Public Art Symposium at York University
In Toronto this weekend for this symposium.
More than Landmarks: Public Art in the Mental Image of the Bonaventure Corridor in Montreal
Guillaume Éthier, Ph.D.
Public art is expected to play a structuring role in urban regeneration projects. Commissions for these
artworks tend to be oversimplified and to dwell upon their emblematic role alone, and also to
confuse the qualities involved in “urban branding” and those falling within the realm of art. It is
therefore interesting to borrow Kevin Lynch’s typology of urban forms (paths, edges, districts,
nodes, and landmarks) – to think of works of public art as “landmarks,” of course, but also as
entities that structure, both concretely and metaphorically, urban dwellers’ perception in a
number of ways.
The example of the Bonaventure project is interesting in this regard because the new public
space results from the demolition of a section of elevated expressway that, in addition to acting
as an “edge” between urban districts, also constituted a “landmark” in the organization of the
urban imagination of this part of the city. At least, this is what is revealed in the analysis of
guided tours conducted between Griffintown and Old Montréal just before the concrete structure
was torn down. What will remain after the expressway is gone? Faced with the possibility that
the area would become a “non-space” in the city, public art was called upon to structure the
perception of the Bonaventure corridor and encourage residents to appropriate the space. But
over the long term, will the works erected become simply landmarks in the landscape, or will
they be able to form networks (as points of encounter), paths (as points of reference for
trajectories), or even zones (if, for example, they encourage awareness of the district as a whole
if seen from a high-angle view)?