Venus Lukic was born in Toronto and lived in South Korea following her BFA at OCAD in 2010. She has been living in Montreal since 2017. She is an interdisciplinary artist who is mainly focused in painting and conceptual art practice. Her work focuses on memoir, material exploration, and challenging the viewers expectation.

Check out Venus Lukic’s website here!

What attracted you to painting? Are you currently exploring any other media?

I think I always assumed that an artist had to be a painter. That’s just the narrative I got when I was younger. My grandmother collected paintings and posters as she traveled around the world as a travel agent. She was once an amateur painter but never developed her talent for that further. I am always moving beyond painting to the book, the room, or the concept, but I have recently come back to painting again for some specific research-based work.

How do you explore the theme of collective consumerism in your work? What compels you to deal with this especially in your works?

My work, Observer Perspective, is based on the way in which women are able to view themselves, and the limitations that we face. It is influenced in part by how women have been depicted throughout the history of painting. It is also about the materiality of painting skin on felt, and the interactivity of the work itself. The women depicted in the piece were sourced from an adult website online community which promotes strong alternative (tattooed and pierced) women engaging in a different kind of photographic eroticism (contemporary pin-up) to the standard style of ‘pornography’. Most of the women on this site have tattoos and piercings, and clients are able to contribute financially to the women’s individualized interests. They are depicted as independent women with creative control, and they get naked and potentially challenge the viewers idea of beauty. The key concept of this work is that women can see and curate much of themselves, but there are certain angles where they cannot see themselves except through a lens or a reflection, and this part signifies one’s true vulnerability. I wanted to bring this feeling of vulnerability to the viewer in a fun way.

“Observer Perspective”, Venus Lukic.

What are some of the sources of inspiration for you?

Sources of inspiration for me are making connections such as suddenly having a new perspective based on having that ‘key’ piece of the puzzle. Lately, I had been working with the concept of death and passing through other’s lives, passing in a queer sense of the word, and then also existing and experiencing life. I deal with memoir in my work and like to engage with the ‘institution’ of education. Everyday consumerism is something which affects me and I have desired minimalism for a few years now. In the past year I was exploring the connection I have to the ‘aura’ of objects and attempting to create paintings of the objects as a way to dissolve my connection to them. This led me back to a figurative-objective focused painting practice within the past year, however, I allowed abstraction to invade several of these paintings (like doodling on my own work) as a reference to the physical and mental clutter which exists in the periphery of the artists experience.

One artist whom I admire is Kim Beom, a Korean conceptual performance and installation artist. I enjoy his sense of the absurd and his investigations into systems of education. Having great mentors and teachers at OCAD University (2006-2010), and being exposed to so many local and international artists while living and creating abroad has also had a specific influence on my interests and art-making process.

“Ula dans La Rue”, Venus Lukic, 2018.

In your interview with Leela Bear, you mentioned collaborating with other artists could bring new or different memories of a place into your work. Could you talk about how that came through in your piece Estimated Line of General Happiness and Enjoyment Since Moving Abroad (To Korea in 2010) For the First Time?

In Estimated Line of Happiness and Enjoyment Since Moving Abroad (to Korea in 2010) for the First Time, I allowed other artists and participants to engage with my personal timeline and in doing so, bring their own experience to my work. Before the artist-participants engaged in the work, it was explained to them that they should consider the specific time-stamps I had included, and to create their ideas based on how they felt at those times in their lives, and who was influencing them. I used the imprints of male and female busts to describe my own fluctuating experience of influence at those times, paired with the line itself which approximately  ‘measured’ the level of happiness I had remembered experiencing.

Could you talk about your experience at Art Space Jang Residency? Were you part of other residencies in South Korea?

I really enjoyed the Art Space Jang Residency program. I was really able to bring closure to my work in Korea in a lot of ways. The Da Vinci theme really allowed me to focus on media exploration and collaboration in a way that had been inspired by my sojourn in Korea to start with back in 2010. I was lucky to be invited to join a few local international residency programs during my stay in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2016. During my time in Daejeon, I also showed work as a member of the Daejeon Arts Collective.

Are there any parallels or comparisons you could make between your experiences within artist milieus in South Korea, and those here in Montreal?

One thing which I think is common in both areas is the importance of community art and projects in the local neighbourhoods, thereby making art inclusive and personal while engaging young minds. Coincidentally, in both, I don’t speak the language well, so I remain a bit of an outsider, or rather, an insider to the foreigner statistic.

What are some tips you might give to other artists pitching their art to galleries?

I would say some obvious things I think, make sure you check the website and visit the gallery in person for an opening, and consider if your work at least sort of fits or pushes the boundary of what the gallery usually shows, as they probably have a mission statement or mandate which dictates what they will show. And don’t take it personally if they don’t want to show your work or don’t seem to like it. Also, check if they have a specific protocol to submit work, for example by mail, images on a disk, etc.

If you’ve worked with both commercial galleries and artist-run centres, could you share some of your experience, benefits, or downsides you find in one over another?

Most of the time, commercial galleries cost a lot for a short time, and you will still have to schedule someone (yourself) to monitor your exhibit for the duration of it. Because this is more of a space rental, you may have more creative control over the theme or content of the exhibit. However, the gallery may also have a very narrow idea of how to display the work which, in my case, is a major downside as my work changes and is very based in material exploration, and installation can be important.

My understanding and experience with artist-run centres is that they may have access to funding, meaning that the exhibition schedule is decided quite far in advance with little room for flexibility, unless that is part of their mandate. In many cases it is also possible to receive an artist and/or material fee for exhibition, and they are more accommodating to how contemporary art is experienced with a general focus on education.

“Estimated Line of General Happiness and Enjoyment Since Moving Abroad (To Korea in 2010) For the First Time”, 10 meter scroll, Venus Lukic, 2016.

ELAN staff Camille Horrocks-Denis sat down with Kim-Sanh Châu and Miriam Ginestier, co-directors of Studio 303. Miriam Ginestier has been involved with Studio 303 since 1990 whereas Kim-Sanh Châu joined the team in 2013, and became co-director in 2018. Ginestier is a former dancer and queer event organiser. Châu is in the process of completing her Master’s degree in Dance at UQAM. She also works as an independent choreographer and videographer. 

Photo by Camille Horrocks-Denis.

Studio 303 was established in 1989. Could you tell me about what sparked its beginnings, and how the organization evolved in the following years?

MG: Studio 303 was established by three choreographers who wanted a cooperative space in which to train, teach, rehearse and share their work. Two of the choreographers left within the first year, and the third stayed on for five years. I hopped onboard in 1990, working in exchange for classes. The studio grew mostly staffed by self-taught artists. The early days were very intuitive and organic, allowing for a lot of organisational flexibility, with much of the programming done on a first come-first served basis. Once there was a critical mass of artists wanting to teach or perform at Studio 303, we started professionalizing and applying for grants, which required a more curatorial approach and more conscious artistic choices. The focus then was mainly on presenting work. We had the Vernissage-Danse series that lasted twenty years, the Edgy Women festival for twenty-three years, and Noises in the Dark for ten years. Studio 303 has remained constant with its three branches of supporting teaching practice, creative practice, and sharing with the public, though each vein has had its own trajectory.

Grants are a vital part of a non-profit organization’s ability to sustain themselves. How has federal and provincial funding affected the type of work that Studio 303 does?

MG: Funding has a huge impact on programming decisions. The shift from first-come first served to curating work came as a request from funders. The creation of an Inter-arts section at the Canada Council had an important and positive impact on Studio 303’s interdisciplinary programming and on the blossoming of Edgy Women into a festival. Support from Emploi-Québec has allowed us to create an internationally-renowned workshop series.  Losing our Canadian Heritage funding in 2013 for apparently political reasons, created a significant strain on our organization. We had to downsize significantly to survive.

How has Studio 303’s focus changed since the loss of the Canadian Heritage funding?

KSC: It has affected how many shows we present, and what kind of events we do. We used to present work every month, but now we do about six events a year. After that cut, we felt more freedom, as well as a need to express ourselves politically, and so we created Cabaret Tollé, a political performance event that criticized the Harper government. This was a major milestone for us and led to Studio 303 being associated with a stronger political identity.

MG: When you are funded for presenting work, there is a lot more focus on promotion, ticket sales, advertising, and it is difficult for small venues to compete. After losing the Heritage funding, we redirected our energy to the services we offer. We created new types of events, such as our collaboration with the MAI and Theatre La Chapelle for Queer Performance Camp – a safe space to create, explore, perform and network for queer artists. Our focus is more on workshops, residencies, Grant Labs, networking opportunities, creating meaningful relationships with international partners. We still present work, but within process-oriented conceptual events such as REMIX and Metamorphose, which exist to ask questions and reveal the creative process, rather than entertain audiences. We are artist-centred, more than ever.

What kind of services and opportunities does Studio 303 offer that helps to meet the needs of choreographers in Montreal?

MG: Studio 303 is dedicated to creating an inclusive home base for experimental performing artists. Our services are needs-based and inventive. These include one-on-one grant consultations (Grant Labs), really diverse workshops, which are a great place for choreographers to network, share interests, and spark new collaborations or projects.

KSC: We host residencies in our Studio as well as in partner organisations in France, Vermont, and recently Rouyn Noranda. We are one of the only organizations that offer a residency for emerging curators, which is a good entry point for artists interested in that field. We always aim to find gaps in services and resources for the Montreal dance community, and we aim to meet those needs in any way we can.

Photo by Emily Gan.

Could you share more about the different networking events that Studio 303 hosts?

MG: Every three years or so, we host an event called SPARK, a five-day multi-venue event for a dozen international professionals with whom Studio 303 and its artists feel affinity. It is an opportunity for international presenters to engage with the practices of local artists, and has led to touring and residency opportunities for many of the artists involved. A lighter offshoot called SPARK Series happens annually in late May during the FTA/OFFTA period to take advantage of the presence of presenters already in the city.

KSC: There is also À Table, a networking event that offers artists the opportunity to sit down with presenters at individual tables for several hours. Artists can initiate, join or eavesdrop on conversations as they wish; this format aims to subvert usual power dynamics that can be prevalent in regular networking events.

MG: Another useful resource in terms of networking, specifically for emerging artists and/or newcomers, is Taking the Leap. It’s an online guide on our website that breaks down the different steps for producing and presenting a show, with a section about the Montreal dance milieu, and includes a curated directory of resources available in the city. It is a useful guide to help artists find community and opportunities, and although dance-centric, it can be very useful to many independent artists working in performance. An updated version will be launched September 19th at Studio 303 alongside some cocktails!

Are there any specific challenges for English-speaking dancers in the Montreal dance community?

MG: Although dance is not a language-based art form, many of our local dance institutions are not completely bilingual, and can feel less accessible to English-speaking and allophone artists. There are also cultural differences, and I’m going to make a big generalization: anglophone and francophone dance artists seem to operate in different aesthetic universes, and this adds to the challenge of finding your place in the local environment; perhaps even more so for allophone artists. The wonderful thing about Montreal though is that when compared to other cities, our institutions and the dance community in general is really collaborative, welcoming and nurturing. And well-funded! Which makes this city a good place to start your career. Montreal has more dance presenters than any other Canadian city; more (and better funded) residency opportunities, more workshops (often subsidized), and more exchanges with European institutions and artists. Dance is very strong in Montreal.

This year marks your 30th anniversary; what kind of events will you be hosting to celebrate?

KSC: Instead of having a big party, we chose to spread some sparkle throughout the year by using the theme of Saturn Return. It is an astrological period of significant growth, with connotations of generational cycles, and looking backwards in order to learn and find inspiration for the future. We are also very excited about an upcoming show that we will be presenting on November 2nd called Impossible REMIX. The premise is essentially for a collective to remix an existing piece that is impossible to remount. Another exciting project is the Curator-in-residence project, which will use Studio 303 archives to produce work.

Do you have any goals and projects in mind for the coming years?

KSC: I work a lot in Asia, and we are working on establishing future collaborations there, but nothing is set in stone yet.

MG: We would like to work towards taking a stronger stand on certain political, environmental, and decolonization issues. Even though this type of advocacy requires a lot of energy, knowledge and resources, it is important to us make strides in those aspects. Another goal is to offer better salaries and hire at least one more staff member. And we’ve recently started offering childcare at our shows!

KSC: The funding cycle usually works in four-year chunks, and right now we’re right at the beginning of that cycle and have many ideas, but they are in early development, so we can’t talk much about them for the moment.

Do you have any pointers for English-speaking choreographers in Quebec?

MG: Come to Studio 303! We offer one-on-one grant advice and many workshops in English.

KSC: It is also good to become a member of the RQD (Regroupement québécois de la danse) as they have great resources like a community calendar, a directory for events being hosted across the province, as well as calls for submissions and job opportunities. Artère is also a great resource with similar job postings and calls for submissions. Always keep applying for things, attend workshops, and performance events. Make yourself known!


Founded in 1981 by Rahul Varma and Rana Bose, Teesri Duniya Theatre is one of the very few culturally-inclusive companies in Canada. It is also one of its kind in Quebec due to our production of plays by visible minorities, First Nations, as well as dominant cultures.

Lisa Theriault is an artist originally from Charlottetown, PE and currently living and working in Montreal, QC. She received a BFA from Mount Allison University (Sackville, NB) in 2014. She co-founded the online project space Closet Gallery in 2017 with Philip Mercier. She has exhibited and curated works for galleries across Canada, including AKA Artist-Run Centre (Saskatoon, SK), Galerie Sans Nom (Moncton, NB), Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, NB), Saint John Arts Centre (Saint John, NB), and the Confederation Centre Art Gallery (Charlottetown, PE). She recently completed the Ease on Down the Road Artist Residency at Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre (Sackville, NB) and is currently curating the exhibition “Fast Forward” for the Young People’s Gallery in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.

Quarry Query, projection mapping installation, 2019.

How did the idea for Closet Gallery come about? What has been your experience so far? Has Closet Gallery provided any insight into people’s consumption of, and relationship to, art online?

Closet Gallery was a project I started with my partner Philip Mercier in 2017. We moved to Montreal a couple years ago and, to be honest, had been receiving a lot of rejection letters in terms of exhibiting artwork and were having trouble finding opportunities as artists still early in our careers. We were talking about ways would could make our own exhibition space and we came up with the idea of a project space in our closet that would be live streamed. It really combines our interests well, since Phil also has a fascination with live streams, the awkwardness in what happens before and after, and the variety of live streams that you can find, and I have some experience working at art galleries. We started inviting artist friends to install projects in the closet that we would live stream. The projects generally have to be considerate of the tiny space, the time-based quality of a live stream, and the low-resolution of the webcam. We’ve had some really interesting projects including a floral arrangement that slowly rotted over a week, a series of ice sculptures with an ASMR audio track, and a live performance using collected prints of self portraits.

The most recent performance by James Player was the first time we live streamed something NOT in the closet. It was a 24 hour live stream from his bedroom, where he improvised music and had invited “guests” throughout that would jam with him. I think he really had a headache at the end of the 24 hours, once the music stopped! I really loved that this project was outside of the closet and it allowed the community aspect to grow. That’s the fun part about Closet Gallery, is you get to work on something weird with your friends in your (or their) home and test things out. You never know what it will look like through the webcam. A lot of people stopped by during James’ performance and it really felt like a community supported marathon.

A behind-the-scenes view of the door to Closet Gallery and the server used to broadcast the live stream. The project Invitation for bodily being by Mischa Grieg is displayed.

Lisa Theriault working on the work Quarry Query during a residency at Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre.

What can you say about the state of spaces available to emerging artists in Montreal? Are there too few, do they lack in certain qualities? Do emerging artists have to be more ‘creative’ in making space for art?

I think there is actually a very confused idea about what an “emerging artist” even is, and that’s where the difficulty begins. It is often defined as a professional artist in their first five years of practice, but I think this lacks some nuance. In my opinion—and this is still vague unfortunately—an emerging artist is an artist who is early in their career and is still in a stage where they lack access to opportunities and resources to develop further. I think this is where “exclusivity” in the visual arts is perpetuated because some have more access to those initial experiences as well as work-space, materials, and resources to be able to produce strong work in those “five years”. I’m interested in finding ways that visual arts venues can embrace developing artists and what the terms could be for finding people who have the ambition and the potential, but can’t get off the ground.

Are there other examples of unconventional artist spaces that you can recommend, or that you’re inspired by?

Absolutely! There is a gallery in an old carriage house in Saint-Henri called Calaboose that was founded by Garrett Lockhart and Danica Pinteric. They are very thoughtful in how they present everything, through their website and the way they include personal touches in the unique architecture of the space. In terms of online galleries, there is Galerie Galerie (also based in Montreal) that has a nostalgia to their online presence that is reminiscent of early internet days, and they share a variety of interesting projects. There is also localhost gallery, a gallery you can visit in the game Minecraft (you can also find video documentation online). They rebuild the gallery within the game for each exhibition and get artists to make works for the virtual space; I think it’s brilliant.

Snow Removal, coloured pencil, ink, and gouache on paper, 2019 20” x 16”.

How did you get into the different media you work with, like seriography, digital art and animation, and sculpture?

I’m very indecisive and I like trying everything I can! My interest in visual art started with drawing, and while I might do initial experiments or tests, I generally have a very meticulous approach to art-making and I plan things out. When I was in school for my BFA it exposed me to new mediums, and silkscreen printmaking, animation, and video seemed to have similar characteristics of planning that I’ve enjoyed working with. It’s been interesting for me to find ways to combine these techniques and it’s still something I’m working on.

One of the themes you work with is industrial development, and the human imprint on ‘nature’. How do you engage with “regional histories”?

I’ve lived the majority of my life in the Maritimes—in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. My family has especially long ties to Nova Scotia as Acadians. I think the things that have interested me there visually  come from their major industries: farming, fishing, tourism, forestry. They have such an impact, sometimes with only one or two industries being the main economic drivers in a community, that it is certainly a big part of the identity of these places. I think this is the case for a lot of smaller towns too. I’m always learning more and I’m interested in ways places can thrive without relying on one industry, especially if it’s an industry that’s harmful to the environment. The climate crisis is a big concern and I think artists have a real role in offering perspective as a positive force. Society needs to do more with less and in a sustainable and creative way, and that’s exactly what artists are best at!

Pipes, Potatoes, Confetti, Squiggles, coloured pencil and ink on paper, 2018, 19.5” x 27.5”.

Tubs, Nets, Slides, Piles, coloured pencil and ink on paper, 2018 19.5” x 27.5”.

Can you talk about some of your current or upcoming curating projects? You’ve previously worked with some galleries across Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick: can you talk about some of the shows you’ve previously curated or exhibited in?

Who’s Your Mother? is an exhibition I was invited to co-curate at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery (Charlottetown, PE) with the gallery’s curator Pan Wendt in the summer of 2018. It is an exhibition of works by women artists from Prince Edward Island from the gallery’s collection, with works by nearly 40 artists on display. The title of the exhibition Who’s Your Mother? is a play on a well-known greeting used by Islanders, “who’s your father?”, as a way to find out if you have mutual relatives or acquaintances. This was such a meaningful exhibition for me to be a part of because there is not a lot of information readily available about these artists. It was eye opening to see the work that was being made in the place where I grew up, that I had no idea was there, and learn more about the history. We spent time in the gallery’s archive, other local archives, and doing nearly two dozen studio visits to purchase new works. After working on that project, I proposed to curate another exhibition in the Young People’s Gallery at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. It’s a small and narrow space near a staircase and I thought it would be a great place to show video works. The exhibition is called Fast Forward and it’s a series of short videos about the future by artists from Eastern Canada. It will be open this Summer.

In terms of works I’ve exhibited, I most recently completed a two-week residency at Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre (Sackville, NB). It was in the same community where I did my BFA and I’m already familiar with the Centre, so I really was able to get to work right away and I had things prepared ahead of time. I had been working on larger drawings that are detailed landscapes, that use an isometric perspective similar to what you see in architectural drawings or video games. They are meticulous but also loosely bring together a variety of strange structures, piles, and materials that come to my mind. I’ve experimented with making elements from these drawings into animations and I wanted to try and push that further. During this residency, I learned to use a video mapping software (video mapping is a process that uses software to shape video projections into unusual shapes and/or around objects) so I could project animations onto plinths from the gallery. They have a more physical presence and form a narrative through the moving animations. There is documentation of the project online. I’m really interested in continuing with this technique and working on improving my animations, trying different objects, and including miniatures that could be illuminated to bring these different imagined places to life.

Related to the previous question: as an emerging curator, what has been your experience in soliciting galleries, connecting artists and ideas, and proposing shows?

I’m still relatively new to curating and my first experience curating was during a yearlong internship at Mount Allison University, just after I graduated. It was perfect because I had nearly eight months to work on the exhibition (while doing other tasks for the internship) and the former Director/Curator, Gemey Kelly (who created the internship program) was excellent at giving support while giving me the responsibility to do it all myself. I learned about the timeline in planning an exhibition and communicating with everyone along the way. That initial curating experience really gave me the confidence to curate something again in the future. I’m still figuring out how to best approach galleries as an independent curator, because it’s still intimidating to me. I’m lucky that I’ve had opportunities so far that have come from applying to calls or from people that have supported me over the years.

Being an artist myself, I think it gives me an understanding of how precarious it is for artists and how important it is to put the artist first: respect their point of view, respect their time, be upfront about what’s being provided so they’re not left with the awkwardness of asking, and of course pay them. I find artists from a combination of what I see in exhibitions, through online research, and by asking other artists or curators for recommendations. It can be challenging to curate a thematic show, because you don’t want to oversimplify works or direct them to much, but I think it has a strength as an opportunity to connect artists with common interests while offering multiple viewpoints.

What else are you working on now / what’s next for you?

I’m going to be focusing more on my art practice and I’m starting a new body of work about utopian islands that will be a series of drawings and a video/sculptural installation. I just got the very exciting news that I received a Research, Creation, and Exploration grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres de Québec (CALQ) to support the project. It’s the first grant I’ve ever received to support my work and it will make such a difference!

Lisa Theriault stands in front of the work Quarry Query.

Lisa Theriault website:

Closet Gallery website:

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc


Black Theatre Workshop (Organization Spotlight)

Erik Nieminen (Feature)

Vallum Magazine / VSEAL (Organization Spotlight)

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)


Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (1977)

As ELAN Organization Member Black Theatre Workshop (BTW) approaches its 50th Anniversary, we spoke with Artistic Director Quincy Armorer about the theatre’s evolution, and the programming highlights that have helped define BTW’s influential place in Montreal. Since its foundation in 1970, Black Theatre Workshop has been the longest running Black theatre company in Canada. It has played a significant role in shaping the stories told by playwrights and the opportunities available for Black theatre artists in Montreal, with resonating effects on broader Canadian theatre scenes. Founding members like Clarence Bayne, Errol Sitahal and Yvonne Greer (just to name a few) bring collective experience from organizations with long histories of advocacy in the arts and education in Quebec, such as the Black Community Resource Centre, the Quebec Board of Black Educators, and the Black Community Central Administration of Quebec. Today, Black Theatre Workshop has fostered a thriving community, with a strong network of collaborating theatres like Centaur, Neptune, Tableau d’Hôte, the Segal Centre, and MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels).  

The River Niger (1980-1981)

Black Theatre Workshops’ first productions have included the work of notable playwrights like Lorraine Hainsbury, Lorena Gale, Derek Walcott, David Edgecombe, and Trevor Rhone. “The earlier focus of Black Theatre Workshop was more Caribbean, with a Trinidadian focus,” says Quincy. “Now the programming is more encompassing of Montreal’s Black communities.” Over the years, BTW’s repertoire has staged plays that are both intimate and fiercely political, exploring issues of self-identity, assimilation, the fragmentation of family and community, as well as sensitively approaching global issues like poverty and the sex-trade.

Lorena Gale’s work has especially taken the spotlight during Black Theatre Workshop’s 49th season, with the acclaimed co-production of Angélique by BTW and Tableau D’Hote Theatre. Angélique tells the 18th century story of enslaved Marie-Joseph Angélique, who attempted to flee her owner’s home and is alleged to have set fire to the mistress’ house. In 1734, she was convicted of arson, tortured and hanged for the fire that took at least 46 buildings in Old Montreal. Quincy Armorer noted the critical success of Angélique as a “homegrown story” that had the opportunity to be performed at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Toronto’s Factory Theatre.

Also among Black Theatre Workshop’s playwriting cohort is Trey Anthony, the first Black woman in Canada to have her own television series, which was based on her play Da Kink In My Hair. Trey Anthony’s recent production of How Black Mothers Say I Love You is a tale of separation and reconciliation through character Daphne’s experience as an immigrant and mother in Canada. Quincy also mentions his first programmed play at Black Theatre Workshop, Djanet SearsHarlem Duet, which was a sequel to the playwright’s one-woman performance of Afrika Solo (2012). Djanet Sears’ work also shines in The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, which follows the complex story of a community descended from the Black Loyalists of 1812, who were granted Ojibwe land in Holland Township, Ontario. Local stories also resonate through the work of Canadian actor, producer and director Omari Newton. The 2013-2014 season presented Newton’s play Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy of, which was based on the 2008 police shooting of 18-year-old Honduran immigrant Fredy Villanueva in Montreal-Nord.

Angélique (2017), photo by Andrée Lanthier (L) and Harlem Duet (2012-2013) (R).

An important part of Black Theatre Workshop’s ongoing programming is the annual Artist Mentorship Program (AMP), which gives emerging theatre professionals the chance to work on a professional ensemble production. Started in the 2013-2014 season, the program is now in its sixth year with the support of the Canadian Arts Trainings Fund (part of Canadian Heritage). The Mentorship Program has evolved from its early years as more of a “summer camp”, as Quincy describes, to become a robust and well-respected program that helps transition recent theatre graduates toward career opportunities.

“The theatre community in Montreal is watching Black Theatre Workshop,” says Quincy, “Actors are finding work all the time. Participants in the Mentorship Program come out with real opportunities. They are cast in mainstage productions, their plays are professionally produced.” Every year, Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program culminates with the Industry Showcase, where about fifteen participants perform a one-and-a-half hour play for industry professionals including casting agents, directors, and producers. 

Swan Song of Maria (2009-2010) (L), Maija of Chaggalandand (2001-2002), and blood [claat] (2007-2008) (R).

Quincy highlights just a few of the success stories of Artist Mentorship Program alumni, noting the diversity of disciplines within theatre that each participant brings, and the richness of their involvement in both local and international projects. In 2016, actor Vladimir Alexis was awarded Black Theatre Workshop’s Gloria Mitchell-Aleong Award at the 30th annual Vision Celebration Gala. Alexis is known for his supporting role in Roland Emmerich’s 2015 film Stonewall, as well as appearing in X-men: Apocalypse, Saving Hope, Trauma and Just For Laughs’ Nasty Show. Actor, singer and director Tamara Brown had co-founded Montreal’s Metachroma Theatre in 2010, and recently directed the world premiere of Successions, by Michaela DiCesare, at Centaur Theatre. Actor and writer Rachel Mutombo, who participated in Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal‘s first Youth Creator Unit, has acted with Montreal’s Repercussion Theatre, Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre, and has recently gone on to join Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre Company.

Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program has also included designers. Quincy mentions the work of Sophie el-Assaad, who has worked in costume and set design, with recent productions like Clean Slate (Talisman Theatre) and BLACKOUT (Tableau D’Hote Theatre). On her costume design for Cabal Theatre’s production of Tragic Queens, Sophie el-Assaad was honoured with META awards for Outstanding costume and Emerging Artist. AMP participant and emerging theatre designer Zoe Roux has done set, costume and lighting design for the AMP Showcase of Harlem Duet by Djanet Sears and Blacks Don’t Bowl by Vadney S. Haynes. Roux has gone on to do set design for productions by Third Space Theatre, Centaur Theatre, and Geordie Productions

The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God (2015-1016), photo by Andrée Lanthier.

As Black Theatre Workshop nears its 50th anniversary, the team has much to celebrate — from the professional successes of the countless artists who have worked with BTW over the years, to enriching the representation and opportunities available for Black theatre artists in Montreal. Quincy acknowledges the challenge of Black Theatre Workshop remaining “a minority within a minority, within a minority”, given that the Anglophone community of Quebec is already a small community. This may certainly contribute to some artists leaving the city, Quincy admits, but the presence of BTW gives theatre professionals a meaningful chance to work and thrive in the city.

Quincy describes the importance of Black Theatre Workshop in shaping opportunities for Black theatre professionals to work with each other, instead of competing for a limited number of token roles. This also changes the dynamic of who is empowered to write, stage and perform in Quebec theatre. “The Black Theatre Workshop has a significant role in giving a foundation and opportunities to actors — a very vital role in fulfilling the needs of Black theatre artists.” Today, representation in theatre has moved away from merely “passing” mainstream plays by writers like Arthur Miller with black actors. “We are seeing Black stories, the work of Black writers,” says Quincy. “These stories are from Black communities where they are subjects, not objects”.

The Lady Smith (2006-2007) (top), and Gas Girls (2014-2015), photo by Antoine Saito (bottom).

The 2019-2020 season will be the busiest to date for Black Theatre Workshop as it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2020-2021 season. Stay tuned for upcoming announcements from Black Theatre Workshop later this month! In the meantime, the Artist Mentorship program is accepting applications for its next season until APRIL 20! This year’s Industry Showcase will be hosted MAY 10-11 at the Centaur Theatre.

Black Theatre Workshop website:

Black Theatre Workshop Facebook: BlackTheatreWorkshop

Black Theatre Workshop Twitter: @TheatreBTW

Black Theatre Workshop  Instagram: @theatrebtw

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Erik Nieminen (Feature)

Vallum Magazine / VSEAL (Organization Spotlight)

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)


Erik Nieminen is a Finnish-Canadian artist born in Ottawa in 1985. He achieved a BFA from the University of Ottawa in 2007 and an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal in 2010. He has exhibited in both Europe and North America, including a recent solo show at the Albemarle Gallery in London entitled “The Unreal”, and at the Galerie d’Art d’Outremont in Montreal entitled “Above Below”. Erik Nieminen’s next solo show will be in 2019 in New York City, entitled “Paradise Not Lost”. He currently lives and works in Montreal, after spending four and a half years living in Berlin. He shows with the Galerie Kremers in Berlin.

“Midas”, oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

What attracted you to painting, and to your mixture of realism and surrealism?

For me painting is the most malleable of visual mediums. It is not constrained by programming or other technological limits. It’s purely chemical — almost alchemical from a certain point of view. The flexibility of the painting process stems from its non-reliance on mechanical visual systems which allows painting to exist as a kind of alternate reality from our own — something dream-like or even surreal. Things like film and photography serve a different function as they tie concretely back to our world as a document of a moment in time. Paintings are created over varying lengths of time with each individual inch of the canvas being taken into consideration, meaning there is nothing incidental. It is an amalgamation of thousands of conscious and subconscious decisions. Painting can be whatever you want it to be.

I tend not to distinguish between realism and abstraction (or surrealism). It all exists together, as the moment you depict something on a two-dimensional painted surface it automatically becomes abstraction. It’s either that or it’s all representation. In any case it’s all unreal, and therefore it’s a bit of an absurd notion to be too reliant on notions of “what things actually look like” and thus I am free to move between styles as much as I wish.

“Abstract Paradise”, oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

Your work often has a mixture of artificial and natural environments: could you talk about how these themes influence your work?

I’ve always been interested in urban motion. I grew up in Ottawa, which is a city of a decent size, but ultimately has a very small-town feel about it. I always wanted to get out and live in a big urban center… to be in the middle of the hustle, in the dynamism of the crowd, of technology, of concrete — I found all this quite exciting. I understand the city as a kind of construct, a fabrication that is intended to serve humanity in an organic, natural, and fluid manner. However, it doesn’t always work, and so humanity constructs artificial escapes, mini-paradises in the middle of the city in the form of parks, biodomes, etc. We visit these places as a respite from everyday life. What was once commonplace is now a kind of theatrical therapy.

In terms of painting, I used the city as a subject for a long time. It provided enough content to develop complex spatial challenges, but natural habitats also provide these challenges through different shapes and forms. I’m interested in combining the city and the organic world in such a way that they collide with each other to create unique visual encounters, and from there — themes, narratives, and ideas may emerge.

Much of your work in the “Reality” series depicts people in day-to-day situations in the city. There’s a voyeuristic element to this. Do you work with photography to help create these scenes?

I wander through the city with a sketchpad, a camera, and a video-camera. Periodically I will stop and document a location that seems to contain significant visual possibilities, something I can cultivate further. I take thousands of photos per year, but also many hours of video documentation. Every painting begins with abstract sketches (lines, shapes, scribbles). Eventually a kind of abstract composition emerges. These digital photos and videos serve as reference points that I can steal from to inject into my sketched spaces. Therefore, as real as some paintings may seem, they are all impossibilities — a conglomeration of drawing, photo, and video coming together to create a singular painted experience that cannot be found in real life. In terms of being a voyeur — I try not to be noticed when documenting something… I don’t bother to compose shots, I get the information as fast as possible and move on. I don’t want to be intrusive.

“The Other Side” (top) and “Ricochet” (bottom), oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

What are some of the sources of inspiration for you?

While I try not to rely on anything specific, I am very influenced by artists whose interest is in playing with three-dimensional space on a flat surface. Therefore the cubists and futurists were some of my earliest influences. An artist like David Hockney is someone I’ve looked at a lot, though my work doesn’t have any particular aesthetic connection to his. I’ve been looking at a lot of very formal abstract painting recently, but then I’ve also been listening to talks by the artist Vincent Desiderio who paints in quite a figurative way, almost old master-like. Literature that involves reflections about the human condition in urban space have always interested me — Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy being one, but also something like Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Man of the Crowd, upon which I based a 7 meter long painting several years ago. I listen to electronic or minimalist music while working. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but perhaps it’s got the right mix of warm and cool to keep me in a state of balance while painting.

You’ve had experience living abroad in Berlin: how did you transition your artistic practice to the city? Can you talk about how you established connections, mapped out galleries and other resources?

It wasn’t necessarily easy to move to a country where I didn’t speak the language and knew almost nobody (my friend, the artist Vitaly Medvedovsky lived there at the time and he was very helpful). I’m also not an extroverted person, so diving in and making connections is not a natural state of being for me. It took quite a while (several years) to meet enough people to have regular opportunities open up for me. Ultimately, Berlin is not necessarily the best city in which to show painting — unless it’s of a more conceptual nature.

After nearly four years in the city I was approached by a gallery for representation. Partly it took so long because I work relatively slowly… just to build up enough work to show someone took a couple years. I had a list of galleries that I found interesting, but of course these are not places you can just walk into and show them work. They have to know of you prior to you talking to them or you have to meet through some of network-like connection. The gallery that found me was actually a new one at the time (it has since closed and I have moved on to another gallery in Berlin).

I’ve found that my work doesn’t necessarily change that much depending on where I am. Partly I attribute this to art being so globally connected now via the internet. Influences range far more than from just a local context. Furthermore I don’t have a particular interest in depicting specific locations, so if I’m living in Berlin I’m probably not using a location in Berlin as a source — it could be imagery I’ve collected ten years ago someplace else.

“Janus”, oil and linen, Erik Nieminen.

After graduating from your MFA, what steps did you take to continue exhibiting and practicing professionally?

I was quite lucky that a few people liked my work enough to want to collect it right out of the gate. Therefore I have been fortunate enough to more or less live off my art for nearly a decade now. It is not always easy — some years are better than others. The main thing is that I continue to always have exhibitions of some kind lined up for the future, which then can open up other opportunities. It was important after graduating to hit the ground running and to keep that momentum going. Therefore I try to maintain a steady schedule of about 2 or 3 upcoming (group or solo) shows at all times. I am fairly picky about where I show and the context matters, so it’s sometimes difficult to find the right environment for the work, but thus far things have worked out well enough. The occasional grant or award has been quite helpful as well, from a financial point of view.

Could you talk about your experience in exhibitions? What are some tips you might give to other artists pitching their art to galleries? 

I have worked with some curators, mostly as a result of them seeing my work online or via studio visits. I have almost never received a response by reaching out to a gallery out of the blue. I have heard this can work on occasion, but it’s quite rare as galleries tend to be inundated by similar requests for connection. They have to meet you in a social scene or see your work in a public exhibition in order to gain their attention (this has been my experience). I have worked with both commercial galleries and not for profit spaces. The upside to working with a commercial gallery is that they will (in theory) promote your work at all times and try to find opportunities for you to show and sell your work. It can have positive financial results and hopefully bring your work to a wider audience, though this very much depends on the reach and ambition level of the gallery. Artist-run centers and other non-commercial spaces can sometimes be more interesting from a creative standpoint. As they aren’t so concerned with making money, there is more opportunity to experiment and perhaps show work that would not be seen in a commercial gallery.

“AboveBelow”, oil on linen, and exhibition at Galerie d’art d’Outrement (Montreal), Erik Nieminen.

What projects are you currently working on?

I was fortunate to be the recipient of the 2018 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Award, and as a part of that I will be having a solo show in New York City in 2019. The exact date and venue have yet to be worked out, but that is my main focus at the moment. The title of the show will be “Paradise Not Lost”, which is also the title of my current body of work. In February 2019 I will be taking part in a group show at Galerie Erga curated by Jason McKechnie. The title of that is “Perspicacious Paintings”. I will also have a work at the Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Montreal as part of Nuit Blanche. I’ve never shown in a church before, so I am looking forward to that. Finally, I will be having a solo show in June of 2020 at the Galerie McClure in Montreal.

Erik Nieminen’s Website:

Erik Nieminen’s Instagram: @eriknart

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Vallum Magazine / VSEAL (Organization Spotlight)

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Founded in 2000 and based in Montreal, Vallum magazine is published biannually. Vallum provides a forum for emerging artists to interact with more established figures while giving them exposure and the confidence to continue with their art. As one of Canada’s top poetry journals with an international focus, Vallum encourages dialogue between Quebec and the rest of Canada and allows Canadian artists to exchange ideas with acclaimed and emerging artists from the United States, Britain, Ireland, Australia, India and other countries around the world. For this Organization Spotlight, publicist Rosie Long Decter speaks on behalf of the Vallum team.

Can you introduce a bit of Vallum’s history? How was the publication founded? 

Vallum was founded by poets Eleni Zisimatos and Joshua Auerbach in 2000. They both graduated from Concordia’s Creative Writing program and saw a need for an English-language poetry journal in Montreal. In 2003, the organization expanded beyond the magazine to organizing poetry workshops in local schools – these workshops grew into the outreach program Poetry for our Future! which now offers 35-40 workshops across the city each year.

The same year, the organization was incorporated as the Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters (VSEAL), a registered charity publishing Vallum magazine and holding poetry/literacy workshops in Montreal and beyond. In 2005, VSEAL launched the Vallum Chapbook Series, which publishes two chapbooks each year, and whose authors include George Elliott Clarke, Nicole Brossard, Fanny Howe, and more.

Today, we continue to publish two issues of Vallum magazine and two chapbooks in the Vallum Chapbook Series per year, as well as coordinating city-wide outreach workshops. The current managing editor in charge of operations is Leigh Kotsilidis.

How would you describe Vallum’s place in Montreal’s literary community? What events are you involved in or do you organize? Are there other literary publications, societies, networks, or spaces you work with, whether in Quebec or elsewhere?

As the publisher of Montreal’s only English-language journal dedicated to poetry, VSEAL strives to support local poets while also fostering connections with the broader literary and arts communities across Quebec and Canada. We have partnered on events and projects with a range of local arts organizations including the Quebec Writers’ Federation, Maisonneuve Magazine, and the Atwater Poetry Project. In addition to publishing Vallum: Contemporary Poetry and the Vallum Chapbook Series, VSEAL regularly hosts and participates in events designed to support the local and national writing communities – last year, for example, we co-presented a panel on chapbook publishing, alongside Baseline Press and Anstruther Press. We also organize readings, launches, and pop-up shops at cafes around the city. Our outreach program, Poetry for our Future!, further connects us to a wide range of arts and community organizations across the city. The Poetry for our Future! workshops emphasize the importance of creative writing as a means of self-empowerment and community-building; in bringing together established poets and local non-profits, these workshops build connections between communities, aiming to expand and strengthen Montreal’s literary community as a whole.

Some of the outreach partners listed on your website include: South Asian Women Community Centre (SAWCC), Perspectives II Outreach High School, Project 10: Projet 10, Chez Doris, and the Laval Penitentiary. Can you talk a bit about these partnerships (and any others!) and how Vallum has collaborated with these partners?

VSEAL’s outreach program, Poetry for our Future!, began as a series of workshops at Lasalle elementary school in 2003. Now, over 15 years later, we provide 35-40 poetry workshops each year for children, youth, and adult learners across the city.

Our workshops are primarily for participants from underserved communities. Each workshop pairs an established, local poet and educator with a partner organization – poet Greg Santos, for example, teaches workshops at adult learning centre Reclaim Literacy. Jessica Bebenek facilitates workshops at Spectrum Productions, a non-profit for children and adults on the autism spectrum.

By partnering with organizations like Reclaim, Spectrum, SAWCC, Chez Doris, and others, we’re able to ensure our outreach workshops are reaching a wide range of participants, and that each workshop is tailored to those participants’ needs. Our partnership with women’s shelter Chez Doris goes all the way back to 2008, which means we’ve had over a decade of developing workshops and approaches that work for Chez Doris’ community. We’re also continuing to establish to new partnerships with local organizations – this year, we’re excited to be planning workshops with Native Montreal.

Our outreach program aims to inspire, spark new talent, empower, strengthen communities, and to bridge demographics that might not otherwise have the opportunity to engage with one another. The workshops are committed to creating an approachable, educational, recreational, and safe environment for poetry to flourish.

Can you talk about some of the poetry workshops you’ve hosted? What has been some of the positive response or effects of these workshops?

Our workshops take a wide variety of forms, depending on the styles of our facilitators and the needs of our partner organizations. In 2016, VSEAL partnered with Hands on Media Education to lead workshops on digital literacy at Perspectives II, an outreach high school. Participants aged 13-18 used poems to create stop-animation videos, which were then featured on our website. In 2017, Kama La Mackerel led a series of workshops titled Our Bodies, Our Stories for QTBIPOC (Queer & Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) aged 16-24. These workshops, facilitated at Project 10, offered participants the opportunity to develop their creative writing skills and cultivate their poetics through performance. Last year we also began a new partnership with SistersInMotion, co-presenting creative writing workshops for women and femmes of colour such as Kai Cheng Thom’s “When Trauma Speaks The Bones”.

We receive a lot of inspiring feedback from our workshop participants that affirms the work our outreach facilitators are doing – one participant at a Chez Doris workshop told us that the workshop made her feel “hopeful about the future” and that she was grateful for the space to share with others. That’s one of our primary goals: to provide workshops that inspire confidence on a personal, individual level while also bringing participants together, forming creative communities.

What are your reflections on the English-speaking literary communities you see around Quebec? Do you have partnerships outside of Montreal or elsewhere in the province?

We are members of QWF and are involved with the Atwater Poetry Project, two organizations that support English-language poetry in Quebec. We are also in contact with English bookstores and hosts of poetry readings. However, we would like to expand our borders to include a more multi-lingual emphasis, especially with French-language poets and writers. We have already featured the visual art of French artists in Vallum, and published chapbooks and poetry by Nicole Brossard and Paul-Georges Leroux. We are excited about these kind of exchange possibilities. We appreciate the work of ELAN, which is a great, inclusive organization. We also have an informal partnership with Concordia for our internship program, which has been a great way to connect with young writers and those interested in small press publishing.

What are some of the public spaces that you would recommend for literary or interdisciplinary events?

Montreal has so many good bookstores, cafes, and venues that support literary events. We’ve had great experiences at bookshops like Drawn & Quarterly and Argo Bookstore – Argo recently opened up a back section as well for events! We’ve had successful pop-up shops at le Cagibi and Anti Café (and the now shuttered Chez Boris). Some of our other favourite spots include Kafein, which hosts a regular poetry open mic night, and Resonance, formerly home to the Resonance reading series. The Atwater Library also has a constant slate of excellent literary events. In terms of interdisciplinary events, Suoni per il Popolo does a great job of booking a range of exciting music, art, and literary projects at their various venues. Festival dans ta tête is a great Francophone festival that connects with the English literary community, and Poetry in Voice also hosts poetry recitation contests with a commitment to bilingualism.

What is Vallum currently working on?

We’re currently in production for our next issue, 16:1 “Connections,” which will come out towards the end of April. We’re also working on the layout for our upcoming chapbook release, Art of Surgery by A.F. Moritz. We have two upcoming launches in Montreal and Toronto for the issue and the chapbook. The Montreal launch will be at 7pm on Saturday, May 4th at Rocket Science Room (170 Jean Talon Ouest #204, Montreal, QC). We are currently accepting submissions to our annual Chapbook Award, with a deadline April 30th, as well as submissions for the next Vallum issue, 16:2 “Fear,” deadline May 15th, 2019. We’re also working on developing new outreach partnerships, as well as reworking our website and submissions system, to be launched later this year.

Vallum website:

Vallum Facebook: VallumMagazine

Vallum Twitter: @vallummag

Vallum Instagram: @vallummag

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc


Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)

Graham Krenz is a sculpture and mixed media artist who has shown across Canada, now living and working in Montréal, Quebec. He received his degree in Drawing from the Alberta College of Art + Design, where he was the recipient of an Alberta Foundation for the Arts project grant for his graduation piece, titled “A History of Nature”, which was constructed in partnership with his friend and collaborator Meredith Angus. He has since maintained studios in Toronto, where he showed installation and site-specific work at large events while continuing to develop his small-scale work.

Our feature ELAN Member for Artists Illuminated Shorts! is emerging artist Graham Krenz. Krenz reinterprets domestic objects and works with wood to create surreal objects and panoramic images of the city. Graham has been featured in Art Bazaar and in the Toronto Star, where he talks about his practice in carpentry, interests in urbanism, and monumental transit systems. Krenz takes inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright’s school in Scottsdale, and the use of fake military infrastructure as camouflage during WWI. He also refers to Japanese woodcuts as an influence, describing his interest in relief carvings and the way a pre-inked woodblock looks: “They’re negative images, reflections of what the final product will be. I don’t do precisely that with my work, but I maintain that monochrome, semi-finished appearance as a nod to the functionality of our infrastructure, and the transient nature of everything we construct.”

What attracted you to your medium in wood-carving and sculpture?

Both of my parents were “workshop” people. In my father’s case, making furniture and cabinetry in our basement, and in my mother’s, painting, drawing, miniature dioramas, textiles, and more. Both of them encouraged us to work with our hands. My father’s enormous collection of chisels and planes was a factor as well, I liked using those tools and wanted a way to apply that to my artistic practice. In art school I took several sculpture electives, and enjoyed the subtractive process of carving more than the additive processes or mold-making based processes, so I’ve pursued it since.

What are some of your sources of inspiration?

The initial point of inspiration was a sort of unlikely source. The creative agency Elastic, who you may know as the group behind almost every HBO title sequence, created a beautiful title sequence for the show True Detective. This sequence, directed by Patrick Clair, went a long way to pushing me towards representing infrastructure and urban construction as the primary focus of what I make- I had never considered the power of that imagery until then. Long before that point I had already started moving my work that way after relocating from Calgary to Toronto, and encountering the enormous scale of the 401 highway system, which I have now learned is the busiest single road on earth. I wanted to acknowledge the contrast between how mundane a highway is, and how vast and vastly important the project is when you consider it as a monument to labour and human will.

What were some of the themes you were exploring through your series of hanging sculptures, objects, and domestic items (“Stuff I Thought I Wanted”)?

I was having trouble coming to terms with what I wanted, put simply. I thought I wanted all these silly little boy things, and was finding it embarrassing to think about myself that way. I built these a series of tombstones to all the pretentious ideas about myself I had as a young man. It was also the first time I’d begun incorporating any real craftsmanship into my work, I think I was too focused on how conceptual my work had to be immediately after art school. It was the beginning of my understanding of how important spending time working on a material, how that informs the messages you can send with it.

What are some resources you find useful in Montreal that might also be helpful to other sculptors or carvers?

Reaching out to other artists whose work you see is important, to broaden the amount of techniques and ideas you have access to. That’s my main advice, don’t be an island.

Do you run your own space, or do you collaborate with others?

I share a space with some photographers and film workers currently, so that we can all afford a nice, large, enjoyable space to work in. I would tell everyone to avoid owning anything you can’t lift yourself, and to avoid owning any furniture that you can’t take apart. In Toronto I moved my studio at least once a year, you will want to make this as painless as possible. Once a month, throw away a box of what you have. I’ve had shared spaces and private spaces, both have pros and cons, you have to really weigh what’s best for actually getting things done, and enjoying your time while you’re there.

What are some tips you might give to other artists pitching their art to galleries?

I think like most artists I wish curators would solicit me more, but such is life. I have been lucky to work with commercial galleries and artist-run centers. I’ve had great experiences working with both, I think they both serve different viewers and collectors, and both have an absolutely essential place in the artist economy and infrastructure. The obvious downsides with artist run centers is the application and submission process, which is generally lengthy, involves a lot of paperwork, and can be demoralizing. The benefit to soliciting commercial gallery support is that if they don’t like you, you find out pretty much immediately. Rejection is like a bandaid, it’s nice to tear it off quickly.

Photograph is by Nick Wong.

Visit Graham Krenz’ website:

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Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)

Avy Loftus (Feature)

Kathryn Berry (Shorts)

Fuat Tuaç (Feature)


Photography by Ming LI. 

For our first ever Organization Spotlight, we are featuring ELAN member Jingju Québec, a Montreal-based organization performing Beijing Opera! Beijing Opera (or Peking Opera) was designated in 2010 by UNESCO with the status of “Intangible Cultural Heritage”, recognizing its importance within Chinese performing arts since the origins of the style in the late 18th century. “Jingju Québec opened its doors to the public in 2016,” says Director Aurore Liang, “with the purpose of introducing to a Québec audience China’s most iconic artistic genre, Beijing Opera. We would like to share our passion with everyone.”

Jingju Québec has a distinguished team of artists and teachers. Director Aurore Liang has more than 10 years’ experience in sales and marketing. The performers include artist Lianlian Jing, who has achieved first national class with 55 years of experience on the stage; artist Yan Lu who brings 35 years of experience; and artist Dongmei Shi who brings 30 years of experience.

“For the Chinese, Beijing Opera is considered a true national treasure,” says Aurore Liang. “Uniting singing, dancing, theater, mimes, acrobatics and folk tales, this eclectic creation is a complex amalgamation of various art forms.” The opera is usually performed on a platform so that the stage can be seen from at least three sides. The performers’ elaborate clothing and make-up plays a symbolic role, given that stage props and scenery are kept to a minimum. The artists mime the stories through a refined vocabulary of gestures and manipulations of their costume as an extension of the performer’s emotions, such as the iconic use of long sleeves (Shiuxiu, literally “water sleeves”). The artistic facial makeup, which is called Lianpu, is also important to express cues about a character’s social class, personality and intentions to the audience.

This dramatic style of performance adapts some elements of older styles of Chinese opera, and music and literature are central to conveying the stories. “For the moment, the Chinese government encourages the development of this traditional art, from primary school and the public, to appreciate the art,” says Aurore Liang. 

The interdisciplinary practice of Beijing Opera involves long and dedicated training. “Normally we begin the training during childhood. The best age to start learning is around 10 years old. In a small class of 4 students, they need to learn techniques of singing, dancing, theatre and martial arts,” describes Aurore Liang. The demands of attaining proficiency in Beijing Opera require a deep knowledge and coordination of these multiple art forms at the same time: “That’s why we always say ten years of practice for only one minute on the stage.”

Although the prominent roles of women in Beijing Opera’s stories were played exclusively by men in the early years of the style, women also began performing in the mid 19th century. Some of the most popular operas are about women with pivotal roles in imperial courts or in military campaigns.

Beijing Opera is steeped with legend and history, recounting the tales of distinguished historical figures, romances, and military conquests. “Farewell My Concubine” is the tragic story of Xiang Yu, a princess who dies at the side of her emperor when Western Chu is at war with the forces of Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty. “Drunken Beauty” is an acrobatic tale of the royal consort Yang Yuhuan, who was deceived by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang and decides to get drunk on her own. “The Heavenly Maid Scatters Blossoms” recounts the story of a maiden who is ordered by the Buddha to scatter flower petals in the room of Vimalakirti Nirdesa as a test of his faith. “Lady Wang Zhaojun Goes Beyond the Frontier” follows the concubine Wang Zhaojun, one of the Four Beauties of China, who was married to a general from the nomadic Xiongnu in northern China, in order to maintain peace during the Han Dynasty. Lady Wang Zhaojun plays “Pipa Yuan” (“Sorrowful Lute”), as she departs in sadness from her homeland and travels to the distant north. “Lady Mu Guying Takes Command” is the legend of female general Mu Guying from the Northern Song Dynasty, who was renowned for her boldness and for commanding an army into her eighties.

Jingju Quebec hosts performances, workshops and classes around Montreal, and works in Mandarin, English and French. Jingju Quebec has held workshops with Union française, Projet Changement, and the University of Montreal for music students. Recent performances and collaborations of Beijing Opera have included the Orientalys Festival, the Hong-Kong Canada Business Association (HKCBA), Formons une famille, and the Chinese New Year Festival. The company is currently working on presenting more performances and classes in Montreal!

Follow Jingju Québec on Facebook: Operadepekinquebec

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc


Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)

Avy Loftus (Feature)

Kathryn Berry (Shorts)

Fuat Tuaç (Feature)


Clara Congdon is an emerging artist based in Montreal. She makes tactile drawings and artists’ books exploring gender, media consumption and representation, and personal archives. Congdon holds a BFA from NSCAD University, where she received the Margó Marshall Award for Textiles. Congdon has recently exhibited at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax, The Red Head Gallery in Toronto, and Galerie Monastiraki in Montreal. Her artists’ book “Want to buy some illusions?” is currently featured in Art of the Book 2018, a traveling exhibition of work by members of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild.

“Notebook 1”

Embroidery and textiles are politically loaded media, traditionally seen as utilitarian women’s handiwork, and not historically given much artistic clout. ELAN member Clara Congdon’s work fits within an experimental milieu that is still challenging the accepted norms of creating and exhibiting embroidery, quilting, and other textile-based arts. Congdon’s work also explores the form of the book as a conduit for unusual experiences of reading.

Drawn to the tactility of textiles, Clara Congdon works with three-dimensional media at the intersection of collage, embroidery, bookbinding, illustration and sculpture. She often reuses thread from old clothing, lending an intimacy to her work and creating contrasts between ink and paint, cloth, muslin, satin, plastic, coarse thread, or old gloves. Congdon describes her use of thread and cloth as a drawing medium: “Cloth and paper are a rich starting point because they are accessible media that everyone relates to—we interact with them in everyday life. Textiles also refer directly to clothing and the body, the politicization and policing of which are central concerns of my practice.”


“Sussi”, Drag Portraits (left), and “L’oubli No. 2”, Sewn Bound, Cover: Inkjet, Pages: Laser, Colour. 2018 (right).

Congdon’s hanging tapestry installation, entitled “Volume 1”, reflects the material items that were important for the artist. “In the way that you can tell what people value by what they take pictures of, I think you can also get insight into what a person values by observing what material objects they chose to hold on to.” Congdon’s work is informed by a diverse range of performing arts, comedy and costume design. She lists her inspirations as Louise Bourgeois, Faith Ringgold, Tracey Emin, Tschabalala Self, Kai Chan, Anna Torma, and drag artists. Her most recent work-in-progress is a zine titled You Betcha Iris, that profiles one Montreal drag performer per issue.


“Proceed Inward Until the Last Instant” (left), and “L’oubli No. 1”, Sewn Bound, Inkjet, Colour. 2018 (right).

Congdon’s “Calendar Series” combines the themes of “gender, media consumption and representation, and personal archives”, chronicling her day-to-day experience through miniature quilts. At the end of the month, she stitches these quilts together, creating a reflection of the materials, experiences, and inspirations she was exposed to. “One month was documented by stitching the headline that appeared most frequently on my phone’s news app each day,” she explains. “Another month, I stitched the name of a woman or non-binary creator whose work I consumed. In May 2018, I simply taught myself new embroidery techniques by practicing a different type of stitch each day.”

“May 2017”, Calendars.

“February 2018”, Calendars.

Live exhibitions are important for Congdon, as digital media does not convey the tactility of her work and the importance of touching the materials. She has exhibited across Canada and in the United States, and participated in the Montreal fairs Expozine, Artch : art contemporain émergent, and What the Pop!, as well as the CBBAG Book Arts Show and Sale in Ottawa. Congdon describes one of the challenges of exhibiting at commercial arts galleries as framing or preparing the art to be hung, seeing the restriction as a creative opportunity: “It usually needs to be ready for someone to walk away with it on the spot”. Congdon also describes the value of participating in art fairs which, though they may not garner many sales, consistently lead to more connections and opportunities. Describing her experience in getting into exhibitions, Congdon says, “Sometimes curators have seen my work at another show and have encouraged me to apply to the group show they are putting together. Sometimes they find me online. I would say apply as often as you can—sometimes you won’t get the first thing you apply for, but the organization that put out that call now has your info and will likely notify you when more opportunities come up.”

Visit Clara Congdon’s website:

Follow Clara Congdon on Instagram: @claracongdon

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