Arts Concordia Student Union Exhibit

Shams: Uplifting the voices of Arab artists

The vernissage of FASA’s new exhibition took place last Saturday, March 11, at the Eastern Bloc in Ahuntsic-Cartierville, displaying works in varying mediums from 10 different artists

Shams, the Arabic word for “sun,” seems like the perfect word to describe this exhibition, because it shines the light on the unheard voices of proudly Arabic artists. 

Nesreen Galal is the curator of FASA’s new exhibition. She is FASA’s outreach coordinator and a fourth-year Concordia student double majoring in studio and computation arts.

Galal conceived the idea for Shams after having co-organized many shows for artists of different ethnicities through the CSU. She found that there wasn’t enough representation for Arab people.

“I thought it would be cool to have an opportunity to have fine arts and non fine arts students who identify as Arab to have a space, and focus on marginalized voices as well such as women, queer [people], immigrants, disabled people, and refugees,” she said.

Galal drew initial inspiration from American-Palestinian author Edward Said’s book Orientalism, which explores the west’s depiction of eastern culture. 

“Arabs are perceived in a western-dominant perspective, especially in Canada where its perception is affected by America’s dominant perspective. We’re defined as barbaric or as terrorists or even stereotyped as people in fantasy lands like in Aladdin,” said Galal. 

For this reason, it was necessary to provide Shams as a safe space for the attributed artists. 

Co-creator of furniture workshop Atelier Bon Train Rafaël Khoury displayed an installation in the exhibition, called A lesson between two sculptures. It’s composed of three pedestals: the middle one holds a couple of notebooks containing Arabic and English scribbles, while the other two pedestals each hold a strange sculpture resembling uneven bookshelves composed of shattered marble and walnut wood.

“They are explorations in self-compassion, one of the primary themes of the installation are the exploring of self, reorienting of self, and being allowed to do so,” said Khoury. “The sculptures are a divergence of traditional furniture, and the script is also me trying to get in touch with part of my story, as a child of immigrants, but in my own way.” 

Similar to Khoury, communications alumnus and musician Amira Faradj grew up out of touch with Arab culture despite being raised by Algerian parents. “Because it was always in my household, I felt disdain towards it for some reason. Maybe it was because I wanted to fit in with my peers who were not from that area,” said the musician. “It’s only recently that I’ve come around to explore my identity in a way that feels like mine. I’ve never felt a connection to my country of origin until I realised that I can make that thing my own.” 

Faradj, who DJs as a hobby, presented egypt91 at the expo, which is a 35-minute mix of drum and bass/house music blended with sounds of what the west perceives Arabic music to be. This was accompanied by old footage of Faradj’s father’s trip to Egypt in 1991, collaged with other flamboyant visuals.

Ranime El Morry, a third-year studio arts major, presented the second portrait in their series called Just A Lookalike. The acrylic on canvas is of a mask made of some sort of malleable paper. It represents the unconscious social strategy of autistic masking. 

According to El Morry, who has been diagnosed with medium support needs on the spectrum, autistic masking is a unique process through which people with autism assume a different personality to each person they interact with. 

“It’s very hard to mix different groups of people in the same room, because we’re very different, and a lot of people diagnosed with autism don’t notice that they are masking,” explained El Morry, referring to their artwork. “You wear this paper and it moulds [metaphorically], and it can easily change but it can easily unmold, but it feels heavy.”

Dona Maria Mouaness, who immigrated from Lebanon a year ago in pursuit of studio arts studies at Concordia, created a terracotta bust of an unknown woman with tribal Bedouin face tattoos. “It started out as a self portrait. I wanted it to be more than that, I wanted it to represent women who identify with it or feel any kind of connection to her. She represents the resistant Arab womanhood.” 

The sense of unity is strong in this exhibition. Every artist has a different story and relation with their culture, yet they take strong pride in their identity, regardless of how prevalent it is in their lives.


Eastern Bloc’s strong comeback showcases interactive technologies

Technology fuses with physical interactions in Eastern Bloc’s most recent exhibition titled Techno//Mysticism. The show features four works from emerging artists who explore new possibilities for technology in their artistic practices. It is the first event to take place in the art gallery’s new space. 

“Ultimately, technology may never provide the transcendence we seek, instead operating as a pixelated reflection of our enduring quest for meaning, both inside and outside of the digital realm,” reads the opening statement of the exhibition. This excerpt sets the tone for a show that leaves visitors with unanswered questions and reflections on their relationship with the digital world. 

Located on Louvain St. in the industrial area of the District Central, the Eastern Bloc gallery is not exactly the type of business that one would expect to come across in the neighbourhood. With windows offering a view of the surrounding concrete buildings and parking spaces, the art hub feels like a little world of its own. 

Catherine Averback, production coordinator for Eastern Bloc, described the pieces of the show as “very physical, both in terms of their actual scale, and in the way that the audience is asked to interact with them.” Xuan Ye’s work ERROAR!#1, placed beside the entrance, particularly speaks to this statement. The piece is a large-scale representation of an artificial intelligence brain that has been printed on a two metre square vinyl sheet. 

The artist was inspired by the defeat of one of the most talented players of the board game Go, Lee Sedol, against an AI adversary called AlphaGo in 2016. The piece presents the immensity and complexity of AlphaGo’s brain. Ye invites visitors to get close to the work and even walk on it. A QR code grants access to an augmented reality website. Visitors are then able to experience the work and see words appear on top of it through the platform. 

By this point, visitors might have noticed constant rumbling sounds playing in the gallery. They get louder and louder when approaching the work titled O )))) Ghost Echoes ; Where Pathways Meet. The high tower-like creation features small windows to look into. To see what is presented, one must step on the sand surrounding the piece. The closer visitors get to the installation, the more the volume increases. 

Marilou Lyonnais A. created this sound installation with Etienne Montenegro. O )))) Ghost Echoes ; Where Pathways Meet is equipped with a system that detects human presence and distributes sound accordingly. The videos featured in the art creation present internet archives gathered by the artists. As explained in the presentation of the work, the piece considers the relationship individuals have to technology since it “evokes the echoes of virtual solitude and media feedback,” reads the text accompanying the art piece in the gallery.

For Averback, another aspect of the show is that “all of the works in there physicalize technology in a way that the visitor […] becomes very aware of the container and not just the content.” This reflection especially relates to Baron Lanteigne’s work, Nature Morte 7, which first shows the insides of an electronic system to the audience. 

Lanteigne assembled seven screens in a visually striking sculpture. The main piece hangs from the ceiling. Viewers first see its electronic inner workings highlighted by fluorescent lights. It features colourful digital videos at the front of the exhibit, and on the floor six illuminated screens are placed on top of a pile of cables. An abundance of bright green plastic leaves complements the work. Their presence enhances the piece title’s play on words, being Nature Morte 7, as digital representations of nature are contrasted with fake physical plants.

The Scryer, an intriguing art creation by Nicolas Lapointe, also requires visitors to get closer to experience it fully. A long and thin white marble piece catches the eye. On it are minuscule inscriptions. A microscope slowly scans the line of the text which is transmitted on a screen beside the work for viewers to read. Lapointe’s creation presents excerpts of advertisements on Kijiji that were engraved with a laser on the marble. The art piece presents an interesting duality between the meticulous work of the creator and the absurdity of the words featured in the work.

Lapointe’s work, The Scryer, features a marble piece engraved with kijiji advertisement retranscritions. VERONIQUE MORIN/The Concordian

In Techno//Mysticism, Eastern Bloc has brought together a small group of artists who all question the place given to the digital aspects of our society. As explained by Averback, the show reflects on “the ways that technology and our lives are sometimes confusingly interlinked.”

This exhibition also speaks to Eastern Bloc’s larger mission, which is aimed at supporting emerging artists and their experiments with science and technology. The art hub’s new spaces provide creators with more possibilities for workshop spaces and artistic residencies.

With this new show, the gallery offers a unique experience by balancing discoveries, curiosity, and absurdity.

Techno//Mysticism is presented until Feb. 26 at 53 Louvain St. W.


Visuals courtesy Véronique Morin


Nuit Blanche: Thoughts en lumiere, a rush into a green utopia

We didn’t do Nuit Blanche together, but we might as well have. Two arts writers vs Nuit Blanche. The apathy is real. We were slightly amused. And we’re still thinking too much about the colour green (and outer space?

Chloë Lalonde, Arts Editor, etc., The Concordian 

Nuit Blanche only really came onto my radar when I was in CEGEP, I guess some would consider that a late discovery. My best friend and I visited the Musee d’Art Contemporain (MAC) for one of their fantastic nocturnes. We had special drinks, I don’t remember much of the exhibition (it might have been David Altmejd) and exited the museum directly on Ste-Catherine Street. Little did we know of the wonderland that waited for us outside. Ah, a time when you didn’t have to book your slide/ferris wheel/zipline experience in advance… It was the best surprise.

Since then, Nuit Blanche has been lackluster, ridden with food anxiety, too much beer, long lines and the wrong activities (yeah, I’m talking about “wand-making” at Lockhart).

This year I decided I would spend my Saturday evening after a long day of teaching and laying out the arts and opinions sections of the paper, visiting as many galleries as I could manage with my sister. We met up quite early at the Belgo building (372 Ste-Catherine St. W.), before things were popping, and managed to pass by every gallery that was open, before stopping by the very crowded MAC, UQAM’s art gallery, a surprise performance we weren’t expecting and finishing off with Le Livart.

The Belgo is unassuming, if you didn’t already know it was home to 27 galleries, several artist studios, savvy startups and dance studios, it would be hard for you to find out. The exterior isn’t necessarily inviting, neither is the lobby and the adjacent cafe (I found a hair in my crepe and they gave me a free latte.)

It was my sister’s first time there and she had no expectations, but I didn’t want to disappoint. I did force her to cancel her unmade plans with her friends to hang out with me, after all. We rode the elevator up to the fifth floor (which is truly the sixth), and wove our way in and out of galleries uninterested until I started to notice a grand theme. Every gallery featured some kind of moon print. Drawings or lithographs, etchings, paintings––like craters on the moon––everything felt geographical, alluding to the earth and the landscape.

AMER, an artist from Montreal, paints with rust in their exhibition at Galerie Luz, using hydrogen, oxygen and carbon—what AMER considers among the essential elements for the appearance of life. Their work returns to the origin of the medium, with natural hues and industrial materials to reference ancient cave paintings and transmit modern messages over time.

Past a wall separating Galerie Luz in two, lived fibre works that felt entirely alien to AMER’s practice. White and fluffy, interrupted by copper threads and plastics, Mariela Borello’s tapestries connect to the body.

Later, at UQAM’s art gallery, the moon prints returned. Only this time they were in the forms of massive paper tapestries and sculptures disappearing into the floor. These rooms of earth and stone, on until March 21, compiled the incredibly similar practices of Michel Boulanger and Katja Davar.

Boulanger’s Girations, Rouler 1 was absolutely mesmerizing. A jeep-esque vehicle sinks and resurfaces, only to sink again, creating new landscapes with each dip. Davar’s drawings resonate on the same frequency. Each piece is like witnessing the plans for a new earth, land and soil.

The theme this year was “vert,” and events and exhibitions generally referenced the colour, sustainability and the environment throughout. Green is symbolic for many things, most notably, growth, whether natural/environmental, economic or personal, it’s said to be healing and inspire creativity.

Some works were all too literal; Le Livart had an exhibition up the whole month of February based solely on the colour green, and others were just flat out unrelated and overpopulated (collection exhibitions at the MAC).

Oh, and I can’t forget the performance we walked into on our way home, which was, arguably, my sister’s favourite part. Mourning of the Living Past, performed by Inflatable Deities, Canadian artists Jessica Mensch and Emily Pelstring, shook their futuristic “organic sparkly energy” all over UQAM’s Judith-Jasmin pavilion. It truly infected my 18-year-old sister. She danced along with them (behind the crowd) as I filmed her. She also changed her Instagram bio to “organic sparkly energy,” which I’m pretty sure is what the glittery duo chanted into their electronic amplifiers.

Sophia Arnold, Contributor for The Concordian and CUJAH Editor-in-Chief 

For the past five years, since I moved to Montreal, Nuit Blanche has been something to look forward to in the depths of your depressive episodes at the height of winter, mostly because the metro is open all night and the thought of riding public transit at 4 a.m. is overwhelming for a green-minded, uber-despising person. It gives a cosmopolitan New York vibe that Montreal aspires to everyday but can only afford to cave into twice a year (the other night being New Years Eve).

Nuit Blanche attracts all kinds of people: those who have kids and want to take them on the mini Ferris wheel at Place des Arts before retiring after “doing Nuit Blanche,” tourists who are just happy to be wherever they end up (admittedly, me the first two years…), and Montrealers who know where to be and will not give you the time of day if “you’re not from Montreal.”

My night started at Le Livart. I had been there a few times before but never on Nuit Blanche, although my partner had and was enamoured with the basement dance floor. The layout of the place reflects its roots as an old residential home, and still allows for artists-in-residence to use the upstairs rooms as studios. For Nuit Blanche, they had many artists exhibiting their works on the ground floor, and opened the upstairs, inviting you to speak with the gallery’s resident artists.

The exhibition went through all the various interpretations of this year’s theme, green, in all its facets. Livart expanded on the ideas presented in Vert, Histoire d’une couleur by Michel Pastoureau, who highlights green as a central colour in the role of art history. As you enter, Renaud Séguin’s green, ‘cabinet of curiosity’ style room welcomes you into a literal green space. Filled with found objects, from candy wrappers to paint colour samples, and some iconic references, like a picture of The Green Lady (@greenladyofbrooklyn), it’s like entering a commodity forest; our new image of green.

Other rooms in the gallery welcomed the interpretation of ‘green’ to be detourned headlights,  bricolage wreaths placed on the ground and large-scale photography. Due to the variety of mediums included, when you left Le Livart you were very aware what role the colour and ideology of green plays in contemporary art.

Next stop was Palais des Congrès, where we saw some of the works featured in this year’s Art Souterrain underground exhibitions, running until March 22. The piece we spent the most time with was the automated metro doors in sequence that opened as you walked through the hallway of them. It was an unexpected yet retrospectively predictable surprise seeing as the delapidated metro cars are the subject of many interactive installations throughout the city, highlighting the history and development of an iconic feature of Montreal daily life.

Next on the agenda; Phi Centre. I don’t really know where to begin with this one. As a self identifying ‘antenna,’ Phi Centre hosts a variety of events showcasing the latest tech developments, and this night was no exception. The show, Simulation/Acceleration, was built on the premise of human connectivity, digital capitalism and environmental degradation, exploring the topic with Virtual Reality (VR), augmented reality and a green screen interactive performance. DJ sets also took place throughout the night with visuals.

Life on the green screen was the highlight of the show. Mesmerized by the piercing gaze and dynamic movement of the performers in an array of outfits and positions, it was an ominous presence that rarely broke—apart from when viewers were invited to enter the green screen setup and the rare drunk guy did a peace sign. The screen showing the results of the green screen performance embodied the premise of the show, deconstructing the commonplace ideas of humans as apart from the environment and autonomous players in a hyperconnected world.

After a necessary food detour, we headed to Places des Arts, which was a short stop. Eying it through the crowds of people, we decided to skip it this year as it has an overdone, commercial vibe that we weren’t looking for (signified by the giant maple syrup cans).

Final stop: Eastern Bloc. The event aimed to create an urban oasis and safe space for freedom of expression and being, which it did through Allison Moore’s installation, The Enchanted Woods and various DJ sets with a dance floor in the usual exhibition space. Running until 4 a.m., it felt like a liberation from winter and greyness, taking you out of time and space to a utopic non-place—even though they ran out of drinks and you had to wait 30 minutes for the bathroom, which kind of brought you back down to earth.

All in all, it was an extensive, involved and jovial evening. But, we wish this programming was accessible at a substantial level throughout the year. In one evening, you go to four events before your corporeal limit is reached and you miss events that cannot be experienced again. In an ideal green utopia devoid of money, the metro would run 24 hours a day and every night would be an opportunity to engage with your local and international communities in such a monumental way, like the way you can on Nuit Blanche.





Graphic by @sundaeghost

Photos by Chloë Lalonde and Sophia Arnold.


Testing the controversiality of sexuality through human interaction with technology

Concordia graduate, Katherina Illenseer creates art to feel at ease with sexuality

Pleasure Receptors, an interactive installation that opened at Eastern Bloc Thursday evening, contains four stations, each representing a female or male body, covered in sensors and connected through wires to the body. For the body to reach orgasm, each station has to be touched by a person. The sculpted body produces sounds and light when it is turned on, allowing the audience to become part of the performance as they interact with the work.

Featuring Anna Eyler and Concordia graduates Renée Lamothe and Katharina Illenseer, Female Futures explores people’s relationships with the body and sexuality.

Illenseer is a contemporary new media artist, and her practice involves computation, programming, video and sound. Her interactive installation, Pleasure Receptors explores femininity and intimacy between the human body and technology. Pleasure Receptors shows the way the body can reach an orgasm, while reacting to different forms of interaction.

“I took computation arts at Concordia, exploring different technologies and media,” said Illenseer. “I was interested to work with sound, sculpture, electronics and programming so the project really incorporates all of that, and it was about material practices as well.”

Pleasure Receptors by Katharina Illenseer questions the public’s level of comfort with sexuality, inviting them to grope and touch sculptures made of silicone acrylic and wood. Photo by Hannah Ewen.

The main purpose behind Illenseer’s work is to push people out of their comfort zone; to see friends interact with the body parts and even strangers use technology to give the sculpted body an orgasm. The piece is also a way for the audience to feel at ease with their sexuality and tries to normalize sex by making it less controversial.

I was thinking about how our own sexual needs and desires are so connected to technology and rely on that. So I wanted to subvert that idea and make a machine that was going to rely on human interaction in order for it to reach a climax,” said Illenseer.

Most of Illenseer’s body of work deals with sex and gender. As a shy person, she is often uncomfortable presenting the subject, but the exhibition helped her get out of her comfort zone.

“A lot of the time, people are timid to touch things and interact with them, but the more you see other people doing it, the more it gives the person security to feel comfortable about touching and interacting with the body,” said Illenseer. “I think it’s interesting to see one person awkwardly going and touching the sculpture. The interaction is very sexual, but also funny.”

Illenseer’s consent sheet. Photographed by Hannah Ewen.

Illenseer also created a consent sheet, which outlines the way the sculpted body liked to be touched. Interested in how technology, such as the internet may depend on human interaction, the artist wanted to create a project that visitors would be allowed to touch.

Illenseer is working on another project, in which she will recycle the material from the exhibition and create another artwork that will incorporate more video and sound.

“I’m really new to the scene and I’m really stepping out there,” Illenseer said. “It’s exciting to create work that’s under my own deadlines and completely free to explore instead of having set projects.”

Until March 2, Female Futures will be open at Eastern Bloc (7240 Clark St.) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

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