GSM Project has a long-standing relationship with the museum studies program at UQÀM — Université du Québec à Montréal. This year, one of the master’s program’s graduates and a past GSM intern published her thesis on GSM Project’s history. Our Cultural Sector Lead, Geneviève Angio-Morneau, met up with Sarah Cousineau to ask her a couple of questions.
Sarah, to begin with, how did you discover GSM Project?
Sarah Cousineau [SC] : I discovered GSM Project’s work during a conference given by a member of their team while I was a bachelor's student in graphic design. At the time, I was already interested in exhibition design and the museum world because of my previous studies in visual arts. When I started my Master’s in Museum Studies, I knew I wanted to do my internship at GSM Project. This is where I got to know their approach, philosophy and history.
Why did you choose to study the firm’s history as part of your Master’s?
[SC] : Initially, this research aimed to respond to my wish to shine a light on the history of exhibition design in Quebec and to promote the work of the pioneers of the practice, largely unknown to the scientific community and the general public. I was interested by GSM Project in particular because this studio is, to my eyes, a key player in the emergence and development of the practice in Quebec, in addition to being an international leader in this sector.
What discoveries made during your research surprised you the most?
«GSM Project is a spirit. GSM is a kind of a beast in perpetual metamorphosis», Laurent Marquart
[SC] : My first surprise was to notice that several fundamental characteristics of the current GSM Project philosophy, such as multidisciplinarity, the notion of turnkey projects and the importance of positioning humans at the center of each experience, were present long before the firm specialized in the design of exhibitions. It is really interesting to observe that in sixty years of existence, GSM Project has evolved, without changing its true character. The second element that caught my attention is the impact of the theater in the conceptual practice of the firm, an influence that manifested itself very early in its practice and that we can still observe today.
Your work mostly focused on the ‘M’ of GSM Project. Why is that?
[SC] : I chose the "M" of "GSM" because between the three partners, Laurent Marquart is certainly the one who most influenced the evolution of exhibition design within the firm. Recruited by Jacques Guillon after participating in Expo 64 in Lausanne, he was very involved in the development of this business sector, contributing to the success of key projects in the history of the firm. I do not think I am wrong in saying that his presence has left a lasting impression on the style and approach of GSM Project.
«We began cutting up scraps of paper, doing things that weren't design, things that weren't graphic design per se, it was ... pure invention, multimedia theatrical tinkering», Laurent Marquart
Your work mentions that the history of design in Quebec is poorly documented. What are your conclusions and / or recommendations?
[SC] : Indeed, it is rather fascinating to note the little existing literature devoted to the history of design in Quebec, especially if we draw parallels with countries like the United States and France. I believe, however, that the time is right to remedy the situation, especially with the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Expo 67 that have awakened a desire to highlight the designers and architects of the world fair and the pioneers of modern design in Quebec.
As a last question, how will this work drive your next challenges? What are your next steps?
[SC] : I currently work for the University of Montreal’s Exhibition Center, where I have the opportunity to learn about the universe of university collections and the issues that arise from them. I still don't know what my next steps will exactly be, but this research on GSM Project has certainly aroused in me a historical interest in those involved in exhibition design in Quebec. I admit that I am not ruling out the possibility of (maybe) (one day) taking up this work again to bring it to a more successful, more concrete form.
A huge thank you to Laurent Marquart for all these hours spent telling each other, paper and pencil in hand.
About Sarah Cousineau
Sarah Cousineau has a multidisciplinary background combining visual arts, graphic design and museology. Interested in curating and editorial practices, she has worked for the UQAM Design Center and Espace Projet and Catalog. Her thesis was carried out as part of the master's in museology at UQAM, ‘GSM Project: Historical essay on a pioneering firm in exhibition design in Quebec’, won the Claude-Armand-Piché scholarship in Quebec museum studies.