by Emmanuelle Walter
Safia Nolin is there, her white snapback on backwards, casual yet focused. You can hear the noise of a skateboard rolling on Place de la Paix’s asphalt, the musical murmur of a radio, the rumble of a large Pacific Western bus. And in this urban hustle and bustle, for our bewildered eyes, a ceremony slowly unfolds. It is not indifferent to the city’s signs, nor is it a stranger to the elder homeless Inuk man who exclaims his surprise to the audience, but quiet, forgiving, purposeful. What we see: three chests of drawers arranged in a semi-circle around a platform, alluding to a marble columbarium. What we are about to see: a series of small processions and made-up rituals to reactivate the concept of passing on and our notion of the Sacred. What we will do once the event is over: write little texts, create small trinkets, lift the clear panel of the drawers and burrow our memories, wishes and secrets in the sand.
Before the ceremony, Otsi’tsaken:ra (Charles Patton), a Mohawk from Kahnawake, came to inaugurate the OFFTA festival across the street on the ground floor of the Monument national. Here is what he said: “The responsibility of my people is to preserve and pass on the culture. And nobody cared about us before, but we are now told to share our message. (…) On these words, I launch this event.” We, as the Quebec nation and the Western society, have lost our sense of consistency, our knowledge across generations, and the religion that helps support and carry the important moments of life. “But instead of mimicking the Amerindian way, we will create our own rituals”, suggested Stéphane Crête, who became a secular “celebrant”. He was also curious about Félix-Antoine Boutin’s process, the young stage director at the reins of this “archiving center of sensible knowledge” (the name of this columbarium-like arrangement) and the ceremonial event that accompanies it.
And so it is under one of the few rare appearances of the sun that the show begins. Amateur performers, mostly middle-aged women, young children and teenagers, all dressed in black and wearing white laced collars, start to move at the center of the giant marble-colored chest of drawers, parading religious banners prettily renamed “Cemetery of lost knowledge”, “Dancing the path taken” and “Kissing the ghosts”.
A little girl is lying on the central platform. An older lady brings her back to life, and washes her face.
A group of children recreate the lady’s movements. She seems to mimic manual activities of yore.
The little girl takes off the lady’s laces.
The lady lies down, but the children straighten her up and proceed to wash her as well.
Two other women cover her in red sand.
We listen to a small orchestra and a desynchronized whispered choir.
Family memories, poetic and quivering, are conveyed through speakers.
As well as a “prayer for immortality” that says, as could have also said the man from Kahnawake: “Remember that it is through the wounds of its ancestors that a people is built / Remember that it is in the cracks that grow the biggest forests / And that we often need to be lost in order to find ourselves elsewhere”.
Here we are.
The Archiving Center of Sensible Knowledge will stay at the Place de la Paix until the 8th of June, ready to receive your memories, recipes, or everything that you wish to pass on, to ever be, world without end.