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Love in a Cold Climate, 2015

Friday, February 13th, 5:30pm. Downtown is mildly frantic with preparations for valentine’s day. Stores and restaurants have trotted out multitudes of pink and red velvet, tulle, sparkles, bows, special deals. Buy, sell romance – everywhere the objectification and commodification of the heart. Underage underwear models loom three stories high on bright billboards. Below, bundled Montrealers struggle through the slush, a token of love in their gloved hands.

Not us.

We meet at the place where the steps rise up from rue Mackay, between Sherbrooke and de Maisonneuve. It is cold; the sun has just set. You’re dressed warmly, from head to toe. So am I. Maybe – almost certainly – there will be snow.

We grip our mobile phones, our flashlights, the lights bouncing on the icy sidewalk and steps. The music begins. We start to walk. 

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Photo by Lisa Graves.

love in a cold climate was presented in solidarity with #ShutDownCanada, a movement to press the Canadian government to radically reframe its policies concerning First Nations land rights, and to launch the much-needed inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

love in a cold climate engaged dancers and other participants in an unscripted collaboration with an underused, institutional space: the Hall Terrace. Until recently, the Henry F. Hall Building (1966) was the largest building on the downtown campus of Concordia University, Montréal. The Terrace, located immediately north and behind the Hall pavilion, is a remnant of modernist architectural principles and urban planning. Originally intended to be a social space and a connector between the campus and surrounding urban fabric, the terrace is today a bleak expanse of concrete and brick, dotted with a few picnic tables and uninspired lighting.

Baking hot in summer, a wind tunnel in winter, this space needed some love.

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Photo by Lisa Graves.

In less than fifteen minutes, the participants in love in a cold climate transformed the Hall Terrace’s impoverished spatial qualities, bringing out its many affordances, temporarily making it into a place of gesture, movement, and light. Moving through the corridor of space, from west to east, participants used their flashlights, or flashlight apps, to illuminate the many textures and surfaces of the Terrace. As a wordless song began to play, we approached the eastern half of the terrace, which was temporarily darkened by covering the security lights.

[Video above produced by Shauna Janssen and Mauricio Aristizábal]

A small group of dancers, interspersed among the other participants, expanded on the act of looking through movement, engaging confidently with the space and the music. The participants were told in advance that their role was to be part of a collective moment in which this space might become something it had never been before. And perhaps they, too, become something they had never been before.


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Photo by Lisa Graves.

At the end of the five minutes of music, all participants dimmed their lights. Our collective action was followed by sharing in a cup of hot chocolate or cider, just inside the doors of the newly opened Hive Café, a student-run business.

Cynthia Hammond and Shauna Janssen are frequent collaborators in creative, critical spatial practice. Janssen created Urban Occupations Urbaines in 2010 as a curatorial platform through which to respond to rapid urban change in the Griffintown neighbourhood of Montreal. Both Hammond and Janssen teach at Concordia University, as does Michael Montanaro, who is Associate Director of the Topological Media Lab, a trans-disciplinary atelier-laboratory for collaborative research creation housed at Concordia University. We thank the 35 participant-dancers for their contributions to our evening of love-ly movement in some very cold weather! A full list of participants follows the end of the video above. We are grateful to Evan Stanfield, Laura O’Brien, Nima Navab for their help in making this event happen.