One impact of the closure of cultural institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the reinvention of virtual events and exhibitions. Some curators were already adept at producing online content, but most were taken by surprise when programming had to be translated into computer code and adapted to the dimensions of a monitor. At first, this resulted in awkward products, with troubleshooting dominating the airwaves instead of content and experiences. However, after a year of socially distant events, some cultural institutions have truly found their stride; one example is the Galerie de l’UQAM with the initiative QUADrature.

QUADrature takes on the digital moment with a dynamic curatorial premise, a sensational roster of artists, and a smartly designed platform. At the invitation of the gallery director Louise Déry, working with Anne Philippon and Philippe Dumaine, four guest curators were asked to choose four artists to take part in a series of online exhibitions. Over the course of several months, starting in September 2020, each curated quarter was presented as a unique event, but always in relation to the larger virtual ecosystem of QUADrature. As of March 2021, all four online exhibitions are accessible to the public, with the entirety of the project’s many streams available for browsing.

The work of a curator requires a demanding act of imagination in order to craft a coherent and impactful narrative. In QUADrature, guest curators gave shape to an online environment forming a receptacle for their artists. Diane Gistal began with a powerfully personal and urgent tone in her section, Respiration. In her opening statement, Gistal reflects on breathing as a “banal action that has taken on an eminently political status for African communities and people of African descent.” Citing the killings of Black individuals at the hands of law enforcement in the United States, she expands on how anti-Black racism is present and widespread in Quebec. The political power of breathing is then taken up by four Montreal artists: Moridja Kitenge Banza, Marie-Laure S. Louis, Marie-Danielle Duval, and Siaka S. Traoré.

Marie-Laure S. Louis, Sans-titre (detail) (2020) Six photographs and digital collages. Courtesy Galerie de l’UQAM

In his short video, Kutefuka (2020), Kitenge Banza re-appropriates a chant from the Katanga Secession, a breakaway state that declared its independence from Congo-Léopoldville in 1960 with the support of an Anglo-Belgian mining company and military advisors. Reproducing his likeness eighteen times on the screen, wearing an indigo-blue shirt against an azure background, Banza layers himself singing all of the harmonies. His rhythmic intakes of air become a driving force in an anthem that refutes colonial interference and affirms ancestral land rights. Louis’s striking collages present their own gestures of defiance with pinkish clouds and blue skies. Spiritually grounded, embodying comfort and cocooning, the piece conjures release. The beautiful silence and contemplative resonance of her breaths reflect a labour of introspective care.

Somewhere, Otherwise, curated by Ariane De Blois, brings together works that depict the world differently by remixing and restaging images from the Internet. Leila Zelli’s Why Should I Stop? (2020) pays tribute to the resilience of Iranian women resisting a ban on publicly practising Varzesh-e Bâstâni, a sport traditionally reserved for men. Through a compilation of Instagram videos, Zelli’s depictions of young women practising their sport is empowering and celebratory. In AASAMISAG (2019), by faye mullen, and Manifest (2018), by Mona Sharma, the process of worldbuilding continues with an emphasis on decolonial quests, imaginary lands, and existential wanderings. mullen’s video thoughtfully reverberates as their voice guides viewers through a poetic, art historically–informed journey on their laptop navigating the physical and immaterial nature of walls. Sharma’s digital drawings create a comic strip, with each individual image relating to an overall universe that conveys a quest to escape loneliness and invisibility.

Reminiscent of its namesake, the television play Quad (1981) by Samuel Beckett, QUADrature’s success relies on the strengths of its individual performers, an extensive network of contemporary makers coming together in a choreography.

Sak vid pa kanpe!, the section curated by the Musée d’art actuel/Département des invisibles, is bold and stunning. It directly calls on Quebec’s cultural power brokers to create collective spaces of equity. Performances by Marie La Vierge and Yonel Charles, Ann chavire chodyè a (2021), and Francisco Gonzalez-Rosas, performance.png (2021), actualize the political stakes of contemporary art. From a dance challenging Haiti’s dictatorship to the augmented reality of a queer Brown body confronting stereotypes of exoticism, these works expand the affective reach of QUADrature. Finally, Deep Times, curated by Bénédicte Ramade, plunges the audience into the Anthropocene. Clara Lacasse’s photographic study of the Montreal Biodôme’s recent renovations is both an architectural meditation on the collapse of our biome and an exposé on the inorganic inner workings of a nostalgic site of human-nature encounters.

Reminiscent of its namesake, the television play Quad (1981) by Samuel Beckett, QUADrature’s success relies on the strengths of its individual performers, an extensive network of contemporary makers coming together in a choreography. Each constituent part of the project, carrying a potent message and distinct aesthetic, is worth its own time and your full attention. The gallery’s decision to partner with LOKI, a socially conscious collective design studio based in Montreal, contributes to the overall feat; the visually appealing, intuitive, and sleek interface enhances the viewing experience. QUADrature promises more ambitious and accessible online programming, a much needed counterspace to the restrictiveness and homogeneity of white-walled galleries.

Galerie de l’UQAM, online
September 10, 2020— Ongoing

Clara Lacasse, Plateaux (2020) As part of the series L’arche (2020-2021) Five chromogenic prints. Courtesy Galerie de l’UQAM