Thresholds, an art installation made of old MR-63 doors, is the first of seven winning reuse proposals to be realized.

Thresholds by Michel de Broin, (KM3, Quartier des spectacles/Jules Beauchamps-Desbiens)

Whenever a city updates the rolling stock of its subway, a familiar question emerges: What to do with all the old metro cars?

You can hurl them in the ocean to make artificial reefs, or use them for emergency housing for the homeless, or sell them to North Korea, as Berlin did in the 1990s. Or, as in Montreal, you can turn them into public art installations.

The Montreal Metro is currently rolling out its sleek new Azur rail cars, putting its half-century-old MR-63s to pasture. Under the supervision of STM, Montreal’s transit authority, some of the first and oldest cars are preparing themselves for new and radically different lives. Thresholds (Seuils), by artist Michel de Broin, is the first of seven winning MR-63 reuse proposals to STM. The installation debuted in the city’s Quartier de Spectacles during KM3, an outdoor urban art festival that ran from August 30 through October 15.

In it, 12 lined-up sets of MR-63 doors swing open when set off by newly installed motion sensors. (“It's like controlling a steam engine with a microprocessor,” de Broin says, because the door motors are so old.) As the visitor passes through the installation, the doors slide open and closed: It’s as if the reused objects “were molded around the visitor’s body,” the artist says.

The 47-year-old Montreal artist, best known for his use of radically repurposed objects, has long shown a particular interest in transportation. In Shared Propulsion Car (2007), a stripped-down 1986 Buick Regal is used as a pedal car on the streets of Manhattan and Toronto until being pulled over by police and towed. In Trial (2015), the ensuing traffic court hearing is reenacted verbatim inside a moving subway car. He has also made a bicycle that turns the rider’s energy into smoke (Keep On Smoking, 2016) and a project that explored the use of the use of a driver’s body fat as an alternative to gasoline (Reciprocal Energy, 2008).

“These objects are diverted from their [original] purposes to create something that is not productive as much as it provides a means to question the [capitalist] system that initially created them,” says de Broin. “These creations are chances for the objects to revolt against the function and the discipline that inflicts them.”

Thresholds by Michel de Broin, (KM3, Quartier des spectacles/Cindy Boyce)

Thresholds is an example of what de Broin refers to as “technological archaeology.” He tells CityLab that the installation demonstrates a “treasure of know-how” buried in the bodywork of the retired rail cars. It makes visible and reactivates, he explains, “the technical memory of a device rendered obsolete by the arrival of new cars, but which nevertheless testify the innovations that marked their era.”

The artist doesn’t know yet where Thresholds will travel next. Pending approvals, Montrealers should expect to see the other six reuse projects in the near future. Those will include: two new large-scale structures, a fire-prevention training car, a coffee shop for a polytechnic institute, and installations inside a skate park and the Jardins de Métis.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: a high-speed train in Switzerland
    Transportation

    The Case for Portland-to-Vancouver High-Speed Rail

    At the Cascadia Rail Summit outside Seattle, a fledgling scheme to bring high-speed rail from Portland to Vancouver found an enthusiastic reception.

  2. photo: a woman on an electric scooter
    Transportation

    Why Aren’t More Women Riding Electric Scooters?

    Most users of micromobility devices like dockless scooters and e-bikes are young men. Fixing that gender gap may take more than just adding safety features.

  3. A sign outside a storefront in Buffalo, New York.
    Environment

    Will Buffalo Become a Climate Change Haven?

    The Western New York city possesses a distinct mix of weather, geography, and infrastructure that could make it a potential climate haven. But for whom?

  4. A Soviet map of London, labeled in Russian.
    Maps

    The Soviet Military Secretly Mapped the Entire World

    These intricate, curious maps were supposed to be destroyed. The ones that remain reveal a fascinating portrait of how the U.S.S.R. monitored the world.

  5. A photo-illustration of a county map of the U.S.
    Maps

    I Used This Map to Find a Happy Childhood

    I was haunted by painful memories of growing up. But when I started tracking every county I’d ever visited, I found a better way of seeing my past.

×