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Art Souterrain: Underground Celebration

by Louise Kronenberger

When it comes to art, one has to admit that Montreal is a pretty prolific city. Wandering around is always nice because of the many murals scattered around, as well as the numerous and accessible art galleries or museums. On top of that, the city is always changing in terms of art installations depending on the season.

Since it is still winter and still really cold, Montreal put in place the Art Souterrain Festival. This project started nine years ago, and its purpose is to promote contemporary art and its accessibility outside of the traditional institutions. It also aims to enhance the underground network of the city, which is always very used when the weather is as cold as now.

This year, it takes place between the 4th and the 26th of March, and its theme is «Jeu et Diversion» (Play and Diversion). The festival is spread around several public spaces within the city. The circuit is six kilometers long, in nine underground edifices. In addition, installations and artworks are also displayed in seven «satellite» places as they call it, meaning ephemeral, such as at the Université de Montréal or the Dawson College Art Gallery. In total, there are 58 projects displayed, and 68 artists participating, from Québec and from 15 others countries. The festival is free, except some special activities such as guided tours, workshops and so on.

Last Saturday when I was walking around the Old Port, I came across one of the underground where this festival is taking place. It was the underground network passage of the Place Victoria, between the two metro stations Square-Victoria and Place d’Armes. The whole tunnel was filled with different types of artworks, from photographs to installations. The theme of the festival was well represented since many of the works were interactive or conveyed it in an obvious way, such as La Quête by Mathieu Connery, representing an anamorphic labyrinth, metaphor of our sinuous journey on Earth. 

This circuit was particularly playful. This work above, as well as many others plunge us into this theme of play and diversion, since we are allowed to participate in it, rendering art accessible for everyone. An example is Pseudo-Moteur by Jérôme Dumais, an electrical board that can be activated by a pedal. When you push it, the board is turned on and thrums. It was made just for the pleasure to make this noise, in a time where it is poorly looked upon to make loud noises in the streets or in public space general. 

Moreover, many works really embraced their surroundings. Photographs were very present in this underground gallery. They were sometimes displayed on entire walls, making the space particularly interesting. It underlined the architectural features, celebrating those tunnels and the underground network of Montreal, for which the city is really famous. 

If you are looking to spice up your next walk, Art Souterrain Festival is a great option. It is really accessible, and will make you re-discover some parts of Montreal you may have forgotten about or never noticed.

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