Groundwater explores the bond between memories, home, and natural elements

Groundwater, an exhibition stemming from the imaginative minds of four Concordia grads, took place from Sep. 15 to 19. Alexey Lazarev, Manuel Poitras, Loïc Chauvin, and Constantinos Giannoussis each presented their own unique installation, while also collectively adhering to a specific idea. Lazarev explained that “though the projects are all different, in one way or the other, we deal with processes that are hard to be seen. We came up with the name ‘Groundwater’ as something present, important, but hard to see.” The exhibition also places importance on exploring the permeability of borders. Whether these borders are geopolitical, conceptual, or physical, they vary for each artist.

The first installation is Lazarev’s Memory Fabric III. This work features images from his family archives in St. Petersburg, as well as photos he acquired from the St-Michel Flea Market. These photos are presented as an installation of woodblock prints that have been meticulously pressed onto several rolls of 60-foot paper. It is evident that Memory Fabric III was an intricate project for Lazarev to take on. He explains that some rolls of paper took approximately eight hours to produce. Observing these prints, the viewer is overcome with a certain nostalgia. While these memories do not belong to the viewer, there is something hauntingly familiar about the faces that stare back. When it comes to creating art, Lazarev is inspired by the themes of finding oneself, finding one’s place in the environment, feeling out of place, and dealing with different types of anxieties.

The next installation in the exhibition is titled DIY Flood: the reading room from Poitras. This work features several pieces of furniture and décor that are upended, dangling over a carpet. On the carpet rests a small table that showcases several books, all of which share a common theme: capitalism. Although the sound of running water is soothing to many, this certainly isn’t what the artist was going for when he crafted this piece.

“The installation is relaxing, but also discomforting, because of the water’s contact with these objects, which we usually assume to be safe,” explained Poitras. The artist also notes that his work tends to explore the natural world and environmental processes, especially regarding climate change. Fraught with anxiety, this piece confronts the often turbulent relationship that humans share with the natural world.

This work evokes an unsettling feeling: water tubes weave through the furniture and decor, serving as a stark reminder that our own materials and lives could very well be reclaimed by natural elements. It’s difficult for the viewer to not reflect on their own relationship with their environment, while also reflecting on how much they rely on the materials around them.

Next in the exhibition is Chauvin’s Ellipse. Chauvin’s work seeks to explore the connection between creation and destruction in both the natural and cultural world. This installation may look unsuspecting at first glance, but with careful examination, viewers can discern a subtle image amidst the grain of the laser engraved wood panel that the artist uses. The scene depicts a clear-cut forest. Next to this work is Produit Dérivé. In this work, Chauvin presents a small piece of wood that has been, as he explained, “put back into circulation in nature as plastic simulacra of the original object.” The piece of wood is accentuated by a light grey background that is reminiscent of a serene body of water.

Finally, there is Giannoussis’ 740 Avenue 80 Laval. This installation introduces a garden, recreated from Giannoussis’ memory of his grandfather’s. There are plum pits scattered in a patch of dirt, which are juxtaposed with wooden boxes arranged in a square and feature delicate paintings of ripe plums. There is a feeling of loss that arises when observing the discarded pits among the dirt. In Giannoussis’ artistic statement, the artist explains that despite his grandfather’s recent move to a new location, he still exhibited “an awkward but benevolent devotion to this now-lost space.” This work exhibits the deep ties that both the artist and his grandfather share when it comes to their idea of home. The vibrant purple of the painted plums offers a sense of vitality to the piece, and is a tender attempt at keeping the artist’s important memories alive.

Groundwater offers an intimate glance into these four artists’ notions of home, culture, and the natural world, as they encourage viewers to reflect on the environments they now inhabit, or may have in the past.


Photographs by Ashley Fish-Robertson

How-to reduce your water use

Here come the waterworks — Canadians need to use less water, here’s how:

*Please note that the statistics on Quebecers’ water use do not represent water use or access on Indigenous reservations.

How much water does the average Montrealer use every day in their home? Enough to fill two bathtubs.

That’s 225 L of clean water. The province-wide average is even bigger, at 400 L per person every day, according to McGill University.

How much fresh water do private industries use per year? About 10 times household use, Statistics Canada notes.

Most of our household water use comes from addressing basic physical needs. 65 per cent comes from toilet flushing and bathing. The rest is accounted for in our drinking, preparing meals, and cleaning (including laundry).

We could trim down our water use by letting it mellow when it’s yellow, but a more impactful change could simply be redirecting our efforts to curb the wasteful practices of big industries, which make up 68 per cent of Canada’s annual fresh water use, according to McGill University.

Why is this important? After all, Canada is known for its abundant access to freshwater lakes and rivers. However, that’s not the full story.

“Canada has some 20 per cent of the world’s total fresh water resources,” according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. Of that, only seven per cent is renewable fresh water, making the supply “heavily used and often overly stressed.”

Household water use accounts for 20 per cent of the total fresh water use in Canada, and farming practices use just 12 per cent.

Still, voices in green consumption continue to refocus the lens of public discourse about climate change on personal action, despite the well-documented majority impact coming from private industry.

How can the public influence the ecological footprint left by private industry? We can start by reducing our consumption of the products these companies sell.

This logic runs counter to the profit goals of private industry, and they’re putting up a fight against it.

Marketers have identified a key change in the public: people want to feel like the companies they shop at share their values. “Sustainability, trust, ethical sourcing, and social responsibility are increasingly important to how consumers select their products and services,” according to Harvard Business Review (HBR)’s analysis of The EY Future Consumer Index.

HBR puts it this way: Pre-pandemic, “Your brand should stand behind great products.” As an additional requirement post-pandemic, “Your brand should stand behind great values.” The association of a brand with values creates the phenomenon of “brand values,” which amount to the marketing strategies that companies develop to target a particular consumer profile and its associated value system.

This loophole absolves the public from facing the actual scale of the problem of over-consumption, while validating the feeling that we’re curbing our personal climate footprint. Compliance with this marketing strategy also helps to reduce our guilt without requiring companies to actually improve their production practices.

Some might call this a win-win, others a lose-lose.

Reducing water use within the production line and reducing consumption of those products altogether would ultimately have the biggest impact on water waste in Canada.

Instead, companies look to their marketing teams to come up with how-tos that focus on tweaks in the public’s household behaviour (like switching the laundry setting to cold water) and divert attention from industry and consumer waste.

In the current cultural focus on resilience catalyzed by COVID-19, HBR elaborates, “Marketing now has the opportunity to seize an ongoing central role in that dialogue.”

Corporations have identified a key role that marketing plays in the way the public talks about the health crisis, and by extension, the climate crisis. When brands dictate the narrative surrounding these discussions, solutions are limited to those that propel their “broader growth and innovation agenda.” Those solutions all require our participation in industry waste.

Comparing the respective impacts of personal versus industrial water use provides a distilled picture of the biggest threats to sustainability. It is vital to critically assess the narrative around consumption by considering who tells the story, who benefits from the story, and ultimately, how the story obscures the harder truths about our contribution to climate change.


Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab

Student Life

“Treating” it right: a conversation about water

The first lab in the University of the Streets’ conversation series took place on Sept. 3

Art Hives and University of the Streets Café, two separate Montreal community organizations, came together on Sept. 3 at the NDG Art Hive to hold their public conversational lab, which discussed the way society uses and treats its bodies of water, while tying art-making into the event.

Tricia Toso, the event moderator, said the labs were being held to encourage the community to come out together and get more involved in issues pertaining to arts and science. The lab appeared to do just that.

In the middle of Notre Dame de Grâce Park, children and parents, alongside other members of the community, gathered under a clear blue sky to take part in the premiere event.

Toso began the lab by inviting attendees to participate in arts and crafts on a nearby table.  Many of the children at the event crowded the table, which was covered with pieces of coloured chalk, paint palettes, scissors, brushes, glitter and glue.

Art pieces hang to dry at the NDG art hive
Photo by Joshua De Costa

Shortly after, Supriya Tandan began the first of two scheduled presentations. Tandan, an aquatic ecologist working at a law start-up firm, spoke about Montreal’s difficult decision to dump raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River last November.

She explained how the consulted scientists justified giving the go-ahead to dump the sewage—they believed that since the river was much larger than the amount of sewage, dumping it wouldn’t affect the quality of the drinking water.

“The scientists said ‘dilution is the solution to pollution,’” Tandan said.

The decision had its pros and cons, however.

“We had to decide between dumping the sewage in the river or letting it run into the water treatment facility which could have affected the whole municipality.”

Jailson Lima, who holds a PhD in inorganic chemistry, also gave a presentation. Lima recalled a time when he took his students to Pointe-aux-Trembles to visit the Jean-R. Marcotte plant, a primary water treatment facility on the eastern tip of Montreal.

“You see a huge swimming pool of greyish water, and the guy says: ‘Let’s add chlorine to it and dump it straight back into the river,’ and the kids are shocked and they ask: ‘Why? Why don’t we treat it further?’”

Aquatic ecologist Supriya Tandan contributing a little art of her own
Photo by Joshua De Costa

Lima used the city of Calgary and one of its rivers as an example. Since the river is much smaller, the effect of dumping untreated sewage in it is much greater. Therefore, the city of Calgary must use tertiary water treatment plants to treat their sewage.

“It’s not the poison that kills you, it’s the dose,” said Lima as he defended dilution as the solution—but he said while dilution works most of the time, it doesn’t work every time. Even if diluted, there are some impurities in water that can cause serious problems for the environment, he said. “Today in the United States, hormones in the water are creating an imbalance between the number of male and female fish.”

Lima then gave attendees tips on how they could save water.  He said everyone should reconsider how they eat or what they buy because every piece of food or type of product has its own “water footprint.”

Just as a carbon footprint shows how much carbon is used to make a certain product, a “water footprint” is the amount of freshwater that the process requires.  For example, it takes just under 7,000 liters of water—or about a 15-hour long shower—to produce one pound of bovine meat, according to a 2010 study published by the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.

“The way we are consuming is using a lot of water,” Lima said. “This cannot go on forever.”

Canada has a history of using a lot of water. In 2009, The National Post reported that Canada ranked second only to the United States in the developed world in liters of water used per person each day.

Since then, however, newer reports show that Canada’s water usage has slightly improved. In 2016, The Conference Board of Canada gave Canada a “B” score for “water withdrawals”—the total volume of water removed from a body of water—ranking the country 10 out of 15 other peer countries.  Three years prior, on the same evaluation scale, Canada was ranked 15 out of 16 peer countries.

Saturday’s discussion also showed how the relationship between a consumerist society and bodies of water can be complicated.

Toso said after the discussion: “There are few places where people can come and have an open discussion about their [water] usage, and get access to a scientist [like Lima].”

Saturday’s conversational lab was the first in the “UrbanBodies series.” The next lab, called “Earth – Herself,” will discuss how the quality of soil affects urban gardening and health.

The lab will be held on Sept. 20 at St-Henri Hive, 4525 Rue Saint-Jacqueson.

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