Memories of the Finissage

A first look at the exhibition catalogue at the Projet Jean Berger Project finissage.

Thank  you again to all of the professors, artists, Dr. Gagnon, the FOFA gallery, and all who helped and supported in order to make the Jean Berger Project possible! 

Curators in Conversation: Jessa Alston-O’Connor

Why were you drawn to this project?

I was drawn to this project for a number of reasons. For one, Montreal is one of the oldest cities in Canada, but the typical narratives told about this period are the ones in textbooks or in museums. I was interested in the challenge of bringing fragmented histories of Jean Berger into the present, and was intrigued to see what directions the contemporary artists would take this idea. How would they meet this impossible challenge? I wanted to be part of this unique project that bridged these two periods in time, and re-envisioned the past in a way that moves beyond textbook and museum frameworks of history. 

How did these works complicate ideas of Montreal history and art history?

Each of the six artists approached Jean Berger’s period differently, whether they focused on the seedy sides of life in New France, women’s roles in the period, First Nations histories, or re imagining the saints and religious history of Montreal in the present day. But together their works spoke to the multiplicity of histories, and re think how we might come to understand the pasts despite the many missing pieces. I love that this exhibition brought together young emerging artists and curators, and together we explored, questioned, and presented a re-imagining of art history, Montreal, and our relationships to the past. At the same time the works and ideas were very much rooted in the present. These works and the curatorial intention was never to replicate or reenact history, but offered a series of historical and imagined historical trajectories that intersect or move along beside the established national narratives of Berger and life New France, and I was excited to see how these alternatives came together for the Jean Berger Project. 

Curators in Conversation: Maya Soren

What drew  you to this project? What more can you tell us about the works by Wahsontiio Cross and Laura Findlay, as you worked closely with both of those artists?

Why did I initially get excited about a curatorial project based on Jean Berger… Well, I was excited to put all the theory and research skills I had been honing throughout my graduate degree into practice!

I’m really happy with the end result and I think it’s interesting how all of these art works show, together, that history is non-linear and includes multiple voices, voices that aren’t necessarily represented in traditional Canadian history text books. I think Cross’ work especially demonstrates this, and Findlay’s too. In the history text book I remember we used at my high school, there was maybe a page dedicated to women in New France and perhaps a section about the Iroquois and the Hurons. This really just can’t suffice.

I think that through looking back, there’s also an element of looking at the present that’s part of the process. When I realized this, I thought to myself, “So, where are women in Quebec today? Have their social, political, and economic circumstances changed? What about for the Kanienkehaka?” It was these kinds of questions that helped me to reflect on the past, through the present.

Curators in Conversation: Corina Ilea

What drew  you to this project? Seeing it finally come together, what do these works say together?
This project represented a curatorial challenge from the very beginning. Jean Berger was painter who literally left no artworks, yet he is considered to be an artist: an intriguing and impossible situation in art historical terms. The project was based on a radical missing element, the artwork itself, supposed to define Jean Berger’s artistic presence. Thus, it raised questions on historical knowledge and the way it comes to be acknowledged in the present: the past is transmitted through mis-encounters, interpretations and finally imagination, which operate in a reverse manner, from the present backwards. What normally comes to be known as history represents a series of selections performed from the present, accounting normally for events considered to be relevant retrospectively, which are recorded in documents, testimonies and songs, for example. They are the ones that make their way into historic memory. “Obscure” events – the ones that constitute the flesh and blood of the past – remain mostly uncovered. This  was the challenge taken over by this project, in which six contemporary artists reinterpreted the gaps left over in annals, infused them with their own creative imagination and created Jean Berger’s persona, not necessarily as it might have been, but as each of them imagined it to be. And, what is very important, they left a trace, an artistic testimony where there was none before.
 
 
 What principal ideas or critical questions arose through the works you wrote about for the exhibition? What do you feel they added to the exhibition?
 
While Stephanie Coleman and David J. Romero took over different elements from Jean Berger’s life, a complementary dialogue is established between their creative approaches. Stephanie transposed in embroidery the representation of misdeeds, debauchery, and forgery that might have been constant part of Berger’s whereabouts. She literally introduced the historical gap within her work: doors of a cabinet inserted in the toile itself are slang open or closed, revealing only partially their content. The scenes surrounding them hint at a potential secret, supposed to remain uncovered, or, through the act of imagination, to be revealed for the beholder. David approached the past through religious symbols: saints are relevant not only for the history of Montreal but also for his own artistic autobiographical history. Based on the idea of the absence as radical propeller of imagination and presence, David bridges the past and present not through a photographic act supposed to function as “documentary” testimony, but through a photographic installation that throws the past into the world again, brings life to it, while preserving its unknown and ambiguous quality.  

Curators in Conversation: Lindsay Cory

What drew  you to this project? Seeing it finally come together, what do these works say together?

Originally, I was drawn to the project as a chance to work as a team in the curatorial process of such a large show. After hearing Dr. Gagnon speak so enthusiastically about the project I found that my own sensibilities as an aspiring art historian could be useful to a project like this. My interest in “forgotten” landscapes and cultures as well as the seedier side of Montreal all interested me.  

After selecting the artists though, what ultimately influenced the project was the diversity with which Concordia students and Alumni were interested in such a topic too. The artist’s methods of approaching the character and history of Jean Berger, from embroidery and mapping to graphic comic culture, further confused the notion of “Jean Berger,” who and what he was, I think the confusion and lack of information makes this project extremely interesting. 

 What noteworthy ideas or critical questions arose through the works you wrote about for the exhibition? What do you feel they added to the exhibition?

Joanna Lemon’s work begged the question of mapping for me - a key concern with many post-colonial studies of a place or nation. I was interested in how Lemon, a student of Montreal architecture herself, would use a historical map of Montreal in a contemporary work of art. Julian Peters’ work also questioned narrative as he explores Jean Berger’s story through comic drawings. I thought it was interesting how he made critical judgements on the characters, he seemed to be the only artist to attempt to give a face to Jean Berger’s name. It was a daring and appreciated move on his part I think!

 ———- Lindsay Cory, member of the Jean Berger Project curatorial team

Projet Jean Berger Project Finissage & Catalogue LaunchWednesday, May 23, 6 to 8 p.m. Speeches by Dr. Johanne Sloan (Graduate Program Director, Dept. of Art History, Concordia University) and Dr. François-Marc Gagnon (Founding Director & Distinguished Research Fellow of the Gail & Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art) will take place at 6:30 pm.Exhibition ongoing:to May 27, 2012Where:FOFA Gallery, Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia University1515 Ste. Catherine Street W., EV 1.715Montreal, Quebec (Metro Guy Concordia)Gallery hours:Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.Cost:Free admission. Everyone welcome.Projet Jean Berger Project
Wahsontiio Cross, Stephanie Coleman, Laura Findlay, Joanna Lemon, Julian Peters & David J. Romero
Curated by Jessa Alston-O’Connor, Lindsay Cory, Corina Ilea & Maya SorenJean Berger always claimed to be a painter in front of his judges. Beyond these statements, no evidence exists of his works or artistic career. Instead, the breadth of historical information surrounding his life originates from court documents chronicling his many problems with the justice system and the resulting masterful avoidance of punishment that culminated in his escape from prison to New England around 1710. The attempt to construct Berger’s history proves to be a challenging one, but from all recovered traces of his life, his missing (art)work stands out.Projet Jean Berger Project explores the inevitable gaps that determine historical research and knowledge. This project envisions the absence of knowledge about Jean Berger as a space for productive interpretation and creation to be filled in by the imagination of the artists. This “blurred” knowledge makes room for intersections between art, historical research, artistic practice and curatorial strategies.Projet Jean Berger Project was initiated by a core collective of art history graduate students in response to Dr. François-Marc Gagnon’s 40 years of research culminating in his book, Jean Berger, peintre et complice? (2010). Dr. François-Marc Gagnon and Dr. Johanne Sloan (Graduate Program Director, Dept. of Art History) will speak about the Project at the finissage at 6:30 pm. The artists and curators will also be in attendance. The full colour catalogue contains texts written by each of the curators, interviews with the artists, and images of all works. The edition is limited but can be purchased at the finissage for $15.00.

Projet Jean Berger Project Finissage & Catalogue Launch

Wednesday, May 23, 6 to 8 p.m.


Speeches by Dr. Johanne Sloan (Graduate Program Director, Dept. of Art History, Concordia University) and Dr. François-Marc Gagnon (Founding Director & Distinguished Research Fellow of the Gail & Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art) will take place at 6:30 pm.


Exhibition ongoing:
to May 27, 2012

Where:

FOFA Gallery, Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia University
1515 Ste. Catherine Street W., EV 1.715
Montreal, Quebec (Metro Guy Concordia)

Gallery hours:
Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Cost:
Free admission. Everyone welcome.

Projet Jean Berger Project

Wahsontiio Cross, Stephanie Coleman, Laura Findlay, Joanna Lemon, Julian Peters & David J. Romero

Curated by Jessa Alston-O’Connor, Lindsay Cory, Corina Ilea & Maya Soren
Jean Berger always claimed to be a painter in front of his judges. Beyond these statements, no evidence exists of his works or artistic career. Instead, the breadth of historical information surrounding his life originates from court documents chronicling his many problems with the justice system and the resulting masterful avoidance of punishment that culminated in his escape from prison to New England around 1710. The attempt to construct Berger’s history proves to be a challenging one, but from all recovered traces of his life, his missing (art)work stands out.

Projet Jean Berger Project explores the inevitable gaps that determine historical research and knowledge. This project envisions the absence of knowledge about Jean Berger as a space for productive interpretation and creation to be filled in by the imagination of the artists. This “blurred” knowledge makes room for intersections between art, historical research, artistic practice and curatorial strategies.

Projet Jean Berger Project was initiated by a core collective of art history graduate students in response to Dr. François-Marc Gagnon’s 40 years of research culminating in his book, Jean Berger, peintre et complice? (2010). Dr. François-Marc Gagnon and Dr. Johanne Sloan (Graduate Program Director, Dept. of Art History) will speak about the Project at the finissage at 6:30 pm. The artists and curators will also be in attendance. The full colour catalogue contains texts
written by each of the curators, interviews with the artists, and images of all works. The edition is limited but can be purchased at the finissage for $15.00.

Sneak Preview as the Show Goes Up

The artists and curators of the Jean Berger Project have been busy installing the exhibition this past week. The exhibition will be up from April 30th to May 25th in the vitrine of the FOFA gallery at Concordia, be sure to take a look this month. Tonight is the performance by David Romero at 7pm. The exhibition finissage and catalogue launch will be held on May 22nd at 6 pm, see you there!

Joseph Yarmush, our photographer for the exhibition publication

Laying out labels for Laura Findlay’s photo series

Stephanie Coleman and an assistant installing her toile.

Q and A with Wahsontiio Cross

How long have you known Jean Berger for?

Just recently. But who really knows him?

What is your idea of what his works may have looked like?

I can imagine he was able to create anything he thought up.

How would you describe him? 

I imagine he was a man who both stood out, yet could blend in. A shape-shifter if you will. 

What drew you to this project? 

The opportunity to tell history from a different perspective

What discoveries or challenges have you have encountered along the way? 

Narrowing down my ideas. Whose stories do I tell? What bits and pieces do I include/exclude?

Which Mohawk histories are you focusing on for your artist book?

I am not pinpointing any specific events. This is a history of the land, which is very much congruent with the story of people. Our relationship to our environment defines us, and I will explore the various relationships to the land, dealing with abundance and loss, connection and separation.

 How do these perspectives change or expand upon the typical narratives of New France and Montreal during Jean Bergers era?  

Often history reflects the settler views of things and doesn’t take into account the stories that were here when they arrived. We only hear about the notion of place and people in the colonial voice, rather than a native one. The native story is always told from third person perspective, and I want to offer a first-person perspective.

How will your work fill the historical gaps where the people of Kahnawake are concerned?

What types of relationships our people had with the land, even before the “reservation” system was established, before our movements and access to resources were restricted by new and imposing laws. Moving around, sharing, and the notion of home in several places is something the colonists just couldn’t seem to grasp.



Sneak peek of David J. Romero’s ‘Altarpiece Variation No. 2 (Love Live)’ before the unveiling tonight!

Sneak peek of David J. Romero’s ‘Altarpiece Variation No. 2 (Love Live)’ before the unveiling tonight!

Q and A with Laura Findlay

How long have you known Jean Berger?

I was introduced to him with the idea of the project, and have gotten to know him better through the pages of the book.

What is your idea of what his works may have looked like? How would you describe him?

It’s hard to imagine a painter working in New France who wouldn’t be inspired by what lay beyond the walls of early Montreal. I imagine his works would have been a mixture of commissioned pieces depicting specific buildings and spaces from the growing city, and landscapes showing the wilderness beyond. I would describe him as a wily survivor, someone who would do what was necessary to make it from day to day but who was probably capable of unwinding at the end of the day like a champion.

What discoveries or challenges have you have encountered along the
way?

My practice normally begins with objects, either for inspiration or as a part of the final piece. What I learned fairly early in my research is that objects from such an early point in history are next to impossible to find. Partially because of a lack of effort to maintain everyday items from such a difficult time and partially because of the objects that people did have they were either hand-crafted from available materials or imported which make them hard to distinguish from items from Europe from the same era. Not being able to look at or be around artifacts from the era is what led me to the project as it stands now, using my research to make my own relics, those of which talk about the ideas and issues I’ve become most interested in.

 
Can you tell us a bit about your family history in Quebec, how does
your aesthetic communicate this history?

My grandmother was very old blood in Quebec with members of our family insisting it date back to the early 18th century. Unfortunately there exists no hard evidence to this fact, but my interest in learning about this era is driven in part to better understand her and her life and the lives of the women who preceded her. I’m using lighting and a studio setup that’s less clean and precise for these photos. I’ve found myself trying to think about what the light of the night in the city would have been like, and how hard daily life really was. This has probably translated to the dark mood of the final photos with more dramatic lighting.

 
What do you know about the women of New France?

Going into this project I had only the information family history and late night movies on the CBCto guide me about what the lives of the first immigrants to Quebec would have lived like. Since beginning research for this project my entire view of the early history of Quebec has sharpened. The information I’ve learned about the early structure of the city and the people who made it happen has given me a fresh perspective on how unique Quebec and its culture truly are, and what’s made it into what it exists as today.