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Quartier Éphémère

(Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Darling Brothers Foundry
In Situ, Projections onto Grain Silo No 5, 1997 Grain Silo No 5
Officially formed in 1993, Quartier Éphémère (QE), (1) an ephemeral arts organisation based in Montreal, Canada, is devoted to supporting the work of emerging artists while nurturing public awareness of abandoned spaces in desolate industrial areas of Montreal. The group was born out of a relationship with the French organization Usines Éphémère, an artist-run association that temporarily occupies abandoned buildings and offers the newly renovated spaces up for artistic use. QE has occupied three abandoned spaces since its formation seven years ago.

Originally an initiative of four young French and Quebec arts proponents, QE is now directed by Caroline Andrieux, one of the original founders. She is backed by an impressive board of directors, including David Liss (director of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, Montreal), Manon Blanchette (director of communications for the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art), Yves Sheriff (assistant director of Usine C, Montreal), and Christophe Pasquet (director of Usines Éphémères, France).

To date, QE has been quite successful in recuperating abandoned buildings for artistic purposes in the Faubourg des Récollets near Old Montreal. In 1994, after taking over an old warehouse at 16 Prince Street in the Faubourg district, QE organized its first major exhibition, État des Lieux. The exhibition brought together several young local artists who had worked in residency at QE. (2) In 1995 and 1996, QE continued to mount regular exhibitions in the warehouse space and gained critical admiration for its international exchange program with France and its innovative use of the abandoned building.

In 1997, Quartier Éphémère organized a major series of site-specific installations around the Faubourg des Récollets district under the title Panique au Faubourg. This successful initiative attracted the attention of many critics locally and nationally. Sensitive critiques also emerged in local newspapers and art publications such as Canadian Art and ETC. (3)

The exhibition made use of several old buildings and structures and beautifully illustrated and reinforced QE's mission to give artists the opportunity to transform forgotten spaces. Artists Geneviève L'Heureux, Annie Lebel and Stéphane Pratte (In Situ) projected ethereal images onto the side of Grain Silo No. 5, illuminating a decomposing structure.

French artist Claude Lévêque subtly occupied one foundry with sonic landscapes brimming with Frank Sinatra. Meanwhile, a disco ball eerily accentuated the emptiness of the building by casting shadows and inflicting light upon dark corners and crevices that, during one period of the building's history, would have been filled with movement. Montreal's heritage and architecture communities commented on the power of these transformations. Phyllis Lambert, the Canadian Centre for Architecture's director at the time, said that "the installations heighten our ability to see and to appreciate these extraordinary spaces, transforming dead streets into a live neighbourhood." (4).

Quartier Éphémère built on the momentum of this event throughout 1997 and 1998 with numerous exhibitions and artist residencies, such as Les Présents Relatifs, and La Relève in Paris in the Hôpital Éphémère. However, the group faced a difficult period in 1998 when the abandoned building they had occupied for nearly five years burned down. To house its activities, QE zeroed in on another majestic abandoned space, the Darling Foundry near Old Montreal. Until they could raise enough money to renovate the space, Caroline Andrieux and her team relocated to Peel Street and focused their attention on organizing several public interventions and site-specific works.

In June 1999, Quartier Éphémère, along with its French counterparts, Usines Éphémère from Saint-Ouen, France, participated in an artistic exchange as part of Printemps du Québec en France. Later in October, QE co-produced a sound installation by Scottish artist Marcus Macdonald that was set up in the abandoned Wellington Tunnel in Montreal. In addition, the group hosted a theatre production of Samuel Beckett's acclaimed play Endgame at the Darling Foundry in October and November. In May 2000, the organisation collaborated with world-renowned artists on a series of video projections at the corner of Sainte-Catherine and Saint-Denis streets in Montreal. Du cinéma et des restes humains featured work by Canadian artist Mark Lewis and the duo Solomonkha-Gallard.

Quartier Éphémère has now officially moved into the Darling Foundry and started to welcome exhibitions to its new space, which was designed by the Montreal firm In Situ. The first exhibition Palaindrome featured installations by artists Donna Akrey and Yvette Poorter (5). QE is also working with the Montreal collective [The User], on a project called Silophone.

Angela Plohman © 2000 FDL

(1) Quartier Éphémère :

(2) The artists featured in this exhibition were Mathieu Beauséjour, Brigitte Nahon, Gigi Perron, Michael Robinson, Olivier Sorrentino, Robert Windrum and M.R. Thibault Boyer.

(3) Donald Goodes, "In Situ," Canadian Art Vol. 14, No. 3 (Fall 1997): 100; and Isabelle Velleman, "Panique au Faubourg : La ville au service de l'art," ETC Montréal No. 40 (December 1997, January, February 1998): 31-33.

(4) Phyllis Lambert quoted in Donald Goodes, "In Situ.".

(5) Palaindrome ran from July 8 to August 20, 2000.