Marie and Catherine met through a common friend, who knew of their love for print and their wish to organise an art show on print publications. But before they met to found Collectif Blanc, they had each chosen a different career path: Marie gathered experience in artistic practice and worked for several years in arts management before deciding to do a bachelor’s degree in graphic design at the Université du Québec à Montréal. She is currently active in Montreal’s art and design scene as a graphic designer and art director. Catherine, on the other hand, worked as a writer and editor before turning her attention to art and print publishing, completing a master’s in publishing at the University of the Arts London. “Going back to school once you have already acquired some professional experience and knowing exactly what you aspire to was quite magical for both of us, mainly because it was a nice window of time during which we were fully committed to learning and soaking up inspiration from art, design, and publishing.” Based on these professional reorientations they started the joint project Collectif Blanc with which they started gathering experience in dealing with publishing houses, no-budget exhibition design, and managing social media channels.
Marie and Catherine are especially interested in the questions of how print publications have changed and how they survive alongside the web. Contrary to the assumption of a crisis in print media, they see print publications in the ascendant: “And since there is an overload of new print initiatives out there, we find that our role is to curate thematic selections that can elevate the works from local and international up-and-coming designers, artists, publishers, and students that are the most relevant.”
At present, they are focussing on published works that treat the printed book as a field of experimentation and as a platform for creativity and co-operations. Precisely this approach is also the basis for the exhibitions they curate and for all of their posts online. Every day, they are on the lookout for new works, which they exchange with each other and share on their blog. This process enables them to build a pool of ideas that in turn serves as the basis for future research on potential exhibition themes. Such thematic filtering gives them access to a large selection of relevant works from the fields of contemporary art, graphic design, and editorial publishing. Catherine explains their concept: “By presenting [individual creations] as a body of work, we can focus attention on their individual meaning in a larger curatorial context.” Using this approach, they have devised themed shows on experimental books, illustrated magazines, and collage-based works or with a focus on the renaissance of the newspaper, presented in unusual spaces and accompanied by specially developed large-scale installations.
Collectif Blanc, Marie and Catherine agree, is a highly personal project uniting their individual artistic sensibilities. By focussing on trendy and less trendy projects, they assess works in terms of the quality of the material and the conceptual idea. They define their role as bringing together the disciplines of publishing, art, and graphic design, an approach they attribute to their different professional backgrounds. They have also come to realise that regardless of the discipline in any given case, the focus in terms of content is always on a creative exploration of the printed book, and on a balance between content and form – something they think that is quite unusual. “With time, we’ve moved towards bolder and more experimental choices and stopped worrying about [creative] fields, as long as it captures the essence of what we want to bring forth and can inspire creators from all fields,” says Marie. They have also realised that although they originally wished to discuss the works they posted online in detail, their Facebook blog is actually not the right platform for this, serving only as a visual reference.
At present, they are working on a new website that will not just show individual works, but bring together themed selections that reflect their curatorial concepts and offer more details on the featured works. “This is what we do in our exhibitions and we want to find a way to reproduce it on the web,” so Catherine. As well as this new website, they are planning two exhibitions in Montreal. A new version of “Édition, forme, expérimentation”, a show they have already presented at the Toronto Art Book Fair and the Galerie Uqo in Gatineau, Canada, which is accompanied by a series of talks, workshops, and parties. For the second exhibition, they were guided by their shared passion for experimental music. For one of Montreal’s most important music festivals, they are devising an exhibition on graphic notations and concrete poetry, combining it with concerts and performances. Furthermore, Catherine and Marie are taking a relaxed approach to this year’s 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation and the 375th anniversary of the founding of the City of Montreal. Although they are in favour of added funds being made available to the local design and art scene, Catherine stresses: “We are continuing to give a platform to works by local and international artists, designers, and publishers, big and small, and to celebrate creativity on an everyday basis.”