For long-time curator Nicole Gingras, it’s all about supporting artists
For the past 34 years, Nicole Gingras has curated and showcased the work of artists across the city and on an international stage.
“Curating, for me, is to go outside of my comfort zone,” said Gingras, a part-time faculty member in Concordia’s studio arts department. “In some ways, I taught myself to be a curator. I started to curate because I had an interest in some artists, and I wanted to bring light on their work.”
Gingras teaches master’s seminars once a year at Concordia. In one of these courses, “Thinking through Sound,” she makes students aware of the way sounds resonate in art. She does this by analyzing the texts of philosophers, engineers and musicians who have studied the significance of sounds.
For Gingras, teaching is a way to meet student-artists and further her research. “I love to teach,” she emphasized. “It is a good research ground, and it is a good opportunity to test some ideas that I have.”
In addition to teaching, much of Gingras’ time is dedicated to curating and highlighting the work of artists through exhibitions. However, this was not a passion she initially had as a student. “I never thought I would be a curator,” said Gingras, who has bachelor’s degree in cinema from Concordia and a master’s in art history from the Université de Montréal. Yet, art has always been important to Gingras. “I wanted to support and diffuse the work of artists. It was something that came out very naturally. That was the moteur to start curating.”
The curating process
For Gingras, it is not the finished product but rather the process of developing an exhibition—from mounting it to giving a tour to visitors—that is her primary focus as a curator. “I like to follow the work of an artist who is developing,” she said. “I am very interested in the creating, researching and thinking processes; these elements reflect themselves in my curatorial projects.”
She stressed that curators have the responsibility to be aware of new artists and where they come from, as well as the innovations of the field. “[Curating] is a way of living, because curators are aware of artists and contexts of exhibiting, how ideas are developed in the public space, and how notions of exhibiting have transformed.”
Among other topics, an artist’s use of still and moving images to create tension between the two media fascinates Gingras. She said she appreciates the benefits of the two media; still images have duration, while moving images last for only an instant. “This tension is a way of talking about the movement between the presence and the absence,” Gingras said. “It is a way to talk about fragility, vulnerability and mortality.”
She emphasized that the interaction between these two media also engages the viewer. “When you look at [an image], it challenges you when the state of the image is changing,” Gingras said. “It’s very subjective, and every viewer will get a different moment in this passage from stillness and motion.”
Gingras said she believes it is crucial to help tell an artist’s story in the way she curates an exhibition. “When I am curating for institutions, I think it is very important to put in context new work and its history to show where the artist is coming from,” she said, noting that curating brings artists together to develop a network. “Curating is also to develop links between artists, practices or thematics, and these links should be organic so that the viewers can find their own perspective.”
Accompanying exhibitions with some sort of textual element is also important in her curatorial work. “Publication is a very good medium to disseminate the artist’s work,” said Gingras, who founded a publishing house, Éditions Nicole Gingras, which focuses on artists from Montreal and abroad who “have never had a book.” It is one of the many ways Gingras sheds light on artists and their work.
In terms of choosing which artists to work with, Gingras said it is not a question of choice but a question of timing. “I’m interested in research and exploratory approaches,” she said, which is often what guides her decision.
A landscape of works
Gingras has worked on a long-term basis with the International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA), which focuses on films and documentaries about artists on an international scale. She was first invited to be a guest programmer in 2003, and a few years later, Gingras was appointed as the director of one of the festival’s sections, which she later named FIFA Experimental. This particular section “presents the latest in video art and experimental film while reconnecting us with the achievements of pioneers and the emergence of other singular voices,” according to the festival’s website.
“I thought it would be interesting to reflect the artist’s work, so it is like an addition to the exhibition,” Gingras said. Some of the films and videos she has curated for the festival are based on the artists’ practices and processes, while others are more like art essays.
Additionally, over the years, Gingras has been invited to curate the collections of various film distributors and video centres in Canada based on select themes. Among these distributors is Group Intervention Vidéo, an artist-run centre dedicated to supporting female artists and video makers. Gingras said she was particularly interested in their collection because of its focus on social issues and art.
“We go very deep in the process and in the intention of these artists,” said Gingras about the process of curating this type of collection.
One of the challenges Gingras has faced as a curator is balancing multiple projects at once. “All of the projects are not at the same moment of their development. The challenge is to coordinate all of these aspects and to be able to manage them,” she said.
Another challenge she has experienced is mounting an exhibition in another country, because it takes a lot more communication and coordination between her and the artists. Nevertheless, she assured “it’s a good challenge.”
The longest exhibition Gingras curated abroad was Où sont les sons? / Where are Sounds?. This exhibition was displayed in Brussels, Belgium, from April 20 to Sept. 10, 2017. The project involved the works of artists from Montreal, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Greece, France, Norway and Italy. According to Gingras, the project incorporated many of her curatorial interests—sound work, silence, kinetic installation, transformation—into one exhibition.
“In this exhibition, you can experience sounds from different parts of your body, not only from your ears,” she explained. “Sounds can be transmitted to your body through your teeth, skin or bones.”
Gingras’ latest curatorial work, Spectres, ondes et modulations, was on display at Oboro, a contemporary and new media art centre in Montreal, from Feb. 3 to March 10. For this exhibition, Gingras took the work of Martine H. Crispo, an artist-in-residence at Oboro, and gave it a particular angle.
“When I proposed this exhibition to the selection committee, I thought it would be interesting to show one piece by Martine, but also to make relations with artists who are using film or video.” According to Gingras, the purpose was to build a connection between the thematic elements in Crispo’s work and their connection with the work of other artists in film and video. The exhibition focused on the different experiences of duration and sound in relation to motion or moving image, she said.
Gingras also put together six programs, featuring a total of 29 artists’ works, for FIFA Experimental in the latest edition of FIFA, which wrapped up on March 18. On the festival’s final weekend, Gingras organized a public conversation followed by a Q&A session with two filmmakers, Alexandre Larose and Shelley Niro. According to Gingras, Larose looks at reality, nature and domestic space, while Niro’s work deals with identity, the land, its history and how all of this is disseminated in a powerful manner.
A piece of advice Gingras would give to her students, or any student who wants to be an artist or a curator, is to immerse themselves in the art world. “See as much as possible in galleries,” she said. “[It is important] to live your own experience of the work, to get this experience, and to refer later to the memory of this experience in [your] own work.”
“Artists make us aware of things that sometimes we don’t see, hear or understand, so as a young artist or as an aspiring curator, you have to go through these experiences yourself.”
Feature photo by François Quévillon.