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.


Indigenous representation through street art

Reflecting on the place of visual art in the Montreal streetscape

Wherever you go on the island of Tiohtià:ke (Montreal), you will find street art. Regardless of the borough or neighbourhood, you are bound to stumble upon a sculptural installation, mural or the good ol’ reliable mosaics and vitrines in various metro stations. It’s what gives the city its charm and personality.

Other than during the annual MURAL festival, I rarely think about the street art that I see nearly every day. However, upon a recent weekend trip to Tkaronto (Toronto) I began to think about street art a lot more, primarily due to the fact that I did not really see any.

I’ve been told by many friends, and via a thorough Google search, that Toronto has plenty of wonderful street art. And yet, during my three-day venture through numerous districts and boroughs of Toronto, I did not come across a single one. Except, that is, for the renowned 3D TORONTO sign, situated in Nathan Phillips Square.

In 2018, the sign, which is very popular among tourists, was modified to include the Medicine Wheel, an Indigenous symbol that represents various spiritual concepts, including health. The last time I had seen the installation, I was quite young and I did not think much of it, as it was just a large illuminated “Toronto.” This time, I began to reflect on the place of the installation in the city, the inclusion of the Medicine Wheel, and Indigenous representation in the Montreal streetscape.

Other than the Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women mural, by artists Fanny Aisha, Guko and Monk-e, commissioned by Missing Justice, a solidarity collective working to eliminate violence and discrimination against Indigenous women in Quebec, I have yet to come across street art by Indigenous artists or for Indigenous people. However, there are plenty… just not in areas frequented by most.

So, what does this mean about representation in Montreal? Two large murals of Leonard Cohen are placed at two of the busiest intersections in the city, but Indigenous art work, like Skawennati’s The Celestial Tree, is situated on Pine Ave. and McTavish St., an intersection less frequented.

Shanna Strauss’ 2017 work, Ellen Gabriel & Mary Two Axe Earley, Tiohtià:ke unceded Haudenosaunee territory, pays homage to Mohawk activists Ellen Gabriel and Mary Two Axe Earley. Situated on St-Antoine St. West, in Saint-Henri, the mural features a portrait of the women and was created in solidarity with Indigenous women from Tiohtià:ke, in an effort to resist colonial violence and fight for the recognition of Indigenous rights.

Towards the downtown core of Montreal, at the intersection of Atwater Ave. and Lincoln Ave., one can find Meky Ottawa’s 2018 mural, Hommage à Alanis Obomsawin. As the name states. the work is an homage to Alanis Obomsawin, an activist committed to the defense of First Nations and the rights of Indigenous children. The mural consists of a portrait of Obomsawin, and numerous children holding hands.

Ottawa, an Atikamekw artist, collaborated with MU Montreal, in creating the piece. MU is a project that aims to turn Montreal into an open air museum. Since their conception in 2007, the group has produced over 120 murals.

At the McCord museum, one might stumble upon Inuk artist Jusipi Nalukturuk’s 1936 work, Inukshuk. The sculptural installation, owned by the McCord Museum, is an ode to Indigenous ancestry. The work consists of over 200 stones and was initially assembled in Nunavik.

Even upon further research, I am shocked to discover the plethora of hidden works by Indigenous artists within the Montreal art milieu. Each work offers a piece of history that is not taught in the classrooms and aims to maintain both personal and collective histories that have otherwise been destroyed by colonial violence.

Considering the diversity of artists featured at street art festivals, like MURAL, it is infuriating that Indigenous people are not properly represented on their own lands and in their streets, to say the least. With artists from Colombia, the Netherlands, and settlers being given the opportunity to showcase their works at one of Montreal’s largest art festivals, it certainly raises questions where representation and attribution are concerned.

I am left wondering, does it really count as representation if marginalized artists are offered a place to show their work that is virtually hidden from the majority of the population? It seems to me like yet another inadequate attempt at reconciliation.

Further information about Montreal street art can be found at Art Public Montreal, at, and at MU Montreal at


Graphic by @sundaeghost.


Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Inuit Women in the Arts

Part of McGill University’s eighth annual Indigenous Awareness Week, Inuit Women in the Arts will feature a panel of distinguished Inuit artists and curators. Heather Igloliorte, the co-curator of Among All These Tundras and professor of art history at Concordia, as well as Niap Saunders, a multidisciplinary artist from Kuujjuaq, Que., will be among the women participating in the panel discussion.

When: Sept. 25 at 5 p.m.
Where: McGill Indigenous studies program building, 3643 Peel St.
Admission is free. RSVP with Eventbrite.

Words Before All Else: Oral Histories in the Digital Age

Art centres Vidéographe and Dazibao come together to present multiple screenings that explore traditional stories and storytelling. According to Vidéographe’s website, “the works in this program make use of experimental forms akin to computer animation.” Words Before All Else will present short, digitally animated films by Skawennati, Mary Kunuk, Zacharias Kunuk, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Doug Smarch Jr., Elizabeth LaPensée, Zack Khalil and Adam Shingwak Khalil.

When: Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.
Where: Dazibao, 5455 Gaspé Ave., Suite 105
Admission is free. Space is limited.

Art POP Montreal

Art POP curators Terrance Richard and Hugo Dufour have organized a collection of more than 70 artists for this year’s festival, with works that explore identity, heritage, narrative, class and culture. Taking over the entire third floor of the Rialto Complex with solo and group shows, the Art POP studio will showcase live dance performances and an independent writers reading event. Richard and Dufour have also organized satellite exhibitions all over the city. The locations include Espace POP, OBORO, Centre Clark, Ellephant and Pied Carré.

When: Vernissages, workshops and other events will take place until Sept. 30.
Admission to all Art POP exhibitions is free.

Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor

Calder has worked in a variety of disciplines—from painting and drawing to jewelry and sculpture. Organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 150 of Calder’s most innovative artworks have been brought together in a new exhibition. Born into a family of artists, Calder had a passion for invention. He designed several large sculptures, such as Trois Disques, which was created for Expo 67 in Parc Jean-Drapeau. The museum will be hosting several lectures, film screenings, workshops and family activities associated with Radical Inventor until the end of October.

When: Now until Feb. 24
Where: MMFA, Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, Level 2
Admission is $15 for people under 30.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin.


The Celestial Tree inspires visions of collective action

Walk along the Promenade Fleuve-Montagne as Montreal’s history unfolds in Path of Resilience

Telling a story of transcendence, Path of Resilience presents three works spread out along the new Promenade Fleuve-Montagne created by Indigenous artists Maria Hupfield, Nadia Myre, and Concordia’s own BFA design graduate, Skawennati.

Commissioned by DHC/ART’s managing director and curator, Cheryl Sim, and established for Montreal’s 375th anniversary, the Promenade Fleuve-Montagne allows pedestrians to discover the city’s historical landmarks and public artworks.

Hupfield’s piece, Ka Pow !, can be found directly outside of the Square Victoria metro station, catching the attention of passersby. Inspired by comic book art, Hupfield arranged white cedar benches into action bubbles around a tree.

Maria Hupfield starts off the Path of Resilience with Ka Pow !, an interactive sculpture aiming to unite passersby and inspire dialogue. Photo by Chloё Lalonde.

A few blocks further along the promenade, Myre’s piece illuminates the trees behind the St-Patrick Basilica with a string of fairy lights. The space is inviting. Wooden chairs are grouped together to form a strong sense of community, while the heart-wrenching story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a young black slave who was tried and convicted for arson based on a widespread rumour in the 18th century, is narrated from a sound system in the trees. The piece, titled Histoire Revenue, reminds us of Montreal’s past injustices, forcing us to be aware of all the anguish held within this land.

Skawennati’s piece is much further along the path, sitting in front of the Royal Victoria Hospital at the corner of Pine Avenue West and McTavish Street. The Celestial Tree is at the highest altitude of the Promenade Fleuve-Montagne. “I wanted to take the image of She Falls for Ages—which is the central image of Skyworld, a very important image in Iroquois cosmology and Iroquois traditional stories—and put it in the city, using materials and processes that are [as] recognisable as the city,” the artist said.

The body of the tree is a large stop sign post, and it’s branches are thick pieces of metal coated in reflective paneling.

The installation refers to the Concordia alumna’s upcoming machinima (a new media production), She Falls for Ages. As a way of opposing modern animation aesthetics, Skawennati chose to work with Second Life. Similar to Sims, the platform allows for immense creative freedom under some technical limitation. This approach is entirely specific to the artist’s body of work. When she began using the platform in 2007, Second Life, a “massively multiplayer online world” otherwise known as a virtual environment, really represented the future of modern social interaction. To be released in October 2017, She Falls for Ages will be a feminist, futuristic, utopian retelling of the First Nations’s creation story.

Today, many Indigenous stories are not known by their own people. Skawennati said she believes everyone should be familiar with them, as these stories are the foundation of the city of Montreal. The story of Skyworld, otherwise known as the First Nations’s creation story, adds a dimension to the Iroquois people and heritage that is not widely known, she explained. The Iroquois are often seen as warriors, fighters and troublemakers, and in Skawennati’s words, “knowing the creation story allows you to understand that it’s all about peace and love for creation”.  

The six bright colours of the flowers depicted on The Celestial Tree match the skin tones of the citizens of Skawennati’s Skyworld. By using these colours, she said she wants to call all people, no matter their race, to seek awareness and fight for a brighter, inclusive future. Skawennati strives to inspire collective action, providing various visions of what could be, while on her own path of learning more about her Mohawk heritage.

In the most common version of their story, the people of Skyworld live quietly and happily, knowing nothing of death and inequality. Instead, their day-to-day lives revolve around the maintenance of the Celestial Tree. The tree sits inside a hole to the universe, and provides light to all the land, according to the myth.

In the original story, one of the sky women realises she is pregnant. Her husband, the guardian of the Celestial Tree, becomes so angry that he rips the tree from its roots, revealing the massive hole in the universe. Curious, Sky Woman, peers into the hole and her husband pushes her in.

In She Falls for Ages, the Celestial Tree grows weak, and the people of Skyworld know that their time is coming to an end. The Celestial Tree guardian’s wife, here named Otsitsakáion, volunteers to jump into the abyss with child and serve as the seed of the new world.

In all versions of the story, Sky Woman “falls for ages,” eventually landing on the backs of geese, who place her on the back of a turtle. At this time, the Earth was simply water, devoid of land, and Sky Woman makes it her duty to create it. With the help of small animals, she was eventually able to grow shrubbery. As time passed, Turtle Island grew from a small mound of dirt on a turtle’s back, into what we now know as North America.

On display until Nov. 30, Path of Resilience tells a story of transcendence. The installations start by gathering people of all kinds together, encouraging them to acknowledge the history of the place in which they live—a necessary process in moving towards a unified future.

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