the Provigo in Sept-Iles
by Dawne Carleton
I arrived in Sept-Iles on August 10th, 2005 to participate
in scale:human as well as in a related dance project.
During the ten days that I was in the city, trips to
two of Sept-Iles’ grocery stores became opportunities
for me to sense and reflect upon my relationship to
August 12th, 2005 - journal
Last night, Julie drove me to get groceries. As we were
leaving the Metro supermarket, she told me about an
acquaintance of hers who had noticed that he doesn’t
need to orient himself at all when he goes shopping
at the Provigo in Sept-Iles because it is identical
to the Provigo in his home town.
I’ve noticed it, too: orientation in these cloned
stores is too easy. It is subtly unnerving to be in
a new or different place and not need to make an effort
to orient oneself to it. In fact, we’re still
orienting ourselves, it’s just that the part of
our process of choosing and finding our bearings in
space which relates to a specific place has been rendered
obsolete. Instead, we are in a transferrable relationship
with the store’s merchandising strategy; the corporation
takes the place of place. The problem with taking place
out of our relationship with space is that we are
place. We exist as part of the ecosystem in a located
way in the body. When we take the place out of our relationship
with space, we’re removing a part of ourselves
and our ability to be in that relationship. Literally,
we’re not grounded.
Two days later, I went into the Provigo at Laure Boulevard
and Regnault. It was my first time in a Provigo. Although
the similarities to my neighbourhood Loblaws (Provigo’s
sister company) back in Toronto were obvious, there
were also many differences. I definitely had to orient
myself, and in a very particular way.
The elements that differentiated this Provigo from the
Loblaws stores I know were specific to this Provigo
for me because it was the first time that I was encountering
them, yet I found that I was still not orienting myself
in relation to place. Being in this type of environment
has taught me how to sense that it was designed not
in relation to its location but as a function of marketing.
I feel this on a store-wide level as a synthesis of
information from many different sensory systems and
I also feel it in relation to specific elements within
the store; for example, although the baskets of Ontario
peaches were to the left of the door as I walked in,
they seemed primarily in some kind of precisely calculated
‘promo spot A’. And so even as I engaged
in forming a new understanding of my environment in
order to find what I needed, I oriented myself not to
place, but to a new placeless corporate space within
a known one. The only element in the store that truly
oriented me was the simple presence of the French language,
locating me only in the province of Quebec.
On August 16th, I went to the Provigo again, and I ran
into Hugo, a man I had met a few nights earlier at Chez
Louis tavern. It was in that moment that the Provigo
started to become the Provigo in Sept-Iles for me. It
felt like going from black and white to Technicolor,
from parts to whole.
The sensory actions that we perform in order to orient
ourselves - to place ourselves - are the basis upon
which we are able to engage in our most functional activities,
like finding food, even in a modern grocery store. These
activities in turn form a kind of grid upon which our
relationship to place, or human scale map, can establish
In spaces that seem disconnected from place, our relationships
with others reinforce our inherent sense
of place, allowing us to be more fully present
and to locate ourselves.
Footnote 1: Here I have used Lisa Nelson's idea of the body "train[ing]
itself in feedback with the environment" from Jeroen Peeters' "Dialogue with
Lisa Nelson on Communication with Objects", which is now part of Peeters'
"Materials, Dialogues and Observations on Proximity, Walking about Connexive #1: Vera Mantero"