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Arts Arts and Culture Exhibit

You are here: Tania Lara’s “Autogéographies”

Lara’s solo exhibition is open at La Centrale galerie Powerhouse.

Inside everyone’s head is a map. It tells us how to get from home to work to school and back again. Maybe it requires some nudging from Google Maps sometimes, but ultimately it guides us through our corner of the world, and it is always changing. 

“Autogéographies” by Tania Lara, exhibited this fall at La Centrale galerie Powerhouse, graciously offers its viewers a look inside the artist’s personal map. Lara questions the assumed authority of the map by carefully embroidering tapestries with parts of her own mind’s map. Her work combines textiles and personal narrative while simultaneously stitching together disparate parts of visual art, geography and philosophy. 

 A feminist, artist-run space dedicated to the dissemination of multidisciplinary artistic practices, La Centrale is the ideal locale for Lara’s project. Founded in 1973, the gallery is one of the first artist-run spaces in Canada and has a long history of putting artists first and encouraging experimentation. Their archives are housed at Concordia University and are accessible online and in person at the Vanier library on Loyola’s campus.

“Autogéographies” combines textile, installation, and video work resulting from a research-creation project undertaken in part during the artist’s time pursuing a master’s degree in visual and media arts at UQAM. 

Throughout the exhibition, Lara focuses on the idea of porous borders, bringing into question the authority bestowed upon borders and exploring the liminal space between them. The gallery has a soft, gauzy feeling created by the semi-opaque material of the flowing tapestries that take up most of the space. Displayed with videos of hand-drawn topographic lines projecting on top of them, the works are in constant flux, resisting the static display of classical maps. 

View of the gallery, Tania Lara’s Autogéographies. Courtesy of La Centrale galerie Powerhouse. Photo by Lucie Rocher.

These pieces move with the breeze of people passing by and change according to the projections. Motifs of home take the form of place-settings with knives and forks, windows, checkered kitchen floors and flowers which are peppered through the tapestries, giving the exhibition a playful feel.

The exhibition as a whole is set up on a diagonal axis, further throwing the idea of a guiding map into question by tipping the axis of the North-South cardinal points. Greeting the viewers as they enter are two textile pieces, installed side by side on a diagonal wall. 

The first textile piece, “Autogéographies 1 (2021),” is one of the smaller ones in the show.  It is a quilt showing multiple scenes including a dinner table, a moving train, a garden, a fire, and finally hills receding into the distance, all in a colour palette of oranges, blues, and greys. 

Tania Lara, Autogéographies 1 (2021). Courtesy of La Centrale galerie Powerhouse. Photo by Lucie Rocher.

The second, “Autogéographies 2 (2021)” is another quilt in grid formation with each panel showing a different map, some with handwritten interventions on top. Together the two pieces set the tone for the show by playing with the idea of a map and rendering it soft in its materiality and personal in its content.

One of Lara’s noted influences in the project is Caribbean philosopher Édouard Glissant’s theorization of opacity as a response to colonial intervention. He questions the necessity for the transparency found in Western thought, and proposes opacity—the inability to see, the unknowable—as a method of self-determination, as though to say, you don’t need to know all of me to exist with me. 

Detail, Tania Lara’s Autogéographies. Courtesy of La Centrale galerie Powerhouse. Photo by Lucie Rocher.

Glissant writes in his seminal text Poetics of Relations, “opacities can coexist and converge, weaving fabrics.” Indeed, Lara weaves together opacities, allowing for moments of both transparency and obfuscation. Mapping is always an act of translation, from 2D to 3D, from the land beneath our feet to the pixels of the cell phones between our hands. Lara’s personal map is on display, and the key to its translation is just beyond our grasp. Perhaps it will always remain that way. 

“Autogéographies” is ongoing until Nov. 9, 2023 and is free to attend.

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Arts Arts and Culture

Three Artists Speak on Intimacy, Identity, and Introspection

Concordia’s VAV Gallery in Sir George Williams campus’ VA building recently hosted an intimate conversation with three artists who participated in their summer residency program as they prepare for their upcoming vernissage. Inka Kennepohl, Spencer Magnan and Emem Etti shared how their distinct studio practices all converge on themes of identity, introspection and material exploration. 

 All three artists emphasize the value of a process that demands focus and concentration, one that generates a contemplative state of mind as they are at work. This method opens up an introspective space for the artist to dwell in as they engage in a very physical, repetitive process. Every knot and stitch is infused with the care and patience of the maker’s hand—they inevitably speak to a deep connection between the material and the body. 

Nigerian-Canadian artist Emem Etti’s practice blends the disciplines of film and fibres to create dynamic installations of video projection that animate their handmade rugs. Their work at VAV was largely an effort to orient their energy inward, to reach an ambitious state of mindfulness achieved through the consistent, rhythmic motions of handcrafting. 

During the panel discussion, Etti noted the deliberate choice to use a punch-needle to craft their rugs rather than the more efficient needle gun, for using the gun was a “violent” experience—the tool is difficult to control. While it works faster than going stitch-by-stitch, it tends to be a chaotic creative process rather than the steady, intentional method the artist prefers. Etti remarks: “I think there is something really beautiful about the meticulous.” This decision speaks to Etti’s concern with the relationship between the artist and their materials. There is an intimacy there, as the artwork is an extension of the artist. The care and time the artist spends engaging with the material is tantamount to tenderly caring for their own body. The final product, the rug, is a symbol of connection, of being radically present with the self.  

In progress work, Courtesy of Emem Etti

In a similar fashion, Spencer Magnan draws from personal experience as a queer artist to inform his theatrical, oversized wearable pieces. During his time at VAV, Magnanhand-sewed a giant suit jacket made entirely of unstretched canvas. The work serves as a commentary on the inherently masculine-coded garment and playfully reinterprets it as a dramatic costume, hinting at the performative nature of gender expression. Magnan chose this material to add another layer of gender identity to the piece. “I feel like in 2023, it’s still a very masculine thing to make a painting,” Magnan says, pointing to the persistently male-dominated discipline that continues to root itself in rigidly exclusionary and eurocentric traditions. 

The artist consciously left the canvas unpainted and allowed the qualities of the raw material—the rough texture, the loose-hanging threads, the sandy colour, and the visible hand-stitching—to constitute the character of the jacket. This decision undermines the expectations of what a proper, masculine suit jacket is expected to be—polished, tailored, and luxurious. It reinterprets the garment through a queer sensibility that refuses to conform to an established, heteronormative standard and rather celebrates imperfection, individuality, and drama. 

Meanwhile, Inka Kennepohl engages with textiles differently. Moving away from the commercial practice of creating luxury commodities out of textiles, they use the techniques as a means of object repair. Their work during their residency at VAV combined macramé, a knotting technique, and furniture design to assemble pieces that exist somewhere between the functional and the conceptual. Kennepohl spoke of the ways sustainability informs their sculptural practice and emphasized the urgency of rebuilding and repurposing materials through acquired skill rather than discarding them and perpetuating a cycle of consumption and waste. 

Courtesy of Inka Kennepohl

Their work sparked conversations regarding the relationship between labour and art, and raised important questions concerning the boundaries an artist should draw between the integrity of their vision and the very real need to maintain a marketable production capacity in order to make a living. The discussion addressed pressing questions that seem to permeate this emerging generation of young artists. How can they honour the slow and steady process of handcrafting a work of art in such a fast-paced consumer culture? How should they tread the fine line between supporting ourselves and refusing to concede to commercialization?

The cumulative bodies of work produced by Etti, Magnan and Kennepohl during their summer residency will be featured in the VAV Gallery space this fall, and the vernissage will be held Monday, September 11, 2023. 

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Arts

Finding strength in simplicity: reading and redefining dance

Needle and Thread is an ode to those who were lost

Every stitch, every letter spelled out during Needle and Thread retrieves the memories of 600 Holocaust victims. “We’re not going for spectacle,” Mindy Yan Miller said. “But authenticity, experience, feeling…”

Needle and Thread is a collaborative, commemorative performance by Mindy, a professor in the department of fibres and material practices at Concordia, and her sister-in-law, Suzanne Miller. Suzanne is a contemporary choreographer and dancer, whereas Mindy works primarily in installation and sculpture with used clothing, cowhide and human hair.

In this performance, Suzanne uses her body to spell out the names of the 600 Holocaust victims, wearing a long, patchwork skirt, which Mindy is tirelessly adding to. The massive garment is composed of many shirts, dresses, skirts and pairs of pants joined together with a simple blanket stitch. The names of the victims are recorded in the “Pages of Testimony” submitted to Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

Mindy is the ground, my anchor, the base note [of Needle and Thread,] and I am the air,” said Suzanne.

Suzanne trembled, sweat gleaming off her chest, as she embodied the very lives and the stories behind the names she spelled. Her movements are not that of conventional dance, but of a gestural language that can only be understood through witnessing.

She reaches in, towards her chest, falls on the ground, covers her eyes with one, then two hands. She looks back, then up, she twists, clasps her hands, touching her elbow to her side.

Mindy stitches, never looking up, she is static. Only moving to reach into her tool pouch to thread a needle.

The names are spelled on a blackboard, as a man whispers them to the writer. She writes quickly, the name is spelled out, on the board, and by Suzanne. The writer erases, and moves on to the next. This takes 10 seconds.

“It’s not about provoking,” Suzanne said. Needle and Thread is jarring. The power of their actions resonate with the audience.

The sister-in-laws were invited to perform this piece in the Musée d’Art Contemporain as part of Off Parcours Danse, a dance conference that took place from Nov. 25-29 at Place des Arts. Needle and Thread was developed last year at “Jews and Jewishness in the Dance World,” part of a series of Jewish arts conferences held at Arizona State University, and has since been performed close to Jewish sites across North America and Europe. Each time, something changes, is lost or added, effectively creating a different experience for viewers. The skirt grows, bit by bit.

 

Photo by Britanny Clarke.

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Arts

The material and the mystical

In conversation with student artist Teddy Desmarais…

In experiencing Teddy Desmarais’s artwork, viewers are transported into a mystical, surreal world, one in which puppets, castles, and costuming are everywhere. Creating vivid, intricately detailed characters and a world of the surreal, Desmarais shows expansive imagination within their art, while reimagining reality and their personal environment.

Desmarais is a multidisciplinary artist, who grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, and moved to Montreal two years ago. They are in their second year at Concordia, studying fibres and film animation, through which their practice explores concepts such as personal queer identity, organically made and handmade art, and materiality. These themes are considered through the use of recycled materials, along with a central focus on puppetry and costuming. Their practice includes amazingly detailed fibre works that invoke a sense of the surreal and mystical—a recent work includes a puppet dollhouse castle. The castle, decorated with different fibres and intricate detail brings together puppet and costume forms. It’s complete with a spot for Desmarais to put their face into the form, incorporating the artist’s physical presence into the work.

Exploring different mediums and finding influence from their environment, not to mention their own experiences and identity, Desmarais’ art truly stands on its own.

***

Currently, what are some of the main focuses, mediums and themes within your work?

“I’ve always been very multidisciplinary and multi-medium based, but for the most part I tend to use a lot of recycled materials for 3D work (fabric scraps, magazines, cardboard, plastic). I do 2D work as well on a regular

basis, but I wouldn’t say it’s the focus of my practice. Right now, I’m trying to make my work a little more meticulous. I’ve been compelled by effortlessness and intuition for a while, but I really want to learn as much as I can—while I’m here in school—about the materials I can use and get better with them or even venture into realms of other mediums I normally shy away from, like resin and moulds and organics.

“I really believe that handmade objects have inherent magical qualities, and I love the idea of creating something from start to finish myself.” Photo courtesy of the artist.

I’m on a little bit of a quest to build enveloping costumes and environments either through film with stop motion and performance, or with live experiences. This, as the root of my practice, is inherently an expression and exploration of my own queer identity and how I feel I genuinely interact with the world and its speed of demand and explanation. I really believe that handmade objects have inherent magical qualities, and I love the idea of creating something from start to finish myself, especially as industrial habits grow incredibly against that. Puppets really combine all those aspects to me: a melting pot of costume, performance, character design, sets, and movement. So fibres has been definitely excellent for that. I was very starstruck first learning how to hand-dye things and embroider and quilt!”

Have you worked in other mediums and focuses? What was the transition and process to get to your practice now?

“I have always been so absorbed in too many things and ideas that by the time I applied for university it was very difficult to narrow down what I really wanted to do, until I began hyperfocusing my attention on stop motion, puppets and costumes. As far as art-based mediums go, I was always a really good knitter and felter as a kid. I’ve been highly sensitive all my life and I remember wanting to make things that felt sentient and fantastic and captivating. Although I was always obsessed with costumes, sets and decorating, my practice in itself used to be very heavily limited to drawing, ceramics, painting and occasionally silkscreening. Then, I slowly started integrating cartoons and collages and eventually moved to watercolours. I took a sculpture course in fall 2016 and a ceramics course in winter 2018 and I think that was what really started to push me in the right direction. I made a wizard costume in January 2017 and my first puppet in spring 2017, right around when I went down a wormhole of revisitin

g James and the Giant Peach, The Neverending Story and other beautifully handcrafted puppet-based films. I have been in love with exploring puppetry, set building and costumes, and combining the two ever since. My most recent costume, a puppet dollhouse castle that I wear with my face sticking out the middle and my legs out the bottom, is a sincere expression of this growing infatuation with exploring this self-sustained medium.”

How have Concordia and Montreal, vs. B.C., influenced your work, if at all?

“Growing up in Victoria was fulfilling in a mystical way, considering how spiritually charged the environment is, and how a lot of weird stuff happens because of that, but it was also, hilariously, a lot of being bored and creating your own fun. Which lead, curiously, to spending a lot of time with friends galavanting around in costumes, taking photos and sneaking about. This kind of carefree, goofy,

creative habit and attitude is definitely something I feel like inherently exists in Montreal, which makes it a prime stomping ground for authentic exploration and fun, something I feel is a vital piece to the puzzling growth of my work.”

 

“I have been in love with exploring puppetry, set building and costumes, and combining the two ever since.” Photo courtesy of the artist.

In general, what are some influences within your work?

“I think the things I’m most drawn to are always in flux, but I’m attracted to things that feel like a mirror to my subconscious, and things that appear as endearing surprises. This can be anything that dips into unlearning censorship and encouraging mischief and chaos and involuntary tomfoolery (but coming from a place of tenderness of course!). Specifically, I’ve always been very inspired by goofy medieval art, as well as absent-minded scribbles and children’s drawings. Recently I’ve been really getting into enchanting environmental facets like shadows and lightning and rainbows and old memories and bugs. And I’ll always be in love with teeth and wind chimes and secret passages and antiques and old things in general too! Fairy tales, things that are poorly sewn together, towers and cobwebs and dreams are in my heart and 100 per cent unavoidably evident now as an influence in my practice. I think a lot of things that influence me too are ultimately based on what connects the most to how I see and feel things, trying to understand the foam bubbling in my brain. It’s likely why I’m so attracted to odds and ends that are magically charged, anything that tugs at the intuitive heart strings in my chest is something I try to learn from and pursue.”

***

Desmarais has participated in several local art shows in Victoria, B.C. More of their work can be found at @goodknight_ted on Instagram.

 

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Arts

Welcome to the freak show

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

Beyond the walls of Montreal’s prestigious Museum of Fine Arts there is another art scene that lives in small, obsolete areas of the city. Spread out across the Mile End and the Plateau are gallery spaces hidden in random, industrialized buildings, waiting to be discovered and explored. Such is the case of Diagonale, a gallery located on Gaspé Ave., and which is currently harbouring Monstrosities, yet another artistic endeavour showcasing the work of Concordia students.

Monstrosities consists of a selection of works by undergraduate students completing their major in fibre and material practices, one of the lesser known studio programs in the fine arts department at Concordia. As the exhibit’s descriptor so quaintly puts it, “the artists deal with notions that tie textile and the body together, exploring the relationship that exists between the two and how they contrast and complement each other.” The result is a combination that will provoke both nausea and utter astonishment.

Body Of Consent, one of the easiest pieces to spot upon walking into the exhibit, is the work of artist Véronique Tremblay. What at first will earnestly remind viewers of a set of genitalia disembodied in limp pieces, is actually meticulously thought out. As audiences approach the piece they realize that on this pink, shiny fabric, the author has printed thousands of words that could typically be related to sexual encounters, be they one night stands or full-on relationships. Words linger on textile, reminding viewers of the consequences and weight that come with this burlesque illustration of these fundamental body parts.

The most impressive and notoriously nauseating piece in the exhibit is, without a doubt, Untitled by Cardy Lai. Using what appears to be strands of thick woollen string drenched in coffee, the artist realistically makes viewers want to gag by creating an accurate depiction of fecal matter. Although some question the artistic value of such a piece, it does play a more traditional artistic role phenomenally well: it effectively recreates reality. In fact, the depiction is so well executed that viewers will squirm, cringe and even turn away if they are the more sensitive type. Stomachs will certainly churn as audiences will have no trouble imagining the texture and stench to accompany this piece.

Other works also stand out in the exhibit, though less scandalously. Stephanie E.M. Coleman’s Maladjusted, an impressive piece of lingerie, plays with transparency and symbolism. As for Mask: Bestialiska, by Benita Whyte, this last piece is a combination of sculptural endeavours and video presentation. The piece has this particularly monstrous touch to it, as the video reveals a subject slowly and meticulously removing a mask in a movement to reveal her face.

Notions of freedom and liberty are perhaps unintentionally evoked by the gallery’s setup, as the shadows on the wall remind us of birds flying off into the horizon.

There is some criticism to be had in regards to the curatorial style of the exhibit. Considering the symbolic value of their work it would have been nice if the artists had provided some sort of descriptor to further enlighten their audience on the creative process that accompanied their work. This is because with understanding comes fascination. After all, it’s a fundamental rule of human nature: horrify us and we simply won’t know how to look away.

Monstrosities will be running until March 23 at Diagonale Centre d’arts, 5455 Gaspé Ave. local 203. Admission is free and the gallery is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday.

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