The postman might not always ring twice, but if you’re lucky she’ll pick your door and knock nicely. A few things have to be just right though. You have to live in a particular Montreal village and your factrice has to be Patsy Van Roost, probably the most inventive, determined and whimsical letter carrier you’ll ever meet.
The ave du Parc artist has been delivering Valentine invitations for the past week. With a little help from a growing number of people, she is going door to door asking, est-ce que l’amour fleurit ici? Well does it?
There’s something about Mile End that seems to encourage a sort of free-flowing practice of public art. I’m thinking Glen LeMesurier (and here) or Trixi Rittenhouse. And there are others, you see it everywhere here. What is it about public art, sharing, and Mile End that goes so well together? I recently visited Patsy at her rambling Parc avenue apartment and we talked about this project, and the many that have come before it.
So, what is it you are doing exactly?
I wanted to do a project for Valentine’s. Basically, I wanted to see where love is cultivated in the Mile End. My favourite holiday is Halloween because you can knock on your neighbour’s door. Everyone is outside and talking. It’s amazing. So I wanted to replicate that a little bit.
I’m delivering a simple invitation, with a heart sewn on every one. To make it distinctive and maybe they won’t think it’s junk and throw it out. So I delivered 1000 so far. The notice invites them to register online and share their love secrets, like sharing a recipe. I also have a Facebook page, L’amour dans le Mile End. Luckily so many people are helping me deliver, which is great. Because Mile End is big!
Once they join, then what happens?
People fill out a form that asks for their secret recipe for love. How do you cultivate love in your household? It has to be 140 characters maximum. I don’t want to get long recipes!
Then I’ll start tagging. Not Facebook tagging, real tagging. I’m printing beautiful silkscreens, which will be sewn into pockets or bags. We can attached these to a fence or a tree or a mailbox outside the person’s house. It will be public. From the 1st to the 13th, they will be up but just as visual tags. Just to say that l’amour fleurit ici. It creates a kind of anticipation. Love blooms here! People have until the 7th to sign up. Then on the 14th, the pockets will suddenly be filled with that person’s recipes. People can go door to door and collect and read each other’s recipes. And it’s any kind of love, doesn’t have to be about being in a couple. Could be family, single, friends, roommates, children, pets. Just love.
This is a different way to connect. People are talking to each other, to neighbours, and asking if they registered, if they sent in their recipes. It becomes a subject of conversation which leads to something else.
Last December you delivered a serialized story to random houses on Waverly street, in Mile End. Can you talk a little bit about that project?
I had done public projects before. In December 2009, foundkado was about leaving random gifts on park benches. They were actually sewn and stuffed reproductions of “real” gifts. Would you be happy to receive a stuffed iPhone, sewn out of love? Maybe. But maybe not. Then in 2010, I constructed boxes and affixed them to lamp posts on avenue Mont Royal. Every day I put up a new box with a new story.
But this time I wanted to weave in the idea of participation. I picked Waverly between Fairmount and St Viateur because I was convinced that this block would be the perfect place. It’s a very friendly street where neighbours interact a lot. And I was right. Everyone participated – except for three houses, and I think one of them is empty.
I chose the story of the little match girl because I wanted to talk about poverty without talking about poverty. It was funny, too, because in doing this project, I felt like the little match girl myself. I was going door to door and I could see people at home and celebrating Christmas. I had no money and I have a son and there are things you have to do at Christmas. So sometimes it was hard.
Each person received an envelope with a letter. Dear resident, My name is Patsy. I am a resident of Mile End and I love your street. Here is my Christmas gift to you. Can you put this story on your door or mailbox. It was printed on acetate so it could stay outdoors. And people actually did it. I would go back every day with the next part of the story, and everyone was ready and waiting for it. You had to go door to door to read the whole story. Not only that, it was zigzagged, so you had to go back and forth across the street.
What have you noticed about the neighbourhood doing that, going door to door?
All the old people! You don’t really see them out and about, but they are there. Mile End is “hipster” and young, but there are so many old people. When I deliver I see that they are there. But they are invisible. That’s a whole other project.
What’s your biggest challenge with this kind of project?
How to do a project with absolutely zero money. I am not asking people for money. Maybe one day I will, I don’t know. I am applying for a bursary and maybe I’ll get lucky. I’ve put in a request to the Awesome Foundation. They’re 10 people from different backgrounds who each put $100 in a pot every month. It’s all over the world and there are different people each month, depending on the city. You have until the 8th of every month to apply for that month’s pool for your city. I think this is an awesome project, so I hope they pick it. Anyways, in the worst case scenario it’ll just keep coming out of my pocket.
Success for me is double-edged. I launched the project last week on Facebook with a goal of 500 participants. But I’m also afraid of meeting my goal! The more people that join, the more this is going to cost me. It’s all coming out of my pocket. My rent money actually!
What are you trying to do with your projects?
All my projects have to do with gifting. It’s about gifting and sharing. And love, of course. I just want to give and give back. My only real challenge is time and money. I used to feel guilty when I started these projects, these free projects. I’d think I should be working on my business, I should be making money! But I’m accepting it now. People are so grateful. I got 300 emails thanking me after the Christmas project. People love it. Even my son loves it. He comes home from school and wants to cut out hearts instead of doing his homework.
What attracts people to your projects?
Honestly, I don’t fully understand. It really touches people. It’s almost unbelievable. I think it’s the sharing. They know it’s a person doing this, just a girl form the Mile End. Not a company, not a business. I’m not doing this for the money. I want to gift to where I live. At first I thought people would criticize or laugh at my idea, love in the Mile End, how corny. But no, people are taking it seriously. And it is serious!
Find out more about Patsy Van Roost and her projects at patsyvanroost.com.
You can also contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / (514)967-3672