An ode to my first apartment

Moving back to Montreal. ASHLEY FISH ROBERTSON/The Concordian

You never forget your first love

When I think back to my first love, an image of a person doesn’t come to mind, but rather, a place: my first apartment.

It was a charming five-and-a-half located across from Rosemont’s Maisonneuve Park, and featured abundant natural light, worn-in hardwood floors, and an alley cat who regularly frequented the balcony. It also came with the lingering smell of cigarettes from previous occupants.

As anyone would probably tell you about their first place, it certainly wasn’t perfect; the ceiling in the bathroom was gradually caving in, the kitchen sink had a tendency to clog, and the walls were thin enough to hear the neighbours argue over what to have for dinner. Still, despite all its flaws, I was 19 and was about to live with my two best friends. Life was golden.

Before moving into my dream apartment, I had left the province I grew up in for New Brunswick. It was during spring break of 2018 that I realized I wanted to move back home to Quebec. I was residing in Fredericton, studying at the University of New Brunswick. Having spent most of my childhood living in a small village in the Argenteuil region of Quebec, I wanted to escape to somewhere new the second I finished my senior year of high school. As fun as it was to move to a city where I knew nobody, I began to miss the familiarity of home.

When I flew home to Quebec for spring break, my friends and I spent the night bar hopping in downtown Montreal. On the taxi ride back to our Airbnb, I remember being so mesmerized by the skyline, with its abundance of highrise condos and towering office buildings. Even at 3 a.m., the city was lively and teeming with pedestrians. It was exactly the kind of place where I could see myself living.

Back in Fredericton, I was used to most nights out ending around midnight. Everything moved so much slower on the east coast, something that I had enjoyed at first, but was beginning to grow tired of. When I returned back to Fredericton after spring break, I decided to finish my freshman year and move to Montreal as soon as I wrote my last exam.

Moving to Montreal. ASHLEY FISH-ROBERTSON/The Concordian

When I moved back to Quebec, the apartment hunt began (and my god, was it excruciating). After countless visits, my roommates and I were running low on patience. It was on a humid evening in June that we finally found a place.

To call it a pigsty would be an understatement; the entrance closet, instead of housing shoes and coats, contained a massive pyramid fashioned from empty beer cans. In the kitchen, the current tenants were gathered around a small table, smoking cigarettes and playing cards, with empty Domino’s boxes scattered haphazardly on the floor.

We left feeling confused. Sure, the place was atrocious, we agreed, but did you see those windows? And those hardwood floors? And the double sinks? I’d watched enough house flipping shows to know what a good cleaning job could do, and so we figured that a makeover would render the place liveable. It took many hours, but we succeeded.

In the months that followed, we all began to settle into our new independent lives. We bought our own groceries (and quickly realized how much it would cost to feed ourselves), we argued over whose turn it was to wash the dishes, and we learned to balance part-time jobs and school. It was simultaneously liberating and exhausting. I’m almost certain none of us knew at the time that 2018 would be the best year of our lives.

Our apartment became our one true safe haven, a place where we could escape to when faced with heartbreak, treacherous Canadian snowstorms, or just a bad day at work. Even when we were in our own rooms, we were comforted by the fact that company was right down the hall, just a knock away.

Some of my best memories took place here, from cooking spaghetti together, to lounging on the balcony while listening to The Doors, to night strolls through Maisonneuve Park. Outside of this apartment, we all felt like misfits. And so, in this place, we resembled some sort of odd family, one that wasn’t bound by blood but instead by a shared space.

Saying goodbye. ASHLEY FISH ROBERTSON/The Concordian

Nothing prepared me for the day I bid farewell to my first place. It was an immensely bittersweet experience. I often find myself thinking of my last moments in that apartment. I remember handing over our keys to the landlord and stealing one last glimpse of the empty living room before closing the door behind me. I made sure to sear that image in my mind because, frankly, I was — and still am — terrified of forgetting all the memories that took place there.

On days when I’m not pressed for time, I’ll walk past the apartment building. The curtains are still drawn wide open just as they had been when we lived there, affording prying eyes a glimpse into the modest but welcoming kitchen. If I focus hard enough, I can picture my roommates and I still sitting around the table, each of us discussing our day with one another over plates of spaghetti.

Instead of focusing on the goodbyes, this is how I choose to remember my first year on my own: in the company of two of my favourite people.

Photos by Ashley Fish-Robertson

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Ar(t)chives Arts

Nighthawks portrays urban ennui and isolation

Edward Hopper’s famous painting displays a scene at a late night diner, depicting life in the city as an alienating experience despite being in the constant company of others 

When Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks reached the public eye in 1942, many art critics observed two common themes: isolation and apathy. The painting, on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, is one of the best examples of Hopper’s fascination with American realism. To this day, it remains one of the most well-known paintings of the 20th century. 

The painting features a small diner, lit up by abrasive fluorescent lights that spill out onto the dark and desolate streets of New York. Inside the diner are a young waiter, a man and a woman who may (or may not) be a couple, and a mysterious man who faces away from the viewers. The scene, at first glance, resembles something a late night passerby might observe in the latest hours of the night. But when we start to look a bit closer, the scene is unsettling.

While Hopper admitted that isolation wasn’t a key theme he had in mind when he created this painting, he explained that “unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.” In 1942, many were grappling with the devastating effects that WW2 was producing. Some have speculated that a newspaper rests beside the faceless man, one that may have announced ample amounts of tragic news taking place during the time. This would also explain why the diner’s occupants appear so glum. 

 

Hopper, perhaps unknowingly, managed to do a spectacular job of capturing the feeling of urban ennui and loneliness with Nighthawks. Through the diner’s large window, we are granted a glimpse into a world where interactions appear strained and the subjects are more preoccupied with their thoughts or worries than they are with one another. They share the same space, but they appear worlds apart. 

Life in the city has a way of both uniting and alienating people, especially in the darkest hours of the night. The man and woman who sit together in this painting are a prime example of this: despite sitting very close to one another, their body language emits a palpable distance. They both appear reluctant to talk to one another or meet each other’s gaze. The woman’s attention is focused on something green that she holds in her hand, while the man stares straight ahead, looking bored. Have the two been in a fight? Have they both received some bad news? Is one of them thinking of ending the relationship? Are they even in a relationship? For years, questions like these have plagued Hopper’s fans.  

Another key feature of the painting lies in the exterior of the diner. The dark streets are desolate, and without the diner’s fluorescent lights, the exterior would be completely dark. Across the street stands a building, with the bottom floor occupied by what appears to have once been a store. The storefront has been cleared out, with only empty shelves serving as proof that a store ever existed here. Additionally, above the store, there are several apartment units. In one of the apartment windows, there is an eerie figure that is barely distinguishable from the dark. Many have argued that it could be a human or a cat, though on closer inspection, it resembles neither. Some have concluded that it could also be the reflection of a street light. 

Despite Nighthawks’ enigmatic nature, many have resonated with this painting for its accurate depiction of what life in a metropolitan setting is like, even if Hopper never meant for viewers to interpret the painting this way. 

 

Visuals courtesy Taylor Reddam & Edward Hopper

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Sports

A conversation with record-breaking mountaineer Monique Richard

The Quebec alpinist has summited many peaks, including her record-breaking climb on Mount Logan in 2018.

In 2009, during a trip to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, mountaineer Monique Richard found her calling: exploring the untamed beauty of mountains. Following the trip, Richard was consumed by the desire to summit some of the world’s highest peaks, beginning with Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. It wasn’t long before the Quebec mountaineer decided to immerse herself in training for the Seven Summits challenge, where she would eventually reach the world’s highest peaks.

The Seven Summits challenge consists of climbing the highest mountain in each of the seven continents. In 2014, Richard broke her first record: she became the first Canadian woman to summit Nepal’s Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain. In 2018, Richard broke another major record, becoming the first woman to ever reach the summit of Canada’s Mount Logan on a solo expedition.

As of late, the alpinist has taken some time off from climbing, preparing and training for future expeditions, as well as hosting motivational conferences. Richard sat down with The Concordian to discuss her passion for high-altitude adventures, how she overcomes adversity, preparing for solo climbs, and more.

The Concordian: What initially ignited your passion for climbing?

Monique Richard: My love at first sight for the vertical world was during the GR20 hike in Corsica, reputed to be one of the most difficult in Europe. Then, my first high altitude experience, on Kilimanjaro. After looking at the sun rise above the clouds on the summit of Africa, I was hooked! Kilimanjaro was the first in my quest [to complete] the Seven Summits from seven continents […] culminating with Mount Everest in 2012. 

TC: As an alpinist, what’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome?

MR: From a mountaineering point of view, I would say my Mount Logan solo ascent in 2018. The remoteness, the hostile conditions, the solitude and isolation made this trip the most challenging climb I’ve done so far. From a human point of view, it was the death of my dearest friend Arvid Lahti in 2016 on Mount Rainier after reaching the summit together.

TC: Can you talk to me a bit about your 2018 climb, where you were the first woman to summit Mount Logan solo? How did this major achievement impact your future expeditions? 

MR: More than any other expedition, my Mount Logan solo ascent remains the one that has marked me the most during my mountaineering journey. Beyond the seven peaks, or the mountains of the Himalayas, Logan is the jewel of my expeditions, and it represents my biggest challenge.

First of all, because of the extremely hostile conditions on Logan: the altitude being 5,959 metres, the temperature being Siberian cold, storms (one of them immobilized me in my tent for six days), avalanche risks, white outs, and crevices.

And above all, because in addition to being solo, I had the luck, or bad luck, of being practically alone on the mountain. I was 100 per cent in charge of all aspects of the expedition, including orientation, camp construction, and meals.

This solo expedition really placed me in unique conditions that allowed me to live an unprecedented experience alone, facing this huge mountain, and facing myself, my dream, my doubts, my impulses, my fears, and of course, my past and the tragedy on Mount Rainier in 2016. 

TC: What have your expeditions taught you about yourself, especially in regards to overcoming adversity?

MR: I learned to never take anything for granted. Always question, doubt, evaluate, adjust, and accept what needs to be, without wanting to control events or nature, and even sometimes, let go! It’s part of life. It’s good to reach the summit, but the path to it has much more impact on us and is more enriching on a personal level.

TC: How do you prepare for a solo climb? 

MR: For physical preparation, I train four or five times per week. Usually at 5:30 a.m. for an hour and a half to two hours, with weights and cardio. 

For material preparation, [I prepare] all the regular mountaineering gear, with some adaptations: a tent for the lower altitude camps and an ultra light bivouac shelter for the high camps. I also bring my 8,000 metre boots because I expect extremely low temperatures.

For logistical preparations, I need to organize a support team of two: an expedition manager, and a router/weather forecaster.

TC: Can you talk to me about mentally preparing for a climb, especially a solo one? How do you get into the right headspace before your ascent?

MR: Mental preparation is essential in any expedition but especially in the case of a solo.

My mental preparation allows me to anticipate and envision various situations I might encounter during the solo climb. 

Since I attempted to climb Logan with a partner in 2017, when we managed to reach a high point on the mountain, it allowed me to become familiar with the route. With supporting photos and maps, I spent time visualizing the various sections of the route, the potential hazards, and picturing myself [climbing] solo in this environment. But I did not expect to not only be solo, but also to be almost alone on the mountain. This was quite an experience, and although it added to the challenge and the fear, I felt so privileged to experience this unique opportunity, alone on Canada’s highest peak.

TC: Do you ever envision yourself writing a book about your adventures in the future?

MR: It’s a project I’ve been working on for many years. The pandemic has been an opportunity for introspection and reflection, and I’ve started working on my project to write a story about my Mount Logan solo [climb], which will also include my other adventures.

My friend Arvid made me promise to one day write a story of my adventures in the mountains, and I intend to fulfill that promise!

 

Photographs by Guillaume Cossette

Categories
Arts

Queer Love exhibit challenges heteronormative notions of love and celebrates queerness

Early on a Monday afternoon, as I intently observed Giulio Cuccagna and his team place various works of art on the white walls of a beautifully worn-in gallery on St. Catherine St. that belongs to Smarkt, I began to wonder what exactly it takes to bring together an art exhibit like the one that was currently being set up in front of me. For Cuccagna, the process was trying at times, but he managed to carefully sift through dozens of submissions, choose a venue, and arrange the exhibit program in a matter of three months. And during a pandemic, no less. 

The Concordia Fine Arts student is in his third year, studying art history and film, with a minor in interdisciplinary studies in sexuality. Cuccagna grew up in Italy, where he recalled never being exposed to queer love stories. It wasn’t until he moved to Montreal that he began to see and experience differing expressions of love. “These experiences have driven me to curate an exhibit that would not only showcase these representations, but also bring the community together,” reads Cuccagna’s artist statement. The Queer Love exhibit, which took place on Valentine’s Day, featured works from 10 different artists, all in varying mediums. These works included paintings, sculptures, and more. Additionally, during the evening, there were live performances from Anna Justen and Monsieurmadam, and delectable food from Maison Choma to enjoy. 

The first step in the process of bringing together the Queer Love exhibit was a call-out for submissions from artists. “It was one of my favourite parts of the curation,” said Cuccagna. “I posted an open call on my Instagram, announcing that I was going to curate an exhibit on queer love and for those interested to submit their work to my email.” Within two weeks, Cuccagna received at least 50 submissions. “It was so heartwarming seeing that many people wanted to participate. My criteria was very simple. I wasn’t just looking for artworks that would fit the theme. I was looking for diversity and uniqueness. I wanted to showcase works that would represent queer love in all forms, shapes, gender, and ethnicity.”

Cuccagna believes that art dealing with identity, especially those that engage with personal struggles and emotions, helps artists progress and initiate social change. He admits that he often struggled with low self-esteem in regards to his future and career prior to this exhibit. “Now, I feel like this is the first time in my life I’ve done something ‘big,’ professionally and artistically speaking. As many of my peers [also felt], these past two years have been hell,” said Cuccagna. “We’ve all felt extremely down and unmotivated. I was so tired of waiting and being scared of the future, that I just told myself to do it. I’m also very lucky to be surrounded by the most supportive people, which have pushed me so hard to follow this dream of mine.” 

Cuccagna offers some advice for fellow artists and Fine Arts students looking to take on a similar project: “Don’t be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. Finding an affordable and available venue will be hard, so I would say to go through that research months in advance. I wouldn’t say you have to be the most organized person, but definitely write down all your ideas, make layouts and be patient!” Cuccagna also encourages artists to anticipate and be receptive to feedback, as it’s the most helpful part of the process. “There will be conflict and struggles through it, but you have to manage to stay positive because the outcome will be such a rewarding and amazing experience.”

Photos by Catherine Reynolds 

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Arts

CBC’s “The Porter” will zone in on the lives and successes of Little Burgundy’s Black train porters

The show’s co-creators and members of the cast discuss the process of filming during COVID-19, what they hope viewers will take away from this show, and more

“The Porter,” a new CBC drama set to air on Feb. 21, will focus on the lives of the Black train porters, nurses, entertainers, and other individuals who occupied Montreal’s St. Antoine neighbourhood (now known as Little Burgundy) during the 1920s. These porters would often assist travellers at the train stations, were in charge of loading and unloading luggage, and more. The show will especially zone in on how these Black train porters came to form North America’s largest Black labour union. The Concordian spoke with co-creators Arnold Pinnock (who also plays the character Glenford), Marsha Greene, Annmarie Morais, as well as actress Oluniké Adeliyi, who plays the character Queenie, about this new drama. 

TC: Can you begin by walking me through the process of bringing together this incredible show?

AP: So I’m an immigrant, my parents are from Jamaica via England to Canada, and one of the things that I loved to do was just to find out as much information as I could to learn about […] Black Canadians. I was having a hard time in school learning about [them], other than some samples of The Underground Railroad. So any book that I could find I would start reading [to learn] about the Black Canadian experience. One of the common denominators that kept on showing up for me was porters. I found it really interesting because I found out that these men and women were from not only the Southern states, but also from the Caribbean, and that they came to this country and literally had the ability to change policy. It blew my mind that these people were able to form the biggest Black union, not just in Canada, but across North America. That just really empowered me to go down that road and then eventually, I hooked up with my writing partner, Bruce Ramsay, and we went down this rabbit hole together.

One of the things that we encountered was the Negro Community Centre (NCC) in Little Burgundy. It was boarded up and there were murals of Oscar Peterson, Oliver Jones, and Oscar Peterson’s sister. When we learned what the NCC was all about … taking care of the Black community [starting in 1927] and to help against the racism that the community was dealing with, we thought, “Hey, you know what? If we could create a series, maybe we could garnish enough money to help restore this building.” Unfortunately, three years later the building was demolished. Instead of us feeling like the passion behind it was over, it actually empowered us and we went on the journey to get this show done.

TC: What challenges, if any, did you encounter along the way? 

MG: During the course of filming there were the challenges of filming during COVID and things like that. We would remind each other about the porters, the communities, and the families, and how they fought through what they were going through. It was the thing that kept us going during those hard times. We knew that this story needed to be told and that really kept us going through all of the hard times over the years it took to bring it to life.

OA: I think, for me, the biggest challenge was making my character Queenie as human as possible so that she wasn’t this one-dimensional, gangster character, and that there was a purpose for her being who she is. It was an enjoyable experience no matter what happened. I would say my other biggest challenge was learning to play piano. It was wonderful to be able to challenge myself to learn the songs that I had to play. It was beautiful. When I started to get things, I was like, “There’s nothing I can’t do now.” There are beautiful challenges, and then there are terrible challenges. This was definitely a beautiful challenge. 

TC: Club Stardust occupies an important space in this narrative. Can you briefly walk me through how this environment was brought to life, and could you also elaborate a bit on the role that music and dance play in the show?

MG: I think music and dance are so much a part of how we connect to each other and what brings us together. I think we all felt, in the Black community, there was a sound and a rhythm that kind of felt like ours and what we wanted to explore. When we got to the post-production and editing, we started to just bring in more music. Sometimes it was contemporary […] and then we also kind of wanted to have Afro sounds and Caribbean sounds, just to kind of bring it all together. We actually filmed the Stardust stuff at the end of the shoot. We did that just in terms of the location, but it actually was this amazing burst of energy at the end of this very long, challenging shoot. To be in Stardust with all these people and to watch those dance numbers and hear the music was just incredible. 

AM: We were inspired by a club that was rooted in Montreal that was called Rockhead’s Paradise. I think there was a lot of spirit in that establishment in Montreal that we wanted to harness and create in our own way. I think that was really part of the magic of Stardust and this series. 

TC: What are you ultimately hoping that viewers take away from this show?

MG: One of our great hopes, in terms of the history, is that it would inspire people to look things up. To watch an episode and to be like “Did that happen, was it really like that?” 

I hope that the audience also takes away that no two Black people are anomalous. We are multidimensional people and we all have similar yet different lives. It’s wonderful to be able to watch because it’s relatable to any other race or culture. We have regular lives, we have families. Not every story for us is a struggle story. I’m so happy that “The Porter” displays that because it brings meaning to our lives. It allows you to see the value of us. Most of the time you can only see the value of something when it’s in you, so yes, we represent the Black community, but we also represent so many communities that have the same experience family-wise and love-wise. I think that’s what we’re promoting more than anything: to just see us.

For more information on “The Porter,” please visit CBC’s website.

 

Visual courtesy of CBC 

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Arts

Inside the creative mind of Aaliyah Crawford

“As I learned printmaking, it was like a language I understood. How to make prints just felt very intuitive”

Some people are simply born to create. This is certainly the case for Aaliyah Crawford, the general coordinator of the Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA) and co-editor in chief of Yiara Magazine. Since the age of five, Crawford has been creating art. She later went on to study printmaking at John Abbott College, where her interest in the medium flourished. She is now in her final year at Concordia where she is majoring in Studio Arts. Crawford spoke with The Concordian about her passion for printmaking, her creative process, and more. 

TC: What appeals to you most about printmaking?

AC: I learned printmaking at John Abbott. At first I didn’t think I would like it. I was kind of confused by the whole thing. I was like, ‘why would you want to do something that a machine can do?’ As I learned printmaking, it was like a language I understood. How to make prints just felt very intuitive and I was really comfortable with the medium. It’s really fascinating, it’s very labour intensive. 

But as I’ve been doing print now for nine years, I don’t feel the same way about it anymore. Now I’m really into monoprinting and book arts. I’ve been really enjoying that and finding different ways of using a medium that I think can be really rigid in a more flexible kind of way.

 

TC: What themes do you like to explore in your work?

AC: It’s a lot about me, it’s kind of like a diary or like a dream journal. I kind of meditate on my own experiences. For me, when I’m working, I don’t often know what I’m making while it’s happening. And then when it’s finished, I almost look back and learn secrets about myself that even I didn’t know. It’s really fun, but also kind of terrifying.

TC: Can you briefly walk me through your artistic process? How do you bring an idea to life?

AC: Lately I’ve been making a lot of books, so when I’m doing a book project I tend to be writing all the time. I keep little notes on my phone or computer, and eventually I’ll start to notice a theme. If I keep writing about the same thing or certain key words keep coming back up, something’s happening. Usually it starts with a title. I tend to know the title of all my book pieces before I make them.

So I’ll start to think about what I’m noticing in the work. I have a little studio space [at home], and I’ll take everything out. I work with a lot of different mediums, so I’ll take some stuff out and I’ll block off like five hours to make something. I’ll do that about five times and then I’ll go through everything I made and sort of notice a theme. Then I try to tease it out. I’ll work on the same pieces again, I’ll do a lot of layering, and revisit a lot of old things I made. There’s usually a lot of writing in my work, so I’ll edit what I wrote. Then I have to make it into a book, so I have to do the layout. When I make the book I either get it printed somewhere or I do it myself, and then bind the book.

TC: You mentioned that your work often centres on you, and that it’s almost like a diary. I was wondering if there are any particular pieces you’ve created that capture your experience as a Black artist? What have these pieces taught you about yourself?

AC: With my work being so autobiographical, it inevitably captures some of the essence of my experiences as a Black person. Some of my work has brought up memories from my childhood where I experienced racism before I really understood what it was. I think it left me with a feeling of being other, growing up in a predominantly white community. It’s been interesting revisiting those memories as an adult through my work and reshaping the narrative that I had internalized about myself.

TC: How has your work evolved over time?

AC: It’s becoming more honest and less fixated on perfection. I think when I first started making art I spent a lot of time making things that I thought other people wanted me to make. I think I was just trying to figure out, in terms of getting a degree and pursuing it as a career, how I could make art that’s marketable. Now I don’t think about anything (laughs). It’s so much more fun that way. I feel like when I started studying it in CEGEP, it kind of sucked the joy out of it, because everything I made was part of my art practice and part of some overarching creative narrative of my life. I longed for when I was a kid and I would make art for hours and hours on end, and I never really thought about what I was making or what it meant, if people would like it, if I could make money off of it, or if it was important. That’s why I wanted to be an artist, because I love that process. 

For more information on Crawford and her work, please visit her website and Instagram

 

Visuals courtesy Gab Castelo and Aaliyah Crawford

Categories
Ar(t)chives Arts

Glimpse into Wifredo Lam’s ‘The Jungle’

Despite Lam’s extensive collection of works, one particular painting persists as his most memorable

Without any context, Cuban-born artist Wifredo Lam’s The Jungle could be perceived as a wild fever dream, where surreal creatures are intertwined with the jungle’s flora. Stare at this piece for long enough, and you might convince yourself that you’re able to make sense of the jumble of limbs as you attempt to figure out which foot belongs to which creature. Or, stare at the piece for too long, and you might become more and more confused. 

Many people appear to be equally mesmerized and stumped by this painting, mainly for its unruly blend of cubist-style shapes and its restrained colour palette, with its cool blues and tinges of red and orange that aid in concealing Lam’s creatures. None of the beings in this painting clearly resemble humans, though they do share several human characteristics, such as feet, hands, and eyes. 

If one starts to examine The Jungle in all of its painstaking detail, they might find some things that appear out of place. Take for instance, in the top right corner of the artwork: a hand grasping a large set of shears. Or if we examine the jungle’s trees closer, we’ll find that their trunks resemble something else entirely: sugar cane stalks. While these two details could easily be skimmed over, they’re important hints in regards to Lam’s inspiration for this chaotic piece.

Cuba, with its history of slavery and colonialism, served as a catalyst for The Jungle, with Lam explaining, “I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama of my country,” Lam explained, “to disturb the dreams of the exploiters.” The shears and sugar cane stalks can be perceived as a commentary on the colonizers who arrived in Cuba during the sixteenth century.

Much of Lam’s work sought to celebrate Afro-Cuban spirituality and culture, and also served to change the ways in which people viewed colonized countries. Lam’s work offers an insight into the country’s diverse cultural background, and instead of focusing solely on the role that colonizers played in the country’s history, he manages to reclaim western notions of Cuba being a primitive country, utilizing them in his art to create engaging, abstract scenes. Although Lam produced an impressive variety of works throughout his career as an artist, The Jungle persists as one of his most complex works to date.

 

Visual by Taylor Reddam

Categories
Arts

‘The Lost Daughter’: a journey through the troubles and small triumphs of motherhood

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s stunning debut highlights the harrowing responsibility that comes with motherhood 

The Lost Daughter, director Maggie Gyllenhaal’s brilliant debut, follows troubled main character Leda Caruso, both in present day (Olivia Colman) and 20 years prior (Jessie Buckley). On a vacation in a small Greek town, Leda meets a handful of quirky characters, but soon finds herself drawn to Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter. As a quick glance over at Nina soon manifests into something bordering on obsession, Leda can’t help but think of her own life and her children when she interacts with Nina. Viewers are soon taken on a journey that jumps between the past and present, offering tidbits of information regarding what exactly Leda is so haunted by every time she looks at Nina and her young daughter. 

The overall ambience of this film is creepy — but not in the ways you would expect. There are moments, such as the scene where a massive bug flies into Leda’s bedroom and settles on the pillow next to her in bed, that are nightmarish. While nothing majorly distressing happens, there is a constant air of anticipation that lingers throughout the film. Viewers are waiting for something to happen, something more than the small albeit unnerving occurrences that are scattered throughout the film. These off-putting moments, such as Leda’s near-panic attack at the toy store, her constant dizzy spells, and the glares she receives from Nina’s family, may leave viewers unsatisfied, especially those seeking a climax resulting in violence or the like. But these small moments appear to play an important role in portraying Leda’s current headspace, which is, to say the least, detached and ridden with anguish.    

Leda is the full package in terms of character complexity: she is a troubled mother who is relatable, at times detestable, and (more often than not) hilarious at the most inappropriate times. Colman fans who thoroughly enjoyed the actress’s role as the haughty godmother in Fleabag will resonate with the older Leda, especially for her sharp quips. Buckley delivers an equally memorable performance as a young mother who is attempting to juggle both a career in academia and the needs of her two young daughters. While Colman and Buckley are the obvious stars of the film, viewers certainly shouldn’t discount Johnson’s performance as the sensual, overwhelmed young mother who displays eerie similarities to Leda. While Nina doesn’t offer a lot of thought-provoking dialogue, her body language and enigmatic stare somehow manage to compensate for this.  

Overall, this film confronts the reality of exhausted mothers who are on the brink of a breakdown, and instead of sugarcoating it by offering a happy ending where past faults are reconciled, the ending is left open to interpretation. Somehow, this uncertainty lends itself beautifully to the final scene, where Leda is seen, once again, on the same beach as is shown in the beginning. 

What makes this narrative truly noteworthy is its refusal to redeem (and even explain) Leda’s poor choices. Instead, it offers a space for troubled characters to be vulnerable without imposing a message of morality. These characters are purposefully messy, just as messy as life itself is. Motherhood assumes many different forms, and this film pays special attention in highlighting the complex nature of being a caregiver. It takes into account both the rewards and the difficulties of having children, though definitely focusing more on the latter.

At the end of the day, The Lost Daughter will leave you with more questions than answers.  The audience doesn’t necessarily receive a cut and dry explanation regarding why certain characters act the way they do, and that’s the point; we’re left to sit with these odd, imperfect people and simply allow their stories to unfold, for better or for worse.

 

Visuals by Catherine Reynolds

Categories
Ar(t)chives Arts

The art of suffering: a glimpse into the work of Marina Abramović

Since the 1970s, the bold performance artist has pushed her body to extreme lengths for the sake of her art

Picture this: you’ve decided to spend 12 days in an area consisting of three small rooms. A bedroom, a kitchenette, and a living room. You’ve denied yourself food, limited yourself only to water, are unable to speak, and don’t have access to any sort of entertainment to help pass the time. There are three ladders connected to each room, allowing you the opportunity to simply walk away. The rungs of the ladder, however, have been replaced with butcher knives. Oh, and on top of that, you are completely exposed, having dozens of strangers watch your every move. This might sound like a type of challenge that results in one’s endurance being rewarded with a cash prize or the like. But this is nothing of the sort. This is one of Marina Abramović’s most famous endurance art pieces titled The House With the Ocean View. 

Self-dubbed as the “grandmother of performance art,” Abramović has rarely shied away from the spotlight. In fact, at its very core, her work is built on suffering. Born in 1946 in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia, the artist experienced a difficult childhood, living with strict expectations and erratic behaviour from her parents. At the beginning of the 1970s, the artist’s career soon took off while studying at Belgrade’s Academy of Fine Arts. Over the years, she has created countless performance pieces that never cease to shock and engross audience members.

For some, The House With the Ocean View will seem like child’s play in comparison to her other works, such as Rhythm 4, where she knelt in front of a high-power industrial fan, attempting to test her lung capacity by breathing in as much air as she possibly could. It wasn’t long before she was rendered unconscious during this performance.

In her extremely controversial and disturbing work titled Rhythm 0, the artist took on a passive role as she essentially allowed audience members to do anything they wanted to her body. She laid out 72 items, with some as harmless as feathers and honey, to those that were meant to inflict pain, such as whips and knives. Initially, the audience members did not engage with her body in a harsh manner, but near the end of the six-hour block Abramović had dedicated to her performance, people began to get violent.

While it’s best to spare the details (feel free to do your own research, but be forewarned of the disturbing content you may find), the main objective of this piece was for Abramović to see just how far people would be willing to go when they were relieved of any consequences. Some chose a pacifist stance, while others chose to act on violent urges.

In many ways, Rhythm 0 was a genius (albeit terrifying) social experiment, one that demonstrated both sides of the spectrum when it comes to how humans could act given absolute free will and the assurance that their actions would have no consequences. While no doubt disturbing, Abramović’s work has contributed massively to the endurance art realm, pushing multiple boundaries that other artists had not dared to do at the time in order to explore the relationship that the artist shares with the audience.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Categories
Arts

2022: A promising year for CanLit

2022 may look bleak for most of us, but there’s one upside to the new year: new books! Here are six releases that you won’t want to miss out on

Considering the current state of the world, there’s perhaps no better way to ring in a new year than by getting lost in some fictional worlds. The good news is that 2022 appears to be an exciting year for CanLit. Short story enthusiasts will be particularly satisfied with this year’s upcoming releases. Below is a non-exhaustive list of some books to look forward to. Happy reading!

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Chan’s highly anticipated debut novel is nothing short of harrowing. Perhaps that’s what makes it so worthy of binge-reading. The novel’s main character, Frida, must prove her ability to be the perfect mother following a brief error in judgement. Sent to a reeducation centre for unfit mothers, she must do everything she can to demonstrate that she is a good caregiver or risk losing her child forever. The School for Good Mothers functions as both a commentary on surveillance in modern society, while also providing readers with a riveting tale about the lengths a mother will go to protect their child.

Release date: Jan. 4

People Change by Vivek Shraya

Shraya once again delivers a profoundly moving work that dares to explore collective fears and ideas surrounding change. Shraya delves into the universality of change and hopefully, by the end of this (extremely) digestible book, readers might harbour a new perspective when considering how change shapes each of our lives.

Release date: Jan. 4

A Hero of Our Time by Naben Ruthnum

Ruthnum’s latest novel is a breath of fresh air for the CanLit sphere, one that is simultaneously comedic and very much relevant for the current state of race politics in Canada. A Hero of Our Time does an impressive job exposing the arteries of Canada’s not-so-covert racism in the form of seemingly well-intentioned executives and their workplace diversity policies. Not only does the novel take a hard look at the role race plays in relation to one’s career, but it also explores the repercussions that follow when an attempt from a minority employee is made to dismantle and expose the superficiality of these policies.

Release date: Jan. 11

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu

Fans of Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s eccentric style will appreciate Fu’s ability to craft fictional worlds where bizarre characters and occurrences are plausible and simply a part of everyday life. Fu’s collection is an ideal choice for those who are new to surreal or speculative fiction and who aren’t necessarily ready to commit themselves to a full-length abstract narrative. This collection of twelve stories is guaranteed to transport readers to peculiar places who may be in desperate need of an escape. This is one book that promises to linger in your mind long after you’ve finished it.

Release date: Feb. 1

Why I’m Here by Jill Frayne

Frayne’s upcoming release is expected to deliver an emotionally heavy narrative that follows teenager Gale and her counsellor, Helen, as they both struggle with their own family issues. As with her 2003 novel, Starting Out in the Afternoon, readers can once again expect vivid descriptions of the Yukon’s pristine and untamed beauty. The only downside of this book is having to wait until summer for its release. Sigh.

Release date: May 1

No Stars in the Sky by Martha Bátiz

Another short story collection that you won’t want to miss out on is Bátiz’s latest book. All stories feature resilient women protagonists who are, in some way or another, undergoing a crisis. Bátiz’s work often explores current social issues, especially those concerning immigrant women. Readers who enjoyed the author’s 2017 collection titled Plaza Requiem: Stories at the Edge of Ordinary Lives can expect to thoroughly enjoy this upcoming collection just as much.

Release date: May 3

 

Graphic by James Fay

Categories
Arts

As I Walk showcases the relationship between memory and natural elements

Sylvia Safdie’s 12 collections of meticulously gathered natural objects are on display at Fonderie Darling until Dec. 19

In Sylvia Safdie’s latest exhibition, the 79-year-old artist, who was born in Lebanon but moved to Montreal in 1953, manages to animate the inanimate. Until Dec. 19, Fonderie Darling will be showcasing As I Walk, an exhibition featuring 12 works composed of what Safdie deems “earth fragments.” These natural objects manage to lead double lives, ones that are, according to the artist, entrenched in personal meaning. The artist explained that “There is always something behind an act or a gesture that is veiled. There is always something that comes from a hidden place in the unconscious or in our memory.”

When standing inside the gallery’s main hall and admiring Safdie’s collections, it’s difficult not to appreciate the artist’s unrelenting search for meaning in the objects around her. The hall, filled with an accumulation of rocks, branches, dried fruits, and fossils, just to name a few, feels like stepping into Safdie’s own personal museum. While many of these natural elements may carry more significant meanings for the artist than for viewers, there are many objects that display discernable human-like characteristics. Take, for example, her work titled Feet. In this piece, the artist has organized several pairs of rocks that, almost eerily, resemble varying sizes of human feet.

As only an avid collector can, Safdie has spent years of her life carefully and patiently compiling these collections of precious materials. One work, titled Heads, took Safdie a whopping 28 years to complete. This is due to the fact that the artist was constantly reorganizing and transforming her work, forming new associations between the objects and what they mean to her.

Safdie’s move from Israel to Canada and her memories associated with this move were integral in bringing together these collections. She explained that “It was an enormously difficult experience. […] Now, looking back I am able to understand the rich process of dislocation and relocation. You are able [to] bring things from your past into the present and create your own language.”

A particularly interesting aspect in bringing this exhibition together was Safdie’s process in collecting these materials. All of these natural objects were gathered by the artist during her routine walks, something that she considers an essential aid to her creative process. With this in mind, viewers may reflect on their own ventures into nature, and perhaps leave this exhibition with a deeper appreciation for the many natural elements they encounter during the day that normally wouldn’t draw much attention.

While most of the collected objects have been carefully grouped together according to their form, some works such as Inventory include a variety of items that may not necessarily belong together. This is part of the charm of Safdie’s exhibition; some groups of objects appear to adhere to a certain shape or material, while others completely disregard the need to conform.

As I Walk extends an invitation for viewers to pause and reflect on the many natural objects they come into contact with on a daily basis. It also encourages them to not only acknowledge but admire both the unity and differences among the accumulation of objects presented, serving as a reminder that memory is a powerful, and at times elusive, thing.

Fonderie Darling is located at 745 Ottawa St. For more information on As I Walk please visit the gallery’s website

 

Photo courtesy of Ashley Fish-Robertson

Categories
Arts

A brief introduction to Dionne Brand’s poetry

Having produced an extensive body of work throughout her life, the multi talented writer is perhaps best known for her poetry

Canadian writer Dionne Brand has become a staple in Canadian literature over the last several years, churning out 18 books, with the majority being poetry collections. The writer’s work often addresses issues pertaining to sex, gender, race, migration, and more. Though Brand is certainly multitalented, having written an array of fiction and nonfiction books, held teaching positions at several post-secondary institutions in British Columbia and Ontario, and even writing and co-directing several films, her poetry is arguably what she is best known for.

Brand was born in 1953 in Guayaguayare, Trinidad, and later moved to Toronto in 1970 to study at the University of Toronto. Shortly after the completion of her BA in English and Philosophy, she released ‘Fore Day Morning: Poems, the book that put her work on the map.

Her work began garnering praise in 1997, with her poetry collection Land to Light On earning her both a Trillium Book Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. Following this success, Brand released two more highly acclaimed works, one in 2002 titled thirsty and another in 2010 titled Ossuaries. 

Her work often seeks to challenge the idea that Canada’s multicultural identity has created an innately accepting country, free from frequent instances of racism. Her poems are especially engaged with the experience of immigrant women in Canada, and they aim to convey the challenges these women face, like language barriers and unequal access to employment and education. Brand’s poems are proof that the act of writing can serve as a powerful form of activism, as it has the capacity to empower marginalized readers.

Suggested Pick

Though each reader’s favourite Brand book will vary, her long poem titled Inventory (published in 2006) is undoubtedly one of the author’s most influential pieces of literature. The book seeks to understand what an inventory for the early years of the 21st century might account for. Inventory can be read as a sort of catalogue, one that recounts both specific historical events, such as Hurricane Katrina, and more widespread events that continue to occur today, such as systemic violence against marginalized people. Her poems address mounting instances of violence, humanity’s growing reliance on technology, the steady shift to a surveillance state, and more. While this book may not be an ideal choice for someone seeking a leisurely read due to its unsettling content, Brand never fails to pen lines that confront the brutal and honest truth.

 

Graphic courtesy of James Fay

 

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