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“Cartoon Acid”: Between obsolescence and progress 

Visual artist Connor Gottfried pays tribute to the technology of his childhood.

Jan. 1 is often synonymous with renewal and new beginnings. In 2024, the first of the year also happened to fall on a Monday, making this staple date even more symbolic – a new week, new month and new year all at once. As this new chapter begins, Canadian visual artist Connor Gottfried is right on theme with his first-ever exhibition, “Cartoon Acid,” which explores obsolescence and rebirth. 

Gottfried’s artwork was showcased at Montreal’s S16 Gallery from Dec. 14 to Jan. 7. It consisted of colourful, punk technological pieces made with aluminum and acrylic, all featuring some sort of game system from many decades ago, such as an old Nintendo screen or the original Pacman video game. Two Care Bears plushies were sat in the middle of the room wearing what resembled a VR headset with a front screen playing the original Care Bear comics in  loop. 

Gottfried is an artist, a musician, and a “technologist” per his own words, based in Calgary, Alberta. He is the CEO of a company which develops e-learning softwares called Leara eLearning and has produced 25 music albums over the last thirty years as well. “I really like to explore the intersection of art and technology,” he said, “I was exposed to technology from a young age.  I’ve always been fascinated by screens and interactions.” Gottfried started integrating screens and video games into his artwork a few years ago, which led to the creation of more psychedelic pieces such as seen in “Cartoon Acid.”

The exhibition was inspired not only by the artist’s childhood but also by the rapid pace at which technology has evolved since he was a kid. “My works are about the technology of my childhood, but also about technology’s childhood. There was a time where technology was more innocent, still developing, where we played together with technology. Now, it is evolving  into artificial intelligence: it has started growing into its own adulthood and maturity,” Gottfried said. His artwork is an homage to those candid moments of joy he has shared during his childhood with what is now obsolete technology.

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Arts

Introducing Lana Denina

An artist who speaks her truth through intimate art-making

Social media does have its advantages; it allows people to discover and connect with the many talented artists that share their work on social platforms.

I came across Montreal-based artist Lana Denina’s Instagram account a few months ago while scrolling on the application’s explore page. The colour palettes she uses and her detailed illustrations of faces caught my eye.

Denina, who is of Beninese and French origin, is currently studying Marketing at Concordia. She remembers copying drawings from her childhood books when she was six. Then, she started painting.

Her style is unique. Denina’s art illustrates modernity and authenticity, exploring human relationships, body movements and morphological diversity.

My paintings are greatly inspired by our era of beauty and technology,” says Denina. “I also incorporate a lot of modern fashion into my art.”

Denina combines digital art and painting, representing people of colour is important for her as she feels they should be more included in contemporary art.

She looks up to different cultures. For instance, she gets inspiration from the art of the Shōwa era, a period of time in Japan that signified the reign of the Shōwa Emperor, Hirohito, from 1926 to 1989. Denina also admires Dan masks, traditional objects created by the Dan people, an ethnic group from Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia. According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the masks are integrated into the hierarchical system that governs political and religious life.

Her paintings are designed differently from each other. Some pieces are darker, whereas some are lighter; it all depends on Denina’s mood. The faces depicted in the artworks were envisioned by the artist, creating new beings. “They all are made-up faces from my imagination. It’s a mix of various faces I saw over the internet or in real life that I thought were unique,” said Denina.


Moi vouloir Toi (2021) is an animated painting depicting a woman with a snake on her head looking at a man. The background changes colour, from green, purple, to a fading red, giving life to the artwork.

L’ocean du regret (2021) is a self-portrait of Denina from the series Wet, a collection of paintings she created where water is always present. In this painting, viewers can observe Denina standing in the water, with a cut over her heart. The piece is about giving one’s heart to someone fighting personal battles and the way it can be harmful for both people. The piece is painted with dark red shades, making the painting seem more intimate since it’s a self-portrait and red is known to signify intimacy and passion. It’s as if Denina was portrayed in her vulnerability.

I want to show my process of evolving throughout adulthood but also tell love stories,” said Denina. “Love is extremely powerful because it transforms people into vulnerable beings. It unveils the true nature of people.”

 

 

Loving myself, suffering with myself (2021) is another astonishing work, illustrating a woman in a red background, sitting on a red couch looking at viewers. This painting is about self-love and the way it can be challenging to accept one’s self. “I mostly love my sad paintings,” added Denina. “ They express powerful feelings.”

Her most recent work, Puedes oírlo (2021), which translates to “you can hear it” in Spanish, is animated work, showing a couple sharing an intimate moment, while the sound of a heartbeat can be heard. This painting seems to be a remembrance of a past relationship, where one still remembers the heartbeat of a partner that they once heard; a sound that never left.

I’m attached to all of my paintings. All of them are unique and capture a particular emotion I was feeling at the time they were created,” said Denina.

She possesses the skills to fabricate her art with different materials. Duo Tone is a set of velvet rugs, each with a different illustration on them. She also designed a woven throw, inspired by the Suri tribe, a community from Ethiopia. A woman meditating can be seen on the throw.

“I want to tell stories about life, the good and the bad sides of life. Every human being on Earth is different and has [their] own story,” said Denina. “I want to represent people as much as I can.” For the moment, Denina is working on a silk scarf she is designing.“The sky really is the limit, I have so many ideas. Lots of new projects are coming up soon but cannot be revealed yet!”

Viewers can keep up with Lana Denina’s work on her website and Instagram.

 

Photos courtesy of Lana Denina.

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Arts

Annual graduate student exhibition Ignition moves online

What can we learn from the first wave of virtual exhibitions?

With online exhibitions and art events on the rise, a new standard for criticism is sure to follow. Simple photo galleries aren’t cutting it: viewers want more engagement, something new and cutting edge that really takes advantage of the internet’s wide range of artistic possibilities. Tim Schneider, art business Editor at ArtNet, listed four key components to creating effective online viewing rooms in a recent article:

1. Distinguishing the viewing room from regular online shops by including links to artist statements, portfolios and more

2. thinking outside of the white cube and allowing for a rotation of artworks that would create new dialogues and opportunities for solo shows

3. controlling the accessibility of the viewing room by offering options to sign up for newsletters, donate money, or purchase an artwork

4. promoting the viewing room on other online platforms, allowing  opportunities for public engagement ex-situ, and opening the floor for conversation on video chattings apps

Concordia’s Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, located in the LB building, has recently made the switch to online programming for their final exhibition of the year, Ignition 16. Ignition is an annual exhibition featuring the work of graduating masters students from Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

The gallery has opted for a weekly turnover, featuring select artworks from the exhibition in line with a specific theme. The week of April 13 focused on the idea of feedback, spotlighting three of the featured artists. Their programming asks viewers, “what experiences and responses arise when feedback falls silent, tightens its constraint, or contradicts the output we’re accustomed to?”

During the exhibition, members of the virtual public were invited to watch Ahreum Lee’s Memory Palace, an autobiographical account of the intersections between politics, technology, the immigrant experience and  family, to consider society’s control of bodies through Diyar Mayil’s sculptural series (dis)bodied, and to view documentation of Janice Ka-Wa Cheung’s YOU ≠ I, an interactive installation exploring digital narcissism and the uncanny within the everyday.

The gallery’s website isn’t very obvious to navigate, and it takes some sporadic clicking around before you can make it off the homepage. Once you find your way to the programming, you are met with three columns of bold text, and it is within the middle of one of these columns that you will finally reach the online exhibition. In and of itself, the online exhibition doesn’t seem any different from the gallery’s usual webpages for in-person exhibitions.

The feature image on the Ignition 16   page has no context either, although I presume it features the artist’s works—but whose, exactly? The page is divided into two wide columns, one containing a breakdown of the week’s themes (upon my visit on April 17, only the description for the week of April 13 was available), and the other containing the curatorial statement and a list of the artists.

It is only in this second column that the works are accessible to viewers. Each artist section contains a description of their practice, a statement for the selected work, questions to spark further exploration, and links to further information (usually the artist’s own website).

While some of the ideas brought up under the “explore” subheading are quite relevant in this time of social and physical distancing, unless you are going to write about the works or plan to ponder the gallery’s questions in the intellectual corner of your home with a lovely beverage, these questions do not really promote active engagement.  I am left wanting more, wanting full screen viewing, not a window with 15 tabs open for me to click through and eventually get overwhelmed and bored by. These artists had their graduating exhibition cancelled, so they deserve full screen gallery representation.

Among the nine artists, the best received works were the video pieces, hyperlinked on the Gallery’s webpage via Vimeo. It’s evident why that is: audio-visual work thrives online. It’s incredibly accessible, and anyone can view it in it’s intended quality when following the right link. Interactive pieces shared through documentation are a close second, especially when viewers are granted insider access to the artist’s process. Although I’m sure the work could have been designed in another way, with the specific purpose to be interacted with online and under the current circumstances, it’s understandable why it isn’t.

These are trying times we’re living through, and we are all learning as we go and doing the best with what we’ve got. This experience has left me wondering what we can learn from the first wave of virtual exhibitions. How can we better them for future renditions? How can we include this kind of digitally-accessible content in everyday museum and gallery programming as the pandemic blows over?

Share your thoughts with us @TheConcordian on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.


PS, we are hiring for the 2020-2021 academic year! For more information visit theconcordian.com/work-with-us/


Feature image courtesy of the Leonard and Bina Art Gallery. Gif includes the works of Ahreum Lee, Memory Palace, 2019-2020, Christopher Johnstone, Five Acres, 2020, Diyar Mayil, Leaky Pants, 2018 and Janice Ka-Wa Cheung, YOU ≠ I, 2019.

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Arts

The role of virtual museums in a time of isolation

Museums and galleries are being forced to adapt amidst uncertainty

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for everyone. There is a lot of uncertainty regarding jobs, school and just about everything right now. With vernissages being cancelled, and museums and other art spaces being closed indefinitely, many questions are being raised within the art world.

However, amidst all this uncertainty lies a new wave of innovation. Many art institutions have made their collections available digitally, for all. From the Louvre to the Sistine Chapel, viewers can visit these otherwise costly landmarks from the comfort of their own home, for free. Some museums, like the Louvre, are providing virtual tours, while others like the MET, are giving access to their collection databases.

But what does this mean for the museum as a physical space to view, experience and enjoy art? Does the accessibility of digital galleries affect the experience of engaging with art? In reality, this is not a new concept. Many institutions already have digital access to their collections, including the MET and the MOMA, and platforms like Artsy and Artnet already serve as online galleries, where patrons can view and purchase art.

Nonetheless, the current circumstances have provided many museums with the opportunity to expand and grow, as they adapt during these difficult times. The Biennale of Sydney recently announced their decision to close their exhibitions and move online, and Art Basel will host virtual booths for all 231 featured galleries.

In an effort to give viewers the freedom to explore their collection, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary has begun Glenbow From Home. The initiative allows access to virtual tours, online collections and educational videos, as a means of providing “inspiration, beauty, and most importantly, a sense of connection to the people and world around us,” according to the museum’s website.

Viewers can familiarize themselves with Canadian art by strolling through The Royal Ontario Museum and The Vancouver Art Gallery via the Google Arts & Culture platform or expand their knowledge of Indigenous art through the Canadian Museum of History’s Online Exhibition of Inuit Prints and virtual access to Alex Janvier’s Morning StarGambeh Then.’ To learn more about the history of the popular Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, The National Ballet of Canada is offering an online photographic exhibition.

Galleries and museums are not the limit. While travelling is currently off-limits, you can explore sites like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal and the Uffizi Gallery from the comfort of your home. Google Arts & Culture even allows individuals to search sites by location, via their interactive map.

As we self-isolate and practice social distancing for the next couple of months, viewers can take this opportunity to visit locations they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, or have time to visit amid their busy schedules. So sit back, get comfortable and use art as a way to de-stress.

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Arts

A (virtual) walk through Art Souterrain in the age of social distancing

Come away and Reset with me

“Someone once said it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” 

This quote, taken from Fredric Jameson’s “Future City,” given the current state of global affairs, might feel more relevant than ever.

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and in just under a week, it ushered in a new era of social distancing. This article, originally conceived before the pandemic, was intended to pique the reader’s curiosity about the exhibit (and unintentionally the COVID-19 curve). So instead, we invite you to venture beneath the downtown core, into the underground city and visit Art Souterrain, a public art exhibition, from the comfort of your own home.

Art Souterrain’s 2020 theme Reset showcases art as a response to “humanity at a turning point.” Up until last week, the COVID-19 pandemic felt more like a distant possibility than a pressing reality.

It is true that many people, pre-COVID-19 crisis, had already seen the world at a tipping point, one that cried out for massive intervention. People were in the process of reorienting their own courses, avoiding the onset of environmental extinction, fighting the privatization of public services, protecting Indigenous lands or even preparing for an inevitable pandemic.

And yet now, all of our active, externalized and productivity-focused lives have abruptly come to a halt. We’re seeing the collapse of already precarious economic and healthcare systems, extensive financial turmoil, extreme physical isolation and a move to bring the real world, more than ever, online.

Social distancing is certainly in our best interest. And while we remain secluded, our pace will slow. We might have the time to rethink, reimagine and reset our social patterns and behaviours.

And although a visit to The Underground City is not condonable under the current circumstances, perhaps this piece will soothe your needs to escape the confines of your home while you embark on a virtual tour, highlighting the contributions of Concordians at Art Souterrain.


On March 7, I googled 10,000 steps. “Should you really take 10,000 steps a day?,” a headline for a click-bait “article” posted on the Fitbit—a popular and elite fitness tracking device—Get Moving blog was the first thing to appear. The content of the article meant little to me so I decided to skip over it. Its content is irrelevant, but what the article represents is what matters.

The commodification of fitness, 10,000 steps, is movement to quantify health habits and include them in daily assessments of productivity. Measured on your smartphone, Fit Bit, or other costly technical devices, 10,000 steps symbolize a bourgeois obsession with the analysis of a daily routine. These very devices are marketed towards the white-collar class as objects that define a productive, wealthy, and superior lifestyle.

RESO or the Underground City is Montreal’s subterranean labyrinth. It’s a highly developed, intricate, permanent network that on a regular day, is a transitory space for the bulk of its regular users; a site where Montreal’s establishment clock in their daily steps en-route to meetings, brief errands and quick lunch breaks.

It’s a conduit between the largest shopping malls, banks and businesses in the city. A site of convenience, and rather pedestrian in nature—both figuratively and literally—a patron of the Underground City may never have to leave the indoors to transfer from one building to the next, making their life simpler, shorter and more efficient.

Walls of the tunnels are plastered with posters of advertisements, interactive marketing strategies, TV advertisements and out-of-date pop music blaring through speakers. Some walls are long stretches of wide spaces with small storefronts selling luggage, computer items, gaming paraphernalia, customizable t-shirt stores or food courts armed with a visual grammar all too ubiquitous and familiar.

In a narrow, grey, hallway between L’OACI and Bonaventure Metro, five human-like forms clad in geometrically painted pylons lay scattered intermittently throughout the space. A few wear them like hats and look like witches. Others carry them like a javelin, resembling medieval knights on horses.

Gab More’s One Cone Army reinvents painting as a medium, using it as a sculptural street sign, occupying physical space. More’s signs stick out like sore thumbs, obstructing a hurried pedestrian’s path, reminding us that our city remains in a constant state of disarray.

From a distance, they look like war photographs you’d see at the World Press Exhibition: piles of rubble-strewn bodies, clouds of fire, mass armed conflict. At a closer glance, one might think it’s piles of debris leftover from the Turcot Interchange.

It is neither. Using digital manipulation, artist Sean Mundy has created Ruin, his own interpretation of a post-apocalyptic world. These austere images are concepts of a dystopian future. But their visual grammar is familiar, and the thought of a cataclysm doesn’t seem so distant either.

By the large fountain in the Centre de Commerce Mondial, a wedding party poses for bridal photos. Throughout the space, tour groups gather to learn about Canada’s parliament pre-confederation. Supposedly, this experience also functions as an escape room.

Surprisingly, none of these are performance pieces, they’re not part of Art Souterrain. These groups are the Saturday crowd.

Skawennati – Calico & Camouflage: Assemblée.

Throughout the centre, plastered on brick pillars and marble walls, are life-sized digital avatars. They carry protest signs with phrases such as “I can’t believe we have to protest this shit” and “Water is life.”

Skawennati, a Mohawk multi-media artist, brings visions of Indigenous futures developed in virtual reality to be as large as life in the form of plastic wall decals. Covered in neon camouflage vests, cargo pants or skirts, they look like computer-generated images used in a rendering of a condominium development or the Sims. But they’re the opposite of that. This is Calico & Camouflage: Assemblée. 

Skawennati still arms the space with viewing stations, a style more evocative of her traditional work. On TVs, you can watch her films Words Before All Else Part I, II and III. Her videos are powerful, but it’s the figures on the wall that are eye-catching. They are what Skawenati says is a form of “visibility in spaces of assimilation.”

Arkadi Lavoie Lachapelle – La Chorale

In a quiet corner of Palais des Congrès, Montreal’s largest convention centre, lies a beige mission-style bench. It looks like a giant extended rocking chair situated beneath a reflective ceiling.

Arkadi Lavoie Lachapelle has created La Chorale, resistance against “productivity centred” lives. Its form is simple, its message is subtly disarming: sit down, relax, disconnect from your daily routine and rethink.

Warm pastel portraits decorate the walls of a tunnel leading towards pension fund investment offices in Edifice Jacques-Parizeau. JJ Levine’s Family is quietly on display. 

The shots are soft meditations into intimate private lives. A parent and baby are asleep, covered by magenta sheets, lying in a bed beside a bright orange wall. A soft pink backdrop, grey couches and a young couple in jungle-print t-shirts hold hands. A toddler sits in a baby-blue jumper on turquoise stairs, their piercing gaze pointed directly towards the viewer. A parent breastfeeds their baby in a floral-print gown seated on top of a chestnut coloured storage trunk.

Family is a series of portraits of queer family life, made visible in a space that represents traditional values. Levine boldly subverts images of the nuclear family and claims them as their own symbols of family life.

JJ Levine – Family

In front of a Van Houtte Café in Palais Des Congrès are a series of perfectly arranged white cubes protruding diagonally into the air. At the top of the cubes lie charcoal coloured, miniature mountains. This topographical sculpture is Elyse Brodeur Magna’s Un Tout Parallèle. 

Applying thought from Greek philosophers, Lucretius and Epictetus, Un Tout Parallèle suggests that when atoms deviate from their parallel path, they create new physical bonds; in turn, new forms. Although uniform in their style, these sculptures are products of fresh physical creations, and invitations to climb the mountain in search of a restored purpose and a new physical form.

Tough times are certainly ahead, but how do we transcend them? Perhaps Un Tout Parallèle leaves a hint. 

Maxime Loiseau – Bac à Sable

“Eat, Sleep, Game, Repeat. Eat, Sleep, Game, Repeat. Eat, Sleep, Game, Repeat.” This routine, or rather, this mantra is the modus operandi for the stereotyped gamer. Using performance and installation, artist Maxime Loiseau propels the imagined reality of the disconnected gamer into the real world.

Occupying a storefront opposite a food court buried beneath Place Victoria, Loiseau has created a life-sized diorama. It resembles a gamer’s basement, covered in gaming paraphernalia, junk food, used pizza boxes, with clothes strewn across the floor. This is Bac à Sable, giving the public a voyeuristic view into virtual life.

It’s a reference to geek culture and comment on overconsumption. But as we retreat into cloistered lives for the foreseeable future, gaming might be the antidote to reimagine the reality we’re facing.

This is where I end my 10,000 steps, in a food court in downtown Montreal, decorated like a 1990s shopping mall. Its shabby decor is a fitting backdrop for Reset and its exploration of urban obstruction, public display of private life, productivity culture, questions of alternate futures and transcendentalism.

This reset is an artistic form. We’re in a state of reset, but don’t know what it looks like yet. Our lives are slowing. As we retreat inside for society’s betterment, there are barriers that inhibit one from collecting their 10,000 steps, but the pressure to do so might also be dwindling. If anything, when we make our way out of it, hopefully, we can take these messages to heart and reset our daily lives.


 

 

 

Photos by Anthony James Armstrong.

Video by Lola Cardona.

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