Total Environnement: Montral, 1965-1975 at the CCA

Opening on Thursday, March 19, 2009 in the Octagonal Gallery of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, this exhibition uses diverse material on loan from several institutions and private collectors, the exhibition traces the lasting influence of the notion of total environment created by ephemeral architecture in Montreal during the 1960s and ‘70s.

“Today everything is environment” proclaimed a Montreal newspaper at the beginning of the 1970s. The word “environment” had dominated the discourses and practices of artists, architects, social activists and intellectuals during the previous decade. Visitors of Expo ‘67, the event that galvanized the world’s attention on Montreal, commented the phantasmagorical presentations. Critics, including Reyner Banham and Sybil Moholy-Nagy, remarked how architectural objects and conventional spaces had been eclipsed by multimedia shows and a spectacular transit system. The Expo itself was perceived by many as a new and radical form of expanded, even extravagant, total environment.

The interest in environmental art and action during the 1960s and ‘70s built on an aesthetic quest that found its roots in the 19th-century search for the Gesamkunstwerk (total artwork). This notion had already resurfaced in the early 20th century in the Bauhaus school’s pedagogy, the kinetic art of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and in the environmental sculptures of the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters. These early experiments inspired explorations of total environments by Montréal-based artists, architects, and intellectuals, who enthusiastically adopted the new technologies and materials of the era of space conquest, computerization, and unheard-of development of mass communication. They envisioned the dawn of a “second industrial revolution” that promised to liberate mankind through the use of information technology.

Abandoning galleries and museum, they re-invented old forms of spectacle such as ballet, theatre, circus, cinema, poetry reading, and concert; colonized public spaces; and found new venues for happenings and multimedia installations. Total Environment: Montréal 1965-1975, retraces these ephemeral creations through video projections, films, objects, publications, posters, and archival materials. Visitors have the rare opportunity to see Edmund Alleyn’s original Introscaphe (1968-70); inflatable and cybernetic environments by Gilles Boisvert; images of the famous restaurant-gallery-disco “Le Drug”; and the proposal for the shopping and entertainment centre Palais Métro designed by François Dallegret; Maurice Demers’ space-age environments Futuribilia and Les mondes paralèlles; multimedia kinetic sculptures and machines by Richard Lacroix (Fusions des arts); inflatable and everyday objects by Marco Lepage, a Canadian member of the well-known collective EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology); photographs of the mythical discotheques realized by Jean-Paul Mousseau; models of the inhabitable sculptures by Robert Roussil; together with magazines, video clips, album covers, and posters.

The result of a research seminar led by Alessandra Ponte at Université de Montréal, Total Environment is the fourth in the CCA’s ongoing series of exhibitions developed in collaboration with university students. The exhibition runs until August 23, 2009.

On the day of the show’s opening, Université de Montréal curators discuss the exhibition (in French).

For more information, please visit or call 514.939.7026.