Eco(Systems) of Hope

Curator: Erandy Vergara-Vargas


On Hope and Vulnerability

In Spring 2020, as lockdown measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 were implemented globally, images of wild animals wandering into newly-quiet city roads, ports, and villages went viral online, some true, some fiction. Coyotes were spotted wandering throughout San Francisco; mountain lions were seen in residential streets, indulging in naps; goats from nearby hills came down to the village of Llandudno, in Northern Wales; dolphins were spotted swimming a stone’s throw away from the busiest marine routes of Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul.(1) At the same time, wild plants and flowers bloomed in the streets and patches of green spaces reflourished, and this, in turn, allowed the return of pollinators such as bees in urban centers.(2) 


Montreal was not the exception. Wild birds stopped in as our city became more peaceful, and we could hear them more clearly. At Parc Lafontaine, I spotted a few red-winged blackbirds, and listened to the white-throated sparrow song, a bird I’ve only heard previously in Quebec national parks.


These events got me thinking about hope. At a time of uncertainty about human survival on Earth, these stories of animals and plants making their way out of the wilderness and into our urban milieus made me realize that life went on in spite of our confinement, and that even if we were to disappear, new life would grow, modifying human-made spaces, flourishing, growing. I had hope. I saw the possibility of this unique moment in history to shape the short-term future, as humans share an equal vulnerability to die with other species and therefore must end their assault on the environment. The pandemic also gave us a chance to see ourselves within living systems that transcend human and capitalist-centered desires. Moving forward, we had a chance, we had hope, but only as long as we were to act beyond ourselves.


Thus, the COVID-19 virus reminded us that we are vulnerable. For the first time, many of us shared the experience of living in a position of discomfort, where our desires were blocked, where we could not go out, we could not see our friends and family, we could not do what we wanted as we wanted it; each one of us were forced to live a life that felt like a series of frustrated attempts to do and to be.


The COVID-19 virus debunked the grandiose myths humans have built around ourselves and brought us to this vulnerable place. It offered us an opportunity to rethink relationality and life on Earth from this uncomfortable position. More importantly, this was not a discursive position, because although inequality prevailed and was even accentuated throughout the first months of the pandemic, we knew that anyone could catch the virus, and we had to admit that we were not beyond or above nature. The pandemic reminded us that we too are small, that we too are liable to become extinct and that, unlike any other species, we have a chance to change the timeline, and that we “are the last generation able to save the Earth from irreversible destruction,” as the 2019 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report concluded.


On Eco(Systems) of Hope

De la Esperanza
Entreteneos aquí con la esperanza.
El júbilo del dia vendra
os germina en los ojos como una luz reciente.
Pero ese día que vendrá no ha de venir: es este.
– Jaime Sabines

An ecosystem (a series formed by a community of living beings in interaction with each other/their environment) is created by components developed under a dense network of dependencies and exchanges of energy, information, and matter that permit the maintenance and development of life. This system, which promotes and develops life along with its potentiality, is contingent on every living and non-living part that makes up the system, making each element reliant on the other, as the system is intertwined. This, to us, is a source of hope, as it means that we derive our strength from each other, and a deepened sense of community.


Indeed, interconnections sustain life, and catalyze and foster hope. This foundational thinking model is more urgent than ever in the face of the climate crisis, the enduring pandemic and active conflicts. Eco(Systems) of Hope is a discursive formulation, and an invitation to reorient our actions, consumption habits, policies, and technologies. From the macro decisions governments and global corporations make, to the micro actions each of us perform, we must reduce consumption, energy use, pollution, and waste. We must think collectively and see the big picture, taking responsibility for ecosystems that we touch and often damage. Eco(Systems) of Hope is an invitation to take climate responsibility, to seek equity, and to act with care today, because, as Jaime Sabines wrote, “that day that will come will not come: it is this day.”


Eco(systems) of Hope features Canadian and international artists exploring the present ecological moment and creative imaginaries for the future. The art programme engages with two core themes: climate responsibility and equity. Some of the selected works explore these issues through speculation, while others invite us to take action. They all fundamentally question what hope means individually and collectively; the differences between the “I” and the “Other(s).”


Our exhibition begs the following questions: How do contemporary artists and thinkers engage with pressing contemporary issues like climate change? What is the inherent difference between what artists produce versus tech developers or scientists and why does this difference matter? What imaginaries do they invite us to inhabit through their work? What do contemporary artists hope for? 


As for the curatorial approach, the driving idea is to evoke the infinitely large and the infinitely small in order to move away from the Anthropocentric idea that the human scale is the measure (and center) of the universe.


First, the collective Ælab will activate a mobile climate station in the Mile Ex neighbourhood surrounding the exhibition. Orée des bois. Station climatique mobile à vélo (2022) explores how trees of the Boreal Forest live seasonal cycles in the context of climate change. More precisely, the work follows the growth of a yellow birch tree from May to November 2021, combining data visualizations of its reaction to ambient local temperature in the different seasons, with time-lapse photographs from the municipality of Sainte-Émélie-de-l’Énergie in Quebec.


The exhibition at Anteism Books welcomes visitors with Gilberto Esparza’s Korallysis (2019), a research-creation project on coral reef ecosystems. In collaboration with marine biologists, engineers, ceramicists, art students, civil organizations and activists, Esparza developed a mechanical system that lives in a symbiotic relationship with coral colonies in Cozumel, Mexico. Using marine currents, these mechanisms generate energy and electricity; the latter generates electrolysis, a phenomenon that allows minerals present in seawater such as magnesium and calcium carbonate to adhere to ceramic structures, accelerating coral growth. Among other things, the structure reproduces sounds of healthier corals that attract fish and other forms of life, and in turn help the corals grow and heal at a faster rate. Korallysis is thus an action-led project with two concrete goals: generating conversations about human impact on marine life and preserving marine ecosystems.


Ludovic Boney’s Mémoires ennoyées (Drowned Memories) (2021) consists of a series of images of the Manicouagan Reservoir, one of the hydroelectric projects Hydro-Québec created in the 1960s by flooding the Lac Mouchelagane and Lac Manicouagan. The reservoir lies within the remnant of the Manicouagan Astrobleme, one of the largest meteor craters on the planet. This land was also the ancestral territory of the Innu of Pessamit. Boney used an echo sounder to capture images of the old shoreline. The images are striking: ghostly forests with dozens of trees that survived the flooding, abundant and very well preserved black spruce trees. As the artist explains, these images “are the testimony of a past world, swallowed up, but which refuses to disappear. They are the dormant memories and illusions of the ancients, patiently waiting to be reborn, when the time of men is over.”


Sandrine Deumier’s Nh-9 (2022) is a virtual reality experience exploring relationality between humans and non-humans through imaginaries inspired by biomimicry. The work immerses users in a state of sensory modifications that can generate interconnected landscapes and alternative worlds made up of the living beings and their interconnections.


Marcela Armas’s Tsinakemuta (2016; 2022) reflects on human contact and extraction of natural resources and the mineral world. In 2017, Armas was allowed into a mine located in the Potosino plateau in Mexico; this site is also one of the ceremonial centers of the Wixárika community – known in their native language as Tsinamekuta (The House of Rain). 600 meters deep down into the mine, the artist encountered a piece of pyrrhotite, a mineral known for its intense magnetism. Under natural conditions, the stone’s particles align with the Earth’s magnetic field when experiencing violent changes in temperature and pressure, providing a kind of memory or record of the Earth’s magnetic field. Armas created an instrument to explore the possibilities of reading, interpreting, and rewriting the original memory of the stone. In the spring of 2021, Mara’akame Jairra, a member of the Wixárika community, agreed to participate in a ceremony where Armas offered the rock at the base of the mountain. As part of this ceremony, electrical signals from Armas and Jairra’s hearts were recorded in the stone by magnetic induction as a representation of the offering, which, according to the traditions of the Wixárika people, must be left at the site where the ceremony is held. The project concludes with the return of the stone to the mine.


Dayna Danger’s Weight of Inheritance (2022) uses photography to reclaim self-representation of Two-Spirited peoples, portraying and celebrating that they are alive and thriving, despite homophobia and heteropatriarchy inherited from colonialism. Image-making is an act of preservation for Two-Spirited peoples, a political act of reclaiming agency, and using the power of storytelling to their stories, past, present and future. The work also explores the process of reactivating the intergenerational knowledge of her family, which as Danger writes “is based on their experiences of living in a society that did everything in its power to extinguish the hope and culture of Métis people.”


François Quévillon’s installation Esker/lithium (2019 – ongoing) is part of the artist’s research on the exploitation of lithium, a metal under increasing demand for production of mobile devices and transportation technologies. The work explores a prospecting site in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and reflects on the negative consequences of the exploitation of the spodumene deposit which could upset the local ecosystem and the Saint-Mathieu-Berry esker, known for the purity of its natural spring water. The installation draws attention to the impact of technological development and exploitation of natural resources on the fauna, flora, and local communities.


Gali Blay & Leila Zelli’s About Dam and Hofit (2022) is a short animation about the friendship between Dam, the tip of Mount Damavand in Iran, and Hofit, an intelligence air force plane from Israel. Since the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979, Iran and Israel have canceled diplomatic ties, both governments have sworn to attack the other as soon as the opportunity arises, and any relationship between an Iranian and an Israeli has been banned. In a way, the film is a metaphor of the relationship between the two artists, Blay from Israel and Zelli from Iran, as it challenges the film’s two characters to build kinship and imagine a different story for themselves beyond cultural and political conflicts.


Rosalie Dumont Gagné’s Règne artificiel IV [RA IV] (2019-2020) is part of the Règnes artificiels (Artificial Kingdoms) series, immersive installations exploring the boundaries between natural and artificial life forms. This iteration consists of a series of inflatable electroluminescent cells, a kind of community of animated jellyfish slightly expanding and contracting in an organic movement evoking breathing. These organisms respond to the presence of gallery visitors by changing the pace of their movements. While the work is inspired by organisms found in abyssal pits, it explores the contradictory tension of these organic-like forms made of plastic that are animated by electronic and mechanical devices.


Theresa Schubert’s Glacier Trilogy – Part 3 (2022) is part of a series the artist started in 2022 that focuses on glaciers and their capacity to represent a kind of “memory” of planet Earth and act as indicators of climate change. Part 3 of the trilogy is the result of a collaboration between Schubert and media artist Sage Jenson. The installation draws from the visual metaphor of the hourglass measuring the passage of time to create a generative video simulating the melting of a digital glacial ice mass, followed by the emergence of a fluid system meandering over a digital elevation map of a section of the Western Italian Alps, ending with the collecting of water in a lake or sea. The different states of water shape the landscape, while visitors’ exhalations have a direct impact on the melting process as carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors in the gallery are connected to the generative video. This interactive element blurs the lines between the natural and the digital world, at the same time raising awareness of anthropogenic climate change.


Adriana Knouf’s TX-1 (2020) is a flight-ready model of the piece which in 2020 launched bits of the artist’s hormone replacement medications to the International Space Station (ISS). This event marked the first-known time that elements of transgender experiences orbited the Earth. TX-1 includes a fragment of Knouf’s spironolactone pill, a slice of her estradiol patch, and a miniature handmade paper sculpture, included to gesture towards the absent-yet-present xenoentities of the cosmos. The work proposes a symbolic migration beyond planet Earth’s orbit, while the return of the piece to Earth functions as a sign of resilience, persistence, and potentiality to thrive, once again. The photographs, on the other hand, bring hope to trans communities, in planet Earth and beyond, in spaces that can be caring, accepting, and generative.


Somme Collective’s Myocene  (2019-) is an interactive installation by the Montreal-based group that consists of a series of electronic waste sculptures and a live cell culture. The work juxtaposes bio-art and a series of electronic/kinetic sculptures made of e-waste to critique the ecological impact technology has on Earth. The electronic sculptures communicate with the slime mold installed at the center of the room in a cell container illuminated with a green light. Each one of the sculptures is animated by an electronic pulse modelled off the live growth and the movement of the mold, creating a living atmosphere permeated by the sound of motors raring, cameras zooming, and hard drives spinning. The sculptures generate the soundscape, and in a way, the biological pulses of the slime mold come to life, producing a live performance, whereby living and nonliving organisms communicate with the world.


Together, the artworks in this exhibition explore hope, a powerful stimulus for rethinking relationality, community-building and multi-species survival on Earth.


I would like to thank the artists participating in the show, for their work is an invaluable source of personal and professional inspiration. I also wish to thank Pascal Dufaux, technical director, for his invaluable feedback and creative approach to the exhibition design.



1. Chrobak, Ula, “The real reason we’re seeing more wildlife during the pandemic,” Popular Science, Apr 9, 2020, <>; Weber, Leah, “Wild Animals Explore City Streets Amid Pandemic,” Discovery, April 15, 2020 <>; “Coronavirus: Wild animals enjoy freedom of a quieter world,” BBC, 29 April 2020, <>.
2. “El resurgir de las abejas gracias al confinamiento humano,” Semana, April 20, 2020, <>