n absentia is a Latin phrase meaning “in absence.” I’m drawn to the contradiction inherent in being in absence. In recent years many long-time low-income neighbours being forced out of Mile End by economically motivated decisions made their absence. So far fiction is the best way I’ve found to give voice these disappeared neighbours, and the web is the best place I’ve found to situate their stories. Our stories. My building is for sale; my family may be next. Faced with imminent eviction I’ve begun to write about the Mile End as if I’m no longer here, and to write about a Mile End that is no longer here. By manipulating the Google Maps API, I am able to populate “real” satellite images of my neighbourhood with “fictional” characters and events. I aim to both literally and figuratively map the sudden disappearances of characters, fictional or otherwise, from the places, real or imagined, where they once lived; to document traces people leave behind when they leave a place, and the stories that spring from their absence. in absentia is a web “site” haunted by the stories of former residents of Mile End, a slightly fantastical world that is already lost but at the same time is still fully known by its inhabitants: a shared memory of the neighbourhood as it never really was but could have been.
Themes of place and displacement pervade my fiction and electronic literature, yet place long remained an abstract, elusive notion for me. Perhaps because for many years I wrote about long ago places attempting to inhabit pasts that could never be mine. Mapping the minutia of my most immediate surroundings has made my notion of place less abstract and more socially engaged. Writing about my neighbours has made me aware that I write from amongst them, thus engendering a "we" point of view. Increasingly, my work is collaborative. In in absentia (June 2008) I join a cast of writers from my neighbourhood to pen "postcards" to and from former tenants, fictional or otherwise, displaced by gentrification and it's erasures.
in absentia also marks the end of DARE-DARE's Dis/location: projet d'articulation urbaine in the Mile End's parc sans nom. The mobile office will leave the vacant lot that was its home for two years and move towards Montréal’s dowtown, in Cabot Square, corner Sainte-Catherine and Atwater. http://dare-dare.org