Two years after its last edition, Momenta, an image biennial, is back in service. And once again, the weight of its group or individual exhibitions will mark the fall season. As expected. Nothing intervened, not even a pandemic.
The observation makes Audrey Genois smile. According to the director of the late Mois de la photo, Momenta is the first event to be held in a year and a half without having been canceled, amputated or postponed. It is the return to normality.
“It’s extraordinary,” she said. The state of Momenta’s offices was not deceiving at the end of August: the 17e edition is upon us. The only uncertainty: will Chief Commissioner Stefanie Hessler, a German living in Norway, show up there two days before D-Day?
Around a theme called “When nature feels”, Hessler and her three collaborators, including Quebecer Maude Johnson, wish to shake up our ways of seeing and understanding the non-human world. Change our relationship with him.
And beyond that, open ourselves to differences, eliminate dominant attitudes, such as that of the capitalist-male-hetero-white system. A return to pre-COVID normality would not be so welcome.
Audrey Genois immediately warns: “We do not exhibit photos of landscapes. Nature is more than that, she says. While “the landscape is a human construction”, adds Maude Johnson. According to the co-commissioner, it was necessary to show nature in itself, “to extricate it from the limits imposed on it and accept not to understand everything”.
“We approach environmental issues from another angle, we link them to feelings that are not necessarily human. It is necessary [cesser] to center the human in knowledge, continues the one for whom these reflections are part of the current context. We are talking about global warming, colonization, the impact of capitalism, the exploitation of resources. “
Odors and other substances
Basing an intellectual approach on affect and not on the rational is in itself a small earthquake. In her statement of intent, Stefanie Hessler says she draws inspiration from researcher Marti Kheel, who opposes “the European modernist ideal of rational contemplation”. Hessler denounces the idea that “nature is only a setting where masculine rationality and heroic agency unfold”. With good reason, she begins her text with a description of tasting a blueberry. “By feeling the shape and texture of dense fruit in my mouth, I touch and am touched at the same time,” she writes. Such reciprocity is at the heart of the biennial.
With good reason too, in the places that host Momenta (thirteen presenters, including two museums, plus outdoor sites), simple contemplation will not be enough. The aroma of a flower will invade the Galerie de l’UQAM, from an installation by Miriam Simun, artist from Silicon Valley based in Lisbon.
An intangible, odorless substance will float in Occurrence, which will not prevent visitors from inhaling it. This project by Candice Lin, another Californian, magnifies essential oils and so-called traditional medicine. “Nature can influence us,” says Maude Johnson. It’s about accepting beneficial interactions over which you have no control, approaching toxicity as something positive. “
All is not so rosy, far from it, as testifies a duo from British Columbia. “Working with radioactivity, like we do, can affect the body without being visible. It’s invisible. This question of perception is present in our dealings with the environment, ”says Erin Siddall, from Vancouver.
Tsēmā Igharas, artist from the Tāłtān Nation, and Siddall spent nine days around an abandoned uranium mine in the Northwest Territories. Momenta’s visual identity reproduces a crystal that they pulled out of the mine and that they exhibit, under a glass bubble, at the Galerie de l’UQAM.
The device protects both visitors from ore, and ore from visitors. In this work, part of which is at the Vox center, resonates the situation of isolation and dependence of the community that once worked in the mine. Unbeknownst to a whole country.
According to Audrey Lacroix, Momenta had never taken on such “local” colors. She takes as proof the number of Canadian artists, often of Aboriginal descent, and the issues addressed, even if feelings are a universal theme.
Among the less Canadian projects is that of Kama La Mackerel, an artist from Mauritius, now living in Montreal. His project is inspired by an “ancestral, decolonial quest” around spiritual leaders, queers whose knowledge was linked to nature, to the ocean.
“The ecological crisis requires us to redefine our relationship with resources, to go beyond exploitation,” believes the trans artist, whose work brings together his own body, projections of images and… salt. This material, of which nearly 50 kilos have been deposited at the Galerie de l’UQAM, is essential to him, as its imperceptible state in water serves as a metaphor for the stories drowned since the colonization of Africa.
Despite the distance
COVID did not have an adverse impact on Momenta. It nevertheless leaves its mark: most of the 15 exhibitions were put together without the artists, without Stefanie Hessler.
The latter, hired shortly before March 2020, even made her selection remotely. Evil for good, recognizes Maude Johnson.
“Communicating through the Internet made it possible to see each other more often, while [si Hessler était venue], we would only have had a week to visit the workshops and less mental space for the [assimiler] », She comments.
For Audrey Genois, the distance has paradoxically brought people together. Great confidence has developed. “What is difficult is there, during the editing. Yes, we can send photos, but it’s not the same. Except that we manage to do it, in complicity. It’s beautiful to see it come to fruition. “