Dendrites, Montreal

Commissioned by the City of Montréal Situated at the core of the recently developed Interna­tional Civil Aviation Organization Plaza (ICAO), Dendrites is the newest monumental public work by the artist Michel de Broin. The word dendrite refers to the branched projections of a neuron, which propagate cerebral stimulation; the term is derived from the Greek Dendron, also the word for tree. Extending, across both sides of Notre-Dame Street in the downtown core, the work is comprised of two sculptural stairways directly modelled on the neuron structure.

Construct­ed of weathering steel, the piece takes on the ochre colour of the tree trunks it references, while simultaneously alluding to the industrial past of the central urban site and its iron infrastructure. Through the natural process of oxidation, the sculpture’s steel surface undergoes a microscopic crystallization of iron particles recalling the formation of dendrites. This dynamic process creates a nuanced parallel between the form of the stairway and its underlying material and can also be read as analogous to the ever-changing form of the networked city surrounding it.

Recontextualized, in this new sculptural configuration, the underlying stairways still function as circulatory structures allowing for the movement of people while also beckoning towards an in­nate human desire for vertical ascension; the urge to reach the highest branch of a tree or peak a mountain to contemplate a new horizon. Dendrites offers such an experience, allowing the public the opportunity to climb its branches and glimpse an alternative view. Dendrites direct­ly responds to this integrated urban vision – offering passers-by the opportunity for active participation. By climbing in the branches, they animate the sculpture much like the foliage of a tree.