A River, an Island, a City: the Persistence of Geography, Montreal 1992

Commissioned by Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the City of Montreal.
medium and dimensions: 20 black & white photographic prints, selenium-toned silver prints, each 16 x 20 inches (41 x 51 cm), 10 text panels, black & white selenium-toned silver prints, each 8 x 20 inches (20 x 51 cm).
collection: City of Montreal and the Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada.

The local physical features — the land and the water — shape a city. We approach Montreal, which is an island. The built environment appears to us: the bridges, the port, the buildings. We notice the mountain and the river. Finally, as we make our way in the city, we notice details: differences in the way the land has been organized into urban, suburban, industrial, public, private, built and natural areas.

What fascinates me as an artist approaching the island of Montreal is the unexpected and the everyday of this very instant, seen at close range. Such things are not the artifacts of some grand order, but part of one's sense of immediate location. This, here, now. The details in the manifold aspects of the present moment — a dirt path by reeds along the shore, a ladder built into the concrete wall of the human-constructed port that has obscured the riverbank itself, the dry heat of the sun reflected off the white piles of road salt, the heavy smoothness of the tomatoes I bought from the woman who grew them, here. There are thousands, even millions, of such places, constructed by our experience and memory, forming our sense of history and place. Our assumptions about the urban landscape often collapse into a homogeneous image formed by picturesque "postcard" views. There is, as well, a natural history of Montreal that exists in conjunction with the history of the human community.

I took the photographs in this series around the circumference of the island of Montreal; profiles of the island seen from offshore are paired with a detail from within that area. In this work I have attempted to show some of the varying relationships between the island and the river in 1992. The position of this island, at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and a complex network of rivers — at the centre of many natural communication routes — is no doubt the reason for all the stages of human occupation that have taken place here.

Marlene Creates, 1992