Last October, Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal celebrated its 10th incarnation with an opening night bash in the recently renovated Video Rooms, located in the working-class neighbourhood of Saint-Henri. It marked the first time the month-long contemporary-photography biennial had featured a major series of exhibitions this far west, in an area of town considered the cradle of Canadian industrialization. With approximately 30 solo exhibitions and public-space interventions gathered under the banner “Replaying Narrative,” this year’s event sought to chart the blossoming landscape of narrative oriented contemporary photographic art.
As the event’s guest curator, Marie Fraser, explains, “Replaying Narrative” alludes to “the act of taking up and putting back into play, as if it were more relevant to begin with already existing elements than to produce new images.” Situated explicitly in the wake of concerns about the dissolution of grand narratives, Le Mois de la Photo spoke as much about new narrative styles as it did about the “postproductive” condition of visual culture today.
Inside the former Saint Thomas Aquinas Church in Saint-Henri, the Quebec artist Josée Pedneault installed five video projectors that cast images both still and moving high onto the chancel walls. (The chancel is the raised, stage-like area of the church where religious services are carried out.) Murmures (2007) evoked the bucolic, intimate landscapes of a previous generation of Québécois photographic artists; it also organized experience into ever changing constellations of narrative thought. Pedneault employed a randomizing computer engine that could “pick up” and “put back into play” her own very diverse selection of photographic matériel. One could sit for hours in the church pews, waiting for an order to appear, though none arrives.
If Pedneault’s work refashioned the already ruined space of the church to offer narratives without end, then Klatsassin (2006), Stan Douglas’s single channel video installation at the Darling Foundry, collapsed these narratives into the more conventional vocabulary of Hollywood-style mystery and suspense. Set during the Barkerville Gold Rush in the Cariboo region, Klatsassin jumbles its temporal terms by using more than 850 different narrative combinations to recount the story of a murder. The 2006 photographic series Klatsassin, Character Portraits and Western, hung in the adjacent room, regarded the video-story with mistrust, meditating instead on the slippery conditions of historical knowledge today, particularly in Western Canada.
The technologically savvy works of Pedneault and Douglas question our experience of cause and effect, provoking us to read present events differently. Soon after going up, Thomas Kneubühler’s public work—clairvoyantly titled Access Denied— was vandalized by a passerby. A few shots of paint said “no” to the local artist’s monumental pictures of security guards overlooking the streets of Saint- Henri. Though the act breached the festival’s curatorial levees, organizers chose to leave the damaged work up, inviting the public to consider how this gesture of resistance and negation, legitimate or not, is itself a form of détournement—and hence a narrative engine of its own.