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From secret gardens to horse palaces: 680 scholars converge on Montreal

This June, Concordia co-hosts the international Association of Critical Heritage Studies Biennial Conference
May 13, 2016
By J. Latimer

Griffintown Horse Palace (2011) by G. Scott MacLeod Griffintown Horse Palace (2011) by G. Scott MacLeod

Art exhibitions, walking tours, commemorative installations — these are just a few of the activities attracting 680 academics to Montreal for the third Association of Critical Heritage Studies (ACHS) Biennial Conference.

From June 3 to 8, 2016, Concordia and the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) are co-hosting the conference with the Canada Research Chair on Urban Heritage at UQAM.

It’s the first time the conference has been held in the Americas, and it will draw participants from 80 countries.

Critical heritage studies: a definition

Heritage is the full range of our inherited traditions, monuments, objects and culture, as well as the contemporary activities, meanings and behaviours that society draws from them.

“Critical heritage invites scholars to think about heritage as multiple and contested,” says Steven High, Concordia’s lead organizing committee member for the conference and co-director of COHDS.

"We seek to go beyond institutional spaces like state museums or official monuments to consider heritage in the everyday lives of 'ordinary' people."

Along with panellist participation and moderation, Concordia’s signature events at the conference include a program of excursions called “Walking the City,” as well as a critical creation series curated by Stéphane Martelly and Lilia Topouzova, postdoctoral fellows at COHDS. The creation series will be presented in the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV Building) atrium on June 6 and 7.

Four of Concordia’s 20-plus researchers gave us a taste of their upcoming ACHS presentations, which incorporate this year’s theme, “What does heritage change?”

What does heritage change? Concordia at the ACHS

The secret garden

Gardens of the Grey Nuns | June 3, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. 

After the conference’s opening ceremony, moderated by Clarence Epstein, Concordia’s senior director of urban and cultural affairs, there will be a public viewing of a research creation installation on the grounds of the Grey Nuns (GN) Building.

The Grey Nuns property, acquired by Concordia in 2007, was first purchased by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal in 1861. In addition to the landmark buildings designed by Victor Bourgeau, the nuns also established and maintained gardens and orchards on the property during their almost 150 years of residency.

While it is still possible to locate remnants of these gardens on the site, a group of Concordia-based artists and scholars have developed 10 different research creation projects that animate the more ephemeral aspects of this history.

“It’ll be an evening of enchantment, speaking directly to the rich heritage of a specific urban landscape: the gardens of the Grey Nuns Motherhouse — now part of Concordia’s downtown campus,” says Cynthia Hammond, chair of Concordia’s Department of Art History.

Hammond co-curated this research creation with visiting researcher, artist and alumna Shauna Janssen (PhD 14, Humanities), in collaboration with Jill Didur, associate professor in the Department of English.

The Gardens of the Grey Nuns event consists of site-specific vignettes, including large-scale archival photos, live music, tincture making, ceramics and more.

“Most people really don’t know about this garden along Saint Mathieu Street, behind the Faubourg,” says Hammond.

“The really interesting thing about the garden is that it wasn’t ornamental and it wasn’t contemplative; it was a working garden where the nuns produced food for as many as 1,000 people living at the Motherhouse. They even sold the excess produce.”

The garden was also a place where the nuns went to exercise and to share botanical and medical knowledge, Hammond added.

“Site-responsive art has an innate capacity to explore a place's history and heritage,” she says. “'The Garden of the Grey Nuns' will provide a portal into this piece of Montreal's past, making palpable the ways that historical women shaped the spaces of this city.”


New City Gas Company of Montreal (2011) by G. Scott MacLeod New City Gas Company of Montreal (2011) by G. Scott MacLeod

The horse palace of Griffintown

In Griffintown / Dans l’Griff  | June 7 at 7 a.m.

“It’s a peoples’ history — a Ken Burns–style approach to one of the oldest industrial and working-class neighbourhoods in Montreal,” says artist, filmmaker and alumnus G. Scott MacLeod (MA 13, Art Education).

MacLeod’s master’s thesis is the backbone of an exhibition called In Griffintown / Dans l’Griff, at the Centre d’histoire de Montréal. Using his original drawings, a 17-minute documentary film and videos, the exhibition explores 21 sites on a walking tour of Griffintown.

“The exhibition is about three generations of the Mercier family,” says MacLeod. “It’s the voice of the subjects themselves. Their stories take us down the streets of an industrial sector that has undergone quite the metamorphosis.”

While conveying what life is like for the Merciers, the exhibition highlights local landmarks like Lucky Luke’s horse palace, the Lowney chocolate factory and the site where a Royal Air Force Liberator plane crashed into row houses in 1944.

The complexities of commemoration

Moving Memories - Difficult Histories in Dialogue | June 6, from 1:30 to 3 p.m.  

How do you avoid the “competition of victimhood” that can occur in museum planning when two genocides are displayed together? How can they share the same space — literally and figuratively?

Nadine Blumer, a postdoctoral fellow and affiliate with Concordia's Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence (CEREV), investigates these questions in Moving Memories - Difficult Histories in Dialogue. This multi-artist exhibition at CEREV intends to shed light on the complexities of commemorating the genocides of the Roma and the Armenians.

“Both the Roma and Armenians have a history of experiencing violence, denial, lack of recognition and ongoing persecution,” says Blumer, who is exhibiting with Hourig Attarian, assistant professor in the Department of Education, and Anique Vered, a visiting academic in the Department of Studio Arts.

“We want to see how we can display and communicate two different stories. How do we tell one history without marginalizing the other?”

The exhibition includes multi-media installations, film and audio. Bloomer’s piece is a replica of Berlin's monument to Roma victims of the Nazi rule.

“The original monument in Berlin is a round, flat pool of water, so we replicated it, then projected images of Roma activists onto the water,” says Bloomer.

Attarian’s installation, “Threading a map, spinning life stories,” integrates oral and video-projected testimonies of second-generation female survivors of the Armenian genocide with a live performance piece. She uses red thread to map Armenian escape routes.

The second component of their Moving Memories exhibition is a Public-Panel-Relay, led by Vered, on Tuesday, June 7.

“We hope the panel will challenge what we mean by an ‘expert,’” says Bloomer.

The city tours

Canal: Walking the Post-Industrial Lachine Canal \ June 5, from 7 to 9 a.m.

La Pointe: L’autre bord de la track / The Other Side of the Tracks | June 6, 7 to 9 a.m.

“I want to get the conference delegates into the wider city, out of traditional spaces and into the neighbourhoods,” says Steven High, who is leading guided tours into regions of southwest Montreal. “Heritage exists in communities.”

High will lead Canal: Walking the Post-Industrial Lachine Canal and La Pointe: L’autre bord de la track / The Other Side of the Tracks, augmented with downloadable audio guides. [Please note: pre-registration is required for these two events.]

“The power of the audio walk is that it’s memory based,” says High. “You’re hearing what was, while seeing what is. They’re not the same thing, so there’s a friction between past and present. You get to think about what’s lost and gained. This often raises political questions.”

High and Hammond will also moderate two “in community” sessions: Teaching/Learning/Living Post-Industrial Ecologies: Roundtable on Concordia’s ‘Right to the City’ Initiative and Walking Post-Industrial Areas.

“These cross-disciplinary sessions will explore the ethical and political stance of researchers and artists who have created memory-based audio or art walks that engage with the post-industrial transformation of our cities,” says High.

“How does in situ listening and curated feeling change the experience of walking through these areas? Does it contribute to or counter the wider aestheticization of rubble into picturesque ruin? What are the underlying politics of these public initiatives?” 


Register now for the Association of Critical Heritage Studies Biennial Conference, which runs June 3 to 8, 2016.



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