Blood Fountain : Emilie Monnet

VIVA! Art Action
11 octobre

The communication of information within the performance event often poses a central problem for both the performer and spectators. Often the site of performance is not ideal for observation, there is no seating, it is badly lit, the acoustics are poor, there may be ambient sound that drowns out all else and sight lines to the action can be obscured by obstacles and most commonly by other spectators. Witnessing an event, the spectator finds themselves asking, « What the hell is happening? », « What did the performer do or say? ».

Emilie Monnet encountered a few of these difficulties as she herded several hundred spectators out the big garage door of the Viva space out onto the streets of St. Henri. Next to the Atelier on St. Jacques the traffic is heavy and fast at night, as cars just exiting the Ville-Marie freeway turn at the corner for access to Montreal’s downtown. Crossing this intersection, the large crowd split into two groups when the light changed to red, but safely rejoined a few minutes later in front the building that housed the reserve unit of the Royal Canadian Navy for Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Donnacona.

Standing on a bicycle rack at the entrance of the building which served as her makeshift podium, Monnet addressed the dispersed crowd using a megaphone. As she started to explain why we were there, the power supply of the device fell from her hands onto the street and broke, leaving her to shout out to the crowd over the sounds of the traffic.

Monnet, whose mother is indigenous and whose father french-canadian, presented an overtly political intervention based upon the history of Chief Donnacona. In his second voyage of « discovery » to Canada in 1535, Jacques Cartier encountered the Chief at his village Stradacona, the site of present day Quebec City. Cartier detained Donnacona and brought him and nine other Iroquois back with him to France. Donnacona died there, and the fate of the others is unknown.

The badge of the HMCS Donnacona shows a handshake between one white and one brown hand. Monnet explained the history of this gesture, punctuated at times for calls for her to speak louder. This was our first stop and as we prepared to move on. She handed out stickers which showed an image of the badge placed over the word “visitor”. As she instructed us on our next movement, she asked the members of the group to join hands with a stranger as we walked to the Jacques Cartier memorial fountain in a nearby park.

Though it seemed few followed this instruction, we continued on along St. Jacques through residential streets to a park surrounded by 19th century bourgeois homes. Here at the entrance, Monnet read a recent letter of protest from tribal leaders downriver of Montreal to the Federal Environmental minister concerning the planned dump of 8 billion gallons of Montreal’s raw sewage directly into the St. Lawrence river. Portions of the text of the letter were shouted out to the crowd in both languages.

A fully realized and powerful image of the event then evolved as Monnet guided the crowd to the fountain in the centre of the park. Here, the public of several hundred linked hands in huge circle around the ornate multi-level fountain.

As Monnet said, the water splashing below the commemorative statue of Cartier ought to be replaced with human blood, that would the fitting image of Cartier’s legacy. After reading the inscriptions on the fountain, which tell of how Cartier took possession of « New France » in the name of his king and master, four women stood on the rim of the fountain and lifted their voices in song, as if to dispel for a moment the weight of the great crimes that each of us carry as privileged visitors to this land.