JAUNE: The Orange Cone Festival – It’s that time of year when Montreal turns into a veritable “coneucopia” of orange and white cones as its blue-collar workers clean up debris, repair infrastructure, and give the city a facelift just in time for tourists to take in the bonanza of summer festivals that is a signature of La Metropole’s élan. Right. Ask any merchant on a busy street how things are going and you’ll hear a very different story. Everybody knows that construction continues well into October despite the inconvenience to shoppers and the downside for business owners trying to make a few bucks after a long cold hard winter. Ditto for frustrated motorists and cyclists: come spring they must navigate the treacherous terrain of cast-off concrete, rusty pipes, and open manholes not to mention the ever-present potholes. When the first big rainstorm hits the lament inevitably turns to the stench from the overflowing garbage that hasn’t been picked up yet despite assurances from city officials that everything is proceeding on schedule.
If you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry – they say laughter is the best medicine – then JAUNE: The Orange Cone Festival may be just what the doctor ordered to cure those summertime orange cone blues. The humorous art exhibit on public maintenance spotlights the men and women who clean up and keep the city in working order so that everybody can go about their business all grumbling and naysayers aside. It’s the brainchild of JAUNE a stencil artist from Brussels, Belgium whose images of les cols bleus at work (at times definitely not!) are the subject of this novel exhibit at Galerie Station 16 an urban art gallery on Boulevard St. Laurent just around the corner from Prince Arthur.
JAUNE – not the artist’s real name – it’s a pseudonym that resembles his surname – got the idea of the paradox of order and chaos coexisting in the public domain from his own experience as a maintenance worker over the course of three summers. “It was my student job,” he says matter-of-factly as he puts the finishing touches on a temporary mural whose theme dovetails with those in the paintings on display at the gallery until May 26. “My protagonists are historical but I adapt my narrative to each place.” Amanda Brownridge Assistant Director of Station 16 says all of JAUNE’s characters are based on people he knows including himself. In as much as they are real, they also have universal appeal. While JAUNE is an international artist his work resonates with Montrealers because the issues with construction and sanitation workers are the same everywhere. “I grew up on the South Shore,” she says laughing. It’s the same thing. We thought he would be perfect – his work would resonate with our viewers.”
JAUNE came to the vernissage dressed as a maintenance worker along with Station 16’s staff and co-owner Adam Vieira who all donned orange overalls to give the event an authentic vibe – not a hard sell given the installation of garbage bags with comical stenciled workers perched on top. They weren’t the only ones wearing fluorescent garb among the invited guests sipping beer and wine at the trendy art hub. David Goranitis a sanitation worker for the City of Montreal came straight from work without changing, his two young children in tow. His wife works the night shift so he brought the kids. “It’s fantastic – there’s a lot of humour too,” he says. Goranitis is also a painter. He and JAUNE were deep in conversation about the exhibit as the children played underfoot. The subject turned to the men and women who earn their living providing essential services but all too often are invisible to the public.
“I understand the situation of these people and their importance for the city,” JAUNE says. “We are the only animals on the planet that produce garbage.” He talks about his own experience. While he must have seen ten thousand people on the job no one ever said hello. “The public doesn’t pay attention unless there is a strike,” he says. Goranitis who has just finished his BA in art education agrees that there isn’t a lot of contact between the city’s blue-collar workers and the public but says it is the nature of their function and he is well-paid. Noting both the camaraderie and tension among workers Goranitis says JAUNE’s paintings highlight the interplay between what the workers are “trying to hide when they have a coffee on the sly” and what they are “trying to do to make the best of their work.”
This is JAUNE’s second exhibit and he plans to do a series on the public employees who keep the city running musing that the next one is likely to be about firefighters. However, The orange cone murals at Station 16 will be painted over when the exhibit is over and the paintings are gone. “That’s the nature of street art – it’s somewhat ephemeral,” Brownridge says ruefully.
JAUNE: The Orange Cone Festival
May 10 – May 26
Galerie Station 16
3523 Boul. Saint-Laurent