Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal
By Elena Potter
Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal
September 8 — October 9, 2011
Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal, occurring only once every two years, never fails to build anticipation among photography-loving audiences. I decided to make the trip to Montreal, hoping for some exposure to Québécois art, and a taste of what the galleries had to offer.
The festival presents a modestly scaled, yet highly concentrated, experience that is rigorously juried and expertly displayed. At its centre is a guest curator — this year’s was independent researcher and curator Anne-Marie Ninacs — and, as such, we are seeing the vision of a team of artists and galleries against the backdrop of one curator’s theme all in one place, which is a rare experience.
Ninacs’ theme, “Lucidity: Inward Views”, brought together a group of artists whose practices address unconscious inner selves, and express universal truths through personal experience. Self-examination is an apt theme for a festival of photography, and though this inward-looking theme set up challenges that some of the exhibitions did not overcome, it created some poignant moments.
A new space, Arsenal, housed a surprisingly small exhibition area inside its cavernous, warehouse-like interior. Though this seemed to be the centre of the festival, the works within occasionally fell victim to the esoteric effect of the theme. I had been looking forward to Normand Rajotte and Corinne Lemieux’s work but, while the images themselves were very beautiful, diaristic and detail-oriented, the lack of context left me cold. Photographs and video works by Rinko Kawauchi, however, were visually striking, and the sense of loneliness in her compositions contrasted with the neon colours and strange vistas.
Raymonde April's work, at Optica Centre for Contemporary Art, was a standout exhibition. April, a giant of Québecois photography, presented an exhibition titled Mon regard est net comme un tournesol (My Glance is Clear like a Sunflower) that was comprised of selections from her 20-year oeuvre. Although it read like a photo album, there was a subtle storytelling aspect that made the images universal.
In the past, I have admired Le Mois de la Photo for its tightly themed curation, especially when compared to Toronto’s more expansive CONTACT Photography Festival. In this edition of the festival, a handful of solo exhibitions that were a further step away from the theme ended up being the shows that truly left an impression.
The exhibition Nomad in One’s Own Mind at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery turned out to be my favourite of the entire festival: a series of beautifully presented videos by Danish filmmaker Jesper Just. Each video depicted people in strange, ambiguous situations; most were alone and engaged in a kind of interior struggle. The videos all had an absurd quality, yet a sense of vulnerability made them very moving and profound. Free of dialogue, the films were meditations on the inner self, life and death, and though the central characters behaved in strange ways, the films were easy to engage with because of the immersive quality of the video installation. The music, haunting yet soothing, propelled each film into an otherworldly realm.
Specifically, the pieces “A Voyage in Dwelling” (2008) and “Some Draughty Window” (2007) featured remarkable solo performances, and were really well filmed, with slow pacing and very close, unflinching shots of the central characters. Depicting a troubled wander around and off an island, and a moment of levitation in a public restroom, respectively, these two films exemplified the inner uncomfortable, difficult beauty that I was hoping to see in the rest of the festival.
Lastly, the exhibition of Roni Horn’s “Some Thames” at Galerie UQAM was a surprisingly perfect fit in the festival. The installation of these simple photographs of the waters of the Thames, in a line around the room, highlighted their complex and rich beauty. Whether seen close-up or from afar, the works took on qualities ranging from painterly to pixelated, to perfect realism, to loss of scale, to unrecognizable abstraction. Strange, unexpected colours appeared the longer I looked. Through the lens of the festival, Horn's work functioned as a kind of Rorschach test: water, at intervals clear, murky, reflective, dense, is an apt metaphor for the inward views of the festival’s exhibitions.
Elena Potter is an art writer whose principal interests are photography and video. She holds a BFA in photography and has written for BlogTO, Prefix Photo and Magenta. She is also the editor of the blog for Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, where she is a member. A collection of her recent writings can be found here.