Locating 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 space.

August 12th, 2005 - journal entry
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[1]. 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 itself.

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" at http://www.sarma.be/text.asp?id=977

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