Kendra Besanger COMS 642, Peter van Wyck
Site Works :: A Few Thoughts, Some Plans, and Five Photos
Initially, we searched for a non-place, an abandoned place, one in need of some love, some care, and some
cultivation. We peered through alleyways, we considered a construction site, we hung out in dark and
unwelcoming corners. Eventually, we decided on a green space that is cast between towering grey buildings, train
tracks, concrete, a stone wall, and a meat packaging building. It is an oasis of springtime fauna contrasted against
a landscape of grey.
This oasis-like park seems to exist vaguely as a non-park: the grass is not cut, the boundaries are not clean, there
are no chain link fences or swing sets to be found, there are no City of Montréal signs casting shadows onto the
terrain. However, a non-park is most certainly not a non-place. Well-defined paths crisscross the unkempt grass,
people’s dogs run and play freely at all hours of the day, various objects, detritus, and markers of human presence
are scattered throughout the field. Depending on the day that we choose to visit, the site itself can look very well
maintained or very lived in – similar to what any and all of our homes might be like on different days. It is not
the abandoned site that we had imagined; instead, this place is layered with activities, projects, and resistance
movements that bring contentious issues of place, community, and sovereignty to the surface.
We have entered into a site that is undergoing a cultivation that is critical to its survival. We have walked,
unknowingly, into the midst of a multi-faceted project with a myriad of interesting people working on it: people
who have put time and effort into implanting it with the types of historical markers and cultural signifiers that
can be easily identified by city planners and decision makers. It has been marked as a place without being claimed
under one ownership. It has been “marked” or “mapped” it in order to preserve it and in order to allow for the
community to interact in and with it. The primary historical marker found on site, the Roerich symbol, has been
used in the past to signify a site of culture and heritage. In this place specifically, it is being used to signify a space
that belongs to the community that inhabits it.
As I reflect on all of these things, I know that we want to develop a relationship with this place that
communicates our awareness of the larger project – a respect for the project currently underway. The purpose of
our work on this site is to create an installation that encourages public interaction in a public place. These
interactions will be encouraged and facilitated by a number of objects that we bring to the place. For example, we
will nail a small wooden box to one of the trees and post a sign that encourages people to write down a memory
and leave it in the box. We will have another box in which people are asked to leave a note about how they feel
in this place. We may also create a box for an object exchange – a way to acquire a variety of diverse goods that
mark that coming and going of people and time. Perhaps this type of exchange within the site can be understood
as an amorphous time capsule of sorts?
We will also place aesthetically interesting but unexpected objects throughout our space – making it “homey,”
similar to the way in which one would make their living space a “home.” The aesthetics of private places are not
often brought out into public spaces. If we acknowledge that the objects that surround us are in fact reflections
of our personalities, our interests, our lifestyles, our aesthetic preferences, our class, our race, our gender, etc., we
can begin to think about the larger social significance of material objects and consumer goods. We all place
“things” within our domestic spaces (our private homes) and then arrange them according to our tastes. These
objects accumulate to communicate an aesthetic and create a mood or a sense of place. They contribute to the
formation of memory and add to the stories that we tell. They are often passed along as gifts or inheritances and
thus become important links between people and place.
By bringing “inside” objects “outside,” we are, in a sense, bringing elements of private place into public space.
Considering that the prerogatives of the projects currently underway in the meadow are to mark it as a place with
cultural and community ties, an installation that personalizes public space seems very appropriate. We hope to
create a place that evokes curiosity, imagination, creativity, and wonder. We will be creating it in a subtle enough
way that not everyone will notice it. We hope that those who stumble upon it will explore it in a similar way that
a child might explore an abandoned tree house or a fort in the woods.
Further, the Roerich symbol currently being used marks this space as one of creativity, culture, heritage, and thus
articulates the importance of the public’s interaction with space. By installing an open, interactive art project here,
we are utilizing the space in a way that adheres to the philosophy of the ongoing project and reaffirms that this
space is very much a place.
In our final presentation, we will guide the class through our installation, inviting participation, exploration and
interaction. We will also present some of the interactions (if we have evidence for any of them!) that occur
between this space, the installation, and the public.
Standing North, Looking South.
This photo gives a perspective of the site as a whole but also of the specific place that we have chosen to
do our site work. The small cluster of trees that sit in the centre of the photo is not only central to the
site but also a covered and semi-sheltered place to sit, have a campfire, sleep, or explore. It is a natural
“gathering place.” It is also a perfect place to install some subtle but visually stimulating markers of time.
Within these trees, we will be installing a variety of objects to interact with and communicate through.
We will play with themes of memory, nostalgia, serendipity, sensibility and the significance that “things”
and “objects” have to all of these terms. We love this spot because it will not necessarily appeal to
everyone – mostly those who are curious, who are taking the time to pause, or who might want to
explore the small island of trees that is interrupting the meadow of grass and trails. Those who take the
time to step inside will come into some unexpected surprises.
The 3D Roerich Symbol
This photo displays some of the work that has already been done at this site, primarily by the Champs
des Possibles group. The three typee shaped structures shown in this photograph are part of a larger
symbol referred to as the Roerich symbol. Within each structure, there is a hops garden growing. Not
seen in this photograph are the three smaller circles of rocks that surround each typee structure. The
larger circle of rocks which envelopes all three circles is not visible either. Together, all of the elements
of this structure create a symbol that is described as:
representing the totality of culture, with the three dots being Art, Science, and Religion, three of the most
embracing of human cultural activities. He also described the circle as representing the eternity of time,
encompassing the past, present, and future. The sacred origins of the symbol, as an illustration of the
trinities fundamental to all religions, remain central to the meaning of the Pact and the Banner today.1
This symbol, constructed mostly of natural objects and large enough to be seen aerially, resembles the
kinds of earth works that we have discussed in class and as discussed in Edward Casey’s article
“Mapping with Earth Works: Robert Smithson on the Site.”
This photo faces north, looking towards the traintracks that act as a crossing between the Mile End and
the Jean Talon area. The large factory style building is one of a couple enormous buildings that frame
the space quite ominiously. To the left of the Roerich symbol is a small cluster of trees that people are
often napping or reading under, shaded by the leaves. Directly behind the most middle typee is our
1 Pact and Banner Of Peace Through Culture, http://www.roerich.org/nr_pact_banner.html
Standing West, Looking East: Our site within this site.
Upon every visit to the site thus far, there has been evidence of people ‘hanging out’ on this little island-
like terrain: campfire ash, bottles, chairs, a computer monitor, unidentifiable detritus of all sorts. An
amorphous time capsule of sorts, as well? Interestingly, there has also been evidence of people cleaning
up and maintaining this little spot. The garbage is usually removed within a few days and it seems as if
the ground has been raked. This particular photo captures a post-clean up moment. Only one day
earlier, there was garbage strewn, the chair was tipped over, and there were broken bottles scattered on
On the right of this photo you can see a row of slender trees along a ridge. Within those trees, and
further to the right we will install some quirky objects: a terrarium, some flower pots, a box for
swapping miscellaneous objects, a box for memories, a box for secrets. As mentioned, we are building
an installation that invites interactions of all types. Obviously though, the island itself invites interaction
with it, as a place. It will be interesting to add on to a place that already welcomes so many interactions.
Trails at Sunset
One of the many well defined trails throughout this place: one physical marking of many bodies passing
through this space. If you make one lap around this space, you will realize rather quickly that this is a
place of transition. More specifically, it transitions between the North Western end of the Plateau, into
the Mile End; from the Eastern part of the Mile End into the Plateau; and between both of these areas,
across the tracks and into the Rosemont, Little Italy, Jean Talon area of the city. The trails start from
every angle, they cross over one another, they overlap and interrupt the grassy landscape. This field
seems to be a kind of haven, a safe place to pause or continue once you’ve made it safely across the “no
man’s land” of the off limits train tracks. It is a green haven that interrupts a forlorn landscape of semi-
abandoned buildings, dead end roads, and cul de sacs. These trails that have been cast onto this place are
welcoming of newcomers, unlike the neighbouring stone wall, across the street that pits itself against the
rest of the world, uninviting to most. These trails are also etchings of all of the bodies who have passed
through this space – they are markings of place. They are also significant in that they physically manifest
the temporal elements of this space - they mark a passing of time and prove a human presence that
continues to come back, to walk through, and to make its mark on the landscape.
Les Champ des Possibles :: A Map to Mark A Place
Here is a photograph of the map that the project Les Champ des Possibles has put up. They have
mapped the area, marking special points, the Roerich Symbol, the train tracks to the north, etc. This is a
significant map because it communicates that “something” exists here in the language of power. It
delineates the space as socially and culturally significant by giving it a formal topography. Ultimately, it
codes the area in a way that communicates to those who make decisions about land use, green space,
etc. I am a little bit conflicted about coding this place because even though I absolutely agree that these
kind of codes are necessary modes of communication, it would be a bit sad to see this site transformed
into a municipal park. It would not be the same kind of place if the grass was trimmed evenly or if the
paths were “maintained” by machines that do that sort of thing. If the entry points to the space were
redefined and made official by gateways or park signs, the allure would inevitably disappear a little bit.
Its codification or formalizing would strip away some of the magic that it holds – magic that stems from
its ambiguity. So, as I stood in front of this map for the first time, I was torn by the success that the
project has seen thus far but a little bit saddened by the languages that we are so frequently forced to
speak in order to achieve these kinds of successes.
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