Right to the City
Who has the right to the city? was produced for a 2015 Concordia University graduate studies course in Art Education centred on the Right to the City initiative in Montreal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood. The work examines the shared human-animal environment and shared human-animal relationship within the wider community. The presence of animal/non-human inhabitants in the community was used within the work to express how two examples of urban wildlife, the red fox and the monarch butterfly, are simultaneously and differentially impacted by the increasing urbanization and gentrification within the post-industrial ecology, and wider community “space” of the “Pointe”.
A decrease of rural habitat has forced red fox populations into cities worldwide, where they prove their ease at adapting to live alongside humans, losing few of their rural characteristics. Conversely, monarch butterflies face decline through loss of habitat and the effects of advancing urbanization and gentrification. North America’s widespread development of suburban communities and urban condos has decreased growing sites of milkweed, which provides monarchs with food and summer breeding grounds.
Qui a le droit a la ville?/Who has the right to the city? was completed using multiple washes of watercolour on rag paper, cut out and collaged into vignettes. The final work consists of two 13 x 17 inch vignettes. One depicts a fox in a nighttime landscape alongside Montreal's Lachine Canal. The second shows monarch butterflies in a field of milkweed, with construction cranes visible in the background, representing the threat of advancing urban sprawl. These cut paper collages were complemented by a third, participatory aspect of the project: a 24 x 36 inch cut paper map of Point-St-Charles, ready for stamping with hand-carved rubber stamps of the fox and butterfly. Visitors to the 2015 exhibition were invited to stamp a keepsake card bearing the project title, and also to stamp an animal on the map as a means of showing solidarity with the nonhuman creatures that also call the neighborhood home.
The map, made of intricately cut white paper, was left blank in order to disassociate it from the human definitions of the community, emphasizing the different concept of the community “space” of the non-human occupants. The map was then stamped by viewers with a fox and a butterfly, showing solidarity with the animals as co-inhabitants of the community, increasing acknowledgement and awareness of their presence within the neighbourhood, and also serving to symbolize a tolerant and compassionate attitude towards the presence of urban wildlife within the community and further afield.
“My inspiration for this multi-faceted artwork grew from various sources, not least of which was my weekly walks to Share The Warmth, site of the Right to the City classes in Pointe-St-Charles. I observed real biodiversity and became increasingly aware of how different the modern face of the neighbourhood is from the sooty, treeless, streets I saw in faded historical photographs. Today, the Point is increasingly infiltrated by nature, and I quickly became drawn to the idea of working with non-human subjects, as well as the notion that humans were not the only creatures negotiating and affected by The Point’s rapidly changing postindustrial environment.” -Jacob Le Gallais
A dynamic, multi-discipline project, the Right to the City initiative seeks to explore the impact of social change and the importance of “place” on the fabric of the Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood, a historically disfavoured and low-income district of the city.