Art Souterrain's underground works embrace accessiblity

It's a common frustration in creative communities: insular art circles where the same faces attend all the events. The team behind Art Souterrain is tackling the problem by having artists actively present their work in public places.

The month-long art exhibit starts in tandem with the Montreal Highlights Festival and Nuit Blanche, the ambitious all-night art party which has been inviting Montrealers into niche and mainstream venues since 2000.

Art Souterrain is essentially an exhibition trail comprising of 58 projects spread over six kilometres of Montreal's underground network, snaking through nine buildings.

Frédéric Loury, the senior curator and executive director of Art Souterrain said that the specific push this year was to introduce the general public to visual arts.

"When you go into a gallery or artistic centre, year after year it's the same people," Loury said. "We want to introduce and develop visual arts to the larger public." 

He said that this year the team wanted to make a link between the artists, the public and the art projects.

To foster this connection, many of the artists are presenting their work to the public themselves.

French-Moroccan artist Myriam El Haïk is performing Toy Toy! four times during Nuit Blanche and again on March 6 at noon in Place Bonaventure.

Her toy instruments fit perfectly into this year's theme for Art Souterrain, Play and Distraction.

She says her art, which is built around play, has taken her from European galleries in Paris and Berlin to an urban space here in Montreal.

Jamaican-French visual artist Olivia McGilchrist is attracting audiences through a traditional Jamaica Carnival with the help of her virtual reality headsets.

"I think if you don't know anything, you'll learn a bit about it and might become curious about the context in which it was created," McGilchrist said of the Caribbean's hybrid identities on display.

Performances are taking place every day until the end of the festival on March 24 and are all listed on the Art Souterrain website. An audioguide is also available to download on the website.