A space for cohabitation

  La Friche explores the duality between human and nature

Large pieces of bubble wrap, scattered still life illustrations of flowers, and a desk clad with a variety of guide books about foraging line the walls at articule, an artist-run centre situated in the Mile End. The space resembles a cross between a research lab and an artist’s workshop.

La Friche, the research-based multimedia project by Montreal-based artist Angela Marsh, aims to establish a relationship between human and nature. Through the collection of found objects and foraged plant fragments, the artist has created tapestries in an effort to reconcile the omnipresent duality between the organic and the manmade.

“[The tapestries] consists of all the little pieces of plants I’ve found in friches, in parking lots, in alleyways, in an effort to create a sort of cohabitation between humans and nature,” said Marsh.

“Friche”, the french word from which stems the title of the project, can be translated roughly to “wasteland.” In this context, Marsh uses it to describe a piece of land which was once inhabited by humans, and has since been abandoned and “colonized” by wild plants.

The tapestries consist of wild plants and seeds which have been sewn into the individual pockets in the bubble wrap. This is meant to serve as a form of protection; a method of preserving the plants from “a tension between the wild plants that are trying to survive, and this human controlled system that is always trying to control them,” according to Marsh.

The work tackles socio-political themes surrounding human desire and control, alongside our relationship with nature and the environment. These notions are explored through themes of preservation, which can be seen through the artist’s archival approach to the project.

“Where is our need to always control our environment and our spaces, and where can that cohabitation happen?” asked Marsh. This is considered through her work, wherein she unites the diversity of plants with her sewing and drawings. What she wanted was to have the two aspects living together. 

Marsh identified over 60 varieties of plants throughout the province, foraging them and drew them from observation. “It’s like having a quest for relationship with each plant, a quest for understanding and intimacy,” said Marsh of her still life sketches. “Each fragment of nature that we draw… it’s like we are creating a dialogue.”

The work demonstrates a cohabitation between the organic and the artificial. The plant fragments and weeds, representing the organic; the bubble wrap and the sewing, representing the artificial. Having the two cohabitate creates a conversation, leaving the viewer to question their roles, both individually and together.

“Botanists call [weeds] resilient plants that are able to survive in disturbed land,” explained Marsh. There was once a time when nature was the main disruptor, but the roles have since reversed. “These plants have adapted, the seeds have stayed dormant for years and when there is a disruption that is when they germinate.”

The act of sewing the seeds into the plastic served as a form of reparative gesture, according to Marsh. To sew is to mend what has been broken. In other words, this action served as a means of repairing, seeking responsibility for damage, and allowing for the possibility of a new life.

“Today it will not be the same piece as it will be tomorrow,” said Marsh. “This doesn’t trouble me at all.” She spoke of the constant state of evolution of her work, explaining that the piece has to obey natural laws. “I can’t impose my natural desire to have it preserved, it’s more nature than culture.”

The project is a work-in-progress, one that the artist aims to expand over the course of the next few years, as she collects field notes, sketches, and knowledge of the various flora that she finds throughout the province, and specifically within urban spaces.

“I see it as a source of hope in this age that we live in that I find is increasingly difficult to make sense of, one where we have all sorts of ecological crisis happening around us,” said Marsh, further explaining her interest in wild plants that are managing to survive within the city space. “They are a symbol of this regenerative capacity to be able to adapt and survive in conditions that are unsurvivable.”

Angela Marsh will continue to develop La Friche over the course of the next five to eight years, in an effort to further understand the evolution of wild plants within the city space in parallel with her work.


Photos by Laurence B. D.


Emotion, representation and identity

Painting is a medium with a complex yet polarizing history; how does one contemporize it? Le Salon, an exhibition featuring works by Gabriela Avila-Yiptong and Florence Yee, focuses on the medium of painting in history and within the contemporary world.

Many of the works in Le Salon feature landscapes—a subject matter very prominent throughout the history of painting, specifically in Canada. This was popularized through the works of the Group of Seven, a group of artists who were very successful across the nation for their paintings of the untouched Canadian landscape and wilderness.

Thought to be distinctive of Canadian art, the genre of landscape painting brought up many contemporary concerns and critiques. Most prominently, there are serious issues of representation, national identity and exclusion in defining a nation’s artistic identity based on the paintings of the Group of Seven, which was exclusively made up of white male artists. Other issues arise in the depiction of bare landscapes, with no human or industrial presence. This often ignores the presence of Indigenous peoples and communities on the land.

Yee, a recent Concordia fine arts graduate, is now attending Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) for her master’s in interdisciplinary art, media and design. Her work, which has been displayed around Montreal and at Concordia, focuses on themes of diaspora within her identity, issues of representation, the colonialist and patriarchal history of the art world and art canon.

Finding Myself at the MMFA III depicts Yee standing in front of landscape paintings, with her figure blending into the artwork.
Photo by Mackenzie Lad.
Finding Myself at the MMFA IV depicts Yee standing in front of landscape paintings, with her figure blending into the artwork.







Yee’s pieces in Le Salon include Finding Myself at the MMFA III and IV. These self portraits were completed with oil paint and depict Yee standing in front of landscape paintings, with a projection of the painting covering her figure. Quite literally, Yee paints herself into these historically celebrated works.

Another work by Yee, Oh Canada, consists of embroidered yarn on canvas and recreates a Group of Seven landscape through the patterns of threading. Displayed in a glass case, the viewer can see the back side of the piece and further discover the detailing of a red flag, with the design of the U.K.’s flag in the upper left corner. This ensign on the back of the landscape can be considered as a way to remind viewers of the colonial presence across Canada’s lands, along with the patriarchal nature of the history of landscape painting.

Avila-Yiptong‘s works in Le Salon focus primarily on landscape. Florida Motel and I Could Die Here display idyllic landscapes in soft shades, featuring details of the sea and rainbows. The images are realistic yet dreamlike, as if they are a fantasy.

Through these works, contrasting with Yee’s focus on identity and ethnicity, Avila-Yiptong aims to remove the narrative and influence of culture and race, according to the artist statement on her website. Instead, she focuses on personal and emotional relationships with nature, through featuring places she has visited, and mixing styles of realism and abstraction.

This in itself also addresses the patriarchal nature of painting, by representing resistance against normative ways of viewing art and artists; white male artists do not have to fight for representation or opportunity within the medium, while women and artists of colour often do, historically and in today’s art world. By removing the focus on identity and race, and looking at the emotional relationship to landscape, Avila-Yiptong reclaims painting from these normative structures.

Avila-Yiptong’s work focuses on places she has visited, mixing styles of realism and abstraction.
Photo by Mackenzie Lad.
Avila-Yiptong’s work focuses on places she has visited, mixing styles of realism and abstraction.
Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Early in their respective practices, both artists discovered an interest in painting and the subject of landscape, but experienced racialized discussions and reactions to their work, as discussed in “Keeping Painting Contemporary: Inserting New Perspectives in an “Old” Medium,” a gallery text by Ariane Fairlie. The significance of painting and the landscape depictions within Canada are very much promoted through university art classes, which adds to their relationship with painting. These aspects of personal experience and representation through academia influence the artists’s respective work. A conversation emerges from the way the artists react, reclaim and find influence from these experiences and historical representations.

While both Yee and Avila-Yiptong look at different themes within their respective works, both question and explore the presence of painting within a contemporary context. Both artists are concerned with how the history of the medium and the subject of landscape can be contested. They are spaces that require much consideration, critique and change.

Le Salon is showing at Articule until Oct. 14. The gallery is open Wednesday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.



Finding fluidity in Canada’s Indigenous history

Concordia graduate Hannah Claus premieres her new work in hochelaga rock

Fluidity and change in connection with the history of Canada, specifically the Hochelaga Rock monument, are the focus of Hannah Claus’s exhibition, titled hochelaga rock, which opened at Articule Gallery on Oct. 20.

Hochelaga Rock is a commemorative stone located on the McGill campus, on Tiohtià:ke land Jacques Cartier visited in 1535. Claus’ use of this stone in her work broadens the conversation around its presence, meaning and significance, and of First Nations and settler worldviews in general. Claus is a graduate of Concordia’s fine arts master’s program. She created the exhibition this past summer during her time as an artist-in-residence with Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) and Milieux, Concordia’s institute for arts, culture and technology.

Claus’ work consists of several large photographic prints of Hochelaga Rock, each modified differently and preventing a clear view of the statement written on the rock’s plaque. Small, circular forms create this obscuration, varying from piece to piece. Some are black, and in one case they are small images of running water and foliage. Paired with these prints are several hanging, coloured acrylic sheets in various colours, each with different words carved into them. “Karahkwa,” meaning ‘sun’ in Mohawk, is written on one. “Ohne:ka,” meaning ‘water,’ is on another.

There will be a discussion with the artist about her exhibition at Article on November 4. Photos by Alex Hutchins.

The inspiration for the installation came to Claus from a number of different places, including the 150th and 375th anniversary celebrations of Canada and Montreal, respectively. Focusing her work on the history of Canada and Montreal was significant to Claus because of the many inaccuracies often found within the country’s history and the glossing over of deeply rooted colonialism.

The lack of detail and misrepresentation of Hochelaga Rock’s history in a textbook’s description of the stone also motivated Claus to create this exhibition. She explained that the textbook devoted 10 lines to describing how Jacques Carter “found” the Iroquois village the monument now commemorates and that it was simply gone when Samuel de Champlain arrived decades later. The small amount of information—with a predominantly colonial focus—on this important part of Canada’s past left a space that Claus said she hopes hochelaga rock will fill with deeper understanding and consideration for this historical matter.

Another source of inspiration for hochelaga rock came from a visit to Edmonton, Alta., earlier this year when Claus was a contender for an art commission in the area. While there, Claus met with the First Nations elders of the Dene and Cree communities in Edmonton to talk about the area and its history. She also visited a site that was to be developed into an Aboriginal art park. Before European contact, the site was used as a gathering place where travelers would leave from to journey across North America. At this time, Claus explained, trade was a ceremony, a coming together of people. It was not simply about the exchange of goods, but about the communities and connections as well.

“When I heard the Dene elder talking about Hochelaga, it felt like I found a missing link that could explain the ‘mystery of the disappeared St-Lawrence Iroquoians’ discussed so briefly in history books,” Claus said. “Knowing about the connections between this place and others across the country—the fluid space of people traveling and gathering—inspired me.”

According to Claus, the physical form of the stone was also significant to her. “There is the solid nature of the rock, acting as a marker or monument for one version of history,” she explained. “To me, rocks hold memory. They are the land and the ancestors. In this project, I try to disrupt the solidity of the history that is placed on this particular rock.”

Through personal experiences and research, Claus was able to identify a common theme of fluidity in Indigenous history, which contrasts with the notions of stability brought on by colonization and settlement. Focusing on the rock as a subject—an object that is solid, strong and rarely changes—Claus plays with its meaning.

Along with the installation and photographs, hochelaga rock also includes a video component in the form of a film loop of different Facebook Live videos. The subjects of these social media films are the peaceful protests over First Nations lands and contested areas that have occurred since the Oka Crisis in 1990. By including footage of recent  events in the exhibition, the artist said she hoped to connect the history of Hochelaga to the contemporary issues occurring on Indigenous land. “It’s important to me to bring us out of a historical moment and into the present,” Claus said. “These issues of place and peoples are still pertinent and real.”

hochelaga rock will be on display at Articule until Nov. 19. The gallery is open Wednesday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on the weekends until 5 p.m. Admission is free. There will also be a discussion with Claus at the gallery on Nov. 4 at 3 p.m., as part of the exhibition.

Photos by Alex Hutchins

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