Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rues and Ruelle (streets and lanes) Could easily be a Verdun Story Too

               We all grew up playing in the streets and lanes,those were the days of our youth,much history & many people have come and gone ,all with that same common denominator ,Streets & Lane ,regardless of where we lived in Montreal,all of it's (borroughs ,I hate that term) have the same type lanes and neighbourhood streets,albeit I suspect there were a lot more kids using them when we inhabited the areas.

        - Here is a story from todays Gazette titled,    "Rues and Ruelles"

THREE YEARS AGO, visual artist Loren Williams set out on a voyage of discovery of the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood she and her family call home.

Her journey took her around the block and into a dozen families’ lives. And it all began with a photograph.

“Our neighbour gave me a photocopy she had of an old photo of a tiny restaurant that had once been on our street,” said Williams, who has lived with her husband and children on St. André St., in the Plateau’s south end, since 2001.

“On the front of it was written ‘Chez Lucienne, restaurant de quartier des années ’30 à ’60.’ I recognized it – that restaurant today is my husband’s drawing studio. We had no idea it had a past life.”

But it was the man in the photo that intrigued her the most.

“There’s a young guy with a camera, and I was told his name was Émile Garcia and that he lived in the area a long time – still did, in fact. So I just went and introduced myself to him,” Williams recalled.

“He had a fabulous memory of the neighbourhood. His father owned a dépanneur on the corner of Cherrier that’s now a bicycle store, then he left that and set up one a few doors away on the corner of Bousquet. Émile grew up delivering groceries for his dad and so he knew all the street numbers and all the people living there – the whole neighbourhood, really.”

Best of all for her, Garcia had been taking pictures all his life, and had preserved all the negatives and prints. As an artist who works with photos, Williams knew she had found a gold mine.

“He had a lot of photographs, so that’s when I got the idea. I thought it would be fun to scan the photographs and do something with them so everyone could see. That was really the beginning of the whole project.”

The project is called Laterna Magica, an installation of photos and lightboxes inspired by the history and residents of St. André and de Mentana Sts. For the next two weeks, 20 black-and-white photos donated by 13 families and blown up to different sizes are on display in windows and doorways in the alley, and are backlit at night. Another 100 photos from family albums are mounted on walls and fences up and down the two streets between Roy and Bousquet.

(For the vernissage that, rain permitting, was scheduled for last night – too late for our deadline – the show was also to feature audio clips taken from interviews with half a dozen participants. They were to be heard in a performance by local artist Christine Brault, dressed up as a red lantern and red veil and walking from site to site in the alleyway.)

The exhibition is being held in conjunction with Quebec’s annual Journées de la culture, a province-wide series of cultural events held on the last Friday of September and the weekend that follows. Supported by a federal grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, the project is also endorsed by the Écomusée du fier monde, a local museum of working-class life in south-central Montreal.

Using “precious images and rich testimonies,” Williams has put together a show that speaks volumes about the unique history of this part of Montreal, according to museum curator Éric Giroux.

“Unlike museums, which often present photographs or artifacts in isolation from their environment or the place they were used, Williams links old images to the very places they originated, thereby encouraging the start of a dialogue between the past and present of a very precise place,” Giroux writes in an appraisal accompanying the show.

The life of la ruelle – the alleyway – is special, he adds.

“As well as being a public passage, an alleyway is also a private space that neighbours share. We walk down it rather shyly, because we have the feeling we’re entering into the intimacy of the people who live there,” Giroux writes. Williams’s show allows us to get over our shyness, he added, making the experience unique and the artist’s work “of undeniable artistic and historic value.”

The show is dedicated to Garcia, who passed away this summer at age 83, having lived out his final year at a Mile End seniors’ home. Williams hasn’t forgotten his legacy. In fact, she’s carrying it on – in the street but, more important, in the alley, where the photos can be best appreciated: protected from the street noise, not drowned out by street lamps, and in a place that is more authentic, less retouched – the true face of the neighbourhood behind the facade.

“The alleyway is the holder of the secrets of the street, because it’s the last place to be renovated,” Williams explained. “You have all these traces of past functions: windows that are now bricked up, sheds that were torn down, who-knows-what was there before that. The alley has its own personality – a slightly unruly personality – very different from the front of the street.”

Pictures will be illuminated in doorways and windows, low down at alley level or up above where the light casts a wider glow. Some are displayed in the house of the family living there; others are at neighbours who’ve have lent their display spaces for people who’ve run out of theirs. A collection of small photos will be lit through holes in the backyard fence. The original 1945 photo of Garacia – discovered a few weeks after his death – will also be shown, as will a collection of old postcards of nearby Lafontaine Park and the broken pieces of a really old plate dug up in someone’s backyard when they were planting a bush.

That’s how Williams thinks of her exhibit: her name is on it, but it’s really a group show. “It’s a collective archive that’s shown in a bit of a higgledy-piggledy manner,” just like neighbourhood life, she said. “The photos are less posed than studio portraits and they’re displayed in unconventional places, here and there, using the space that’s available for the view.”

Months back, when she began to canvass her neighbours to see who’d be interested in participating, Williams was worried they’d think she was invading their privacy. Quite the opposite, it turned out. They love her project. Little wonder: it’s not just about her, it’s about them, and, more important, their relationship as neighbours.

“At first I thought ‘How am I going to convince an entire two blocks of people to give me their photographs and let me look through them all and put up the ones I like?’ But actually, there was so much enthusiasm – I had an amazing response.”

And she made fast friends. “The usual time it takes to meet someone, that time just collapses when you’re sharing something as precious as old family photographs. I feel like I’m the niece who has just come to visit, because we talk for hours. You just jump right in.”

One neighbour gave her a stack of deeds to the house. Another told of the old days when swans used to swim in the artificial lake of Lafontaine Park and how dangerous it was to go there after dark. Another told of motorcycle gangs disputing turf in the neighbourhood in the ’70s and ’80s. There were stories of well-known Quebec artists and musicians who have lived on St. André or Mentana: sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, singer-songwriters Jean Leloup and Plume Latraverse (Williams lives in his old house), painter Betty Goodwin.

Passing by down the alley last week, longtime resident André Laberge regaled Williams with an account of the time a boa constrictor got loose from the old Jardin des Merveilles zoo in the park.

“The Plateau has changed enormously since I was a boy,” Laberge said in the alley as Williams set up her show. “It used to be a very tough neighbourhood here, with all the gangs. There were lots of kids running around, and that was a big part of my life. It’s a history that should be told.”

His grandfather, Anatole Rivest, first set up shop on the block in 1901. He was a prosperous landlord – 65 rental properties in the neighbourhood. “So our family goes way back,” Laberge said. “That’s why I’m participating in this project, because it’s about my life and everyone else’s around here.”

Ironically, Laberge was in the process of moving out of the neighbourhood when Williams hailed him.

The Plateau has become too expensive to rent, he explained, so he’s moving south to Hochelaga-Maisonneuve – to a place by the river owned by a friend who, in another irony, lives off his rental income ... in the Plateau.

“The Plateau has this mystical reputation now, especially with the people who come here from France to live because they’ve read about it somewhere,” Laberge said. “Why? Why the Plateau? There are other neighbourhoods. I don’t know, I suppose it’s got something magical. That’s what keeps people coming.”

Unfortunately, all that new blood also makes memories of the old days thinner and thinner. All the more reason for the Williams’s memory project to exist, other neighbours said.

“It’s nice for us to get talked about as we really are, not just as the stereotypical petit bourgeois of the Plateau,” said France Plessis-Bélair, 61, who lives on Mentana St. in the house her late father, Jean, was born in 93 years ago. “We’re really just Mr. and Mrs. Everyman, not the nouveau riche and the bourgeois you might associate with this part of Montreal.”

Plessis-Bélair left the Plateau when she was 30 years old, only recently returning to live – happily so. “I had my little suburban kick: a little home, a little white fence and all the petty backyard jealousies that come with it,” she said. “Boy, was I unhappy! Twelve years in the suburbs, and all I ever thought about was coming back to the Plateau. I didn’t realize what I had here, the beauty here. It’s a more freethinking place, too. In the ’burbs, everyone imitates everyone else: a Tempo shelter in every driveway. Not here.”

The neighbourhood’s streets ring with history – and so do their names. St. André was the French hometown of the Robutel family, who owned a number of farms in Montreal in the late 17th century. Mentana was a village in Italy where French and papal soldiers defeated Garibaldi in 1867, the same year as Canadian Confederation. Bousquet is named after Constant Bousquet, a political prisoner in the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion. And Roy was named after Marguerite Roy, wife of Jean-Marie Cadieux, the notary who, in 1834, was the first to organize lots in the area and name the streets.

Williams’s own background couldn’t be more far-flung from the neighbourhood and city she adopted. She grew up in the Kootenays, a large region extending to the U.S. border in southeastern B.C. In 1993, she moved to Quebec to learn French and get a fine-arts education at Concordia University, specializing in photography. Her work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions here and in Ontario and Nova Scotia, as well as in Illinois. Other projects she’s working on include a series of photographs of underground rivers in Montreal, a series about moths and other insects, two works based on museum collections that focus on birds and bees, and a project to transform used books into pinhole cameras to take interior pictures at a public library.

But it’s the laneway project that’s – literally – closest to hearth and home. Williams considers Montreal her true home now, as do her husband, Randall Finnerty, a visual artist and animation technician at the National Film Board, and their two young sons.

“Before we moved into this house,” Williams said, “I noticed these pencil marks on a door frame that the owners had left; they’d been marking the height of their son as he grew. I told them how great I thought that was, that in a house you can see some of the traces of the previous owner.

“I suppose that was when I really started thinking about this project,” she added.

“Something accumulates in you at a subconscious level and then you finally realize it’s something you should act on. So I did.”

What: Laterna Magica, an installation by visual artist Loren Williams

When: Sept. 24 to Oct. 10. Illuminated photos from 7 p.m. to midnight.

Where: The laneway running north-south between St. André and de Mentana Sts., bounded by Roy and Bousquet Sts.

                   --------------------------------------HF&RV (Montreal too).........................Cheers !!.................

1 comment:

Les F said...

Here are the photos that accompanied the Montreal Gazette story: Don't forgret 'Full Screen' mode if you like