École de la Montagne Rouge comes home

Création en temps de crise sociale brings the politicized graphic design work of the École de la Montagne Rouge full circle — back to the UQÁM Centre de Design studio where it created during the Printemps Érable.

École de la Montagne Rouge placards in action.

The UQÁM Centre de Design is hosting an exhibition entitled Création en temps de crise sociale. The show features graphic design work by the École de la Montagne Rouge, the group responsible for many of the hundreds of posters, t-shirts and slogans used in the tuition hike protests of the Printemps Érable, capturing the attention of the world.

The exhibition, curated by Frédéric Metz, professor emeritus and former director of the centre, has already had showings at both Concordia’s FOFA Gallery and Brooklyn’s Interference Archive. Now, the posters, images, pancartes and art pieces preserved from the protests will return to where they were birthed in a flurry of inspiration and dedication months ago.

The École de la Montagne group devised myriad graphics, images and often witty slogans during the protests, many of which will be included in the exhibition, including the logo of a horse with green square blinders, chopped and screwed photos of Jean Charest and Michelle Courchesne and posters emblazoned with emboldening phrases like “Le Combat est Avenir” or “Je me soulève.”

Prominently featured in the series of images is, of course, the red square: the ubiquitous symbol of the strike worn by hundreds of thousands of students and strike supporters. For many, this was the first experience of wearing one’s politics on one’s sleeve and facing the challenge of defending beliefs to friends, family and strangers. The members of École de la Montagne Rouge performed this act unabashedly, with many of the members sporting all-red jumpsuits for 100 days in a row, while others transported them a giant 11-by-11-foot red cube containing only the essentials: poster supplies, on-site portable screen-printing equipment for making t-shirts, and beer.

The artists associated with Montagne Rouge group worked tirelessly to produce politically inspired pieces for strikers, often the night before the protest in a then-deserted UQÁM Centre de Design.

Curator Metz and one of the group’s members, Guillaume Lépine, explained that École de la Montagne Rouge was largely inspired by Black Mountain College, an American liberal arts college famous in the ’40s and ’50s for collective, multidisciplinary projects between students and their former-Bauhaus teachers. Lépine says it is this sense of equality between teachers and students that informed the way their own group functioned. “The teacher is not the only one who possesses knowledge. They lead students in their research, but everyone is at the same level.”

Lépine explained that the strike was an extremely touchy subject that divided many students within the school and brought to the forefront difficult questions within the world of graphic design. “What is the limit between graphic design art and social engagement, and what is the role of the designer as an author in society?” he asks, saying that such questions were at the heart of the group’s practices. “We took the lead. We became authors, but we used graphic design language to do it.”

Lépine recalled that time seemed to be moving at warp speed during the rapid-fire events of the protests, accelerating the group’s struggle to push the cause forward through design. The exhibit is a chance to watch the events of the six-month-long strike unfold in slow motion as a visual timeline.

As Metz elegantly puts it, “les paroles s’envolent, mais les images sont restées.” ■

Création en temps de crise social is on to Dec. 9 at UQÁM Centre de Design (1440 Sanguinet). Vernissage is Wednesday, Nov. 21, 6 p.m.

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