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SIGHTINGS
Estrangement

Launched in 2012 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection, the SIGHTINGS satellite exhibition program was conceived as an experimental platform to critically reflect upon the possibilities and limitations of the modernist “white cube.” As part of this program, artists and curators are invited to develop projects for a cubic display unit located in a public space at the university, with the aim of generating new strategies for art dissemination.

In its past four editions, the yearly programming for SIGHTINGS has centered on themes of labor, pedagogy, psychopathologies, and systems. The 2019-2020 iteration will consider estrangement—as a state of mind, site of imagining, and vantage point from which one is able to perceive the world and oneself from outside of it. Occurring inside or in proximity to the Gallery’s off-site platform, projects will stray from assumptions about the modernist “white cube” as a conceptual space coded as neutral, self-contained and severed from the external world. Instead, engagements in the SIGHTINGS cube will employ discursive and display strategies to narrate their own contingency, attend to feelings of unfamiliarity, and explore processes of self-removal and self-examination. Repurposed as a device of positioning, estrangement here becomes a means to open up spaces for change and renegotiation.

The SIGHTINGS program is developed by Julia Eilers Smith.

SIGHTINGS is located on the ground floor of the Hall Building at 1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. West and is accessible weekdays and weekends from 7 am to 11 pm.

SIGHTINGS 29
right here, right now
karen elaine spencer, right here right now (study), 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Born in Nelson, British Columbia, karen elaine spencer lives and works in Montréal. She holds an MFA from l’Université du Québec à Montréal and a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. Oscillating between work in the street, exhibitions in galleries, and projects via the web, spencer questions hierarchies and investigates how we, as transient beings, occupy the world we live in. Recent accomplishments include commissions for new work: “nous sommes tous” for the école Saint-Jean-de-Matha in Montréal, Québec (Intégration des arts à l’architecture, 2020,) the Margaret Atwood inspired textile for the Consulate General of Canada in New York, New York (2019,) and the Quebec Room carpet design for Canada House in London, England (2015 with Nadia Myre.)

Recent and upcoming exhibitions comprise: “to hold in the hand” at Admare aux Îles-de-la-Madeleine (2020,) “movin’ the charter” at Dare-Dare, Montréal (2018-2019,) “enveloping self i smell memory” at Galerie Sans Nom, Moncton (2018.) spencer’s work is held in multiple collections including the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Bibliotheque nationale du Québec, the Musée d’art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul, as well as corporate and private collections in France, Canada and the United States. In 2012 spencer was awarded the La Centrale Powerhouse Prize. She was a finalist for the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec’s prix en art actuel in 2016, and for the Prix Louis Comtois in 2019.

karen elaine spencer wishes to thank the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Julia Eilers Smith, Hugues Dugas, Jack Locke, Myriam Wares, Karima Boudjeroua, Greta Thunberg, and Nadia Myre and her students from the ArtX cluster.

January 11 to May 10, 2020

A project by karen elaine spencer

Unmoored from their original location, intent, and speaker, the four English words cited from Greta Thunberg’s address to the United Nations on September 23rd, 2019, are re-employed as large-scale text housed within a display structure at the entrance of Concordia University’s Hall Building, in Montréal, Québec.

The four words define a boundary between those included, “we”—and those excluded, “you.” On September 27th, 2019, over 500,000 people, including Thunberg, took to the streets of Montréal calling on political leaders to act on the climate emergency. The protesters, identifying with the “we” of Thunberg’s speech, performed a direct address aimed towards the “you” of those in power.

Yet, who is the “you” that is distinct from the “we” of the protesters? And how do we position ourselves and our communities among this division? Can the we/you of these utterances be located, defined? Or does the power of their invocation reside in their indeterminacy, allowing for a multitude of—perhaps conflictual—identifications?

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right here right now takes the four words and stretches them over the surface of a 24-foot banner. Not quite sign and not quite propaganda, the phrase is fragmented over the four sides of the cube transforming the two-dimensional nature of the banner into three dimensions. This fragmentation, coupled with the loose, difficult to decipher hand-drawn font, undermines a desire for effective communication and hinders our certainty as to the inscription. With no punctuation, we have no way of ascertaining where the phrase begins or ends, or indeed if these four words, each isolated within the frame of their respective windows, adds up to a sentence.

The SIGHTINGS cube, located outside of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, complicates the reading of the text and its relation to the authority of the University. Public inscription, linked to the performance of identity, nation building, territory, culture, and power, is here softened by the ambiguous positioning of the cube, with its stand-alone presence at the bottom of the escalators.

The phrase projects into a future that is as-of-yet unknown. And although Thunberg may have intended the words to be understood as a declaration of future accountability, here the question begs itself, to whom and from whom is the declaration directed? And if this phrase is perceived as an act of vision, one which holds the other in the spotlight, is this perceived as a threat or as an assurance of future care? For although Chantal Mouffe articulates public space as a battleground in the agonistic model, it is a battleground where conflicting and contradictory events can and do take place. Perhaps one can hope that these events might also engender acts of opening, dialogue and change.

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Born in Nelson, British Columbia, karen elaine spencer lives and works in Montréal. She holds an MFA from l’Université du Québec à Montréal and a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. Oscillating between work in the street, exhibitions in galleries, and projects via the web, spencer questions hierarchies and investigates how we, as transient beings, occupy the world we live in. Recent accomplishments include commissions for new work: “nous sommes tous” for the école Saint-Jean-de-Matha in Montréal, Québec (Intégration des arts à l’architecture, 2020,) the Margaret Atwood inspired textile for the Consulate General of Canada in New York, New York (2019,) and the Quebec Room carpet design for Canada House in London, England (2015 with Nadia Myre.)

Recent and upcoming exhibitions comprise: “to hold in the hand” at Admare aux Îles-de-la-Madeleine (2020,) “movin’ the charter” at Dare-Dare, Montréal (2018-2019,) “enveloping self i smell memory” at Galerie Sans Nom, Moncton (2018.) spencer’s work is held in multiple collections including the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Bibliotheque nationale du Québec, the Musée d’art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul, as well as corporate and private collections in France, Canada and the United States. In 2012 spencer was awarded the La Centrale Powerhouse Prize. She was a finalist for the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec’s prix en art actuel in 2016, and for the Prix Louis Comtois in 2019.

karen elaine spencer wishes to thank the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Julia Eilers Smith, Hugues Dugas, Jack Locke, Myriam Wares, Karima Boudjeroua, Greta Thunberg, and Nadia Myre and her students from the ArtX cluster.