Jayne Wilkinson on the Momenta Biennale de l’image

CARE QUESTIONS and ecological entanglement have dominated art discourse for several years, but seem to have gained urgency in recent times, as the pandemic has forced a renegotiation of relationships and values ​​on a global scale. Using art to bridge the perception gap between humans and non-human species, the seventeenth edition of the Montreal Momenta Image Biennale, organized by Stefanie Hessler in collaboration with Camille Georgeson-Usher, Maude Johnson and Himali Singh Soin, and presented through October 24 — discusses the effects of sensing and being felt by the natural world. The theme is ostensibly to experience “nature” beyond photographic representation (an area in which this biennial, previously named Month of the Photo, generally well pruned), and the strongest projects occupy land and water through embodied stewardship practices operating outside the gallery system. Nationally and globally, Indigenous artists are leading these conversations – about the relationships between species, liquid ecologies, land-based learning, and the intersection of technology with each – and curatorial selection. has demonstrated.

At the Grande Bibliothèque (BAnQ), the artist and ethnobotanist T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss, with his collaborators Silverbear and Joce TwoCrows Mashkikii Bimosewin Tremblay, have created a public garden that incorporates varieties of local plants (beans, corn, flowering tobacco, medicinal herbs), drawing on indigenous knowledge to clean up urban spaces. Likewise, BUSH Gallery, an ongoing collaborative residency project created at Tania Willard’s home on the reserve at SecwepemcúlÌ“ecw, incorporates land stewardship as an aesthetic practice. This iteration, presented at the artist-run center Optica, includes artists Peter Morin, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill and Willard, as well as “the children, the family, the land and the dogs”, who co-created a series of assemblages together. sculptural using photosensitive media. , revealing how non-human species can represent themselves and the earth in tangible, non-theoretical ways.

T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss, TEIONHENKWEN, 2021. Installation view, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, MOMENTA 2021.

Indigenous collaborations have been forged in many sites. At the McCord Museum, the call-and-response installation by Caroline Monnet and Laura Ortman (titled Exquisite note in a nod to the exquisite corpse of the surrealists) is a breathtaking tribute to family and friendship. At Center Clark, New Red Order members Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil, Kite and Jackson Polys poke fun at Theosophist and later New Age beliefs in their video The Last of the Lemurs, 2021, from the name of an ancestral race supposedly “pure” which would have inhabited a mythical continent engulfed in the Indian Ocean. The main work humorously deflates this racist construction of indigeneity, which seems at least partially aligned with the neo-shamanist tendency to sell rocks, plants and crystals as a commodity of well-being, also mocked here.

The challenges that plague many biennials – too little exhibition space for overly grand ambitions – are present at this Momenta, and group exhibitions in particular suffer from sound bleeding and tangled sight lines. Yet given the intense constraints of working in pandemic conditions and travel restrictions, curators have assembled the works of an impressive group of artists. And there are remarkable moments of synchronicity: Taloi Havini’s three-channel video installation at the Galerie de l’UQAM, with its antennas in slow motion toxic landscapes around the Panguna copper mine, long closed in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, cuts in two the space containing TsÄ“mā Igharas and Erin Siddall’s bubble-shaped glass display cases of still radioactive mineral samples from the Northwest Territories community of Délı̨nÄ™, in about 150 miles from the disused uranium mines of Port Radium. Together, the two works offer a thought-provoking look at the global reach and deadly afterlife of mining.

Several solid solo projects design immersive environments in neon hues for different purposes. In Anne Duk Hee Jordan’s deep blue room at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, extreme video close-ups of underwater quirks enveloped the mechanics Creatures and Clam applause, both in 2018, whose unpredictable sounds punctuate the bewildering and at times claustrophobic feeling of life below the surface. that of Abbas Akhavan spread, 2020, at the Phi Foundation – a deceptively simple rocky pond and waterfall set up on a chroma inlaid green stage – highlights the mediatized quality of contemporary experiences of nature as paradoxically meditative and anxiety-provoking, a feeling still caused by the slow and persistent dripping of water from the gallery ceiling. At Galerie B-312, Technicolor prosthetic sculptures by Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau complete a “meta-musical” performance in four songs based on plant life in Rio de Janeiro. A treatise on chronic disease and the body emerged from an imaginary epistolary exchange with Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, a refreshing change from the dominant motif of the interspecies detection biennial.

What is the stake of all these investigations on the division between man and nature, in the multiple attempts to reconnect communication between species in a more authentic way? There is little that sensory experiences can do to build empathy and bridge the gap between human and non-human life. Is it possible to relinquish the power of an anthropocentric position in exhibitions designed by and for people? I cynically imagine future historians puzzled by this moment of urgency, asking why artists were trying to do the work of scientists as companies mercilessly invest in high-emission activities like consumer space travel. Forest fires, droughts, hurricanes, melting ice caps and the general state of disaster have barely registered with a billionaire class hoarding maniacally with extractive capital, and thus the work of this edition of Momenta, as many artistic efforts before him oriented towards ecology, took over. an inevitable air of compunction. The rush to create and archive images of nature looks like an attempt to assuage the guilt of planetary collapse, or to ensure that future generations know about the planet’s rich biodiversity before extinction is finalized. massive. In the biennial post, Georgeson-Usher, Curator of the Coast Salish, Sahtu Dene and Scottish and member of the conservation team, writes a poetic missive on the ethics of engagement with non-human life, asking us “To imagine, even briefly, that we live somewhere built in tenderness and respect among all beings. A world that doesn’t need to pretend, that transforms just because it can. It cannot be otherwise, as we look forward to the next decade of environmental crises.

Jayne Wilkinson is a Toronto-based writer, editor and curator.

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