This Swinging Town!
I moved back to Montreal this October partly motivated by lack of decent bagels in London but mostly heeding the newly reinvigorated Siren Song of Public Art projects.
Yes, Montreal it seems is alive and bursting at its’ seems with public installations designed to activate bodies and imaginations; to provide a sense of fun as well as encourage a sense of Place among its public.
That last bit – sense of Place – is pretty darned important as it feeds the Sense of Self that one develops over time, experience and attachments to things like: people, objects, and places.
Like sound and colour, places resonate whether experienced in-situ, in person or via mediated images (tourism posters, postcards, historical art works, etc.). We often say, and hear it said, that this or that place feels good, creepy, cool, depressing, lively, foreboding, or inviting. Places have personalities all their own, and can take on, reflect, contradict or challenge the traits and expectations of their occupants or users. We humans however also have expectations – some met, others challenged or disappointed – and what we do with their successes and/or failures determines our character and informs who we are. We bring these expectations to the places we inhabit.
In general, public artistic intervention seeks to question, reflect, disturb, disrupt, and open for discussion the questions ‘what constitutes a sense of Place?’, and importantly ‘what constitutes a sense of Self?’. Most cultural groups bringing these interventions to the fore have these ideas in mind along with a mandate to explore public well-being in relation to interactions with these installations and their respective locations.
Successful case in point: 21 Balançoires
1st 2014; Spring 2017 – Promenade des Artistes, Quartier du Spectacle, Montreal
Starting with a basic premise of interactive fun this installation, designed by interactive experts Daily tous les jours, operates from deceptively simple notions: that appealing and linking to early childhood experiences (pleasurable) can unite an abstraction of people into a celebration of movement, colour, sound, and physical energy, and help reinterpret a place. Sometimes united in concert, sometimes discordant and cacophonic they encourage you to get out into your City, to get out into the World and become a part of both – to embody your place, to intervene, to reinvent, and to take up Space. And, to share it with others.*
The designers understand that when we swing we are uprooted, of ‘no place’ while suspended in the air around and high above us; delight, elation, joy, swing, childish, free, and child-like – the shared emotion and experience with those around you; the REMEMBERING. Friends and strangers alike, cooperation, unexpected outcomes or ‘results’ (ie: swing higher or harder and change the tones of music triggered by your swing! WOO HOO!) – all invite an interrogation not just of what constitutes a sense of place but also what constitutes a Public Place and (subversively) what exactly these places should/could be used for, in how many interesting and non-conventional capacities can these places function? These types of things CHALLENGE us to rethink and reframe our expectations of and for public places and public art – and of our personal and social Selves. They do it by recalling or introducing you to physical sensations that leave you exhilarated, chatty, amused and enlivened.
Unlike many of Life’s great adventures these installations are FREE to enjoy and explore, to manipulate, to share, and most importantly to embody and alter through personal experience: TO TAKE YOUR PLACE.
So, incomparably delicious bagels aside, it was 21 Balançoires that swung my decision and brought me home.
*The project was held in a public venue (Le Quartier du Spectacles, Montreal, QC, Canada) and open to all passers-by. Project organisers encouraged the ‘sharing’ of images and video via social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo. On the days that I did swing, I observed many users and their friends taking images with their mobile devices. Interestingly, interaction among many strangers revolved around the taking and showing of images on-site; some people exchanging information, possibly contact (an interesting sociological avenue to explore academically perhaps?).
Photos courtesy of Olivier Blouin