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By Karen Herland
Wander into the Rosemont storefront and you’re immediately overwhelmed by dozens of precariously piled TV screens buzzing and flickering from every corner of the cramped space.
The space reads more bygone repair shop than cutting edge art — at least to the handful of neighbours who have stopped in over the show’s two-week run (ending April 29) to ask if they could get their microwaves repaired. That’s exactly what appealed to Studio Arts LTA Donna Akrey and ARTX 399 students in the first place.
“This show wouldn’t have worked in a gallery, we needed a run-down place,” said Akrey of the venue for NTSC (which stands for National Television System Committee – the standard broadcast system used in Canada, slated for replacement next year). The class produces site-specific work on a theme (see Journal, April 23, 2009) for last year’s take. This year, the students picked Montreal as their starting point, “I think we all love Montreal and thought that this might be a nice premise...to consider the island of Montreal as site and as set,” said Akrey. “We thought video would be a good medium to do this as a collective.”
Using video, the show represented a broad range of cityscapes and experiences. The analog TVs and run-down venue were also a comment on the disappearing small business. The space was packed with crowds spilling onto the street at the vernissage on April 19. Those not in the venue could attend the performances in a lot across the street, or stop in to the bar next door where an informal celebration was planned.
Finding an appropriate space proved to be quite complicated. Students were encouraged to scour their neighbourhoods for likely spots. “It was hard to find someone willing to commit to letting us use the space for a month. They thought it would make it more difficult to rent it long-term,” said Akrey. When Stephanie Beaulieu found a likely spot, she had to track down the owner through its neighbours. The landlord turned out to be a Concordia alum who preferred to remain anonymous. He was immediately enthusiastic and did not mind the mural the students painted on the alley side of the shop.
Akrey said the owner’s degree in electrical engineering proved handy, once the multiple screen/video-loop exhibit took shape. “We constructed this weird entity. We had to prepare a bunch of graphs and charts to keep track of it. It’s a beast with many arms.” And many things that could potentially go wrong, so understanding how it worked and how to fix it became part of the process.
Students developed their ideas through a series of exercises and shorter projects last term. Nadia Lombardo framed 30 views in Verdun to force commuters to notice things they might overlook every day. Her final project was a representation of waiting, which could be viewed by periscope, “I put it outside of the bathroom, where people were likely to wait.”
Inspired by artists as varied as Lars von Trier and William S. Burroughs, Akrey challenged the students to work within specific limits. She had the students shoot shorts (snow, or a 2-minute clip representing utopia in Montreal) and upload them to a common site where they could remix or elaborate on each others’ work.
“We all want to put our names on things and students were encouraged as a collective to let that go,” said Akrey.