Envisioned as a series of large-scale photographic interventions in the public space of downtown Montreal, Forms focuses on the abstract nature of wooden hat blocks and their associated histories. Through the method of photographic depiction and a change in scale these utilitarian objects take on qualities of sculpture and drawing, confronting viewers with their strange presence. At once familiar and unfamiliar, these forms allude to aspects of Montreal’s history as a place founded on a controversial trade for hats’ raw materials, and later as a centre for manufacturing, fashion and wealth.
The hat brings to mind a number of associations such as militarism, class, and global exchange, yet the form on which the hat is created brings with it other associations and possibilities for meaning: foremost, it was a tool of workers. In considering the work’s placement, this is a primary consideration; Montreal, like most North American cities, has transitioned away from a manufacturing economy to one based on information and the creative industries.
The work thus both participates in this new idea of the city as a creative hub, through it’s potential for public presentation, and references the past of the downtown that has mostly disappeared. By more strongly referencing the worker rather than the resulting commodity, however, it makes visible the legacy of skilled, often unrecognized workers in Montreal without erasing a discussion of the many negative historical aspects of hat production throughout history in this country.
In this regard, the work also seeks to engage with the current debates around monuments. The work’s ambiguity is meant to promote further inquiry; whether or not one recognizes the photographed objects for what they are is less important compared to the range of feelings that may be generated by their sombre, monolithic presence and graphic surface qualities. In this way the work brings into question the role and value of monuments in public space.
The work takes inspiration from experiences I have had photographing for my ongoing project about Canadian history as seen through the fur trade in Canada, as well as archival images from the Notman collection of military hats.