Totem urbain/Histoire en dentelles
A Sculpture by Artist Pierre Granche

Montreal, 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.

The 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 skyscrapers.

Then 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 the work.

The 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
(514) 398-7100

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.