introduction Emily Rose Michaud

This book is a remembrance of a place that lives in all cities, the world over. It is a place inside of us. It is marginal, sometimes invisible, and its story seldom told. It is a place at risk of disappearing.

This book is dedicated to celebrating its story so it may be appropriated — or not forgotten in silence. It is also to acknowledge and thank the tireless and inspiring people who continued to show up, roll up their sleeves and do good work: my family, friends, teachers, and especially my collaborators.

It’s the story, the biography of the field beneath my feet … settlers imposed their acres on a land that before they arrived had flowed from sea to sea, joyfully free of measurement … The acre’s residents; plants, trees, and animals are familiar miracles. But while their story unfolds above ground, there is another running concurrently, in the soil beneath vision…(Jenkins, 1996, p.26).

In 2007, I set out to work beyond the gallery walls and to connect with living matter. Initially drawn to the field as a site to work outdoors, take up space, and experiment with sculpture, I found something in the Canadian Pacific Railway lot that was close to freedom. This vacant field was an expansive stretch of overgrown land, open to the sky and accessible to city-dwellers.

I went there, and immediately this place clung to my memory like a burr to a woollen sock.

Soon after, I created within it a living sculpture, and a relationship formed from the making of it. In the centre of the field, just south of a group of big poplars, is where the Roerich Garden rested, from 2007-2010.

This project fed me, shaped my creative process, and altered my perception of the marginal and biodiverse urban landscape. These terrains vague teach us all a little something about the marginal bits in ourselves.

Much has emerged since then. Though the Roerich Garden has not been maintained since 2010, is now an official park named after the community group that sprung up to protect the site (Le Champs des Possibles) the template has been laid and the project served as a rallying-cry to exclaim that this meeting place be kept — as is. Preserving such spaces from the unquestioned and ever-expanding phenomenon of development is essential to urban existence, our livelihoods and mental health.

Urban wilderness has an ecological, cultural, and social value that is crucial to the future of cities in this rapidly changing world. Senses return, air clears, and decibels drop. We can then begin to hear the stories that emerge from the ground. We can then see what and whom needs our attention.

QUOTE SOURCE: Jenkins, P. (1996). An acre of time: The enduring value of place. Toronto: Macfarlane, Walter & Ross.

Emily Rose Michaud

Emily Rose Michaud is an artist and activist working at the intersections of community development, civic participation, and urban ecology. In recent years, her experimental, participatory, and socially driven approach has resulted in a series of performances incorporating living ‘sproutfits’, a guerilla gardener’s ensemble, an electronic book designed to be reproduced and remixed by others, and the Roerich Garden Project, a three-year land art project in a post-industrial railyard turned urban meadow.

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