 See 23 The signage read: ‘Before you flush your tampon recognize that this goes directly into the harbour.’ 24 Since the time of writing, CAE has appeared before a U.S. federal grand jury on charges relating to the USA PATRIOT Act. The charges are related to their work on Free Range Grains (2004), a project created for the At Your Own Risk exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany, and reconstructed for The Interventionists, an exhibition at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. This came as a result of the FBI investigation of an home of CAE member Steven Kurtz in May 2004, after paramedics reported seeing scientific equipment he had been working with for the project, an intervention in the public discourse surrounding bioengineering and transgenic mutation. Kurtz and his collaborator Robert Ferrell have been charged with two

182 Bruce Barber counts of mail fraud and wire fraud related to their purchase of standard bacteria samples. Because the case has been disingenuously handled like a bioterrorism investigation, a simple civil case is being treated as a serious federal offence. See Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund, http://www 25 G. Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).

10 Queering the Streets: Johannes Zits and Contemporary Public Art as Activism daniel faria

The desire to engage audiences other than the usual gallery-going crowd leads many artists to a conscious decision to adopt alternative approaches to how and where their art will be accessed and viewed. As argued by Bruce Barber, Rebecca Burke, and Kathleen Irwin in other chapters of this book, this often leads them to work in places that do not support the widest dissemination of their vision, but with the trade-off that engagement between art object and audience can occur anywhere as long as there is an audience. Public art of this sort is often social and political in intent and usually resides at the margins of more traditional public art. It is significant that much contemporary public art has shifted away from formalist or broad aesthetic concerns in an effort to interact more directly with its viewers and actively engage with particular community issues. As a result, this type of socially concerned public art is often ephemeral, rebellious, iconoclastic, out-reaching, and noncommercial, frequently relying on multiple copies, impermanent objects, or performance. Such art is also meant to be experienced casually by what Lucy Lippard has termed a ‘chance audience.’1 For this reason, it is not always regarded as ‘fine art,’ which generally finds its place and its publics within the institutional boundaries of the art world. However, this type of non-traditional cultural production has garnered considerable interest among scholars and artists over the past three decades. Many consider it the most valid and effective type of public art being made today.2 Johannes Zits, a Dutch-born, Toronto-based artist, has engaged this kind of socially concerned cultural production through the billboards and posters he creates. A case in point – and the focus for this paper –

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is a recent poster project deployed by Zits in Toronto, a project in which I was involved, working as Zits’s assistant in coordinating sponsorship and volunteers, and organizing the placement of posters in the community or, as we called it, ‘postering.’ Indeed, the purpose of the project was to explore the use of the poster within the contemporary practice of public art as outlined above. It also highlighted the poster’s intrinsic characteristics as a potentially confrontational and educational visual tool within a political / activist discourse. Specifically, Zits used his posters to actively destabilize hetero-normative public space, promote a positive queer environment, and expand the boundaries of queer space. In a broader sense, Zits’s posters also raised and addressed issues pertaining to the politics of the image and its use and representation within visual culture, a theme that is generally present in his work. The use of the poster as a visual call for social change – reflected, for example, in the work of artists such as Barbara Kruger, ACT UP, and Gran Fury – has created a certain ‘activist expectation,’ something that Zits’s audience certainly brings to the table. But is it the visual image on the poster or the medium itself that motivates the expectation of activism? Are the images and graphics of the posters effective in instigating change in and of themselves? In order to better understand the effect of these posters, a comparison will be made between Johannes Zits’s posters and the posters created for the AIDS Committee of Toronto’s (ACT) Condom Country Campaign in 2001. One reason for comparing the two bodies of work is their use of different visual strategies to deploy posters with similar content. Another is that ACT was able to create and publish a final evaluation report for its campaign, offering a rough measure of the efficacy of their project. This analysis has methodological limitations that will be explored at the end of the paper; however, it nevertheless provides an interesting point of departure for a reflection on the potential of poster art in promoting a queersensitive environment. As a cultural form and medium of distribution, the poster has been continuously co-opted for a variety of social and political agendas, from enforcing / destabilizing hegemonic ideologies to its obvious and ubiquitous use as a medium for advertising. Although printed public announcements and advertisements can be traced to the fifteenth century, the poster as it is understood today did not emerge until around 1860.3 However, it is mainly the industrial boom of the early twentieth century that gave rise to posters as a medium for advertising virtually

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every conceivable product and event. With the outbreak of the First World War, the poster exploded in popularity as a mass-produced, state-sponsored means to influence public opinion. This new role was intensified with the use of posters as agit-prop in the context of the October Revolution, the Second World War, and anti-war movements, and in the mass protests over the war in Vietnam. From the 1960s on, a renewed interest in popular art forms led to a new awareness of the poster in the art world as well as in political or activist circles in North America. Political posters of the 1960s relied mainly on a standard set of signs and symbols – the peace sign, the clenched fist, the dollar sign, to name a few – and were, in my opinion, most pertinently used in the fight around broad social and political concerns that ranged from women’s rights to the war in Vietnam. Today, themes concerning peace, the environment, and social justice persist, but a new (and even broader) set of concerns has evolved and emerged. These include HIV/AIDS, health care, sexuality, ecological and urban sustainability, globalization, and government social funding. With the emergence of these new specific themes and concerns, new visual strategies have been created, many by artists working with socially concerned public art and with an activist agenda. Much art that is activist in intent and content has taken the form of temporary interventions that appropriate mainstream media techniques. This includes posters and billboards that hang in public spaces. Because of its public nature, this type of art reaches out to its viewers in a way that is defined less by style than by function; that is, the message/ content is the driving element behind its activism.4 Indeed, as Nina Felshin, editor of But Is It Art? The Spirit of Art as Activism, writes: Shaped as much by the ‘real world’ as by the art world, activist art represents a confluence of the aesthetic, socio-political, and technological impulses of the past twenty-five years or more that have attempted to challenge, explore, or blur the boundaries and hierarchies traditionally defining the culture as represented by those in power. This cultural form is the culmination of a democratic urge to give voice and visibility to the disenfranchised, and to connect art to a wider audience.5

This confluence, or hybridization, of activism and contemporary public art was arguably forged during the Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s, when American artists influenced political activists and vice versa, merging an activist discourse with an artistic sensibility.6 The

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now famous poster work of the Art Workers Coalition, produced in 1969 as a symbol of their mobilization against the Vietnam War, is a compelling example of this practice. The culture wars of the 1970s and 1980s furthered the development of this type of activist public art: feminists, ethnic groups, gays and lesbians, and other perceived minorities began to assert their personal voices in the public realm through artistic means. As a result of this coalescence, a number of theorists, critics, and artists have argued that contemporary public art and activist art have become inseparable, united in an inherently cooperative model of social-aesthetic practice. One such artist and art writer, Suzanne Lacy, argues that art functions on a continuum of positions that range between the private and the public. On one end of the continuum, within private space, the artist functions as an ‘experiencer’ as she/ he reflects upon his/ her personal (and subjective) experiences. As the artist moves from one side of the continuum to the other, or away from private space and into the public realm, s/ he shifts, or progresses, from experiencer to reporter to analyst. Finally, when working entirely within public space, the artist is understood to be working completely as an activist. Therefore, according to Lacy, artists who work exclusively within public space are, by the nature of their work, activists. Lacy points out that ‘at any given time, an artist may operate at a different point on the spectrum or may move between them; however, public space is activist space.’7 This explanation, often sufficient to justify the activist position, nevertheless benefits from being nuanced. Indeed, much activist art also happens in the private space of the gallery, and some art that happens in public places is produced for mainly aesthetic reasons. The key here is that the importance of public art is in what it does and not where it is located. However, Lacy’s model provides a useful framework to probe the productive relationship between public art and activism. Her illustration of this relationship offers a new understanding of the role of the artist within the traditional binary of private /public. As we shall see, Johannes Zits’s artistic practice belongs to a tradition of socially and politically conscious work that has often moved along the continuum of private-to-public space /practice. While many consider his work to be political regardless of the context of presentation, by his taking it into the street the work slides more explicitly into the activist realm. Furthermore, Zits’s use of the poster as a medium of expression reinforces the activist nature of the work,

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since the poster itself is, as we have noted, historically associated with activism. There is indeed a reference here to the likes of Barbara Kruger and the Guerrilla Girls, pioneers of this kind of poster activism, who took their artistic/ activist posters into the public realm (most notably in New York) to interrogate the patriarchal order by disseminating information on feminist and gender issues. Another relevant example resides in the work produced by the collective ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), formed in New York in 1987. The collective creates graphic posters that are put up surreptitiously around the city. It also orchestrates elaborate and meticulously organized events and demonstrations that attract international media coverage and effectively disseminate information about AIDS, safer sex practices, and government policies. A secondary outcome, however, is that ACT UP’s posters and demonstrations also make queers visible in the streets and in public places. Over the years, ACT UP’s visual presence has encouraged public resistance to the heteronormative rules and regulations established by hetero-sexist hegemonic trends in contemporary society. By doing so, the collective brought forward some key questions about the place of homosexuality in the public realm: To whom does public space belong? What is queer space? Where is queer space allowed to exist? Early discourses that investigated the notion of queer space centred on obvious sites of enclosed and hidden exchanges of homoerotic activity, such as gay video /porno bars and bathhouses. This discourse then evolved to encompass the investigation of sites, ghettos, or ‘villages’ such as the Church Street community in Toronto, Davie Street in Vancouver, or Montreal’s Gay Village: places with defined, albeit invisible, boundaries. These sites share common characteristics; most notably, they provide a ‘safe’ place for cruising and the freedom to publicly display expressions of homosexuality between consenting adults. Such safe spaces, however, are few and far between. Contemporary queer activism has made a priority of gaining broader access to public space (if even for a short time), expanding the boundaries of safe spaces, and asserting the rights of minority sexualities in public space.8 Sexuality, like gender, is often regulated by the binary distinctions established between public and private because it is assumed that sexuality is (and should be) confined to private spaces. This notion is based on the naturalization of heterosexual norms, with the result that diverse sexualities and those who are seen to transgress the norms are deemed to be socially unacceptable and, therefore, are open to sanction

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by the dominant heterosexual culture. Even in the absence of sex, heterosexual identity is displayed in public places without it being questioned, or even realized. One of the objectives of queer activists, therefore, is to create queer space by destabilizing this normalization by making queers and their sexuality visible in public places. Queer space, however, is inherently unstable because it is unfixed. It is forever shifting and fluctuating. Occasionally, this inherent instability gives way to interruptions in hetero-normative space that are of particular interest. Often these interruptions are part of a plan or strategy such as protests and marches, but usually they are unpremeditated acts, as when two queers kiss in public, hold hands, or just walk down the street wearing clothing that does not fit the heterosexual norm. The editors of the 1997 collection of essays Queers in Space provide a lexicon of definitions in order to better understand certain terms. A ‘queer site’ is defined as ‘a point in physical space where there is contact and exchange involving at least two people and where there is a positive or impartial relationship to homoeroticism within a broader environment that includes some kind of homophobia; sites can exist for a moment or can be more stable.’9 Follow on this definition, ‘queer space’ is defined as ‘an expanding set of queer sites that function to destabilise hetero-normative relations and thus provide more opportunities for homoerotic expression and related communality.’10 Queer space and/ or sites of resistance can therefore always be experienced as responses – either reactive or constructive – to the resistance of homosexual repression and homophobia. Gran Fury, an artists’ collective working within ACT UP, is known for producing posters that were praised within artistic circles for their visual immediacy and graphic composition, but condemned by social conservatives for their content. Two of these works, Read My Lips (1988) and the bus advertisement Kissing Doesn’t Kill (1989), which depicted gay and lesbian couples kissing, were heavily criticized for their (apparently) explicit sexuality. In the world of queer politics, this criticism is taken as a sign of success because the posters, with their representation of same-sex desire and its projection ‘with style and activist bravado’ into the public sphere, are seen to function as acts of defiance.11 Although the posters were intended on one level to be didactic, illustrating that AIDS cannot be spread by kissing, they were also activist in that they made queerness visible in the streets and created, for a brief time, queer space and a site of resistance.

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Zits’s poster project can be understood as part of this legacy. It gives visibility to queers while exploring and exposing the issue of queer space as a ‘site of resistance.’ Over the course of Johannes Zits’s twenty-year artistic career, he has produced prints, paintings, videos, and installations that explore issues of space/ place (both private and public), intimacy, voyeurism, desire and consumerism, visual culture and mass media, and the body and its representation. In particular, his work deals explicitly with the issue of queer identity and its construction within visual culture. As Robin Metcalfe has pointed out, ‘The importance of visual culture to lesbians and gay men can hardly be exaggerated … [as queers] are constantly, anxiously monitoring our image – how it is being constructed in popular media, whether it is there at all.’12 Zits acknowledges the importance of visual culture and popular media to queers and in turn creates an alternative queer visual language by subverting and appropriating advertisements and images from popular magazines and adding a prominent queer presence. More specifically, his work focuses on the way in which lifestyle and interior-design magazines expose private living spaces for public consumption. He believes the privacy of these domestic spaces are transformed into spectacle in the same way that sexual acts become pornography when they are presented for public consumption in magazines and videos. In other words, interior-design magazines and pornographic magazines function similarly in that they manipulate the gaze by allowing the viewer’s desires to be fulfilled through the ‘other’ (the objects in the image), thus giving the viewer a sense of power over the depicted image. Images from pornographic and interior-design magazines are merged by Zits into single representations of unconventional domestic scenes. Using the actual design-magazine pages as his background, Zits subverts these interior photographs by painting or collaging male figures having sex onto and into these stark, sterile, and often unpopulated spaces. The viewer is invited to stare at the sexual figures even as he/ she remains unaware of the voyeuristic gaze that witnesses his / her activities. This lack of visual communication between viewer and object leaves the viewer with the uneasy sensation of having invaded a private moment. Zits began incorporating figures onto magazine pages in 1998. The figures from this period were painted onto the magazine pages and were composed of loose and expressionistic brushstrokes, a sharp

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contrast to the clean orderliness of the photographed living spaces. However, in 2001 the artist began to create collages, cutting and pasting male figures onto the works using images borrowed from popular media such as advertisements, promotional materials for chat lines, and gay websites; in other words, images culled from the mass media, gay pop culture, style magazines, and so on. The sources for the collages are significant because they allude to an identity that lies beyond the physical, exterior skin of these men even as they destabilize media representations and rupture constructions of identity in a heterosexist culture. In this manner, the collages act as ‘representations’ of what Zits’s male subjects desire and consume – representations, at least, of what the mass media and advertisers tell them they want to desire and become. The collages also serve as a social critique of a perceived state of masculine identity and its depiction within mass media and popular culture. Moreover, the figures address the lack of gay and lesbian representation in the media. By interrogating and deconstructing the stereotypes perpetuated in the media and appropriating them within his work, Zits reduces these cultural signifiers to symbols of commerce and marketing. He engages in a discursive practice surrounding the politics of representation and by doing so takes an interest in issues of media presentation and the reality of mediation or, rather, the hold on ‘the real’ exerted by the plural signs circulating in society.13 What distinguishes Zits from artists with similar interests – notably Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Cindy Sherman – is that his work is focused almost exclusively on the politics of gay male identity. Zits’s work also reflects on the virtual absence of a credible queer presence in advertising and the media while acknowledging the recent and subtle appropriation of queer culture aesthetics in the competition to attract gay audiences. As Suzanne Danuta Walters observes, ‘High fashion advertisements have long been a source of hidden meanings for gay viewers, particularly gay men.’ According to Walters, ‘It seems that the boys of Madison Avenue have caught on to this gay decoding and have begun to use it with much more deliberation.’14 Advertisers are conscious of creating images that will attract a ‘gay gaze,’ while remaining cautious enough to avoid alienating the heterosexual male clientele. These coded messages are what Walters refers to as ‘gay vague’ or ‘gay windowing advertising.’15 They present a surface queerness that needs a queer gaze to be decoded. Zits borrows these ‘encoded’ bodies for his collages, critiquing the ads for their lack of explicit representations of gays and lesbians and also for

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their commercial exploitation of gay culture. In effect, Zits appropriates these advertising tactics but re-positions them in the service of queer commitment and gay sex.16 Zits’s recent Toronto street intervention developed out of a billboard project that he initiated in Berlin in 1999. The artist had hoped to continue the billboard project in Amsterdam and Toronto, but funding issues prompted him to shift his plan from billboards to posters. This switch from large-scale billboards to 47-by-61-centimetre posters represents an important shift in the way the public was intended to view and interpret the work.17 With the financial support of Mercer Union, A Centre for Contemporary Art in Toronto and Pink Film Days, an annual gay and lesbian film festival in Amsterdam, Zits created four original posters, each employing collages of men in domestic interiors. Once printed, the posters were plastered throughout the streets of Amsterdam in December of 2002 and Toronto in January of 2003.18 This project was significant to Zits because it permitted him to develop and expand, quite literally, his concern with the concept of space by taking private-made-public domestic interiors and exhibiting them in public spaces. Of the four images that Zits created, two featured couples while the other two were composed of single figures. However, all four posters are visually similar in style: each framed within a solid bright colour (blue, yellow, orange, and green), with the sponsor’s logos printed along the bottom. It is useful here to discuss two of the posters in detail: Good Looking and Jacob’s Coffee. Good Looking, set within a yellow frame, depicts a gay couple in a contemporary bedroom setting. The bedroom, bathed in sunlight and with the bed unmade, has been appropriated from a German furniture catalogue. The time of day is ambiguous, and it is unclear whether the figures are in pre-coital or post-coital intimacy. The figure on the left, a collage constructed primarily from Marlboro cigarette ads and images of cowboys, sits at the bottom corner of the bed, his hand placed on his penis. Bold red text is printed across his body evoking the Marlboro logo. These visual signs represent the masculine ideal, typified by the image of the cowboy and connoting the ideal of the all-American man. The second figure in Good Looking is the polar opposite of the sitting cowboy. He is constructed from advertisements for male hygiene products. Easily discernible are logos for Clinique products, JeanPaul Gaultier cologne, and facial moisturizers by Yves Saint Laurent and Nickel. Advertisements for apple and orange juice are also appropriated, connoting not only the fruity scents of these products but

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10.1 Johannes Zits, Good Looking, from the 2002 poster intervention in Toronto and Amsterdam, sponsored by the Mercer Union and Pink Film Days.

also the derogatory meaning of the word ‘fruit.’ These products, traditionally associated with the feminine domain, reflect the emergence in mass culture of representations of a new ‘sensitive man’ and his positioning by advertisers to promote the idea of a relaxed and carefree modern male, a type of identity on offer to anyone who purchases the products.19 The use of text further subverts the meaning of the appropriated advertising elements. The brand name Calvin Klein, for example, is visible in the bottom left-hand corner, a reference to the designer’s famous 1980s advertising campaign that declared, ‘Jeans are Sex.’ Other Calvin Klein ads, notably underwear ads from the 1990s featuring hypermasculine models such as Marky Mark and Antonio Sabato Jr, have carried on and extended the theme of the original campaign through the use of subtle homoerotic imagery. While Calvin Klein’s use of ‘gay vague’ advertising tactics has helped his products to claim a place in mainstream and gay male culture, Zits claims and repositions this imagery explicitly for gay men. It is significant that the artist has inserted the Calvin Klein label into this particular poster: it is the only one of the four posters in which clothing

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is an element of the narrative. It has been pulled off of a figure’s body and lies strewn on the floor in front of the window. Jacob’s Coffee, set within an orange frame and depicting a single figure, is arguably the most evocative poster in the series. The seated male is pushed into the foreground. He dominates the visual plane and commands attention. This contrasts with the composition of Zits’s other posters, where the figures tend to inhabit the space with a degree of comfort. This poster is confrontational: the positioning of the figure draws the viewer into direct eye contact, creating undeniable tension. The figure has been cut from a single ad for coffee (as opposed to being constructed from fragments of various ads). Zits’s appropriation of this material references the routines of the addict and the way that advertisers eroticize even everyday products such as coffee. On the left side of the poster is text that has been appropriated from the home page of a Dutch gay website, a site that includes links to porn sites, chat rooms, and other related sites. It acknowledges the trend within gay culture (and straight culture) towards cyber-cruising. Previous works have appropriated web imagery, but this is the only poster in the series to specifically reference cyberspace. The text is also provocative. For example, the word fragment ‘nky’ is printed over ‘ex,’ providing the viewer with enough information to fill in the missing letters and decipher the phrase ‘kinky sex.’ It appears as if the figure, with his seductive gaze and erect penis (wittingly composed from the coffee drinker’s thumb from the appropriated ad and strategically placed within the genital area of the collaged figure) is inviting the viewer into his home for sex. Zits’s poster project involved plastering six hundred posters around Amsterdam and a thousand in Toronto. They were left up until they were removed, posted over, or they simply disappeared. Specific streets were selected because of high traffic and visibility. Some posters were immediately stripped down or plastered over, but a few survived for more than three months. Negotiating with shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and galleries to gain their cooperation in putting up the posters indoors became an important factor for the success, visibility, and longevity of the project. The outdoor placement of posters, however, happened at night and without permission in a way that Karrie Jacobs describes as ‘night discourse’: A much blunter, more argumentative form of communication than its daytime counterparts, the editorial pages of newspapers and the Sunday-morning public-affairs television shows. The most biting

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10.2 Johannes Zits, Jacob’s Coffee, from the 2002 poster intervention in Toronto and Amsterdam, sponsored by the Mercer Union and Pink Film Days. political statements are pasted up all over the city at night, then in the daytime we see them as we walk the streets. Sometimes we pay attention and sometimes we don’t.20

This method of display, also called ‘sniping,’ is described as the ‘repeated and methodical postering of a given location’ and offers a highly visible, continuous exhibition of material that is put up and replaced nightly.21 This type of practice is important because it repeatedly bombards the viewer with the poster. The intention is to make these controversial images tenaciously recognizable and, by doing so, to provoke thought and create a dialogue with the passing audience. Although this project was queer in content, its target audiences also included heterosexual populations. And it became quickly apparent that the images worked differently in different urban locations. In gay-friendly neighbourhoods, the images functioned as disruptions of mass media and advertising, but also gave the gay audience a sense of place by offering a representation of queer sexuality

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expressed explicitly. The images functioned very differently in areas considered to be predominantly heterosexual by destabilizing ‘heterosexual’ spaces, making queerness unexpectedly visible and creating a site of resistance. (In this way Zits and this poster project belong to the legacy established by ACT UP and Gran Fury.) The posters also disrupted advertising representations by depicting straightforwardly gay sexuality in spaces where gay sexuality was either of the ‘gay vague’ variety or altogether invisible. Were these posters effective in establishing a queer space, in making queers visible, and in destabilizing heterosexual space for longer than the period in which they occupied such spaces? Did they effectively and actively create change in the thinking of their heterosexual audiences? Zits went on the record to say that he would consider the Toronto project a success if ‘after a month posters can still be seen in the street and in storefront windows.’22 This was accomplished. But what about the larger goal of engaging the audience? Was this project in fact able to make queerness visible in areas outside the Church Street village? Zits’s posters were quite vivid, but when plastered beside street advertisements from corporations such as IKEA and the cell phone company Hypnomoto, many became lost in the visual competition. This is not surprising, since the artwork and commercial offerings shared the same formal language in terms of size, colour, and print quality. As a result, Zits’s posters were easily mistaken for ads, possibly for furniture stores or for the Pink Film Days film festival (one of the project’s sponsors), a conclusion drawn by one viewer because of the prominent festival logo printed in the bottom left corner. It did not help that there was no mention of the artist’s name or that the text only identified the funding agencies and sponsors involved with the project. However, Zits’s posters engaged a subtle strategy that permitted them to stand out from their commercial counterparts under certain circumstances. A different kind of experience occurred when a viewer, on his or her journey through the city, encountered all four by chance. Once one of the posters was identified as something out of the ordinary, the others became recognizable as connected parts of a dispersed whole. Elements of style and graphic design helped to unify the project, creating visual links from one poster to the next even as their content (appropriated from the world of advertising and reframed) set them apart from the competing advertising images on offer. Zits’s posters worked with subtlety against these corporate advertisements, adopting their tactics while actively deconstructing their power and meaning.

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Did Zits’s project work in a measurable way? We can’t know for certain, but some interesting correlates may be drawn from the measured results from a similar project: the Condom Country Campaign of 2001 created by the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), a media campaign that also took sexually charged visual images of men to the streets.23 ACT’s principal objectives were to grab attention and raise awareness about a resurgence of HIV / AIDS in Toronto. These objectives were largely in response to a series of related questions posed by ACT: ‘How to get the message about a rise in HIV infections to men who have sex with men in Toronto in the midst of a market saturated with other ads and information? How to get people’s attention? How to make people notice a new message?’24 The project was therefore meant to function as an educational tool, aimed at raising awareness about safer-sex practices. For this reason, ACT’s campaign can also be considered an activist project, because it seeks to change behaviour within a particular group of people.25 The ACT campaign did not seek to destabilize hetero-normative spaces or to make queerness visible; however, the homoerotic and suggestive imagery that was used created controversy that, in turn, made destabilization and queer visibility secondary outcomes of the campaign. The Welcome to Condom Country campaign’s final evaluation report provides an analysis of the type of advertising that was deemed most effective in ACT’s campaign. ACT asked for volunteers to participate in one of three focus groups and answer questions pertaining to the campaign. Each focus group consisted of participants recruited through announcements that appeared in the local gay press and information faxed to all local AIDS organizations.26 Participants in the focus groups had to identify themselves as gay or bisexual men who had seen some of the campaign materials and who were between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four (ACT’s target audience). Sixteen per cent of the focus group participants remembered seeing outdoor posters on Church Street and 14 per cent remembered seeing them in local gay bars. Newspaper ads were the most effective at making the project visible, scoring 20 per cent of the recognition from the focus groups (the highest percentage), while advertisements in the public transit system accounted for 12 per cent. Another study, the Ontario Men’s Survey, conducted by the University of Toronto’s HIV Social, Behavioural, and Epidemiological Studies Unit (in conjunction with ACT), asked 5080 gay men about

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their sexual practices, social activities, substance use, health, and the Welcome to Condom Country campaign. Among those surveyed, about half lived in Toronto. Of those, 83 per cent reported seeing ACT’s outdoor advertisements, 64 per cent said they remembered seeing indoor advertising for the campaign, and 57 per cent remembered seeing the ads in newspapers. These studies provide us with a degree of affirmation that certain posters were recognized and remembered by members of the gay community; however, differences in presentation between ACT’s posters and those produced by Zits must be taken into consideration. The ACT posters employed a blatant visual strategy reflecting the campaign’s creative principles: ‘All messages display a direct, friendly, and upbeat format. Language is simple, bold, and informative. All details are written in a clear, simple, and culturally appropriate way.’27 The ACT posters are direct in their presentation of an image and a message with the bold text ‘Welcome to Condom Country. Ride Safely.’ The male models have presence because they have been photographed. In contrast, Zits’s subjects are collaged and, therefore, lose a certain degree of recognition and are harder to discern. Furthermore, Zits’s objectives are different than those of ACT, even though he is also working within the poster tradition. His intent is simultaneously artistic and activist in nature, and not a campaign per se. However, even with these differences and limitations of the ACT study, I believe there is enough common ground between the two projects in their use of visual content, imagery, size, and distribution to infer that ACT’s empirical measurements would likely be similar if the recognition factor within the gay community were replicated for Zits’s work. There is no correlation to be inferred, of course, with the impact of the work in heterosexual communities, which were not asked to participate in either the ACT survey or the Ontario Men’s Survey. Yet anecdotal evidence indicates that Zits’s posters had a degree of success in disrupting hetero-normative space. Everyone who worked on the project – the artist, Mercer Union staff, and volunteers who assisted in putting the work up – were on the front line in the community and therefore able to witness responses on the street. And we were thrilled with the results! Clearly the posters were eliciting a direct response with the audiences we encountered. Although there was little media coverage in Toronto during the run of the project (apart from a small article, with colour reproduction, in the 9 January 2003 issue of the biweekly gay and lesbian newspaper Xtra), the posters did have a

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strong presence on the streets for the short time that they occupied the space. (Often they were removed or plastered over the next day and seldom lasted out the week.) Because of the efforts of volunteers, posters were replaced night after night over a two-week period. This ensured that they were visible for at least half of the month of January. A few survived for more than three months. The overarching importance of Zits’s poster project lies in the fulfilment of its central intention: to give queers visibility in areas not thought of as queer-friendly, in this case, in outlying areas of downtown Toronto. Certainly, each poster, through the response it elicited, was more-or-less able to claim its physical site as a place of queer resistance, though it is unclear whether the poster project as a whole was able to construct queer space, posters that were put up in ‘queer unfriendly’ territory may have been torn down or defaced too quickly for viewers to identify them as connected parts of a unified whole. At any rate, Zits’s poster project, with its activist intent and ephemeral quality, builds on a legacy of political art posters and queer activism that continues to challenge the poster as a form, the mainstream media, and public space in order to expand its audience. By doing so, Zits’s interest in queer representation and identity has helped to raise awareness around the politics of representation, in particular the representation of a gay male identity and the manner in which it is constructed through the mass media. His posters, taken to the streets of Toronto, speak to the arrival and affirmation of an open and explicit queer identity, an identity for queers by queers.

NOTES 1 L.R. Lippard, Get the Message? A Decade of Art for Social Change (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1984), 52–3. 2 Scholars such as Suzanne Lacy, Lucy Lippard, Nina Felshin, Carol Becker, Bruce Barber, and Grant Kester have written on the importance of this type of public art. They believe it is the most effective type of public art because it responds in an active and time-sensitive manner to political and community issues that are particular to their geopolitical situation. Artists working with this model of public art include Germaine Koh, Adrian Blackwell, Greg Sholette, REPOhistory, the Critical Art Ensemble, and l’Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable, to name just a few. 3 For a history of the poster see J. Barnicoat, A Concise History of Posters (London: Thames and Hudson, 1972).

Johannes Zits and Contemporary Public Art as Activism 199 4 L.R. Lippard, ‘Trojan Horse: Activist Art and Power,’ in B. Wallis, ed., Art after Modernism: Rethinking Representation (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984), 342. Art that reaches out as well as in, as explained by Lippard, is an art that is formally concerned but also concerned with affecting its audience and raising awareness. 5 N. Felshin, ‘Introduction,’ But Is It Art? The Spirit of Art as Activism (Seattle: Bay Press, 1995), 10. 6 It can also be argued that socially and politically engaged art dates back to the inter-war years and the work being produced by the Dadaists, in particular by John Heartfield. 7 S. Lacy, ‘Debated Territory: Toward a Critical Language for Public Art,’ in Lacy, ed., Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (Seattle: Bay Press, 1995), 173. 8 G.B. Ingram, A.M. Bouthillette, and Y. Retter, eds, ‘Strategies for (Re)constructing Queer Communities,’ in Queers in Space: Communities/Public Place /Sites of Resistance (Seattle: Bay Press, 1997), 447. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid., 449. 11 R. Meyer, ‘This Is to Enrage You: Gran Fury and the Graphics of AIDS Activism, But Is It Art?’ in Felshin, ed., But Is It Art? 68. 12 R. Metcalfe, Queer Looking, Queer Acting (Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent University Gallery, 1997), 84. 13 K. Linker, Love for Sale: The Word and Pictures of Barbara Kruger (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990), 17. 14 S. Danuta Walters, All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 245. 15 Ibid., 249. 16 S. Ramsay, ‘Not Buying It,’ in S. Bruhn and S. Ramsay, Queer Commodity (Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, 2002), 9. 17 This interpretation is an issue I will return to later. 18 These two cities were chosen because they were the home towns of the sponsors, yet the work would have functioned similarly in any urban centre. 19 R. Mistry, ‘From “Hearth and Home” to a Queer Chic: A Critical Analysis of Progressive Depictions of Gender in Advertising,’ in Theory.Org.Uk online, available at 20 K. Jacobs and S. Heller, Angry Graphics: Protest Posters of the Reagan/Bush Era (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1992), 8–9. 21 Ibid., 9. 22 Interview with the artist, Toronto, 17 January 2003. 23 ACT published a final evaluation report for the Condom Country Campaign in November 2002.

200 Daniel Faria 24 AIDS Committee of Toronto, Welcome to Condom Country Campaign: Final Evaluation Report (Toronto: Shea & Co., 2002), 2. Although this report was printed before we began our project, we did not consult it for information. I have only referenced this research in my chapter in an attempt to gauge the success of our project. 25 Some might argue that the ACT campaign should therefore also be considered art. However, the ACT campaign was based solely on media and advertising strategies. Although I link it here to historic artistic and activist models, I make no attempt to consider this project as an artistic one. 26 Each focus group consisted of twenty-three men ranging in age from eighteen to forty-five. 27 ACT, Welcome to Condom Country Campaign, 14.

11 Exhibiting Madness in The Weyburn Project: Situating Performance / Installation in an Abandoned Mental Asylum kathleen irwin

To move the work of art is to destroy the work. Richard Serra1

This cryptic observation by Richard Serra points to the centrality of the work of art to its specific location and also offers a key definition for site-specificity. Here Serra comments on a hybrid art form that crosses sculpture and installation practices. Nonetheless, his observation provides a suitable point of departure for this paper, which focuses on a large-scale, multidisciplinary, site-specific, community-based event entitled The Weyburn Project. This examination takes place specifically in relation to various conceptual and experiential contexts, and demonstrates how this complex genre offers a range of challenges to institutional, historical, and conceptual assumptions in art, theatre performance, and spectator discourse. Indeed, as Miwon Kwon explains, ‘Site-specificity [is] not exclusively … an artistic genre but … a problem-idea … a peculiar cipher of art and spatial politics.’2 In this manner, the site is considered not as a bounded physical arena but rather as a layered entity constituted through social, economic, and political processes, encompassing multiple communities of interests. Focusing on The Weyburn Project, this paper examines the centrality of the chosen site both to the overall aesthetic and to the complex collaborative trajectory that is realized in such works. From the outset, the author was intimately involved in the conceptualization and production of this collective project. This text exemplifies the struggle to interrogate the creative process of all involved and to place the practical work that was done to achieve our artistic goals within a theoretical framework.

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The Weyburn Project is best described as a site-specific or sitedetermined event. It was developed over the period of a year in the abandoned wing of an old mental asylum in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and was presented in forty-eight performances over two weekends in September 2002. The deteriorating hospital was made intensely present as it became the source and backdrop of visual arts exhibitions, media installations, and theatre and music performances. It came to represent its own vexed history and the competing local opinions concerning the future of the decaying site. The event blurred the line separating the site of performance from the performance itself, thereby implying the impossibility and irrelevance of the action without recognizing the site, its contingent communities, and the social networks that depend on it. Our approach expanded on Serra’s definition of ‘site-specific.’ The work could not be moved, much less imagined, as distinct from its site. To think of this event as an intervention denotes perhaps a more apt sense of the negotiation that characterizes performance / installation outside the institutional frame of the theatre or gallery. Nonetheless, in the pages that follow, I will use the more common term ‘site-specific,’ since it embraces a range and history of disunified and disjunctive practices that overlay and inform one another.3 The strategies employed in developing The Weyburn Project reflect an extensive body of experimentation in art, manifested from the 1960s onward, in which visual artists moved their practices increasingly away from traditional forms, media, and locations and towards performance-based events in ‘found spaces.’ The movement from a sedentary to a nomadic model implicated the artist in the work in diverse ways that, while performance-related, were not necessarily linked to the conventions of theatre. Addressing this shift, performance theorist Nick Kaye writes: The entry of performance into art does not, in itself, indicate a turning by artists toward theatre forms or conventions. Indeed, performance in art or performance by artists has invariably arisen in a resistance to the very containment and fixities through which not only the conventional work in art but much theatre and performance would establish itself.4

The boundaries between artists using site-specific strategies that rely on performance and actors doing site-specific work blurred increasingly during this period because of experimentation or expressions of

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resistance. Installation and intervention practices were incorporated into theatre performance as readily as was performance into installation. The strategy of defining a spectator’s trajectory through an installation became common practice. The goal of provoking and altering normal expectations was affected by inserting the spectator in what was formerly the actor’s place. Hybrid forms of art and performance gravitated to found space and began to implicate the surrounding community, using it as the context for the work in order to underscore its social and political relevance. This manner of working, a development of the last two decades of the twentieth century, has clear links to political and social activism. It is, however, characterized by a strong aesthetic sensibility that crosses disciplines and perspectives, and is frequently performance-based. Suzanne Lacy describes this way of working as ‘new genre public art’ to distinguish it from ‘public art,’ a term mostly used to describe sculpture and installation inserted into public arenas with little regard for local circumstances – ‘plunk art.’ This new method of working exemplifies a break with past practice in that it departs from conventional media boundaries, embraces ‘vanguard forms,’ and ‘adds a developed sensibility about audience, social strategy and effectiveness.’5 The Weyburn Project is readily circumscribed by Lacy’s definition. Site-, issue-, and community-specific, the project proposed traditional and non-traditional methods of interacting with a broad and diverse audience. As social intervention, it negotiated the borders of performance, installation, and architecture through an engagement with the mental asylum as a discursive field, a material site where communities and interests interlock. In material terms, the former Weyburn Mental Hospital is a magnificent and seductive building. As the inspiration for the devised work, it served to bracket the diverse perspectives the project put forward. The event’s main strategy was to route spectators through the long prohibited spaces of the asylum, punctuating the trajectory with performance, music, and installation that examined the building’s materiality and its past. In so doing, the simple action of walking became an act of transgression, an intertextual reading across the grain of received histories of this specific place, and an interrogation of the assumptions surrounding the site. The walk focused attention on the material traces of the hospital, thereby implicating the underlying regimes, structures, and hierarchies of institutionalized mentalhealth practice and illustrating how social experience, specifically

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the experience of ‘madness,’ is embodied and embedded in the architectural structure.6 In this way, the building became text available to be read alongside the installations and performance work. The contiguities evoked the myths, memories, and desires embedded in the building and suggested a reading of the building that cut across culture, history, and ideology. In all respects, the scope and the actual site of The Weyburn Project were broad. Circumnavigating it involved a two-kilometre walk that charted four floors of the asylum and included forty performancebased artworks.7 These works were performative through the real or implied presence of the artist in the space. This approach addressed the innate tensions between the multiple practices the event sought to circumscribe. It also suggested a ‘spatial performativity,’8 with the building iterating its own presence at regular junctures, serving both as a unifying agent and as a troubling reminder of the counter-narratives that seemed to emerge like ghosts from the institution’s fragmented past. The derelict building worked for artists, and later spectators, as an archaeological or forensic site of investigation. All encountered the building by walking through it and examining the traces that revealed the steps and missteps that characterize institution-based treatment. Realizing the centrality of the hospital to the social fabric of Weyburn as a city and a community, we were aware of how perceptions of the project might be shaped by local expectations surrounding the building. To manage these diverse perspectives from the outset, we actively engaged in discussion with several sectors of the community that were linked through the building: the citizens of Weyburn, former patients and staff, and the artists themselves. Each group’s central concern was how the institution and the various communities would be represented and how the event might deal with the complex debates the building now reified.9 The interactive nature of the undertaking, from its earliest stages, meant that individuals engaged with the event in a variety of ways at various times during its development. For example, during the actual performances spectators were sometimes asked to corroborate or retell anecdotes offered earlier in interviews. The ‘facts’ changed with every retelling and were frequently contested by other spectators who offered another version. Alternately amusing and provocative, these strategies acted to unsettle notions of who and what was real and verifiable. Far from assuring an experience that would support a single narrative or reflect a unified sense of community back onto itself, the

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method produced an event best characterized as shifting and indeterminate. While the promise of resolving the vying perspectives into some sort of unified work seemed tantalizingly close, the work itself resisted final narrative closure or the possibility of attributing a single meaning to the event or to the place. Given the extent to which the hospital itself determined the project, a few words on how the site was chosen may be in order. In the year preceding The Weyburn Project, a group of artists and researchers came together to find a location with a complex sense of place in which to conduct performance-based research. What they found was the Souris Valley Extended Care Centre, a building rich in historical detail and overlaid with complex social narratives including those of unsubstantiated incarceration, sexual abuse, inhuman medical and labour practices, and LSD experimentation. While the facility is now mostly abandoned, a portion still functions as a hospice for the elderly and the terminally ill. Significantly, the site is still commonly referred to by the name it held during the days when it functioned as an asylum: the Weyburn Mental Hospital.10 Opened in 1921, the hospital serviced the whole of south-central Saskatchewan, acting as a repository for people with all manner of non-treatable, anti-social disorders. For decades it was also used to collect and house the neglected, abandoned, orphaned, and cast-off. The circumstances of incarceration frequently fell short of basic levels of humanity. To be taken to Weyburn too often resulted in a sentence of long and intense duration. The threat of being ‘sent to Weyburn’ kept many on a righteous path. On the other hand, the hospital accomplished ground-breaking work in mental health therapy, establishing an internationally recognized teaching facility celebrated for innovative pharmaceutical-based treatment.11 All things considered, as the focus for our own research, it provided a contested and provocative site of investigation. Furthermore, the semi-derelict hospital was an ideal venue in its aesthetic dimension. Neo-classical and Italianate in design, built from locally manufactured brick of the finest quality, its tiled and gabled roofs and dormered windows are well proportioned and beautiful, even in a state of decay. In the early conceptualizing stage, Andrew Houston (University of Waterloo) and I determined the rough outline of the project. Recognizing the potential of an interdisciplinary approach, we brought on board students and professional artists working in diverse practices, including media, theatre, music, and fine arts. Coming to the community of

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Weyburn largely as outsiders, we were eager to make inroads within the community wherever possible and to incorporate the many perspectives that early investigation had suggested. As the search coalesced around the asylum, it became apparent that the project might, at best, open a dialogue or, at worst, intensify the debate among residents who regarded the building as a symbol of contesting histories, a financial burden, and a location of dubious potential. Questioning our own ability to legitimately represent the numerous perspectives gave rise to strong reservations about going further. Still, we encountered much cooperation and no insurmountable barriers, so we started the long process that we hoped would culminate in a work completely integrated with the site and the community. If the process were to be successful, the residents of Weyburn would be our patrons in every sense of the word. They would provide source material for the work, unlock financial support, and form our eventual audience. Acutely aware of the potential minefield around the terms we were engaging, we discussed and re-evaluated the meaning of ‘community,’ ‘spectator,’ ‘patron,’ and above all, ‘referential subject.’ The complexity of issues that arose did not favour a unified, cohesive point of view, nor was this a desired end. In fact, we were aiming for an event that would unsettle perceptions, disturb the community’s sense of self, and provoke innovative solutions. With this in mind, we moved forward with caution. Research confirmed that the building had for decades been at the core of the community’s identity and economy. However, over the years, its shifting and slipping status had stigmatized the community in many ways. Once recognized internationally as a showcase institution for forward-thinking mental health practice, this impressive hospital, Weyburn’s chief employer, had stood surrounded by well-manicured gardens and productive farmland. The process of decline was long, but a severe economic depression, a world war, chronic overcrowding, changing labour regulations, and new medical practices ensured that the hospital was increasingly seen as obsolete. The building grew dilapidated, the garden and surrounding farmlands were left unattended, and the proud era of the hospital came to an end in the mid-1970s, when outpatient care and pharmaceutical treatments became pervasive. While it had once been a source of self-esteem within the community, the term ‘Weyburn Hospital’ now became synonymous with all that was mishandled, distrusted, and feared in the treatment of the mentally ill. Now, at the end of this trajectory of decline, an active and

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vocal contingent of Weyburn citizens lobbied for its demolition. A few others called for its recuperation and use within the community, possibly as a cultural centre. We hoped that by addressing pertinent issues from countervailing perspectives our project would serve as catalyst to bridge and activate these communities in an effort to consider options for the building’s future, which, at this point, was dubious. It was hoped that enlisting this increasingly sidelined building for an event of this scope would refocus attention around more constructive notions of heritage preservation and cultural sustainability. These were issues around which the community of Weyburn had reached an impasse. Ostensibly for safety and security reasons, the older wings of the building had been closed for many years. Having already met with distrust and considerable anger in preliminary conversations with local people, we speculated that reopening the building’s doors to the public would provoke intense emotion. In fact, this ambivalence to the building’s complex past initially made access to it problematic. Repeatedly asked why we would want to go into ‘such a place,’ we pragmatically shaped our answers to the particular circumstances to avoid roadblocks. Reiterating our intention to consult at every step of the way seemed to assure people that lifting the lid on this Pandora’s box would be done cautiously. Doors were unlocked and we entered the maze of dusty corridors, wards, and side-rooms. As the project became a reality, this pragmatic strategy also garnered us considerable support from individuals, local businesses, and the municipal government.12 As a point of departure, we assessed the differentiating processes within the community of Weyburn that appeared to align the various interest groups. These divisions, evident in the surrounding population, were still tied to the building, the medical system, and the procedures and hierarchies that the building represented.13 According to cultural geographer Tim Cresswell,14 differentiation is a mechanism by which ideological values are transmitted and used to set populations in opposition. It divides and alienates disparate groups by identifying widespread differences and by setting boundaries or lines of containment. A fundamental way to differentiate is by the regulation of place. Indeed, place plays an important role in the creation and propagation of ideological beliefs that are preserved and maintained in a monolithic fashion that suppresses or strives to administer actions deemed unusual or undesirable. Historically, the asylum reified the myriad sides of mental health care. A monolithic ‘structure of power,’

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the asylum regulated and formed a relationship between administering procedures and space. As such, the asylum embodies differentiation. It is also the place where, through the minutiae of everyday life, hierarchies and other systems of differentiation are challenged, resisted, and transgressed.15 Evidence of these challenges was constantly surfacing in the anecdotes that individuals offered. Stories of tricks, rule breaking, and other subversive activities were the essence of the amusing and heartbreaking stories that surfaced. Through these, an alternative history of the hospital began to develop. The notion of transgression and subversion became a working model for The Weyburn Project. We speculated that the performance/ installation, inserted into the corridors of the institution, would disturb the notion of proper activity in proper place. We hoped that our own transgressive act would manipulate and divert the space to other purposes. Dense with history, saturated with myth, and emblematically significant, the building lent itself to this kind of intervention. Since most of it was conveniently unused and empty, it was conducive to a process of development that necessitated an extended residency. We therefore literally moved into the site and were captivated by its labyrinthine layout, its corridors and rooms, repositories for intriguing spent paraphernalia and curious medical equipment. As we explored, we realized that walking and looking would become our central performance strategy. Following Cresswell’s notion, the team began to regard the space as ‘a text where words have become spatial divisions and subdivisions.’16 To read this text we had to act in it in order to physically link ideas to actions. Our work plan was to divide the project into definable phases. First we combed through the hospital’s medical archives: a jumble of memorabilia, photo clippings, old movies, antique medical equipment, patient records, recipes from the kitchens, lecture notes, and correspondence. In doing this, we realized that many key figures from the building’s history were still alive but aging rapidly. This meant that no time could be lost in contacting these individuals who might unlock tangible information and support for the project. A general invitation went out to local residents linked to the institution, by word of mouth and media releases, to participate in video interviews. Many were located, still living in the immediate vicinity. They told emotionally taxing stories of family members unwillingly and indeterminately incarcerated or of their own back-breaking labour in overpopulated wards where abuse of patients and staff was sometimes the norm.

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Significantly, few ex-patients surfaced. Perhaps naively, we had speculated that the project might succeed in recovering the occluded history of those silenced by the practices of institutionalization. Within the piles of archived data, much stringently controlled by privacy-of-information regulations, we found statistics, dates, duration of incarceration, but little more. Hours of videotapes provided stories of friends and family members, but no ex-patients volunteered to tell their stories. Finally, in an email sent to the project’s website, we discovered one person who recounted his own tragic story. Gordon, an apparently normal eight- year-old, was abandoned by his mother for nine years (1945–54) in the asylum. There was no real evidence of mental disorder and Gordon either refused or was not given medication. Therefore, he vividly remembers his stay in the Mental Hospital during a period that represents the nightmarish peak of institutional abuse and overcrowding, when Saskatchewan was barely recovering from the Great Depression and the Second World War. Despite evident emotional scars, Gordon saw the opportunity to tell his story as a form of healing. We speculated that many others were not quite so ready to make public the details surrounding their own incarceration. While there were no other survivor narratives, the many anecdotes collected provided details of the daily regimen of the hospital. This included information about the administering of electroshock therapy, the handling of ‘dirty’ inmates, and so forth. Despite all these details, it appeared that The Weyburn Project would have great difficulty accurately representing the most inscrutable element of the puzzle: the notion of madness itself. Hence, a mimetic representation by the performers gave way to a more oblique representation by the visual artists who, it was felt, could better reference this tangible absence. In fact, the artists who worked in the hospital at odd hours claimed to be much influenced by the space and its ‘ghosts’ and developed a unique relationship with the building. There was a growing sense that the artists now represented a sort of temporary community and must, therefore, negotiate a relationship with the other stakeholders in the project, especially the retired citizens of Weyburn who were highly proprietorial of the site. We knew this group of retirees would form a large and knowledgeable part of our projected audience and we struggled to determine how we could present ourselves to them in performance without appearing didactic or trivializing. Realizing that in most cases these spectators would know more than we, it was

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felt that, rather than put forward a historic narrative, the building would act as its own citation. In order to deal with the significant amount of data that was piling up, a second project, a video documentary, was undertaken. This, it was thought, could effectively deal with this very relevant material and make it available to the public. Including the project’s website and the performance itself, this made three distinct ways in which we would reflect the building back to the community and integrate the community into the project.17 These three strategies expanded our thinking around the collaborative process and our relationship with the various orders of community with whom we were now engaging.18 To expand the community-wide network, we used local radio, community television, and newspapers. However, the most effective method of dissemination and collection of information proved to be the interactive website set up at the beginning of our research. Initial concerns were quickly dispelled that the older members of the community would not be computer savvy. In fact, dozens of messages were received daily from people of all ages. They were written in the chatty style of email correspondence, a candid communication difficult to replicate in formal interview situations. Also, urban myths began to surface. These accounts bolstered our growing sense of the empty building’s ‘creepiness.’ The empty corridors felt haunted, oneiric, dangerous, and controlled. In the language of Michel de Certeau, the building ‘kept one under its gaze.’19 The empty electroshock ward, the defunct water-therapy baths, the men’s ward, the children’s ward, all seemed to be full of ghosts. Our collaboration appeared to extend beyond those living in Weyburn to include those who had taken up residence in the building’s walls. Our investigative practice and aesthetic process drew heavily on Cresswell’s notion of a layered mapping of place through natural, social, and phenomenological consideration, and on de Certeau’s delineation of place by legend, memory, and dream.20 These paths brought us actively to the next stage of the project. While theory had been vital in laying its foundations, at this juncture the necessity of moving schedules forward began to drive the eventual content of the performance. Although there was, as yet, no consensus among the artists on the overarching theme, we agreed that the experiment would test the limits of historical representation through a reflexive style of performance and installation. It would neither follow linear narrative nor adhere to totalizing accounts. Rather, the project would trouble the metanarrative of the building, following the loose ‘form’ of a pastiche.

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Searching for the optimal performance platform, we settled on the abandoned northwest wing of the hospital, which was made up of four floors, each with a corridor approximately 150 metres in length transected by shorter hallways leading to large dormitories that gave way onto day-rooms. The overall effect was that of a maze of interlocking rooms and passages. With its solid doors and high, barred windows, we saw this wing as a visual metaphor for the notion of differentiation. We decided to use it all. Again, this decision implied negotiations with several communities of vested and sometimes vying interests: the board of directors of the Souris Valley Extended Care Centre; the head of physical plant, who understood the delicate strategies needed to keep the building functioning; the local fire chief, who controlled safety; and the Saskatchewan Property Management Corporation, the official landlord. A veto at any level would topple the project. A series of agreements allowed us to move the project forward: the building’s structure could not be altered, all safety and security concerns would be addressed, and we could not interfere with the daily business of the functioning facility. The resident employees, while welcoming, were obviously suspicious of such an ‘artsy’ crowd. They kept a close watch on our activities, dropping in for spontaneous visits clearly designed to observe our activity and resist the chance of misrepresentation and undue licence being taken. Simultaneously, the artists were researching and closely observing the community, amassing detail and background data to incorporate into their work. This mutual surveillance created a somewhat vexed relationship that challenged, to some degree, the artists’ creative autonomy. Many adopted a clandestine strategy of mounting installations after hours. While the situation was rectified over time as both groups grew comfortable with the process, the artists continued to look for ways to quietly avoid the authorities and subvert the rules. The fretful negotiation of these rules, which were, in fact, the remnants of the asylum’s institutional days, underlined the notion of transgression that we felt would characterize the event. The building represented the vested authority of the mental institution, so by subtly manipulating its rules and regulations the artists created opportunities or gaps for what de Certeau refers to as freeplay or spielraum.21 This negotiation of the rules, in fact, delineated the strategies later used to deploy the audience throughout the site. Early in these discussions it became evident that, for safety reasons, small, regulated groups of spectators would have to be shepherded at intervals around the four floors. This sketchy outline began to dictate the duration of the

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performance. By employing the building’s blueprint to map crowd movement we slowly shaped the event. The development of an audio score was vital in this regard. Musical director Lindsay Stetner measured the physical space to assess the length and number of compositions needed. This process involved timing how long it took for a group to walk through the wing’s four floors. As spectators were going to be walking, and climbing stairs, the performance could not exceed ninety minutes. The musical director mapped the building using the equation of distance divided by average walking speed. Lengthy discussion about how music might underscore mood and atmosphere helped to devise a sound map that reflected the physical nuances of the building. A sort of rationale grew, based on the building’s four- floor structure. Linked by caged-in stairwells, each level grew increasingly oppressive in its resonating emptiness and decay. The score for the ground floor, the administrative level, was discordant and aggressive. On the second floor, a sole pianist performed on an out-of-tune piano. The badly deteriorated top floor best expressed the quality of transfixed time. Here silence prevailed. Finally, in the last segment of the trajectory, when the audience was led down to the basement and through a long corridor, faint voice recordings emerged from behind closed doors. Ultimately, more than forty artists across a range of disciplines (musicians, composers, writers, media artists, photographers, actors, performance artists, ceramists, sculptors, painters, installation artists, etc.) participated by situating their work along the trajectory that covered the entire wing. The pluralism of styles created a fragmented or collaged unity, replete with imagistic collisions and disjunctions, dense and intertextual. The simple act of walking, so vital to the event, became a singular aesthetic / phenomenological experience that lead the spectator to appreciate the complexity of form and meaning that the multiple forms and the site provided. By mid-August, the countdown toward the opening had begun. It was decided that there would be eight start times staggered at fifteenminute intervals, at each of six scheduled events – a total of fortyeight presentations. Each ‘tour’ culminated in the old Assembly Hall, where a community tea would be served by the Women’s Auxiliary. A group of about twenty psychiatric nurses volunteered to learn the performance route, don period uniforms, and take on the ambiguous role of tour guide /warden. The ‘whites,’ donated by the Souris Valley Extended Care Centre, transformed these untrained actors into hybrid

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characters (part performer, part interpreter, part guide) who assisted spectators in the tricky negotiation between the reality of the site and the artifice of the performance. By the last week in August the wing was plunged into chaos. Visual artists were completing installations that had to be checked for safety by the fire chief. The age of the building, its old electrical wiring, and the dryness of the prairie summer had turned the structure into a tinderbox. A latex-coated room, an ash-covered floor, a wooden hut built in a dormitory were provocatively alien to the hospital’s administrators. We held our collective breath any time they paid a visit. For the sake of public safety, all questionable material had to be fireproofed. Jerry-rigged lighting was dismantled and redone by certified electricians at the eleventh hour. Performers and musicians rehearsed as technicians22 and artists completed their set-up. The strategy we decided to employ to move spectators around the building was simple. In the moments before the show started, spectators were given coloured nametags, categorizing them as ‘patients with conditions’ and nurses summoned them into doctor’s offices for a medical interview. There, they were screened by ‘intake professionals’23 to ascertain the supposed nature of their disorder. A series of absurd, destabilizing questions primed them for the role of the ‘patient’ that they were at times expected to play during the tour.24 The optimal number of participants on each tour was ten, but these numbers increased to twenty-five and more as the demand for tickets grew. The volunteer psychiatric nurses led groups of spectators around the buildings with considerable authority, liberally supplementing medical data with sometimes heretical perspectives on the past. This group did not hesitate to deal with issues that we, as outsiders, felt were beyond our scope of legitimate representation. The ambiguous relationship of audience and performer was profoundly captured by the shifting positions that this group took up, and how it functioned and interacted was integral to the work at all stages. Many members of this group were equal shareholders in the collaboration process with the artists. They were co-developers, who invested time, energy, and identity in the work and partook deeply in its ownership.25 As well, they understood and conveyed the irony of their position in relationship to the theatricality of the event. The tours followed a line taped to the floor through a maze of performances and installations. On the second floor, a series of interactive performances examined the growing sense of loss and isolation experi-

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11.1 The Weyburn Project: The Chorus, performance at the Weyburn Mental Hospital (30 August – 2 September 2002). Photographed by Harwood Truscott.

enced by patients as they became institutionalized. Climbing to the top floor, spectators were encouraged to freely explore installations exhibited in dusty, untouched rooms. Here, the building had deteriorated badly and felt decidedly dangerous. Spectators on this level frequently queried the guides about ‘what life in the asylum was really like,’ and this direct interaction marked a definite transition. Up to this point, the event was overtly theatrical, if non-traditional in format, and one to which many of the usual conventions of theatre applied. Here expectations changed and began to reflect more subjective needs markedly different from those of a conventional spectator in a ‘normal’ venue. The fourth-floor installations created a further problematic in the relationship between the work, the site, and the audience, reflexively throwing the viewer’s attention back upon him / herself. Many, unused to gallery protocol and strategies, were troubled by the uncertain expectations that were provoked when art was wedded to this environment. The struggle to achieve a level of coherence created conflicted responses in spectators, who reported that this floor represented

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11.2 Randal Fedje, Mixed-media installation at the Weyburn Mental Hospital. Photographed by Harwood Truscott.

the most perplexing element of the whole experience, one that affected them deeply. The climactic experience on this floor was followed by a rapid descent down three flights to the basement. Known as the snake-pit, this level held traces of the institution’s morgue and cells for the criminally insane. At one point, the tour entered a smoky, dimly lit boxing ring designed for staff and patient recreation. Here, an old boxer coached sparring bouts while recounting stories of past fights. The snake pit and the suggestion of physical violence in the ring created an unsettled ending to the event. The denouement was a short walk in the fresh air to the Assembly Hall and an invitation to relax over a cup of tea. The tour had been conceptualized as a self-reflexive activity structured to disrupt the spectator’s usual interpretive practice within the superficial model of a guided tour. The ending was an attempt to re-enter more socially oriented practices based on a theatrical model of unified catharsis. In forty-eight sold-out shows and two overnight performances of much longer duration, The Weyburn Project toured more than one

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thousand spectators through a building long closed to public scrutiny. In dozens of calls to the box office, patrons demanded tickets, additional shows, and annual remounts. An examination of the audience profile revealed that most were neither theatre nor gallery goers. The range of ages was equally anomalous. Many were assisted through the regular performance in wheelchairs, while the younger and ‘hipper’ gravitated to the largely unpoliced all-night events. The perception of the event was profoundly shaped by the venue and by individual expectations that surrounded it. These expectations displaced, but did not entirely exclude, notions of theatre and gallery viewing. As we have seen, the performative act is fleeting and contingent on presence and absence. However, aspects can be recorded and eventually take other forms. Hence, the video documentary of this event frames it as a substantive moment in the history of the hospital and the community. It has been made available for public distribution.26 Individual artists have also used the work they developed in Weyburn to launch other projects. The psychiatric nurses reconvened to discuss strategies to stave off the building’s demolition. Business and real estate interests have mobilised temporarily around proposals to redevelop. These events represent both tangible and intangible results and have insinuated themselves into community discourse in Weyburn. The public debate surrounding the hospital’s relative value to the community has been refueled by new arguments that employ the vocabularies of cultural sustainability and urban planning. However, at this point, the status quo remains.27 The shell of the Weyburn Mental Hospital continues to exist at the physical and symbolic centre of Weyburn. Its foundations were strongly laid in 1921 and despite obvious indications of deterioration and threats from its detractors, it will take a considerable effort of the collective will to either recuperate it or tear it down. As a place of heightened symbolic significance it is possible that demolishing the building would multiply rather than erase its multiple meanings. But one question insistently demands to be posed. Measured by a variety of standards, what was the value of The Weyburn Project? Some have argued that it was trivializing, manipulative, exploitative, and insensitive to those whose pasts were inextricably and tragically linked to the building. One woman, with a history of mental illness, complained that the event had been a physical assault on both her senses and her memories. A few were perplexed and dismissive. Many in the community who hoped for a definite outcome were disappointed. No

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11.3 The Weyburn Project: The Chorus, performance at the Weyburn Mental Hospital. Photographed by Harwood Truscott.

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immediate or permanent social change was perhaps realized, but as a community project that used the destabilizing strategy of site-specific performance intervention, it served to interrogate a dominant representation of this building as a spent and impotent architectural symbol. Through the provisional recovery of the building, other narratives have been contingently reconstituted. The event required a consideration of other symbolic orders and practices that challenge not only received or authorized history, but ways of telling that history and the uses made of that history in fashioning futures. Cresswell states that transgressions do not form their own borders, but critique them. By critiquing borders and taboos associated with issues of mental health, The Weyburn Project used ‘inappropriate action’ to achieve a transformation. In so doing, it addressed the nature of transgressive acts to reveal topographies of power and to partially, locally, and temporarily deconstruct and destabilize them. The action of walking freely through prohibited spaces, hinted at, suggested, and allowed for an often troubling re-examination and recuperation of forgotten disorders, the ghosts within the architectural machine of the asylum. However, transgressions of all kinds – like much art, performance, and many power structures (including those imposed by this project on this community) – are ephemeral. They have limits.

NOTES 1 R. Serra, Writings, Interviews (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 194. 2 M. Kwon, One Place after Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press, 2004), 2. 3 Miwon Kwon states that there has been an etiolation of the term ‘site specific’ as the phenomenon has fragmented into many new directions having little in common with original practices of minimalism of the early sixties and seventies. These incorporated the physical conditions of a particular location as integral to the production, presentation, and reception of art. The uncritical adoption of the term has provoked a rethinking of the word to reflect its diverse applications. In response, alternative formulations have been offered, including site-determined, site-oriented, site-referenced, site-conscious, site-responsive, site-related, context-specific, debatespecific, audience-specific, community-specific, and project-based. These terms tend to elide into one another and ‘collectively signal an attempt to

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forge more complex and fluid possibilities for the art-site relationship.’ Kwon, One Place after Another. N. Kaye, Art into Theatre: Performance Interviews and Documents (London: Routledge, 1996), 2. S. Lacy, ed., Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (Seattle: Bay Press, 1995), 19. In Power /Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings (1980), Michel Foucault characterizes the development of the prison and asylum system in France as a project to create a system of regulation of the general conduct of individuals whereby everything would be controlled without the need for significant intervention. This was achieved through a system of scrutiny that was institutionalized in the structure of the panopticon, an open system of levels and corridors that extended outward from a central observation post. A corollary to this was the idea that individuals could be regulated as much through the suggestion of perpetual observation as through the implementation of more active forms of policing. The central hub and extending corridors of the Weyburn Mental Hospital reflects the panopticon structure, as do the wards overseen by observation peepholes. This subject is explored more fully in Foucault’s Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason and in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1977). The artists involved were Kathleen Irwin (scenographer, producer), Andrew Houston (director), Richard Diener (videographer), Wendy Philpott (dramaturge), Curtis Galindo-Orozco (inter-media artist), Michelle Sereda (performance artist), Gerry Ruecker (installation artist), Katie Bowes (performer), Michael Eisner (performer), Andrea Runge (performer), Gerri Ann Siwek (installation artist), Steve Wolfson (videographer), Jon Adams (performer), Charlie Fox (sound artist), Blayne C. George (performer), Trenna Keating (performer), Alicia Toscano (artist), Felipe Diaz (performance artist), Randal Fedje (installation artist), Mike Haller (intermedia artist), Rory MacDonald (ceramist), Kim Morgan (installation artist), Derek Pho (performance artist), Joan Scaglione (installation artist), Lindsay Stetner (composer), and Tyler Maurice, Cynthia Peyson, Chris Leeson, Bridget Atkinson, Jonathon Dyck, David Dyck, Ian Tulloch, Shauna Kerr, Terry Quinney, Michael Ibrahim, Kristian Helmerson, Colin Neufeld, Chad Taylor, Chris Craig, and Mike Edwards (musicians). In performance studies and performance practice the use of the term performative is employed, on the one hand, to suggest an action relating to performance and, on the other, to reflect its meaning within linguistics where the performative denotes an utterance that effects an action by being spoken,

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written, or acted out. Judith Butler has employed the term in relationship to gender performativity. She introduces the notion of performative reiteration or the subject’s constant attempt to embody hegemonic norms (see Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity [New York and London, 1999]). Spatial performativity, as I use it here, implies the ideological norms that are encoded architecturally yet shift in meaning as individual actions transgress or subvert them. This project could not have been achieved without hours of discussion and negotiation with many interest groups in the community of Weyburn, Saskatchewan (population: 10,000). Groups such as the former psychiatric nursing staff and the administrative staff had a strong claim in the building’s reuse. Those that participated from these groups included Lee Spencer, Lloyd Searcy, Dwayne Shultz, Don Rose, Anne and Joe Robillard, Hank Hartenburger, Melanie Harkness, Lucille Gaynor, Marga Cugnet, Carol Baird, Louise Belanger, Sophie and Lou Belanger, Audrey Bennett, Marnie Bernard, Helen and Norvald Flaaten, Grace Kurtz, Cyril Marcotte, Lydia Milliker, Lucy Nichol, Elaine Nielsen, Marg Patrick, Rose Shultz, Isabelle Sherrow, Lloyd Soroka, Joe Weisberger, Kim Wheeler, and Marg Woodard. Almost everyone we encountered had a real investment. These individuals were brought on side one at a time. The strategy we used was to allow everyone interested to tell her or his story or participate as each person wanted. The Souris Valley Extended Care Centre finally closed it doors in 2003 when it moved to a newly designed building not far from the original site. In his book The Two Psychiatries: The Transformation of Psychiatric Work in Saskatchewan, 1905–1984 (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, 1989), Harley D. Dickenson maps the shifts in psychiatric care in Saskatchewan (in Weyburn and North Battleford, where the main institutions were located) and describes the political, economic, and pharmaceutical motivators that moved institution-based care to community-based therapy. He writes: ‘This revolution in pharmaceutical technology had significant consequences for other nonsocial aspects of the forces of psychiatric production. As well as being the basis for the medicalization of mental hospital work, it rendered the asylum itself … technologically obsolete … The psychotropic drugs made it possible to manage patients, even when they remained highly psychotic, in other settings’ (132). Support came in many ways. City council endorsed the project with a large cash donation. Individuals generously offered personal information, anecdotes, and memorabilia, including letters, poetry, and artwork. Local businesses provided financial support; a car dealership donated a van; the

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hardware store donated materials; a motel offered the use of its swimming pool and showers; and the Souris Valley Extended Care Centre provided the on-site artists with accommodation and stocked the refrigerator with frozen meals and cold drinks. The latter also provided hundreds of old bed sheets and uniforms that were used during the performance. The local newspaper ran weekly stories on the project’s development. The Psychiatric Nursing Auxiliary provided afternoon tea and ‘fancies’ at the end of every performance. Many retired caregivers came forward to volunteer as guides during the performance. Community groups appeared to represent identifiable populations linked to the mental hospital: i.e., retired psychiatric nurses, staff and workers, hospital administrators (often 2nd- and 3rd-generation), ex-patients, their families, and long-standing business interests. T. Cresswell, In Place/ Out of Place: Geography, Ideology, and Transgression (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 153–5. In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Foucault suggests that asylums were developed to contain and establish moral and rational behaviour in a population whose acts were not governed by reason. Methods of inducing right behaviour that involved punishment and withholding sustenance were eventually seen to be less effective than a discipline based on observation. This necessitated an architecture to ‘permit an internal, articulated and detailed control – to render visible those who are inside it … that would operate to transform an individual.’ Foucault goes onto say that no matter how dominating a given system, there always remains the possibility of resistance, disobedience, and oppositional groupings. Evidence of what Foucault calls ‘the spatial nesting of hierarchized surveillance’ is evident in such formalized use of space as seen in Weyburn’s central administrative core, with branching corridors giving onto open side-rooms and observation stations. M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1977). Cresswell, In Place /Out of Place, 157. The website,, was designed to accomplish a variety of tasks, including educating the public in a general way about site-specific, community-based projects, outlining this specific project’s goals and objectives, and giving some background on the work of participating artists. It contains a short history and photo-gallery of the closed building, an email component designed to gather anecdotes and answer questions, an archive of the stories collected and a chat room for the artists. At the time of the performance, it acted as a box office and information centre.

222 Kathleen Irwin 18 In the context of The Weyburn Project, Miwon Kwon’s three ‘orders of community’ involved in site/ community-related work can be broken down as follows: ‘Community of Mythic Unity’ refers, in this instance, to the stakeholders and participants, past and present, who, in the massive project devoted to understanding and treating mental illness, have devoted their time. Such a unified community, of course, does not truly exist. ‘Sited Community’ refers to the current administrators, staff, and remaining patients who regularly used parts of the building, the Saskatchewan Property Management Commission, the Weyburn Fire Department and the Weyburn City Council, who act as unofficial proprietors of the facility. Certain others, such as the retired psychiatric nurses, formed an extremely vocal ‘sited’ contingent. ‘Invented Communities’ encompass the group of artists who temporarily invaded Weyburn, who reached out to local businesses for support, and who were billeted into residents’ homes. Understanding how these communities are linked gives a sense of the complexity of the project. See Kwon’s One Place after Another, 118–35. 19 M. de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 104. 20 Ibid., 103–5. 21 Ibid., 106. 22 The technicians included Kim Bujaczek (stage manager), Neven Stoski (technical director), and Melany Burant (box-office manager). 23 In the intake area, actual administrators and caregivers were given these ‘roles’ to perform. This anticipated the destabilizing strategy used frequently in the performance, where ‘real’ people and actors mingled. 24 The questions asked were taken from archival records and ranged from ‘If you were a car part, which part would you be?’ to ‘Do your bowels move regularly?’ Historically, these questions would help categorize people as imbeciles, morons, defectives, and the like. 25 Lacy, Mapping the Terrain, 177–80. 26 The documentary, entitled Weyburn: An Archaeology of Madness, is available by contacting . 27 In 2006 the building was sold to a consortium of business interests based in China who would, it was rumoured, use it as a warehouse and distribution centre serving the Canadian West. As of February 2009, the consortium has reneged on the proposal. The building is boarded up and deteriorating. Its demolition is slated for the near future.

12 Model for a Public Space adrian blackwell Model for a Public Space grew out of my participation in 1996 in a collective agit-prop project by the October Group, which had put together an architectural response to Ontario’s ‘common sense revolution.’ The new Conservative government of the time had destabilized the province’s social infrastructure by slashing welfare premiums, suspending the construction of publicly funded housing, passing laws to police homelessness and panhandling, eliminating many creative programs in schools, and cutting funding for community centres. Widely criticized at the time of their introduction, the effects of these changes have become more and more evident over the past decade. Toronto suffers from a serious shortage of affordable housing, with thousands left homeless and tens of thousands of families forced to double up in cramped apartments. Gentrification has pushed low-income families into high-density mature suburbs that are difficult to negotiate without multiple cars. Gun violence and murder have increased precipitously in suburban racialized neighbourhoods. This violence is perhaps the most telling sign of the sense of hopelessness that these policies have generated, the result of a deep nihilism and a clear response to the violent instability that functions as an active motor behind neoliberal economics. The projects I have dedicated myself to since 1996 intervene to construct places within the spaces of flux in a destabilized city. Public Water Closet (1998) and How to Open a Car Like a Book (1999) sought to open private enclosures to the city. Recent works such as Light Net (2004), Car Pool (2005), and Model for a Public Space (2000–6) produce new locations for collective action and public discourse. Evicted May 1, 2000 (9 Hanna Avenue) (2001) uses pinhole photographs to illustrate the transformative potential of artists’ studio spaces. Detroit’s Underdevelopment: Separation, Divesture, Erasure, Encampment (2005) and Factory = Territory (2005), which focuses on the Pearl River Delta in China, combine drawings, maps, and photographs to document social separations in physical spaces. In this way, tactical architecture and strategic documentations respond through a diversity of techniques to this new regime of precariousness in our urban environments.


model for a public space [manual] inward/outward/beneath/beyond model for a public space is designed as a space for public discussion, its specific geometry delineates a terrain of positions Inward, outward, beneath and beyond - along its continuous surface. Looking inward, people sit face to face, allowing open dialogue between them. Looking outward, individuals or small groups contemplate the city surrounding them. Beneath, users are partially sheltered from view, allowing minor discourses and practices to develop and take hold. Beyond, anything is possible, but may require the construction of other structures. Each of these physical locations suggests conflicting arguments about the nature of public discourses and spaces. model for a public space is composed of two distinct elements, a continuous surface and a field of points. The surface acts as the essential definition and demarcation of space, providing a place for sitting or standing, at various elevations. But the surface is supported by a much lighter network that transgresses its striations. So despite its materiality, the locations it defines remain indefinite in position and scale, destabilized by its porous surface and diagrammatic logic. (1) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958,1998) 198-199 (2) Jurgen Habermas, The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964) in New German Critique No. 3 (Autum, 1974) 49 (3) Richard Sennett, The Spaces of Democracy (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning, 1998) 15 (4) Seyla Benhabib, Models of Public Space: Hannah Arendt, the Liberal Tradition and Jurgen Habermas” in Craig Calhoun ed. Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1992) 84 (5) Rosalyn Deutsche, “Agoraphobia” in Evictions (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 1996) 278 (6) Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1994) 19

The Polis, properly speaking, is not the city-state in its physical location; it is the organization of the people as it arises out of acting or speaking together, and its true space lies between people living together for this purpose, no matter where they happen to be. “Wherever you go, you will be the polis”: these famous words became not merely the watchword of Greek colonization, they expressed the conviction that action and speech create a space between the participants which can find its proper location almost any time and anywhere. It is the space of appearance in the widest sense of the word, namely, the space where I appear to others as others appear to me, where men exist not merely like other living or inanimate things, but make their appearance explicitly. (1)

Athens, from roughly 600 to 350 BC, located its own democratic practices in two places in the city, the town square and the theater.... The square stimulated citizens to step outside their own concerns and take note of the presence and needs of other people in the city. The architecture of the theatre helped citizens to focus their attention and concentrate when engaged in decisionmaking. (3)

By means me mea ea a of the spectacle ans sspec ectacle tthe an uninterrupted ninterrupted monologue of of


instructions for use Conflict is not something that befalls an originally, or potentially, harmonious urban space. Urban space is the product of conflict. This is so in several incommensurable senses. In the first place, the lack of absolute social foundations – “the disappearance of the markers of certainty” – makes conflict an ineradicable feature of all social space. Second, the unitary image of urban space constructed in conservative discourse is itself produced through division, constituted through the creation of an exterior. Finally urban space is produced by specific socio-economic conditions that should not simply be accepted, either wholeheartedly or regretfully, as evidence of the inevitability of conflict but, rather, politicized – opened to contestation as social and therefore mutable relations of oppression. (5)

By “the public sphere” we mean first of all a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A portion of the public sphere comes into being in every conversation in which private individuals assemble to form a public body. They behave neither like business or professional people transacting affairs, nor like members of a constitutional order subject to the constraints of a state bureaucracy. Citizens behave as a public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion – that is, with the guarantee of freedom to express and publish their opinions – about matters of general interest. (2)

rrulingg order rder di discourses dissco endlessly endles e upon its tsse self e in an self pra ra aise. a aise ise (6) 6 A public life conducted according to the principle of liberal dialogic neutrality would not only lack the agonistic dimension of politics, in Arendtian terms, but perhaps more severe, it would also restrict the scope of public conversation in a way that would be inimical to the interests of oppressed groups. All struggles against oppression in the modern world begin by redefining what had previously been considered private, nonpublic, and nonpolitical issues as matters of public concern, as issues of justice, as sites of power that need discursive legitimation. In this respect the women’s movement, the peace movement, the ecology movements, and new ethnic-identity movements follow a similar logic. There is little room in the liberal model of neutrality for thinking about the logic of such struggles. (4)


model for a public space [manual] model for a public space is a non-hierarchical seating structure that can facilitate conversation between large numbers of people sitting in close proximity to one another. It can be built to different sizes, inside or outside and its structural form can accommodate various typologies of space from plane to cone to crater. As a temporary structure, a diagram, formwork or scaffold, its contingency responds to contemporary political states of emergency, where dialogue has been suspended in favour of security. Model for a public space was first built in Winnipeg, Manitoba at the Architecture II Gallery at the Architecture School of the University of Manitoba by Adrian Blackwell, Rob Kovitz, Eduardo Aquino, and Rafael Gomez-Moriana in 1999, and rebuilt at Mercer Union Artist Run Centre in Toronto by Adrian Blackwell, Michael Rothfeld, Jinhan Ko and Kika Thorne in 2000.

model for a public space



1.1 Cutting a spiral in the new floor 1) Align 4x8’ tongue and groove flooring in a staggered pattern from wall to wall on top of loose laid 2x3’s. 2) Fasten a circular saw to a plywood sled. 3) Attach steel cables to both ends of the sled and fasten their other ends to a central spindle. 4) Push the saw forward as the cables wind down on the spindle, cutting the plywood in a spiral pattern. 1.2 The floor between spiral and wall 1) Remove the 2x3’s underlay. 3) Remove the first 10’-20’ of plywood between the edge of the spiral and the wall. 4) Screw 2”x3” blocking to the wall. 5) Cut standard posts along the spiral long so they rise to the height of the top surface of the outer ring of the structure above.


1.3 Outer-ring of the spiral structure 1) The outside ring of the structure requires a doubled line of posts while all other layers require only one. 2) Place the outside rings posts on top of the plywood, outside the first ring of the spiral. 1.4 Spiral structure, typical system. 1) Calculate the number of posts and the joist dimensions for each full rotation of the spiral. 2) Cut all the joists for one rotation to length, calculating bevel angle at the ends by dividing a circle into the number of posts. 3) screw 2x3x6” blocking high and low blocking on each post to support high and low joists. 4) screw joists to the posts on the blocking at appropriate heights 5) screw plywood spiral to the 2x3” joists at 16” o.c.


1.5 Diagonal bracing 1) The outer ring of the structure is reinforced with diagonal bracing in order to prevent twisting.



instructions for construction model for a public space [speaker]



2.1 Lay out 1) Space posts at 6’-0” on center along the spiral 2.2 Building the structure 1) The structure is made of standard 1.5” diameter aluminum tube scaffolding with adjustable bases. Post lengths are based on equal steps between posts in each rotation of the spiral: on the outside slope of the structure the step between rings is 25cm. 2) posts should be cut 30cm short to allow for an adjustable base to facilitate leveling. 3) start installation at any point on the periphery 4) 1.5” diameter steel pipe joists span between each post, connect them using standard pipe clamps, single clamps for single connections and double clamps for double connections. 2.3 Building up surface 1) spiral surface is built up as a continuous surface 1.5” x 16” built up of 1.5” deep strips of varied lengths and stepped widths – 3/4”, 3/8”, 1/4”. Nailed parallel to one another at 12” o/c. 2) The surface is connected to each post with a welded “T” that sleeves into the column. 2.4 Delineation of the periphery At the highest point of the spiral the structure shifts orientation to address the inside instead of the outside.


2.5 model for a public space [speaker] The completed continuous surface creates unifies the space and covers the complex structure beneath


Model for a public space [manual] is an open source document that provides instructions so that anyone, anywhere, can build a full-scale version of the structure. The system illustrated is flexible, allowing for modification in relation to specific cultural and spatial situations, through alternate material choices. The manual was designed and drawn by Adrian Blackwell and Martin Kedzior with assistance from Jane Hutton in August and September, 2005 for the exhibition Minor Urbanisms at The New Gallery in Calgary, Alberta.


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13 Dark Forces at Mount Allison University rebecca burke

In 1947 Mount Allison University commissioned a young faculty member in the Department of Fine Arts to paint a mural depicting the history of the university. His name was Alex Colville. Colville’s painting, The History of Mount Allison, was installed in Tweedie Hall, a common room in a men’s residence. Tweedie was to become the location for a series of panel discussions and public debates on topics such as atomic power, attracting industrial capital to the Maritimes, and trends in the fine arts in Canada. These debates were broadcast on a number of regional radio stations and in one instance received national press publicity. They continued throughout the 1950s. Colville’s painting was, therefore, the invariable backdrop for this public forum.1 Colville’s mural was one of several that had been created for buildings on campus in the 1940s. The commitment to support and show this kind of home-produced public art continued into the 1970s and beyond. Permanently placed murals and sculptural works by artists such as Anne Kahane, William McElcheran, and Francis Gage joined works by professors Theodore J. Pulford and Lawren P. Harris and student Molly Trapnell Simmins. Through these contributions, Mount Allison University would become a standing archive of public art in Canada and, as such, represents a unique site for examining the sometimes conflicted meanings associated with this particular kind of constructed reality. The tensions embodied by public art often run deep. Alex Colville, for example, felt compelled to explain the meaning of The History of Mount Allison in order to make it more accessible to the public. In the 1951 edition of the Mount Allison Record, the university’s publication

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for alumni, Colville addressed some of his concerns with the mural, its placement, and what the average viewer would make of it: It has been said that a good painting should require no verbal explanation. If this is true, the mural decoration which I have just completed in Trueman House is at least a partial failure, since it has become more and more apparent to me that when the average spectator looks at it his mind is immediately filled with questions, ‘What is that building?’ ‘Who is that person?’ and so on. Much of the spectator’s bewilderment is due, I believe, to our lack of familiarity with the history of Mount Allison. In other words while it was comparatively easy for a Renaissance painter to paint a crucifixion so that no verbal explanation was necessary (because everybody knew the story) it is not easy to make a painting self-explanatory when the theme is one that is known to only a few people. For this reason, then, it seems necessary to write an explanation of my mural decoration.2

However, at the heart of Colville’s desire to explain his ‘mural decoration’ is a question of singular complexity, one that has been taken up by critics such as Hilde Hein and Lucy Lippard. Is art capable of speaking for itself? Indeed, should it even try to do so? In this early trace of critical reflection, Colville is wrestling with the notion that any visual form that seeks to express the deepest values of a coherent social group may indeed be ‘a relic of romantic history.’3 Colville’s mural is public art in the traditional sense: it occupies public space and memorializes a public yet specific history.4 While the concept of public art has undergone radical change since Colville painted The History of Mount Allison, the conundrum that perplexed Colville in 1951 is still central to debates about the purpose and function of public art today. Indeed, both Hein and Lippard argue the need for public art in spite of the risk of multiple, contradictory, or ‘erroneous’ interpretations. To this end, Lippard advances a concept of public art that is ‘activist,’ or a socially involved art that attempts to stimulate active audience participation or mobilize for social change. For her, activist public art is crucially embedded in the movement for cultural democracy.5 Lippard, as well as many other Marxist-inspired art theorists, argues that ‘there is no reason why visual art should not be able to reflect the social concerns of our day as naturally as novels, plays, and music.’6 She believes that cultural democracy, or the right to be exposed to a diversity of expression, is a prerequisite for an empowerment that can challenge dominant social, political, and cultural values.7

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In Hein’s view, contemporary public art not only occupies public space, but may also draw the public into intelligent discourse and debate.8 For Hein, the potential of art to engender new perspectives and ways of thinking is the element that makes a work of art public.9 Similarly, Bruce Barber’s contribution to this book, ‘Cultural Interventions in the Public Sphere,’ outlines a theory of ‘cultural interventions’ and ‘communicative actions,’ or forms of public art, that allow a range of critical and resistant strategies and that encourage multiple positions and responses by those engaged in social protest, as well as by those at whom the art is aimed. Since it is these contemporary interpretations of public art that form the core meaning within my own analysis, they deserve to be more fully explored. In their writings, both Hein and Lippard consider the basic conflict between modernist aesthetic theory, especially as defined by art critic Clement Greenberg, and the concept of public or activist art. When Hein examines the question ‘What renders a work of art “public”?’ she posits that the term ‘public art’ is an oxymoron.10 Modernist aesthetics considers art to be an exclusively subjective experience, ‘the product of an individual and autonomous act of expression,’ while its appreciation is considered a private act of contemplation.11 Therefore, public or activist art stands outside the pale because it must, by its nature, entail the artist’s self-negation and deference to a collective community.12 Hein goes on to make the case that there is really no such thing as ‘private art.’ ‘Even those abortive essays,’ she writes, ‘consigned to flames in frustration by their authors were, presumably, made for, but withheld from, publication.’13 However, says Hein, ‘neither does art become “public” simply by virtue of its exposure and accessibility in the art world’ or through a narrowly pragmatic definition as ‘art installed by public agencies in public places and at public expense.’14 It is her position that the public nature of public art ‘has social and political connotations that are untranslatable to public access’ and that the very term ‘public art’ cannot be separated from ‘a family of conditions including the object’s origin, history, and social purposes.’15 What, then, is public or activist art? This essay examines that question by advancing the theoretical / historical concepts of public and activist art developed by Hein and Lippard with respect to two installations publicly sited at Mount Allison University: Dark Forces by A.G. Smith and Ten Carts of GMOs by Iain Baxter. Both pieces were temporary installations mounted in 2002

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in the public space of the university library. As the instructor for the required seminar course in contemporary art issues for senior students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Mount Allison University, my intention was to marry art practice and theory (within the context of required readings by Hein, Lippard, and others) for both the students and myself. This would be done by engaging first-hand with Smith and Baxter in creating works in the public domain of the university campus. Therefore, the work of Smith and Baxter will be considered through the eyes of the senior fine arts students who were compelled to reconsider both the function and aesthetic of public art, and through the theoretical framework they were exposed to in the context of the course. Activist, artist, and illustrator A.G. Smith arrived at Mount Allison from Windsor, Ontario, on 14 October 2002 driving a small pickup truck packed with artwork and materials. He had been invited by the Department of Fine Arts to take part in the Visiting Artists’ Program, specifically because his work actively addresses social and political issues in the public realm. The contents disgorged from Smith’s truck included a larger-thanlife-size cut-out soldier, a quarter-sized wooden scale-model of a tank, a Styrofoam submarine, assorted streamers, and other decorative elements symbolic of war, protest, and struggle. The pseudo-military paraphernalia he unloaded for installation in the campus library was indicative of Smith’s devotion to merging his art practice with progressive politics. After making a number of futile artistic and political gestures as a young artist, Smith realized that working alone had severe limitations.16 As a consequence, he chose to seek out other artists with interests that paralleled his own. He subsequently went on to co-found the Windsor Artists for Social Justice. Smith’s long career of activism and art making dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when, as a graduate student in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Iowa, he became involved in the civil rights movement and protests over the Vietnam War. Smith’s recent work continues in this tradition of protest against war, and is also critical of corporate globalization carried out in the name of free trade by concerns such as the Organization of American States /Free Trade Area of the Americas, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund. Since 1981 he has also worked as an illustrator of ‘cut and assemble’ books for model makers, educational colouring books, and books, on Canadian history and technology for children.

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Smith uses elements from his entire range of interests – illustration, educational material for children, fine art, and protest – in his current art practice. His ‘agit-props,’ cut-out soldier, tanks, jet fighters, and submarines that are periodically marshalled as an ‘army’ during protest marches, are simply constructed from common building materials such as plywood, Styrofoam, and white glue. The sculptures are usually painted black. As silhouettes, decorated with red streamers and other symbols, they provide maximum visual impact in demonstrations. In the public space of the Mount Allison Library building, Smith’s tank, submarine, and black eight-foot silhouette of a soldier seemed oddly misplaced, an invasion of the quiet, serious atmosphere of academia, higher learning, and study. Initially, Smith’s installation Dark Forces was used in June of 2000 in a group exhibition at Artcite in Windsor to protest what Smith regards as the continuing militarization of Latin America by the United States. Re-erected in Mount Allison’s library in October 2002, Dark Forces arrived just as another controversy was heating up, this one over the possibility of a U.S. invasion of Iraq. However, the installation of Dark Forces at Mount Allison was meant to call attention to a different concern: Canada’s 1998 acquisition of four submarines from the British Navy. Here Smith denounced this purchase as one in a series of agreements whereby Canada allowed foreign military forces to use its remote territories in return for being a member in NATO and the G-8. As Smith wrote, ‘The physical, environmental, and social damage done by [the presence of] foreign military [activity] in Canada’s North during the cold war has yet to be calculated.’17 In the specific instance examined by Smith’s work, the Department of National Defence reportedly purchased the submarines in an elaborate barter deal that gives the British armed forces the use of Canadian training ranges in Goose Bay, Labrador, and Northern Alberta for eight years. In the artist’s statement accompanying Dark Forces, entitled ‘Canada’s Vieques,’ Smith drew a parallel between the potentially destructive effect of low-level flying and target practice on Aboriginal people in remote territories in Canada and the actual consequence suffered by people of the Puerto Rican island Vieques, whose homeland has been bombarded for many years under an agreement to permit American forces to use it for target practice. Smith’s work is best understood within the context of agit-prop, a Russian term that describes art applied to political and agitational ends.18 The use of visual representation in an educational or didactic manner for political reasons was considered a virtue by the Russian

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13.1 A.G. Smith, Dark Forces (October 2002). Mixed-media installation. Located in the Ralph Pickard Bell Library, Mount Allison University. Photographed by Meghan Barton.

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avant-garde that flourished shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.19 Russian artists were led to plan and direct state-funded mass spectacles in public spaces with ephemeral decorations designed for the streets and buildings. They also decorated trains, boats, and even carts with images, slogans, and information that circulated in the countryside to communicate ideas to ‘the illiterate masses.’20 On numerous occasions, Smith has expressed misgivings about the use of the term agit-prop, as it is too easily associated with the negative connotations of propaganda.21 However, the term is appropriate, as his works are generally defined and animated within a public, political, and communal purpose, notably in the mass performance and spectacle of the protest march. If there is a difference between Smith and the avant-garde artists of the Russian revolution, it is that Soviet artists worked with official sanction from the newly established political apparatus, while Smith produces his work in opposition to the policies of the United States and of his own government. In Smith’s view, the sculptures he produces and exhibits and their use in numerous public protests are meant, in part, to expose ‘the darker side of authoritarian forces that strangle society while professing to protect “our values,” “our children,” and “our way of life.”’22 During protest marches, Smith’s army of soldiers, tanks, fighter planes, and helicopters serve to mobilize and unite the group (the troops) for conflict. They may also serve as a rallying point, should the group become separated and dispersed, much like a flag sent into battle during a charge or hoisted over conquered territory. Placed in the hands of ‘the public’ like the giant puppets of a street parade or carnival, the sculptures serve to arm the protestors, if only symbolically, for confrontations in which demonstrators sometimes face police armed with shields, tear gas, batons, large dogs, and possibly even firearms. As a parody of the state’s military might, the sculptures contest state symbols of authority, power, and control by arming the ordinary citizen with the power of opposition and dissent. The protestors appropriate for themselves the symbols of power of their opponents in an effort to protest war and injustice, and avert potential police mayhem. The placement of Dark Forces in the university library also acted as a parody of heroic sculptures of soldiers or commemorative cannons often found in town squares. Indeed, one such example, an armoured vehicle, is to be found in Sackville’s Memorial Park. It was presented in 1994 to the residents of Sackville by the Eighth Canadian Hussars

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(Princess Louise’s) in recognition of the community’s continuous support for the regiment. Controversy surrounded its very visible placement in the park. Some residents protested that it was aesthetically distasteful and not representative of Sackville’s community values. Furthermore, it glorified a machine of war as opposed to honouring the war dead from Sackville, the intended purpose of the park and its memorial cenotaph. In contrast, Dark Forces used parody to make an anti-war statement, commemorating citizen protest and communal acts of overt political opposition and dissent. Smith’s artistic and political interests have indeed led him to explore the contradictions and political tensions of twentieth-century society. Since the first Gulf War of 1991 he has renewed his interest in issues of militarization and globalization, themes that had lain dormant for him since the early 1970s. He now envisions a continuation of his work to expose and challenge the contradictions of Western foreign policy through the creation of a larger contingent of concerns in works such as Dark Forces. Considered as sculpture by the artist, Dark Forces runs afoul of the ‘rules’ of modernist art and aesthetic theory. So why are these works considered ‘sculpture’ and not just props? Why is this art rather than activism that uses visual devices? Smith acknowledges that ‘although these works have some presence in a gallery context, they only come really alive in the street.’ Further insight is offered by Evelyn Hatcher, who argues that ‘art is not a phenomenon but a concept. Being a concept it has no objective referent, and so one cannot say what it is or is not, but only what the user means by the term.’23 Furthermore, according to the institutional theory of art and the art world outlined by Arthur C. Danto in his 1964 essay ‘The Artworld,’ and further elaborated on by George Dickie in his 1969 essay ‘Definining Art,’ the criteria for defining and recognizing an object or activity as art emerge within the institutions of the art world (galleries, art history, museums, art criticism, and so on). In other words, according to Dickie, ‘arthood’ is not an essential or intrinsic property of an object; an artwork is an artwork because it has been recognized as such by institutions of the art world.24 Moreover, according to postmodernist theory, art can be considered a paradigm for social change that uses elements of post-structuralism such as discourse analysis, deconstruction, parody, and irony (the latter two clearly used by Smith) to critique current cultural values and dominant ideologies or to change an existing social or economic structure. Both Charles Jencks’s and Linda Hutcheon’s concepts of the postmodern include irony, the use of double coded symbols to establish

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critical distance,25 and parody, a ‘repetition with critical distance which allows ironic signaling of difference at the very heart of similarity.’26 In Smith’s case, the use of irony and parody reveal a significant political agenda ‘which allows an artist to speak to a discourse from within it without being totally recuperated by it.’27 That said, the positioning of Dark Forces as a work of art may still be questionable for some. As an object of contemplation its simple construction and lumber-yard materials belie what Carol Duncan calls ‘that mode of receptivity thought to be most appropriate before works of art’ that we commonly call aesthetic experience, or a ‘moment of moral and rational disengagement that leads to or produces some kind of revelation or transformation.’28 Smith, however, asks us for precisely the opposite reaction, to become morally and rationally engaged, even outraged, by a host of interrelated issues: Canada’s submarine deal, globalization, free trade, and U.S. invasions in Latin America and the Middle East. He calls his audience to attention, asks us to exercise our democratic rights to act, to voice dissent, and to make informed decisions about global issues that affect us all. Like A.G. Smith, Iain Baxter was invited specifically to work as an activist / public artist with Mount Allison’s senior art students. He arrived in November 2002 with only an idea in hand for an artwork about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. It was to be completed and installed in the library within three days. Baxter, his wife Louise, and I mobilized for ‘shopping’ at Sackville’s local co-op store, which made a generous loan of ten shopping carts for the installation. Fanning out across the aisles, we searched for canned goods, the cheapest available. Baxter suggested that our best bet was canned juice and tomato products. He was specific. He wanted four different can sizes: large juice cans, slightly smaller tins such as those for canned tomatoes, and even smaller containers such as soup cans and cans for tomato paste. When all was said and done, 300 cans of apple juice, 240 cans of stewed tomatoes, 480 cans of tomato soup, and 55 cans of tomato paste were delivered to the Mount Allison Library. Baxter enlisted students to help with the tedious job of peeling the labels off the 1075 cans. They took on the task with diligence and good humour, engaging in a few minor infractions of library policy (a little too much noise and illicit food consumption were stifled as best as possible). Perplexed library users paused to contemplate the curious activity. A few joined in to help. The piece took shape, shopping carts were

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13.2 Iain Baxter, Ten Carts of GMOs (November 2002). Mixed-Media installation: shopping carts and tinned food. Located in the Ralph Pickard Bell Library, Mount Allison University. Photographed by Robert Rosebrugh.

positioned and cans were dumped in with the largest on the bottom. Baxter insisted that the positioning of the small tomato cans, on top of the assembly, should be left to him alone. He fussed with cans, rearranging each cart to achieve a more satisfying aesthetic. This became Ten Carts of GMOs. Baxter has demonstrated a long-standing interest in ecology and an ongoing curiosity about the way organisms relate to their environment.29 Previous well-known works such as ‘Trophies’ or ‘Animal Preserve,’ ‘Killer Still Life,’ ‘Techno Compost,’ or the exhibition ‘Food for Thought,’ shown at the Banff Centre in 1987, all offered evidence of an issue-orientated approach to art making. According to Baxter, Ten Carts of GMOs was intended to provide ‘food for thought,’ to probe awareness and thinking about genetically modified food and global ecological concerns.30 The carts were laid out in a wedge-shaped structure to underline the importance of focusing on issues associated with genetically altered foods. The layout was intended to position the viewer/ shopper behind the carts as if he or she were in a

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supermarket. The food labels were removed in a symbolic gesture that pointed to our lack of understanding about the nature and contents of the food we eat. When the installation was dismantled, the canned goods were donated to the Sackville Food Bank, the local day-care centre, and students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program. Baxter’s artist’s statement, positioned near the installation, urged viewers to ‘look at Ten Carts of GMOs, think about it, and let’s all just DO something about it.’31 Was Baxter’s plea for action realized? Did he create an interactive relationship with the viewer? Was his visual language understood? Audience reaction is always difficult to gauge, but the reaction of one student was revealing: ‘When I think of art,’ she was heard to remark, ‘I think of a scene or something.’ This relatively benign assessment highlights a significant problem for much contemporary art, one that intensifies for public or activist art. The object in question does not accord with the viewer’s concept of art. Instead of provoking thought or action on the issue the artwork addresses, it elicits debate on the age-old question ‘Is it art?’ The work runs the risk of being dismissed on the basis of its form without regard for its content. Furthermore, as Hein has observed, social and aesthetic interactions are inherently unstable. The potential for multiple interpretations also accounts for the difficulty the public sometimes has with ‘reading’ public works.32 There is evidence that people did engage with Ten Carts of GMOs. Viewers routinely walked away with copies of the artist’s statement, provided on two music stands near the work. The cans that Baxter had so carefully arranged were moved around in the carts, clear evidence that viewers had engaged with the work physically and perhaps tried to figure out its meaning. One library staff member protested that he did not care for the idea that genetically modified food was to be given to children and to people who depended on the food bank. Baxter shared this misgiving. But of course there was no certainty that the contents of the cans were genetically modified, thus underscoring the central message of the work: that we have little or no information about the contents of the food we eat, or how it is produced and distributed. Ten Carts of GMOs fits in the ‘Baxter tradition’ of employing consumer products as a medium for making statements about environmental and ecological issues. In his process, he makes little distinction between traditional art materials and utilitarian objects. As Lucy Lippard noted in her 1969 essay, Baxter is concerned with ‘rapid comment

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on a situation or idea ... His approach is usually fragmentary. He is a cheerful eclectic’ and ‘his equally active mind and eye are unencumbered by consistency or specialization.’33 Lippard’s commentary remains remarkably true today and accords with what Suzanne Lacy defines as ‘new genre public art – visual art that uses both traditional and non-traditional media to communicate and interact with a broad and diversified audience about issues directly relevant to their lives.’34 Baxter seeks to set up a reverberation or resonance of ideas for the viewer, rather than a didactic engagement with information. Both minimal and conceptual in approach, much of Baxter’s work denies commodification. In the end, Ten Carts of GMOs consumed nothing, but was consumed by its audience, literally as food and figuratively as ‘food for thought.’ The most revealing responses to the works of both Iain Baxter and A.G. Smith came from students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program. As in many universities, fine arts students at Mount Allison embark on a series of courses intended to develop their creative ability in drawing, painting, photography, printmaking, and sculpture and to acquire a knowledge and understanding of art history and contemporary visual culture. They are also encouraged to attend presentations by visiting artists and critics. This standard studio art instruction is predicated, in general, on the modernist paradigm of the aesthetic object created as ‘an individual and autonomous act of expression’ and appreciated through ‘a private act of contemplation.’35 Students are seldom asked to question the nature of the art object or explore the interface between the artwork and the viewer. Exposure to both Baxter and Smith, artists engaging work in situ, provided an opportunity for students to do just this. Senior students were given the option of making an activist artwork for their final research project. Three of the works, all completed in 2002, demonstrated a direct connection to the concepts and strategies employed by Baxter and Smith: Eating Disorders by Berit Strasser; Privatization of the University Campus by Chad Burt; and Wheelchair Accessibility, a collaborative project of Meghan Barton and Natalie Woyzbun. Eating Disorders consisted of simple texts – factual information, personal narratives, and poetic reflections – mounted on the walls of toilet cubicles in the library washrooms. A bold question mark drawn on red construction paper was fixed to the exterior washroom doors to alert viewers to the work. The work was rooted in the student’s personal

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struggle with an eating disorder. Strasser’s intention was to provide information about eating disorders, as well as offer a sense of the emotional fragility, struggle, and confusion faced by those afflicted. She also wanted to provide help for the victims and for their friends or acquaintances, those who might be aware of a problem but be unsure of what action to take. To that end, a list of ‘places to go’ for counselling or for more information was installed in the cubicle. Strasser also attached her own email address for those who wanted anonymous support or to ‘just talk about it.’36 She also proposed that the project could be expanded to include an email chat room, possibly with a link to professional assistance equipped to offer advice and counselling. Chad Burt’s work directly acknowledges the influence of A.G. Smith. Burt created three Styrofoam cut-outs of larger-than-life-size figures in dark suits and ties with the heads of snarling dogs and placed them by the Coca-Cola machines in three buildings on campus. Although acknowledging that Mount Allison ‘seems to have a relatively low level of privatization,’37 Burt was concerned about the influence an international corporation such as Coca-Cola had exerted at other universities. He cited the example of the University of British Columbia, where students had demanded to know what was in the agreement between Coke and the university. The company turned them down, insisting that the prices paid for vending rights and the names of institutions it did business with were to be kept secret ‘for competitive purposes.’38 None of this background information was provided with Burt’s work. Rather, his suggestion was for ‘people to figure it out for themselves.’39 At any rate, the symbolic import and conflation of white male and corporate power with greed, avarice, and snarling predatory beasts (a common theme in Burt’s oil paintings) would be difficult to miss. Students found the cut-outs attractive enough to steal. Two of the three disappeared. The extent of audience engagement with Privatization of the University Campus and the issue it raises remains unclear. After borrowing a wheelchair from the local hospital, Barton and Woyzbun performed an experiment to test wheelchair accessibility on campus. Pushing a friend around, they confronted stairs without ramps and doors without power door assists. They discovered that few buildings on campus were accessible by wheelchair, and also that the campus itself is not accessible from the northwest side. The wheelchair was then positioned at the bottom of the steps of the Student Union Building as if intending to ascend. Later it was found folded up,

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facing away from the steps. Posters consisting of a black and white image of a wheelchair, with the text ‘MISSING,’ were placed on all university buildings without wheelchair access. In the written analysis of their own work, Barton and Woyzbun asked: What needs to be changed? What needs to be changed is puzzling. In one sense, the University has the responsibility towards the students for a reasonable budget and reasonable tuition ... We understand that it is very costly to add wheelchair accessibility to the campus, however it still needs to be analyzed and brought to the forefront. This is not only a money issue, but also a matter of social awareness and perspective ... We felt that the major issue here was creating awareness ... Not only was the chair out of place, but the actual presence of the chair did not make sense either; this is the problem ... Who controls the policy ... that needs to be changed? From a rather Marxist standpoint the real power lies in the political realm of the University.40

Three of the four students, Burt, Barton, and Woyzbun, were directly influenced by Smith and Baxter, either mimicking their stylistic approach or adopting their aesthetic strategies. Barton and Woyzbun were indebted to Baxter’s conceptual approach, using a utilitarian object, the wheelchair, coupled with an enigmatic poster, to engage the viewer in the issue without calling for or expecting a specific reaction. Burt preferred not to call for a specific response. Strasser, whose works were made of typed or handwritten text and construction paper and were, therefore, the least substantive materially and aesthetically, made the greatest attempt to solicit reaction through her email chat room. However, response was minimal. Were the interventions of Baxter, Smith, Burt, Strasser, Barton, and Wozbun forms of ‘communicative action’ as outlined by Barber? Did they engender new perspectives and ways of thinking as outlined by Hein? Or was the university community challenged in how it might look at public or activist art or to consider that art can actively pursue social or political goals and lead to change as outlined by Lippard? As Jan Allen states in Better Worlds, ‘Without making outlandish claims for the efficacy of activist art, it is stating the obvious to say that inventive visual synthesis of ideals is a consistent tool of power in human culture.’41 And without making outlandish claims for either the transformation of the students into activist artists or a profound change in the

Dark Forces at Mount Allison University 243

13.3 Meghan Barton and Natalie Woyzbun, Missing (December 2002). Photocopied poster. Located in the University Centre, Mount Allison University. Courtesy of Meghan Barton and Natalie Woyzbun.

university community’s perception of art, the visit and work of Smith and Baxter, and student attempts at activist art projects, did provide multiple examples of publicly accessible artworks whose goal was to expose social and political problems and question value systems. Public art can have many purposes: to decorate or embellish public space; to memorialize and commemorate history and events; to symbolize ideals; to provide ‘food for thought’ about social, political, and economic issues; or to incite individuals to action. Given the inherent instability between social and aesthetic interactions and the potential for multiple interpretations,42 artists who choose to work in the public realm are faced with a conundrum: how to effectively interact with an audience? The intent of the work, its social purpose, and its strategies of public engagement all demand thoughtful critical responses.

244 Rebecca Burke NOTES 1 J. Reid, Mount Allison University: A History, to 1963 (Toronto: Mount Allison University and University of Toronto Press, 1984), 294. 2 A. Colville, ‘Mural,’ Mount Allison Record 33: 1 (Spring 1951): 12. 3 H. Hein, ‘Symposium: Public Art: What Is Public Art? Time, Place, and Meaning,’ Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54: 1 (Winter 1996): 2. 4 Ibid., 4. 5 L. Lippard, ‘Trojan Horses: Activist Art and Power,’ in B. Wallis, ed., Art after Modernism: Rethinking Representation (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984), 349. 6 Ibid., 344. 7 Ibid., 342. 8 Hein, ‘Symposium,’ 4. 9 Ibid., 5. 10 Ibid., 1. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid., 1–2. 15 Ibid., 1. 16 A.G. Smith, Presentation to fine arts students, 15 October 2002. 17 A.G. Smith, ‘Canada’s Vieques,’ artist’s statement. 18 J. Milner, ‘Agitprop,’ in The Dictionary of Art, vol. 1 (New York: Grove’s Dictionaries, 1996), 452–3. 19 S. Bojko, ‘Agit-Prop Art: The Streets Were Their Theatre,’ in S. Barron and M. Tuchman, eds., The Avant-Garde in Russia: 1910–1930 (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1980), 72. 20 Ibid. 21 A.G. Smith, conversation with author, October 2002. 22 Smith, artist’s statement, 10 October 2003. 23 E. Hatcher, Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985), 8. 24 R. Yanal, ‘The Institutional Theory of Art,’ in M. Kelly, ed., The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 284–5. 25 C. Jencks, What Is Postmodernism? (London: Academy Editions / St Martin’s Press, 1986), 7. 26 L. Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (New York: Routledge, 1988), 4. 27 Ibid., 35

Dark Forces at Mount Allison University 245 28 C. Duncan, Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums (New York: Routledge, 1993), 14. 29 L. Lippard, ‘Iain Baxter: New Spaces,’ Artscanada 26:132–3 (June 1969): 3. 30 I. Baxter, ‘Carts of GMOs,’ artist’s statement, 7 November 2002. 31 Ibid. 32 Hein, ‘Symposium,’ 3. 33 Lippard, ‘Iain Baxter,’ 4. 34 S. Lacy, ‘Cultural Pilgrimages and Metaphoric Journeys,’ in S. Lacy, ed., Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (Seattle: Bay Press, 1995), 19. 35 Hein, ‘Symposium,’ 1. 36 B. Strasser, artist’s statement, December 2002. 37 C. Burt, ‘Activist Art Project: Privatization on the University Campus,’ 10 December 2002: 1. 38 C. Burt, in N. Klein, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2000), 96–7. 39 Burt, ‘Activist Art Project,’ 2. 40 M. Barton and N. Woyzbun, ‘Activist Art Project: Wheelchair Accessibility,’ 10 December 2002: 1–3. 41 J. Allen, ‘Better Worlds,’ in Better Worlds: Activist and Utopian Projects by Artists (Kingston, ON: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 2002), 10. 42 Ibid., 3.

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CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES ON PUBLIC ART In a very practical sense, the overarching theme of this book, its key question, has been ‘Where do we go from here?’ Clearly, public art in Canada has both embraced this question and played a significant part in framing a conceptual map, a guide to help us through the rich minefield of wondrous possibilities that arises from making such openended queries. Yet there is another side to the practice of public art in Canada, one that seeks to gently expose and explore the parts of us that are most human, to engage and celebrate them and record their trace in social space. Such art acknowledges that public intimacy is rare and ephemeral, and that the fellowship of strangers must be coaxed from behind the normalized experience of the rough-andtumble of our often over-regulated, over-mediated lives. The concluding section of Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives seeks to apprehend some of these rare ephemera. There is a certain indulgence of wonder here, caught up in moments of epiphany when readers, writers, and artists connect in a mutual understanding of exchanged intelligence, an intelligence that is manifested both in the sense of a shared comprehension of complexity and in the admission to elements of secret knowledge. Such art speaks to a vast generosity of spirit simply because it is conducted in public, amid the turmoil of the daily hustle, as a passing appeal. Unlike activist public art, it does not seek to slice through boundaries, but rather proffers an invitation to join in a secular communion, the act of recognizing and maintaining those attributes that seek to distinguish our common condition. In this respect, it is no coincidence that communion and communication arise from the same root, as does community. The act of communication that lies at the heart of this art is often founded in conditions of great courage. The appeal to public communion

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cannot pick and choose its subjects. Apparently random acts of art performed on city streets, or in public spaces where thousands of passers-by go about their business, run the risk of attracting both the positive and negative elements of our collective selves. How reassuring is it that positive goodwill almost always prevails? This appeal to communion also extends to the realm of concepts, public art projects yet to be realized, where consumers are recorded and repositioned out of time and into the space of their own commercial desires, or a great robotic arm invites us to consider an empirically plotted constellation and, in spite (or because) of ourselves, to ascend and dance among the stars. There is necessary room in this communion for those who, as artists in their own right, act as stewards for the work of others. The act of recording graffiti through photography, collecting the traces of others and placing them into an accessible context, preserves for future consideration this most disparaged of public expressions. And what are we to make of new technologies of communication, the digital world of computer networks where human expression can be mixed and matched, lost and rediscovered in the ephemeral universe of cyberspace? How does a world of potentially infinite communicative possibility remake our most dearly held assumptions about the very nature of the public? These notions, these questions, these practices bring us full circle. They reset the boundaries of our collective reach and invite us, once again, to draw together as a community, in communion, to somehow craft a map to guide us into the unknown, to again seek consensus on that most unanswerable of questions: ‘Where do we go from here?’

14 Emerging Urban Aesthetics in Public Art: The Thresholds of Proximity julie boivin

Space is a doubt, the city is a mysterious object … You must either give up talking of the town, about the town or else force yourself to talk about it as simply as possible, obviously, familiarly. Georges Perec1

This essay explores a number of public art practices that intervene directly in the experience of urbanity. It also seeks to examine the convergence of certain reflections that are elaborated in theoretical fields which investigate art and urban structures from different perspectives. It looks beyond the material dimension of the city and into a form of sociability, a manner in which users of the city are brought together and sustained by a system of values and associated representations.2 This exploration of urbanity is framed by the notion of mobility, a competence fully developed by city dwellers, and a spatial behaviour aimed at the satisfaction of common desires and the optimization of the organization of daily life. Following a discussion of urbanity and the potential of art to reveal its processes and properties, this chapter will discuss three interventions by Montreal-based artists that articulate this particular potential: Cohabitations hors champs by Marie-Suzanne Désilets and Jean-François Prost; Body-house: Les paroles autonomes by Rachel Echenberg; and She loves me not / She loves me by Devora Neumark. The character of the mobile artistic gesture sits at the core of this exploration because it distinguishes the hybrid practices by the aforementioned artists from more traditional and more anchored public art practices (such as, for example, the monument). These artistic gestures

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are enacted in public places, where they put into play alternative modes of perception and understandings of space that are shaped individually or collectively by the artists and, eventually, by city dwellers. Without seeking to transform, prescribe, or infuse meaning into the locations where the acts unfold, the artists nevertheless go beyond performance by discreetly involving themselves in a place for relatively short periods of time. Their practices are variously described as ‘infiltrating,’3 ‘relational,’4 ‘shifts from art forms to life forms,’5 and ‘passages between art and life.’6 These artists value immediate social and informal contacts with passers-by at the ‘thresholds of proximity,’7 which can be thought of in terms of an experiential intimacy. This theoretical / aesthetic reflection on the experience of the contemporary city, a reflection that rejects passive or static attitudes towards the production and uses of public space, also reflects a growing body of work across many disciplines. This work is directed towards the production of what is increasingly referred to as espaces identitaires (spaces of identity). It reveals the complexity of the processes that construct representations of the city that correspond to a collective image, an identity in which the collectivity can recognize itself. More than ever, cultural values (along with social, environmental, and economic values) are regarded as the driving force behind notions of sustainable development in urban space. Increasingly, planners are seen to valorize a whole range of concepts of urbanity that, for instance, incorporate a model of collective proximity or the ideal of the metropolis. But in their application, these approaches reveal the difficulty of centring development on culture because it is an extremely delicate matter to structure spaces to correspond to a predetermined or overdetermined identity. This is especially so when we understand that identity, like urban space, is never definitely fixed because it evolves in a predominantly organic manner. Furthermore, in the contemporary moment when plural histories are valued over great narratives, urbanity feasts on the heterogeneity of culture, of experience, of invention. From day to day, users of the city find provisional and partial solutions that enable them to discover and assign social and cultural significance to the places where they live and circulate. As we will see, contemporary artists are agents that are increasingly active in helping to find some of these partial solutions. Public art’s potential to insert itself into urbanity in order to reach a larger public, while also integrating the physical and social specificity of a place, is not a new area of interest. What is new is the manner in

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which public art’s aspirations are actualized through positionings that can be measured according to new scales of social and geographic proximity in public space. The artist’s gesture is now invested with more autonomy, flexibility, mobility, and latitude, which allows it to take place in the everyday, and pretty much everywhere. It also allows the artist to reach and meet the users of a given place, and indeed propose new spaces for socialization. This challenges what was thought of as the semantic availability and stability of monuments or fixed commissioned works, the traditional fare for public spaces. It also circumvents more subtle urban interventions, those that are presented as ‘urban koans,’8 discreet riddles that expose the complexity and inadequacy of existing conceptions of urban spaces. Artists have now paved the way to another avenue for public art: the relational and semantic availability of the artist’s gesture that models or, more precisely, enhances the visibility of everyday occurrences and social relations in real time and in a concrete place. The artist’s gesture, which becomes an act of enunciation, opens new spaces for interpretation. It can be seen as a kind of movement towards others, a movement that puts into play verbal or gestural narratives and by doing so seeks to broaden understandings of urbanity and identity. In a built and social environment – a framework of common references – the artist provides an alternative that questions accepted modes of perception and public interaction and the way users relate to the time and place of urban experience. Artistic practices of this sort are often framed in terms of Michel de Certeau’s invention du quotidien (invention of the everyday). This is the tactical daily creation of a thousand ways to poach systems of production and consumption in a practice that is ‘cunning, dispersed, that insinuates itself everywhere, silent and almost invisible … that puts into play an appropriation or a reappropriation … institutes a relative present to a moment and a place … an agreement with the other in a network of locations and relations.’9 These strategies (‘operational performances,’ ‘manoeuvring mobilities,’ ‘polymorph simulations’)10 are described by de Certeau in order to illustrate how the ‘everyman’ unfurls his creativity in a daily whirl of minute activities and diversions, always reinventing the systems in place. But in this context, de Certeau’s ideas can also be used to problematize the limits that usually shape the contours of vernacular or mundane urban practices and separate them from specialized urban practices claiming to belong to the field of art. These notions about the practice of daily life also allow

252 Julie Boivin

us to question and explore how the artist positions her/ himself in his or her desire to invest the everyday as a context to infiltrate and expand through countless and heterogeneous gestures, a context in which everyone’s invention of the everyday is performed and redirected by diverting events and places with astonishing creativity. With this in mind, it becomes crucial to observe how the everyman and contemporary artists meet on the grounds of the city and interact to subvert and make sense of urban experience. However, a few more theoretical considerations need to be addressed before we go on to examine specific interventions. These are mainly concerned with public involvement in artistic gestures as well as the way in which various publics relate to urbanity. In other words, the nature of urban experience needs to be fleshed out a bit. To borrow one of Georges Perec’s evocative terms, urban spaces organize themselves into ‘species of spaces.’11 Our lifestyles are indeed shaped by increased mobility and modes of utilization of space that are diversified and enacted at different scales over diverse territories. Each of us lives across a plurality of situations and develops life strategies and approaches to socialization that permit us to interact with many groups. We can therefore consider urbanity as an ‘archipelago of enclaves’12 in which, through mobility, each person draws from myriad practical and aesthetic considerations to construct his or her own urbanity in a form of autobiographic enunciation. But the nature of urban experience is further complicated when we understand that space, as we use it, is a social production in perpetual mutation, the site of incessant regulations and adjustments of distance and proximity, of presence and absence of others and of concerted social interaction, all interrogating the very process of the production of social life.13 We should also keep in mind that experiences of urbanity in the postmodern era are derived from culturally transmitted traditions, integrated into the body, actualized, and performed in the everyday, relying on the memory of the body and its action as yet another urban constituent.14 The level of knowledge – and because of knowledge, the level of comfort – that we have of the precise locations and species of spaces we regularly cross and inhabit confers upon them a relative stability. This allows them to be reshaped or re-fabricated by us, as by others, according to personal, functional, or aesthetic desires, imperatives, and logic. By diverting the meaning and usage of a given place (as de Certeau suggests), one can in fact proceed to a sort of progressive

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privatization of public space that might be a solution for continuity in spite of our constant circulation between the intimate and the unknown.15 These practices become more relevant as we examine our potential trajectories through what Marc Augé has termed ‘nonplaces,’16 parks, parking lots, empty lots, presumed anonymous and heterogeneous transit spaces, in general, spaces where it is difficult to weave in our identity or interact with others. In such spaces artistic practices hold the potential to open gaps in foreseeable experiences of urbanity to propose transitory moments of co-habitation with the strange and the unfamiliar. The following three projects, all deployed in public space in Montréal at different times and in different ways, offer a means to explore these concepts. Each took place in the mobile practice of the everyday: in situ as much as in socius. Each, in its own way, opened physical and relational spaces accessible at the thresholds of proximity.17 Cohabitations hors champs From 21 October to 3 November 2002, Marie-Suzanne Désilets and Jean-François Prost installed a tent-trailer on the roof of a building right next to and level with the Décarie expressway, one of Montreal’s major traffic arteries. They camped on this site, attending to their daily affairs and feeling the presence, day-after-day, night-after-night, of the nearly one million people transiting each week on this immense multilane expressway. During their stay, the autumn weather provided a cold snap. Vapours turned to mist in the chilly air and snow gradually accumulated on the site. This caused the tent-trailer to emerge each night as a ghostly presence lit up from the inside as well as by the highway lamps and automobile headlights. More than a mere installation framed in an urban landscape and combined with a performance, Cohabitations hors champs18 spoke of an everyday situated existential practice in and around a highly evocative object, oneiric in its aesthetic treatment, but also essential if the artists were to inhabit this extreme urban environment. Prost and Désilets placed their habitat in an alienated landscape (a non-place) that would be easily recognizable in most large North American cities. The site they occupied used to contain buildings and neighbourhoods. These were demolished to make way for the expressway in the modernist sweep of the 1960s and 1970s, a time of feverish urban development in Montreal that witnessed the eradication of

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14.1 Marie-Suzanne Désilets and Jean-François Prost, Cohabitation hors champs (October 2002). Décarie expressway, Montreal.

swaths of established social tissue in favour of gigantic infrastructure projects such as the Décarie. The nomadic character of the tent-trailer effectively recalled the sense of a city in constant mutation: the displacement of its solids and voids, its non-reclaimed places and interstices, provisionally affranchised from programmatic constraints and free to accommodate playful and participative, adaptable and transportable temporary practices that, in this case, contributed to the reconsideration of space and of urban practices.19 But Cohabitations hors champs also carried the notion of landscape within itself. The use of the tent-trailer, an emblem of camping, of travel, of life in the great outdoors, was suggestive of a search for the tranquillity offered by engaging nature, an experience that was antithetical to the nature of the Décarie expressway. The work was a diversion from the roaring, unnatural, traffic-laden space of the expressway, a transition to the commonly recalled experience of a panoramic road leading to the peace and quiet of the natural world. The act of inhabiting this tent-trailer in a hostile landscape – offered on a daily basis and exposed to the view of those driving past in their cars – symbolized a variety of ways to invest urban life. The nomadic character of the trailer-tent referred to sojourn and passage, provisional anchorage and

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displacement. These notions conferred upon the artists the status of migrants, people on the move in a space of unrelenting movement. Instead of a place of sedentarities, the city was envisaged as the crossroads of mobilities. Obviously, the experience of those in the cars was also articulated at the level of mobility. The practice of the artists engaged the everyman while s / he went about his or her mundane quotidian travels. The artists lived out an implausible event constructed between reality and fiction, in a landscape dominated by a public-ness that exposed other destinations, places, and objects of desire, and that nourished the production of one’s micro-histories. The travellers, momentary voyeurs of the artists’ daily life were, in turn, surprised within the intimacy of their vehicles as they were briefly exposed to the gaze of those who ostensibly displayed their private lives in a public space otherwise densely travelled in anonymity. This act of inhabiting assumed a further interesting dimension. Since it was impossible to know the artists’ scenarios as their lives unfolded proximate to the lines of speeding traffic, curiosity nudged imagination and permitted us to envision the organization of their daily lives by drawing on personal experiences from our own store of memory. Lived in holidays, in solitude, or in sociability these experiences reappeared, indissociable from polysensorial perceptions integrated in situ. Ambiences already interiorized were recalled in order to participate in the comings and goings from the in visu to the in situ, performing some basic functions in a process similar to what Alain Roger has called the artialisation du paysage (artification of the landscape).20 This movement between the in visu and the in situ can, interestingly, be coupled with Nicolas Bourriaud’s crossings of the in situ to the in socius. In this context, sensual memories of places and relations mediate between art and life, between artists and passers-by. A multiplicity of places and sensual experiences are flaunted, and a nonplace, temporarily, becomes a place. Body-house: Les paroles autonomes For audiences, the greatest gift is rapt attention. Pauline Oliveros21

On 28 September 2002, Rachel Echenberg spent most of the day seated on a large windowsill at Montréal’s Place des Arts metro station overlooking the garden of the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art.

256 Julie Boivin

Directly in front of the main entrance door, a little way from the escalators leading to the underground departure platform, Echenberg, who was then eight months pregnant, installed speakers connected to amplifiers and microphones that were strapped to her body. In this manner, she diffused what she calls a universal and archaically resonant ‘language of the body.’ In this public place, the artist engaged passersby in the most direct way: through their corporeality.22 In retrospect, the event was strange and destabilizing. Initially, it created a certain fascination, especially since Echenberg’s gesture allowed access to an intimate part of her body that seemed to release sounds of another invisible human life. But this fascination generally turned to indecision among those who engaged the site as they passed by. Was the mechanism at work supposed to represent a conflict over levels of disputed intensity between the visual mode – our privileged mode, of engaging with the world with its frontal targeting of the object in space – and the auditory mode, with its privileged relationship between space and body? Sound embraces the transmitter, the receptor, and their common space. At once, it eludes the regulating process of distance and proximity that is common to visual engagement. This elusive characteristic of sound has the ability to ravish and confront us in a feeling of otherness, a rapport d’altérité. Paradoxically, the recognition of external sounds similar to those we faintly emit with our own bodies can also induce a strong feeling of individualization. Body-house was able to address its anonymous participants at different levels, establishing at first a relationship between one individual and another. The event that started from the senses – and was therefore initially individual – immediately became collective in the way it was translated into attitudes, gestures, words, and in the sensual modes and ways of being. Without giving passers-by any particular direction, Echenberg permitted the physical and relational dimensions of the experience to widen. Those present in the public space became invested in the experience to different degrees (or not at all), but for those who embraced Echenberg’s unfamiliar gesture, its unusual sensory presence, and perhaps that of another invisible human life, unquestioned fascination invariably gave way to an attempt to render the event intelligible through phenomenological and mnemonic mechanisms. Due to the intensity of the experience, the sounds of Echenberg’s body (as well as our own) were, for an instant, apprehended as aesthetic units isolated from their shared environment. Attentive listening, however, revealed the depth of sonic space and sharpened the perception of other ambient sounds. By concentrating on a precise

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14.2 Rachel Echenberg, Body-house: Les paroles autonomes (September 2002). Place des Arts metro station, Montreal. Photographed by Patrick Mailloux.

sound, paradoxically, it became possible to hear the detail of ordinary noises and trivial sounds sustaining, at different degrees, functional and symbolic investments. The sonic agglomeration of a place like a subway station was seen to relate to a familiar yet seldom explored domain, a domain often unconsciously integrated into the body to guide our quotidian trajectories (runabouts) or to identify the locus of actual perceptions defined by interiorized ambiences recalled from the store of sensible memory that transports us to other locations and events. To re-emerge from Echenberg’s event was to regain the ordinary as it found its way back through the senses from which it had been momentarily excluded: the rumble of the train, air displacements, passing conversations, official messages transmitted on the platform, and all manner of disturbances that returned to interfere with the experience of rapture. She loves me not/ She loves me Do I have the capacity to trust that I am worthy of love and can be loved? – comes hand in hand with questions about how I love and am capable of

258 Julie Boivin loving. How do I practice this in my everyday life, and how do I then take it out onto the street? Devora Neumark23

On 13 October 2001, Devora Neumark transported several buckets of white daisies to Place de la Paix, on St-Laurent Blvd. in Montréal and began picking their petals off, one-by-one. 24 Her gesture, discreet, peaceful, and persistent, became ever-more visible as a fine white dust of petals accumulated at her feet. The recalling of the intimate and secret childhood consultation of the daisy assumed an ethical and political dimension when the artist’s gesture introduced it into public space. Sitting on a bench, performing her questionings on the capacity of selfacceptance and the acceptance of passers-by (‘she loves me not / she loves me’ repeated as a mantra), Neumark simply attempted to be present, welcoming, and non-judgmental of herself and others. Neumark’s interventions are often described as sincere, confident, generous, and attentive practices of existence. They are marked by a compassion cultivated by the artist in her private, daily life that she then transposes into the public sphere by reducing its expression to its simplest form. She loves me not / she loves me is a fine example of how the simplicity of small and intimate gestures, normally practised in private, may be given an amplified significance. The artist’s field of exploration transcends the frontiers of the public and the private to locate itself at the thresholds of intimacy, vulnerability, familiarity, and strangeness. In She loves me not / She loves me Neumark explored the collaborative (between the artist and passers-by) creation of events that have the potential to foster an alternative human and urban experience. The following account is a testament to the way her gesture activated sociality at the threshold of proximity. Among all that happened that day, the artist recalls a man coming to her to ask if he could bring some of Neumark’s flowers to a woman waiting on the sidewalk across the street. After having first checked with the intended recipient about whether she would actually want them, he brought her a bunch of daisies. Neumark recalls: ‘When he came back, he was beaming and said, “Isn’t it amazing how women feel so wonderful when they are given flowers?” I then offered him a bunch for himself. He turned bright red and said, “Oh, no, I couldn’t take flowers for me” … He walked away.’25 Later, another man came up and grabbed a bunch of flowers without asking. The first man ran over and told him to put them back,

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14.3 Devora Neumark, She loves me not /She loves me (October 2001). Place de la Paix, Montreal. Photographed by Patrick Mailloux.

explaining that they were to be given to him. The artist recalls: ‘The tension and sense of aggression at that moment were great. I felt an almost overwhelming sense of risk and danger in the air … And somehow, something shifted … The second guy turned to the first, thrust out his hand holding the daisies, and with a laugh said, “But darling, I was taking them for you.” They went back and forth offering each other the flowers and sharing laughter with us all. What was a moment of interconnectivity with potential negativity turned into a shared sense of wholesomeness and well-being.’26 The buckets, the daisies not for sale but understood to be the object of another type of negotiation, the artist’s peculiar and repetitive gesture in picking the petals, the surprise of being offered a bunch of flowers, all are indications of a shift of perception, meaning, and function that springs from Neumark’s gentle intentions. An ordinary park bench in a relatively small urban refuge was transformed into a place where it was possible to view profoundly human and poetic enunciations of the self. ‘The difference between everyone acting out their “dailyness” and artists acting out a gesture is one of naming it, and naming something makes it matter,’ says Devora Neumark.27 Plucking daisies was

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a gesture named by the artist. It initiated a moment of sharing and giving or a moment of tension, which, as related in the episode of the theft, liberated a form of creative expression, a playful ambience, sensual modes, and ways of being. The ruse, invented by the everyman who understood that he would have to divert the sense of his spontaneous gesture, allowed him to exert, as with the artist, cognitive competences and practices by which ‘a city-dweller exploits and learns to exploit the eventual resources and fabricates some procedures of appeasement found at the heart of urbanity.’28 This brief incursion into the heart of three public art projects cannot begin to exhaust their full richness and complexity. It is even less possible to represent, through such an exploration, the wide array of practices and artistic strategies engaging urbanity. Rather, these incursions provide a context to help us understand how multiple and varied are the possible directions available to investigate the mutual enrichment of art and urbanity’s experiences. Yet, as Jacques Rancière has pointed out, practices that are most attentive to a sensual response generally lead to a loss of visible forms in art.29 Therefore, it is difficult to recognize the achieved form of an artwork, situating it in an author’s production and an aesthetic history in the making. The artistic experiences outlined above exemplify this problem. While critics and historians try to locate a project’s forms of visibility as well as its eventual moments, counting on the retroactive formation of a recognizable shape in memory and perceptions, the artists mentioned above attempted to ensure the conditions of visibility of an event unfolding progressively while inventing its own rules and variations for every participant. These artists provided the necessary impulse to generate a work done in common while exploiting the eventual possibilities of a place. The shared experience stands apart from the kind of visualization only possible at a distance (geographic or temporal). Precious moments such as the encounters described by Neumark, the sharing, giving, and listening – all forms of engagement touching us individually or collectively – are frequently recalled, and often idealized in discourses on public art in general. While such moments are rare, fragile, and ephemeral phenomena, other types of encounters and interactions – such as shared strangeness, as well as relational and participatory copresence – are even less visible and recountable. Projects such as Cohabitations hors champs, Body-house: Les paroles autonomes, and She loves me not / She loves me do not generate precise art objects or definite landmarks. They are also difficult to circumscribe.

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What results from these experiences is the gathering of fragmentary images, sensual moments, close or distant relationships with others, and perceptions inscribed in places and in and on bodies. These enrich cognitive and affective mental maps, produce a cultural and sensual geography that is incessantly revised, and speak to Jacques Rancière’s definition of a contemporary aesthetic as ‘the partition of the sensual … a system of sensual evidences that put in view, at once, the existence of what is shared and the tracings defining everyone’s respective places and parts.’30 In other words, forms of sensual knowledge invoked through an experience initiated in an artistic project are able to renew our sensual modes and ways of being. They suggest new forms of enunciation of the self – confirming art’s shared character – and new forms of intelligibility that are always linked to other spheres of experience.31 The singular practices of everyday life, the processes that sustain it, and the ways in which the everyman challenges these are certainly related to the artistic strategies infiltrating urbanity today. Furthermore, the obscure background of social activity dear to de Certeau, invested by urban artistic practices, is not a neutral ground. The microresistances, subtly and efficiently diverting mobility and the established order of things, reveal ordinary aesthetic conducts as gestures reorganizing and sharing the sensual in urbanity’s ramified networks. The aesthetic moment’s blurred contours, when destabilizing urbanity’s temporal spatial and sensual logics, command a re-gauging of territories and postures where everyone finds their part and place, one moment at a time. We can therefore propose that mutations such as those of ordinary perceptions and sensualities, or those intentionally created as artistic gestures, make visible aspects of the urban experience that would otherwise remain invisible. In this context, urbanity opens a space particularly rich in possibilities for shared artistic practices, a relational space with multiple points of entry and exit accessible at diverse thresholds of proximity.

NOTES 1 Quoted in J.-C. Depaule and P. Geltzer, eds., A City in Words and Numbers (London: Architectural Association Publications, 2001), 128. 2 See O. Lazzarotti, ‘Identités urbaines: Main basse sur la ville,’ in L.K. Morrisset and L. Noppen, eds., Identités urbaines, échos de Montréal (Quebec: Nota bene, 2003), 41.

262 Julie Boivin 3 A.M. Ninac and P. Loubier, Les Commensaux: Quand l’art se fait circonstances (Montreal: Galerie Skoll, 2001) and Le 3e impérial: Les pratiques infiltrantes, colloquium held in St-Hyacinthe, Summer 2003. 4 N. Bourriaud, L’esthétique relationelle (Paris: Les Presses du Réel, 1998) and Formes de vie: L’art moderne ou l’invention de soi (Paris: Denoël, 1999). 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. and J. Rancière, Le partage du sensible (Paris: Éditions de la Fabrique, 2000). 7 Q. Querrien and P. Lassave, ‘Les seuils du proche,’ in Les Annales de la recherche urbaine – Les seuils du proche (Paris: Secrétariat permanent du Plan Urbanisme Construction Architecture, Ministère de l’Équipement, no. 90, September 2001), 3. This collection of essays proposes a polysemic exploration of the notion of proximity in the city. As the redactors propose, it puts into perspective Georg Simmel’s thoughts on the thresholds to be crossed in the organization of human relations. Inspired by this notion of thresholds of proximity, we plan to enlarge its extent (portée) to the interplay of modes of perception and socialization with artistic practices taking place in the context of urbanity. 8 Bourriaud, Formes de vie, 83. 9 AT: M. de Certeau, L’invention du quotidien I: Arts de faire (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), xxxvii–viii. 10 AT: Ibid., xlvii. 11 G. Perec, Espèces d’espaces (Paris: Galilée, 2000). 12 M. Hajer and A. Reijndorp, In Search of New Public Domain: Analysis and Strategy (Rotterdam: Netherlands Architecture Institute, NAI Publishers, 2001), 53. 13 See G. Chelkoff and J.-P. Thibaud, Les mises en vue de l’espace public (Grenoble: Cresson, Plan Urbain, 1992). 14 A. Cauquelin, Essai de philosophie urbaine (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1982). 15 P. Mayol, ‘Habiter,’ in M. de Certeau, L. Giard, and P. Mayol, L’invention du quotidien II: Habiter, cuisiner (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), 20. 16 M. Augé, Pour une anthropologie des mondes contemporains (Paris: Flammarion, 1994). 17 The artistic project engages at different modes of the strange and the familiar. Somewhere between the far-away and the close, the artist and the everyman are strangers to one another. This recalls a notion explored by Georg Simmel in an essay published in 1908: ‘Digressions sur l’étranger,’ in Y. Grafmeyer and I. Joseph, L’école de Chicago: Naissance de l’écologie urbaine (Paris: Aubier, 1984), 53. To communicate with a stranger is to be close to

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20 21 22 23 24

25 26 27 28 29 30


someone at a distance while being far away, even if the person is in our immediate environment. Cohabitations hors champs was part of the event La Demeure, curated by Marie Fraser, and presented by Optica, a centre for contemporary art, 13 September – 13 October 2002. For more information, see Constanza Camelo, Marie Fraser, Marie-Josée Lafortune, and Marie-Paule MacDonald, La demeure (Montreal: Optica, 2008). Regarding the reconsideration of urban practices, we are tempted to see parallels between these artistic interventions and those of the Situationists, who innovated by practising techniques of désorientation to ensure feelings of strangeness, the experience of exile, the invention of ludic behaviours to test the limits of the ‘ville-spectacle.’ Explorations of urban space are currently developed worldwide. The most interesting, at the margins of many disciplines, focus on new urban paradigms. They investigate the perception and analysis of sites sometimes in reference to architecture, landscape architecture, urbanism, land art, installation, situationist derive, anthropology, literature, geography, and choreography. In Montreal, the work of the collective SYN-Atelier d’exploration urbaine (J.M. Dufresne, L. Lévesque, L.C. Lasnier, and J.F. Prost) deserves special mention. See their projects at A. Roger, Court traité du paysage (Paris: Gallimard, 1997). P. Oliveros, ‘Quantum Listening: From Practice to Theory (to Practice),’ at Rachel Echenberg’s intervention was carried out during the event La Demeure. See note 18. D. Neumark in conversation with M.J. Lafortune in M. Fraser, M. Kocache, and M.J. Lafortune, Gestes d’artistes (Montreal: Optica, 2003), 52. Devora Neumark’s intervention was carried out during the event Gestes d’artistes, curated by Marie Fraser and Marie-Josée Lafortune and presented in various locations in Montreal by Optica, a centre for contemporary art, between 7 and 14 October 2001. Neumark, ibid., 56. Ibid. Ibid., 54. AT: I. Joseph, La ville sans qualités (Paris: Éditions de l’Aube, 1998), 65. Rancière, Le partage du sensible. AT: Ibid., 12. ‘J’appelle partage du sensible ce système d’évidences sensibles qui donne à voir en même temps l’existence d’un commun et les découpages qui y définissent les places et les parts respectives.’ Ibid.

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15 Window (Dis)Plays: Reality Shopping an imagined public art work by kim morgan graphics by jirayu uttaranakorn and renée-claude landry Window (Dis)Plays is a time-based video public performance projected onto the exterior window displays of a downtown department store. The initial phase of the performance is generated by the activities of shoppers captured by surveillance cameras located throughout the store. This information is stored in a large database, uncut and uncensored. In the evening, after closing hours, the computer randomly selects video files which are then projected onto the windows and (dis)played for public viewing. A visual archive of the store’s commercial activities then becomes a spectacle for public consumption. The projection runs throughout the evening. In major department stores, surveillance is as ubiquitous as consumer browsing, yet taking a photograph is prohibited. Surveillance cameras are even placed in dressing rooms and washrooms. Sophisticated software programs are able to categorize and group people according to their behaviour or the physical characteristics they display. We are constantly being watched, monitored and appraised, not only for potentially deviant actions, but also for the purpose of ‘market research.’ Since we never have access to the collected images, we integrate patterns of surveillance and constantly monitor ourselves. But what happens to the actual information being collected, and who watches behind the camera? In a culture driven by consumerism, the buying /browsing public produces and sustains commercial space. It is therefore reasonable that department stores, as an act of good corporate citizenry (and perhaps irony), restore to the public the information being collected about them. Of course – and paradoxically – if this work were ever realized, the public accountability of surveillance by department stores described above would itself infringe on the public’s right to privacy.





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16 Framing Temporality: Montreal Graffiti in Photography ella chmielewska 1

More than any other form of artistic endeavor, graffiti are dependent on photography. If the lens is not there to capture them, or if Vesuvius is not there to preserve them in its white-hot lava, they are certain to disappear forever. Brassaï 2

A graffito is a presence inscribed into a public place, a graphic witness to an event, and a trace of an expressive gesture. It is most often a visual shout, rarely a whisper or a matter-of-fact testimonial. It is there to be noticed. The missive may be addressed to a particular audience, but it is also greedy for the attention of a chance viewer. This loud assertion of a personal voice against the rules of the public place needs the materiality of the urban wall to assert its visibility. This visibility is sustained once the graffito is captured in a photographic image. Graffiti3 is seductively photogenic, richly textured, and saturated with colour.4 It is open to many compositional possibilities, and it promises the thrill of apprehending a fleeting expression and an individual gesture. Once an inscription is transposed into the photographic image, however, it becomes something else: an aesthetic statement or a record set within the new frame. It is a double framing: a framing of the immediate in the viewfinder and, again, of its representation in the image.5 Moved to another place of display, a graffito becomes tenuous. To visibly last, it must be detached from its material substrate and transported into a less solid medium. Captured as a visible fragment of public space, it is now converted by the photographer into the personal frame of singular viewing.6

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Graffiti inscriptions contain complex tensions: between a desired permanence of broadcast and an acknowledged instability of presence; between their vulnerable position – so open to replacement and writing over – and the relative solidity of their supportive surface; and between the individual gesture of marking and the public nature of its space of display. These tensions are played out against the specific context of the city, telegraphing the temporality of the material and its visibly public urban surface. Graffiti is topo-sensitive even if its placement may seem arbitrary;7 it attaches itself parasitically to the particular site at the very moment it appears. The choice of location is deliberate, governed by numerous criteria of visibility, accessibility, and the related danger and fame potential associated with the act. By taking place, graffiti designates its context and marks a spatial entity with the temporal dimensions of a personal trace. By taking place, it also makes itself public and thus vulnerable to the elements, exposed to a chance apprehension. The photograph of graffiti is place-specific in ways quite different from the graffiti itself. It presents a view from a discrete location: the one that faces the photographed object, and though intimately proximate, it remains a different locus. Graffiti needs a pre-existing condition, a ‘found object’ of the material surface and the specific cultural parameters to position itself against. A similar claim can be made with regard to photographing graffiti. It is an activity that uses its subjects as ‘ready mades.’ It appropriates them and brings them into focus, thereby drawing attention to its own expression. While graffiti forces itself into the visual space of the city, photography adds graffiti to the anthology of (urban) images and elevates it to the status of ‘worth looking at.’ This, in turn, affects the very notion of what legitimately belongs in public space.8 Both a graffito and a photograph have a capacity to apprehend temporal dimensions of places. Each can act as a marker of memory, evidence of a past event. Each intervenes and results in a visual situation. Each is a personal gesture that takes place in the public space. One is greedy for attention, the other in search of visual appeal. Both are in need of the graffiti’s public visibility. They are interlinked through the temporality of the image, the ephemeral nature of surface marking, and the illusory permanence of its record – the photograph often remaining the only record of the particular trace. Photographic images make it possible to undertake close investigations of the incidental and the ephemeral. They disclose those aspects of material reality that would be difficult to reconstruct from

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other records. They also foreground continuity and change.9 The photograph has an intimate temporal connection with the object, attesting to the reality of the thing being captured, but as Roland Barthes pointed out, it is a reality that ‘has been,’ one that can no longer be touched.10 Since its invention, photography has been applied to the task of documenting details and traces of urban changes,11 but the dynamic between the photographic evidence and the temporality of the urban surface remains largely unexplored. The phenomenon of graffiti has long been a source of inspiration for photographers, whether as an element of the urban scene or a sole subject of street photography. Walker Evans, for example, paid considerable attention to urban signs and graffiti, using them to substantiate his intense visual studies of places. Herbert Spencer devoted several photographic essays to urban inscriptions. What interested him in photography was the possibility of fixing the narrative content of the visual event, an ‘acute visual situation.’12 Brassaï ‘detailed’ graffiti in Paris in the focused aesthetic investigations of chance compositions he observed on urban surfaces.13 His pictures featured graffiti as elements of the visual field, displaced and composed so as to achieve the desired effect in the image. Contemporary photographers, as Roland Castellon notes, ‘have found in graffiti an almost inexhaustible source of stimulation for their artistic statements.’14 Photography, however, can no longer approach graffiti from a superior position of art seeking inspiration in the crude line and subversive attitude of its subject. With its strong aesthetic ambitions, graffiti asserts itself as an art form in its own right, refusing to be treated as a mere act of rebellion rendered in an unskilled hand.15 Many works of ordinary wall art are graphically complex, compositionally sophisticated, and rendered with great skill. Graffiti art is now strongly established within contemporary visual culture and does not need validation by the art world.16 But it needs photography as a medium for ‘getting up.’ Signature graffiti17 may be one of the most photographed contemporary urban phenomena. Since the first images of New York tags appeared in the 1970s, the number of publications that display brilliant colour photographs of graffiti art has proliferated. Graffiti is extensively documented by ‘writers’18 themselves, and is increasingly popular as a subject of snapshots taken by amateur photographers. Images of spray-can writing frequently appear in the media, and they flood advertising. The contemporary visual field is saturated with photographs of graffiti.19

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Other than ‘flicks’ taken by writers documenting their completed work,20 photographs are typically focused on the pictorial quality of the subject. While captions or titles may name the city where a particular graffito was sighted, the images rarely contain references to specific locations.21 They either record the ‘piece’ alone, with its context neither explored nor noted, or they use graffiti as a generalized phenomenon whose stylistic dimensions are referred to in the image.22 If elements of the specific urban context are drawn into the frame, they are most typically used as a backdrop against which graffiti is set, or graffiti is treated as visual shorthand for transforming them into a generic urban scene. Though the photographs capture a freeze-frame of a particular ‘piece,’ as well as (sometimes) the place that immediately supports it, they rarely explore graffiti in its relation to place. What seems absent is perhaps the most defining aspect of the phenomenon – its tentative presence on the material urban surface and in the discrete place. By erasing its vulnerability, photography obscures the temporal dimensions of the graffito. For a viewer who has not taken the picture or for someone who does not intimately know the specific context that extends beyond the photograph’s frame, graffiti is presented as placeand time-less. Yet, according to Kevin Lynch’s photographic list,23 both a photographic image and an urban marker have a capacity to tell the viewer ‘what time is [the] place.’ Similarly, Georges Perec, in his close reading of the streets of Paris in the 1970s, focusing on specific places at determined temporal intervals, meticulously listed wall inscriptions (among other signs and messages he ‘collected’) to preserve the essence of specific urban lieux.24 Perec aimed at ‘exhausting time’ by documenting changes and ‘exhausting place’ by fixing in a temporal frame everything that was within his field of vision. Although he used texts to capture the particulars of places, those were deliberate visual studies rendered by transcribing the specific visual ‘events of the city.’25 Perec’s texts suggest an analogy with the photographic record. They are textual snapshots, moments frozen in words.26 But their power lies in the sequence they arrest. Photographs, often inadvertently, capture the specific order of temporal fragments: weathered or peeling urban layers that reveal older markings and new markings that reconfigure previous surface manipulations. The photographic image substantiates these ephemeral marks and records the enduring urge to (re)inscribe inherent in the trace. Photographic explorations, therefore, both frame and pose questions concerning the temporality

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of inscriptions and their conflicted relation to their immediate physical context. But photographs are also tools for dislocation, for tearing the image off the wall and transposing it in a different display space. They make further interventions possible by ‘writing over,’ crossing out, cropping, and re-framing. Graffiti’s relationship with its place is highly conflicted. Although it marks the particular location and is highly dependent on it, it appears blatantly indifferent to place details. Paradoxically, the visible disinterest is achieved through acute attention to the surface upon which the signature is placed. 27 An evident disrespect creates a place as an entity that, in the words of Michel de Certeau, is ‘marked, opened up by memory, signed by something or someone else,’28 but it also flattens a place to a canvas, a screen for a display of an intimate knowledge of surface details and textures. Signature graffiti is decidedly self-absorbed. It is preoccupied with the writer’s identity. Indeed, the writer’s name is its sole message. Signature graffiti is also strongly regulated by the stylistic canon, group hierarchies, specific languages, and codes of behaviour ordained by the graffiti culture. The culture’s high creative ambitions are set against the stylistic norms of the specific idiom and the prescriptive codes of cultural conduct. Signature graffiti is doubly conflicted in its relationship to place. Its inmost focus, its preoccupation with itself, its arrogant writing over of detail, disrespects the locus. On the other hand, as it looks outward it self-consciously seeks attention and approval.29 It is invariably ‘out for fame’ and the fame is mostly locally based – set within a specific city or a neighbourhood.30 Subverting the dichotomy of art versus crime, signature graffiti is multi-dimensional.31 As a graphic mark, it incriminates aesthetics. In its impulsive intentions it implicates an individual act and its relation to public rules. In its placement, graffiti closely engages with its spatio-temporal context. While it is claimed that ‘context is a crucial determinant of meaning for site-specific art,’32 artistic gestures that deal with found expression often display a surprising disregard for the location of the object they capture. Through such a paradoxical intimation of contempt for the actual locum, ‘affiches lacérées,’ posters torn from places where they performed their public duty, became exhibition pieces in the 1960s.33 Similarly, graffiti photographs taken by Brassaï create a dislocation, dépaysement – they ‘defamiliarize an instant, all too familiar element of urban reality by isolating and framing individual scrawls as works of art.’34

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Yet graffiti, with its inescapable attachment to local temporality, is, like Perec’s texts, ‘inhabited by the past and haunted by the future in ways that make the present (in both the temporal and spatial senses of the term) interestingly problematic.’35 This complex present comes to the fore in complex ways in Montreal graffiti. With its strong political roots in the French/ English language debates of the 1960s, a history of Montreal wall writing is overlaid with the tradition of American graffiti arriving via Paris in the 1990s.36 However, political graffiti no longer has a prominent or constant presence in the visual landscape of the city. Often occurring only in outbursts at times of perceived political crisis, it was supplanted in the late 1990s by the now pervasive signature form. Contemporary wall writing in Montreal has a distinct flavour, but it does not register any local linguistic markers; that is, it clearly speaks hip-hop English. When, on the night of the 1995 referendum, writers FLOW and SEAZ painted their signatures in one of Montreal’s suburbs, they resolutely stated their allegiances. Also, in contrast to many other North American cities, Montreal does not impose territorial boundaries on its writing. Writers do not manifest their neighbourhood loyalties in the same way as in places where belonging to a crew has strong territorial implications.37 The local urban landscape forms a highly supportive canvas with its variety of building heights, good supply of centrally located blind walls and run-down buildings, mixed neighbourhoods with stretches of commercial buildings, convenient access to side walls of houses, and visible back streets. The heavily textured, mostly red-brick surfaces invite the use of bold colours. The urban material context (with its textures, hues, building morphology, and architectural details) provides a strong frame for the graffiti’s local character.38 The city grants splendid visibility to its writers. And they are noticed. Their names and their ‘hands’ are prominently displayed and the most famous writers and crews are known outside of the graffiti culture.39 Sites of major graffiti events are located in the city core. Events such as the annual convention Under Pressure are well attended and receive much publicity.40 There are also specific local practices and styles related to the personalities of the writers, particular dynamics of the crews, and the attitudes of local businesses in their support for graffiti murals. The nuance of local tensions comes into sharp focus in the work of Montreal graffiti artist OMEN, whose status as a ‘writer’ foregrounds

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16.1 1995 signatures by SEAZ and FLOW form part of Montreal’s graffiti history (photographed by FLOW&SEAZ). Today, signature graffiti remains eminently visible in the city centre, along Ste-Catherine St. OMEN’s pieces, such as the one on the back wall of 1 St-Laurent Blvd. or in the back lane off Prince Arthur St, compete in the visual space of the city with murals by PHIL, such as the one at des Pins and St-Laurent (1999). OMEN’s signature on the sign of the York Theatre (1998–9) marks the prominent graffiti site where a piece by OTHER was featured in the 1999 Under Pressure graffiti convention, Ste-Catherine. Photographed by Ella Chmielewska.

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important aspects of the genre. Many of his pieces achieved considerable local fame in the late 1990s.41 Standing apart from the signature graffiti style, they are important to the discussion of the specificity of Montreal graffiti: they question the signature idiom as they underscore a number of contradictions present in the ‘wall writing’ of this city. OMEN’s works also reveal the urban context in a particular way.42 Deliberately positioned, they inadvertently comment on their setting. Obstinately figurative, they question the boundaries of the graffiti phenomenon itself while referencing the local scene.43 Prominent in their environment, resolutely visible along frequently traveled pedestrian routes, they typically contain a large photo-realistic representation of an expressive face, and simple bold letters spelling the ‘writer’s’ name, OMEN. It is not the stylized letters of the name, however, that form the signature, as is the case with typical signature graffiti ‘writing.’ Nor does OMEN’s work replicate any recognizable ‘logo,’ since each signature features a different image. Even if his autograph ‘has many faces,’ as it were, it is a recognizable presence (an apparition?), not merely an illustrative quality, that forms its identity. Each piece identifies its author by combining the expressive style, the framing of the two-tone figurative element, and the presence of the writer’s name. The pieces are akin to signed (and captioned) paintings. They seem powerful and unsettling because the viewer is forced to consider the ambiguity of the (ominous) message: OMEN. The name becomes one with the image. The word is a caption, but not for the image that accompanies it; rather, it annotates the idea that it is meant to evoke. It does not assert nomen est omen, but fuses into a single configuration nomen and omen. There is a tension in this compact message, in the simultaneous presence of the image and its uneasy caption, a premonition and its sign. But what is most striking in OMEN’s ‘signatures’ is how precisely they are framed. They are tightly cropped with defined edges, carefully composed within their urban and architectural surroundings in precisely the same way that a photographic image might be. They frame the context. In fact, they seem to play with a double [con]text pun. Not only do they subvert the notion of ‘text’ through an act of graffiti ‘writing,’ but they appropriate the graffiti ‘text,’ the legitimate style of ‘writers,’ by forming a signature that is not based on notation. They colonize the ‘legitimate’ space of ‘genuine’ writers, constituting a [con] within graffiti text: an image that carries a message, a wordpicture that is non-pictorial in the sense of representational attributes.

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In OMEN’s signature, the word comments on the image by referencing its own meaning. One of OMEN’s best-known works speaks most eloquently to that complex framing of context.44 The signature functioned as a prominent landmark. By attaching his moniker to the name of the York Theatre on Ste-Catherine St West, OMEN made visible the fate of the building, a fate similar to that of graffiti – the building was slated for destruction. This broken and altered backlit sign reminded passers-by about the building’s fate until its demolition in the summer of 2001. Graffiti appearing on the York Theatre turned out to be a bad omen indeed.45 With its careful positioning of clumsy letters, it is the most telling example of how OMEN deals with the specific parameters of the place he writes upon. He appropriates the place but does not overwrite it indiscriminately; rather, he carefully chooses the stage for his display. After a minimal but significant intervention, the York Theatre sign became known in its altered form and interpreted by many viewers as a gendered statement: O MEN, with an arrow over the ‘O’ suggestive of maleness. Again, a word comments on itself even as it comments on its sign. Another work of OMEN is also worth consideration very much because of the way it disappeared. The ‘piece’ was placed on a narrow sidewall off Bleury St. The wall does not face the traffic along the street, so it is not visible from a passing car. One has to walk towards it to notice it. The wall provides a perfect place for display. A red fire hydrant prevents cars from obscuring the viewing space and works as a kind of pointer, an exclamation mark. This was OMEN’s only signature work.46 It contained his trademark face and an attempt at lettering his name in the hip-hop style. The composition was striking. The surrounding urban details had been harmoniously worked into the piece – the hydrant on the sidewalk, the window that punctured the wall, and the line of the building masonry. Even the colours of the work’s street context were carefully included in the piece, the scarlet hydrant highlighting subtle red marks in the centre of the signature. The faint outline of an older signature, still partially exposed at the edge of the new lettering and ‘incorporated’ into the design balanced, with its delicate lines, the solid, heavily set drawing on the other side of the work. The piece seemed to highlight the atypical relationship of graffiti to place – respectful for adjacent textures and colours (rather than contesting them) and sensitive to the building details (rather than overwriting them). It framed its immediate context and seemed to be embraced by it.

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This signature work remained in place for several months. Even though it was not as well known to the general public as the York Theatre piece, it too became a local landmark.47 Then, one day, the view changed dramatically – the landmark was despoiled. Dismissive of the line of masonry, tags appeared along the top and haphazardly spilled across the wall’s different textures. Some signatures covered the letters of OMEN’s name, though the work retained his ‘signature’ face. As if to put OMEN in his place, the intervention seemed to say, ‘You are not a true writer!’48 Even the hydrant, the centrepiece of the composition, was sullied. Further damage followed within days, until OMEN’s presence was entirely obliterated. The landmark was lost to markings that seemed aggressively oblivious to the context. By covering up the distinctive identity and careful composition of the previous signature, the new writing obliterated the uniqueness of this place. Now, it was just another overwritten wall, too wordy, a thick layer of noisy scrawls all irrelevant to the place, its details, and the composition of its elements, all focused on themselves – no longer visual poetry declaimed in a clear, single voice. The place was made indistinguishable from other marked-up walls. It retreated into the urban visual clatter. The photographs remain the only record of the piece and the process of its damage, of short-lived gestures that brought about further interventions.49 They retain the order of overwriting, the dynamics of destruction, and contain important cues for the study of the details and temporal sequence of this urban event. The story of the wall can of course be reconstructed in different ways depending on the reader’s visual competence and knowledge of graffiti culture. Looking at the photographs of the damage, someone well versed in the language of graffiti might decipher the nuanced story of that wall.50 Through a kind of visual archeology, by examining each mark, such a reader can narrate the progression and hierarchies of writing, explain each particular placement and the meaning behind each mark, interpret each small tag following the line of the masonry and framing the boundary of the piece, and translate the tags’ conversations with other markings. Each photographic frame thus contains the detailed history inscribed in the language that is place-specific, with names, hierarchies, styles, and references to the locality, its personalities, and events. The close reading of the series of images reveals something that the mere focus on the aesthetic features of a singular work contained in a single cropped photograph cannot. OMEN’s works are complete, closed pieces – paintings positioned on the city’s walls. They work with the sur-

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roundings because they form a careful composition. Framed defensively, they ward off any conversation. They appropriate details of the surroundings – door frames, wall edges, angles, and planes – to delimit their boundaries, to close off each piece as an autonomous entity. The damaging markings were a retort both to the way OMEN framed his piece and to what he ‘wrote’ in it. They were a response to his penmanship (his ‘hand’) and his attitude, both questioned by the local graffiti culture.51 The overwriting contained a set of responses specific to each layered nuance of writing, with a number of voices speaking simultaneously. It showed respect / disrespect to hierarchies, reactions to the specificity of placement, sequences of ‘crossings.’ This conversation was messy, heated, and open to various points of entry. And it was poly-vocal. New entries related to already present voices in different ways, depending on the writers’ knowledge, skill, and their position within the local hierarchy. The process of obliteration of the signature piece by OMEN, now only preserved in photographs, contains an important clue to the relationship between graffiti and its (public) context. The mere presence of a perfectly framed singular piece, or the aesthetics of an individual inscription does not, by itself, form the basis for the significance of a place. It is in the transformation, through the (captured) process of alteration, in the sequence of markings that the meaning is revealed. The intricacies of location (here) come to light, as do those of a complex time (now). The mark generates the specific where when it arrests the temporality of the trace, pointing to where a conversation begins, capturing its sequence, and identifying its interlocutors. As Roy Harris posits about the surface of writing as a locus of meaning, ‘Where a text appears may affect the question of its validity or authority.’52 What begins as undifferentiated space (unmarked within the particular aesthetic or cultural criteria) becomes a place that is marked and therefore endowed with value. Each marked place invites a response, whether a recognition and silent appreciation or an act of documenting its image (freezing it in a ‘flick’). This response always contains the now of the event. It may come in the form of active acknowledgment or disapproval. It may manifest itself as appreciative or dismissive tagging, or writing-over instigated by an already inscribed spot. The response can also come as an act of total obliteration by painting over the writing (whitewashing or graffiti cleaning is the official way of painting over). Graffiti’s relation to place is retained in the events of transformations, in accretions and erasures, not in any frozen image of a wellpositioned piece.

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16.2 Transformations to OMEN piece on the wall off Bleury St as it is gradually written over, painted over, and covered altogether, 1999–2001. Photographed by Ella Chmielewska.

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Any alteration articulates a claim to a physical place, thus reidentifying and re-indexing local geography. An individually marked place stands in opposition to, contests, or subverts public space. Located in public spaces, graffiti mark the sites as personally defined ‘places.’ In each case, taking de Certeau’s argument, the writer ‘creates the fiction of a place of his own (une place propre),’ thus generating ‘an illusion of “authorship”’ since ‘every “proper” place is altered by the mark others have left on it.’ 53 As such, every particular place is ‘a many-faceted mirror … reflecting the exchanges, readings, and confrontations that form the condition of its possibility, but is a broken and anamorphic mirror (others are fragmented and altered by it).’54 OMEN’s piece in the lane off Bleury St was located near his home. This was the territory of his daily travels, a place, perhaps, where he felt secure enough to attempt a signature rendered in a style with which he was not entirely at ease.55 Brassaï also focused his camera lens on places near his home, places of various associations.56 Perec would select the lieux for his descriptive project because of their specific meanings related to his family, people he knew, events he remembered.57 Places are ‘fragmentary and inward-turning histories,’ according to de Certeau; they are ‘pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve.’58 Places and events are immanently fused, events necessarily take place, ‘the setting,’ as Paul Virilio maintains, ‘forming an intricate part of the event.’59 Graffiti and considerations that inform the generation of its forms express attachments to places, manifesting the cultural make-up of the immediate area.60 Place attachments, which are reflected in choices of sites, as well as in the images, texts, letterforms, and language of the markings, manifest the character of public culture, the ‘ongoing contests over the possibility and appropriation of terrain.’61 Kim Sojin sees graffiti writers as ‘sign makers’ who not only articulate their claims to the territory, but in the placement and designs of their public messages make suppositions about their audiences – their visual competence, aesthetic values, and cultural expectations. In this manner, graffiti works reflect how the writers define and organize their own position in public space, communicating their emotional attachments to particular locus and circumscribing the condition of ‘sense of place.’62 The process of layering inscriptions may tell us more about the relationship of the markings to their context than a single static image of a completed piece ever could. Indeed, the temporal nature of public

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places is contained in the process of accretions, the layering of traces, and the dynamic of alteration. Part of that dynamic lies in the nuanced difference between statement and conversation: the former tending towards the static and the latter relying on its inherent dynamic properties; the former (as in the case of an artwork) containable in the walls of the gallery or within the framing, the latter (as in the case of graffiti) requiring a less-structured public act of beholding – an exposure to the elements. The temporal nature of graffiti and its relationship to photography’s fixed locus are important considerations in the examination of visual expression set in public space. The essence of public culture is made manifest in the marking of places. Such markings tell us how the lines between public and private inclusions and exclusions are reworked and challenged. Thus, public place remains of prime importance to graffiti even if we may still question how the specific graffito situates itself within architecture, urban morphology, public art, and other signs and inscriptions. The nature of graffiti writing is revealed in the temporal dimensions of place. The photographic narrative, in turn, freezes the visual situation – its dynamics and its motivations – putting in the picture the process of over-writing, the only record of change taking place. Manifestly public, graffiti is typically depicted in images that are freeze-frames of private gestures of the photographer. Photographed over the span of several months, one specific place of inscription helps to focus attention on the relationship between the writing and its record. The fixed position of the lens implicates the photographer and her or his singular viewpoint in relation to the urban space and its markings. It discloses her gesture – a reaction to changing visual situations – as an urgent act of documenting the transformations taking place. The further development to the story of the Bleury St wall only underscores the tension between the static single-voice image and a layered multivocal conversation characteristic of public space. A conservationist statement interrupted the exchange: the wall was whitewashed. Again, the statement about order was challenged in the hip-hop language, only to be interrupted once more by another conservationist statement, this time in the form of a commissioned graffiti mural. Is the exchange now concluded or merely stifled? It appears complete (or bounded?), filling in the entire ‘frame’ of the wall. But does the story end here, with the frozen piece that apparently does not

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allow any further conversation? ‘We come to cities to make our mark,’ writes Richard Wentworth. ‘We press on the city and it presses back … We … want to say “We were here.” What else is a photograph?’63

NOTES 1 The author is placed in this essay in a double role of the photographer and the researcher. Photography is used here as a method of investigation, a medium of expression, as well as an object of research. 2 Brassaï, Graffiti, trans. D. Radzinowicz (Paris: Flammarion, 2002), 8. 3 As a phenomenon, graffiti is treated here as a singular collective noun. A typical use of the collective form when referring to individual inscriptions places graffiti outside the regime of aesthetic value associated with art, thus keeping it within the values and categories solely associated with social practices. This disables a possibility of discussing the practice of graffiti in relation to both its aesthetics and its placement. 4 While colour is characteristic of contemporary graffiti, it was not part of graffiti’s seductive power when Brassaï photographed urban ‘writing’ in the 1950s. When working with contemporary graffiti as a subject, few artists use black and white photography. The stark B&W potentials of the subject were explored in an interesting way in Montreal’s OUT FOR FAME Graffiti Photo Exhibition (February 1999, McGill School of Architecture) and the first Canadian exhibition of graffiti art, OUT FOR FAME (March 2000, TRANSART). 5 And subsequent framing when the photograph is put in use as research method and the research object, not a mere medium of expression. For a reflection on the position and subjective / perceptual ability of the photographer, see J. Collier, Jr, and M. Collier, Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1986), 5–13. Also see Sol Worth’s discussion of photography as a record of versus the record about culture in Studying Visual Communication, ed. L. Gross (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), 190–7. 6 Paradoxically, this singular presentation gives graffiti a promise of publicity, of multiple viewing, a kind of viewing, however, that further detaches graffiti from its context. 7 Umberto Eco uses the term ‘topo-sensitive’ in his discussion of signs that are dependent on their context or position. U. Eco, A Theory of Semiotics (Bloomington, London: Indiana University Press, 1979), 3, 6. Edward Casey makes a differentiation between terms ‘site-specific’ and ‘placespecific’: ‘Place brings with it the very elements sheared off in the

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8 9 10

11 12

13 14 15

16 17


planiformity of site: identity, character, nuance, history.’ See E.S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), xiii. S. Sontag, On Photography (New York, Penguin 1977), 3, 9. P. Burke, Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 81–3. Barthes claims that the photograph ‘mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.’ See R. Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. R. Howard (London: Vintage, 1993), 4–5, 115. C. Westerbeck and J. Meyerowitz, Bystander: A History of Street Photography (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1993), 34. See R.D. McClelland, ‘Expressive Patterns: The Work of Herbert Spencer,’ British Journal of Photography 12: 5 (1973): 886. Also R. Poynor, ‘The Camera as Pen,’ in Typographica (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002), 61, 68. Brassaï, Graffiti, 12. R. Castellon, Aesthetics of Graffiti (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1978), [n.p.]. The art world was first fascinated with the primitive, child-like qualities of graffiti. Brassaï saw the value of graffiti expression in its ‘no longer hav[ing] anything to do with knowledge, skill or dexterity’ (Graffiti, 9). Direct linking of graffiti with vandalism came later, after the explosion of graffiti in New York in the 1970s and the associations drawn between urban violence, dereliction, urban gang wars, and wall writing. See D. Ley and R. Cybriwsky, ‘Urban Grafffiti as Territorial Markers,’ Annals of Association of American Geographers 64: 4 (Dec. 1974): 494–505. While graffiti does not need the art world for its aesthetic development, validation is required for entering the art market. Signature graffiti, with its roots in New York wall writing of the 1970s, focuses on the stylized letters of the writer’s name. The same name can be rendered in different forms: tags, which are quick single-line, usually small in scale, signatures; throw-ups, also quickly executed but larger in scale and more complex, with graphically enunciated, outlined, and filled letters; and pieces (masterpieces), which are compositionally complex, largescale, typically multi-coloured renderings of the writer’s name, or names of the crew members working on one piece. Signature graffiti is most often referred to as ‘hip-hop’ graffiti. See S.A. Phillips, Wallbangin: Graffiti and Gangs in LA (University of Chicago Press, 1999), 318–22. Graffiti practitioners refer to themselves as ‘writers,’ though the term is not fixed even within the graffiti culture, where the debate between ‘writers’ and ‘artists’ is often framed by the aspects of commercial gain and social

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20 21


23 24




acceptance. SEAZ notes that ‘a lot of graffiti writers do not consider themselves artists because art is something that is accepted and something you can make money off.’ Interview, August 2001. No longer icons of urban dereliction, graffiti have become markers of urban chic, selling commodities ranging from street fashion to cars and academic textbooks. Graffiti is often exploited for its potential for ‘cool,’ for making products look hip. See ‘Graffiti Blamed on “Cult of Cool,”’ The Guardian, 2 August 2004: 4. Graffiti is used as a mere source of attractive illustrative material not only by advertisers but also by cultural critics. See, for example, the cover design for D. Hesmondhalgh, The Cultural Industries (London: Sage Publications, 2003). The book’s index has no reference to ‘graffiti’ despite graffiti image featured on the cover. Not uncharacteristically, there is no mention of the source of the graffiti image. A ‘flick’ is a term used for a photographic, record of graffiti. Sterling Downing, the publisher of Under Pressure magazine points out that graffiti magazines and websites often deliberately do not specify the ‘where’ of graffiti in order to protect writers’ identity. Interview, 5 June 2002. For example, see A. Spence, Tags & Pieces: A Photo Collection of Canadian Graffiti Art (Toronto: Haspence, 1997) and T. Manco, Stencil Graffiti (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002). K. Lynch, ‘Boston Time,’ in What Time Is This Place? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1974), 135–62. See ‘The Street,’ ‘The World,’ and ‘The Rue Vilin,’ in G. Perec, trans. J. Sturrock, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (New York: Penguin, 1997, 1999), 55, 79, and 212–21. Paul Virilio on the work of Perec in ‘Paul Virillio and Georges Perec,’ an interview by E. Walker, AA Files 45/46 (Winter 2001): 16. Perec’s method of naming and transcribing the visual facts was a tedious one. He eventually grew tired of the necessary rigour of detail involved in such a practice and gave up the project. Capturing the temporal dimensions of place in text seemed an impossibly ambitious task. Interestingly, the field notes taken by Perec for his writing projects are most revealing of the power of images and the graphic form. They play with letter forms and graphic layering, quite closely resembling graffiti. See C. Busterrat, ‘The Material Surface of Modern Literary Manuscript,’ in A.M. Christin, ed., A History of Writing: From Hieroglyph to Multimedia (Paris: Flammarion, 2002), 339. In order to cover surface detail successfully, a graffiti writer needs to be highly attentive to the textures, angles, and the specificity of surface materials. In fact, the surface determines much of the technique used and the

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28 29 30


32 33


35 36


skill required for successful working of the surface into the piece is considerable. M. de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 106. J. Berger, The Shape of a Pocket (London: Bloomsbury, 2002), 29. For John Berger, ‘[a] place is an expression of a presence or the consequence of an action.’ Of course, fame can be achieved on the international level, but for this graffiti needs to be displaced into an image, repositioned in a magazine, catalogue, or on a website. Discussion of graffiti is typically split into two strands taking up either an art or a crime theme. Here, it is suggested that the place of graffiti provides a material and discursive site where this dichotomy can be productively dissolved. J.A. Walker and S. Chaplin, Visual Culture: An Introduction (Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 1997), 141, 146 (n. 30). This was the case, for example, when Jacques Villeglé placed in gallery spaces the fragments of billboards peeled off the walls of Paris streets, creating instant works of art such as Rue Taylor (1959) or Boulevard de la Bastille (1969). Through the titles of the pieces, the name of each place was given the function of authenticating the related fragment made complete by becoming an art piece. A. Breton, ‘The Crisis of the Object,’ discussed in M. Warehime, Brassaï: Images of Culture and the Surrealist Observer (Baton Rouge, London: Louisiana State University Press, 1996), 90. Paul Virillio used these words for the analysis of Perec’s descriptions. E. Walker, AA Files, 29. L. Gauthier, ‘Writing on the Run: The History and Transformation of Montreal Graffiti in the 1990s,’ unpublished PhD dissertation, New School for Social Research, New York, 1997. See also D. Bilodeau, Les murs de la ville: Les graffitis de Montréal (Montreal: Liber, 1996) and ‘Sur le mur il y a “un silence comme un cri à l’envers”: Ethnographie du phénomène graffiti Montréalais,’ unpublished PhD dissertation, Université Laval, Quebec, 1993, and two collective studies by J. Demers, J. Lambert, and L. McMurray, Montréal Graffiti (Montreal: VLB Éditeur, 1987) and Graffiti et loi 101 (Montreal: VLB Éditeur, 1989). What is meant by territoriality of graffiti here is not simple identification of the writer with the specific neighbourhood, as may be the case with writers from Little Burgundy, for example, but rather the restrictive rules on where the locally identified writers or crews can legitimately paint. In Montreal, the writers typically go ‘all-city’ rather than only claiming their specific

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39 40 41







local allegiances. They are recognized by the place of their most intensive writing rather than by their neighbourhood roots. See also Paul 107, All City: The Book about Taking Space (Toronto: ECW Press, 2003). This description pertains to the core of the city that is accessible to the general viewer. Places that are less visible, places under the highways and in railroad yards and post-industrial sites, inform the identity of the city in a different way. See also Ella Chmielewska, ‘Framing [con]Text: Graffiti and Place,’ Space and Culture 10:2 (2007): 156–7. The ‘Best of’ list published by Montreal Mirror, one of a few local weeklies, routinely features best Montreal crews/ writers. See Any work that discusses ephemeral art is already dated at the moment of the text appearing in print. The temporal frame of the works presented in here is 1998-2002, and none of OMEN’s pieces discussed in this essay is extant. Since 2005 OMEN has been back in Montreal producing new work. The works are discussed in the present tense even though the pieces no longer exist. This is meant to convey a sense of immediacy, of heightened awareness of here and now, that dealing with graffiti in its presence demands. OMEN’s pieces follow the figurative tradition of his mentor, OTHER, an accomplished artist of high authority in Montreal’s graffiti culture. Another author of figurative works who has shaped the local visual scene is Phil Agbesi, a commercial artist, whose large-scale spray-paint advertising and commissioned murals have been prominent in the city since the mid-1990s. OMEN has consistently created ‘tags’ by appropriating existing signs or using found objects. Those markings, however, as well as OMEN’s chalk tags, have not been as prominent in the public space, and thus are less visible as components of his signature style. Somewhat ironically, the building came down to make room for the new Concordia University Visual Arts Building, whose design, together with the work that will be produced within its structures, sets the tone for what images legitimately belong in public space of the city, and what works are considered visual art. Some failed attempts were visible on the walls of the Plateau in the late 1990s. It is doubtful that any photographic records of those crude signatures have remained. This was a personal landmark for the author. Like many graffiti treasures found in back alleys or unexpectedly stumbled upon in walking/ cycling around Montreal, these are pieces in private urban art ‘collections’ enjoyed by many urban explorers, locals, and tourists alike.

Montreal Graffiti in Photography 291 48 A number of OMEN’s pieces were destroyed shortly after they were put up. For example, his piece was written over right after Under Pressure ’99 event. See C. Savard, ‘Vandals Vandalized! Under Pressure Graf Works Targeted by Snubbed Artists?’ Hour, 2 September 1999: 11. 49 OMEN has recently made an appeal for images of his pre-2002 works ( He lost all documentation in a house fire, and his older works are no longer extant or no longer visible. Most of the images in this chapter are in fact documents of the disappeared pieces, now only present in memory and in absences, and visible only in photographic record. 50 SEAZ, a veteran of the Montreal graffiti scene, is also an active member of the graffiti community and dedicated observer and historian of urban visual culture. He was this author’s cicerone in the graffiti world of Montreal, as well as the ‘competent reader’ of the author’s photographs documenting graffiti. Much of the reflection in this essay is drawn from conversations with SEAZ in Montreal in 2000 and 2001. 51 OMEN himself admits that he cannot ‘write.’ This work was the only one attempted in the hip-hop style – moving away from his ‘signature style’ into the ‘mainstream’ graffiti idiom. Conversation with OMEN, August 2002. 52 R. Harris, Signs of Writing (London, New York: Routledge, 1995), 114. 53 De Certeau, Practice of Everyday Life, 44. 54 Ibid., 44. 55 Conversation with OMEN, August 2002, Montreal. 56 M. Warehime, Brassaï, 100. 57 Ibid., 29. 58 de Certeau, Practice of Everyday Life, 108. 59 E. Walker, AA Files, 16. 60 K. Sojin, ‘Vital Signs: Signage, Graffiti, Murals and “Sense of Place” in Los Angeles,’ University of California, LA, unpublished PhD dissertation, 1997. 61 T. Bender, ‘The Modern City as Text and Context: The Public Culture of New York,’ Rivista Di Studi Anglo-Americani (RSA) 6:8 (1990): 29. 62 Sojin, ‘Vital Signs,’ 12. 63 R. Wentworth, ‘Accidentally on Purpose,’ AA File 45/46 (2002): 135.

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17 Stardance john noestheden My work of the last seven years is about beauty, control dynamics, and representing the nearly invisible structures of the universe with models that magnify these structures and render them visible to the human eye. With Stardance, I have attempted to expose the unfathomable by musing on these concerns and urging the viewer to look up towards that most public of all spaces: the night sky. Mapping the stars is an ancient practice that attempts to order nature. It delivers its own contingencies of (un)predictability and (im)perfection. For Stardance, I took two-dimensional diagrams of the star group Canopus from star guides and astronomy texts and turned them into a three-dimensional model. By relying on this source material, I have, in a sense, surrendered control over the design of the work, specifically with respect to the relative sizes and locations of the component parts of the configuration. But I have also revealed my own interpretive perceptions of the spatial relationships implied in the tiny illustrations. Indeed, the completed model testifies to numerous, complex mediations and interpretations. They involve the human eye and photomechanical lenses, the astronomer’s informed interpretation of the star configurations that s /he sees, the illustrator’s recording dexterity as directed by the astronomer, the accuracy of the publisher and of the reproduction technology, the clarity/reliability of the photocopier I then used in my process, and the variables related to my own perceptions of the many-times mediated representations of the stars. Imagine Stardance as the centrepiece of an interior public plaza. It stands in the middle of a well one metre deep and about 12 metres in diameter, surrounded by railings. The highly polished stainless steel spheres of Canopus are fixed to the wrist of a fully articulated robotic arm. Responding to a specified range of sounds continuously extracted from the ambient space and streamed digitally to the mechanical limb, it evolves along an irregular, unpredictable, and seemingly uninterrupted trajectory. The sounds activate the arm to systematically and quasirandomly move the ‘star group’ according to programmed sequences that correspond to a hundred predetermined movements and positions within a 360-degree hemispherical arena. Viewers are also invited to participate in the performance by creating individual soundtracks and feeding them into the machine. In other words, the robotic arm performs an interactive, computerized, mechanical dance while it presents Canopus to the viewer. For safety, the well area would need to be constructed about a metre-and-a-half beyond the maximum lateral reach of the working arm. The dynamics of electronics, computers, and gear mechanisms would render the robotic arm hazardous and susceptible to possible erratic behaviour. The well’s interior and pedestal surfaces would therefore have to be fitted with tamper-proof lockout sensors that, if activated, would instantly shut down the performance until the interference is removed and stargazing can resume. At this point, Stardance exists only at the conceptual stage.









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18 The Public Part of Public Art: Technology and the Art of Public Communication james s. m c lean

In a place and time where computer networks lubricate dreams of global conversations and tease us with the possibilities of new economies and new expressions of political emancipation wrought from the miracle of instant global communication, it may be quaint and eccentric to propose stepping into the shoes of Edgar Allen Poe or, rather, into the shoes of a character he invented more than a century-and-ahalf ago. But Poe’s protagonist – the central figure in ‘The Man of the Crowd’ – is more than just a character in a famous short story.1 He enlivens a vision of London in the 1840s that may be examined as a site rich in the artefacts of an urban culture in the process of emerging. When assembled, these artefacts form a discrete pattern that can be used to trace the outlines of an enduring core conceptualization of the public. As Poe’s central character (a kind of taxonomist-detective) observes urban humanity through the window of a coffee house, he introduces us to a world of frenetic and continual human action and interaction, a place where the throng, a living thing in its own right, flows and overflows through the streets and squares of a major urban landscape, the centre of an empire in the process of becoming. The flood of people that passes on the street, ‘two dense and continuous tides of population rushing past the door,’ ebbs and flows with the rhythms of its own organic being, contained by the architecture of the city but only to the extent that it agrees to be contained. It is the medium that gives purpose to the story’s characters, the natural force that nurtures their curiosity, motivates them to act, and supplies the means for action. The collective force contained in the faceless crowd constructs urban space and time by the fact of its own being in urban space and time. Poe’s

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‘public’ produces and reproduces not only itself but also the space and time of its own interests. Yet among these collectively constructed interests is ‘the man of the crowd,’ a strange creature who seems to have nothing in common with anyone. He is his own genus, it seems, a sport of urban nature that defies ready classification. As an embodiment of difference, the man of the crowd is an object of great curiosity for Poe’s taxonomist-detective, who is obsessed (as the nineteenth century was obsessed) with classifying every detail of the natural world. He is an anomaly who does not fit into the accepted human catalogue. His strange social ‘otherness’ is, of course, the device that drives the narrative as the detective sets off to chase this quarry through a full night of manic experiences in what must rate as one of the earliest (and longest) chase scenes in modernist literature. But the central concern that frames the story, the sense that certain elements of the street belong together and others do not, is fundamental to our understanding of the public and public-ness. Consensus and dissent lie at the heart of public life. They are also at the conceptual heart of public art, its public part, so to speak. Yet it would be misleading to suppose that consensus and dissent hold equal sway in the construction of public life, a point illustrated by taking a bit of licence with Poe’s story. If we, the readers, were permitted to linger in the imaginary space of the London coffee house we might observe a phenomenon of defining importance for our notion of the public, a phenomenon put forward by Jürgen Habermas as the founding condition of what we have come to call ‘the public sphere’: a group of well-off men in conversation.2 For Habermas, these bourgeois gentlemen are a historical reality. They represent evidence of an emerging leisured class, a new order whose members had acquired the means to devote the bulk of their time to rational and critical discussions about what was best for society. They were, according to Habermas, particularly fond of London’s coffee houses, places that were privately owned but dependent on the flow of public trade, common ground for the open discussion of matters pertaining to the public good. It was within the coffee houses, salons, and similar places that these men of significant material wealth, having abandoned class interests in the pursuit of reason, beholden no longer to the demands of commerce, and beyond the influence of political coercion, ‘readied themselves to compel public authority to legitimate itself before public opinion.’ It is a lively notion, arising in step with the core concept of the Age of Reason: that rational thought, the force of ‘the better argument,’

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must by necessity prevail. But as critics of Habermas have pointed out, this notion of the public sphere supports a particular kind of consensus while dismissing most dissent. The clerks, the gamblers, the ghastly invalids, and especially the women who populate Poe’s London – that is, the vast majority of humankind – would never have gained access to the debates that are supposed to have characterized this emergent civil society. These subaltern socio-economic and socio-sexual groups might merit the appearance of inclusion in a public sphere that claims itself capable of bracketing out such differences, but as Kendall Phillips has noted, a long line of criticism identifies such openness and inclusion as a system of false promises used to ‘obscure strategies employed to maintain exclusion of certain marginalised communities from public deliberation.’3 Rather than accede to the ‘consensus’ of dominance and subordination embedded in the very concept of a bourgeois public sphere, Habermas’s challengers, notably Nancy Fraser and Seyla Benhabib, call for a dose of fairly stringent reality: the acknowledgment of the fragmentation and difference that underpins virtually all human relations. For these dissenters, difference is manifested in counterpublics: like-minded individuals, attracted by a fundamental concern over the conditions of justice promulgated by agents of the status quo, who come together in common cause to support a view of social reality that is not in keeping with the dominant position.4 Such a view of social reality is deeply implicated in the broad core value of deliberative democracy: that it is the people rather than the elites who drive the conditions of change in civil society. The throng is the collective will that hovers in the background of every human exchange, every conflict and resolution that constructs the web of everyday life.5 The flow of the throng to places and spaces of common concern, to the places and spaces of consensus and dissent, constructs the social, political, and economic life of the daily world. Within this world, works of public art are not merely expressions of human creativity, they correspond to the basic human concerns that speak to matters of consensus and dissent. As such they are embedded in the way we view the construction of the web of everyday life and the communication that arises from that construction. Works of public art may be seen to trace, reflect, and contribute to the inevitable shifts in the public’s perception of itself. Traditionally, such works have been monuments to the power and control of society’s dominant elements. As David Harvey argues, ‘Concepts of space and time affect the way we understand the world to be’

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and are therefore deeply implicated in how we construct meaning around the concept of ‘place.’ Representations of Queen Victoria, for example, still occupy spaces in urban centres around the globe – from Montreal, to Sydney, to London – the former administrative and commercial centres of a vast empire. These monuments to sovereign power and the places they occupy were made to resonate with multiple but easily accessible meanings: pride of place in Britain’s Empire as well as knowing one’s place in society; the place of the sovereign at the pinnacle of government as well as her place in the hearts and minds of her subjects, and so forth. The layering of meanings around and within these ‘public’ places is, as Harvey points out, powerfully normative. Such meanings contribute to the creation of dominating conventions that ‘operate with the full force of objective facts to which all individuals and institutions necessarily respond.’6 The result, as Joan Coutu has observed elsewhere in this book, was a system of reproduced practices that reaffirmed at all points that ‘the people who looked up to view [such monuments] were the led.’ But how do we account for the fact that Victoria’s empire no longer exists and the power of her position has largely dissipated? Clearly, objective facts are subject to change. Far from supporting the fact of eternal sovereign power and empire, monuments to Victoria demonstrate that meaning is malleable. The artworks are static; their physical presence has not changed, but their meaning (and that of the spaces they occupy) has shifted dramatically over time. The only explanation for such a shift lies in the accumulation of new meaning brought to the site by the successive, often generational flow of human beings moving in and around the space. A valuable central concern with works of public art, therefore, lies in their ability to indicate the extent of changes to the social formation. They tell us that time and space are constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed in constant tension between some notion of the collective will and what de Certeau famously called ‘subjects with will and power.’7 Even in the face of overwhelming state power and the most repressive social conventions, given enough time it is the collective will of the throng that prevails. We are able to extend the argument and further glimpse the workings of the collective will by examining certain spaces that have assumed popular public status. The Montreal Forum is one such space. The building that occupies the Forum site in downtown Montreal today is a reconfiguration of the original modernist structure that housed the legendary Canadiens hockey franchise from 1923 to 1996.

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Even though the team has moved to a new facility, the old building retains a broad and deep resonance in the popular imagination, a factor that was not lost on the people who rebuilt it to accommodate commercial enterprises such as retail shops, movie theatres, and restaurants. These businesses line the perimeter of the interior space, giving way to a cavernous faux arena, its central feature a replica of the original Canadiens’ team logo set into the terrazzo floor at ‘centre ice.’ This iconic connection with the popular past is augmented by the strategic placement of dozens of original wooden seats salvaged from the old rink. A section of the original concrete seating has been retained, slanting steeply up in tiers from ‘ice level.’ Those who pass through the space are invited to sit in this section (adorned with a fiberglass sculpted caricature of a ‘fan’ leaping from his seat as if to cheer a goal) and enter an imaginary world where ‘Rocket’ Richard and his peers still hold sway over the world of professional hockey. The fantasy is augmented by a life-size bronze of Richard on the bench, poised to explode into action at any moment. It would be expected that such a place would attract people of a certain age, notably those old enough to remember the glory days of the Canadiens. But this is not necessarily the case. On any given day, most of the people who come to the Forum are too young to remember the Canadiens of the 1940s and 1950s. Yet somehow the aura of the place has been collectively retained and communicated. There is a resonance of great tenacity at work in the shared memory of the Forum.8 It exists, indeed thrives, because strangers somehow experience a common response when they enter the space, sit on the seats, and imagine the roar of the crowd. Such a response is deeply implicated in a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ – in Simon During’s sense9 – the willingness of an audience to enter into a kind of contract where the logic of the immediate world is temporarily suspended in return for a transcendent encounter with illusionary delights. It is a world of magic where the crowd is aware of the magician’s tricks, but goes along with the program anyway. However, it is a peculiarity of the Montreal Forum (and places like it) that the program has been constructed elsewhere. Most recall an imaginary time and space that actually came into being in living rooms across the land during long past seasons of professional hockey matches that were broadcast on radio and television. The time and space is imaginary because most of the contemporary audience would not have witnessed the original broadcasts. Their experience is

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18 Centre Ice, the Montreal Forum / AMC Forum 22 Cinema. Photographed by J.S. McLean, 2006.

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predicated on the exchange of lore arising from the memory of others, transmitted through the rituals of storytelling that occurs in what Raymond Williams has called the ‘dominant area of social communication’: the basic spaces of human interaction – churches, schools, workplaces, and spaces of leisure – where communication takes place primarily by word of mouth.10 A contemporary visitor to the Forum is taking part in a secular pilgrimage inspired by popular mythologies that continue to be generated, circulated, and retained within a specific kind of collective imagination. This introduces a number of elements that further enrich our understanding of the public sphere. Technologies of mass communication, for example, are seen to have played a significant role in generating the mythologies that are largely responsible for constructing the imagined time and space that characterizes the reconstructed Forum. Newspapers, and especially radio and television – technologies that are coemergent with the modernist principles of democratic deliberation within a sphere of public discourse – are shown here to overlap with and penetrate a mass phenomenon of dispersed imagined reality. It is a reality revealed and reified within the connotative meanings of a physical space that references the original but has no direct functional connection with the old hockey arena. As a work of ‘public’ architecture, the new Montreal Forum offers us a window onto a slice of the public consciousness in action. It also offers a means to contemplate the way that technology is implicated in the common construction of the ideas and experiences that attract and enrich the everyday social reality of strangers. The new Forum space also offers an opportunity to observe the flow of multiple publics in shared space. In addition to a highly visible public made up of hockey pilgrims, a number of less obvious ‘consumer publics’ also use the space. These are people who come to shop or take in a film (another form of the willing suspension of disbelief) with little or no regard for the transcendent imaginary experience that the building’s central construction is meant to evoke. Do some hockey pilgrims stay to watch a movie? Do some shoppers stop for awhile to rest in the stands overlooking centre ice? Of course: publics with different motivations need not be adversaries, they can and do coexist in the same space. Yet these ‘other’ publics are a living and present reminder that the Forum in its reconstructed state is, in its most functional reality, an elaborate urban mall. That these commercial realities fail to penetrate and influence the imagined experience of the hockey pilgrims is

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a testament to the resilience of a cherished myth, closely held within the collective being of a significant public. This resilience, this human desire to not just experience but motivate a reason for a common connection, hearkens back to one of Poe’s initial observations: elements within the river of humanity in his London streetscape somehow come together to create the fact of their own being in a space and time of their own choosing. In its own remarkable way, the hockey public of the Forum has reached its own consensus about the meaning of the fragments of hockey history laid out in this commercial space. It is a consensus that largely breaks with the manipulative intentions of the business interests that own the place. Attempts at control are shrugged off in the face of a phenomenon that speaks to the mystery of a shared will. An element of the crowd, a public, is able to imagine its way into a kind of populist title over this privately owned, commercial space and make it public. In doing so it does not seek to exclude other elements of the crowd. It simply is. Yet diverse elements of the crowd may be attracted to many unrelated interests, sometimes simultaneously, just as highly fragmented and apparently adversarial publics sometimes galvanize around specific issues of mass appeal. As John Keane has pointed out, it may be possible to understand a notion such as the public sphere only through a discussion of the interrelationships among many different spheres of motivating interest and across many different levels of public-ness. In Keane’s view, publics form and disperse around matters of common interest in spheres of micro, meso, and macro communication, roughly corresponding to levels of local, national, and international organization.11 In this model of public communication the technologies of mass communication are essential to the web of everyday life because they are necessary for the transmission of thoughts and values, concerns and celebrations, and the discussion of matters both grave and picayune within and across the permeable boundaries that informally demarcate the local, the national, and the global. In such a world it becomes difficult to imagine how multiple spheres of public communication are possible without the constructive influence of technologies of mass communication and vice versa. A recent work by Montreal artist Emmanuel Madan illustrates the point. Madan spent two years driving across the United States collecting samples of American talk radio. His raw material represents an audio window onto the collective psyche of an American public in the days and months following the infamous attack on the World Trade

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Center in New York City. Madan’s project involved the creation of a series of ‘new audio documents’ created from ‘collected, catalogued and recombined’ segments of the recorded material. These audio documents are presented as Freedom Highway, ‘a project about mass media and American public discourse.’ Samples of the work are available to a potential worldwide audience on a website located at . The artist situates his work as part of the range of opinion concerning the American response to terrorism by providing links to websites with names such as ‘Fun with Hate Radio,’ ‘A Godly Flag,’ and ‘The American Empire Project.’ The recombined talk-radio samples use the repetition of particular phrases to present a simple binary that Madan sees at work in a substantial part of the current American political collectivity. The twin themes of God (Christian) and Nation (American) emerge on the side of right and justice, while groups and individuals identified with Arab /Muslim culture are demonized. The artist’s aim is to create a document that literally uses the language of discourse among strangers to reveal and critique what he regards as an embedded and tenacious manifestation of collectively held beliefs within the conservative mainstream of contemporary American consciousness. Freedom Highway is a publicly presented ethical position that uses the clever manipulation of discourse in circulation (real people airing their views on the public radio waves) to present a counter-discourse constructed from those very views. And while Freedom Highway’s presence on the Internet gives it a potentially global reach, the artist has opted to make the full project available only to radio stations. Several stations in the United States and Canada have taken the offer.12 In this manner, the reconfigured audio samples are re /presented in the medium of their genesis, creating a critique not only of the content of the public commentary, but of the public medium that makes the commentary possible. Yet Freedom Highway is also a work of public art made for the Internet. The crafty use of a web page to ‘promote’ a précis of the project brings it to a potential global audience in such a way that its conceptual frame is made abundantly clear even if the work is not available in full. Clearly, Madan’s overarching ambition is to make public art that will foment, guide, and inform debate around the values and motives that are represented by the voices he has collected from the public airwaves. The counter-discourse it offers is an appeal to a ‘parallel discursive arena’ where oppositional interpretations of identities, interests, and needs help to expand discursive space.13 In both its radio

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and Internet manifestations, then, Freedom Highway is a seed of dissent planted in the ground of American social conservatism, but a seed of dissent that also invites a wider discussion on the merits of public art as a constructed intervention into the way that public opinion is formed, a process concerned with raising the intensity of certain discourses that are often already circulating within and across the micro, meso, and macro public spheres. This invitation into a wider discussion coincides with recent work by Michael Warner that explores the formation of publics and counterpublics and their relationship to the circulation of discourses. In essence, Warner asks the obvious question of Keane and other publicsphere theorists: Why determine that public spheres are more-or-less fixed forms in which people operate? Why not look at publics as relativistic entities that form and reform around certain ideas that circulate in the collective consciousness? For Warner, a public is a self-organized collection of strangers brought together by discourse and engaging freely, voluntarily, and actively within ‘the conceptual framework of civil society.’ Under these conditions, says Warner, ‘our willingness to process a passing appeal determines which publics we belong to and performs their extension.’14 A necessary condition of this extension is circulation. Discourse of this sort cannot be a simple transmission of messages for the purpose of control; rather, it has a deep ritual aspect directed (to borrow from James Carey) ‘not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time.’15 The free and voluntary willingness to process a passing appeal lies at the heart of our collective being. Individual choice constructs collective will along lines of commonality. This, in turn, constructs and maintains the web of everyday life. Within this conceptual frame, the Internet version of Freedom Highway takes on particular significance. It shows how certain works of public art operate as nodes of resonance situated within the flow of the new electronic throng and are constructed for the purpose of processing certain passing appeals. The web-page précis of Freedom Highway casts a shallow but enormously wide net, inviting a virtually unlimited number of strangers to participate in the discourse around a seminal event that has been widely and repeatedly publicized in the mainstream media: a terrorist attack with global implications. The power of Freedom Highway lies in its self-insertion into this important critical debate in civil society, an insertion that places it at the fulcrum of the discourse between two polarized publics. Significantly, it is

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able to occupy this site in the circulation of discourse because it uses technology as strategy. The full-course radio work confronts the conservative domination of a populist medium; the Internet version ups the ante by bringing the discussion to the world. Complementary technologies make it possible for strangers from antithetical positions to engage in a debate that is centred on a work of public art, a work that has been made to respond in a particular way to the very debate it invites. However, the Internet complement is also a strategic recognition of one of the great oddities of computer networks: they offer the world to individuals, but only certain individuals are able to decide which world is on offer. In order for the passing appeal of Freedom Highway to be willingly processed, it must be known to the strangers who will do the processing and who choose to accept or reject the discourse on offer. Ultimately, the work runs the risk of appealing to the converted: those who access the site because they enter key words with personal resonance into search engines, or those who discover the website address through some other means such as word of mouth, electronic messaging, or the mass media. Furthermore, this does not begin to address the host of so-called divides that limit, truncate, and exclude most people on this planet from ever engaging a work such as Freedom Highway. Divides of language, education, technical expertise, access to computers, telecommunications networks, and so forth serve to privilege certain publics over others. Therefore, the very framework of civil society that Warner marks as a condition for public discourse is limited by the social, economic, and, increasingly, political conditions that limit access to the technology required to join the discussion.16 Limitations aside, however, Freedom Highway points to a missing dimension in Warner’s key notion of the willingness to process a passing appeal. The very nature of computer network technology means that its users are able to broadly and systematically search out the discourses that interest them. People use the World Wide Web for any number of reasons – everything from checking facts to carrying on complex conversations – but when they form publics around commonly held ideas they do not simply process a passing appeal: these publics are also formed through the active and conscious pursuit of those appeals. It is a two-way street. And on this two-way street, with its ‘dense and continuous tides of population rushing past the [electronic] door,’ works of public art such as Freedom Highway act less like nodes of resonance within the stream of human passing and more like

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beacons. They emit a certain passing appeal but are also sought and recognized from afar, as it were, by those freely and actively motivated to join in the discourse and perform its extension. The built-in conditions of computer network technologies make all the difference in the ease of extending such discourses. Central to these built-in conditions are ease of replication and many-to-many interactive dissemination.17 By now, electronic mailing lists, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and the explosively popular Facebook and MySpace have become commonplace. These are the new town halls, the new coffee houses, where two-way communication is made possible without the organizational barriers inherent in the original forms. The implications are remarkable for art that uses the Internet. Available technology makes it possible to transmit a work such as Freedom Highway to multiple electronic addresses and to carry on multiple conversations about the work across a potentially vast global network. Available technology also makes it possible to examine the traces left by the work and the discourse it engenders as it makes its way through cyberspace. In effect, we have invented technologies that permit us to eavesdrop on the collective consciousness as it constructs spaces of common understanding – public spheres as wide and varied as the discourses that ignite passions within their participatory publics at any given time. To be sure, this is the same technology that raises concerns about surveillance. As Darin Barney observes: ‘Networks function so well as a surveillance technology because they collect so many of the practices involved in being human in contemporary society in the form of bits, and then facilitate the subjection of this information to calculation and its attendant processes: identification, classification, measurement, comparison, combination, and prediction.’18 However, such technology in the service of public art has the legitimate potential to use the techniques of data mining in order to challenge the developing paradigm of predominance. Those who would give us a ‘picture’ of the public for the purpose of constructing public opinion, whether for a product or a political pitch, must take into account that competing views of complex publics not only exist, but have circulation around works of cultural production such as public art. These views are likely to be necessarily antithetical to the prevailing wisdom of either the marketplace or the political field. In such a world, Poe’s chaotic throng is seen to give itself order, to create its own logic of meaning as its publics seek out and process passing appeals according to freely held interests. In such a world,

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public art has the potential to create a collection of ad hoc coffee houses, places no longer given over to the ministrations of a self-interested bourgeois elite, but dedicated to the widest form of rational-critical debate possible while maintaining the intimacy of commonly held interests. It is a debate that invites all who see themselves as having a stake in civil society to put their views forward. It is the ground where dominant publics and counter-publics meet to hammer out differences or decide to go their separate ways. Public art of this sort performs a basic civic function: it is a catalyst for the free exchange of the ideas and information from which collective decisions rightly flow. It is therefore not only quintessentially political, but integral to the very concept of participatory democracy. In this respect, the artist takes on new significance, not as an arbiter of the public good but in the fullest double sense of the term, as a mediator. Artists who practise in the public spaces made available by computer networks must be aware of the mediating effects of the technologies they use even as they tap into the enormous potential made manifest in the reality of virtually unlimited two-way communication. By embracing this kind of public-art practice they must also be aware that mediators facilitate communication, they seek to resolve the conflicts that arise when competing interests (and competing publics) converge. Public art and communication construct one another even as they facilitate the construction of publics and are, in turn, constructed by those publics. Those who are sensitive to the flow of communication in the technologies of their own practice will understand that there is a profound responsibility attached to the power of the appeal to a common consciousness through the technology that animates the public part of public art. Ultimately it constructs the greater meaning not only of the work, but of the greater society and culture of which it is a part.

NOTES 1 E.A. Poe, ‘The Man of the Crowd’ (1840–5), in The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings (New York: Penguin Classics, 1986), 179–88. 2 J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), trans. T. Burger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 32–43. 3 K. Phillips, ‘The Spaces of Public Dissention: Reconsidering the Public Sphere,’ Communication Monographs 63 (Sept. 1996): 237.

316 James S. McLean 4 See S. Benhabib, ‘Models of Public Space: Hannah Arendt, the Liberal Tradition, and Jürgen Habermas,’ in C. Calhoun, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 73–98. 5 The shift from absolute authority to means and methods of social and political control based on a variety of factors, including one’s part in the upholding of civil society, has been superbly outlined in the work of British social theorist Tony Bennett. Of particular interest is Bennett’s reading of Foucault and his adaptation of matters pertaining to surveillance and social control. See T. Bennett, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics (London, New York: Routledge, 1995). 6 D. Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 207–15. 7 M. de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 34–5. 8 Recent work by Jill A. Edy on journalism and collective memory has pertinence to the Montreal Forum experience. Edy discusses various forms of collective memory, including commemoration and historical analogy. See J.A. Edy, ‘Journalistic Uses of Collective Memory,’ Journal of Communication 49:2 (1999): 71–85. 9 S. During, Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 47–50. 10 R. Williams, Television, Technology and Cultural Form (Hanover, NH, and London: Wesleyan University Press, 1992), 15–16. 11 J. Keane, ‘Structural Transformations of the Public Sphere,’ Communication Review 1:1 (1991): 1–22. 12 Madan’s site on the World Wide Web offers samples of Freedom Highway. However, the site is clearly intended as a vehicle for permitting radio stations to sample the work before deciding to take it to air. As such, Freedom Highway is not art made for the Internet per se. Still, its presence on the Internet raises specific questions and concerns that apply to the discussion of the role of the Internet and civic life. 13 Robert Asen offers a concise overview of the ongoing discussion around counter-publics. See R. Asen, ‘Seeking the “Counter” in Counterpublics,’ Communication Theory 10:4 (2000): 424–46. 14 M. Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 88–9. 15 Carey proposes that communication for the purpose of transmitting orders has taken precedence in modern life while the older form, communitybased ritual communication, is often overlooked. Yet ritual communication is key to the ‘maintenance of society in time.’ See J. Carey, ‘A Cultural Approach to Communication,’ in Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (Boston: Unwyn Hyman, 1989), 14–15.

The Public Part of Public Art 317 16 For an exhaustive discussion on divides and their social and political implications see M. Warschauer, Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003). 17 For a thoughtful discussion of the ‘Internet’s marriage of reproductive and communicative technologies’ see J. Stallabrass, Internet Art: The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce (London: Tate Publishing, 2003), 138–55. Here, Stallabrass, through the experiences of artists who have taken on the Internet as a ‘medium,’ explores the technologies of cyberspace as ‘a kind of tunnel through which the disparate forms of industrial culture are being squeezed.’ 18 D. Barney, Prometheus Wired: The Hope for Democracy in the Age of Network Technology (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000), 90–1.

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Bruce Barber is an artist, writer, curator, and professor of Media Art and Historical and Critical Studies at NSCAD University. His interdisciplinary studio work has been included in solo and group exhibitions in Canada and abroad, and in international Biennales. Barber’s work is included in collections in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Poland, and the United States. He is the editor of Essays on [Performance] and Cultural Politicization (1983); co-editor with Serge Guilbaut and John O’Brian of Voices of Fire: Art Rage, Power, and the State (1996); editor of Conceptual Art: the NSCAD Connection 1967-1973 (1992), NSCAD: The 80’s (2005); and author of Performance [Performance] & Performers; Essays and Conversations, edited by Marc Leger (2008). Adrian Blackwell is an artist, architect, and urban designer whose work focuses on the spaces and forces of uneven development produced through processes of Post-fordist urbanization. Most recently, Blackwell co-edited Unboxed: Engagements in Social Space (Galerie 101, 2005), co-curated the exhibition and book Detours: Tactical Approaches to Urbanization in China (Eric Arthur Gallery, 2006), and collaborated with PLANT Architect Shore Tilbe Irwin and Partners and Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture on the winning entry in the competition to redesign Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square (2007). He teaches architecture and urban design at the University of Toronto. Julie Boivin has a BArch from McGill University and an MSc in Historic Preservation from Columbia University. She practised as an architect in Montreal and New York before becoming co-curator of Montreal’s municipal public art collection, where she started promoting the development of temporary public art interventions. She participated in the elaboration and implementation of Montreal’s urban plan and the city’s first heritage policy. She has authored several articles

334 Contributors investigating the experience of art and urbanity, including ‘L’adresse à l’autre et la production de sens public,’ Inter Art Actuel 89 (Winter 2005) and ‘Habiter SaintRoch – Habiter le processus de creation – Habiter l’espace public,’ in G. Volpe and A. Gilbert, eds., Habiter (Vu, 2008). Rebecca Burke is a professor in the Department of Fine Arts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, where she has taught painting, drawing, and contemporary art issues since 1980. Her paintings have been extensively exhibited in Canada and internationally. She has also completed several mixed-media installations using sound, video, and sculptural elements, including a large-scale kinetic sculpture for the Canada Pavilion at Expo ’86 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her latest solo exhibition, A Journey over the River Styx, took place at Mount Allison University’s Owens Art Gallery in 2006. Anna Maria Carlevaris lives and works in Montreal, where she is a lecturer in fine arts at Dawson College. She writes on contemporary art and on Italian immigrant literature and culture, and is also an independent exhibition curator. Her PhD dissertation examines the public art of Montreal’s Italians in the 1920s–1930s. Her essay on the Italian American sculptor Concetta Scaravaglione will appear in the forthcoming anthology Women Artists between the Wars, edited for Ashgate Press by K. Deepwell and K. Brown. Ella Chmielewska teaches Cultural Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her research centres on the material manifestations of language (writing, marking, inscriptions, graffiti) and the relationship between language and place, memory and representation. Drawing on her professional formation and experience in urban planning and graphic /information design, she is interested in exploring trans-disciplinary methodologies in the humanities. Her work includes essays on visual culture and the city, exhibitions and curated events, as well as photographic and design projects. Her most recent publications include ‘Sites of Display: The Iconosphere of Warsaw, 1955 to the present day,’ in City in Art, edited by P. Martyn (Art Institute/ Instytut Sztuki, 2008), and ‘Framing [con]Text: Graffiti and Place,’ Space and Culture 10:2 (2007). Joan Coutu is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Waterloo. She is especially interested in the public and private nature of monuments. She has published several articles on eighteenth-century British sculpture and twentieth-century Canadian art and landscape design, including ‘Vehicles of Nationalism: Defining Canada in the 1930s,’ Journal of Canadian Studies 37:1 (Spring 2002). Her first book, Persuasion and Propaganda: Monuments and the

Contributors 335 Eighteenth-Century British Empire, was published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in the fall of 2006. Daniel Faria received a BFA from the University of Waterloo in 1999 and an MA in Art History from York University in 2003. While completing his graduate work, Faria interned at Mercer Union, A Centre for Contemporary Art in Toronto. There he assisted Johannes Zits in the public poster project that served as the basis for the essay published in this collection. Faria is director of the Monte Clark Gallery in Toronto, where he has curated critically acclaimed exhibitions such as the group exhibition My So-Called Life (March 2005). He was also the Canadian juror for the Magenta Foundation’s Emerging Photographers Competition ‘Flash Forward’ in 2006 and 2007. Bernard Flaman is a registered architect working in the field of heritage conservation. His interest in modernist architecture led to participation in UNESCO’s policy development on modern heritage in relation to World Heritage designations. He co-curated Character and Controversy (2004) at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, an exhibition that examined modernist architecture in Saskatchewan. His latest publications include ‘Modernism, Culture and the Romance of Air Travel,’ in Manitoba Modernism, edited by S. Keshavjee (University of Manitoba Press, 2006), and ‘The Saskatchewan Power Corporation Headquarters’ and ‘Modernist Gems,’ in Regina’s Secret Spaces, edited by L. Beug, A. Campbell, and J. Mah (Canadian Plains Research Centre, 2006). Annie Gérin is a curator and Associate Professor of Art History and Art Theory at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Educated in Canada, Russia, and the United Kingdom, her research interests encompass the areas of Soviet art, Canadian public art, and art on the World Wide Web. She is especially concerned with art encountered by non-specialized publics outside the gallery space. Recent publications include ‘The Virtual Memorial: Temporality, Interactivity, and the Internet,’ RACAR Revue d’art canadienne/ Canadian Art Review 31:1–2 (2006) and ‘Maîtres Chez Nous: Public Art and Linguistic Identity in Québec,’ in Canadian Cultural Poeisis: Essays on Canadian Culture, ed. G. Sherbert, A. Gérin, and S. Petty (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006). Kathleen Irwin is Associate Professor in the Theatre Department, University of Regina. Her research focuses on community-based, site-specific performance, the animation of urban and industrial sites (to unlock memory), and collaboration with communities to focus attention on the cultural redevelopment of abandoned buildings. She publishes extensively on this subject and

336 Contributors has recently contributed a chapter to Performance Design (Roskilde University Press, Denmark, 2008). She is also involved in web-based collaborations, in Canada, Estonia, Finland, and Serbia, that consider the Internet as an interactive performance platform. Irwin’s last site-specific performance was produced at the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site in 2006 (www.crossfiring In 2007 she was nominated for the Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Innovation. Eva Major-Marothy has been Senior Curator for Acquisitions and Research at the Portrait Gallery of Canada (part of Library and Archives Canada) since January 2002. Previously she was an Art-Archivist in the Art Acquisition and Research Section of the National Archives of Canada. She has a BA in Art History from McGill University and an MA in Canadian Studies, specializing in Canadian Art History, from Carleton University. She was one of the curators and authors of the 1990 exhibition A Place in History, which showcased the highlights of twenty years of art acquisition at the National Archives. She was also co–guest editor for The Portrait Issue of RACAR Revue d’art canadienne/Canadian Art Review 30:1–2 (2005). James S. McLean is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. His scholarly pursuits transect a range of interests, from critiques on field theory, publics, and Canadian democracy to studies of visual culture and organizations. His most recent scholarly undertaking, A War Room in Canada, studies how political communication is deployed during a federal election campaign and how it underscores the construction of credibility. Professor McLean is a university-trained artist with a specialty in printmaking. He is also a former broadcast journalist whose documentary work for the CBC has won major national and international awards. Kim Morgan is an interdisciplinary artist working in multi-media with a specific focus on what is generally known as ‘New Genre Public Art.’ Her current work involves the creation of media-based interactive public art projects in collaboration with engineers and scientists. She currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and teaches sculpture at NSCAD University. Her last ephemeral public art project, Time Transit, took place in Regina in 2006, and her latest solo exhibition, Armed, was presented in 2007 at New York’s Cynthia Broan Gallery. John Noestheden’s work varies between ‘obsessive drawing,’ sculpture, and performance. His interest in monumental public art started in the 1970s with the production of miles-wide Skywriting pieces over Toronto and Kingston, Ontario. Over the past two decades he has completed four monumental

Contributors 337 sculptures in Canada and the United States. The most recent (2006) consists of science texts, codes, and equations sandblasted into the Lab Building atrium at the University of Regina, where he currently teaches sculpture and drawing. In 2007 his work was shown as part of Zoom (Santa Monica Art Studios), Chaos Theory (Profiles Public Art Gallery, St Albert, Alberta), Hit or Miss (Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts, Calgary, Alberta), and Modernist Forgeries (Neutral Ground Artist-Run Centre, Regina, Saskatchewan). C.S. Ogden is an independant writer based in Edmonton. Her research interests include contemporary visual cultural practices, with a special interest in public art and the theoretical and pedagogical issues concerning remembrance and memorialization. She has taught history of art and visual culture courses at several post-secondary institutions in Alberta. Véronique Rodriguez, an art historian with a PhD in sociology, has carried out doctoral research on the transformation of the role of the artist’s studio. Since 1999 she has been a professor of art history at Collège Ahuntsic in Montreal and has lectured in the art history departments of Université de Montréal and Université du Québec à Montréal. She has authored numerous texts published in art journals and exhibition catalogues. Recent publications include ‘The Studio or Nomadism – Changes in Art Making,’ in Places and nonplaces of Contemporary Art, Les éditions esse (2005) and ‘L’atelier vu par les littéraires après 1970: Permanence ou changement dans le travail de l’artiste contemporain?’ M@gm@. Rivista Elettronica di Scienze Umane e Sociali 3:1 (2005). Jason St-Laurent is an artist and curator based in Toronto. He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, the United States, South Africa, Denmark, Romania, and Finland. As a curator, he has presented more than fifty projects in Canada, South Africa, Mexico, Finland, and Estonia, including Voices in Transit at the Cape Town Central Train Station (2002), Scatalogue: 30 Years of Crap in Contemporary Art at Saw Gallery in Ottawa (2003), as well as events such as Videogram International Media Art Exchange (SAW Video, 2004), and Electric Fields: Electronic Music & Media Forum (SAW Video, 2005). He is a founding member of the art and design collective Code Régional, and is currently the director of programing for the Inside Out Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival. Jeff Thomas is a photographer, independent curator, and member of the Six Nations Reserve. Since 1980 his photographic work has been exhibited internationally. He was awarded the Canada Council ‘Duke and Duchess’ award in photography in 1998. His curatorial practice began in 1996 with projects

338 Contributors conducted for the Library and Archives of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Archives of Ontario, the George Eastman House, and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. His area of interest is historical images of First Nations people. The latest exhibitions of his photographic work include Jeff Thomas: Traces of Iroquois Medicine (Ontario Museum of Archaeology, 2007) and Drive By: A Road Trip with Jeff Thomas (University of Toronto Art Centre, 2008).

Illustration Credits


Library and Archives Canada (Negatives no. C-141808, C-141174, and C-147277). 2.1 Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library, General Photograph Collection. 2.2 University of Guelph Library, Archival and Special Collections, Dunington-Grubb and Stensson Collection. 2.3 Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library, Francis J. Petrie Collection/ Kiwanis Collection. 3.2 Collection of the Ottawa Art Gallery / Collection de La Galerie d’art d’Ottawa. Purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program, OAG’s Art Rental and Sales Service Volunteers, and the OAG’s Acquisition Endowment Fund. 4.1 University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections, Henry Kalen fonds (A.05-100). 4.2 University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections, Henry Kalen fonds (A.05-100). 5 Archives of the City of Montreal. 7.1–7.3 Gilbert Boyer. 9.1 WochenKlausur. 9.2 Critical Art Ensemble and Beatriz da Costa. 9.3 City Beautification Ensemble. 10.1–10.2 Johannes Zits. 11.1–11.3 Knowhere Productions. 13.1 A.G. Smith. 13.2 Iain Baxter. 13.3 Meghan Barton and Natalie Woyzbun.

340 Illustration Credits

14.1 Marie-Suzanne Désilets and Jean-François Prost. 14.2 Patrick Mailloux, Optica and Rachel Echenberg. 14.3 Patrick Mailloux, Optica and Devora Neumark. 16.1 (top left) Under Pressure Magazine. 17 From The Cambridge Star Atlas, 3/e. Copyright © 2001 by Wil Tirion. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press; A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, 1/e. Copyright © 1964 by Donald H. Menzel. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved; A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, 4/e. Copyright © 2000 by Jay M. Pasachoff. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.