Lights in the City / Alfredo Jaar

Approximately a hundred thousands watts of red lights have been installed in the Cupola of the Marché Bonsecours, a landmark monument in the old Montreal.

Detonating devices have been placed in the Accueil Bonneau, la Maison Eugénie Bernier and la Maison Paul Grégoire, homeless shelters located within 500 yards of the Cupola. Every time a homeless person enters any of these shelters, they are free to push the buttons and the red light will flash in the Cupola.

This project can be read in many ways:

First, a "photograph" is taken every time a human being asks for help (a light flashes as if a photograph is being taken). This "photograph" respects the privacy and dignity of the "homeless" person (there is no "material image") while at the same time sends a sign (a red light) to society about his or her condition, a condition that is clearly unacceptable within the context of one of the richest cities in North America.

Second, the red light also can be read as a threat of fire, like all the successive fires that destroyed the Cupola of the Marché Bonsecours more than once during the course of its history. This sign of "fire", which has meant tragedy for the Cupola, is now a sign of another tragedy, homelessness. And this time, tragedy (fire) is threatening not the Cupola, but society itself.

A last utopian thought:

Eventually all the shelters for homeless people in Montreal could be wired and connected to the Cupola. This way, a major landmark and historical monument in the city would be acting as a non-stop lighthouse, producing endless, painful distress signals to society.

With enough media coverage and public outrage and support triggered by these ongoing distress signals, homelessness could be completely eradicated from Montreal.

Notes on Lights in the City, 2000

[texto. Alfredo Jaar] [sitio. alfredo jaar]