September 11 and cultural Quebec: drama and missed opportunity

The summer of his 29th birthday, Jérôme Fortin has the wind in his sails. After a creative residency in the bucolic Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, he benefited from a two-month stay in Manhattan. His collection of metro tickets, phone books and other beer capsules, which he transformed into a work of art, reached the ears of a journalist from the New York Times, Randy Kennedy, de la section Metro.

“It’s a big deal, an article in this section, remembers the almost fiftieth birthday. Kennedy, who collected with me, was due to publish two or three days later. ”Unlucky in his luck, the artist, because the report appeared… on September 11, 2001. The article never launched the New York career to which the native artist of Joliette could have aspired. Its fate reflects that of the demonstration that cultural Quebec had orchestrated: a sword in the water.

Fortin’s work, New York (2001), now at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, was part of the exhibition Growth & Risk, included in the “Québec New York 2001” event. The thing was so vast – Jorane, Robert Lepage and Bernard Labadie were there – that even Prime Minister Bernard Landry had to show up. To her only, Growth & Risk reunited
13 artists and forty works.

Claude Deschênes, then employed by Radio-Canada, had gone to New York to cover a Michael Jackson show. He would have returned before September 11 if his boss had not unexpectedly ordered a report on the Quebec event. The rest is known: the cultural journalist will become a reporter of the attacks.

In his topo of September 12 which recounted the pre-drama, we see the banner displayed in the financial district. “The Quebec Seasons Office,” he said, “has decided that its gateway will be the World Financial Center (WFC), in the shadow of the World Trade Center (WTC) towers. “

Like many compatriots, Jérôme Fortin was there on the fateful morning. In Brooklyn, actually. He had an appointment at the foot of the towers, except that he went straight ahead. It was a call from Quebec that woke him up, that suggested that he turn on the television. At the time of the first plane, Claude Gosselin, orchestrator of Growth & Risk, should have crossed the footbridge connecting the WTC to the WFC. It was Randy Kennedy’s article that caught him at his hotel, located four blocks from the Courtyard Gallery of the WFC, where the exhibition was taking place.

I was 29, hoping to live in New York. The exhibition was an incredible showcase, perhaps a pivot in my life.

His reflex was to go back to his room, take his camera and film. He then records the beginning of the disaster, the collapse of a tower, the smoke, the white dust, the chaos… “I wanted to testify, [filmer] the artists I had to bring together, ”he says. He did a 20-minute “home edit” that Vermont PBS will air months later.

Gilles Mihalcean, he had to install his small sculptures. Under “beautiful blue skies,” he recalls, he was heading to the WTC for breakfast. The first plane surprised him on the sidewalk, without realizing that it was an attack. “I saw a cartoon plane, confetti. I thought it was an advertisement, ”he says.

The second plane, he really saw it. Then saw people jump. Back at the hotel, the first collapse caught him in the lobby, in the company of fellow sculptor Michel Goulet. They were shouted to go to bed. “It became all black, like the end of the world. I said goodbye to Michel, ”he says.

Works tinged with drama

Claude Gosselin admits that he “was not so nervous”. “The hardest part,” admits the founder of the Biennale de Montréal, “is to see the fire trucks rush towards the scene of the tragedy. They know they are going to die in the hope of saving the world. I still have goose bumps. “The somewhat premonitory title of the exhibition, he assures us that he has not chosen it as” a political commitment “. He was inspired, not by a theme or by the works, but by the site of the exhibition. “In the financial world, everything is development and risk,” notes Claude Gosselin.

Sylvie Laliberté and Jocelyne Alloucherie lived this historic day from Quebec. They had planned to fly later. None consider having missed a New York career. The drama “was bigger than my chance to go to New York”, summarizes Sylvie Laliberté. The relationship to their works is no less troubled. Unlike the hundreds of works that went missing in the WTC collapse, including the iconic The World Trade Center Stabile (1971) by Calder, those of Quebecers have survived. One month after September 11, Claude Gosselin carried out an inventory of Growth & Risk, whose repatriation was provided by the Quebec delegation.

Sylvie Laliberté was also part of an exhibition led by the VU center, Body Chemistry, designed for shop windows. When she received her huge photo Why not be somebody sweet ? full of dust, she had proof of horror.

“Afterwards, I was surprised to have done it. Why not be nice? I forced myself, in English. If the pilots of the planes had seen her, maybe… ”she thinks, thinking of the Lego block figure she had placed in front of a city in ruins.

Jocelyne Alloucherie never wanted to recover her triptych of images from the series Shadows, when she learned that the showroom had served as a morgue. She gave it to Claude Gosselin. “The objects were heavily loaded. When a gallery owner told me that they had increased in value, that chilled me. It turns me off the idea of ​​making money on people’s misfortune, ”she said.

Gilles Mihalcean was happy to find his sculptures. Despite the “weird” feeling, he restored the damaged parts. The abortive exhibition nevertheless made her reflect “on the production of works and the artist’s experience”. A cultural invasion always takes place, according to him, to the detriment of the local microcosm. Jérôme Fortin knows it, since a New York jazzman made him note the exceptional nature of his article. “He did not understand how I could have obtained that,” he relates. Artists work for years and only have little bits and pieces. Even in New York.

“I was 29, hoping to live in New York. The exhibition was an incredible showcase, perhaps a pivot in my life. His disappointment was huge, but he never mentioned it. “I kept that inside,” he concludes, knowing nevertheless that he is blessed with the career he has had since.

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