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Be a tourist in your own city
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 6 janvier 2011

Photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre Bégin

The artist in front of his work at the Maison de la Culture Cote-des-Neiges.

We live in Montreal, we see the same buildings, parks and trees every day, and eventually hardly notice them at all. How about seeing it all as if you had just arrived? The current exhibition at the Côte-des-Neiges Maison de la Culture will have you looking on the city like an explorer emerging from the wild.

“The city can be seen in another way,” states artist Claude-Philippe Benoît, whose exposition is titled Société de ville (City Society).Only from a distance, thinking as newcomers would, do we notice the details in the structures around us.”

The large-scale, black and white photographs frame Montreal from unusual locations, such as behind a bush on a steep Mount Royal slope or between the bars of a cast-iron fence on Cedar Avenue. The photographer aims to “simulate the discovery” of Montreal by placing himself on its margins, despite having been a resident of the city since 1990.

Most of the photos were taken on or near Mount Royal, one of Montreal’s few ‘green’ areas. The work seems to convey a friction between the perfect symmetry of urban development and the unrestrained wilderness of its margins, as when the monolithic structure of a Côte-des-Neiges high-rise is contrasted with the spidery branches of an uncultivated tree in the foreground.

This is not the first time Benoît has uncovered the secret corners of a metropolis. In 2008, at the Ottawa Art Gallery, his alternative takes on a region often perceived as bland were displayed in a group exhibition called Evidence: The Ottawa City Project.

Ottawa Art Gallery curator Emily Falvey calls his work “an exploration of the beauty and anxiety associated with the fringes of surveyed urban space.”

Indeed, there is an eerie quality to the images, perhaps partly due to the absence of any human subject, as if on a film set after the actors have left. This frozen, timeless aspect of the work frees the viewer to imagine the ghostly presence of generations past, as they see the area just as past populations might have, hundreds of years ago.

Benoît’s locations are chosen for their potential to express what could happen, regardless of what is actually in the frame. This cinematic potential is no coincidence, since the Concordia grad has studied and worked in film.

Finally, when asked for suggestions on what to consider before going into the exhibition, the artist exclaims “Take your time! The images are large, and take some time to absorb,” as in a painted tableau where size or colour is meant to “submerge the viewer’s eye”. All the better to help you become the explorer!

Société de Ville will be shown at the Maison de la Culture Côte-des-Neiges (5290 Côte-des-Neiges Rd., 2nd floor) until Jan. 16, 2011. Admission is free.

[Ingrid Wissink]

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