Public Art Proposal for N.D.G.

October 2002

By Tom Peacock & Audrey Davis

Most people would see an empty concrete lot. NDG artist Audrey Davis sees an opportunity.

Davis has a plan to construct a 44-foot high working periscope on Sherbrooke street over the Decarie expressway.

The periscope would provide an opportunity for city-dwellers to look out from the overpass past the buildings and highways to the countryside beyond.

But the periscope would act as more than just a viewpoint, Davis hopes it would stand tall as an artistic metaphor for change. "The design of the structure has a bridge-like quality," Davis says. "The concept of the periscope is to make it possible to see beyond our immediate surroundings, which I think is valuable in this particular architectural graveyard."

The design shows the red metallic construction with its stair rising to the  ten foot high viewing platform, and a ramp leading back down the other side. The proposal also takes into account security issues. "People's main concern seems to be the skateboarders," Davis laughs, adding that the metal grating will discourage them.

"I challenged myself to imagine what could be done with this bleak no-mans land. I think the objective should not be to try to beautify the space, but rather to take the site’s most interesting characteristics and use them to make a distinctive landmark."

Inspired by large scale public artworks she saw on Scotland’s highways during her time studying in Edinburgh, twenty- six-year-old Davis believes that art in public places is an important way to see art since it engages people in their daily surroundings. "It’s obvious, she argues, "Public art simply makes art more visible and more accessible. It encourages people to play an active role in the space around them. Art in public places is a mechanism for changing the way people see things. It can make you think. So this periscope offers a change of perspective both literally through the optics of the instrument and also on a deeper level through the experience."

Davis has spent the last few weeks talking to people in the community and at the city’s culture offices, and the response to the initiative has been encouraging. "If people are exposed to artistic intervention, and if it is respected and encouraged, it initiates further creativity and just makes things more interesting."

The absence of interest in the urban environment angers Davis, and is the prime motivation behind her project. "Why does everything have to be so dull and practical? It really doesn’t take much to make the place where you live more interesting. Especially in Montreal which is such a vibrant city. I don’t think the grayness of a lot of the buildings here really represents who we are, and buildings are relatively permanent."

Davis has filled her design for the periscope with symbols of change. The bridge leading up to the viewing area widens from one end to the next, suggesting, she explains, the broadening of the spirit experienced during periods of transition.

"The most interesting thing," Davis reflects, "is that the view the periscope offers is already there. What it does is to make you stop and notice it."