Sometimes winter life in Montreal just feels like traversing one long corridor after another. When the temperature drops, Montreal takes refuge underground, and although the Underground City’s 32 kilometres of shops and theatres charm shopping-minded tourists, the hallways quickly grow old on locals tired of their claustrophobic layouts and unappealing visuals.
Cultural organization Art Souterrain is back this Nuit Blanche festival with their fourth annual exhibit bent on enhancing Montreal’s tunnels and hallways with an interactive, innovative art experience, all appropriately inspired by the theme “Passageways.”
Bringing together over 140 contemporary art projects spread out over a seven kilometre underground circuit in the city’s downtown core, Art Souterrain aims to introduce passersby to new forms of art from unknown or rising-star Montreal artists, transforming the city’s hallowed underground halls into more of an impromptu, extended art gallery than a consumer nightmare.
“This new edition of [Art Souterrain] focuses on the intersection of territories and the conditioning of the passerby as a spectator,” said Frederic Loury, the festival’s managing director and curator, in his letter to Art Souterrain 2012 attendees.
Citing the “marginalization of the contemporary art world and of public art in Montreal, a lack of cultural investments within Montreal’s underground city, and a lack of large-scale events focused on the visual arts” as inspiration for its founding in 2009, Art Souterrain springs from a concern for Montreal’s visual arts community and the welfare and careers of up-and-coming artists.
Antoine Tavaglione, an emerging Montreal pop artist participating in CEASE Art Collective’s Art Souterrain vernissage in the Place des Arts corridors this Feb. 25, is enthusiastic about the festival’s interactive approach to exhibiting and promoting new art.
Known for its wide range of artists spanning the styles from pop art to street art, CEASE and its repertoire of talent are a perfect fit to Art Souterrain’s mandate of granting exposure to contemporary Montreal artists. Their installation entitled De A à C is produced in collaboration with Place des Arts’ ARTV studio, Quebecor, and the Centre de commerce mondial de Montreal.
“We’re trying to interest the public in looking at and interacting with our work,” he said. “For example, for our vernissage on the 25 of February, we’re putting up a live mural with five different artists: people can watch us pasting up our illustrations and pieces. It’s something they don’t see every day.”
Tavaglione, whose playful illustrations, paintings and silkscreens reinvent popular cartoon icons from Mickey Mouse to Richie Rich, and treat political, social and fashion issues with a tongue-in-cheek approach, explained how projects like Art Souterrain allow a broader audience to discover his work.
“Some people feel intimidated by art galleries[…]kind of like when you walk into a high-end store and have that self-conscious moment,” Tavaglione joked.
“Art Souterrain doesn’t have that feel at all. It’s open to the whole Montreal community and the atmosphere is very relaxed and informal,” he explained. “It’s more comfortable for visitors who want to get acquainted with artists that they’ve never heard of before, and it’s probably more enjoyable as well.”
Just as the festival’s installations take place in the Underground City’s public space, so too does the art become a part of everyday life.
Tavaglione, for example, is setting up a tripod and a camera and inviting visitors to snap a picture of themselves striking a pose with a life-size cut-out of his take on classic character Richie Rich.
“I’m going to be showing a few of my favourite pieces: a Chanel-inspired one, a large black diamond, and of course the Richie Rich cut-out,” he enthused over the phone. “I love doing this kind of installation because people really have fun and remember your art, and festivals like Art Souterrain make this kind of exposure possible.”
Tavaglione and a number of other artists will also be getting the chance to market their art to the public through a booth run by local silkscreen company Station 16. Producing hand-made, limited-edition pieces aimed at a broad spectrum of art lovers from seasoned collectors to casual fans, Station 16 seems to be the perfect complement to Art Souterrain’s public-friendly approach to art.
“I’m going to be featuring a really fun $10 booklet showcasing the different collections and pieces I’ve developed,” Tavaglione explained. “It’s great to be able to offer something that is high-quality and aimed at a broader audience—maybe not necessarily the people who would normally consider buying a work of art.”
Next time you’re walking through Montreal’s congested underground corridors this week, whether you’re rushing to catch your metro or doing some last-minute shopping, remember the upcoming Art Souterrain festival. It’s your hall pass to going below the surface of Montreal’s fascinating visual arts scene.
CEASE’s vernissage will be Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at the ARTV studio in Place des Arts, and the exhibit is open until March 10. For more information, follow CEASE Art Collective on Facebook. For more information on Art Souterrain, visit www.artsouterrain.com.