FTB is proud to bring you another piece from The Rover, a site dedicated to Montreal arts and culture. This post comes to us from their Festival City series. Expect more festival coverage from The Rover and Forget The Box as well this summer in Festi-Ville.


by Shawn Katz

Chance, it seems, is everywhere we look. It is the unknowable force that governs all our lives: the guardian angel that correctively cradles us when our designs go awry, or the mischievous troll that wreaks havoc with our best-laid plans. But what, in the end, is it, this ‘chance’?

For this seventh edition of the Biennale de Montréal (or the BNL MTL 2011, under its more branché moniker), curators Claude Gosselin and David Liss invite us to explore this most omnipresent, omnipotent of forces, offering us a multitude of lenses, from the visual arts to electronic arts to installation and video, and more. The theme of the show, entitled Elements of Chance, is drawn from Stéphane Mallarmé’s seminal 1897 work, Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (“A throw of the dice will never abolish chance”), in which the French poet muses that “all thought expresses a throw of the dice.”

Happily, the same can’t quite be said about the organization of this show. Its curatorial design, in fact, is exceptionally cohesive, and while approached from a wondrous array of angles and artistic mediums, an impressive faithfulness to theme is nonetheless present throughout the exhibit.

None of which, it seems, is enough to put a smile on the face of the affable Claude Gosselin these days, founder and co-curator of this seventh Biennale. It was a discouraged and defeated M. Gosselin I reached on the phone on Tuesday afternoon, with the sounds of a man grown tired and weary of long wars in the trenches though holding firm, in his own humble manner, to the nobility of his cause. After fourteen years of bureaucratic wrangling with funding organizations like the Canada Council for the Arts, of struggling to rally competing organizations around a unifying project, and of a media establishment interested more, in Gosselin’s view, with nitpicking the shows’ logistical flaws than in the calibre of the art presented, the Biennale de Montréal still struggles to pierce through the noise, its funding and with it, its future left dangling in the void.

It’s a shame that it has come to this. The BNL MTL 2011 is a formidable show, one every bit the equal, if not superior, to shows presented with budgets many magnitudes larger, whether at the Musée des beaux arts (MBA), the Musée d’art contemporain (MAC), or other such venues benefitting from major establishment backing. The smaller size and inferior edifice aside both directly attributed to the BNL’s lack of adequate financial and institutional support the artworks themselves offer an enticing and inspiring view of the cutting edge of Canadian and international art.

From beginning to end of the show, visitors are confronted with a multisensory and multilevel exploration of the role of chance both in our lives and in artistic creation, with the two often mutually reinforcing. In one notable work by Montreal artist Jean Dubois, key concepts taken from works by Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze are randomly disjointed and sprayed in light across the walls, with visitors invited to blow on a device at the centre of the darkened room in order to propel the projections. With other installation works, we are challenged to make sense of apparently senseless arrangements and structures; with video works, often designed around random algorithms, we are forced to confront the cruelties of fate, or the senselessness of suffering. And therein lies one of the greatest successes of this year’s Biennale: its consistency and strength across a wide breadth of mediums. From sculpture to e-art to video and everything in between, this stimulating and innovative encounter is sure to unravel more enigmas than it solves; itself a testament to the Biennale’s success.

And yet despite such a curatorial triumph, M. Gosselin readily admits: the BNL MTL has failed to rally Montrealers, and its scope, as a result, remains quite limited when compared to the world’s great standard-bearers, from Venice to Sao Paolo to Shanghai and others. So who is to blame?

In other cities, Biennales are organized by large cultural institutions such as museums or regional agencies, not tiny independent entities like Gosselin’s own Centre international d’art contemporain (CIAC) which organizes it here. And in fact, when Gosselin launched his project in 1998, he approached the MAC to see if they could work together. He soon found instead that the MAC preferred “dividing to be king of a little village” than to work together around a unifying project. The MAC, once headed by Gosselin while it was still run out of the Québec government’s Ministère de la Culture, eventually went on to found its own Triennale québécoise in 2008, definitively opting for competition over cooperation (Gosselin’s Montreal Biennale is 50% pan-Canadian and 50% international artists). As for the MBA, Gosselin says they have been generally more receptive to cooperation, but logistical wrangling always came in the way.

This is Claude Gosselin’s final year at the head of the Biennale, and whether someone will be there to carry the torch is anyone’s guess. Gosselin of course hopes the good work will carry on, but after fourteen years, he simply has nothing left to give.

The future of the Montreal Biennale is hanging in the balance. We owe this city better than to simply leave it to chance.

The BNL MTL 2011 is on exhibition at the former École des beaux arts on St-Urbain street until May 31st. Visit their website here: http://www.biennalemontreal.org
Photo: 1000 Catastrophes by Lois Andison

Blogs, online magazines, websites – we all live in the virtual world. Just as business have relationships with other business and companies, we are building partnerships and friendships with people online. So, Forget The Box would like to introduce The Rover! The Rover is a Montreal based arts website that features articles about theatre, film, books and much more. Every second Sunday we will be bring you, our FTB readers, a little something-something from their website. This week we’re kicking it off with a review from Rover writer, Heather Leighton, about Joe Ollmann’s graphic novel, Mid-Life.



Crisis, what Crisis?
Mid-Life, Drawn and Quarterly, by Joe Ollmann
by Heather Leighton

In Mid-Life, the hilarious graphic novel by Joe Ollmann, we meet a conflicted, pear-shaped John Olsen who is revisiting fatherhood at age 40. Although his much younger second wife, Chan, is the love of his life, he still feels pangs of guilt about his first failed marriage and the disappointment it caused his two daughters, now 19 and 23. Yes, we can all do the math. John was married at 17 and spawned children “like some hillbilly child bride.”

His guilt, however, competes with his resentment that he was never able to enjoy the freedom of his youth as Chan was. On the fun scale, everyone in Montreal seems to have had a better time than sleep-deprived John, whose new parent role has created both a cranky husband and an absentminded employee, pushing him closer to the edge of an emotional and professional abyss. To make matters worse, just as his once rabid sex drive starts to decline, his disconcerting habit of ogling the body parts of young women emerges. Clearly, John is experiencing a mid-life crisis.

Readers who have had children will readily identify with John’s situation, from his petty anger because his partner got seven minutes more sleep to the insipid children’s TV shows you are forced to watch because moving would wake the baby sleeping in your arms. In John’s case there is an upside to watching kids’ TV, in particular Sherri Smalls, who John thinks is great and, well, hot. As an artistic director at a magazine, he travels to New York where he makes plans to interview Smalls, the second narrative thread in Mid-Life. Sherri turns out to be a lonely former-rocker-turned-children’s-performer who doesn’t know what to do with her angry on-again-off-again boyfriend who is also her onstage monkey sidekick. Will John’s desire to feel young again triumph over his crippling guilt?

I originally read the first chapter online and laughed until I cried. Ollman’s nine-frame black and white panels with their scratchy lines convey a range of intense emotion, from cringe-worthy embarrassment to anxiety-inducing pain, with humour never far off. My only criticism is that the lettering was difficult to read in at times.

The author has crafted a fine narrative, continually upping the emotional stakes every few pages. This book will definitely appeal to anyone who has had a child later in life when waking up several times a night is akin to torture.   No one can deny the first five years of our children’s lives are trying, and what better way to enjoy it than by witnessing our hapless protagonist limp through it. In the end, John finds a solution to his predicament—he stops looking at what he’s missing and starts to appreciate what he has. The glass-half-full outlook can make a world of difference.

While Mid-Life is considered an autobio comic, how much of it actually transpired remains a mystery. Ollmann states in the preface, “This is largely a work of fiction, except where it isn’t. Please see the notes for even less clarification.” I wonder what his wife thinks…


Interested in getting involved with FTB? Shoot me an email! Cassie[at]forgetthebox[dot]net.

“An intoxicating performance which explores through readings the fictional portrayals of the city of Montreal by some of our most well-known and provocative writers.” – bluemetropolis.org

The Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival is in full swing until Sunday May 1.  With an incredible amount of events featuring world-renowned and locally-grown authors, it’s an overwhelming task trying to plan your weekend’s schedule. A sure way to hear an assortment of excerpts from a variety of Montreal writers all at once in a single location, is to attend Imagine Montreal this Friday, April 29 at the Holiday Inn Centreville.

Put on by Rover Arts and the English Language Arts Network, Imagine Montreal incorporates ten Montreal actors and the band Sweet Mother Logic, as they present dramatic readings of passages from novels and stories by 24 Montreal writers who are part of this year’s Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival. Created and directed by Rover Arts publisher Montrealer Marianne Ackerman, these staged readings intertwine with each other to create a fictional narrative of Montreal as a city reborn. The official press release states, “Taking off from the Referendum of 1995, Imagine Montreal follows the evolution of Montreal from a downtrodden, conflict-weary city to a lively meeting place of cultures, ages, attitudes.”

What to expect from Imagine Montreal? Just to give you a taste, it begins with passages from John Brooke’s Last Days of Montreal, presenting the city’s grim and gritty state during the aftermath of the Referendum. Passages from Claude Lalumière’s This is the Ice Age and Louis Rastelli’s A Fine Ending “capture the crazy days of our downtown apocalypse, in retrospect, a darn good party.” The narrative progresses, weaving its way through strangers’ lives and connecting them together, until “eventually the town enjoys a break-out” in David Homel’s Midway, Gail Scott’s The Obituary and founder and artistic director of the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival, Linda Leith’s The Desert Lake.

The first embodiment of Imagine Montreal took place this past November at the Bain St-Michel to positive reviews. This Friday will see a different concept, a revised script and a new cast of local actors. Stick around for the after party to kick-start your literary-fuelled weekend!

Show starts at 8 pm in the Dahlia Room at Holiday Inn Centreville (Metro Place d’Armes).

For tickets call 514-790-1245 or visit bluemetropolis.org.