Carole Lévesque went in search of Montreal’s terrains vagues, abandoned or undeveloped patches of land, such as empty lots and wild greenspaces. The exhibition La précision du vague is the result of three and a half years of work carried out by this professor at the UQAM School of Design. Working with a team of assistants, she created a kind of atlas of terrains vagues, using various representational modes to document these often neglected spaces: photography, digital database, video, sound, perspective drawings, collection of found objects, herbarium, and landscape elevations. Together they form an exhaustive representation of places that are generally considered empty and devoid of interest.
The terrain vague has long been a favourite location for temporary interventions, improvised agriculture and, more recently, citizen appropriation. It is not the terrain vague itself that is usually of interest, but rather its availability: the developer sees it as a business opportunity, the architect as a site for a grand project, the activist as a place to defend an ideal, and the citizen as an opportunity for rebuilding socialization. But what would happen if we focused more closely on the place in itself? And above all, what would happen if, by paying less attention to the terrain, the lot, a space determined mainly by its availability for building, our attention were focused more on the vague, i.e. its lack of definition, and its elusive relationship to our experience of the city?
La précision du vague by Carole Lévesque comprises 42 hours of walking, just over 5,000 photographs collated in 120 collages, a database covering more than 150 characteristics, 144 minutes of film and sound recording, 75 objects, 90 plant specimens, 100 hours of surveying, 400 hours of perspective drawings, and 1400 hours of hand drawn sketches to produce six landscape elevations. The project of representing the terrains vagues is realized through this long, slow documentary accumulation and its attentive gaze is achieved through the production of these six landscape elevations: six large drawings, six precise records of what was observed, a drawing for each day of walking, creating unity out of a fragmented experience. These drawings, where the gesture of the hand, the lines of the technical pen and the grain of the paper reconcile the visible and the tactile, near and far, time and space, are constructions, “machines” that transform our view of these precious, lost and found landscapes.
The exhibition allows us to follow this process of discovery, a journey of research and creation that is akin to a real performance. Invited to share this singular experience, to enter into more than a hundred improbable places, the visitor rediscovers these spaces often linked to the large rail lines or asphalt roads across the island of Montreal. Examining them closely, we realize that these spaces are no more undefined than the built environment. They are not gaps in the map, let alone gaps in memory. They play a role in the development of the city; they are part of the landscape, the critical inverse. The terrain vague is the sensitive springboard of the imagination, providing an alternative view of the world that we build day by day.
More information about La précision du vague is available via the UQAM Design website, linked here.