One Saturday morning, sometime in the late 90s, as I sat in front of the three-foot high stereo sound system in our living room, I began to record the Digimon theme song on a blank cassette. I sat there, excitedly watching the little ribbons winding slowly round and round, wondering if it was working; knowing that if it wasn’t, I would have to wait until the next day’s episode and try again. As the first verse ended, my sister sat beside me and asked what I was doing. Her little voice and my angry “Shh!” are forever trapped in the loop between the electric guitars and drums. Without knowing, my obsession with cassettes and recordings blossomed into my very first archive. The catalogue includes: Saturday mornings at 6295 Despreaux, Songs from “Space Jam,” A cappella singing, Squeaky violin practices, and Other nonsense.
It would be ridiculous to place the burden of foreshadowing on my innocent interest in tape recorders. But it counted for something.
This archive served as the material for my first large-scale art piece, to (re)create a childhood memory. Along with toys, drawings, books, and even Disney bed sheets that my parents never threw away (thank you, mom and dad!), I filled four ‘rooms’ with this memorabilia from my past. These spaces represented four different iterations of the past: what is remembered, what is imagined, what is archived, what is recreated. I didn’t know that, four years later, I would be tackling the exact same issues.
For a long time, whenever someone would ask me “but why history after art?”, I would shrug my shoulders. I didn’t really have an answer besides that I always loved history, and that it was my second choice if I didn’t get into fine arts. It was by chance that I stumbled into my desire to do oral history, in a class on Canada post-confederation. It was time for our final essay, and the professor had outlined dozens of topics we could explore in the syllabus. It was in that list that I saw two hyphenated words I was very familiar with: Saint-Leonard. Having been born and raised in this Montreal suburb, I couldn’t believe that this little corner of bars and shops and bakeries, and a couple of schools, and the odd McDonald’s, and the many Tim Horton’s made it into my history course. Despite never having heard about the Saint-Leonard crisis, I signed up for the topic and began my research.
It was also by chance that, two weeks later while scrolling through my Facebook feed, my old Italian school teacher – and constant role model – shared an opinion piece from the Montreal Gazette. I was surprised to see that the school and language crisis I had just begun researching was actually discussed right there, in an article written that very day. What’s more, it brought up a whole new set of questions and hypotheses that the pages of my library books, so far, had not. I messaged her, she got me the author’s number, and I called him. That would be my first – highly unprofessional – interview.
Two years later, I’m still not done asking questions and the project continues to develop in my mind and notebooks. As I get closer to the end of this undergrad, I’ve been thinking back to the random decisions and circumstances that have brought me to the end of this seven-year chapter.
Art was and continues to be a space in which I have explored themes of memory, nostalgia, identity, and autobiography. Since that first interview and the small beginnings of this project in 2014, it continues to be inspired and informed as much by these explorations as the theories and methodologies of historical work.
I also often think back to all the chance encounters and bumping-intos that have taught me as much as the most inspiring of seminars; to those who have pushed me and collaborated with me in that never-ending process called learning; to those who have listened, who have discussed, and who have debated; and especially to those who have done all of the above (and more).
Also sometime in the late 90s, my sister and I would play on the big mosaic tiles of the back balcony. We would jump from tile to tile, and each one would bring us somewhere different, in space or time: tile time travel teleportation. One of them brought us to Paris (a side-effect of our parents’ finally giving in and renting Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Passport to Paris for us). Another, to the edge of the universe, maybe through a black hole.
I could try to pull all these threads together into a neat bow, but there’s no point. They’re there either way, and there are plenty more hiding in the background waiting to be tugged.