Place: A Deformation
For two semesters, we used the cruciform Place Ville-Marie complex in downtown Montreal as a point of departure to study modernism. Place: A Deformation involved two phases. First, we investigated the architectural, social and political histories of Place Ville-Marie. Then, we subjected the complex to investigation and critique, taking its formal parameters and network of histories as bases for poetic transformations.
Here is what we came up with.
PLACE: A (RE)CONSTRUCTION
Place: A (Re)Construction is Jessica Bebenek’s ongoing durational performance in which she is recreating Montreal's historic Place Ville-Marie cruciform skyscraper into a piece of fibre art through the “needlepoint on plastic canvas” method.
“Having worked in textile arts for years, both as a crafter and a conceptual artist, I came to this project with an experiential, embodied understanding of the grid as a design tool.”
For a photo essay detailing method and process, please visit Jessica’s website, here.
The business practices related to urban development that made the construction of Place Ville Marie a reality run parallel to the ways in which Tiohtiá:ke/Montréal/Montreal and Kanien’kehá:ka of the Mohawk Nation have been colonized since the arrival of European settlers on the continent. With respect for Indigenous histories in this region which extend well beyond Montreal's 367 years, the video, RELATIONSHIP-PLACE is a meditation on the Place Ville Marie complex, the built environment, and official lines of transportation and communications technology (i.e., modes of transportation and utility lines, to corridors, the internet and telecommunications,) all part of civic infrastructure. RELATIONSHIP-PLACE is a meditation on the official communications systems entangled with colonial settlement, urban, and communications development. Kate Marshall's discussion of the role corridors play in specific literary texts, from Corridor:Media Architectures in American Fiction (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2013) was a key inspiration in helping to sound, stretch and trouble the notion of Place Ville Marie as singular urban edifice emblematic of Montreal's civic mythology.
A MODERNIST AFFECT GRID (IN EIGHT POEMS)
“From the malls, the author has brought the clerk many stories. There are people, she says, who have cut off whole parts of themselves . . . There is no delicate centre to them, just the course exterior of getting and wanting . . . This is how the author would put it. I hate malls. They fill me with revulsion and hatred for everything.”
—Dionne Brand, The Blue Clerk
In 1962, the cruciform tower of Place Ville Marie opened to the public as a prestige “archetype of technological know-how” (Place Ville Marie: Montreal's Shining Landmark 9). In the same year, the psychologist Silvan Tomkins published Volume I of Affect Imagery Consciousness, which utilizes the vocabulary of then-emerging cybernetic and systems theories to delineate nine primary, biologically-rooted affects. Interest-excitement, enjoyment-joy, surprise-startle, distress-anguish, anger-rage, fear-terror, shame-humiliation, dismell, and disgust, Tomkins argues, evolved in the mechanistic “central assembly” of the human mind and each involve a distinct duration and density of increase, decrease, or persistence in neural stimulation. More complicatedly, though, Tomkins claims that while we can learn the “scripts” and “scenes” (or sequences of actions and events) linked to these physiologically urgent affects in order to adapt them towards our “images” (or goals), the affects precede our drives and emotions are thus inherently separate from our objects—functionalist, social, moral, or otherwise.
The following photos and poems are my attempt to navigate and interrogate Place Ville Marie’s gridded modernist architecture and Tomkin’s “basic emotions” program. Shaped to the rough rectangular dimensions of the cruciform tower’s curtain wall windows and titled after the aforementioned nine affects, the poems playfully and critically compare the modular foundations of the technocapitalist building and psychological theory. One of my major aims was to juxtapose the often opaque poetic content—inspired by the multiplexed and/or disorienting aspects of Place Ville Marie’s interior and Tomkins' statements and syntax—against the formally bounded facade of clarity.
Poem 1 of 8:
 Italicized text quoted from Silvan Tomkins's four volumes of Affect, Imagery, Consciousness (Springer Publishing Company, 1962, 1963, 1991, and 1992).
This project takes Don Nerbas’ article on real estate developer William Zeckendorf and the making of Place Ville-Marie as a jumping off point. Nerbas paints a picture of PVM as a void/vortex, built as it was upon the former Dorchester Street Hole, and at a time when there was already a surplus of office and retail space in Montreal. The film reworks Zeckendorf’s “Hawaiian Method,” a method of funding a property’s construction by dividing it into component financial parts through which greater capital could be aggregated. Modification-1 breaks the building apart into five conceptual elements—structure, circulatory space, image, and archive—from which we gathered our film and sound. The film disarticulates these disparate elements in the editing process, performing a weirding, by which it reconstitutes the hole/void/vortex. Source matter includes the building’s exterior, circulatory spaces by which it is penetrated and enwrapped, municipal archival records, memories of a Montreal poet, a dancer’s kinetic interpretation of the tunnels beneath the downtown core, and sound from all locations. First due to technical restrictions, and later as part of process, sound was recorded separately from video, dismantled during editing, and reassembled for each section of the film. The film seeks recursion to the anterior void, the holes that Place Ville-Marie was built on top of, through a hauntological examination of the surface of the building, interconnected infrastructure, and its archival reliquary.
Sean Conforti, Robin Graham, Malcolm Sanger, Joshua Wiebe
Sean Conforti, Robin Graham, Malcom Sanger
Emma Lee Kaï Iverson
FOUR RADIAL WALKS
Place Ville Marie’s utopian self-positioning of its complex as the compass rose for a mountainous archipelago creates incongruous situations when taking it at its word. Moving across the city to find its face, to see it head on, where the arm blends back into its background, to see it at true, grid which would have it again as a rectangle, the path one has to take ties knots. These walks function as Spatial essays, moving the body through site and citation.
Jacques Cartier Bridge at 10AM
The skeletal appearance of the structural lattice and the weatherworn surface of the earth provide a segmented series of zones for bodies moving through a regulated fantasy.
Lachine Canal at 2PM
An isthmus festooned with industrial trash positions the walker in a sink between Griffintown and the Old Town, two zones of luxurious nostalgia.
Children’s Square at 5PM
A constellation of spectral hallways hold the fractions of the surfaces we can see.
The Mountain after Sunset
The contractual tether PVM has to Montreal’s natural landscape and municipal identity brings with it a latent politic of National Romanticism, the continuity of a nation to the earth.
THE CROSS, A COMMON SYMBOL
A GROUP PROJECT
The Cross, A Common Symbol by A GROUP PROJECT is a collective multimedia refusal of the idea of pure symbols and forms in art and architecture. In response to early modernist ideals of distilled symbols capable of expressing transcendent politics, we argue that symbols have, at best, a clumsy metaphysics. They are clay-footed, caked in the sweat and shit of personal and public histories. No matter an abundance of bleach or other powders applied, symbols such as the cross can’t come clean in the wash.
In Montreal, we are boxed in or boxed out by crosses. There is the airy, 26-ton steel lattice cross high on Mount Royal, standing in for the first colonial cross erected in 1643 by the city’s so-called founding father, the French military officer Paul Chomedy de Maisonneuve. One year before, in 1642, Paul led a small group to clear the ground for Fort Ville Marie, the first permanent French Catholic colonial settlement on what would later be known as the Island of Montreal. Paul and his people wanted to start not an inclusive and warm community but a model community with model citizens, so they started by building a walled enclosure. How curious and dreadful to see models of Fort Ville Marie in the shape of a square with four extended and sharply pointed corners, evocative of a compass indicating further expansion and dispossession of indigenous nations, but also evocative of the cross. Fort Ville Marie is also depicted with two well-trodden paths in the shape of a cross dead-center in the enclosure.
The cross as correctional architecture is at work here, having its roots in European and later North American churches and its bullish branches in our prisons, hospitals, and public housing projects. The idea is that those of us dwelling within a cross, or passing through, can be “re-formed” by the form of the building itself, with its chiropractic symmetry.
Coming down from the mountain with Paul’s lattice cross at our backs, we find Montreal’s other imposing cross, the 47-floor modernist tower Place Ville Marie (PVM), completed in 1962. Place Ville Marie takes its name proudly from Fort Ville Marie in a celebration of colonial expansion, capital gain, and ultimately genocide of the indigenous peoples and stewards of this land, the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation, Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal being historically known as a gathering place for many First Nations. PVM is a cruciform structure that maps the earth four ways and levitates. On PVM’s rooftop is the four-way beacon that combs our city’s sky each night beginning at sundown. It is said that the powerful lights of the beacon have no practical function beyond advertising the presence of PVM’s principal tenant, The Royal Bank of Canada, metonym for capitalism, but the lights are not only an incredibly long-running ad (56 years and counting). They appear to be searching for something, and so they are searching for what else but bodies, our bodies to find, as prison lights search. The beacon shares the form, perched at the head of the PVM cross, of the cruciform halo of Jesus Christ. Christ’s four-way beam of light in so many paintings obeys no rules of space or time and aims to communicate—to touch in order to affect—those it gently but firmly strikes. Place Ville Marie does not just take its name from Montreal’s first colony, the old Fort, merely softening “fort” for “place,” but its high walls, the highest in the city at the time of its erection, once again raised those first walls and reopened their lacerations of the land, which are still open wounds today.
With this project, we are not asking what crosses are supposed to mean in various contexts, but what they have meant to us, to our friends and family, to our communities.
A GROUP PROJECT is led by mother and daughter team, Jesse Ruddock and Cheryl Ruddock.
 The following resource provides further details on Concordia University’s Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal territorial acknowledgement and the process of its rigorous collaborative composition: www.concordia.ca/about/indigenous/territorial-acknowledgement.html.
 In “Forbidden City: Inside the City’s Beacon,” an article by CTV News Montreal, RBC Public Relations Director Raymond Chouinard is quoted as narrowly defining the function of the beacon’s lights: “They aim only to emphasize the presence of the Royal Bank in Montreal.”