Momenta Biennale takes over Montreal with a critical artistic lens

There’s life in everything

Previously named Mois de la Photo, the Momenta Biennale is an extensive series of themed exhibitions in galleries all over Montreal occurring every other year at the same time as the World Press Photo exhibition. This is done intentionally, to emphasize the power of different images. The theme of this year’s biennale, titled The Life of Things, is materiality, material culture, consumerism, and environmentalism. The theme is interpreted differently by 39 local and international artists, with some focusing on living things, others on objects, oral histories, and movement.

The exhibition at Galerie de l’UQAM, where their biennale launched, is divided into two segments, “Cultural Objects and Material Culture” and “Thingified Beings or Humanized objects.” International artists explore identity and the body, and the legacy left behind by objects in various light-based and time-based mediums. Kader Attia, an artist based in Algeria and France, put forward a striking silent projection that explores the “restoration” of people (specifically severely wounded World War I soldiers) and mended artifacts from museum archives. The restoration methods between two very different subjects are surprisingly similar, sharing basic cross stitch methods, and once healed, leave noticeable patterns in the visible scar tissue. Across the gallery, Victoria Sin (Toronto/London) showcases a four-part series exploring the art of drag and its role in defining “femme” culture.

Every Room is a Waiting Room Part 1, Bridget Moser.

Stepping off from “Cultural Objects and Material Culture” and “Thingified Beings or Humanized objects,” the exhibition at VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine presents “The Absurd as Counter-Narrative of the Object” and “Still Life in an Age of Environmental Crisis.” Among the nine artists at VOX are Concordia alumni Juan Oritz-Apuy, Bridget Moser, and Elisabeth Belliveau.  

Centred around the idea of the still life, Belliveau’s work addresses consumer society, inviting us to look closely at things and choices. Belliveau Works with installation, found objects (both authentic and replicated), video, and stop motion animation, to depict a feminist means of art making.

By analyzing still lives created by women in the 16th century, this painterly subject, separate from that of the body, invited these women to focus on something domestic and hide their own self-portraits in reflections of the objects on the table. Belliveau, drawing from this, is interested in how things came to the table, making connections to the aestheticization of food in the digital world with the rise of “foodie” accounts on Instagram.

Still Life with Fallen Fruit (after A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector), Elisabeth Belliveau

Her work at Vox, Still life with Fallen Fruit depicts objects collected upon months spent in Japan. Parallel to traditional bronze casting, Belliveau chose to scan fruit, namely apricots and figs, which had fallen from trees in the Japanese countryside, and 3D print them, thus navigating the ultimate decay of her subject. The other objects in her installation are rich with personal memories, and while they may be mundane, she wishes to emphasize the symbolic meaning behind the objects and not their material value.

Her work permits viewers to slow down, analyzing the material hierarchy of things, questioning economical consequences and validating the breath of life that animates objects in question, real or replicated.

Working in tandem,  Oritz-Apuy’s installation poses a striking take on ideas previously set by Belliveau, contextualized by the absurd and the still life in the Anthropocene. His video collage presents select, existing Youtube unboxing videos, overlapping the language and care used to unwrap various products from their packaging. Oritz-Apuy is fascinated by relationships with commodities and the way in which they may replace relationships with people. His work is self-conscious, critically analyzing the absurdity of this unboxing phenomenon and nonetheless, being completely taken by the beauty of objects. Oritz-Apuy’s installation practice is characterized by a bold, intentional use of colour, painted in stripes on the walls, transforming the initial white cube setting. On a wall opposite of the video collage rest his fetishized objects; monuments stripped from their packaging labels to highlight their form, colour, and contour.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Juan Ortiz-Apuy.

This year’s Momenta Biennale continues to toy with these ideas of things, stuff and what they reveal about our society and consumer culture. MAKING A RELIGION OUT OF ONE’S LONELINESS, by Canada’s Hannah Doerksen at Centre CLARK continues to use objects, this time embedded with the artist’s personal encounters, are used to create a space of “mystical contemplation.” The idea of the altar, a recurring theme within the Biennale, returns in another form with Celia Perrin Sidarous’s work at the McCord Museum titled The Archivist, which traces museological practices tied to archiving images and objects, resulting in inkjet print montages, a different kind of narrative-embedded still life.

For more information regarding Momenta’s many incredible exhibitions, workshops, talks and other activities read more here. Entrance to these various venues is free until mid-October, and there will be a french guided tour of the Biennale’s exhibitions at the Galeries de Gaspe on Sept. 14 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.


Photos by Cecilia Piga.


It’s bigger than hip hop

United States of Africa (2012). Photo by Yanick Létourneau

“Yes we can . . . ” and “I have a dream . . . ” These famous words echo through the opening scenes of Yanick Létourneau’s film United States of Africa (2012). The Concordia University graduate’s latest documentary explores the stagnant and corrupt socio-political climate of Africa and the dissatisfaction felt by many of its inhabitants. The film follows hip hop artist Didier Awadi, who has set out on a mission to educate African youth, both at home and abroad, of the growing problems facing their continent. Along the way he recruits a talented host of politically-active and socially-conscientious musicians to help spread his message.

Awadi travels around Africa, Paris and New York, recording songs for his upcoming album Presidents d’Afrique. He features artists such as Smockey (Burkina Faso) and the young Zuluboy. For Awadi, hip-hop is merely the medium, education is the message. He intends to offer a constructive critique of his society and its crooked politics, while above all making “conscious music.”

The lands of Africa are rich in natural resources such as oil, diamonds, gold and minerals, thus they continually attract foreign interests. Former colonial powers circle like sharks, and many former nationalist leaders who have upset the status quo are simply eliminated. Assassinations include those of revolutionary leaders Patrice Lumumba; the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, and Thomas Sankara; the young, charismatic Prime Minister of Burkina Faso. Both called for a unified Africa free from outside influence. Their coup d’états were allegedly orchestrated by the powers that be, namely France, Belgium and the United States. When Awadi travels to New York City to record a song with M-1, from the influential hip-hop group Dead Prez, it seems almost too fitting.

According to the film, such assassinations have allowed the wrong men to rule, leading to devastating effects on the economy, the unequal balance of power and the low standards of living in most parts of Africa. Smockey argues that “this poverty is maintained because it serves the interest of some and it provides access to a certain form of power.”

From the onset of the film, it’s quite apparent that Létourneau is a highly creative and stylish visual storyteller. With Awadi as his steady narrator, the director frames some wonderful shots of the joys, anguish and everything else in between residing in restless Africa. He also incorporates concert footage along with black and white historical speeches to add flavour to the film.

United States of Africa screens Monday Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. in Room H-110, 1455 de Maisonneuve W. Director Yanick Létourneau will be in attendance. This screening is co-presented in collaboration with Black History Month and with the support of the Concordia University Alumni Association. For more information, visit


“Forgiveness is a long hard road.”

“‘All you hear here are tales of lust, hate and despair,’ she continued. Every word she spoke was said slowly, weighted by her heart and soul. ‘You know what they say? Shit flows downhill and well, there’s the hill up there.’ She pointed at the antenna at the top of Mount Royal.”

Ian Truman, a graduate of Concordia’s creative writing program, released his second novel, Tales of Lust, Hate and Despair, this past summer, about a man from Montreal named Samuel Lee who is serving a life sentence in prison.

The story is a long letter to his 18-year-old daughter, Melody, detailing how he became a murderer back in 1996.

Samuel relates how he first went to prison for two years for beating up a police officer who was attacking a friend of his. His stint in prison means leaving his pregnant girlfriend Alice behind, who — having no money — finds an infamous coke dealer to support her and her daughter.

Samuel learns all of this after leaving prison, and decides that he must do everything in his power to be with his daughter. With the help of his only loyal friend, Mikey, he comes up with a plan to get his daughter and girlfriend back.

This violent story shows us a side of Montreal few have seen before; one that is filled with poverty, drugs, and street gangs. The descriptive tale paints a new picture in our minds of places we thought we knew, places like Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and St-Michel, and even the downtown Concordia University campus.

This story of friendship, love and, most of all, revenge proves captivating.

The book is written in the first person point of view, and reminiscent of the style of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye with more swearing and much, much more blood. It takes a few pages to get used to the style, but once you do, it becomes almost impossible to stop reading. Samuel’s voice is raw, angry and emotional. It feels like he’s speaking directly to the reader rather than his daughter, using flashbacks to explain how he got to be where he is today. He also sometimes imagines what life would be like if he had a house, a wife and children; a life far away from his current life of crime.

The story did have a few typos and grammar issues, as well as some awkward sentence structure at times. A quick edit would definitely make this novel a much smoother read.

Overall, this action-packed and heartbreaking novel was a page-turner. Although we know that Samuel will become a murderer from the start, the story keeps us on our toes the entire time wondering who he will kill, how he will do it, and why. This story is definitely unique and while not for the faint of heart, this noir-style tale definitely deserves a read.

Tales of Lust, Hate and Despair is available on Amazon for $2.99 in electronic format.

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