Arts and Culture Exhibit

The Yeoseong Gukgeuk Project: Hijack the Gender!: A Discussion between Artist and Curator

One of the kick-off events of Montreal’s 18th edition of MOMENTA Biennale de l’image was a discussion between curator Ji-Yoon Han and artist siren eun young jung at her solo exhibition The Yeoseong Gukgeuk Project: Hijack the Gender! held at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery on Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus. 

“siren eun young jung makes work that explores the subversive potential of popular cultural practices and highlights the existence of communities that, to this day, maintain spaces for dissimilar and non-conforming people within a given society,” Han says. 

Yeoseong Gukgeuk, which translates to “national women’s theatre,” is the central subject of the artist’s 15-year archival project. The theatre was made up exclusively of female actors and was popularised in the mid-twentieth century following the end of Japanese colonial rule over Korea. Through her work, jung explores the actors’ embodiment of masculine roles on stage through the lens of queer theory, particularly queer scholar Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. jung seeks to critically examine the heteronormative national identity of Korea by building an “anomalous archive,” or what she also calls a “wrong archive,” that inherently resists the official version of national history. 

The discussion began in the archive room, where jung discussed her collection of materials offering insight into the story of the women who were involved at the theatre and who participated in the project. The archive reveals the unique visual culture of the theatre while preserving its legacy in a historical canon that often neglects to include the stories of marginalised people. The archive is not just a collection of print media, photographs and documents that tell a linear narrative of the tradition—it also includes oral history through interviews and personal accounts from performers, along with experimental videos of performances that collectively contribute to a living archive that will change over time as it grows. 

siren eun young jung, View of Deferral Archives (2018-2023), Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery. Photo by Emma Bell/The Concordian
siren eun young jung, Deferral Archives (2018-2023) Detail, Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery. Photo by Emma Bell/The Concordian

The notion of disrupting exclusionary national identities is reflected in jung’s aesthetic choices. The scattered light refracting off the reflective survival blankets that line the gallery walls similarly disrupts the traditionally crisp white void that the artwork would normally hang on. The editing technique employed in jung’s video works can also be described as disruptive and fractured—flashing lights and diagonal cropping make for a chaotic viewing experience of an already larger-than-life screen. This visual language reinforces a sense of rupture in the way history is remembered.

The discussion moved through the gallery space as jung and Han spoke about the importance of transmitting the knowledge of the past through this project and its relevance in contemporary culture. It goes without saying that there is a need within our current moment to not only preserve but to bring marginalised histories into the spotlight. 

The video work A Performing by Flash, Afterimage, Velocity, and Noise features performances from drag king Azangman, queer Korean female actors such as Lee Yii, Seo Jiwon of the disabled women’s theatre group Dancing Waist, and the transgender electronic musician Kirara. The installation completely immerses the audience in the performances, enveloping them in a full sensory experience to invite them into a theatrical world that embraces and celebrates creative transgression and alternative ways of being.

The Yeoseong Gukgeuk Project: Hijack the Gender! is one of 23 exhibitions that constitute MOMENTA 2023 and will be on view at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery within Concordia’s J.W. McConnell building through October 28, 2023.  


Art as activism: personal and collective histories

Taking a look at Dazibao’s new exhibitions

I open the door to Dazibao and, with the exception of colour-changing neon lights emanating from the far corner of the space, it is dark. A cacophony of voices engulfs the room. As I make my way to the first video installation, I am immediately drawn into the abstract nature of the film and I tone out the other sounds.

Dazibao, an art center in Montreal’s Mile End, dedicates itself to circulating contemporary image practices, be it through exhibitions, video programs, films or public artworks. In an effort to create a space where individuals can experiment, reflect and share ideas, Dazibao collaborates with artists, curators, critics and researchers.

Their mandate, which is to promote cultural diversity as a means of enabling art to assert itself as a knowledgeable and intellectual field, is further reinforced via their three current exhibitions on view, Special Works School, New Pedestrians and Mikhail Karikis.

Special Works School by Bambitchell explores surveillance and military camouflage techniques by way of reflecting on the interconne – activity of artistic practice and surveillance technologies. The work, which consists of an installation and a film, considers surveillance as an artistic practice, invites the viewer to reflect on the various aspects of surveillance in both society and art.

Lights change from cyan to purple, and camouflage back to its natural colour, offering a metaphor for surveillance. Photo by Britanny Clarke.

Bambitchell’s work has video and sculptural components – the source of the colour-changing neon lights – which offers a multi-sensory experience. Sand appears to be rippled in a box, as lights change from cyan to purple, and back to its natural colour, the box and its contents camouflage to the colour of the lights. This offers a metaphor for surveillance and its visibility, or rather, invisibility.

Bambitchell is the artistic collaboration between artists Sharlene Bamboat and Alexis Mitchell. Since their conception in 2009, they have established their practice around notions of surveillance and nationalism, using archives and state documents as part of their work.

New Pedestrians by Julia Feyrer uses everyday objects to explore the body’s connection to various materials. As the name suggests, the film observes pedestrians as they walk. However, they are not your average pedestrians. Body parts are composed of wooden rulers, scissors and other everyday tools and objects, merging sculpture and film into one. The abstract nature of the film brings out in the viewer the sort of uneasy feeling that would arise from a bad dream.

Similarly, Children of Unquiet, Ain’t Got No Fear and No Ordinary Protest by Mikhail Karikis use this same type of bizarre construction. Although separate entities, the three films, when viewed in order, form an allegory. In Children of Unquiet, children clad in colourful masks sing at the top of their lungs as they reclaim a village that was built for workers at a geo-thermal power plant. Whereas Ain’t Got No Fear demonstrates the alternative vocation given by young people to a power plant, as a means of defying authority. Finally, along the same lines, No Ordinary Protest explores themes of activism enabling children’s voices to be heard.

Karikis uses sound and media to create immersive installations. His practice explores primarily the notion of the voice as a socio-political agent, as well as themes of solidarity in action, which he further develops by collaborating with various communities such as youth groups.

Although the works exhibited are very different in their conception and determination, Special Works School, New Pedestrians and Mikhail Karikis’ works share similar perseverance, enabling them to share personal and collective histories in abstract ways, and ultimately offer a form of activism. By making a statement about various conventional aspects of everyday life, such as surveillance, the works assert themselves and demonstrate how artistic practice can be political.

Special Works School, New Pedestrians and Mikhail Karikis are on display at Dazibao, at 5455 de Gaspé Ave. suite 109, until Dec. 21. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.



Photos by Brittany Clarke.


The fate of our homes

Reflections on Gordon Matta Clark’s Rough Cuts and Outtakes

As usual, I was arriving late, not stylishly late, just expectedly late, as is expected of me. I have gotten better at this, and I had real justifications for it. I was swinging by from the FASA general meeting which happened to coincide with the vernissage of Rough Cuts and Outtakes, a collection of Gordon Matta Clark’s work exhibited by Hila Peleg, but by a couple of minutes.

So, as I was outside of the Canadian Centre of Architecture (CCA), I started to freak out a bit. The whole entrance was completely desolate, except for a pair of young boys who were kicking a football around and telling each other to go f*ck themselves. The buildings impressive white facade dwarfed them, making it feel even lonelier.

Considering this was the opening of an exhibition, I had expected at least a couple of stragglers waiting outside, having cigarettes or whatever people waiting for shows do – and considering I was a mere 10 minutes off it didn’t seem like an impossibility. I entered the reception lobby and greet the ticket sellers. Embarrassed by my tardiness, I hesitated at first but asked if the exhibit opened the following day, thinking I was a day off. They assured me that no, I was there at the right time and that the speaker had began, I just had to turn to the left. While I was momentarily relieved, I was still sent on a scramble down the long empty corridors of the CCA, accompanied only by fake plaster corinth pillars and victorian decor.

The speakers had begun, I could see from the far most right corner of the amphitheatre. It was dark and impossible to see if there were any seats left. An usher assured me there were seats but at the leftmost corner of the room, right at the front. I still could not see anything. I crossed the back row and stopped, seeing there was a cameraman aiming down the catwalk towards my expected seat. The usher finds this unacceptable, comes to me, and asks me what’s up. I said that everything was alright I just didn’t want to get in front of the camera and that I was happy to remain standing, but she wouldn’t have that and dragged me promptly to an empty seat.

When I finally settled, it was not just my cheeks that were relieved, but I had skipped out on the terribly boring introduction and hadn’t missed any of the juicy stuff. Hila Peleg, the curator of the exhibition, was only then walking towards the podium. Simultaneously, a large grey projection screen slowly scroll downwards. The lights on the stage went off and a projection flickered to life as grainy images of a sad looking and dilapidated house appeared. These were the cuts and extras from Clark’s famous work Splitting (1974), an intervention piece in which Clark and collaborators vertically sawed their way through the entirety of a New Jersey suburban residency that had been abandoned after residents were evicted in the wake of an upcoming urban renewal project.

Except again, this wasn’t Splitting proper. These were outtakes, the waning moments before the cutting began as the camera explores masses of personal objects strewn about by the yard of the residence while Clark and his collaborators crawl along the residence roof making measurements. The clips are few, damaged, and collaged together. Their only identifiable feature was that they are all images of the same house. But perhaps these off-hand shots are more defining and revealing as to the nature of Clark’s work than his mystical and anonymous spatial carvings will ever appear to the uninspired viewer. The great truth of his works lies in the old mattress, left to right in the cold sun. It speaks of people evicted and their homes and neighborhoods destroyed,and perhaps in their vernacular simplicity, they embody their energy and troubles better than any house ever could.

The city of Englewood, where the film shooting took place, is composed of mostly working class neighborhoods. The area has an almost equal number of African American residents to white of the city population. The particular neighborhood where Splitting was done was mostly of African American descent, according to census readings, hence it shouldn’t be surprising then to see how exclusionary social policies ended up mostly clearing out the neighborhood.

Other snippets of Clark’s work drew some of the same conclusions in different ways and forms, but it all came down to the same thing. Has architecture failed us?

This is the same question that resonates from the abandoned clutter of household items to the tired mistreated structures that star in Clark’s work. This is an amusingly loaded question coming from an ex-architecture student, a heated discourse that is a mixture of both personal feelings of shame and maybe relief.

I love architecture, don’t get me wrong. I love looking at buildings and losing myself in their mysterious contours and repetitions, but my question aims more towards the general policy of most architecture in the 21st century. Undoubtedly, construction is linked with urban planning, but for something meant to be a force of beauty and social cohesion, architecture usually comes down to money and time (as most things sadly). A surrounding rhetoric has been that of speedy cheap construction.

In a vain pursuit of grandiosity and efficiency, much has been overlooked. Splittings’ few, second-long outtakes capture this in the refuse pile, pulling our attention away from the building by refocusing on the original subjects, the inhabitants. Despite all its ambition, architecture and to that extent construction is about making spaces that promote the health and prosperity of people. While they are definitely important, maybe the lofty ideals architecture claims to promote are utopian delusions. Through his life, Clark criticized established architectural practices,most notingly with his group Anarchitecture. In its manifesto and ideology, Matta rejected the orderliness and efficiency of modern cities, and celebrated the disorder of densely packed inner city life. I believe this celebration can be felt in those veering shots of the forgotten personal articles. The structures that are supposed to keep us warm and safe are bargaining chips that can be tossed at any moment with little regard for the tiny beings that inhabit them, much less for their few personal belongings. Conical Intersect (1975) is another display that shows buildings in pain, mutilated and left for dead, which isn’t too far a cry from the people evicted from those very structures, and left out in the cold.

Additionally Clark displayed a longing interest for ethnography and, in particular, archeology. Some of the secondary material that will be shown in January of next year will include a great deal of the photographs he took during his trips to South America. From the snippets shown, these include the gloomy images of Inca and Mesoamerican relics.The importance of these is that constant interest in people, their customs, vestments and the role that they play or represent in the imagined spaces left by their ancestors. But this is nothing new, there has always been a profound interest in ruins by poets, writers and artists. From biblical descriptions of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and their damning  implications, the fantastic imaginings of the members of the mostly italian capricci movement in the 16th century, to the apocalyptic prophesying of european artists in the inter and post war period. There has been a historical shift in the portrayal of ruins, from one of mystical and nostalgic allure to one of foreshadowing of destruction, ironic considering the fate of most of Clark’s work.

Perhaps the haunting beauty of contorted shapes and spaces is the promise for narrative,and ultimately, human connection. We search tirelessly old sites and tombs to see that timeless connection between us and our ancestors, to see our humanity echoed generation through generation. Ruins, for this reason, could almost be seen as universal places of worship. But these places are perhaps disappearing faster than we realize, or more accurately, less future ruins are being produced.

Toronto-based architect Brandon Donnelly, and Canadian/American architect, professor and writer Witold Rybczynski, both commented in architectural blogs on the shortening lifespan of buildings in our day and age.

Concrete, steel, and glass, for all their scale, are a lot less durable than one might imagine. Projects built even 60 years ago require major renovations that can come to be several times more expensive than the original costs at their conception.

Put this next to the impressive basilicas of the renaissance, the pyramids or the temples of Teotihuacan that have lasted for hundreds to thousands of years. Now, it is simply cheaper to knock down ugly buildings that we make for whatever necessary reason. For the community of Englewood, it was urban renewal. In Beauburg, Paris, a facelift was ‘needed’ around the then anticipated Centre Pompidou. And constantly a problem that arises is that there was a lack of foresight. Useless or unneeded structure are built, that have little consideration for local communities and necessities. For example, one only has to look at the many failed housing projects in the US (Pruitt Igoe, Cabrini Green), Chinese ghost cities, or Venezuela’s Mission Vivenda. Perhaps the buildings in question were not the most beautiful or impressive. Perhaps they weren’t the most economically efficient use of space, nor the greatest investment. But perhaps that also speaks of a culture that isn’t building things meant to last. The human element is trampled, again and again.

There are still historical societies remembered through the preservation of their architectural structures today, but is there any concern for the preservation of our present or future structures, or will rebuilding every forthcoming day reach the point where history ceases to exist? And to that, what can be said about us, the tenants of these badly built structures. Are we to remain prisoners of badly constructed homes or should we demand better quality construction meant to foster better social equality?

The CCA is open from  Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. except Thursdays, during which they are open until 9 p.m. Admission is free for students any day of the week. For more information visit their website.


Photos by Annita Parish


Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Mesmerizing. Ingenious.

Those two words come to mind when thinking about Ragnar Kjartansson’s A Lot of Sorrow. I’ve visited the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) to see it three times. I’ve never seen the whole thing (it’s six hours long) – so every time I go it’s at a different part. Kjartansson, an Icelandic performance artist, convinced The National, an American band he was obsessed with, to perform their song “Sorrow” for six hours straight at the MoMA PS1 in New York City in 2013. The recorded footage, now property of the MAC, is exhibited every three years or so.

With each repetition, new sounds are heard. Whether it is just you paying attention to different notes or the band experimenting, I couldn’t say for sure. The room is big and dark, walled with black curtains and a long comfy stool, or perhaps it’s a couple of smaller stools pressed together, existing in the centre of the space. People sit and lie there, watching. They also sit or lie on the floor, some for a couple of minutes, others for hours to watch the endless concert.

The song loops perfectly, a consistent light drumming tying it all together. By now I’ve memorized the lyrics too, but they were my own. I know the actual ones too, they just evolve after each listen. “Cover me in ragan balm,” it’s rag and bones, “and sympathy…” “It’s in my honey. It’s in my bed,” it’s in my milk. Everyone in the room hears something different. Some are smiling, laughing quietly to themselves, others look solemn, they feel the sorrow, a whole lot of sorrow.

In an article by The Art Newspaper, Kjartansson is quoted saying, “the notion of melancholia creates something that makes me happy, in creating.” Wallowing in sorrow rarely stays as such, especially when listening to The National on repeat. It’s silly. It’s beautiful. It’s tiring.

The band’s exhaustion sets in, their suits disheveled, sweaty, hungry, and drunk. The stage becomes littered with bottles, water and wine, platters of fruit, candy… I would have stayed all six hours too if I could eat and drink in the exhibition hall.

The concept is simple enough. The song is the right one.

A Lot of Sorrow will continue to loop at the MAC until Oct. 6. Admission is $7 for students, half-price on Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m and free on the first Sunday of the month for Quebec residents.

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