Gender in art
This was a year of breaking barriers for women and trans people in art, both on campus and off. Women in Montreal actively claimed traditionally gendered roles, creating spaces to speak up about their experiences in art and life. Beyond representation, gender was also addressed thematically in creative work.
At McGill, women took control of the stage, as Tuesday Night Café (TNC) Theatre’s entire season of shows featured only women directors. In Montreal, the creation of an all-women DJ collective, FéMTL, again promoted the work of amazing women in a field where they remain largely invisible. As singer-songwriter Lowell pointed out to The Daily, it is too easy to assume that music production is only done by men. “I’m guilty of it too,” she explained, “And I know people have done the same thing to me.”
Art exhibits such as “Trans Time” – Montreal’s first ever trans collective art exhibit – and Galerie Donald Browne’s “Testosterone,” as well as the novel he, used art to de-naturalize gender binaries. Similarly, the women of LadyCab, a new Montreal-based web series, demonstrated the performativity of gender identities by dressing up as stereotypical ladies to critique patriarchal notions of femininity. We may not have smashed the patriarchy this year, but we certainly did some heavy damage.
Students in art
Juggling academic and creative pursuits no doubt poses unique challenges, but this has never stopped Montreal’s student artists from delving into the city’s art scenes. This year was no exception as student artists took the city by storm, fearlessly tackling taboo topics like intimacy in the Concordia student exhibit “(Intimacy) Limits and Consequences,” to granting old operas new life in Opera McGill’s production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”
Student communities fostered creative energy, support, and collaboration throughout the year. The annual MainLine Gala for Student Drama created space for three talented women to stage their original plays. McGill’s resident house collective Our House Music (OHM) brought together a tight-knit community of EDM lovers.
At McGill, students debunked the stereotype of an apathetic generation by bridging art and activism. The inaugural Hip Hop Week Montreal taught the university its first lessons about hip hop – a cultural movement that is often ignored in classroom settings despite (or perhaps because of) its political power. The Arab Students’ Association (ASA) spotlighted the social and political power of theatre by staging the Theatre of the Oppressed, inviting spectators to resist everyday oppressions on stage. Student theatre companies across McGill delved into sensitive topics this year, impressing their audiences with taboo stories and with their theatrical innovation. Daring in their approaches, Montreal’s student artists left few stones unturned this year.
Community and culture in Montreal
A city of 1.6 million people, Montreal is known for its cool vibes, its party life, and its poutine. The city is also, however, a metropolis of arts and culture, home to thriving music, theatre, art, and experimental scenes all characterized by their sense of community.
A short trip up to the Mile End will take you to the Drawn & Quarterly bookstore, whose monthly Graphic Novel Book Club brings together an assortment of Montreal folks with little in common but their love of graphic novels. Beer in hand, the attendees discuss a different book each month, analyzing and assessing the designs in a comfortable atmosphere.
For those less interested in graphic novels, the Confabulation storytelling series at MainLine Theatre offers a different kind of community. At these monthly events, all are invited to get up on stage and share a personal experience or spin a yarn. In breaking down the fourth wall, these evenings add a layer of intimacy and authenticity that can sometimes be lost in theatre.
Even the events that only take place once a year offer a glimpse into the love and passion that comes with Montreal culture. This year, POP Montreal provided an opportunity for members of the local music community to come together and take over the city, while its exhibits and panels chronicled the lives of these musicians. Just a few weeks after POP, Montrealers were dressing up and dressing down to celebrate the community of freaks and lovers that is Rocky Horror.
The important thing to remember is that the McGill community isn’t the only one out there – and when you’re feeling isolated on campus, there’s always more to explore.
Saving the Earth with art
Saving planet earth from destruction has become a central concern for our generation, and this year, many Montrealers turned to artistic and cultural mediums to address these concerns. Cinema Politica Concordia kicked off its season with the 2014 documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, which points to animal agriculture as the primary cause of environmental damage today. The film cast the spotlight on an ugly and overlooked culture of overconsumption.
Literally taking matters into their own hands, the employees at Montreal cafe and skills-sharing co-op Le Milieu provided some answers to this trend by hosting “Dumpster Dining,” a culinary workshop. The event served up a mouth-watering reminder that “we can actually make delicious food from food that is otherwise thrown in the trash,” as facilitator Rachel Chainey put it. Multimedia art project Alchemy of Waste also challenged popular perceptions of trash, repackaging landfill-destined goods as artistic mediums.
Using art as direct action, Montreal’s annual PARK(ing) Day kicked out over 200 cars in Montreal from parking lots around the city, reimagining them as creative spaces.
From education to creation to action, these environmental artists demonstrated the variety of innovative ways in which everyone can promote sustainability.
Critiquing oppressive narratives
Art has historically been used both to oppress and to liberate. This year in Montreal, certain art exhibits tended toward the former. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts sadly but shamelessly enshrined racist and misogynistic tropes of orientalism in its “Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism” exhibit. In an attempt to defy authority, Galerie UQAM’s exhibit, “The Disorderliness of Things,” ironically upheld certain oppressive narratives. By critiquing the corporatized workplace, suburban parenthood, and the like, the exhibit thus only addressing the narratives that oppress more privileged members of society.
Critiquing oppression was much more successful outside of formal gallery spaces. The last weeks of summer saw wheatpastes around the city declaring “Decolonize Turtle Island,” a powerful mark left by the Anti-colonial Street Artists Convergence. At McGill, art/activist duo DarkMatter took on the racial hierarchies that dominate queer movements, shutting down the false promise that ‘it gets better’ with poignant pieces like “It Gets Bourgi.” Also using spoken word, Remi Kanazi smashed rhetorics of neutrality that silence the Palestinian struggle. It was overall a year of critical thinking, with both artists and critics holding us accountable.
Culture picks 2014-15
2014-15 was a year to be proud of local art, as Montreal continued to prove itself as a hub of creativity in Canada. This year’s performances and exhibits shared marginalized stories, called out mainstream media, and mused on the meaning of the digital age. Here are a few of our favourites:
Best album: COIN COIN Chapter Three: River Run Thee
The new album from Roberts, saxophonist and stalwart of the Montreal scene, is the artist’s most experimental endeavour. Through sax drones and electronic pulses, Roberts creates eerie soundscapes for her vocal performances to weave through, as she tells surreal stories of Black history. As Grace Bill put it in her article in The Daily, “the result is abstract yet beautiful, evoking a powerful dread or unreality.”
Best play: Dear Elizabeth
Based on hundreds of letters sent between the two, Tuesday Night Café (TNC) Theatre’s production chronicled the almost-love of poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Delving deep into their psyches, it depicted adoration, depression, and, above all, loneliness. Julia Borsellino and Max Katz were beautiful in their portrayals of Bishop and Lowell, while director Marina Miller deftly staged their separation as its own kind of poetry.
Best book: Something You Were, Might Have Been, or Have Come to Represent
Written by Jay Winston Ritchie, editor-in-chief of The Void magazine, Something You Were, Might Have Been, or Have Come to Represent is the perfect picture of the awkward existence of young musicians in Montreal. A book of short stories, it chronicles the lives of aspiring artists as they struggle to make time for songwriting in between lecture halls and call centre jobs. Ritchie paints a beautiful and familiar portrait of the city, creating a world that will resonate with any student, musician or not.
Art to keep your eye on: Underwater City
Disability activist Aimee Louw launched her new multimedia endeavour, the Underwater City Project, this year. The first part of the project is a zine that chronicles her search for “the most accessible city in Canada,” as Louw assesses the accessibility of five major Canadian cities. Louw uses the idea of the underwater city as a metaphor for an accessible utopia – if urban life were underwater, there would be no transit barriers. The project will eventually be a full documentary, but for now the zine has got our attention.