On a stormy morning, with coffee and chocolatines in my hands, I climb the stairs leading up to Charlotte’s apartment. She and her cat Abi welcome us, Jean-Michael Seminaro, who will take pictures of the conversation, and I in a warm and eclectic décor that is rich in textures and patterns. I tell her “it’s lively here” while taking in her universe. She tells me she’s only lived there for a short time, which surprises me since the space is filled with her presence.
I wanted to take some time to meet Charlotte because her photography and direction practices speak to me, but also because we collaborate together through her project, Tabloïde. Through this initiative, she curates two ephemeral public spaces in order to brighten passers-by’s curiosity while punctuating their wanderings by offering a framework for contemplation. Tabloïde’s success makes me dream of a city where local artists surprise us at every turn while helping them live off of their practice.
Family and intimacy as a soundtrack
We start the conversation as Charlotte unpacks pieces from her last solo show, I lay my wing as a bridge to you, that took place at the Caravansérail Arts Centre in November 2022. On the Gallery’s website, we can read this description:
“If her work is riddled by concerns about humans and their environment, natural as well as physical, her recent works are more looking into identity research around her multiple origins, Quebec, Iran and Italy.”
While slowly unrolling bubble wrap clad around each frame, she tells me how her family accepted to play the game in a voluntary and even excited manner. On the pictures, her parents, cousins, aunts are all disarmingly natural. We see them recreating scenes from their family lives in pictures or in films projected during the exhibit, listening to music, reading outside, playing guitar, just taking in nature’s air. Charlotte is present in some compositions, as if to make sure she wouldn’t be excluded from the family reunion. Photographers are often absent from memories; this won’t be her caseDeath as a creative driver
Charlotte also showed me a triptych from her previous project, You are aware of darkness when you’re asleep (2020). We can see the moon, the shadow of a hand and a bonfire. The images are of hypnotizing simplicity and precision. Presented in January 2022 in a collective exhibit entitled Regard at Centre Skol, this project is no less than a response to her fear of death. Humans, their relationship with nature, life and death are intertwined subjects from which she traces intersections that bring her various projects to life. Solitude, nature, death, and the transformation of these three concepts drive her creativity. Her practice helps calm these dark worries, one image at a time.
Movement and chants
During her first exhibit, a video was projected to complement the framed photographs. For Charlotte, video makes it easier to share complex emotions. From the beginning of her studies, she’s been attracted by this application of photography. Adding sounds, mainly music, allows for a new dimension to her works. During this conversation, Charlotte often comes back to her family by sharing that her family life is bathed in music; opera recitals in her aunt’s garden, Iranian songs on CDs listened to by her uncle and her dad, vinyl records shared at gatherings are all fragments of her history.
Making art one’s trade: paths and fears
After numerous conversations with artist friends, I risk asking Charlotte if she is hopeful about the possibility of living off of her practice. Having finished her studies in 2020, she is at the very start of her professional career and often asked herself how she’ll be able to make it. She herself is witness to recognized artists having difficulties to make ends meet. Restaurant work, retail or teaching are all ways artists often end up doing, while working countless hours and making financial compromises, to be able to give life to their creative practices. Although she has many strings to her bow and loves to fill her agenda with diversified projects, she sometimes asks herself why she chose this path. Why are artists so underpaid within the arts industry? This question is primordial; without artists, there can be no gallery, curators, museums, or even collectors. Why don’t we put more value in their work since they are so essential to this chain? She thinks things have to change and this is an opinion that resounds more and more amongst artists.
Tabloïde was born from the serendipitous discovery of an abandoned billboard on the corner of Mont-Royal and St Hubert streets and from a more general reflection about public art. The need to take over a space was born, and it grew during the pandemic, when Charlotte found the time to make it happen. She first tested the concept with one of her pieces, printed on paper and then installed as wild posting. Since then, the long board to which she gained access was covered numerous times with wheat paste to showcase different artists’ works every month.
In 2021, we contacted Charlotte to ask if she’d like to gain access to a second space to present pieces with Tabloïde. In front of our workshop, we had a permanent panel installed allowing us to present the work of artists exposing their works on our boutique’s walls. Since events slowed down with the pandemic, why not give her the reins? Since then, we’ve seen works by Hamza Abouelouafaa, Oumayma B. Tanfous, Aziz Zoromba et Brandon Brookbank brighten the space in front of the shop.
Opening up to the community through empathy
Sensitive to her peers’ needs, Charlotte is glad to shine a light on artists’ works deserving to be seen. This curating experience suits her, and she even plans to organize a collective exhibit soon. The empathy that we find in her creations is definitely reflected in her curating work. A gatherer of people, she doesn’t like to work alone; with her family for personal projects, with her artist friends for Tabloïde. This need to be in a group comes from her parents who were always implicated in their community, whether it be in the arts of music spheres. The need to show other people’s works and to be open to everyone seems to have been transmitted to her for the better, because it allows us to enjoy it while sharing these beautiful pieces with passers-by walking by the shop.
Constraints allowing for more liberty
The format and material used for Tabloïde are imposed, but the project still breathes freedom. The interest for the approach is easy to see; Charlotte receives requests to present works from countless artists, many of whom are established and very happy to have a space outside of the institutions to show their pieces. No paperwork or application to fill, a simplicity that takes artists back to the source. Play, fill a space, let curious passers-by appreciate the work: this democratization and accessibility are what makes the project so refreshing.
From left to right: Sara A. Tremblay, Celia Perrin Sidarous and Jérôme Nadeau.
To see the works, take a walk around the corner of Mont-Royal and St-Hubert on the Plateau Mont-Royal or come to our Mile End studio-boutique at 5758 Saint-Laurent. Take the opportunity to listen to the Tabloid podcast project, where some of the artists discuss their practice.
All pictures at Charlotte's are by Jean-Michael Seminaro. Thanks to Charlotte for the pictures of Tabloid and Âbi the cat.
Visit the portfolio of Charlotte Guirestante Ghomeshi.