Hunters and Foragers

Canadian Artists Engage Montreal With a Taste Tour of St. Henri

  • Photo Erin Sparks

  • Photo Erin Sparks

If you’re taking a walk in St. Henri this week and come across two people rooting through plant life on the side of the road with a homemade cart, don’t be alarmed.

It’s probably award-winning artists Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton, partners-in-art and a longtime couple from Calgary. Moschopedis has a master’s degree in fine arts, while Rushton has had her installations featured all over the world.

Their latest project, however, is a bit more organic.

The duo is currently travelling across Canada on their walking tour “Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor,” in which they’re scoping out the edible vegetation growing in different neighbourhoods in cities such as Toronto, Halifax and Montreal.

It’s a concept called “urban foraging,” and while it may seem a bit odd to those not familiar with the idea, Moschopedis says everyone that has joined them on an urban foraging tour has left with an open mind and full belly.

“People are totally willing to try the edible art objects, there’s been no hesitation,” he said.

“One of the things we really like about this project is that when we’re on the ground collecting, you can have conversations with people that you meet as you go. It’s not so far outside the realm of what’s possible in a city that people are too opposed to it.”

And before you say that those who own the plants might oppose the foraging, Moschopedis and Rushton, along with all true urban foragers, only re-appropriate plants that are in the wild.

“We’re conscientious of people’s gardens,” Moschopedis said. “We are trying to forage rather than pillage or thieve other people’s hard work.”

Involving the public has always been a main theme of Moschopedis and Rushton’s work. Previous projects include a three-month stint as artists-in-residence at the Calgary International Airport, where they created “The Sky You See / The Sky You Remember,” a display of large colorful decals on a massive window overlooking the airport that travelers could arrange to recreate the skyline and clouds they saw beyond.

One of their most popular pieces was a “public napping project” called “Z’s by the C,” which invited participants to create their own sleeping masks and then catch some Zs out in the open. The project “sought to destabilize the public and private space by performing a highly intimate […] act.”

It was one of their most toured artistic endeavors, bringing the Zs from Zurich to New York City.

“Engaging the public is at the forefront of what we do: creating community through performance,” Moschopedis said.

“Engaging the public is at the forefront of what we do: creating community through performance” – Eric Moschopedis, award-winning artist

Good Will Foraging
Moschopedis says some of the inspiration for the foraging tour came from a more extreme idea he had in the past.

“Years ago [I was] thinking about, as a curator, bringing together a botanist and a choreographer, and being able to choreograph a 100-year performance piece using vegetation,” he said.

“It’s this idea of how vegetation is choreographed in the city—that was the starting point for us thinking through this project.”

The way vegetation is situated and choreographed within cities and neighbourhoods has a massive impact on the “Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor” tours. Each one is unique and responds to each city individually, rather than following a strict formula for all.

“When we hit the ground in a city, we have to learn that city and the vegetation there each time,” Moschopedis said. “In affluent neighbourhoods we tend to find vegetation is cosmetic or for security purposes, whereas in working-class neighbourhoods there’s a far more utilitarian use of what vegetation is there.

“We ask the question, ‘What are the conditions that create vegetation in this place?’” he continued. “We pose that question and have the sensory experience of being able to taste that question, and possibly garner some answers from it.”

While Moschopedis and Rushton may be newcomers to the foraging game, they make up for that inexperience with rugged determination coupled with street smarts.

“We’re amateurs at collecting vegetation, but we’re not amateurs at investigating a city,” Moschopedis said.

He went on to say that he and Rushton will be out scouring St. Henri neighbourhoods for eight to 10 hours a day for the entire week leading up to the “Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor” tour date in an attempt to know the lay of the land as well as a native Montrealer. Such in-depth research is crucial to defining the path their tour will take through the urban plant life.

The pair have visited Montreal before for social purposes—they’re friends with Natalie Doonan, curator of Montreal-based collaborative artistic collective the Sensorium, which is helping Moschopedis and Rushton embark on their first artistic venture in the city of festivals by hosting and promoting their tour.

“[St. Henri] is a fresh neighbourhood to us,” Moschopedis said. “This will be our first time doing a proper art project in the city of Montreal.”

All Aboard
The logistics of the walking tour are simplified by an artistic invention that the couple created—a mobile popsicle cart, affixed to the rear of a bicycle to function as storage and a serving station for the vegetation that is plucked along the way of the tour.

“We designed it, and we had a carpenter in Calgary build it for us, specifically for this project. We pack it up and ship it across the country,” Moschopedis said.

The cart is usually walked through the tour rather than ridden, as the pace dictates its speed.

After Montreal, Moschopedis and Rushton are heading to Sydney, N.S., followed by a stop in Toronto, Halifax and even the United States, in Atlanta, Georgia. The vegetation those cities and neighbourhoods have to offer is a mystery that Moschopedis and Rushton are eager to uncover with the locals.

“We really like the idea of being in the city and engaging its citizens, it makes a lot of sense to us,” says Moschopedis.

Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor // Sept. 14 // La Ruche d’Art St-Henri, 4525 St. Jacques St. // 2:00 p.m. // Free admission // More info at www.lesensorium.com

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