The Art Matters festival has been running every year since 2000, and continues to offer art exhibits in various mediums to showcase the diversity of Montreal’s art community. The festival is completely undergraduate-student run and put on by Concordia University throughout the month of March. Displayed at different locations throughout the city, Art Matters 2016 was a collection of various mediums such as painting, photography, and a series of talks and workshops offered by professional artists. Providing emerging artists and curators the opportunity to develop their practices and promote their work, the festival creates a line of communication between the artists of Concordia University and the city of Montreal.
One of the exhibits, Stories We Tell was a collection of pieces by several artists that brings forward the question of why we enjoy looking at photos of other families. Constructed through our own childhood memories, our perception of family life originates in the remembered realities of our ancestors. Nostalgia, memories, and romanticizing the past all paint the pictures we choose to remember. By exploring the different perspectives in which these pictures may be observed, Stories We Tell allows the viewer to reflect on their own personal family histories.
A particular piece included in the Stories We Tell collection is Concordia student-artist Jeremy Blinkhorn’s “Atrophy-Life.” The artwork consisted of photographs from the artist’s own family that capture the essence of his grandfather’s life, whose memories were stolen by dementia. A vintage machine projected images that subtly captured his grandfather, as he is never directly included in any. Either in backgrounds, turned away, or taking the photo himself, Blinkhorn’s grandfather is simultaneously absent from the photographs and yet the subject of the piece. The piece embodies the memories of the man who could no longer remember them himself.
For an exhibit that focused on past generations and a time before the age of computers, the collection’s pieces incorporated technology in a surprising way. One piece was viewable through a small slit in a box where within was a theatre of home videos. Across the gallery a screen was attached to the wall where photographs from the sixties and seventies were transformed into moving imagery. The stationary tradition of a photograph was thrown out the window with this piece as one viewed a statuesque young girl trapped in time become bent in a way that allows her to move through the motionless background and out of the frame. The television moved through a collection of pictures that continued through this same pattern, each becoming more and more obscure and fantastical. A unique idea of photographic manipulation, the artist succeeded in reimagining the past and encouraging the viewers to do the same. The exhibit collectively leaves the audience nostalgic and reflective. By seeing the memories and personal possessions of other families one still feels close to those individuals within the bounds of a withered photograph. Despite the distance of time, a connection was made between the art and the viewer.
Another collection included in this year’s Art Matters was Concr(éte), curated by Ashley Zvervolel. Concr(éte) used the definition of concrete as something being real or solid; not abstract. The exhibit itself consisted of a humble few pieces, the issue being that it was difficult to differentiate what is an actual aspect of the exhibit. A small room’s walls were dressed in the images of a green lush forest making the viewer feel immersed within the naturalistic scene. The centre of the room was occupied by a 10 foot piece of folded paper folded into a concrete coloured snake, initially appearing stable and strong yet upon closer inspection is seen to be made of simple grey construction paper that may potentially be moved or altered. The meaning behind the piece was not easy to find or understand, yet through further research within the exhibit’s pamphlet exhibit-goers can learn that the piece is meant to embody the illusion of stability and strength. It’s difficult to withhold skepticism when viewing the art of this collection. One piece was as simplistic as a green plastic planter filled with dead branches and tiny stems of flowers.
Laurence Herviuex-Gosselin’s Nothing Ever Happens Here was a collection of three photographs that was produced while the artist was in L’Avenir, Quebec, and served to be purposely ambiguous. Consisting of a photo of a dog, a house, and a farm scene, the photographic series played on a continuous loop within the gallery, overlooking the surrounding pieces. As a whole, Concr(éte) explored the idea of human environments and the relationships with the natural world. While the pieces may be appreciated separately, the joint viewing failed to see the true intention of the exhibition.
Stay Awhile was a collective piece that intended to make its viewer uncomfortable. Curated by Olivia Rose Mansveld, the word to be associated with this installation is “nidificate [verb]: To build a nest.” The interactive piece explored the nesting behaviours of humans and the material evidence that said behaviours leave behind. Entering a darkened staircase hidden behind a side door of Boulevard Saint-Laurent, the exhibit initially presented itself as a regular apartment complex. The pieces are collected and organized within one’s living space, further expressing the idea of observing nesting. Once inside the makeshift gallery it was difficult to decipher what was meant to be a part of the gallery and what wasn’t. The eleven pieces scattered within the apartment all serve individual meanings yet refer to the common purpose. Food in the kitchen was used to explore the themes of sexuality, desire, and consumption while exploring the idea of human tendency. Plasticine body parts served to express the trace of a past action while spread upon a chair and the surrounding floor of the living room. A curtain made completely of used cigarette butts reminds one of the differentiation between public and private zones and our willingness to engage in both. The urge to laugh uncomfortably followed the viewer the entire time they explored the open-aired apartment filled with aggressively purposed pieces, at times the impulse even became overwhelming.
The many exhibitions of this year’s Art Matters can serve to a variety of tastes and perspectives, and Stay Awhile will certainly not be forgotten. The thought-provoking pieces leave an impression, as well as the satisfaction of supporting young artists within Montreal.