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The McCord Museum
The Museum Team
Totem urbain/Histoire en dentelles
A Sculpture by Artist Pierre Granche
Monday, January 13, 1997 —
Totem ubrain/histoire en dentelles is one of Pierre
Granche's major works. Completed for the McCord Museum of
Canadian History as part of the Politique d'intégration des
arts à l'architecture et à l'environnement of the ministère
des Affaires culturelles du Québec, this sculpture was
installed to mark the Museum's official reopening in 1992. It
now occupies a prime spot on quiet Victoria Street, which runs
alongside the Museum's west side. Ensconced in a niche formed by
joining the old building and its new extension, Totem urbain was
designed to bridge the old and the new, the interior and the
exterior. Both the form and the title of Granche's piece allude
to the majestic haïda totem in red cedar standing inside the
Museum's Victoria Street entrance.
The work, which Granche completed with assistance from Andrée Castegnier, Katherine Paré and a number of others, is composed of four elements. The first of these is the illuminated elliptical plinth on which the remaining elements stand or from which they radiate outwards. The plinth is made up of three layers of glass fragments sandwiched between two massive translucent slabs that filter the light radiating from the base. The assembly is suggestive of water, an island, or rock strata. In using these pieces of glass, the sculptor makes a direct allusion to the 200,000 glass negatives of the Notman Photographic Archives, one of the McCord's priceless collections.
second element, the "urban totem," is a synthesised
image depicting the city and three periods of its history. The
totem is formed of three cylinders that fit one inside the other
to form a small chimney. The first cylinder is inspired by the
old buildings on de la Commune Street in Old Montreal; the
second represents Montreal townhouses with their characteristic
outside staircases, and also the industrial era; while the third
evokes the present-day downtown area with its towering
follows the third element: the parade of figures. Granche uses a
score of archetypal figures and objects to conjure up moments
and objects that are rooted in our collective memory. The
sculptor tips his hat to history and geography, with many
references to legends, the seasons, traditional trades and
industrialisation. Each figure calls on another; associations
are thus scrambled, cast into relief, or paralysed by the play
and interplay between them. Here as well, the artist gestures to some of
the Museum's collections, such as Costume and Textiles,
Ethnology and Archaeology, and the Notman Photographic Archives.
This profusion of figures and images is seen through the lens of
photographer Notman, which Granche has cleverly integrated into
final element in the work is a communications tower whose roots
are buried in a mountain of books. This image symbolizes
knowledge and culture, rooted in our present-day society, and
recalls the Museum's mandate to research and disseminate.
Totem urbain/histoire en dentelles is a work rich in meaning, one that reveals itself to the passer-by in small doses. However, during even a brief halt its forms capture our attention, setting loose a stream of poetic and evocative images.
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Wanda Palma or Helen Bougas
The McCord Museum is grateful for the support of the Museum Assistance Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, and the Conseil des arts de la communauté urbaine de Montréal.