August 15th, 2007

The Mystery is Solved

Posted in Art and Design, Canada by Christopher DeWolf

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Back in July I asked if anyone knew who was painting the manhole covers of Mile End. Slowly but surely, readers started offering some leads. One mentioned that she had heard the artist being interviewed on CBC Radio, but couldn’t remember which show; another suggested that it might have to do with an arts collective that has recently established itself in the neighbourhood. Sure enough, this week brought with it confirmation that a Dutch artist named Franck Bragigand was responsible for the manhole covers, in a project realized by DARE-DARE, the Consulate-General of the Netherlands in Montreal and Montreal’s municipal electrical commission.

DARE-DARE, it turns out, is responsible for a slough of innovative public art in Montreal. I’ve noticed many of them before, but simply assumed they were unsanctioned street art, not art created with the blessing of the city’s authorities. One project, funded by the provincial government, had the artist Karen Spencer describe her dreams on cardboard, in English, French and Spanish, for an entire year. She then mounted the cryptic cardboard passages on walls around the city. I came across one last winter that read: “I dreamed I criticized J.J. for falling improperly.” Another sign began with the inscription, “Soñé que mis dientes estaban wen mi boca” — “I dreamed my teeth were falling out of my mouth.”

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DARE-DARE is headquartered in what has come to be called the Park With No Name, an vacant patch of greenery next to the Van Horne Viaduct at the corner of Clark and Arcade. In true Montreal fashion, the group is not just bilingual, but trilingual — it seems that, for many organizations, Spanish has become Montreal’s de facto third language, perhaps to ease the tension between French and English — and it has hosted some pretty swell get-togethers at its Mile End home, including two big outdoor dance parties in June. A wood-fired pizza oven has even been built in the Park With No Name, ostensibly for community use, but a conflict with the city has restricted its use and might even see the oven demolished altogether.

What strikes me most about DARE-DARE is that its street art has been created with more or less full acceptance by City Hall (the pizza oven debacle notwithstanding) indicating that there is some openness towards innovative forms of public art among the bureaucrats and the politicians. At the same time, though, the city’s official relationship with graffiti, the grandfather of all street art, continues to deteriorate. As Kate McDonnell points out over at the City Weblog, Montreal isn’t getting any less bourgeois. So what gives?

All photos courtesy DARE-DARE.


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4 comments

  1. Karen says:

    This will sound like a vague unsubstantiated rumour, but I trust the source. A friend’s friend was behind the pizza oven construction (but my friend is not living overseas, and the builder moved to BC in July). In any event, the builder phoned around the city for a very long time trying to get permission for the pizza oven. No one had any idea what to do with the request (there is no such office at city hall). As he got transferred back and forth between offices more and more bureaucrats kept unofficially adding “just go ahead and do it” to their official responses. Until it was done, and he was no longer around to defend the decision.
    Now, suddenly, someone found a policy against the project.

    August 15th, 2007 at 3:22 pm

  2. Karen says:

    oops, I meant my friend is “now leaving overseas” I should reread stuff, sorry.

    August 15th, 2007 at 3:23 pm

  3. zvi says:

    Ah – mystere resolu! I was just talking about this the other day with another street artist on St. Viateur. I don’t really know anything about the city’s support (or lack thereof) of “street-art” but I had a discussion some time back with some local artists about the “poor quality” of Montreal graffiti. The stoner guy was complaining about how we are all being repressed by authority, but the artist (who was painting a mural on a wall) agreed with me that ‘tagging’ is not really an art form. Of course there are some taggers whose work might be considered artistic, but most of the stuff which goes up on Montreal walls is just visual pollution (in my opinion of course).

    August 15th, 2007 at 3:38 pm

  4. dreamlistener says:

    just to set the record straight…the city does not sanction the posting of cardboard dreams on city or on private property, and neither does the funding from c.a.l.q. sanction this per se…

    however, the cardboard dream is a >soft> kind of graffiti in the sense that it is easily removed and does not deface the surface of a building…however…in doing this project it has certainly come to my attention that there is no space
    no space
    that is not privatized,either by the city or by land owners. for people who do not own land and do not have money, there is literally no space for public expression. public space is a myth. it is only public in so far as you fit into a certain acceptable framework of acceptable and ordained behavior. and posting dreams on cardboard is not one of them.

    September 13th, 2007 at 8:42 pm