Back for its 11thyear, the must-see winter event, the Art Souterrain Festival is livening over 6km of Montréal’s underground pedestrian network and 8 satellite locations. Between March 2 and 24th, this year’s theme “True or False” will present work from 60 well-known local and international artists in addition to a number of activities like meditation.

We spoke with one of this year’s guest curators, photographer and artist Maude Arsenault, about the upcoming exhibition.

Can you tell us about the festival: what it is and how did you get involved?  

I’ve known Frédéric [Loury], the director, for a long time, because he had a gallery many years ago, and I did a few exhibitions with his gallery. He’s always been very active to promote new talent, emerging artists; he has a strong interest in promoting contemporary art culture. He started Festival d’Art Souterrain. He had this idea of bringing contemporary art in the public space through the underground of Montreal. Over the years, it has gotten bigger and bigger.

At the same time, my career has evolved into art photography (I was originally a fashion photographer). We knew each other from those years, as I always had an art practice on the side. Then, when I started PrintAtelier – which is the platform I’ve built over the past 5 years that is an art collective of contemporary artists – we started to hear more of each other. Because of the PrintAtelier, my career as a photographer, my curiosity towards arts and my studies, I’ve become known as someone who is an expert in photography. Especially on an international level, because through my whole career, I’ve always looked at things in a global way more than a local way, so as soon as I started PrintAtelier, I wanted to be an international platform.

Frédéric came to me a year ago and asked if I wanted to be a guest curator and focus on the photography program and get international artists. He gave me a specific mandate of bringing mostly international artists to the festival.


How would you describe this year’s theme?

It’s True or False. Basically, when [Frédéric] approached me with that theme, it was about information, fake news, political media, etc. For me, it was hard to really connect with that aspect of the theme, because my work, interests, and curating is normally really focused on more of a humanist point of view. Something that is closer to people, meaning a domestic life, intimate life, relationships. For me, the theme was actually really appropriate, but not exactly in the way they thought about it. I brought the idea to Frédéric to bring a more personal level. This means, for me, that it’s obvious we live in a world right now that we never know what is true or what is not. Even when it comes to simple things, like looking on social media at people and how they represent themselves. Everyone looking so happy, having a nice life, in a nice place. Applying filters to look better; to make our lives prettier or more exciting or better than it is. For me, there is a lack of authenticity in the way we interact and that is really how I wanted to approach my curating into this theme. The projects and the artists I selected are working around more intimate things.


How did you find and select the artists?

Once we established what I was working on, I started to broad and wide research on the internet. There are a lot of artists in the world that I love and I was thinking that this was a great opportunity to approach these people and work with them because it’s not every day that you have an opportunity to show your work in a public space where thousands of people will see it.

First, I made a list of all the artists I would love to work with, and all the projects they have worked on because that is the thing with us is that it doesn’t have to be a new project. I went and did a few months of research, and really looked around for the best projects. I came down to about 18 different projects. Some were new artists that I discovered through my research, some were artists I knew of, or that I had seen their work in an exhibition or museum or in my travelling. I made this large proposal and discussed it with Frederic. We came down to 12 artists and projects that worked well with the theme and that he was feeling confident about. Then I approached the people, and to my surprise, within 2 hours, 90% had responded positively.

Within 2 days of sending my invitations, I had 10 artists confirm that they were interested in working with us. Then it took a long time to finalize all of that, because of production and space. Some of the artists’ work was complicated in terms of installation, or it was too expensive. It came down to 8 artists and 8 projects.


Why do you think an event like this is important for the city of Montreal and for audiences to see?

It’s amazing because this is happening while people are going to work, or going to a meeting, or going shopping. It’s people who might not ever visit or see these works, and they are forced to be confronted with art that they might have never seen. It’s the most amazing idea to bring people into a situation where they are confronted to discover ideas and artwork without planning to. The whole exhibition is done in a way where we tried to put visually appealing works, nothing too complicated. They are attractive in a way that is playful. You wonder what it is, and because you are curious, you go and look out for more information. Or they will remind you of something, they will force you to come closer and read the subtext. Even if you don’t, if you walk through those corridors every day to go to work or wherever, or even if you only pass by once, you will have seen them. They will be in the back of your brain. And that is an amazing thing because art is made to be seen and not enough people go to museums or visit galleries. This is an amazing opportunity for people to see work and reflect back, to discover new things and new ideas.


How would you define art?

That is a very large question. Art is really about making work with an intention, and ideally with an intention to bring something new into the art world. To also be a part of what is happening in art history, to bring and contribute something else to that history, and the art form. Art is not about a pretty thing or a decorative work. It can be pretty, it can be decorative, but it is really about a reflection of the world, or the medium, or art history. It’s really about having an intention.



Art Souterrain is a non-profit organization, founded in 2009, whose mandate is to make contemporary art accessible to the public.

The 11thedition of the Art Souterrain Festival will run from March 2 to 24, 2019.

For more information, visit