Sunday, February 17, 2008


Letter-Engage Art Studios

La Petite ‘Maudite’ à Montréal

Still Winter!

While you are likely enjoying an Irish Spring with daffodils ready to sprout out of the ground, Montreal is still in the throws of one of the worst winters in years. The groundhog saw its shadow so that means a longer winter. I may have romanticised winter after being way from it for so long. There is more ice, slush and cold than I remembered. Icicles are longer and more dangerous, hanging from rooftops like diamond stalactites ready to fall on top of your head. One man died in this way at Christmas. I’ve had to buy special grips on the bottom of my boots to handle walking on ice and have had to punch my face when it was frozen and walk head down against the wind and drifting snow.

I consider myself fortunate that I haven’t got a car here. From my upstairs flat, I look down on people shovelling out their cars and hear tyres straining to escape from snow banks onto the road, ploughs racing up and down and huge trucks carrying away snow to who knows where. Although I live up many stairs, I haven’t done much shovelling. We make a trail down the stairs to the footpath with out feet, looking out for the third step, which is always icy from a drip from the balcony.

These are joys to a Canadian winter: The beauty of snowflakes that look like snowflakes not just white blobs landing on your coat, symmetrical and sparkly; fresh tracks in the snow; sleigh riding; snowshoeing; walking across rivers of ice; blue skies against a white landscape or, during a snowstorm, white blending into white.

Language and Art

There is going to be a talk at the end of the month how language affects art –discussing the English/French issue. I will have more on that in my next letter. Meanwhile, today there was an article in the paper that McKibbon’s Irish pub on Bishop St. was done for contravening the province’s language laws. Although relaxed from the days where only French could appear on a sign, the law now states that another language may appear on the sign but that French must appear bigger than any other language. McKibbon’s had decorated the pub with old posters for whiskey with no French to be seen.

By the way, if you are chastised for speaking English in a bar in Montreal, say that you normally speak Irish (Caloga sneachta ag titim, ag titim) and this may get you out of a tight spot.

I promised to tell you about the world-renowned Montreal-based Cirque de Soleil. I went to their production Saltimbanco in December. The company was formed in 1984 in the Lac St. Jean area north of Montreal and now has troupes in various parts of the world doing several different shows. The show we saw was colourful, creative and sometimes breathtaking (there was a fall the night after we went to see it) with live music and good songs.

Chinese Poles

Russian Swing

Great News

My print studio has opened its own gallery on the ground floor of its building. I saw the first exhibition and was impressed.


Just a reminder to pick up a copy of Crannog at Charlie Byrne’s, Joyce’s, Dubray’s, Bell Book and Candle, the Arts Centre or online at:


Debi O’Hehir did the stunning front and back cover artwork for us.

Introducing Kathy Tweedie

I ran into an old friend and native Montrealer who is involved in the arts. I thought she would bring some insight into what’s happening here. Therefore, she kindly wrote the following article on art studies in Montreal and the wonderful Belgo building. Kathy taught photography at Concordia University and has recently published a book, Seduced by Modernity, with co-author Mary O’Connor on the Canadian woman photographer Margaret Watkins, published by McGill University Press.

Letter from Kathie

First let me introduce myself. I am Katherine Tweedie, born and brought up in Montreal, with a long career teaching photography in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University. I do have a connection to Sandra: we both spent the lovely summers of our childhood in Burnt Church, which you have heard about in letters from Sandy. We did not know each other in our magical Burnt Church because I am slightly older than she is, a difference we counted then but not now. We met two summers ago at the BC home of Malcolm (Sandra’s cousin) and Dawn (my childhood friend) and recently renewed our acquaintance in Montreal with dinner at my house, an evening full of good conversation, lots of food and of course some wine.

Sandra asked me to write a few paragraphs about the art programs available in Montreal. First I thought I would segue from her last letter about the Parisian Laundry and Fonderie Darling, two art galleries in the city, by adding a third, the Belgo building. Like the Laundry and the Fonderie, the Belgo is an industrial building which used to house furrier and clothing manufacturers; in the late 1980’s the building, abandoned by industry, was taken over by artists, some of them squatters. Since then a vibrant set of commercial and non-profit art galleries, studio spaces, architects and designers offices, and a café are now located at the central downtown site (at higher rents of course). It also has spaces for rent which, as well as the other galleries, have been venues for students presenting their final MFA (Master of Fine Arts) exhibition. Currently Andreas Rutkauskas, a recent MFA graduate at Concordia University is exhibiting at Galerie ProjexMtl and it is a stunning show. It called Peak and was his graduate exhibition at another venue in Montreal, subsequently picked up by the commercial gallery ProjexMtl.

You can find more pictures and info about his work at
Andreas told me that he has recently photographed in Newfoundland and people keep telling him that the images look like Ireland!

Belgo Building

I checked out other exhibitions in the Belgo on my visit last Saturday and have listed some sites below. The commercial Galerie Réné Blouin is showing the work of one of our most important contemporary artists, Betty Goodwin. Circa exhibits two artists: the Argentinean José Luis Torres, whose architectonic sculptures relate to immigration, displacement, mobility and adaptation, and Chantal Durand whose exhibition of soft sculptures is called Monstres. She says “I like to think of the body as a stranger with whom we live – like a bag that we always carry with us without ever opening, without knowing what it contains.” Chantal is graduating from the Concordia MFA sculpture program. At Joyce Yahouda, Phil Irish presents a series of mixed media works called Map Paintings; a friend draws a map of a significant place and Irish visits, takes photos and then paints. Each painting includes the original map. At Optica are very small quirky paintings of everyday life by Yves Tessier and video documents (by Jessica Field) of 4 robots that exhibit unexpected behaviour when a command is misplaced or forgotten in the computer program.

The FOFA gallery in the Engineering and Visual Arts Building, Concordia University

Art Studies

Let me now talk a bit about the art programs, especially at Concordia University, which I know well. In Montreal there are 4 universities; two are English, McGill and Concordia, and 2 are French, Université de Montréal ( U de M) and Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). McGill has a department of art history but no studio classes; the same for U de M which also has film studies. So I will confine my comments to the more studio art oriented programs at Concordia and UQAM. Concordia has a Faculty of Fine Arts, which includes visual arts, performing arts and theoretical programs (painting, photography, sculpture, ceramics, fibres, intermedia and computational arts, cinema, design art, creative art therapies, art history, art education, music, contemporary dance and theatre) at the undergraduate level. At the masters and doctoral level, there is an array of programs but I will confine myself to studio arts. The Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) includes painting, sculpture, open media, fibres, photography and cinema production. The program also requires students to choose from a selection of theoretical courses to complete the degree. The final exam is based on an exhibition or film/video screening at one of the university galleries or at an art venue in Montreal. To give you an idea of how to apply to the program (in case anyone is interested), I will use the photography process that I know best, but all studio arts programs run in the same way. You have to submit a portfolio, a letter of intent and 3 letters of recommendation to the program by January 20th (sorry too late for this year). A jury of faculty members from the discipline, and in the case of photography, students in their first year of the MFA (who get one vote) choose from the pool of applicants. We generally get about 30-40 new applications and select 5-6. There are grants, which are available and a tuition fee remission for international students but these are fairly competitive and based on grades.

One of the benefits of being in the MFA is that students get a teaching assistantship in both of the 2 years of residency. This is great experience not only for the grad students who get the chance to teach and critique student work but for the faculty members who get assistance in the class and for the undergrad students who are in contact with someone close to their age and get an idea about what it is like to be a grad student.

The site for the Faculty of Fine of Fine Arts at Concordia is

The FOFA gallery again

Like Concordia, UQAM has both visual and performing arts programs at the graduate and undergraduate level; what distinguishes it from Concordia is a “doctorate en études et pratiques des arts.” This doctorate combines both theory and practice and both a written thesis and an exhibition are required for the degree. The Faculty des arts houses the departments of music, dance, theatre, visual and media arts, art history, literature and design. Their site is
And the site for the ‘école des arts visuals et médiatiques” at UQAM is

Time ran out and my comments are a bit Concordia-centric but that is what I know best. Hope this has given you some insight into university art programs in Montreal.
Best regards
Katherine Tweedie

Next Waiting for Spring

We will soon see if March comes in like a lion or a lamb and what that means in Montreal. Kathie Tweedie may contribute something else. I’ll have a bit more for you too. Until then, a great Paddy’s Day (There is a huge parade here) and Happy Easter. Miss you. Sandra Bunting

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Skating-Mont Royal


sleigh ride


Deirdre over from Dublin to visit Eoghan


Hear the ice Cracking on the Bay


tracks in snow


The Way Home

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