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Having previously explored the concepts of ‘vulnerability,’ ‘service,’ and ‘investment’ in its prior editions, the Terms program is dedicating the year 2023-2024 to the examination of the word ‘depression,’ with the aim of transcending the commonly psychological and pathological interpretation prevalent in everyday language.

Derived from the Latin word ‘deprimere,’ the word ‘depression’ traces its origins to the realm of physics, invoking the concept of compressing or applying downward pressure, and by extension, its outcomes: a sinking, an inclination, a retreat, or the formation of a hollow. Depression can be seen as the impression resulting from the interplay of forces, something that yields and flexes under the influence of weight, pressure, intrusion, or gravity. Over time, this term has found diverse applications across various domains, including geology (referring to topographic or oceanic basins), meteorology (indicating low atmospheric pressure), economics (characterizing prolonged economic recession), medicine, and psychology (describing complex mood disorders and medical conditions).


The second part of the series contemplates the concept of “depression” within the context of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Andrée Lévesque, a professor in the Department of History at McGill University, offers an in-depth analysis of the extent of the economic crisis in Montreal, exploring its effects on the labor market, living conditions, and social stability. Following her essay is a series of five photographs by Canadian artist Margaret Watkins (1884-1969) documenting the streets of London, UK, and its inhabitants during her visit in the early 1930s. The issue concludes with a second text by Debra Antoncic, an art historian, curator, and Director of the Riverbrink Art Museum, examining Watkins’s perspective on this city, with a particular emphasis on what her photographs reveal about the experience of the Great Depression.

Semiannual program

How does a term circulate through society, and how does its dissemination within contemporary discourse inform us about the way that society thinks about itself? By what means do certain words instill themselves in language and the public sphere to the point of becoming commonplace? Terms is an online discursive and artistic program that individually unpacks a series of broad and polysemous terms that are employed today to address a range of sociopolitical issues in contemporary society. While some words acquire multiple definitions the more they are used, they also often tend to become generalized and run the risk of having their meaning become diluted, confused, or unclear over time. Nevertheless, their continued presence in our vocabulary requires careful attention and analysis as to their etymological value, their semantic density, and their use across and beyond disciplinary boundaries.

Terms looks at how these widely disseminated key words echo within different forms of research, writing, and works of art. For each selected term, a researcher from outside the visual arts publishes a text that examines it in its many variants, tensions, and ambiguities through the specific lens of their field of activity. The word is then considered by pairing it with a resonating artwork shared on the Gallery’s website. In turn, a writer from the cultural sector uses this same work as the starting point for a second text that draws from the first and from beyond to probe aspects of the term in its various dimensions.