VU – Quebec City

VU – Quebec City

VU Photography Centre is based in Meduse, a cooperative of ten arts organisations housed in a former flour mill, and it provides production facilities, resources, exhibitions, event spaces, which gives such centres their flavour of creation and exchange. It includes new media organisation Avatar,  video art agency La Bande Video, the print studio Engramme, and others. The building is owned by the tenant cooperative, which was made possible by a loan from the city. Meduse opened in 1995 but VU itself was established in 1981.

Quebec City is home to 650,000 people and 95% are French speaking – the taxi driver thinks we are Russian, but when I emphasise that we are in fact Scottish, he cries ‘Ah Glasgow! You Rangers? Non? You Celtic then? Non? Ah ha!’ as he drives off laughing. A similar encounter happened in Syracuse.

The visit to Meduse follows on from a research trip that members of Meduse made to Trongate 103 only last week where we discussed the exciting prospect of a collaboration between the two centres, one which would take Glasgow/Scottish artists to Quebec in 2013 and reciprocally, a presence of Quebecoise artists in Glasgow in 2014. This could involve all the organistions in T103, if appropriate to them and if their partnering with a similar organization in Meduse facilitates this. The Quebec delegation were treated well on their visit to Glasgow, and we were all enthused about the similaries and the possibilities that we could develop. The Quebec organisers talk fondly of their time in Glasgow – visits to various hostelries has given it all a endearing and yearning legacy.

 VU ‘supports emerging practices and promotes critical thinking about the issues in contemporary photography’. It is a non-profit organisation made up of and administered by an artists’ collective – its board is comprised of artists and professionals in the visual arts. It has two exhibition spaces which are titled American and European (with respective exhibitions by Scott Conarroe and Celia Petrin Sidarous), a black and white darkroom facility for members, digital access, including high end scanner and flat bed scanner, and they have an in-house printing facility for the production of exhibitions by artists. They also have a substantial library of books, the Resource Information Center, which contains a vast array of publications on photography, events, and artists monographs – these are all catalogued and can be surveyed online, searchable by name artists, authors, titles and keywords. This resource is free to access and VU staff facilitates searches of the collection center.

The printing resource is a vital component of VU’s interaction and services to the arts community in Quebec and further afield. Their technicians will work with artists throughout the process of producing work for exhibition, offering advice both technical and artistic – this one to one service is something you don’t get for a commercial business. It is important to note that the technicians are also artists, so they give that quality service and understanding that is unique to photographic arts organisations of this nature, and is also shared with the to other venues visited previously – Light Work and Gallery 44. VU is also the only public access darkroom in Quebec, and artists are known to travel from Montreal and even the USA to use it. Their analogue colour facility is probably on the verge of being dismantled and relegated to analogue history, as it is not used anymore and therefore not cost or space effective (many artists will use a combination of film shooting, scanning neg and outputting digitally, but those who still want the distinctive quality of a colour hand print can still go to more specialist and commercial image bureau’s). This will be replaced however with more digital imaging facilities and allow the space to be reconfigured slightly. Their facilities are very similar to Street Level’s, with the same Flextight scanner, jet mounter, large scale printer etc.

In addition to 16 exhibitions a year, they produce a series of monographs that they apply for more money for and which are undertaken with another organisation, in this case, Dazibao in Montreal. These are nicely designed, medium to small sized publications that profile Quebec based artists such as Bettina Hoffmann, Patrick Altman, Lynne Cohen, and Evergon. They include a commissioned essay which is translated into French and English and around 90 pages of colour and black and white photographic plates giving a incredible outlet for the artists work. These are disseminated via an American and European distributor – I forgot to ask to average sales figures so far.

VU haven’t undertaken any international exchange of exhibitions as such, and we discuss the practicalities of such a venture that we discussed last week with Alexis from VU – a jointly curated exhibition opportunity for artists in 2013/14, possibilities of a residency at VU for a Glasgow photographer/artist, and also a staff exchange. This will be followed up and pursued in the next few months.

On leaving VU, a visit into L’oeil de Poisson is met by Caroline Flibotte who shows us their new publicity poster which folds up into a milk carton shape. Their office looks busy, and their exhibition space vibrant – we get to see their workshop spaces in the basement – wood and metalwork equipment and space make it a facility comparable to Glasgow Sculpture Studio’s and therefore obviously a vital production resource.  A copy of the bulky Directory of Artist Run Spaces in Quebec and Canada features hundreds of spaces across this vast land – one to take back to GPS and one for ourselves. This will be a very useful sourcebook.

We then drop into Engramme, the print studio organisation. Fortuitously there is a small reception for a series of silkscreens by Glasgow artist (and member of Street Level and Glasgow Print Studio) Sarah Hendry, the results of a month residency at Engramme, and the outcome of a working relationship already existing between Engramme and GPS, and one that serves as a model that other T103 organisations can hopefully build on.

Sarah Hendry at EngrammeSarah Hendry prints produced at Engramme on a GPS exchange

Pascale Bureau - Director of Vu

On the morning of writing this blog, CBC is on TV at 6 in the morning and the main news reports on a national Culture Day throughout the whole of Canada on 1st October – a annual cross-country celebration of arts and culture for raising public participation and engagement, initiated in response in the conviction that a vibrant arts and cultural sector contributes directly a society’s wellbeing. This is supported by arts and cultural leaders across Canada and its ethos is to encourage collaboration and giving, places an onus of equality of urban and rural communities, encourages the best use of resources and ‘is produced with a unifying spirit, bringing together the best energies in the country’.

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