Written on the landscape: literature in public spaces 

By Karen Herland

Given the recent cuts to arts funding, and ongoing hand-wringing about the place of text in the digital age, research on literature in public space might seem unlikely.

Marc André Brouillette, a poet who is interested in the representation of space in poetry, began thinking about how poetry is reflected in public space. The Département d’Études françaises professor received funding through SSHRC for PLEPUC (Présences du littéraire dans l'espace public canadien) to explore the potential for literature as public art.

Marc André Brouillette and Nicole Valois (above) considered ways to bring literary public art, like the piece below in the LB Atrium, to the Parc/Pine interchange (below right). Magnifying glass

Marc André Brouillette and Nicole Valois (above) considered ways to bring literary public art, like the piece below in the LB Atrium, to the Parc/Pine interchange (below right).

“I saw it as a way to bring together my interests in literature, visual arts and architecture, and an opportunity to showcase literature in public,” explained Brouillette of the project. The first two-day research-creation workshop held earlier this month offered a concrete opportunity to explore the idea.

A group of nine professionals were invited to form three teams to envision how to bring literature to the site of the former Pine/Parc interchange.

“Everyone knows the space, and most people have an attachment to it. They found the site inspiring” explained Brouillette.

According to material produced for the workshop, the site, at the foot of the Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.-designed Mount Royal park, has been called the lungs of Montreal. Given the number of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles that pass through the area, it’s the ideal space to explore literature “not conceived for the page, the book or the screen.”

Brouillette organized the workshop with Nicole Valois from École d’architecture de paysage of Université de Montréal. The workshop opened with a lecture by Gilles Daigneault, director of the Fondation Guido Molinari, on public art on Mount Royal. Together, Valois and Brouillette identified writers, landscape designers and architects to participate. Each of the teams had representatives from all three professions.

Magnifying glass

Magnifying glass

“I was not sure how writers would be able to express themselves with architects, who think spatially,” said Brouillette. “I did not know if they would have a common language, especially since they had not met before.”

In the end, he said the teams were surprisingly focused and dynamic in their ability to communicate their ideas to each other and develop their proposals. The teams presented their ideas to each other at the end of the workshop.

Brouillette was also pleased by the way the differing approaches combined. It had been important to him to select people from inside and outside of a university environment, to blend those different styles of working together.

This is the first of several workshops addressing different sites or themes related to public literature that Brouillette hopes to organize as part of the project. Ideally, art historians, visual artists and urban developers will also become involved. The results of these workshops will be published at the end of the project, in two or three years’ time.

Meanwhile, the SSHRC funding also supports the creation of a database cataloguing examples of literary public art across Canada. Brouillette has been looking through existing public art databases, contacting professors with similar interests, institutions and government offices across the country to identify these works.

“We are trying to develop parameters of what to include. This is a very large territory to cover.” He added that he wants to include ‘unofficial’ installations, like murals and artworks like the one that adorns the atrium of the Library Building, designed by Rose-Marie Goulet.

This inaugural workshop was also possible through contributions from Figura, an interuniversity research center on text and imagination, as well as Valois and Brouillette’s departments, Hexagram and SSHRC.


Concordia University