Sounds and sights from the everyday on display at Fonderie Darling

Two Montreal exhibits ask visitors to consider the artistic potential of mundane objects

Sylvia Safdie’s ‘As I Walk,’ is a testament to her ability to find meaning in anything and everything.  Photo by Hannah Sabourin

Fonderie Darling, an art venue in Montreal, is hosting two conceptual art exhibits. The multidisciplinary artists Sylvia Safdie and Philippe Battikha created exhibits from natural and industrial objects. While the objects seem unassuming, the artists present them in a way that reflects deeper meanings. 

Battikha’s exhibit, Someone’s Always Listening,  features a life-size replica of a dynamite blasting site. He plays ambient sound in a room teeming with construction equipment. 

“Philippe’s studio is at Fonderie Darling. The community around the building has become a huge construction site with two major developments in the works,” said Morgane Lecocq-Lemieux, Founderie Darling’s communications manager. “This is where he got the inspiration for the project.” 

Upon entering the room, visitors can immerse themselves in a Montreal construction site. 

In the centre of a dark room are large blasting mats on a bed of gravel stones. The mats are made from rubber tire strips that snake into one another, tying themselves into braids.

Every few seconds, hydraulic pumps thrust the mats upwards. It gives the illusion that someone is trapped underneath and is trying to escape. This movement is accompanied by explosive sounds on the speaker overhead. 

Battikha believes that people form strong connections to art pieces that have human features. He attributes this idea to Jane Bennett’s book, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things.

“What I love about the book is that  she concludes that we humans can only relate to things that look like us,” said Battikha. So, he anthropomorphized a construction site to make it worthy of human attention.

“Movement is supposed to bring these grotesque, monstrous tire mats to life,” he said.

Artist Philippe Battikha showcases the everyday sounds that surround us in his exhibit ‘Someone’s Always Listening.’ Photo by Hannah Sabourin

Battikha also pieced together the sound of purring generators, revving trucks, and dynamite blasts—sounds he sourced from various construction sites around the city. 

“People say, ‘I’m tired of hearing construction noise all the time. All I want is silence,’" Battikha said. “But really, silence doesn’t exist. Silence often just means being able to hear the leaves rustle and birds chirp.”

On construction sites, rubber mats absorb loud noises. Battikha compares this to how our subconscious minds absorb sounds. Through his art, Battikha explores how noise impacts the psyche in the short and long term.

“Blasting mats are a metaphor for how we react to noise, both from the outside world and our inside worlds,” he said.

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“But really, silence doesn’t exist. Silence often just means being able to hear the leaves rustle and birds chirp.” — Philippe Battikha

In another room, Safdie has displayed items found in nature. Her exhibit, As I Walk, is a testament to her ability to find meaning in anything and everything. 

While Safdie painted, sculpted, and forged some of these items, others she left in their natural state. She arranged rocks, sticks, and forged metals throughout the room. 

Milly-Alexandra Dery is the curator at Fonderie Darling. She said the exhibit allows visitors to peer inside a replica of Safdie’s Griffintown art studio. In that studio, the artist releases boulders, bark, and minerals from their natural limitations, both physically and philosophically. Then, Safdie conjures from them new spirits, new meanings. 

Sylvia Safdie groups some of the items she has collected and found in nature as part of her latest exhibit. Photo by Hannah Sabourin

“In this piece, she pays homage to the workspaces where she creates her art,” said Dery. “The exhibit encapsulates the spirit of Sylvia’s studio.” 

Safdie grouped her collections—round boulders on one side of the room and spear-shaped rocks on the other. These groupings emphasize the unique qualities of each item. They are all the same, but different.

Near the gallery entrance, Safdie laid out 110 pairs of oblong rocks. She placed these shoe-like rocks in rows. On another part of the floor, there is a close-up video projection of water flowing over a smooth stone. And, up against a wall, Safdie has displayed clay sculptures, tree bark, and dried plants on tall shelves. Every object connects her to a moment, a feeling, a place. According to Fonderie Darling’s website, Safdie’s subconscious compels her to collect these items. Beyond this, she cannot explain why she is drawn to certain objects. 

The items in Safdie’s studio undergo continuous transformations. For example, she can endlessly melt and mold scraps of metal into various shapes. In this sense, metal can have multiple lives, both physically and symbolically. 

Fonderie Darling will host both Battikha and Safdie’s art until Dec. 19. During this time, visitors are welcome to explore artistic takes on nature as well as on city life.