unexpected canvas

An accompanying text by Maude Bourassa Francoeur on Aurélien Muller and Natalie Rivet’s exhibition PORTRAITS

With paintings that capture key scenes of childhood in the Kapuskasing area alongside photos and videos of people from the community of Sudbury, the exhibition Portraits offers an encounter with familiarity. My encounter happens on two levels: I recognize faces that I might see again soon on downtown streets, and I remember winter memories that I look forward to recreating as I settle into my new home community of Sudbury.

There is always falling snow. It’s omnipresent in the paintings that Natalie Rivet exhibited at the GNO in February and March, evoking happy days of childhood spent ice fishing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing. The artist’s snowflake-covered memories are familiar realities for most residents of northern Ontario. Bundled up in fluorescent snowsuits, the figures in the paintings allow me to gaze freely into their dark, but smiling eyes. Their faces seem to light up, come alive and invite me to join them, to venture into the snowy underbrush with webbed sinew fastened to my boots.

The sense of intimacy I feel in these portraits is like browsing through a family photo album and remembering how sweet life is in childhood when you’re swaying along on a sled. These faces reddened by the cold, frozen in the moment by the painter’s brush, have a life of their own, not just here, but elsewhere, in photos from her family archives that Rivet has chosen with care. In fact, her paintings consist of reconstituted snapshots that her father captured with a film camera, the vital device for creating instant memories in the 1990s. Rivet undertook this task in order to share these moments with her grandmother, but also to understand her position within her clan. Her new compositions of these scenes may add or remove some family members, allowing her to claim her place as the youngest daughter of a large family in nostalgic pictorial works.

A remarkable aspect of these wintry-hued paintings is the direction of the subjects’ gaze. Fully aware of the lens, they proudly strike a pose for posterity. Knowing that you’re being looked at changes everything. It might also be that viewing a developed photo weeks after the shutter clicks somehow changes self-perception. Not being able to see our image immediately after it is captured avoids us the experience of discovering, sometimes with some surprise, that we look like that; others see us like that. With the advent of digital photography, this reflex has become commonplace and it intrigues Aurélien Muller, a Toronto-based artist who has collaborated with Rivet in this exhibition.

In his current practice, he calls into question the habits of consumers of images in our digital era where everyone can dabble in photography. Focusing on the portraits of today, he questions their composition, as well as what hides behind them. His installation, facing Rivet’s paintings, is essentially a wall of bare computer screens that quickly flash unintelligible code, along with a series of faces which I gradually learn to recognize. Here, the subjects’ gaze is not as intense, because it is often directed toward the bluish glow of a cell phone. This thoroughly modern accessory, truly an extension of the human body, sneaks its way into the portraits almost automatically. The device facilitates Muller’s meeting with his models, who jump at the first opportunity to take refuge in the virtual dimension. Instantaneously connected with others, absorbed by their screens, people relax; they no longer pose for the camera and even forget that they’re being looked at. Cyberspace has whisked them away, and that’s what makes the portrait so natural: the mask falls and exposes a subject who is no longer playing a part.

Ironically, when I was invited to have my photo taken, I decided not to bring my cell phone. The palpable emptiness in my pocket and my palms felt like a phantom limb and I was forced to look at Aurélien during the photo shoot. The cell phone as a crutch for human interactions, always within reach, contains a wealth of information, like digital DNA made from our data. Whereas in Rivet’s paintings, the quest for identity revolves around nostalgia and the family clan, for Muller, it is based on connection and the (over)use of portable devices. The persons who posed for him become exposed, firstly on the computer screens, secondly by their data, and thirdly in the installation that stands in the gallery space.

The end result of these two artists’ collaboration rises like an igloo made of cathode TV screens, the intermediate technology between the two time periods and the two media used in their works. Simultaneously static and moving, a person’s image is recomposed for a brief moment on screen. The composition is duplicated: it appears as both a black and white photo and as several traits painted directly on the pixelated surface. It is not meant to last; after a brief moment, the image disappears and another portrait takes its place. Still static, it appears again two screens away, but now it is covered by another person’s silhouette. Many persons are superimposed in this manner, before finding their rightful place behind their appropriate twin image defined by Rivet’s painting.

I sit there long enough to see faces reach their own place, united by two media. I begin to recognize some of them, distinguishable by their build, their conspicuous glasses, their shy smiles and especially their phone, which each subject holds preciously. Like a game of Guess Who? displayed on the sacred screen that once served as a place of communion, portraits of a community are produced over the course of several steps. Snow crackles in this unexpected but not inconsequential canvas, reminding us of the snow that sparkles on our memories, those that we uncover in photo albums of times past and those that we create and share with a simple click. Portraits, intimate and social, static and mobile, nostalgic and contemporary, draw me into these two artists’ world and project me into a dual dimension that is as paradoxical as a spring snowstorm.

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A recent citizen of Sudbury, Maude Bourassa Francoeur works at Éditions Prise de parole as a community narrative production assistant.


Take Me to the Lake

An accompanying text by Chloé LaDuchesse on Colette Laliberté’s exhibition NBIISH ― EAU ― WATER

I didn’t want to raise a fuss, but I had reserved my favourite spot and I was really looking forward to it. “Excuse me, Sir, but I have the window seat.” Surprised look, polite excuse, shuffled retreat. And there I was, sitting pretty, like a happy child waiting for the curtain to rise. There’s something magical in the experience of flying high above the land. It’s the endless joy of discovering, in a new perspective mottled by the seasons and the weather, the familiar streets where we live, the expanses of unknown forests, the glistening, agitated or misty surfaces of lakes.

I have lived in Sudbury for two years now and I’m well aware of its many lakes, but my most fascinating encounter with them remains the first one ever, as I approached the city by plane. People from other regions who imagine everyday life in northern Ontario think of forests, of mines, but most don’t know that what truly defines us is water. We skate through the winter and we paddle canoes through the summer, our fishing rods (and bug spray) always close at hand.

Such is the twofold experience of lakes: on the shore, where bare feet meet cold water, and high in the sky, where bodies of water appear in their entirety, as if waiting to be scooped up by hand. I sense both of these impressions, overview and immersion, as I enter the GNO for the opening of Colette Laliberté’s exhibition NBIISH – EAU – WATER. The gallery walls are adorned with dozens of lakes of all colours, some connected by rivers, some floating alone on the white background. Here is Wanapitei, yellow and hefty; there is Ramsey, a shrimp-pink crescent. The eye lingers on a form, tries to identify it by name, then moves towards the tributary, traces the river’s course, flows downstream, follows the current, explores from top to bottom and port to starboard, recreating the flow of water, its rushes, its lulls.

Colette Laliberté discovered the City of Lakes flying over the area’s map. It made her curious to find out more about the relationship between Greater Sudbury’s human inhabitants and its network of waterways. She realized that just a few lakes are known by their indigenous names nowadays, thanks to colonization. Many are named after a historical figure or described by their appearance ― who knows how many lakes in Ontario are named Long Lake? As the indigenous names were forgotten, swaths of history were lost as well. These lakes had long been travel routes, meeting places, silent witnesses to events that influenced our occupation of the land, even though they have not found their rightful place in history books.

Google Maps displays lakes uniformly in blue, but Laliberté displays them in a myriad of colours. Inspired by the past and present names of these bodies of water, the artist strives to express something new about them. Through a sort of territorial synaesthesia, she subjectively associates the names and forms of lakes with a colour drawn from her memories or her imagination.

Is naming an act of love, a political statement? A name influences perception and a thing that acquires a name becomes part of a community of things. Therein lies the significance of naming: it imparts an identity, it affixes a label. Language serves both to distinguish and assemble. It establishes links between people, places and concepts.

By using colours instead of names, the artist establishes a new sort of relationship with space and distance. Laliberté’s multihued lakes retain their original contours, though there are some discrepancies in scale compared to formal topography. Roads and communities have vanished: NBIISH – EAU – WATER is a two-dimensional representation of a virginal Canadian Shield with no trace of human intervention.

Water calms me. Surrounded by Laliberté’s many lakes, as in the embrace of Nepahwin’s arms, I am drawn into the centre of my being, like a fish swimming in its liquid element. I belong to a whole, I master an environment, I am part of the artwork and I gleefully loll within it. The walls are flat surfaces, but the forms they carry evoke depth. Water is everywhere and within it I seek out my place, both physically, in the gallery, and notionally, in the white spaces that seem welcoming for two-legged castaways.

Colette Laliberté’s work NBIISH – EAU – WATER successfully captures the most vibrant aspect of Greater Sudbury: an intimate relationship between a land and its inhabitants, forged by history, family, identity and poetry.

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Chloé LaDuchesse is a poet and a short story writer. She’s the instigator of Expozine Sudbury, a yearly zine fair, and organizes various literary events.


Some news from the GNO

The GNO is happy to welcome Chloé Leduc-Bélanger on its team as the new Communication and development agent.

Chloé has been working in the cultural field for several years, especially in the book industry as well as in artistic medias.

The GNO’s team thanks Daniel Aubin for his science and the meticulous work he accomplished over the past five years. We wish him success and happiness in his new career.


CALL FOR ARTISTS : Nouveau Louvre 2017

The GNO invites all artists to show their work and put it up for sale at the 2017 Nouveau Louvre. Whether you work with charcoal, oil paints, clay or stained glass, it doesn’t matter! We’ll be very happy to accept your artwork, show it in our gallery space and make it available for purchase to the many holiday shoppers who make it a point to take in this yearly art sale that has become a real holiday tradition in Sudbury.

The Nouveau Louvre is the GNO’s most important fundraising activity. All works of art at the Nouveau Louvre will be for sale at the single price of 200$, of which 125$ will be paid to the artist, and 75$ to the GNO.

We are accepting, as of today, up to two (2) works of art from each artist. These will be shown at the GNO from Saturday November 25th to Saturday December 23rd.

We encourage participating artists to bring in their work as soon as possible, so that we might document the artwork and make it available on the Nouveau Louvre website.

Artists have until Thursday, November 23rd to bring their artworks to the GNO at 174 Elgin St. The GNO’s hours are from 12 PM to 6 PM, Tuesday to Saturday.

For more information, please contact us.


Belonging With an Interconnected Ego

An accompanying text by Nico Glaude, on the Z’otz* Collective’s exhibition EVICTED FROM THE ANTHILL

No artist can ever be without ego. It’s one of the motivating factors that make everyday people want to become artists. Aside from the creative process and expression, there are many elements that go hand in hand with both ego and art. Validation, recognition, selling a piece of art, getting a standing ovation, winning a grant or receiving an award, all feed into and fuel the creative ego and the desire to strive for more. At times, an artist might not have much more than their ego to sustain that primordial drive; tackling bigger projects can mean greater success, more press and more opportunities when artists let their ego guide them.

Speaking with the Z’otz* Collective, it’s surprising how little consideration is given to each member’s individual ego. In fact, complete disregard of ego is an ever-present factor in their art-making process. Their murals are rarely sketched out beforehand; each individual of this 3-piece collective comes to the wall with their own separate ideas; there’s little to no verbal communication between them as they work, although they do leave little hints behind for the other members as to what direction they think the piece should take and what it should look like. Interestingly enough, these hints are often misconstrued and can become something entirely different than what was initially intended, and so the piece becomes something new, something unexpected. It can seem like an obvious notion, especially when working within a collective, but that dynamic can play itself out multiple times throughout the creation of one mural. In a way, it’s that give and take between each individual member’s ego that allows the Z’otz* Collective to create these ephemeral murals that seem to have been created by the same hand.

Their murals are silent narratives, incorporating familiar objects, elements of nature and animals that all blend into one linear piece. While many of these individual elements might seem familiar, that familiarity gives way to the ambiguity of the final, interconnected piece. Merging these elements creates a sense of uneasiness, but the ambiguity of it all invites us to look past the unknown and embrace a certain sense of ambivalence, which finally leads to a place of understanding. We realize that the Z’otz* Collective’s murals aren’t about the singular, standalone elements, but rather are about the process of becoming aware of the whole—that there are no separate elements and that everything is interconnected.

Part of this portrayal of interconnectedness is achieved through the depiction of animals and our personal relationships with them. There are a lot of conflicting emotions and actions at play between humans and animals. The Z’otz* murals remind us that life demands respect. After all, we’re all interconnected and we need to be partners with life—to embrace it, to nourish it and to understand our impact.

The Z’otz* Collective’s murals engage and connect with viewers by bringing them back to themselves. Even if the imaginative settings are unfamiliar, the ambiguity really doesn’t come across as alienating. Rather, the odd juxtapositions arouse curiosity in the overall narrative and can ultimately lead to an understanding of the work that’s rooted in a deep sense of belonging.

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Nico Glaude is a Sudbury based installation artist, curator and raconteur. Everyone has an emotional investment in Sudbury and he values that by creating and curating work that is as fried, sweaty, cheap, fun and awful as any other experience you can have here. Mind of nickel, heart of gold.


BESHAABIIGANAN – In The Media

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Thanks to Le Voyageur newspaper for their article on Darlene Naponse, Deanna Nebenionquit, and Tanya Lukin Linklater’s BESHAABIIGANAN.

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Thanks also to the Le matin du Nord show at Radio-Canada for welcoming us and talking about the exhibition !

Le matin du Nord