So pervasive have the interventions become that they challenge the stereotype of nature as an ongoing and seemingly inexhaustible eternal backdrop to all that we do. Our era is all about the intertwining of the human built landscape and the natural world. It is what we now call the Anthropocene, an era in which humanity activates and impacts Earth’s climate and ecology as it never has before. Geneviève Chevalier’s Montreal exhibition My Woodland, phase II is conceived like a developer’s project presentation. The difference here is that nature is presented on an equal footing with the developer’s omnipresence and with a sublime sense of mimicry. The artist addresses those touchy human-built interventions at the edges of cities, in historically significant places and parks, and, in the case of the island of Montreal, even in newly built suburbs. Development impinges on so-called pristine, untouched nature reserves and green spaces in the urban environment.
Sillery, Quebec, is a case in point. Sillery was the focus of Chevalier’s My Woodland, phase I, presented at La Chambre Blanche in Quebec City as part of Manif d’art in 2014. Like My Woodland, phase II, My Woodland, phase I addressed development in the historical green space near Sillery and in nature preserves – in this case, Boisé Woodfield, located in the historical district of Sillery adjacent to the St. Patrick cemetery. Sillery was settled under the French regime, and this wooded area had three-hundred-year-old trees still standing as recently as 2015. Protests by scientists, ecologists, and residents were to no avail as the Quebec provincial government finally approved a construction project in Boisé Woodfield. Leading in to Quebec City, Sillery and the Boisé form a beautiful historic suburb that is now increasingly encroached upon, as Chevalier’s documentary-style photographs of apartment buildings in the making show. At the Quebec City venue for My Woodland, a recorded interview with Marilou Alarie embroiders on the recurring theme of displacement of nature sites “for the view” or access to nature. Alarie discusses a development at Forest des Hirondelles near Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville.
The scale of Chevalier’s My Woodland photographs at the Maison de la Culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in Montreal is approachable and human. There is no conceivable barrier between us – the viewers – and the woods that she presents. Her lightbox series has a presentational format resembling advertising, but the language of imagery is of our times and what we are used to. It is neutral, undramatic, nearly insignificant. A series of small-scale photos has a walk-about feel – as if we were actually walking the woods, even though we can see the occasional sign. Signs in nature! What an anomaly! And what a sign of the times! Some of the trees are spray-painted and marked for cutting or marking…
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