Cynthia Girard-Renard  /  Sans toit ni loi : les cétacés du Saint-Laurent

With the exhibition Sans toit ni loi: les cétacés du Saint-Laurent [With No Roof or Law: The Cetaceans of the Saint Lawrence], Montreal artist Cynthia Girard-Renard makes a gesture which, though apparently simple, translates a powerful vision. In Fonderie Darling’s Main Hall, she has suspended a life-size mobile of a blue whale. The slender body of the largest living animal on the planet—here twenty-three metres in length—becomes the imaginary standard of the industrial space. What happens when this seasonal inhabitant of the river meets us on human soil, as though to observe us?

The first part of an extensive research project on marine mammals of the Saint Lawrence River, the immersive sculptural and sound installation conceived by Girard-Renard plunges us into a precarious yet fantastical world. Using Kraft paper, the artist has created a marine environment populated by giant sea urchins and fuchsia starfish whose burlesque exuberance, in the style of a temporary set for a travelling circus, intermingles with the strident vocalisations of whales, popularized in 1970 by bioacoustician Roger Payne. The imaginary world generated by the mammals found in children’s books like Wonderful Whales and Les Baleines préfèrent le chocolat [Whales Prefer Chocolate] will no doubt bring to mind the humpback whale that mysteriously swam all the way to the Old Port of Montreal in recent times. As for the whales that Girard-Renard quickly sketches graffiti-like here and there, who can say whether they are smiling or baring their baleen at us?

Echoing the young female drifter haunting Agnès Varda’s film Vagabond, Girard-Renard’s paper whale in Sans toit ni loi[1] is both a vulnerable giant that demands our vigilance and a prodigious screen for projecting our fantasies, frustrations, and aspirations. Let us hope that, for the duration of its temporary visit under Fonderie Darling’s roof, it will also be a gathering force that will help diverse voices enter into dialogue, formulate stories, and invent new imaginaries in order to forge future alliances and make us, literally, lose our footing.[2]

Ji-Yoon Han

Translated by Oana Avasilichioaei


[1] The title of Girard-Renard’s exhibition refers to Varda’s film Sans toit ni loi, known in English as Vagabond. (Trans.)

[2] A public program of performances, screenings, and video clips will be announced at the start of the exhibition

*The exhibition is made possible thanks to the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Groupe de recherche et d'éducation sur les mammifères marins (GREMM). 

Cynthia Girard-Renard

Cynthia Girard-Renard received her MFA from Goldsmiths College, London, UK (1998). Major solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at Musée d’art de Joliette (2017), the Uma Certa Falta de Coerencia, Porto, Portugal (2015), Esker Foundation, Calgary, Alberta (2014), and Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (2005).

The artist has been the recipient of grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec to partake in artist residencies in London, Paris, New York and Berlin. In 2018 she was the recipient of the Prix-Louis-Comtois for a mid-career artist, as well as the Takao Tanabe Painting Prize awarded by the National Gallery of Canada.

Girard-Renard’s work is found in numerous institutional collections, such as Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carleton University Art Gallery, Galerie de l’UQÀM, Banque Nationale du Canada and Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec. Cynthia Girard-Renard teaches at Concordia University, Montreal, where she lives and works.