The Address Calls Montrealers to Take Action Against Gentrification
The Reality of Gentrification is Highlighted in CDN Ethno-Documentary Performance
Last weekend, at the Centre d’éducation interculturelle et internationale, the collective VISIBLE presented The Address. The ethno-documentary performance was composed of eight citizens exploring topics like the Côte-Des-Neiges housing problems, and a current view of life in the neighbourhood.
Last names of residents have been omitted due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
“We’re an artistic collective that focuses on citizen expression and that works to offer citizens a platform where they can express themselves and represent themselves,” said VISIBLE co-founder Sofia Blondin.
“We use documentary processes to build our works, so we’re really working from reality, and what we present is reality,” she added.
The first performance acted as an introduction to The Address, which the whole audience attended, before embarking on a circuit of other performances in small groups.
“We really tried to choose people who had different viewpoints on the situation,” said VISIBLE co-founder Veronica Mockler. “Of course, there are a lot of tenants in our show because these are the voices we are trying to uphold because there is a lot of abuse. This is what we knew, but the extent of it was quite shocking.”
John, is a long-time CDN resident and now landlord. He used his performance to discuss ongoing issues with the Régie du logement and the city council.
His narrative included stories of his childhood and living in a first generation immigrant family. The landlord advocated for the residents’ quality of life, and denounced slumlords.
For his performance, chairs were placed in a circle around a carousel of postcards, akin to those in tourists shops. As John’s narrative began to play over the speakers, he made his way into the centre of the audience.
The amount of garbage left lining the CDN streets is problematic to John. Over the speakers, he explained how he had emailed Lionel Perez, Darlington district councillor, about the problem nearly two months ago, but had yet to receive a response.
During his performance, he pulled postcards out of the carousel and handed them to members of the audience. They show pictures of garbage left in the CDN streets printed with the words “treasured memories” and “souvenirs précieux.”
“We were like, ‘OK, you have people’s attention. What do you want to do with it?’” — Veronica Mockler
Blending humour with sobering realism, the postcards addressed the stark difference between the version of the city presented to tourists and the dark undercurrent of abuse and neglect that is running rampant and uncontrolled in CDN. The postcards are addressed to Perez, asking him to respond to John’s email.
John explained that while the postcards were VISIBLE’s idea, incorporating the carousel was his own concept. He said that taking pictures of the garbage was an added detail they came up with in collaboration.
The bilingual shows each presented a unique narrative. They combined audio, lighting, video, with the presence of the person whose story was heard through the speakers. Courage emanated from the performances, and the blend of media created an immersive, intimate, experience.
The evening really started with a short walk from Namur metro station, where the landscape itself portrays gentrification, Blondin explained. She added that on Mountain Sights Ave., the contrast between new condo constructions and the decades-old apartments makes the issue visible.
“They’re trying to create a new neighborhood of condos that are not accessible to the people that actually live in the area,” said Blondin.
VISIBLE worked hand in hand with each of the performers to build a piece that showed each individual the way they wanted to be seen.
“It was a cool, creative, and reflexive process,” explained Mockler. “We were like, ‘OK, you have people’s attention. What do you want to do with it?’”
As none of the performers were artists, working with the collective gave them a chance to get creative. “People who don’t think as themselves as artistic are like, ‘what if I did this?’” said Mockler. “They’re contributing to the creative process. It’s great.”
The collective values a collaborative process. The team doesn’t work with actors, making the result particularly personal and intimate.
“It’s always citizens who are put forward in our work, and it’s people who haven’t necessarily done art before,” said Mockler. “What we’re interested about is bringing these people to express themselves about different social issues.”
VISIBLE was started by Blondin and Mockler in 2017. Their first show was called Rivières, a performance documentary telling the story of eight people from the CDN borough. Rivières was the first of their resident-led artistic endeavours.
Blondin and Mockler come from different artistic backgrounds. VISIBLE is a blend of Blondin’s theatre and performance skills with Mockler’s video, audio, and projection specialties.
Blondin said that the hope for The Address was to tackle the issues of the housing crisis in a way that represented the community in its entirety. She added that they also wanted to reach decision makers and politicians who could affect real change for the neighborhood.
For Aida, a recent immigrant to Canada, finding safe and affordable housing in the city was a treacherous process that combined horror with neglect.
As a video of the performer preparing tea in her current apartment was projected onto white sheets, audience members were invited to pour themselves their own cup of tea while they listened to her speak.
From bug and rat infestations to racist landlords, Aida wondered why conditions in Canada were worse than in her home country. With landlords who abuse their power and pray on tenants lacking knowledge of their rights, it was a couple of months before she found clean and affordable housing—what should be considered a basic human right.
“Right now there’s so much abuse going on in terms of affordability,” said Mockler. “[The people in charge] know who these massive corporations and slumlords are, but these people aren’t fined because they’re well-placed, well-positioned or it’s just too long to take them to court. The system is kind of screwed by how slow the process is.”
“[We’re] trying to bring attention to the level of density this problem has, and it’s not just a side issue. Because where you live is pretty important,” she added.
VISIBLE and Amplifier, a local group of ethnographers who use creative storytelling like podcasts and documentaries to approach social issues in Montreal boroughs, collaborated to put together The Address.
Check out VISIBLE’s website and Amplifier for information on how to get involved in community projects and stay updated on current affairs.