A show of design strength shapes up in Montreal


All cities that have suffered from political pressure become creative in a way,’ says Nicolas Bellavance­lecompte, the Milan-based curator, gallerist and founder of roving design fair Nomad, whose latest project is ‘Fictions’, a survey of the contempora­ry design scene of his hometown, Montreal. ‘Montreal has always had a design culture, but there is no outlet for our designers to promote their work. My intention is to show what Canadian designers can do on a global scale,’ he says. Originally planned for Milan Design Week 2020, the exhibition is now due to take place in Montreal, and will be accompanie­d by a digital viewing experience and live stream.

Once Canada’s largest city, staunchly bilingual Montreal boomed throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries, but tensions between franco- and anglophone population­s culminated in a secessioni­st referendum in 1995. Quebec voted to remain, but the bitter campaignin­g and its aftermath led to an exodus of business. The towering grain silos of the city’s Old Port, immortalis­ed by Le Corbusier as ‘the magnificen­t first fruits of the new age’, now stand empty, alongside the once bustling Lachine Canal.

During its leaner years, artists from across Canada flocked to the city for cheap rents within the newly vacated industrial infrastruc­ture, and Montreal soon became known as the country’s creative epicentre. The city is not totally francophon­e, but it’s certainly not anglophone, which leaves space for individual­ity and a certain edge. Canada as a whole may have a reputation for cheery earnestnes­s, but Montreal ‘has a certain darkness, an element of introspect­ion’, says Bellavance-lecompte.

This rings true for the participan­ts of ‘Fictions’. ‘Montreal has two languages and

two realities,’ notes Pascale Girardin, chatting in her studio among a forest of looming ceramic totems, stacked vessels coil-built from tinted Ontario clay, which she glazes in inky black. ‘Because of this mix, we become very hybrid in our practices and in our way of seeing things,’ says Girardin, a Quebecoise who first trained as a scientist, then a painter.

‘I chose designers who could express a story about themselves and the way they work,’ says Bellavance-lecompte, who has brought together fine artists, designers, lighting specialist­s and woodworker­s. One of them is French-born carpenter Loïc Bard. His rigorously detailed ‘Bone’ cabinets, ghostly apparition­s in Canadian-sourced maple and limestone, are inspired by the articulati­ons of the human body, and were first Cnc-milled, then bleached and finished by hand.

Orbiting the boundaries of fine art are Yannick Pouliot and David Umemoto. Guided by his baroque sensibilit­ies, Pouliot explodes and extrudes historic furniture, creating a centipede-like series of Louis XVI chairs. Meanwhile, Umemoto’s Escher-like concrete models are cast in a single step without producing a negative. A former architect, Umemoto first models the sculpture digitally, then builds the mould with painstakin­g precision. The series is imbued with pseudo-religious connotatio­ns: a chalice, a lantern, an incense diffuser.

Lighting designer Samuel Lambert and his team at Lambert & Fils developed ‘Muraille’, an undulating room divider built from stacked aluminium extrusions. Inspired by gridded ceramic waste filters used in manufactur­ing, they were fascinated by how the material caught and extinguish­ed light.

The Lambert & Fils team work in a succession of airy rooms on Rue Hutchison, buffered by a curving railroad track. The former factory once produced clothing and then enjoyed a post-industrial life hosting undergroun­d raves, where many of the designers, some of whom have known each other for decades, once congregate­d. In 2015, it was turned into studios and given a shiny new look by another participan­t of ‘Fictions’, Zébulon Perron.

Better known for his buzzy downtown restaurant­s, interior designer Perron found inspiratio­n for his ‘Spineless’ chair in more bucolic settings. A pilgrimage to Veneto to witness Carlo Scarpa’s architectu­ral legacy introduced the native Montrealer to the possibilit­ies of Italian craft. His walnut wood, steel and brass chair, which cleaves down the middle like it is being unzipped, takes its cues from Scarpa’s intricate joinery.

Also neighbours in the building are Guillaume Sasseville and Claste. Sasseville, a product designer and lecturer at the UQAM design faculty, investigat­ed the applicatio­n of industrial-scale recycled plastics. Using rotational moulding techniques, he created a series of monolithic furniture, its forms determined by simple cuts. Claste, made up of Quinlan Osborne, Martin Poitras and Philip Hazan, works almost exclusivel­y in glass and stone. Its project resembles two identical thrones in marble and bronzed glass. The stone seat sits suspended within the glass casing, seemingly weightless. Also working with glass is Edmonton-born, Montreal-based Zoë Mowat, who devised a series of delicate hand-blown tools.

The transforma­tion of the Rue Hutchison building and its inhabitant­s may be too tidy a metaphor for the trajectory of Montreal, but it’s true that economic wheels are quietly whirring again. Newfound optimism has spurred on local designers to take their place on the internatio­nal stage. In 2018, non-profit group the Centre of Canadian Creativity – co-founded by participan­ts Claste, Lambert & Fils and Zébulon Perron – was created as a focus for that effort, helped in part by the local government, whose generous arts grants are another reason for the city’s prolific art scene. ‘We don’t say, “Let’s try to produce Canadian design”, but we do want to be aware of it,’ says Claste’s Quinlan Osborne. ‘Let’s start to catalogue it; let’s communicat­e with each other and figure out what differenti­ates us from the rest of the world.’ *

‘Fictions’ will be held in Montreal in early 2021. For more informatio­n, see @lambertetf­ils

‘I chose designers who could express a story about themselves and the way they work’

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 ??  ?? This page, from top, chair sculpture, by Yannick Pouliot; ‘Matrices’, by Guillaume Sasseville Opposite, ‘Muraille’, by Lambert & Fils
This page, from top, chair sculpture, by Yannick Pouliot; ‘Matrices’, by Guillaume Sasseville Opposite, ‘Muraille’, by Lambert & Fils
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 ??  ?? Left, ‘3-6 Objects’, by David Umemoto Opposite, ‘Lest We Be Kings’ chairs, by Claste
Left, ‘3-6 Objects’, by David Umemoto Opposite, ‘Lest We Be Kings’ chairs, by Claste
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