HOME – A Communal Poetry Exhibit at SKOL By Jean A. Michaël

This article was written as part of the Peter-McGill Community Council’s Citizen Journalism project, which aims to raise the voices of local residents, students and friends of the neighbourhood through writing, photos, videos and podcasting. If you would like to contribute please e-mail us at benevolat@petermcgill.org!

Fifteen students between the ages of 17 to 24, came together to collectively discover their own poetic voices while expressing their relationship to the district of Peter McGill (source: Exhibition pamphlet.) Through effective teamwork and thanks to a partnership between Innovation Youth and Le Centre des arts actuels SKOL, a communal poetry exhibit called HOME- The Story of My Neighbourhood Project, came to life.

Skol ExhibitLast Thursday, I visited the exhibit at the Belgo Building, what better location than this Montreal landmark known for its art galleries and Yoga classes?

What amazes me again and again about Montreal’s arts community, are the dozens of little advertised events, bustling with energy in spite of being known to only a handful of organizers, participants and friends. 

The very friendly welcome started at the entrance, with Fred, an Urban Planning student, who showed me around, explained her role and answered some of my questions. This one was probably known to maybe 20 people who were closely involved in the project. Discovering ‘’well kept secrets’’ is fascinating.

I had no clue what to expect! In cases like this, generally, when facing modern, contemporary, or abstract art, I decided a long time ago that understanding what the artist’s message is, came before appreciation. The ‘’do I like it or not’’ kind of question user to come first, but not anymore. Now, it is understanding first!

Later during my visit, I met Sara, the Montreal poet who guided the group in writing their poems. Her explanations helped me to better grasp what the project was about and how the outcome was achieved. Fred and Sara took away the guessing part so I could focus on understanding and appreciating.

The visit begins by first walking towards the right side of the exhibit space, where I saw small Polaroid photos of milk cartons that were placed at different locations around the neighbourhood.  The milk cartons in the photos were placed near other objects that the photographers encountered while strolling their neighbourhood. To my left, large format Polaroids were suspended on a clothes-like line, with wooden clothespins.  The clothes line was suspended between two “buildings” (which were stacked white boxes) that were linked and decorated with milk cartons, various writings and strategically placed cutouts.  

Further on, I discovered the poems, standing out on their own wall, by themselves and for themselves! There was an overall sense of communal and collective effort, yet the poems’ individuality popped-out as well when reading them. 

On the next and last display surface, facing the entrance to the exhibition space, a timed-display device projected rhythmically full-sized, and full color slides portraying the project’s participants at work in various workshops located at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Near the middle of the room, a ‘mysterious’ small box was inviting us to exchange the slips inside with our own.

I picked one, read it and wrote my own word on a new slip.

Inconspicuous unless told about it, that box was a sort of simple messaging device to exchange one-worded thoughts, establishing a communication channel between participants and visitors, and visitors with other visitors as well! Brilliant, I thought!

‘Home’, is a physical place for some, for others a state of mind.  I understood this from reading their poems and seeing their artifacts on display. The objects and artifacts although modest, succeeded in transmitting the message the youth group wanted to express, collectively and individually.

The poems are like conversations we have in our neighborhood, with friends, and family or with ourselves.

They are the personal, and intimate expression of feelings wandering in the authors’ minds; some express simple, some more complex feelings, that could be spoken, but preferably written! Writing, I find, makes sharing easier.

The slide show is like a photo album one flips through in his or her living room. It is part of sharing short moments or long encounters.

I interpreted the size, the small size of the photographs on the wall as examples of not so obvious problems or issues, not always visible to the naked eye.

The hanging photos attached with clothes pins, were a striking reminder of a real neighbourhood.  Drying clothes outside, in a lively neighbourhood full of life, giving off a strong sense of friendship among neighbours! That line also reminded me of how life can be at times a real tight rope, on which we have to walk on our way from one destination to the next.

When reading this, you are right in saying that all I wrote so far is the fruit of my imagination. It is, and thanks to these youths’ exhibit I came to understand that more often than not, our individual imagination paired with our collective imagination bring about creativity which in turn may bring hope and happiness. My understanding is that the little box with slips inside is a clue to the overall message of the exhibit: it is the participants’ way to reach out and join their voices to ours.  

Open invitation: if you would like to submit your comments on the exhibit, the project, or about this article or about any other subject you want to express yourself in writing, by sending a poem, a photo with a caption and even a simple mp3/wave file with your thoughts, please contact: Viviane Cottle: benevolat@petermcgill.org

– Article and photos by Jean A. Michaël