Charles-Mathieu Brunelle is a man with a vision, driven by an unceasing desire to bring the human and natural worlds together, and to widen our horizons and our perceptions of life. We sat down with the director of Space for Life, Canada’s largest museum complex for the natural sciences.
What place do nature and humanity have in our society?
I’d say that the problem we’re facing right now is our difficulty in fully experiencing our humanity – our identity as living beings. In a world that’s more and more connected, we have more difficulty in experiencing our emotions, in re-centring ourselves on ourselves, so to speak. We have to get back in touch with ourselves in order to be more open to others, and thus to connect or reconnect with nature as well. For example, when I see kids’ playgrounds where the ground is covered not with clover or grass, but with rubber mats, I have to wonder... is nature too complicated? It’s much simpler to cover it up, or to hide it with all kinds of clever tricks. We see that in our behaviour, too, like when we walk down the street looking at our phones instead of seeing what’s in front of us. That’s a kind of disconnect in itself. Even though the quality of the 3D is better when I look at you than when I look at my phone (laughs).
What really concerns me is the trivialization of our relationship with nature, that relationship with our human side, and the trivialization of our relationship to ourselves. And it’s the tension in that relationship that has guided my actions for the last decade or so.
Montréal is often described as a creative city. What’s your approach at Space for Life?
At Space for Life, we’re reinventing the whole approach for a museum of this type, in our way of presenting nature and the relationship we have with it, and we try to be inspiring, to imbue our approach with real emotion. What we’re trying to do is to combine science, art and emotion, to engage both the physical and mental sides of the complete human being. At the Botanical Garden, there’s the Courtyard of the Senses, a garden that you can visit with your eyes closed, blindfolded, guided by a visually impaired person. This awakens your senses, notably your senses of touch and smell, and being guided by someone who can’t see makes it an unforgettable experience, a more inclusive one. At all four institutions, we try to find different ways to get in touch with our usual ways of being and of perceiving things, and to disrupt them to some extent – all to help make that connection with nature.
With almost 2 million visitors, and with our teams that are so passionate about their work, we try to share that passion for nature. This passion for all living things is what we should actually be feeling all the time, but that we too often forget.