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16.30  Dog Portraits: Performative Art and the Facts of a Hidden History (cancelled)

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In 2010, pouf ! art + architecture began a site-specific artwork under the rubric of Urban Occupations Urbaines (UOU), a year-long, curatorial platform located in the rapidly gentrifying, post-industrial neighbourhood of Griffintown, Montreal. Created by curator Shauna Janssen, UOU invited  thirty artists to reflect on and engage with the spatial, historical, and cultural traces of Canada’s first working-class slum. The site of pouf !’s project was a popular dog run called Parc Gallery. Despite the fact that several hundred dogs and humans use the park every week, Parc Gallery was sold for condominium development in 2009. Pouf !’s two-year collaboration with the users of this space asserted the publicness of Parc Gallery, and made a counter-argument to city officials’ and developers’ claims that the park was simply empty space. As part of a performative public artwork, pouf ! produced photograph portraits of dogs to “make visible” Parc Gallery’s current vitality and its important heritage.  

Focusing on this durational art work and how it led directly to the preservation of a much-loved green space in what was once the heart of immigrant, industrial Montreal, this paper will examine the various ways that photography was used to capture, represent, and make visible working-class heritage. In the first frame of analysis photography as both process and artefact will be explored as a crucial agent of communication, at once reporting on the story of the figure framed by the photograph, while at the same time operating as a gift in the exchange between the artist and sitter. It has been argued that the exchange of gifts is at the heart of the market economy, thereby removing all meaning from the exchange. Jörden Skågeby (2013) posits, on the other hand, that gift economy can be “a candidate for more participatory alternatives to the capitalist totality.” Basically the gift can be reconfigured by using it as a tool through which one can imagine new patterns of life, or experience new facets of the world. In this way the gift as a site of financial intensity is de-emphasized and becomes instead agential in what Skågeby, describes as “contributing to ongoing reconfigurations of the world.” This paper will examine the photographs (portraits of the park’s dogs) as performative gifts central to the process of reconfiguring the park in the imaginary of the users, developers, and the city.  

Intersecting with photography as performative gift, the second frame of analysis will hone in on the figure of the dog in the re-imaging of post-industrial Griffintown, specifically Parc Gallery. Deemed uninhabitable by City officials and architects alike, and thereby unfit for healthy urban processes, Griffintown’s post-industrial landscape is —as myth, as cultural inheritance, as wasteland—a wilderness of sorts. Putting Griffintown’s industrial landscape to use for waterfront parkland, then, has been a planning priority since 2005, and can be understood as a re-civilizing action. In conclusion, this analysis of pouf ! artwork will reflect on the strengths and challenges of photography as a medium for engaging with the animal in this highly contested, post-industrial wilderness.

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