Quentin VerCetty at PHI Foundation, Montreal
By oualie frost
Some say history is written by the victors, but I’d say it was written by colonizers who didn’t acknowledge non-written historical methods. This is what makes Quentin VerCetty’s Missing Black Technofossils walking tour so exciting. Aiming to address generally overlooked Black presence in Montreal’s history, it allows participants to “digitally disrupt, decolonize, and insert their own speculative landmarks in public space” via educational prompts and Augmented Reality (AR) technology.
Hosted by the PHI Foundation, the webpage dedicated to Missing Black Technofossils makes reference to theories such as Afrofuturism and “Sankofanology” (described as the “concept of connecting the past, present, and future”), and places itself in conversation with other walking tours like Camille Turner’s 2011 project in Toronto and Rito Joseph’s ongoing tours in Montreal. Included are instructions on how to engage with the AR experience, a map, and a sliding panel of the six historical sites featured. Each slide has a site name, address, image, and blurb. The images are composites relating to their location, and include photos of people, plaques, and statues. Texts instruct viewers on what knowledge is contained/missing at each place, and prompts them to “address the Missing Black Technofossils.”
VerCetty’s work attacks history with a colonial focus and draws attention to Black presence through its absence. For example, despite the Maisonneuve Monument being a stop on the tour, nothing at the location indicates any Black history. Only when one approaches and uses the AR interface to add a technofossil with said history in mind is it invoked. Rather than focusing on tragedy, Missing Black Technofossils draws attention to Black power, achievement, and contribution; it insists that there is not only an impactful Black past in Montreal, but a promising Black future.
However, as I made my way through the tour, I felt like something was missing. I arrived at the Toussaint Louverture statue, appreciated it, added technofossils, and then wondered what was next. I was encouraged to learn about peoples who existed there previously, like Alexander Grant, and to consider who/what else may be deserving of similar recognition. But beyond simply adding virtual artifacts via AR, I was unsure of how I was meant to engage with the project. The combination of blurbs indicating left-out stories and composite images led me to believe that there was another element of the project that I wasn’t accessing despite my efforts. I’d been misguided by the project’s web design, and expected more of an annotated walking tour with additional site-specific information provided through separate links or the AR experience, but this was more a tool for self-guided learning.
With blisters forming and at least another hour of walking left, I tried to conjure reasons why I couldn’t engage with the project from home. Standing outside does not offer a conducive environment to research, and with the same AR monument for every site, the potential for meaningful engagement felt limited. There is lots of art that feels conceptually inaccessible, but Missing Black Technofossils, despite being conceptually accessible and culturally valuable, suffers on a more technical basis due to a lack of clarity.
Quentin VerCetty: Missing Black Technofossils continues until July 9.
PHI Foundation: https://phi.ca/en/foundation/
The gallery is accessible.
oualie frost is a writer and anti-artist currently based in Tiohti:áke/Mooniyang (Montréal). They write regularly for Afros in tha City and irregularly make art at home.