Kicking off Greening Narrative, in August, Jill, Lai-Tze, and Emma met to discuss project goals and development. On a hot and sunny morning, we visited the Champ des Possibles urban wild in Montréal’s Mile End neighbourhood to get an understanding of the space with which we would be working closely for the year.
The space was lush and alive with critters, insects, and plants, and we waded our way through waist-high greenery, discussing how we imagined the people and communities who pass by this space on an everyday basis. Who were these people and why did they choose the Champ for their respective treks? Were they aware of the histories—-both past and present—-that construct the Champ as it exists today as well as its potential futures? How should these considerations change how we would design the app?
With these questions in mind, we took to a white board and started to imagine our locative app that would merge physical and digital engagements with the Champ. Sketching out a rough map of the space, we began our app—called Global Urban Wilds—by designing screens and pullouts as part of an immersive locative media experience.
In September, sound artist Eric joined the Greening Narrative team, and we took him out to the Champ des Possibles to explain what we had been working towards as part of early platform development for the Global Urban Wilds app. In the meantime, we collected sporadic sounds of the space. We noted the construction that was underway to build a bike path (the allée St. Viateur) at the entrance of the Temps Libre building and as the neighbourhood prepared itself for new condos and residents. What would all of this construction and change mean for the urban wild?
At the same time, Emma began to built the locative platform from scratch with our immersive screens and pullouts in mind: a map of the Champ, a landing page with an animated bird’s nest that gathers collectibles, and pullouts of information for each collectible icon.
October saw the initial design of the Global Urban Wilds app start to come to life, as Emma offered us a platform in which we could start to imagine adding visual, text, and aural content. During one meeting, we focused on how best to represent the rich biodiversity of the Champ, drawing from booklets and materials provided by les Amis du Champ des Possibles. Visual artworks of our intended collectible icons, drawn by artist Bev Didur, were scanned and splashed with a vibrant watercolour motif, and we added them to the nest for the first time.
Speaking to these project developments and the interdisciplinary approaches we were taking to the environmental humanities, Jill presented her work at Concordia University’s Beyond Disciplines series and was also interviewed by Beyond Disciplines’ podcast to talk about her previous project, the Alpine Garden Misguide, used in the Montréal Botanical Gardens.
November saw a lot of progress in the Global Urban Wilds app, as the change in weather meant that we went from visiting the site to storyboarding the UX (user experience) of using the platform, walking through the steps of interaction and interactivity in conjunction with their true surroundings.
Emma spent much of this time turning our dreams into (virtual) reality, coding and designing the platform and integrating the visual material from Bev Didur, including an animated butterfly among other various critters, and markers of the waves of history and memory left by people who have engaged with the space: train tickets, buttons, forgotten rings—we began to seriously think about the tensions between human and non-human in the artwork for how they can echo that of the space of the Champ.
December was a quieter month for the Greening Narrative team, as we prepared to part for the holidays.
The semester began to close, and meanwhile, Jill appeared as the plenary speaker at the Université de Montréal’s graduate conference, “Zones of Dispersion: Wandering Bodies and Identities.” Her talk was entitled “Walk This Way: Postcolonial Travel Writing of the Environment,” and it was moderated by Livia Monnet. More information about the conference, as well as an abstract of the talk, can be found here.
Refreshed from the holidays, we returned in January 2017 with a focus on the sounds we would add to the app. In collaboration with Eric, we selected associative sounds for the icons, including a chorus of nuns (for the cross icon), a sewing machine needle (the button), and the sound of a passing train (the train ticket). We also added “found sounds” for users to discover by accident, and with the intention of adding pleasure to the exploration of space. Found sounds could offer the illusion that a bicycle is coming or that dogs are barking nearby, and they could sounds such as skating, cars, construction noises—compartmentalized as boundary sounds that are intended to surprise people rather than something that they’re moving towards based on the map.
In January, we also further planned the interviews with which we would fill the app with content, and planned our first interview for February with Marke Ambard, the founding President of les Amis du Champ des Possibles, as well as other people who could speak to biodiversity, gardening, Indigenous plants, and other relevant topics.
We held our first interview for the Greening Narrative project with Marke Ambard, the founding President of les Amis du Champ des Possibles. Marke met us at the George Williams campus to discuss the history and community of the Champ. In a two-hour discussion between Jill and Marke (including occasional notes made by Lai-Tze and Eric), we learned about how the Champ came to be, drawing out several topics and themes that would become vital to our understanding of the space and to what we would like to represent in the Global Urban Wilds app. These themes included: community engagement; the longevity of space, plants, and memory; multiple possible uses of the Champ; biodiversity and the status of Indigenous plants replaying a role in ecology; toxicity and contamination of the land; and nature deficit, or, thinking about the value of having discovery close by for kids who don’t have the opportunity to spend time in unstructured spaces.
Following the interview, Jill, Lai-Tze, and Eric met to reflect over Marke’s comments, which gave us soundbites to add to the app, as well as burdgeoning questions about the broader communal contexts of the Champ. Perhaps one of the strongest messages we’d taken from our interview with Marke was that it takes a village to build, sustain, and remember.
Jill and Lai-Tze were delighted to have, as a special guest to Concordia, Professor Adriana de Souza e Silva from North Carolina State University. Professor de Souza e Silva delivered a talk on her recent research entitled “Mobile Culture in Brazil: Creative Uses of Mobile Technologies in Art, Games, and Low Income Communities” that was well-attended by people of many disciplines in the Concordia community. This talk covered subversive uses of cell phones that have to do with economic disparities in Brazil, discussing a chain of actions in the Brazilian black market of cell phones as well as creative responses to and through mobile media and culture.
Lai-Tze’s detailed notes of the talk can be found here.
While we had Professor de Souza e Silva as our guest, we also invited her to participate in the TAG Lab’s third “shinposium” on Pokémon GO, hosted by Lai-Tze. The shinposium (a portmanteau of hockey “shinny” and symposium) addressed how the release of Pokémon GO represented a major turning point in the popular understanding and engagement with locative and AR games.
In April, Concordia’s TAG Lab invited the ZU-UK theatrical and digital arts team of Jorge Lopes Ramos and Persis Jade Maravala to lead an intensive week of digital art creation called ZU-TAG. The Greening Narrative team joined in on the efforts to create a local and miniaturized version of the Global Urban Wilds app-in-progress: by recreating the space of the Champ in the lobby of the Milieux Institute, we offered our installation Lignes des désir/Desire Lines as an early iteration of what the app would be. We embedded this miniaturized Champ with interactive QR codes that corresponded with the app’s locative icons and found sounds.
The idea of “desire lines” as pathways that are forged through pedestrian’s wandering choices was meant to encourage installation participants—as well as excite them—towards surprising, counter-intuitive, and layered ways of experiencing green space. Through the ZU-TAG experience, we began to expand on what else the Greening Narrative project could be. Could it be gamified in the future? How interactive could it become? How often should we update it?
Joining in on the fun were Professor Pippin Barr and PhD Candidate Jess Marcotte, who each riffed on our project with their own creative endeavours. Barr created “You Are Not Here,” a “non-locative locative media experience” of the Champ, and Marcotte offered “Plant Poetry,” an e-literature project that “creates procedurally generated poems with anti-colonialist themes from the perspective of a collective of plants that are indigenous to Canada and North America.”
To gather content for Global Urban Wilds, the Greening Narrative team has sought an assortment of source material, including literary mediations of urban wilds, texts on biodiversity and Indigenous plants in Montréal, and interviews with experts and artists. Towards an interview archive, Jill, translator Arianne Legault, and the team held an interview with Stephano Viola, the curator of the Montréal Botanical Garden’s Indigenous Garden, about issues of biodiversity and Indigenous plants in the region.
Later in May, Jill and Lai-Tze headed to Sweden for their research. They first visited the home and gardens of botanist/zoologist Carl Linnaeus, the inventor of the Latin system of naming species. Afterwards, they presented an early version of their research for the 2017 Geomedia Conference at Karlstad University, in a talk entitled “Between Landscape and the Screen: Locative Media, Transitive Reading, and Environmental Storytelling.”
They also presented this research in Toronto, Canada, at the Canadian Comparative Literature Association for the 2017 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
After holding interviews in May, we planned for one with artist Emily Rose Michaud, whose role in the history of the Champ is a story worth telling. On a sunny day, we met with Michaud under the great big poplar tree in the Champ, the ash of an old bonfire at our feet, and we listened to how she came to create the giant roerich symbol in the grass of the greenspace.
Michaud was inspired by Nicholas Roerich’s “banner of peace,” a symbol used during the Second World War to designate a site of historical and cultural significance and to signal to war planes overhead, “Don’t bomb here.” A powerful message—and one that Michaud was intent on communicating to the city of Montréal in an effort to protect the Champ as an urban wild with a community of care behind it: “show them we care,” she stressed.
In July, Greening Narrative team found itself busier than ever in setting up practical and critical roots for the next stages of the Global Urban Wilds app. Jill and Lai-Tze met several times to discuss co-writing a paper about the project, ruminating over how to integrate what they’d learned over the past year. What had Marke Ambard or Emily Rose Michaud’s stories told us about the Champ’s tetiary temporality in its past, present, and future(s)? How could we better represent and shape the embodied experience of the Champ through the interactivity, aesthetics, and underlying narratives of our app? And finally, how could these critical additions serve to emphasize for potential users the various methods of productive hesitation?
We were very excited that in July (into August), our project was featured in Pause Button, an online experiment in digital scholarship associated with Concordia’s Milieux Institute. Author Brieanna Lebel beautifully portrayed our research mandate and efforts in her article, “Global Urban Wilds: Layered Explorations of Digital and Green Space”.
The year wound down with the Greening Narrative team as four (Jill, Lai-Tze, Emma, and Eric) taking a walk together in the Champ des Possibles to test content that Emma and Eric had freshly uploaded. We had watched this greenspace change through four seasons, and as we continue with our project, the wheels will keep turning, the flowers will shrink and then bloom, the bees will take a slumber, and we will return again.