Brownstein: N.D.G. exhibition preserves pandemic reflections in jars

“We were really interested in what people were thinking and creating while largely in isolation,” says Simon Davies, co-curator of Something’s aJar.

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A turkey egg being protected in a crown of thorns, a man trying to relax while sitting on top of a COVID-19 molecule, and four pieces of umbilical cords: these are among the 66 objects a group of artists and others inserted in glass jars for the aptly titled exhibit Something’s aJar, running until Nov. 5 at Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Simon Davies, who not surprisingly refers to his own thought processes as somewhat ajar, had yet another bold idea for an art exhibit a few years ago during the height of COVID. Davies and Carmen Jensen, his wife of 47 years and exhibit co-curator, invited friends to create installations representing their preserved memories, ideas, dreams and reflections of a community “that has been fractured by a long-lasting pandemic.”

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These mini-installations, crafted from repurposed materials, were then inserted in open, recycled glass jars and placed upside down.

“The jar here is transformed into a vessel, in the sense of being the repository of some quality, feeling or even spirit. The ordinary is then morphed into the extraordinary,” Davies explains.

The resulting pieces, including those of Davies and Jensen, are, to say the least, jarring, not to mention surreal and all over the map. The 60 creators — artists and friends mainly from the N.D.G. area — are all over the demographic map as well, ranging in age from four to 85.

An overview of the Something's aJar exhibition at Maison de la culture N.D.G. in Montreal, seen on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.
An overview of the Something’s aJar exhibition at Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

“We sent out an invitation in January 2021 asking 100 people to participate in a show that we didn’t really know would ever happen, and sure enough most did and the show has happened,” says the ever-jovial Davies, a former cinema professor at Dawson College and self-described cultural anthropologist.

“And don’t forget unofficial mayor of N.D.G. who refuses to grow up and to stop dreaming,” adds graphic designer/artist Jensen.

“My initial interest in using the jar as an organizing principle comes from the Dada movement that used ‘ready-mades’ in their art. Marcel Duchamp employed this in his famous Fountain sculpture, when he took a urinal, turned it on its side, signed it R. Mutt and presented it at a show,” says Davies, who, no surprise, has an international collection of men’s and women’s toilet signs ready to be turned into another exhibition.

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Used ready-mades are what drives Davies’s art. For the last 30 years, he has been scouring trash and recycling bins around the city to recover found objects and to repurpose them in sculptures ranging from minuscule to massive installation pieces.

His solo show Numerica Series consisted of iron meat hooks, weathered wooden shoe moulds and vintage yardsticks, among other unorthodox objets d’art, to depict both “the tyranny and beauty of numbers.” Davies used paper waste product from the printing and die-cutting process to fashion another solo exhibit, Die Cuts, a surreal and colourful jungle of paper installations.

“I find beauty in life’s scraps. I like things that rot. My endeavour is to retrieve a part of the former life of the object and construct something that can evoke new responses and feelings,” he is ever fond of saying.

Davies’s contribution to Something’s aJar is Fetish, a combo of bird feathers and funnels that serves as an homage to “cultural rituals.”

Elise Bernatchez’s Through Life’s Milky Breath is a striking and self-explanatory piece showing four umbilical cord pieces, which happen to be from her four children.

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A clever creation by Pat Pink depicts power cords emerging from a man’s nether regions and speaks to our ever-growing attachment to our cellphones and the complications in trying to reboot them. Thus, eerily representing the cellphone as an extension of our bodies.

Laurent Bouchard’s Une star pendant 3 ans is the simple yet powerful installation of a man sitting atop a COVID molecule, representing an attempt to come to terms with the pandemic. According to Bouchard, he views this in terms of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince dealing with the impact of COVID-19.

Jensen’s piece, Protective Custody, is the turkey egg being shielded from attack and deals with the frailty of life. Or as an exhibit visitor named Peter put it: “This starkly awesome and spectacular piece drew me back to the isolation and entrapment of our COVID era, but also the secure comfort of protective devices and strategies that enabled me to survive intact.”

“This exhibit was not intended to be a COVID assignment, but it makes sense some would reference it because of the timing,” Davies says. “We just happened to send out the invitation right at the time the pandemic hit. But we were really interested in what people were thinking and creating while largely in isolation.”

Adds Jensen: “This wide range of interpretations, from the ordinary to the profound in this exhibit, is truly a joyful reward.”

AT A GLANCE

Something’s aJar runs Tuesdays through Saturdays until Nov. 5 at Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, 3755 Botrel St. Admission is free. For more information, call 514-872-2157 or email [email protected].

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