Léola LeBlanc wants people to see the sites of Dartmouth in a new way.
"Basically I'm trying to create ephemeral landmarks," says LeBlanc, who lives and works in the city.
She sits in the cool air of a corridor at Alderney Landing, above the ferry terminal and out of the noon-hour sun and muggy wind. Tall windows afford an ample view of the waterfront, which she gestures toward frequently. For her latest project, DAMMSel Day, LeBlanc's written a fictional story that draws on historical fact.
DAMMSel Day is an imaginary yearly event commemorating five actual Quaker women of Dartmouth: Dorothy Waugh, Anne Burden, Mary Dyer, Mary Weatherhead and Sarah Gibbons. (The first letter in their names create the DAMMS.) They faced persecution, prison and death for their beliefs.
The story takes place on another annual DAMMSel Day, but one that goes awry. There's a mystery, potentially a murder, to be solved. Through the fiction, including the fantastical (namely a whale named Blinky who befriends and communicates with people), LeBlanc's audiences learn of Dartmouth's history, such as its Quaker heritage, whaling industry and rum-running racket.
If they don't already have access to one, the artist provides participants with an iPhone to guide them by GPS to specified sites along and around the Dartmouth waterfront. LeBlanc uses a free software application called 7scenes. As they walk, people on headphones listen to audio chapters in a fictional story LeBlanc has written. When the person carrying the device approaches the (invisibly) marked site, it vibrates and a play button appears.
"I would see this project as a site, a dig," says LeBlanc, who studied anthropology and archaeology and worked on digs in North America and Europe. "Through using the iPhone, they're digging through layers and they dig up artifacts---invisible, audio artifacts I've created."
While researching at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum, LeBlanc came across artifacts, such as a preserved whale's eye, a pince-nez, a pair of earrings and a diving helmet, and ended up choosing a dozen to anchor the various scenes in her story.
But her point wasn't to have people interact with the objects directly or to focus on the technology. "You use an iPhone to access it, however what you're accessing is an experience," says LeBlanc. "You're accessing a story. You're not reading it in a book. You're actually living through it. So as you walk voices will speak to you and address you informally as I've written the narrative."
This summer, The Common, a play directed by Dustin Harvey and written by Robert Plowman, was experienced by an individual listening to an iPod, walking through downtown Halifax. DAMMSel Day falls in line with an ongoing project to digitize the photographic and audio collections at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum, writes its executive director, Lisa O'Neill, in an email.
Projects such as LeBlanc's, which are described as "locative media art," complement and supplement a visit to the museum. "Sometimes, there is no artifact, only history or a photograph," points out O'Neill. "What better way to understand the heritage than to stand in a location that used to be a rope factory, or a sugar mill---to point out what is the same and what is gone and to appreciate the people and events that got us to where we are today."