Culture  From Bedford to St. Laurent

Montréal/Brooklyn brings the scenes together

Though they’re both east coast cities with thriving art and music scenes (and the dense hipster populations that accompany them), Brooklyn and Montreal rarely find themselves associated. But no more, because there’s a contemporary art event, straightforwardly titled Montréal/Brooklyn, which seeks to highlight the cities’ artistic differences and similarities through a series of hybrid exhibitions. Having offered gallery tours every Saturday for the duration of the event, the tour on November 17 spanned two galleries: Articule on Fairmount West and Centre Clarke on de Gaspé. Marjolaine Bourdoa and Jean-Philippe Luckhurst-Cartier guided the tour (the latter of whom was immensely helpful in interpreting a francophone tour for an anglophone reporter).

The diverse works displayed in Articule’s Territorial Re-Marks exhibition are linked in spirit, but not much else. It’s billed as an exploration of control over territory, and each artist takes this in a wildly different direction. In one corner, a double-headed wooden oar leans against the wall, entirely normal except for the colourful fibre construct that swathes its middle, making it look rather like a meat kebab – Montreal-based Jérôme Havre’s examination of colonialism and hierarchy, through the use of luxury to make a functional item non-functional. Emily Roz, a Brooklyn-based artist, paints the flora of the American south alongside the fauna of Africa – linking the human psyche to the more brutal end of the animal kingdom. There’s a partially flayed zebra against a backdrop of delicate, pale pink flowers. There are cackling hyenas, roaring gorillas, and dismembered antelope alongside elegant black branches. In Patricia Smith’s Plot Plans for an Ideal City, another Brooklyn artist explores the obsession of human beings by mapping and cataloguing everything they come across, even their own subconscious. She creates gorgeously wrought old-fashioned maps of things that don’t exist: imagined coliseums and cities in some cases, abstract ideas in others. Most are adorned with faux-official stamps to complete the effect.

Perhaps most interesting is Where we touched: A drawing of places to meet authors, a “literary landscape drawing” by Michelle Lacombe of Montreal. Lacombe represents the act of reading by reproducing the lines she used to highlight key passages in a book on a gallery wall at about eye level, laid end to end. Lacombe is known for her frequent use of her own body as a medium, as well as her interest in visually representing action for the benefit of future viewers – her past work has included a performance piece in which she spat blue ink onto the walls of a gallery. Unfortunately, because it’s presented without a title card, it’s a bit hard for the layperson to tell if they’re looking at a work of art or a crack in the wall, if there isn’t anyone around to explain. The background, as explained by Bourdoa and Luckhurst-Cartier, is admittedly intriguing, but doesn’t make for the most inviting display. The art world’s reputation for snobbery is widespread and well-known, and works like this (however interesting) aren’t doing much to introduce elements of populism to the proceedings.

The spirit of collaboration is a bit more evident when the tour moves over to Centre Clarke, which houses two pairs of complementary works. The first of these belongs to Montreal-based Julie Favreau and Patrick Martinez of Brooklyn. Martinez’s work serves as something of a threshold, tunnels constructed from a latticework of clear drinking straws held together with LYNX, a connective device of the artist’s own devising – remarkable little things that can be clipped together to look like a child’s jacks – befitting Martinez’s background in design.

“He thinks about the perception of the visitor and how he can control it,” says Luckhurst-Cartier, comparing it to a maze in both physical and visual respects. It acts as both a physical boundary and a mental decontamination chamber, dividing Favreau’s video-based piece from the outer world. Both works were based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s 1925 science fiction novella The Fatal Eggs, in which commercial exploitation of a new cell production technique leads to Moscow’s accidental invasion by mutant snakes, ostriches, and frogs. Favreau’s work echoes this more explicitly, the images on her video possessing a scientific, antiseptic quality. Projected on a screen atop a white construction of rigid grids and more organically curving clay tubes, each of the images is one part abstraction, one part actor bearing either a pained or an enigmatic expression: a man with a tangled constellation of pick-up sticks hanging above him like a mobile; a woman in a lab coat carefully examining rocks that are housed in translucent shelves at the centre of a black void.

Steven Brower and Mathieu Beauséjour have a similar arrangement at the back of the gallery. Brower, founder and sole employee of the Brower Propulsion Laboratory (BPL), has created an industrial-looking hatch for a circular porthole (called, appropriately enough, HATCH) that leads to the room housing Beauséjour’s video piece. The work is gloriously titled Don’t worry Darling, There will be more Riots in the Spring, in which a besuited middle aged man with a ball taped into his mouth struggles to convey something extremely urgent and completely incomprehensible. (According to Luckhurst-Cartier, the actor wasn’t given a script, just told to improvise his last words before death). It’s projected in a darkened room, the soundtrack pummeling waves of white noise, intensity and volume oscillating to its own unsettling rhythm. The whole effect strikes a balance between science-fictional dystopia and close-to-home politics – guess which city the title is referencing? In terms of blunt emotional impact, nothing else on the tour can match this duo of works.