DEMO45 Benoît Brousseau — Stir the ashes

April 2024

The exhibition Remuer les cendres (Stir the ashes) is the result of Benoît Brousseau’s [student member, UQAM] final thesis. This installation combines visual, video and sound elements to explore a moving theme: the unclaimed bodies of the deceased in Montreal. The student seeks to elaborate a funerary narrative through texts and images, offering a memory to those who have been forgotten. Starting with a list of names found on the website of the Le Repos cemetery in Saint-François d’Assise, he conducts an artistic investigation into their lives, studying coroner’s reports. This process allows him to create a bond of belonging with these anonymous people.

This exhibition represents the conclusion of his research-creation thesis in visual and media arts, supervised by Gisèle Trudel [co-rinvestigator member, UQAM]. Benoît Brousseau presents himself as a socially engaged artist, seeking to shed light on the taboo subjects of contemporary society, including unclaimed bodies.

Revealing anonymity / Paying tribute to the forgotten

Most of the time, Benoît’s chosen research subjects come from his personal and autobiographical experiences. He tells his own story through the stories of others. He seeks to transcribe silence by giving voice to the forgotten. His works often deal with the passage of time and the formation of identity, death and physical and psychological suffering, the search for landmarks and the memory of places, people and things.

As part of his MFA project, Benoit Brousseau embarked on creating stories based on the only tangible element at his disposal: the first name of deceased but unclaimed individuals found in coroner’s reports. However, through an artistic investigative approach, he strives to imagine the lives of these anonymous missing persons. In doing so, he seeks to push the boundaries of traditional burial rites by proposing new visual and textual narratives that honor these individuals and their often-unrecognized existence.

Using an investigative method, he selected the names of the deceased whose bodies had not been claimed. This list of names can be found on the coroner’s website as well as at Le Repos de Saint-François D’Assise cemetery in Montreal. It contains the following information: date of birth and death, as well as the address (last residence) where the coroner took note of the death. He then walked around Montreal to study the neighborhoods of the dwellings, taking photographs and recording urban sounds. The use of these media and the coroners’ reports would influence his method of composing stories.

Later, he was able to materialize this project with the help of sound software (Audition), image editing software (Photoshop), his computer, a tape recorder, his camera, various stories, and his 40-inch screen on which he projected the urban soundtrack with the aim of making a video of the audio tape frames. This step allowed him to work on the HD video using Première Pro. By superimposing still images of blurred faces, he was able to complete the video. He then developed the project using sound samples in which he recites the names of the unclaimed persons.

It was in his last master class that he learned the concept of transmodeling. This concept became definitive as a creative process that allows sound to become a visible body, an image, a line of drawing. This process consists of transforming textual signs into moving visual signs (movement, gesture, space, time), fixed images (drawing, photo, symbol, object) or sound representations (speech, noise, music).

Thus, the series of images printed on translucent paper are the result of very simple manipulations carried out on the computer, i.e. he makes screen captures from freeze-frames of different moments in the sound files. To do this, he makes random aesthetic choices : he has to choose the last recorded syllable of the unclaimed person’s first and last name. This suggests a dialog between a still image, the graphic capture of the sound of the voice, and the precise phoneme that generates it. Because it’s impossible to tell at first glance that these drawings represent unrecognized people, he has added their names at the bottom of each drawing. On the other hand, this arrangement creates a kind of ambiguity and is therefore, it seems to him, more likely to give rise to polysemy.

In the course of his research-creation project, Benoît Brousseau turned to a variety of theoretical references from different intellectual fields, including the work of Vladimir Jankélévitch, Vinciane Despret and the founder of thanatology, Louis-Vincent Thomas. In addition, his artistic sources of inspiration include figures such as Christian Boltanski, Teresa Margolles, Andres Serrano and Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook.

Entering the residence

In the week before the start of his residency at Hexagram-l’UQAM’s experimentation room, Benoît Brousseau made the final decisions on the elements that would make up his exhibition. From the beginning of his residency, he was assisted in various tasks by people close to him. Since his usual artistic practice does not focus primarily on installation, the creation of a floor installation in sculptural form became a new problem. In fact, he found himself disoriented and paralyzed by the space and the need to design a scenography. With this in mind, he enlisted the help of two friends to create the floor installation as a starting point for his own installation. This visual representation was essential for him to conceptualize the exhibition as a whole. After a few months, he realized that he had succeeded in bringing out the storytelling and transmodeling approach. In fact, he received positive feedback from his colleagues confirming the effectiveness of his techniques. Benoît then realized that he had succeeded in highlighting these aspects by visualizing the documentation for his exhibition.

Images courtesy of Benoît Brousseau.

Before settling in Montreal in 1999, Brousseau lived in the Outaouais region, where he developed a professional career as a colorist. He forged meaningful bonds with his clients through dialogues on intimate subjects often considered taboo. Over the years, this connection has enriched his artistic practice, drawing on his own personal dialogues and experiences, and paying particular attention to social issues such as HIV, incest, loneliness, death and illness.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in arts visuels et médiatiques (volet création), he chose to pursue his studies at master’s level, again at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). He is a recipient of the prestigious Bourse d’excellence de recrutement (FARE/2018-2019). His artistic work has also led him to participate in various group exhibitions, notably with Cuisinage. This three artists collective is dedicated to exploring individual identity, spaces and communities, with the aim of increasing the accessibility of art and integrating it into people’s daily lives.


Benoît Brousseau would first like to express his deep gratitude to his research supervisor, Gisèle Trudel, whose support has been invaluable throughout his academic path. He would also like to acknowledge the invaluable support of Hexagram-UQAM and thanks the entire technical team.

Of course, he would also like to thank all of his friends for their invaluable help in preparing and staging his exhibition in Hexagram-UQAM’s experimentation room during his residency. In particular, he would like to thank Linda Côté, Jean-Marie Gardien, and his late partner Kevin McKie.

Cette publication est également disponible en : Français (French)