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Laval Chronicles


For some, Laval is a lived experience—the memory of childhood spent playing on avenues lined with identical houses, the pulsations of its everyday life marking a sense of belonging. For others, Laval is unfamiliar, barely known or imagined. It can sometimes appear as a shadow cast by the island of Montreal, which lies just to the south, where Laval is seen as a neighbour, known to exist but little more. One constructs an idea of what makes it tick, without really knowing. It can be an unavoidable segment on one’s path toward the Laurentians, or just the three metro stations that extend the orange line out of Montreal. For those further away, Laval is but a place on a map, a faraway city one only knows through pictures, stories, statistics.

Ten artists have explored various urban, human, geographical, and historical aspects of the city of Laval. Their different perspectives are conveyed through a series of postcards to form these Laval Chronicles. Postcards usually illustrate and crystallize landscapes and monuments, thus marking time and place and contributing to the visual identity of a given location and of its community. In this project, they foreground simple stories, transient surroundings, ordinary dreams, and this suburb’s potentiality.

With their references to lived experiences, on-site expeditions, historical research, and the projection of possibilities, these artists’ postcards offer a partial topography of the city while proposing speculative, imaginative, and imprecise conceptions of Laval.


CHRONICLES OF INSULARITY

Since 2010, Anne Bertrand has scoured the shores of the Island of Montreal and, more recently, of Île Jésus, looking for places from which to launch her canoe. Her project titled Voyage en canot autour de l’archipel d’Hochelaga (Canoeing around the Hochelaga Archipelago), mingles territorial explorations and documentary research, such as her ninth expedition, which led her to discover fragments of history through landscape photographs, factual accounts, and assemblages of documents constructed as self-portraiture. In the work, geographical maps situate localities with respect to their particular uses, and sites that first appear picturesque reveal hints of transformations. Among the shrubbery and swirls, ageing architectural elements appear, signalling an expanding territory and population.

Hailing from Isle-aux-Coudres with its almost exclusively maritime access, Étienne Tremblay-Tardif is interested in road architecture that spans obstacles. Traverser la rivière des Prairies à la vitesse de la lumière sur le pont de l’A25 (Crossing rivière des Prairies at light speed on the A25 bridge) is specifically concerned with the suspended bridge linking Laval to Montreal. The intermingling of historical and contemporary photos of the inauguration of the bridge and its tollbooths takes one quickly back and forth in time. The abstraction of the images blurs the reading and suggests the inevitable decay of city infrastructures, a reminder that the physical structures marking the territory are governed by political forces. Like the bridge, the postcards create liminal spaces where time also is suspended.


CHRONICLES OF AN ABSENT LANDSCAPE

Lavallée is a collection of images produced from photographs that Donna Akrey took of boulevards, shopping centres, and other suburban monuments in Laval. Constructed elements almost completely disappear in these images, leaving only abstract forms delimited by the negative space carved around “natural” elements—all but the vegetation has been erased, in order to transform urban spaces into improbable forests. But the effort is in vain, for the natural elements are also structured : ironically, the postcards bring out their planned geometry. However, some details show that despite the control we strive to impose on nature, the latter reclaims its territory and makes its way through the cracks in the pavement.

Contrary to conventional postcards that aim to represent timeless iconic images, Shane Krepakevich has designed cards where the sky appears as a metaphor for the impossibility of seizing a space. While the captions refer to a specific location—the intersection of Le Corbusier Boulevard and Jacques-Tétreault Street—the upwardly gazing photographs reference the fluctuations of time, suggesting a city in motion, changing with a succession of urban development projects. Landscape is absent; it exists only via proxy, through postcards that show the insufficiency of a visit or of an image in capturing the essence of a city.


SIGNED CHRONICLES

Julie Fournier Lévesque took her fieldwork into the archives, into old correspondence from a time before Laval became a suburb, when it was a region of parishes and villages. The result is Rencontres archivées (Archived encounters), a work comprised of reproductions of postcards laden with affect. Their back sides reveal anecdotal fragments, snippets of conversation and unfinished stories. Whether used for sentimental or for practical purposes, these once essential and private communications are now carefully preserved in institutions as historical and heritage objects. Passing through various hands, they have shifted repeatedly between public and private spheres. Now they lie shielded from us by plastic envelopes and white cotton gloves.

As an art teacher at Saint-Maxime high school, Marc Laforest works closely with Laval youth. For Surface scolaires (School surfaces), Laforest asked six of his students to contribute a drawing that he then digitally integrated into photographs of the surface markings on schoolroom furniture. Like the graffiti found throughout the Chomedey neighbourhood, the desk markings, whether intentional or accidental, testify to consecutive generations of students and their desire for self-affirmation. On these cards, the individuals’ expressions meld with the anonymous markings of the youngsters who came and went through the same classroom before them.

Vanessa Kwan’s postcard, titled Language Leaves Me Lonesome, suggests a melancholic solitude and voiceless communication. The artist refers to gestures Laval youth make to signify their belonging to a community : a series of hand signals for each letter in the name of the city. An “L” pantomimed in front of a mirror is doubled and becomes the second instance of the letter in LAVAL. The photograph nonetheless also reflects the isolation that is sometimes endemic to suburban life, and the hand sign thus also takes on the connotation of “loser.” In the mirror, the camera flash obscures the subject’s identity, reinforcing the sense of a self-inflicted insult, even as the photo conveys a desire for communication.


SUBURBAN CHRONICLES

Going through family photos she found scattered in a cardboard box, Jacinthe Robillard has revisited her childhood experience of Laval. Handling these pictures brings out memories, banal and extraordinary alike, of moments spent on the sidewalk, in backyards, or behind closed doors in a neighbourhood of identical houses. Documents of the photographs piling up reveal fragments of Laval’s daily vernacular in the form of capsules de banlieue (Suburban clips). This private universe invites the outsider’s eye, whether it be to recognize familiar scenes or to read peculiar stories.

As a setting, suburban houses elicit not only memories of daily life, but also the projections of scenes of future life. Such projections are the concern of Claire Dumoulin’s Vivre à Laval, whose title alludes to promotional literature in which citizens’ testimonials invite one to live in the city. The houses the artist has drawn, typical of certain neighbourhoods, reflect various suburban ideals and dreams. Yet, grafted onto the homes’ generic styling, details testify to the everyday life and individuality of each household.

The suburban dream is also cultivated through the numerous housing development projects that crop up in Laval. With these uniform neighbourhoods, whole universes emerge, created from scratch. With Hétéropolis 00, Jean-François Prost (Adaptive Actions) strives to interrupt the homogeneous reality imposed on these new neighbourhoods by proposing unusual development projects that test the openness of their inhabitants, who are invited to respond. The bold propositions follow no preestablished model or path; the addition of colour, gaiety, and diversity in the neighbourhood prompts a remodelling and reinvention of day-to-day reality.


These chronicles testify to the connections that have been woven through encounters, research, exchange, and explorations around different facets of the Laval territory. Proposing a discovery of the city in all its specificity, they also broach issues regarding the suburb : a place whose landscape is constructed through housing developments risen from old buildings and new infrastructures, and where official history mingles with personal stories. To bring these postcards together in the form of a publication is to engage them in dialogue with one another. Complementing each other via form and subjet, the cards thus create bridges between periods, juxtapose city neighbourhoods, and foster the meeting of different generations of citizens and visitors. Individually, furtively, the postcards will return to Laval. Placed in various locations or delivered by mail, they are destined to travel, to be picked up by visitors on the move, or sent as missives.


Mariane Bourcheix-Laporte
Anne-Marie Proulx
Translated by Ron Ross