Ecotones is a research-creation project that explores the socio-environmental impact of contaminants in the soil of the Champ des Possibles (CDP). The CDP is a former railroad yard located on the outskirts of Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood that was rehabilitated into a green space in the early 2000s. Originating from a collaboration between Brice Ammar-Khodja [doctoral student member, Concordia University / EnsAD, Université PSL, Paris], Philippe Vandal [master student member, Concordia University] and the community organization Les Amis du Champ des Possibles (organization in charge of the co-management and preservation of the Champ des Possibles), Ecotones was held on the site of the CDP on October 14th, 2022. Consisting of a “walking” round table and an exhibition in situ, Ecotones prompted nearly 40 participants to reflect on the aesthetic, critical and social dimensions of soil contaminants and to explore new creative ways to visualize these imperceptible residues. The round table brought together different speakers from academia, the arts, community associations and the municipality and aimed to give different perspectives on this peculiar urban green space. Among them: Dr. Jill Didur (Associate Dean and Professor in the Department of English, Concordia University), Dr. Amy R. Poteete (Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Concordia University), Émile Boisseau-Bouvier (member of the executive committee of Les Amis du Champ des Possibles and political, climate and ecological transition analyst), Giulianna Laurent (project manager, Plateau-Mont-Royal borough), Brice Ammar-Khodja and Philippe Vandal. Simultaneously, an exhibition of works by Brice Ammar-Khodja and Philippe Vandal related to the contaminants contained in the soil was held on site. Two approaches were chosen: Symphony of the Stones (Brice Ammar-Khodja) explored residual heavy metals (arsenic, lead and mercury) and fluorescent forensics (Philippe Vandal) explored hydrocarbons.
Photo credits: Dave Gogan
Symphony of the Stones
Symphony of the Stones is a series of urban installations that examine the correlation between the abnormally high presence of heavy metals and magnetic residues in the soils of the Champ des Possibles (CDP). Symphony of the Stones is inspired by geomagnetism, a branch of geoscience that has developed techniques to identify heavy metal contaminants in soils through magnetic fields. The installation reinvents this technique to activate heavy metals and magnetic contaminants in CDP soils. The installation consists of two aluminum sculptures reminiscent of some of the metal structures remaining from the site’s past operations. Thanks to the classification by degree of contamination of the soils of the CDP, these ephemeral sculptures are placed on the areas polluted by heavy metals. The sculptures are flush with the ground and covered with earth. Underneath the sculptures is a kinetic device composed of N45 grade permanent magnets activated by motors operated by a microcontroller. When the permanent magnets are set in motion by the motors, the magnetic fields activate the material. In addition, the installation explores the sound potential of soil and residues. The sculptures incorporate a piezoelectric microphone connected to a TDA2822M mini audio amplifier and a Bluetooth transmission system that sends the audio signal to a Bluetooth speaker hidden in the environment. The piezo microphone amplifies the sounds resulting from the collisions between the different residues. By animating the organic and inorganic residues, matter and materials contained in the soils of the CDP, Symphony of the Stones aims to generate new sensory relationships between humans and soils by engaging the body. Indeed, Symphony of the Stones aims to draw the public’s attention not only to observe soils, but to come into contact with them.
Photo credits: Étienne Massicotte
fluorescent forensics consists of two artistic proposals, chromatically witnessing and rotary assistant, exploring the aesthetic, sensory and artistic potentials of hydrocarbon contamination of urban soils. Both are based on an art-science research-creation methodology through which qualitative scientific analyses are reconfigured and rethought through speculative design and the performative qualities of scientific instruments and methodologies. fluorescent forensics is inspired by the aesthetics of environmental investigation and forensics, using sample-based refraction and chromatic representation of contamination as the main artistic medium. It playfully extends the visible spectrum, employing ultraviolet light to illuminate acetone-washed samples or the top layer of soil, in order to reappropriate the fluorescent property of organic compounds.
Photo credits: Étienne Massicotte and Nicole Raziza Fong (2nd image)
Brice Ammar-Khodja is an artist and graphic designer based in Montreal and Paris. His research explores the socio-environmental impacts of neglected residual materials at the municipal scale. His work is particularly concerned with the interactive and sensitive potentials of materials to enable critical dialogues between citizens, urban waste and public environments. To this end, he implements urban artistic devices that reveal the imperceptible mutations of pollutants, contaminants and other harmful residues.
Brice is currently pursuing a PhD co-supervised by Concordia University in Montreal and EnsAD, EnsadLab – Université PSL (Paris). Co-director of the typography magazine Pied de Mouche, Brice Ammar-Khodja creates workshops and educational tools for the general public.
His work has been exhibited at Ars Electronica, MUTEK, Centre Pompidou, Biennale internationale du Design, Cité internationale des Arts, V2_Institute for Unstable Media, and the Musée historique de la Ville de Strasbourg.
Philippe Vandal is a new media artist based in Montreal. He is a student member of Concordia University’s Milieux Institute, the Research Chair in Critical Practices of Materials and Materiality, the Topological Media Lab, the Speculative Life Cluster Biolab and Hexagram. At the intersection of technological, ecological, and artistic concerns, his work bridges bio-inspired critical design, environmental chemistry, and tangible site-specific media interventions. He is currently pursuing an M.A. in Concordia University’s individualized program (Urban Mesocosms: Micro-remediation of hydrocarbon contaminated soils in Montreal through art-science and citizen interventions).
His work has been exhibited at Concordia’s VAV Gallery (2019), Art Mûr (2019), Eastern Bloc (2017, 2022), the International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA2020:What is Sentience?), Champ des Possibles in Montreal (2022), Concordia’s 4th Space (2022), and he has collaborated on projects exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2021) and Ars Electronica in Linz (2021).
Ecotones is a research-creation project hosted in partnership with the Association les Amis du Champ des Possibles. Ecotones has received support from Hexagram, the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) on Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Communities and Cities at Concordia University, the Haute École des Arts du Rhin (France), the Sustainability Action Fund (SAF), the Milieux Institute, the Concordia University Research Chair on Critical Practices of Materials and Materiality, and the borough of Plateau-Mont-Royal.