2 Concordia projects seek to reimagine the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts experience
For Thomas Bastien, the connection between Concordia and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) goes well beyond being neighbours.
“Together, we are exploring all the ways that students and professors can see the museum as an extension of the university,” says the MMFA director of education and wellness.
This autumn, two collaborations between the Faculty of Fine Arts and the museum embody that close relationship between the institutions, demonstrating the MMFA’s critical role as a classroom for Concordia students.
Climate futures and contemporary art
The MMFA partnered with Concordia’s Department of Art History to present a public symposium on December 12, entitled “Climate Futures and Contemporary Art: 6 Curatorial Propositions.”
Alice Ming Wai Jim, professor of art history and Concordia University Research Chair in Ethnocultural Art Histories, developed the idea for the symposium with students in her graduate class Aspects of Museum and Curatorial Studies: International Art Exhibitions (ARTH 648). They worked with Moridja Kitenge Banza, the educational programs officer at the museum, to make it a reality.
As contemporary art that focuses on the climate emergency grows in significance, galleries and curators are responding in kind. The symposium presented six curatorial propositions to generate new ways to see and engage with the environmental crisis.
The main question asked was: How do institutions curate exhibitions of contemporary art that address critical aspects of climate change in a way that is also mindful of being located on unceded Indigenous lands and waters?
Close links between climate justice and decolonization
Speakers covered a broad range of curatorial rationales for exhibitions featuring artworks that engage with topics running from Indigenous water sovereignty in Canada to the experience of nature through immersive digital installations, and from consumer habits and their impact on the landscape to concepts of connectivity, sentience and globalization.
“We see how the struggle for climate justice and decolonizing the university and museum are more closely linked than we think,” Jim says.
Her graduate students are also working on a term project to submit to ISEA 2020 — an upcoming art and technology conference in Montreal — on the theme of Why Sentience? Jim is a co-chair of the artistic committee of ISEA 2020, a conference which features many other Concordians.
Remixing the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
The second initiative involved Concordia graduate students of art education, drama therapy and communication studies. They participated in three workshops over three days from November 19 to 21 at the MMFA to reimagine the museum space.
The workshop series was part of the Landscape of Hope project, a youth-led digital art initiative of the Concordia-based organization Project Someone. Launched in 2018, Landscape of Hope is a collaboration between associate professor Vivek Venkatesh (art education), manager of Project Someone Kathryn Urbaniak, associate professor Owen Chapman (communication studies), associate professor Sandra Chang-Kredl (education) and lecturer Annabelle Brault (creative arts therapies).
“The workshops were shaped by themes cherished by Landscape of Hope, such as hope and resilience, but we also offered several variations, as more space was given to expressive bodily and musical improvisation,” says Léah Snider, a Concordia PhD student in art education who coordinated the event.
‘It made me aware of the different ways of approaching art’
Students and participants shared their experiences on Plural, a content-sharing platform created by Project Someone.
“It works like Instagram, but without likes, shares and comments,” Snider explains.
Ehsan Akbari, PhD student in art education, held a workshop called “Senses Remixed,” where participants developed sensory maps of museum spaces and shared them on Plural.
“This created a good conversation about how we can approach art and the senses,” Akbari says. “It made me aware of the different ways of approaching art appreciation.”
The “Embodying Resilience” workshop was hosted and organized by two creative arts therapies graduate students, Olivia Morson and Whitney Slipp. They asked participants to move through designated museum spaces with masks (physical and virtual), creating performative responses to artworks.
The third workshop, “Re-imagining MMFA,” was organized by communication studies graduate students Julien Younes and Dezy Nair. Participants collected sound in the museum and used mixing equipment and software to create audio art.
‘Catalysts for social progress’
Snider believes the workshops reflect integral themes of the Landscape of Hope project.
“There is this notion of decolonization in the reinterpretation of museum spaces like we did, because museums can be colonial spaces,” she says.
Bastien sees the themes of both projects as an expression of the shared mission of the university and the museum.
“Our two institutions are also connected through our shared humanist visions to be catalysts for social progress through ever-expanding projects,” he says.
“While we have a very strong affinity with the Faculty of Fine Arts, we also work with other faculties that use our collections, exhibitions and creative spaces from every possible angle.”