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.


13th annual World Press Photo exhibition captures emotion and heart

World Press Photo is back in Montreal for its 13th annual exhibition

Nestled in the heart of Old Montreal is a small window into the whole world; one minute you’re gazing down a tree-lined promenade of the Old Port and the next you find yourself confronted with the mountains of garbage piling up on the shores of New York City, Japan and the Netherlands.

The World Press Photo exhibition has a unique way of making the viewer look far beyond their immediate surroundings and into the intimate lives of others. This year, the travelling exhibition returns to Montreal for its 13th edition, showcasing the best documentary photography from around the world under one roof.

Yi Wen Hsia, the exhibition’s manager and curator at World Press Photo, said the contest is one-of-a kind, both in the scope of its subject matter and its reach as an internationally touring exhibition.

“This year, we received over 73,000 images from more than 4,000 photographers from many different countries,” she said. The photos are viewed by an independent jury of photographers, editors and other experts before being narrowed down to first, second and third place winners in each of the eight categories. “We always strive to reflect what is happening in the industry; we saw that the environment and the issue of sustainability is one that has become more and more prominent,” said Hsia of the newly added Environment category.

The World Press Photo exhibition returns to Montreal, showcasing the best documentary photography from around the world.
Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Present among the winning photographs are recurrent themes pulled from international news headlines over the past year and captured through multiple lenses. Images of right-wing extremism in the United States—including the widely circulated image of the car that drove into a crowd of protestors killing one woman in Charlottesville, Va.,—hang adjacent to photos of riots in Venezuela and a series about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

“Another major topic that we saw was the issue of the Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh,” Hsia said. “We have a couple of winners this year dedicated to that topic.” She said this may prevent the touring exhibition from entering Burma due to the heightened political tensions and the government’s refusal to officially recognize the Rohingya as its citizens.

Regardless of the topic, each winning photo shares what is arguably the most important element of documentary photography: a powerful story. According to Hsia, the story behind the image and the context in which it is taken is a significant factor in the selection process.

“We want viewers to have a deeper understanding,” she said, after describing one photographer’s brush with death in the midst of a protest and another’s decade-long commitment to her subjects. This “deeper understanding” lies at the heart of World Press Photo’s mission to give time and space to important visual stories that will resonate with audiences in a world so oversaturated with disposable images.

Anna Boyiazis’ Finding Freedom in the Water, depicts a group of young girls learning how to swim for the first time.
Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Anna Boyiazis is one of this year’s winning photographers with a story that began long before capturing the images that won her second place in the People category. Her series, Finding Freedom in the Water, depicts a group of young girls clad head to toe in modest swimwear, learning how to swim for the first time off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania in East Africa.

“I had visited the island before, and I was told girls don’t swim. To which I replied, ‘This one does.’

I was being told what I was doing was inappropriate,” Boyiazis said. Time passed, but the experience resonated with her. “Once the idea was planted, it just blossomed as a perfect merging of my interest in humans rights, public health and women’s and girls’ issues.”

Upon learning that an organization called Panje Project was finally providing an aquatic education opportunity to local girls, Boyiazis jumped into action. She reached out to Panje Project asking to come document the organization’s work but received no response. After weeks of waiting, Boyiazis wasn’t ready to give up, so she boarded a plane to Tanzania.

“It was the best way to present my idea face-to-face. After that, it took two months for the idea to be presented to all of the teachers, parents, community leaders and elders to make sure they were comfortable with their girls being photographed,” she recalled. But it didn’t end there.

“After access was secured, I spent two weeks teaching the instructors English and an additional week in the water without my camera.”

Finally, after months of anticipation and preparation, Boyiazis stood waist-deep in brilliant aqua blue water watching young girls leave their conservative cultural restrictions ashore and experience the euphoria of floating for the first time.

Though the majority of her time was spent without a camera in hand, Boyiazis noted that the level of trust established over the course of the project allowed the subjects to be vulnerable with her. This sense of intimacy is reflected in her series of photographs.

“I think after a while of all that, the preconceived ideas that I had needed to be discarded, because I have to be true to the story that is right in front of me,” Boyiazis said. “If I’m looking for all of those other things, I might miss what’s actually going on.”

When asked if she approached her work with a journalist’s consideration for a story or an artist’s eye for aesthetics, Boyiazis didn’t miss a beat. “Emotion. Heart,” she responded.

The age-old saying “good things come to those who wait” is entirely appropriate here and for most of the award-winning photographs that line the walls of the World Press Photo exhibition.

There is something to be said for an extraordinary stroke of luck that creates a striking photograph. For Boyiazis, though, a real connection between the photographer and the story is more than a guiding principle of documentary photography; it is the philosophy of her practice.

“Do stories that matter to you, and don’t care if anyone might not be interested,” Boyiazis said. “I mean, it makes me want to cry; I didn’t think anyone would ever resonate with this. But here it is.”

The 13th annual World Press Photo exhibition runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 30 at 325 Rue de la Commune E. The exhibition is open seven days a week, and students get a discount on admission prices.


Utter beauty and humanity’s monstrous truths

Decayed and motionless, a corpse floats in a liquid, rippling sky. Its only companions are a disposable coffee cup and some piece of unidentifiable, discarded garbage. This is the World Press Photo exhibition: impressive, iconic, and incredibly removed from the idyllic.

World Press Photo is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., from September 4 to 29 at 350 Saint-Paul Street East, in the Old Port of Montreal. Ticket prices are $12. Press photo.

The World Press Photo is an annual exhibition of the most iconoclastic images from the preceding year… with some sports, nature photography, and a few topical and less soul-crushing news events like the Olympics or an American presidential campaign thrown in as a buffer between your lunch and the pavement.

The corpse suspended in the pool of leaking oil comes from Sudan. The photographer, Dominic Nahr, captured the image in the aftermath of a battle in the contested town of Heglig. Heglig, which lies in the oil-rich border region between what is now Sudan and South Sudan, had seen some of the area’s worst fighting in recent years as the conflict between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (now the army of the Republic of South Sudan) intensified over disputed oil fields and resources. It was one more battle in a struggle that spanned more than half a century. This soldier is not the first victim, and he is far from the last; faceless and discarded, this is the portrait of an oil struggle.

Alongside conflict zones and war-ravaged, blood-splattered streets, this year’s exhibition also features several sets from photographers that confront you with the brutality perpetrated against women.

A shocking mother-daughter portrait by Ebrahim Noroozi displayed the monstrous results of a vindictive patriarchy. Somayeh Mehri, 29, and daughter Rana Afghanipour, 3, were attacked, silently, as they slept by a husband and father who frequently beat and locked Somayeh away and promised revenge should she carry out her divorce. One night he carried out his threat and poured acid over the two while they were tucked in their beds, considering it just retribution for her attempts at leaving him.

The duo avert their gaze from the camera. Rana smiles, though the smile is only discernible through her left eye. The rest of her face, and that of her mother’s, has been transformed into something horrid. Burnt, deformed, and shrouded in bandages that cover the purulent skin, these two women represent a microcosm of the oppression foisted onto women in many parts of the world. These photos draw you in. They are taken in black and white and the textures of seared, melted flesh form a visual tapestry of struggle and spirit; these living corpses are filled with more life and capacity to endure than any asinine simile. This is the life of two women living in Iran.

All in all, the exhibition leaves you with conflicting emotions. The photos, gory and horrifying, are real moments; unadulterated fractions of seconds, caught on celluloid or digital sensors across the world. They stand there, frozen and presented without frames or pretense, but the artistic and technical precision, the conscious editing and manipulation of reality that is photojournalism, can be overwhelming. How can depictions of the most acrid slices of humanity bear so much painterly beauty? Could it be the only recourse open for journalists: to interpret brutality with bokeh and saturation, to turn it into something disturbingly beautiful? Or is it simpler than that –  are we so enamored with war that we find excuses to stage traveling exhibitions? Whatever the reasoning that founded and propagates its success, this exhibition is a portrait of the human condition. This is World Press Photo.

World Press Photo is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., from September 4 to 29 at 350 Saint-Paul Street East, in the Old Port of Montreal. Ticket prices are $12.


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