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Concordia’s Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery brings back its in-person SIGHTINGS program

A photo installation by Montreal’s Emmanuelle Duret questions the ethics of visiting sites highly charged by loss and destruction
October 7, 2021
A large see-through square structure in a building atrium, with large floor-to-ceiling windows in the background.
Installation view of Sightings 33, Die KZ und die Gedenkstätte: Replica I, by Emmanuelle Duret. | Courtesy of the Ellen Art Gallery. Photos by Steven Smith Simard.

The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is the subject of a photographic installation that launches the 2021-22 edition of the SIGHTINGS program of Concordia’s Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery.

After the COVID-19 pandemic pushed programming online last year, the SIGHTINGS program returns with in-person projects this season.

“It feels so good to be back,” says SIGHTINGS curator Julia Eilers Smith, also the Max Stern curator of research at the Ellen Art Gallery.

“There will be three projects during the school calendar year — one this fall, another in winter, then a third through the summer. My role is to come up with a theme, which this year is Fiction, under which each project is developed, and I propose artists and works as well as help install them.”

The SIGHTINGS satellite exhibition program was launched in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ellen Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection. Mélanie Rainville, the curator of the collection at the time, conceived of it as an experimental platform to critically reflect upon the possibilities and limitations of the modernist “white cube.”

As part of this program, artists and curators are invited to develop projects for a cubic display unit located on the ground floor of the Henry F. Hall Building.

Montreal artist Emmanuelle Duret’s photographic installation Die KZ und die Gedenkstätte: Replica I focuses on the museification of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site in Germany through photography, archives, text and exhibition design. The installation questions the subjective and ethical relationships visitors have with a site highly charged by loss and destruction.

‘A temporary memorial box’

Duret’s grandfather Raoul Duret is a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp and the Allach subcamp. To create her images, she went to Germany with her obsolete analogue camera because she is interested in the effects of unpredictable exposures, chemical processing and black and white film, a common feature in the historic repertoire of concentration camp images.

Duret comments on the process of exhibiting her photos in the SIGHTINGS cubic display in the Hall Building.

“The cube is transformed into a temporary memorial box that substitutes visitors of the camp memorial with the viewers and passers-by of the Hall Building who are invited to consider how we look back on history. The four photographs place us on the threshold of the camp,” she writes in her project notes.

“We are positioned behind four facing images that form an interior dialogue accessible only obliquely or head-on through the empty space of the cube: a space-time gap, a space to reflect on the distance history irremediably places before us.”

The result is a powerful meditation on the museification of memorial sites, a recurring theme in the work of Duret, whose current projects examine sites of remembrance and explore intergenerational transmission and dark tourism.

This is evident at Dachau, where the entrance gate is actually a replica, while the original gate is installed at the end of the memorial’s permanent exhibition. But in the age of Instagram, hundreds of thousands of visitors each year take all kinds of photos of the replica to post on social media.

“In her project, Duret has included photographs of people photographing the gate’s replica,” Eilers Smith says. “She examines what draws us to photograph something that millions of people have already photographed and which happens to be a copy of the actual historical object.”

Emmanuelle Duret’s photographic installation
Die KZ und die Gedenkstätte : Replica I can be seen in the SIGHTINGS cubic display unit on the ground floor of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall Building (1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.), accessible daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. until January 2022.


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