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Opinions

“I was here”

The under-appreciated art of bathroom graffiti.

“Should I break up with my boyfriend?” was scrawled on the bathroom wall in Sharpie. 

Underneath, an extensive list of pros and cons. In different inks and handwriting, others had replied: “DUMP HIM NOW!” “You deserve better!!!” and “Girl, run.”

This was all on the stall door of my CEGEP bathroom that I sometimes visited just to read the writing on the walls. I amused myself reading this make-shift discussion board, shaking my head at the man being described and nodding at the advice these helpful strangers had given. A few days later, the original scribe added a final word: “I broke up with him!”

Not long after, the entire bathroom was painted over in a coat of white paint, erasing this message chain as well as hundreds of other words and doodles. I was enraged. I have always had a fierce love for bathroom wall graffiti—I would argue that what schools might call vandalism is an art form and an important form of communication. It even has a scholarly term: latrinalia. 

Latrinalia takes on so many forms, from declarations of love and other confessions to rude messages and random thoughts. The words can also be more serious, with political messages or pleas for advice. There is a stark contrast between serious messages and nonsensical scribblings. Intricate drawings sit beside crude sketches, and the notes often flip between earnest and irreverent. Because the form is entirely anonymous, people feel comfortable revealing secrets and being honest in their beliefs, which creates an ecosystem of thoughts and feelings. 

In this sense, the graffiti becomes a communication method as an ongoing dialogue with total strangers. Messages of solidarity and camaraderie are common, and people sometimes ask for advice or start lists and tallies. 

Bathroom graffiti is nothing new, either—in Pompeii, ancient graffiti revealed insults, jokes, and slogans. In The Guardian, Chiara Wilkinson writes: “Since ancient Rome, public bathroom scrawl – or latrinalia – has proved its power to entertain and enrage as well as highlighting society’s most divisive issues.” 

It’s interesting to see which bathrooms on campus and across the city have the best graffiti. The women’s bathrooms on the third floor bathroom of the VA building and the second floor of the EV building are some of my favourites. Of course, bar bathrooms are excellent too; The Bar Le Ritz bathroom is a classic. 

Bar bathrooms are particularly special because they tend to embrace the graffiti rather than paint over it. This isn’t always the case across campus, of course. “White paint is political” declares a stairwell in the VA that is repeatedly painted over in the quest for a blank wall. The relentless erasure is especially disappointing in an arts building—so long as the messages aren’t hateful, they should be respected. Who gets to decide what is valid art and what isn’t?

It might sound stupid, but bathroom graffiti is important. It’s a reflection of what’s on people’s minds—what brings us together, what divides us. It’s collaborative but also controversial, and I would even go so far as to call it a folk art. Its longevity is a testament to its power: humans were scratching “I was here” on the bathroom wall thousands of years ago and will continue to do so for as long as there’s a bathroom wall to write on.

On that note—mere days after a coat of white paint erased my favourite bathroom graffiti, the walls were again plastered with Sharpie and pen marks. Just as they should be. 

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Arts Arts and Culture Exhibit

Trevor Baird’s Sunkissed at Pangée

Embracing age-old methods to create new work that feels ancient.

Trevor Baird is a Montréal-based artist with a BFA in ceramics from Concordia University whose works have been exhibited domestically and internationally. His current exhibition Sunkissed is now on view at Pangée, a gallery located inside a historic 100-year-old building, formerly known as the Czech Consulate. The gallery directly overlooks Mont-Royal park, making it a favoured destination for the art community of Montréal. 

Upon entering the building, a fluorescent sign bathes the entrance in warm, red light and directs visitors upstairs into the gallery space. The bright and sunlit space smells of fresh oil paint, initially gravitating the visitors toward Delphine Hennelly’s whimsical exhibition, Behind the Scenes.

In the adjacent room, Trever Baird’s exhibition features a long podium in the centre of space which displays a collection of wood-fired stoneware works. This new body of work marks a significant departure from his previous method of working, for Baird is embracing a new approach to ceramics. “It’s been a while since I’ve shown and have completely rethought my entire practice since Covid,” Baird wrote in a recent post on Instagram, “moving away from a more technical practice to an intuitive one took a long time to understand, but I’m so much more satisfied with this work than I have been in the past.”

Trevor Baird’s Arca Mundi, 2023, Ash Glazed Stoneware. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian.

The collection overall has the distinct, rustic quality of archeological discoveries, leading the viewer to question whether they are looking at contemporary artworks or antiquities. In the poignant words from artist Rebecca Storm’s accompanying exhibition text, “Tarnished, at times seeming to have surrendered to erosion, or to the slow creep of lichen, [the ceramics of Trevor Baird] bear ciphers of antiquity, teasing the viewer into speculation. Have I been newly created, they ask, or have I been found?”

For example, the repeated motif of the ribcage (Arca Mundi, 2023) may remind the viewer of fossilized human remains, preserved by the earth. “Ribs are the artist’s interpretation of the alchemical concept of the vessel as the symbol for the soul,” Storm wrote. The rib cage both protects and metaphorically imprisons the heart—the presumed locus of the human soul. Baird’s “remains” are imbued with a sense of the spirit of the body they perhaps once belonged to. 

Sunkissed will be on view at Pangée from Jan. 20 to March 2.

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Arts and Culture Community Interview

The art of leadership

Four leaders in and around Concordia’s community spoke on how they implement creativity into their leadership approach.

In a polarized world, it is important to have leaders who focus on positivity, encouragement, and humanity. Being a leader now means being approachable and open, working well with colleagues, and honouring one’s role and connections. From top executives to middle management, creative leaders seek out purpose in their decisions, turning the activity of leading people into a masterpiece.

“I see leadership as an art in complex strategizing and continuous motivation and support of my team at work as well as my community,” said Kseniya Shibanova, team lead at Keywords Studios, a gaming company in Montreal. Being adaptable and open-minded while staying firm and true to yourself at the same time is not an easy task, and for Shibanova, it requires creativity and strong vision.

Shibanova believes that there is no reason to limit your creativity when it comes to leadership—it’s important to keep testing different approaches.. “I’m always striving to be innovative and test various ideas with my team. It can be in finding new ways to motivate or in creating custom solutions that will satisfy the need and keep everyone happy at the same time.”

For Christopher Menard, head chef of Bottega Pizzeria, employee satisfaction is a top concern in team leadership. “It’s really important to me to make sure that my staff is happy. I try to strike a good work-and-life balance for everyone,” he said. 

The chef, who has been cooking professionally for over 20 years, believes that a team achieves better results with someone who leads naturally. “I have worked with many chefs, and in doing so [I] was able to really pick and choose my leadership styles. I know exactly what’s going on in the kitchen at any moment and always know whether or not we are ready for a busy service. This is art,” Menard said

Chrissy Jean, a learning and development specialist in Montreal, highlighted how crucial it is for organizations to provide training to aspiring leaders in their teams. “Just like any art, we also get better at being a leader through practice and continuously improving ourselves. I believe that leadership is not an entitlement in which someone is born into the role,” she said. 

According to Jean, investing in a broad vision can be a valuable strategy to improve ways of leading and guiding people:  “Leadership is a rewarding, fruitful and wonderful journey. Practice your resilience, open your mind to feedback, and keep working at the amazing artform, you will be empowered to lead your people to achieve the common goal.”

Michael Netto, teaching a  leadership diploma course at Concordia University, believes that leaders must steadfastly drive towards the goals that align with their visions. “Leaders need to not only consider the voices of those followers, but to the voices of those who offer opposing perspectives. Those perspectives may help in discovering innovative ways to drive towards their goals,” he said. 

Netto believes that leadership is not restricted or reserved for those in politics or industry: it is most definitely an art, coupled with scholarly learnings. “Learn from the ones who have walked before you, learn from those who walk beside you, and continue learning from those who follow. With an open mind, you can better lead to serve those around you,” he concluded.

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Arts Arts and Culture

Someone Lives Here: A fight for affordable housing

The documentary depicts one man’s efforts to heal his city.

Concordia’s Cinema Politica hosted the Montreal premiere of the documentary Someone Lives Here on Oct. 2. Producer Zack Russell and protagonist Kahleel Seivright attended the event and took part in a Q&A after the screening. 

The documentary was shot in Toronto during the pandemic. Homelessness had increased dramatically during that time and winter was coming. Kahleel Seivright, a carpenter from Toronto, decided to start building what he called “tiny shelters,” which are insulated wooden boxes big enough to fit an adult and started distributing them in Toronto parks. The tiny shelters were designed to retain body heat. People without housing could therefore keep warm during the night instead of sleeping outside in the snow or under tents. 

His project quickly attracted attention and generated a lot of media coverage as well as generous donations through GoFundMe. During the winter of 2021, he built about 100 tiny shelters and planned to keep going. However, the city of Toronto decided to forbid the distribution of tiny shelters and got rid of every single one of them the following summer. 

The movie raises many questions regarding big cities’ management of the housing crisis. It depicts suffering and gives a voice to those who are neglected and rejected by society. It highlights the unfair distribution of resources and the challenges people face when trying to get off the streets, such as the lack of social workers, the limited and insufficient space in homeless shelters, stigmatization, and unaffordable housing. It is a hard watch,  as stated by a woman in the audience who was holding back tears.

Even though the movie ends on a discouraging note, Seivright and Russell made a point of telling the audience after the screening that they are working on new projects and are continuing to fight for better resources to help people who are suffering from the housing crisis.

“The ongoing conversation needs to be about why housing is continuing to be so expensive, [ …] regardless of the majority of people’s ability to afford it,” Seivright said on Instagram on the night of the premiere. He encouraged everyone to join him in his fight for affordable housing, saying that if everybody does their part, things will inevitably change.
Seivright also hosts the podcast Someone Lives Here, available on YouTube. It consists of interviews of people’s experience with homelessness and helps spread awareness.

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Arts and Culture Community Student Life

ASFA protests for Mackay’s pedestrianisation

Students make art to make a statement.

Concordia’s Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) organised a protest on Sept. 29 to demand the pedestrianisation of Mackay Street on the Sir George Williams campus of Concordia University. On the last day of Climate Rage Week, the artists painted a mural on the ground in the middle of Mackay Street, which was blocked off to cars by students and teachers. The event was followed by a march on Sherbrooke Street.

Volunteers blocking off Mackay Street. Photo by Maya Ruel/The Concordian

Angelica Antonakopoulos, ASFA’s academic coordinator, said the main goal of the event was to inform the public on the issue of Mackay’s pedestrianisation. “Mackay is located between the Hall Building and all of Concordia’s annexes, which house very important student services and departments, and it’s precarious for students to always try to cross the street while there are cars passing,” she explained. 

She says there have been incidents where the police have fined students for jaywalking while they were trying to get from their department to the Hall Building. “We also believe that it is really important for students to have an outdoor communal space at the heart of our downtown campus,” Antonakopoulos continued. 

On the morning of Sept. 29, while cars were redirected by those operating the blockage, others painted the mural on the street. About a dozen contributors grabbed a paintbrush and applied eye-catching yellows, greens and purples on the asphalt. Spirits were high—participants felt they were taking concrete action to achieve their goal.  The mural depicts a pedestrian, a bike and a tree. It is outlined by the statement “Pedestrianize Mackay” and takes up the whole width of the street. It is a way for ASFA’s protestors to leave their mark. Afterward, with the leftover paint, “PED MACKAY” was painted multiple times all over the street in capital letters and trees and flowers were added to the mix. When they were done, protestors had almost painted over the entire section of the street they were occupying.

Student painting a tree on the street. Photo by Maya Ruel/The Concordian

There has been talk of pedestrianising Mackay for about 30 years. ASFA hopes that the protest was a step in the right direction and plans to go to the city next to try and bring the project to reality.

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Arts Arts and Culture

Three Artists Speak on Intimacy, Identity, and Introspection

Concordia’s VAV Gallery in Sir George Williams campus’ VA building recently hosted an intimate conversation with three artists who participated in their summer residency program as they prepare for their upcoming vernissage. Inka Kennepohl, Spencer Magnan and Emem Etti shared how their distinct studio practices all converge on themes of identity, introspection and material exploration. 

 All three artists emphasize the value of a process that demands focus and concentration, one that generates a contemplative state of mind as they are at work. This method opens up an introspective space for the artist to dwell in as they engage in a very physical, repetitive process. Every knot and stitch is infused with the care and patience of the maker’s hand—they inevitably speak to a deep connection between the material and the body. 

Nigerian-Canadian artist Emem Etti’s practice blends the disciplines of film and fibres to create dynamic installations of video projection that animate their handmade rugs. Their work at VAV was largely an effort to orient their energy inward, to reach an ambitious state of mindfulness achieved through the consistent, rhythmic motions of handcrafting. 

During the panel discussion, Etti noted the deliberate choice to use a punch-needle to craft their rugs rather than the more efficient needle gun, for using the gun was a “violent” experience—the tool is difficult to control. While it works faster than going stitch-by-stitch, it tends to be a chaotic creative process rather than the steady, intentional method the artist prefers. Etti remarks: “I think there is something really beautiful about the meticulous.” This decision speaks to Etti’s concern with the relationship between the artist and their materials. There is an intimacy there, as the artwork is an extension of the artist. The care and time the artist spends engaging with the material is tantamount to tenderly caring for their own body. The final product, the rug, is a symbol of connection, of being radically present with the self.  

In progress work, Courtesy of Emem Etti

In a similar fashion, Spencer Magnan draws from personal experience as a queer artist to inform his theatrical, oversized wearable pieces. During his time at VAV, Magnanhand-sewed a giant suit jacket made entirely of unstretched canvas. The work serves as a commentary on the inherently masculine-coded garment and playfully reinterprets it as a dramatic costume, hinting at the performative nature of gender expression. Magnan chose this material to add another layer of gender identity to the piece. “I feel like in 2023, it’s still a very masculine thing to make a painting,” Magnan says, pointing to the persistently male-dominated discipline that continues to root itself in rigidly exclusionary and eurocentric traditions. 

The artist consciously left the canvas unpainted and allowed the qualities of the raw material—the rough texture, the loose-hanging threads, the sandy colour, and the visible hand-stitching—to constitute the character of the jacket. This decision undermines the expectations of what a proper, masculine suit jacket is expected to be—polished, tailored, and luxurious. It reinterprets the garment through a queer sensibility that refuses to conform to an established, heteronormative standard and rather celebrates imperfection, individuality, and drama. 

Meanwhile, Inka Kennepohl engages with textiles differently. Moving away from the commercial practice of creating luxury commodities out of textiles, they use the techniques as a means of object repair. Their work during their residency at VAV combined macramé, a knotting technique, and furniture design to assemble pieces that exist somewhere between the functional and the conceptual. Kennepohl spoke of the ways sustainability informs their sculptural practice and emphasized the urgency of rebuilding and repurposing materials through acquired skill rather than discarding them and perpetuating a cycle of consumption and waste. 

Courtesy of Inka Kennepohl

Their work sparked conversations regarding the relationship between labour and art, and raised important questions concerning the boundaries an artist should draw between the integrity of their vision and the very real need to maintain a marketable production capacity in order to make a living. The discussion addressed pressing questions that seem to permeate this emerging generation of young artists. How can they honour the slow and steady process of handcrafting a work of art in such a fast-paced consumer culture? How should they tread the fine line between supporting ourselves and refusing to concede to commercialization?

The cumulative bodies of work produced by Etti, Magnan and Kennepohl during their summer residency will be featured in the VAV Gallery space this fall, and the vernissage will be held Monday, September 11, 2023. 

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Arts Festival

Art Souterrain: an atypical contemporary art festival that redesigns Montreal’s underground pathways

An exhibit with no borders, spread across five Montreal locations

Festival Art Souterrain returns this year for its 15th edition. From March 18 to April 9, thousands of spectators can see a variety of artworks and performances throughout Montreal’s large underground network.

This non-profit organization was founded in 2009. Every year, they exhibit international contemporary art institutions, artists, and the architectural and cultural legacy of downtown Montreal’s underground city.

Exclusive to North America, Art Souterrain leads artworks out of artistic institutions and merges them into the daily lives of citizens. The organization aims to create a unique and distinctive concept in the realm of performing arts by facilitating exchange, diverse tools, and cultural mediation.

For this edition, the organization has commissioned Quebecois artists Eddy Firmin, Jean-François Prost, and Brazilian artist Ayrson Heráclito to oversee 30 artistic projects on this year’s theme “The Party.”

“From all the night and the city offer to our capacity for exploration, the party rises up and asserts itself, occasioning fortuitous encounters,” described Prost.

This year, the festival takes place in five different buildings in downtown Montreal. 

Entry points are situated at Place Ville Marie, Montréal World Trade Centre, the Jacques Parizeau Building, Palais des Congrès de Montréal, and Place de la cité international.

To make your journey easy, festival organizers have placed signs at the entrance of the buildings. They also provide a map on their website.

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Community

DIY tattoo artists: the new wave of the tattoo industry

Montreal is a hub for the tattoo industry, and a new kind of tattoo artist is rising to the forefront of the business

While apprenticeships have been the only way to get into the tattoo industry for years, the pandemic led the way for self-taught tattoo artists to set up shop in their own homes. The Concordian spoke with one such member of this new wave of self-taught tattoo artists, Clara Suess.

“One of my first tattoos is one I’ve done myself,” said Suess while revealing an ever-so-slightly smudged, yet recognizable tattoo of the Pokémon Gengar on her ankle. “It’s a little ugly but it does the trick, it’s not that bad.”

Suess recently celebrated her first anniversary of tattooing. Since her start, she has grown exponentially and developed her style, which is mainly inspired by biology. 

Over the course of an average week, she tattoos around five people. Suess has also amassed close to 700 followers on Instagram, and has joined a collective of like-minded tattoo artists.

While she started in her parent’s basement with a machine ordered from the internet, she has been working for six months on Jean-Talon Street with a few other young self-taught tattoo artists who call themselves the Collectif 456.

The Collectif 456 works in a collaborative space used by music and tattoo artists. The space that was formerly the apartment of one of their music producers, is eclectic, much like the artists it hosts. It features two music studios, two tattoo studios and a homemade stage to create a homely environment where collaboration is strongly encouraged. 

Self-taught tattoo artist and co-founder of Collectif 456 Raphaël Bonneau-Bédard. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

The idea sprouted in collaboration with tattoo artist Raphaël Bonneau-Bédard, a tattoo artist and a friend of Suess’ who quickly became her colleague.

Bonneau-Bédard began tattooing two years ago when their tattoo artist saw their artwork and suggested they pursue tattooing as well. Bonneau-Bédard bought their first tattoo machine from that very same artist, who told them they were on their own for the rest.

“I ordered everything I needed, checked YouTube videos and I just tattooed my friends and people started talking about me,” Bonneau-Bédard said. “I told myself if I were to start tattooing I would do it alone.”

Suess, Bonneau-Bédard and the tattoo artists of the Collectif 456 are part of a new wave of tattoo artists who’ve taught themselves how to tattoo people, a practice that blossomed in Montreal during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Montreal has always been known as one of the tattoo capitals of the world,” said Rodolphe Erinoff, a tattoo artist of 11 years and owner of La Planque, a tattoo studio on Mont-Royal Ave.

“It’s such an artistic city that’s renowned on many levels,” he emphasized. “Whether it be music, tattooing or street art, we are known to be a very artistically-developed city.”

Raphaël Bonneau-Bédard cuts out a stencil at Collectif 456. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

Quebec doesn’t have any laws prohibiting minors from getting tattoos. Additionally, tattoo artists do not have to abide by any safety regulations or go through traditional apprenticeships to practice tattooing.

Young people in Quebec are getting tattooed exponentially more. A recent survey by Ipsos found that 25 per cent of Quebecers are tattooed. Both Suess and Bonneau-Bédard had gotten tattoos either on or before their 18th birthday. 

“It became a trend,” said Alex Fombelle, a student at the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal who got tattooed for the first time at 16 in a salon. It was an experience that forever changed the way Fombelle would choose where and by whom she would get tattoos from.

“I saw other clients and it would stress me out to see them getting tattooed, ” Fombelle added. “There was also the boss who always came to check on what the artist was doing and I could see it stressed her out too.”

Then they got tattooed in the home of a self-taught tattoo artist. The privacy, warmth and friendliness of the space made them instantly comfortable. She felt like she could truly share a personal moment with the artist.

When the pandemic hit, many people realized how accessible it is to start at home, even without an apprenticeship. Though hygienic practices aren’t enforced by law whether in the homes of new artists or traditional studios, artists like those at Collectif 456 take hygiene extremely seriously.

“Raphaël and I have followed an online course on cross-contamination, bloodborne pathogens and safety techniques,” said Suess, who cites Progressive Mentorship as her source. It was “a matter of principle” to her. Bonneau-Bédard also mentioned it’s a crucial first step for anyone getting into tattooing.

However, the lack of codified safety regulations worries older tattoo artists like Erinoff, especially when it comes to self-taught artists. 

“We think we can learn by ourselves,” said Erinoff. “Yes, we can acquire certain techniques, but true professional techniques, there’s nothing like experienced people to show us how it’s done.”

Erinoff himself tried his hand at self-teaching before deciding to take on an apprenticeship after two to three years of tattooing people. He calls his beginnings as a self-taught tattoo artist “the worst mistake he’s ever made.”

“By not being trained by people that were more professional than I was with more experience, I didn’t move forward in my career,” he explained. “I was stagnant, I didn’t progress and I had no vision. I evolved through being accompanied by an experienced professional that knew what to do and more specifically, what not to do.”

Eventually, he went on to create his studio. His utmost priority is his clients’ comfort. Upon walking into his tattoo shop, it’s easy to notice how bright, warm and open everything is. It’s a long way from the dark, old-school stereotypical vibe of most tattoo shops. 

The realization quickly sets in regarding how much the scene changed in the last few years. Situated on top of a bar on Mont-Royal Ave, Erinoff says after a hard day’s work, his team often rejoices with a beer.

However, Erinoff emphasizes the distinction between warmth and quality in a parlour.  “If you go to a convivial place and the work doesn’t follow, it amounts to nothing.”

People seeking to get tattoos have never had such a dizzying amount of choice, which they have to research with hygiene and quality of work at the forefront of their decision, a consensus among the tattoo community.

Nonetheless, self-taught tattoo artists like Bonneau-Bédard are confident about the future of their practice and love the name they’ve made for themselves from the ground up.

“I’ll be a tattoo artist or I will die trying,” Bonneau said. “I take pride in having my own space that I built myself with my friends. It’s so much cooler than joining an already established studio. The aim of the game is to stick with the collective.”

All the signs point to a huge rise in the number of self-taught-tattoo artists in Montreal. However, since there are no laws surrounding their practices and considering the fact that tattoo artists just have to declare their revenue as self-employed workers, there are very few statistics on the subject.

With more people getting tattooed in a casual way, self-taught tattoo artists are likely to ride their wave for a long time.

Categories
Arts

SIGHT+SOUND: a festival that expands beyond linear definitions of art

Dancing While Waiting (for the end of the world): an exhibit that makes you question the intermediate between one’s body and the inevitable apocalypse

The 12th edition of the digital art festival, SIGHT+SOUND, took place at the Eastern Bloc from Oct. 26 to 30, and performances will continue until Nov. 12.  It’s a festival that primarily aims to provide a platform for emerging artists.

The curators of SIGHT+SOUND are Sarah Ève Tousignant and Nathalie Bachand. 

After two years of moving to an online format during the pandemic, this edition of the festival comes in full force as people are able to interact with the artwork in-person once again. 

The Eastern Bloc was founded in 2007 and is an art center that brings together technology, art, and science. It provides a laboratory space, proposes workshops, and hosts exhibits. SIGHT+SOUND’s theme this year is Dancing While Waiting (for the end of the world). 

The festival is composed not only of an exhibition section but also of a series of dance performances and musical and audio works/installations. It plays between the grounds of definable and uncategorizable artwork. Venues are located all across Montreal. 

The main exhibit was packed into a small rectangular room. Upon entering, one was immediately drawn to a table on the right side of the room that was organized with a series of pillow computers and screens. 

Table at entrance of exhibit – ESTHER MORAND/THE CONCORDIAN

On the left, visitors could raise a tablet over hanging clothes, and view a green body shaped into a dress through the screen. 

Screens were installed at either end of the room, displaying videos of artists’ works. People could use headphones to listen, which created a sense of isolation from the rest of the exhibit as visitors’ eyes and ears were entirely fixated on the short video. Strange and almost human-like figures appeared on the screens. 

In the middle of the room, two large panels perpendicular to each other showed two video screenings simultaneously, while a TV lodged at an angle displayed a TV prompter. One video, tinted in red, showed a woman racing, while the other displayed dancing bodies — some drawn, and some in live-action. 

Perpendicular screens at SIGHT & SOUND, ESTHER MORAND/THE CONCORDIAN

The sharp contrast of black words on the white screen offered a clear reflection of the seriousness of the statement. The text was set as a sort of conversation, discussing climate anxiety and the inability of humanity to focus on saving itself. 

The festival sought to retract individuals from their preconditioned lives surrounded by technology, and allow them to reflect on their states of servitude. It was intended to bring awareness to social spaces, and reappropriate what it means to be in contact with one another.

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Arts

Ji zoongde’eyaang opens with a strong heart

Mother and daughter dig up old works to tell a story on Indigenous heritage in new MAI exhibition

Montréal, arts interculturels, or MAI for short, opened Ji zoongde’eyaang on Oct. 22. The exhibition features work from Lara Kramer and Ida Baptiste, an Anishinaabe Oji-Cree mother-daughter duo. The title, in Anishinaabemowin, means “to have a strong heart”.

Baptiste is a visual artist, traditional pow wow dancer and Ojibwa language teacher based in Rama, Ontario. She is a member of the Berens River First Nation, Treaty 5 territory. Many of her works, consisting of oil on canvas, weaving and printmaking, were famously shown between 1975 and 1990 in Ontario.

Lara Kramer, her daughter, is a performer, choreographer and artist of many disciplines from Oji-Cree and settler descent. Her work is grounded in intergenerational relations, intergenerational knowledge and the impacts of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada. 

Most of the pieces in this exhibition touch on generational practices as well as experiences involving memory, loss and reclamation. Some of the works by Baptiste are from the early ’90s and have never been seen before, representing her experiences from her time at Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba.

Baptiste worked as an Ojibwa language teacher at Mnjikaning Kendaaswin Elementary School in Rama, Ontario from 2011 to 2019. “There’s a big language component in all of these works and it’s reflected here with the audio recording of them learning together, but the exhibition of all of these blankets actually started during the pandemic,” said MAI head of communications Jaëlle Dutremble-Rivet.

Much of Baptiste’s works consist of oil paint on canvas. Many of these paintings depict young Indigenous children superimposed over backgrounds thematically tied to residential schools. 

In addition to the language component of this exhibition, Kramer and Baptiste collaborated to gather several trade blankets representative of Kramer’s memories growing up and connecting with her Oji-Cree culture. “Gorgeous Tongue,” one of the blankets on display, represents Kramer’s memories of growing up in poverty. She also touches upon sentiments of rebirth and family lineage. 

“Emily” is a trade blanket that represents Kramer’s relationship to her lineage. She speaks of her “nookomis,” her mother’s mother, and the brief relationship they had. Kramer recounts witnessing her nookomis’ anguish through a series of seemingly paranormal interactions. The piece has heavy tones of generational trauma and the ways in which they shape intergenerational relationships. 

The trade blanket has a lot of meaning. It was used during colonization, spreading smallpox to indigenous communities — a devastation in the genocide against Indigenous people. The blankets were also used in trade between different communities. Kramer and Baptiste are reworking and tasking that symbol, adding regalia from traditional jingle dresses and beading work. 

“The paintings were an addition because at the beginning it was only supposed to be the blankets and a projection,” said Dutremble-Rivet. For instance, the painting titled #64 is a triptych of a young child on a swing set, with a background composed of different numbers. 

“All of the children in residential schools were given numbers, and 64 was Ida’s number,” said Dutremble-Rivet. “There’s a lot of residential school history in Ida’s work. [Ji zoongde’eyaang] is a really important work to show, especially that it was truth and reconciliation day a month ago, so it’s the real history.” 
For more information about the exhibition, please visit the MAI’s website.

Categories
Arts

Être ensemble: an art display that reflects on appreciating art rather than consuming advertisements

Zoom Art is a project that recommends people to look up from their mundane routines to discover public artwork

Curator Geneviève Goyer-Ouimette’s Zoom Art Project, presented by Ville de Laval Art Collection, is on display for its third edition until Oct. 16. The theme of this year’s edition is “être ensemble” which loosely translates to “being together. 

The artworks will be accessible until Oct. 16. 

The artworks are presented on astral panels, bus shelters, posters in the Montmorency metro terminus, as well as in light boxes on metro platforms. These works replace advertising, displaying artwork instead of ads. 

“The idea at the beginning was to allow a break from advertising and to have a kind of artistic oasis in the spaces where there usually is something to sell.”

Here, nothing is sold. People are invited “to reflect on their state, to have time for themselves, to be addressed as human beings, not as consumers,” notes Goyer-Ouimette. 

The project was born three years ago, in the midst of the pandemic. Goyer-Ouimette explains that “museums were closed, people had limited access to culture.”

The first edition, curated by Anne-Sophie Michel and Anick Thibault, was organized in less than two months, with a selection of artists whose works were posted in bus shelters and on astral boards. 

Previously, the project served to help emerging artists, but for the second and third editions, pieces were chosen around a specific theme. 

It was important for the curator to find an accessible theme that spoke to a large audience, where people could make links and think about the artworks without having necessarily studied fine arts. She wanted to find a theme around the term “to gather” without explaining it further. 

“With the theme ‘être ensemble,’ contrary to the notion of ‘vivre ensemble’ there is no intent given, it is more of an observation,” Goyer-Ouimette notes.  

“Being together can reach the intimacy of conflicts between people, that it be in love relationships, power relationships, indoctrination, or even very positive ones, such as relationships with a family, or being bored of being together.” The theme is thus reflected in the chosen pieces. 

There are reproductions of artworks put into photography; sometimes they are digitized because they come from real photographs that have been enlarged. 

What is particular about Zoom Art is that “you can discover it by walking around randomly, but you can also discover it by day or by night. The works are very different depending on the time of day,” Goyer-Ouimette said. 

She notes that the project resembles a catalog, but that the result is a display in a public space. 

“One of the crucial steps in producing a catalog is to ensure the quality of the images. We often had to rework the size of the images.” 

In choosing what artworks to represent, Goyer-Ouimette wanted “all the works [to] have a very strong visual appeal. In the bus shelters they contain details that will allow people to reflect,” because they have more time to wait for a bus, whereas in the metro it has to be effective more quickly, so that the piece can convey itself effectively. 

“Often people think that the worst that can happen is that people don’t like art, but the worst is when people don’t see it, don’t identify it as art, simply ignore it.” 

The curator did not want to have to explain what artwork belonged to which artist, so 

the graphic designer selected a color inside each work to write the name of the artist.

“What this does is that we will associate the image with the name without it having to be explained,” Goyer-Ouimette notes. 

Two of the 17 artists, Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane, work in synchronicity. Their work through the project is present on a bus shelter. 

“One draws, and the other adds to it, they are truly working together,” notes Goyer-Ouimette. “It’s a visual folly, the more you look at their work, the more you notice details. The drawing of one leads to the intervention of the other.” 

On the other hand, Rafael Sottolichio’s work — displayed on a highway poster — deals with the theme of family coming out of the pandemic and external family reunions. Such works are a reminder of what we have just experienced throughout the pandemic . 

The artworks intersect with the theme of togetherness through different meanings and mediums. 

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Arts

Art for the ears: podcasts and other sonic experiments

Through the audio medium, artists can develop a new relationship with their audience 

Audio experiences provide artists with the opportunity to explore a unique type of storytelling, since podcasts and binaural experiences create a particular sense of intimacy with the audience. Creators have been using this medium to explore new possibilities for theatrical works. Notably, Montreal’s Phi Centre recently opened an exhibition dedicated to audio experiences. As well, theatre company Singulier Pluriel shared its new podcast with the public on Feb. 16. 

Theatre without a stage

Julie Vincent first presented her play The Doorman of Windsor Station in 2010. Initially written in French, the work is set between Montreal and Montevideo. Audience members follow the story of Francisco, an architect who came to Montreal after he left Uruguay, and Claire, a piano player. Vincent was presented with the opportunity to translate her play into English in Toronto several years later, but the plan had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, a podcast version was created. In this iteration, the producers paid special attention to the rhythm of the words. 

For Vincent, the podcast was a great opportunity to experiment with the relationship between words and music in a theatre work. The writer collaborated with producer Michel Smith to create a suitable soundtrack that would tell the story without its visual elements. The actors also adapted their interpretation to the music. 

Early in the creation process, the interpreters were encouraged to work with the rhythm of the play’s soundtrack so that the story would take life through their voice. Vincent explained that the actors had to work on internalizing their interpretation of the piece to be able to transmit emotions through spoken words only. For her, “this work puts us in tune with the listening experience of the listeners.”

Vincent believes the strength of the podcast lies in its proximity with the listener. She described this medium as a way to explore new sensitivities in the special relationship it creates with its audience. “We are in the invisible […] we are in another dimension, we are in a certain intimacy with them and we try to touch their interiority.”

New audio-immersive technologies

Phi Centre’s new programming also explores this avenue for theatre creations. On Feb. 17 the arts centre opened new exhibitions focused on audio experiences. “We don’t want to be where people are waiting for us. We want to surprise the audience. That is why the idea of presenting an exclusively sonic and immersive programming came to be,” said Myriam Achard, the chief of new media partnerships and public relations at Phi Centre. This show marks the centre’s 10th anniversary. It features three creations: Lashing Skies, Eternal, and The Disintegration Loops

While The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski is a music room where visitors can sit to enjoy music, the two other creations require visitors to wear headphones. Multidisciplinary artist Brigitte Poupart used poems written by Madeleine Monette to create Lashing Skies. The texts recount the stories of five fictional characters on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Visitors are invited to listen to the 45-minute audio experience in a setting replicating the destroyed landscape that followed the 9/11 events. This interactive piece aims at making users reflect on where they were when the disaster occurred.

Eternal is a 20-minute audio immersive journey created by the U.K. studio Darkfield Radio. Visitors lie in a bed in the gallery space with their eyes closed and headphones on. They are invited into the narrator’s room through the story he tells them. The piece shares reflections on the possibilities of an eternal life. It uses technology that creates the feeling of  360-degree audio. “It is a very powerful experience,” said Achard.

Achard first encountered Darkfield Radio’s work during a festival, before the pandemic.  In the various art events she attended all over the world, she witnessed a tendency towards audio experiences. “In the past years, there is an increasing presence of audio immersive experiences, be it spatialized sound, be it binaural sound […] I think we are in an important moment for immersive sound creations,” she said.  

Achard also explained that the inclusion of theatre elements was really important in this audio-themed exhibition. “We wanted to bring people in this theatricality. The encounter between the sound medium and theatre create really strong experiences,” she explained.

This strength described by Achard relates to Vincent’s work with The Doorman of Windsor Station podcast. These creations reach the audience in a very particular way that offers new opportunities for theatre works. 

Transistor media’s diverse propositions

On the French side, the podcast producer Transistor Media proposes a different series of artistic endeavours. They produce Signal nocturne, a podcast hosted by Julien Morissette. For each episode, Morissette meets with an artist at night. The audio work integrates excerpts of texts written by the artist with interview segments.  

They also co-produced Néon Boréal with the Théâtre du Trillium and Sous la Hotte. The four-episode series is a play adapted for radio. Written by Louis-Philippe Roy and Josianne T Lavoie, it explores stereotypes associated with the American dream through the stories of characters, such as a Hooters waitress. The realistic sonic environment of the work complemented by energetic pop music enhances the story.  

Podcasts and audio immersive experiences are unique mediums that have the capacity to introduce new possibilities within the realm of performance art. Their omission of images leave the viewer with the poetry of words, the tone of a voice, and the soundtrack. These specific audio creations are only a few of the many works available for you to listen to. 

The Doorman of Windsor Station podcast is available until Feb. 28 on Singulier Pluriel’s Facebook page. Phi Centre presents its audio-themed exhibition until May 15.

 

Graphic by Lily Cowper

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