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.


Still life is anything but lifeless

Elisabeth Belliveau discusses inspiration for her exhibition, Ballroom

Elisabeth Belliveau, an award-winning Concordia alumna, still life animation artist, sculptor and art professor, opened the doors to her new exhibition, Ballroom, on Feb. 2.

The exhibition will be open for a month, and will feature a two-channel, seven-minute animation loop along with related sculptures.

The works in this exhibition were created during a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in 2016. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

“Fragile, vibrant and transformative,” are three words Belliveau used to describe the works in Ballroom.

The exhibition reflects on historically female art practices, such as genre painting, which portrays scenes from ordinary life. In the past, women were not permitted to paint religious portraits or court paintings, which limited them to painting still life.

“I look at the work of artists who were creating floral arrangements, still lifes or food that were coded and symbolic,” Belliveau said. “They could bury narratives, meanings and stories within these still life paintings that seemed really innocuous but were really complex. I think that’s really exciting to think about; women painting and finding their way into that world within those limitations.”

Belliveau has participated in an array of residencies across Canada and internationally. She began the works included in Ballroom during a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in 2016. The theme of the residency was still life, which focuses on the arrangement of inanimate objects. Throughout the residency, Belliveau had the opportunity to work with bronze and aluminum casting.

Envisioning and crafting the transformation of materials was one of the artist’s favourite processes while creating the exhibition. These transformations are often done using delicate and temporary objects, such as food and flowers, that are casted into more permanent objects using metal. “It’s still fragile, but I really love that transformation, which is why I think I love animation too,” Belliveau said. “There’s something still, and then it transforms into something with emotion. I like that moment, that flip.”

Inspiration for Ballroom came from a selection of novels written by Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, including The Stream of Life and The Hour of the Star. These novels, as well as paintings by Giorgio Morandi, an Italian still life painter, sparked Belliveau’s ideas about time, transformation and still life. These ideas became intrinsic to Belliveau’s own work.

“Thinking a lot about Giorgio Morandi’s practice, reading Clarice Lispector and really reflecting on the history of still life inspired me,” the artist explained. “I’m an animator, so I think about what it means to bring still objects into life, into movement and into emotion.”

Belliveau elaborated on her work in another residency in Japan last summer, where she focused on Japanese traditions of still life and the genre of vanitas art, and was inspired by the rules of Ikebana—the Japanese art of flower arrangement. “In terms of still life, there’s this kind of European tradition. I tried to mix it up with some of the things I was really interested with in Japan,” she said.

Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

For Belliveau, still life is about domestic life and the objects surrounding us. “Paying close attention to what things are and where they come from link to ideas about labour, production, who makes things, how they get to our table and all the political movement around that,” Belliveau said.

Taking part in residencies is a crucial aspect of Belliveau’s creative process. As a full-time assistant professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alta., Belliveau is constantly busy throughout the academic year. “Residencies are the best way for me to have a total break from thinking about school and my students,” she said. “Usually, during the year, I’m stirring up ideas and I can’t wait to get back to the studio, so residencies have been incredibly important to me.”

Belliveau is currently preparing for her upcoming month-long residency in Fukuoka, Japan, this May where she will work with a 3D printer.

“I love to travel to see work, and I think that’s sort of what I do; I collect things, I read things and I try to see as much art as I can,” the artist said.

Ballroom is on display at La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse (4296 St-Laurent Blvd.) until Mar. 2. The gallery is open from Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Entry is free.

Feature photo by Mackenzie Lad

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