Arts and Culture

An interview with Heather O’Neill

The celebrated novelist sat down with our Editor-in-Chief to discuss her published works and an upcoming novel. 

Montreal is ripe with celebrated authors, like Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, and Heather O’Neill. On a sunny Tuesday morning in March, following a win on the Canada Reads game show, O’Neill met up with The Concordian to discuss her literary journey. 

The Concordian: Thank you again for sitting down with me. Let’s start by learning a little more about you.

Heather O’Neill: I was born here in Montreal and then my parents got a divorce. My mother took me to the American South, which is where she is originally from and I lived there with her for a while. After some years, she decided she didn’t want to be a mother anymore and sent me back to Montreal to live with my father.

TC: I’m so sorry to hear that. Through all that, when did you discover your passion for writing?

H.O.: I remember it started when I was in elementary school. I remember back when I was eight or nine, I got a journal for my birthday. I started journaling and I loved doing that. It was my favorite part of the day, getting back to my journal and describing my day. It was like the journal was the only person on my side. Afterward, in grade five, I had a teacher who was very excited about my writing. I remember she gave me this little folder and she told me to keep everything because she told me I’d be a great writer.

TC: I love that. Going into your young adult life, what was the first major inspiration for your first novel?

H.O.: Funny enough, I was in a workshop at Concordia. I wrote a short story with the characters that ended up in Lullabies for Little Criminals, Baby and Jules. I noticed that story in particular got a lot of attention and seemed to capture the attention of the readers. So I sent it to a magazine and it got published. After it got nominated for the Journey Prize, I told myself, “Okay, I have something here.”

TC: How do you feel now that your written works are now being studied in courses, like an English class that I took at Concordia?

H.O.: It’s funny because it’s just starting to hit me now, that sort of appraisal. As an artist, you don’t have a sense of the outside world. Now, turning 50 this year, I think I am slowly starting to see that impact. I have so many young women writers who have come up to me and told me that they have read my books.

TC: Which of your books do you find people come and talk to you about the most? 

H.O.: It’s hard to say, but Lullabies for Little Criminals has been around for the longest. I would say The Lonely Hearts Hotel has really struck a chord in people. 

TC: What would your advice be to young writers who are just starting out?

H.O.: I don’t know what exactly my advice would be because a novel is such a strange beast. I think people just get gripped by it and you can’t stop the writing until you finish it. It’s a lot like Narnia, you get into a novel and you don’t know how much time you’ll spend on it. When you finally finish that novel it could’ve been over a span of 10 years or even six months. The madness is real for sure.

TC: What does your writing process look like?

H.O.: I write in a very rough way, where I already have the idea of the novel in my head. It always changes as I go along. When I start the novel, I write the different scenes from different parts of the book to kind of get a feel of how it’s going to look. After that, I piece everything together into a legible book. Then I send it off to my editor and it goes back and forth four to five times.

TC: Do you currently have anything in the works?

H.O.: I have one coming out in September. This novel is my first that is not set in Montreal. It’s set in this little imaginary country and in this country, they base their entire identity on the arts. They have this incredible arts culture, but then they get occupied by another country. It’s sort of how occupying forces first destroy the artists.
Fans have been eagerly awaiting O’Neill’s next novel since her last release in 2022, When We Lost Our Heads. For updates on O’Neill’s newest creation, have a look at her Instagram account, which she shares with her daughter, @oneillreads.


The Concordian editors unleash their inner art critics

Bringing you our favourite online art experiences

What makes a museum experience memorable when… well, when you can’t actually go to the museum? After most institutions closed last month, hundreds of art museums around the globe have made their collections accessible online for free. With the opportunity to browse museums all around the world, how does one choose where to go first?

From the UK to Japan, our staff has compiled a list of our favourite pieces, exhibitions and virtual tours for you to experience. While some choices are based on interest and desire to learn, others are based on memories and personal sentiment. Regardless, read on for some insightful, personable and critical responses to art around the world. Enjoy your time at the Concordian Art Gallery.

The Concordian Art Gallery’s first-ever exhibition investigates the appeal of an artwork through a critical approach. The works, which date from the 19th to the 21st century, depict histories both personal and collective. From the ecclesiastical etchings at the Rijksmuseum to Migishi Kōtarō’s abstract compositions, the featured works draw upon personal experiences to explore our relationship with art. Although eclectic, the ensemble of works invites viewers to reflect on their history and memories and how they interrelate with art.

Matthew Coyte, Managing Editor 

Anonymous English School. Commander Robert R. Bastin. Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery. Exeter, England.

I picked this museum because it’s one that I’ve had my eye on for a while. My family is originally from Devon, England, so I’ve always wanted to visit, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery have been on my mind as well. This painting of a relatively unknown man just connected with me because he looks like my grandfather who passed away this summer. I guess everything just came full circle from my interest in connecting with my family’s roots to this piece.

Lola Cardona, Assistant Video Editor

Women Hold Up More Than Half The Sky. Glasgow Women’s Library. Glasgow, Scotland.

From the online exhibit “Sisterhood is Powerful: UK Posters” at the Glasgow Women’s Library.

I like this piece because of its simplicity, both in its colour and its message. The orange and the blue creates a visually pleasing image and the photograph itself is interesting to look at because of the subject. In it, women are working from extreme heights on what looks like a bridge. The caption “women hold up more than half the sky” seems to be promoting the fact that women work as hard, if not harder than their male counterparts. I see this image as a statement about women in the workforce, in particular, making sure women have equal job opportunities and are recognized for their accomplishments.

Chloë Lalonde, Arts Editor 

Masayoshi Nakamura, Man and Woman. 1963. Colour on paper. Nagoya City Art Museum. Nagoya, Japan.

Kōtarō Migishi, Composition: Still Life with Fireplace. 1933. Oil on canvas. Nagoya City Art Museum. Nagoya, Japan.

I initially wanted to do the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, but I was so thrown off by the palace and had no attention span for the work it contained. The museum is massive, with three floors of rooms upon rooms and all sorts of halls. It was truly incredible, but no specific artwork caught my eye. But it did spark a desire to be a Russian princess. I realized that I wanted to stumble upon something fresh, something I had no idea existed. I was aware of the Hermitage before this.

I came across the Nagoya City Art Museum (NCAM) on Google Arts & Culture, and its feature image caught my eye. I didn’t recognize the artist, and barely had any idea what it was I was even looking at. Perfect. Turns out it was a Frida Kahlo, Girl with Death Mask. The painting depicts Kahlo’s would-be daughter. I was struck by her white face, full of horror, contrasted with light blues, pastel pinks and Easter yellows.

Among the 50 or so pieces in the NCAM’s collection, two more pieces stood out to me. Masayoshi Nakamura’s Man and Woman (1963) and Kōtarō Migishi’s Composition: Still Life with Fireplace (1933), for two very different reasons.

I immediately felt repelled, but not repulsed, by Nakamura’s painting. The way the paint pools in matte, layered splotches to create the base for the man and woman’s faces immediately reminded me of dried, flaking tempera paint, which gives me this nails-on-a-chalkboard feeling. But the painting itself feels relatable, childlike, as though Nakamura sketched on eyes as a last-minute thought. The swift black ink, like smudged eyeliner, blurs the lines between the man and the woman, and you can only theorize who is whom. My favourite parts are the big blotchy noses. I love the way the paint cakes up to create a shape. While most paint is quite fluid, sometimes it is lumpy, thick or even creamy. This kind of paint allows you to sculpt with it, like scraping plaster onto a wall, smoothing it out in circles to create ridges, keeping each scrape visible. This painting feels distraught, violent. It feels last-minute, not that big of a deal. I like that.

Migishi’s still life is an aesthetic choice. Now, this is the kind of art I’d like to make in isolation. I’m a big fan of line work, big wobbly shapes and juxtaposing neutrals with bright primary colours. I like the hint of recognition—I spy a wine glass, a bunch of grapes and a fireplace— and the rest is up to your imagination.

Cecilia Piga, Assistant Photo Editor

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, De predikende Christus (De Honderdguldenprent). Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, Netherlands.

I chose Rijksmuseum because it’s from one of the museums I’m most excited to visit during my exchange in Amsterdam next semester, fingers crossed! I’ve always been intrigued by the tools and process behind etching, so I was drawn to this piece as soon as I recognized the marks on the print. I love the contrast and texture of this printing technique. What I like the most is the intricate level of detail the artists put into a small print.

Lillian Roy, Assistant Life Editor

Elsa Schiaparelli: Jackets. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, United States.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a few virtual exhibits available on Google Arts and Culture. Interestingly, a lot of them have to do with the MET’s fashion collections, ranging from late-nineteenth-century footwear to contemporary labels like Comme des Garçons. My favourite collection features vintage dinner jackets designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, an Italian designer who got her start in the early 20th century. I love how the crisp, tailored silhouettes contrast with the elaborate designs and flashy colours, combining elements that are both masculine and feminine. With its jewel tones and stunning embroidery, I found this green jacket to be particularly eye-catching.

Aviva Majerczyk, Copy Editor

Adam Mickiewicz as a Pilgrim, Jan Styka. National Museum. Krakow, Poland.

I chose the National Museum in Krakow because I was supposed to study in the city this summer, before the world as we know it descended into chaos. Additionally, I thought it could be interesting to learn more about my personal Polish heritage. So, I was glad to see that the museum had a large digital collection with many online exhibitions. I chose Independence, a collection of Polish works based on the political notions of 20th-century socialist statesman Józef Piłsudski, which was presented to celebrate the centennial of the independence of the Republic of Poland in 2018. This exhibition is very patriotic in tone, highlighting Poland’s constant struggle against outside occupation. As would be expected from a state-sponsored collection, there were plenty of busts of leaders and paintings of glorious battles. Yet, the piece that struck me most was Adam Mickiewicz as a Pilgrim by Jan Styka. Mickiewicz was a romantic poet and activist in the 19th century, who is often called Poland’s greatest poet. The painting shows Mickiewicz holding a staff and looking up at an ominous cloudy sky. His figure is sharp and detailed against the wash of colour behind him. This piece makes Mickiewicz appear to be almost holy— like a Moses figure. From this, it is obvious that he is greatly revered in Polish history. Overall, Independence was a great gateway to Polish history. It definitely sent me down a few Wikipedia rabbit holes to learn more about the mentioned leaders and uprisings.

Virginie Ann, News Editor 

Widad Kawar, TIRAZ. Amman, Jordan.

As I scrolled down the list of virtual exhibits available on Google Arts and Culture, my eyes were caught by the title “home for Arab dress.” It reminded me of my time in Morocco, during Ramadan, when my girlfriends and I went to pick some beautiful traditional caftans. There is something truly simple, yet very graceful, about this type of clothing— which ends up making you feel very elegant. So, I chose to visit the virtual Widad Kawar collection from Tiraz museum in Jordan. The collection contains over 2000 costumes and jewelry, which both hold an important place in Middle Eastern art and history. My favourite exhibition ended up being Ya Hafeth Ya Ameen: Protective silver jewellery from the Middle East, which brings the viewer into Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Oman. The mix of text, 360-degree photos and the zoom option allows for an immersive experience, which I personally find more interesting than just staring at a computer screen.

Learning history through jewelry is quite unique. The exhibition approaches how conflict, migration and even politics have an influence on dress and jewellery creation. I loved reading about the superstitious meanings of jewelry and their connection with divine and mystical forces through various forms of protection, such as talismans. Our own disconnection, even complete rejection, of religion here in Quebec makes it hard for some people to understand that sense of belief. But, call me naive, I love believing that carrying something such as a piece of jewelry can be meaningful. I think it reinforces a sense of community, an aspect that is greatly present in the Arab world. The most common protection jewelry against the Evil Eye is the Hand of Fatima, dating back thousands of years. Yet, capitalism has transformed it into something you can now purchase in any form, without understanding its background.

As someone who has a strong interest in the history of the Middle East, I was happy to find this short exhibition, which made me calmly travel over the Arabian Peninsula, while sipping on my second Stout during the global pandemic.

“What if in an unsure world – a world in which your family depend on a good harvest for survival, and sickness can easily lead to death – amulets provided a sense of comfort and control, and talismans offered a connection to the mystical powers that seemed to govern your life, but which you can’t always see?” – Tiraz Widad Kawar home for Arab dress

Lorenza Mezzapelle, Assistant Arts Editor

Paul Getty Museum. California, United States.

I spent a good two weeks trying to find a specific artwork that I would want to talk about and share. Ultimately, trying to navigate museums virtually just didn’t cut it for me, as I found it to be much too distracting and too difficult to actually read the accompanying texts. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was to navigate J. Paul Getty Museum’s online platform. They offer a variety of ways to interact with numerous artworks, and rather than offering a virtual tour, viewers can scroll through an exhibition in chronological order, on a webpage. In addition to offering their exhibitions online, the museum has made hundreds of books in their Virtual Library available… for free! From architecture to critical theory, their selection is unparalleled. Some of my favourites included Cezanne in the Studio: Still Life in Watercolors and Otto Wagner: Reflections on the Raiment of Modernity, which I intend on reading in their entirety after handing in my finals.

While most of the exhibitions I scrolled through were interesting, I personally enjoyed Bauhaus: Building the New Artist: it was easy to scroll through, informative and read in the same way as walking through an exhibition space from start to finish. Each part of the exhibition features an interactive exercise, including one based on Kandinsky’s theory that shapes correspond to colour. My favourite part of the exhibition was definitely the “Learning with Albers” segment, which provides a brief, but insightful overview of Josef Albers’ influence on the Bauhaus movement and on studies of materiality. The text is accompanied by annotated notebook pages of various Bauhaus students which illustrate their studies via journal entries and photographs.



Feature graphic by @sundaeghost.


Egyptian striptease: mummies and museography at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

A dive into the ancient Egyptians’ lives and a peek through their wrappings

Open until the end of March at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the exhibit Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives presents the daily life of Ancient Egypt through the eyes of six individuals who lived between 900 BCE to the second century CE.

But there is more than just mummies, 3D scans of the mummies yield high-quality imagery of what is hidden underneath the strips of linen for visitors to explore.

“Exploring Ancient Lives”

The Museum of Fine Arts has put its own twist on the exhibition, originally curated by the British Museum in London, England. Each room connects to the mummy of an individual, which in turn is associated with a theme—music for a female singer, family life for a two-year-old mummified boy, religion for a priest and so forth.

Throughout each room, the public discovers the quotidian Egyptian life, from diet and religion to embalming and wigs. The exhibition showcases beautiful artifacts, mummies and their adorned sarcophaguses.

There is no shortage of historical artifacts to see at the Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition’s curators have succeeded in showing visitors what everyday life in Ancient Egyptian was like.

Room devoted to music and beauty. Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives. Photo © MMFA, Denis Farley

Under the Wrappings

For nearly 40 years, researchers have scanned mummies using computer tomography (CT scan) to avoid damaging them when unwrapping their bodies. CT scanning yields 3D images of the dead and of the artifacts laying under the strips of linen.

Although non-invasive, this technique has some pitfalls when it comes to interpreting the images the computer creates. The main limitation of CT scans is that the analysis of the images only rarely enable researchers to distinguish between ante—and postmortem traumas—the latter resulting from the mummification process.

The exhibit includes a short video that shows each mummy’s digital unwrapping. Brief text boxes provide information about the discoveries made on the bodies. The six videos are very instructive, even if they’re repetitive once you have seen a couple.

This technique and its video rendering are central to the exhibition. The British Museum and the Museum of Fine Art claim that CT scanning provides a new perspective on these ancient histories. Arguably, it’s not that new.

A decade ago, the same technology was used at the Musée de la Civilisation in Québec city for another mummy exhibition. At the time, it was indeed exceptional—there was only one CT scanning rendering of a mummy, that was displayed in its own section of the exhibition.

The 3D technology is certainly informative and should reel in visitors, but it might not be the showstopper it is designed to be.

CT Scanning yields images of the body underneath the wrappings. Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives. Photo © MMFA, Denis Farley

Museums in the Digital Age

Museums have embraced digital technologies and multimedia tools to raise visitors’ engagement. The Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives exhibition is a good example of the inclusion of new technologies.

Besides the CT scanning, the Museum of Fine Arts has partnered with Ubisoft. The video games company has provided a row of computers where visitors can play an educative version of Assassin’s Creed Origins, set in Ancient Egypt.

However, there are other avenues to explore and innovate in museography.

Research shows that immersive and multisensory exhibitions are one path worth exploring to engage visitors with a topic, stimulate their interest and provoke emotional responses.

The curators of Egyptian Mummies have experimented with this immersive approach through the occasional use of ambient sounds and lighting effects. But they have not fully embraced it.

More could have been done to engage the public on a multisensory level and give visitors the impression that they are, indeed, “exploring ancient lives.” Yet, the exhibition is definitely worth a visit––you will learn a lot and there are so many beautiful and informative things to see. The Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives exhibition is open until March 29.



Feature photo: A faux stonewall representing the entrance of a temple, lighting effects and Nile sounds welcome the visitors. Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives. Photo © MMFA, Denis Farley 


Flora takes over the Plateau Mont Royal

RU: MÉTAFLORE draws creative crowds  

Mount Royal is always bustling with people and last weekend was no different. In addition to the weekly tam-tams on Sundays, shops moved onto the streets under gazebos for an end-of-summer sale. By night, musicians, dancers and visual artists claimed their space on the crowded street. 

RU (Réappropriation Urbaine) is a four-day creative hub connecting artists with the public and reclaiming Mont Royal Ave. for pedestrians. Marking the end of summer, RU is followed by the closure of St. Laurent Blvd. for a very similar family-friendly weekend.

Located in the aire commune between Boyer and Mentana streets, several local artists were grouped together for MÉTAFLORE, a multidisciplinary exhibition set among cargo crates, grassy patches and wooden structures, and also the theme of this year’s fair. Clad in turquoise and shaded by giant green and yellow prisms, the artwork below shared a similar biophilic essence.

Genevieve Dagenais’s fuzzy, pink, sea-cucumber-like sculpture was set in the heart of the  space— flanked on either side by two cargo crates featuring the work of several other artists. On one side, Cesar Cruz-Merino’s bright and bristly sculpture complimented Dagenais’ nicely, and, though smaller, invited onlookers to get much closer. The sculpture, titled Euphoria Gloom, is a carnivorous fruit tree with an appetite for fresh flesh, born from their need for nitrogen, which is essential for the growth of the tree and the production of it’s nitrogen-rich Gloom berries.

Hanging on the crate walls surrounding Euphoria Gloom are a couple photographs from Linda Rutenberg’s series, The Garden at Night, depicting  a variety of plants in ominous dark purple and mauve light.

“The project is a foray into the unknown nocturnal world of flora… I become an explorer and witness as photographer,” said the artist, who has a BFA in film and music and an MFA in Photography from Concordia. Rutenberg, who currently works at Dawson College, frequently leads open photography workshops, encouraging others to become explorers as well. 

At the entrance of the site,  a large metallic prism sits on a bed of grass.

“It is a sculpture that was designed to highlight two stages in the evolution of a modernized lily flower… the root, structured and straight which is the base of its development, and its flamboyant heart in full bloom which brings flexibility and life to the work,” explained Or Luminaria. Through this industrial sculpture, her intention was to become aware of the fragile beauty of our environment.

Among all the artwork being created and exhibited, onlookers were given opportunities to participate in collective murals and theatre performances throughout the weekend.

In an opposite crate, several glass bottles of various shapes and sizes containing obscur colourful liquid lined a white table, facing a video touring Montreal with a twist. Digital sculptures interrupted the urban and earthy scenes, transforming biological matter into the robotic.

These bottles were part of a matching game created by Alix Leclerc. The bottles contain olfactory elixirs that correspond to one of six plants and imaginary animals, archived on the walls of the crate. Visitors are invited to sniff, testing their nose’s ability to identify the scents and match them to the artist’s invented animals.

On Friday night several painters took to working on the streets, creating murals with tempera paint, which is easily washable, in line with the floral theme. Freelance illustrators Maylee Keo and Raphaël Dairon had their work screen-printed on RU tote bags by French artist, Léa Mercante, free of charge. While MU facilitated a participatory mural, inviting onlookers to take part of the action, crowds gathered to watch, dance and lounge on large red bean bags with Belle Guelles, completely inhabiting the Avenue.

RU: MÉTAFLORE took place on Mont-Royal Ave. between St. Laurent Blvd. and D’Iberville St. from Aug. 22 to 25. St. Laurent’s rendition of the street fair,  BLVD – Boulevard Piéton, will be taking from from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1 between Sherbrooke St. and Mont-Royal Ave. with numerous games to participate, and free skateboard lessons provided by Empire in celebration of their 20th anniversary.


Photos by Chloë Lalonde.

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