Looking from a bird’s-eye view with Caroline Monnet

An accompanying text by Deanna Nebenionquit on Caroline Monnet’s exhibition WANDERLUST

If you’ve ever been in the presence of a work by Caroline Monnet, you know what it feels like to feel small in an exhibition space. And if you’ve ever been in the presence of Curator Stefan St-Laurent, you know what if feels like to be comfortable in an exhibition space. These two have travelled from Québec to Sudbury to present an exhibition that is both relevant and timely for the city.

La Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario is a small artist-run centre located on Elgin Street in downtown Sudbury. The south facing gallery has large exterior windows that channel a flood of light and noise pollution from the nearby train yard. The small space feels historic, and it feels like it has a lot of stories to tell. We’re lucky to have had Caroline Monnet and Stefan St-Laurent put together another story through their exhibition entitled Wanderlust.

As soon as you walk into the space, you’re struck by an extremely long wall, perhaps 35 feet or more, of a very futuristic-looking wallpaper printed and installed by Blue Moon Graphics (Sudbury). The geometric patterns of the wallpaper are like an endless maze, both positive and negative elements represented equally. Overtop this wall are three distinct 60 by 60 inch canvases. These works (Edith, Caroline, Roberta) are from the Modern Tipi series created by Monnet in 2012 in her Montréal studio.

At the back of the gallery, you can see elements of the wallpaper exposed on the GNO’s indoor window which somehow manages to be a part of each installation in recent years. You’ll also notice a television screen is looping a black and white film with an eerie soundtrack produced by Frères lumières. This video is called Gephyrophobia (2012), which gallery staff pleasantly explain is the fear of bridges (but not in a literal way).

The 120 second, 16-millimetre film was produced by a team of colleagues and friends that Caroline works with often. I recognize some of the train tracks in the video as bridges between Gatineau, Québec and Ottawa, Ontario. My years in Ottawa make this video oddly familiar. The black and white filming makes it seem like this wasn’t too long ago, or perhaps it could be in the future. The rushing water of the Kitigan Zibi, or Ottawa River, plays an integral role in the film. I’ve noticed viewers see the rushing water first, whereas others will see the bridges connecting multiple cultures, or making them respectful elements.

If you carry on clockwise through the gallery, there are six square panels with geometric patterns hanging on the wall. You look back and forth between the wood panels on one wall and the geometric patterns in the wallpaper. And yes, you are correct in thinking that those motifs do somehow interconnect though in ways that you may not be aware of at first glance.

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The exhibition title is Wanderlust. If you do a simple Google search on the word, it means to have a desire to wander. To me, the word feels more like discovery than exploration, and beyond that, interpretation and reflection. It’s an exciting active word that has the potential to breach a new world of possibilities.

In this year of 2018, downtown Sudbury is on the cusp of change. Sudbury city council has endorsed new projects including the Elgin Street Greenway, Downtown Master Plan, and a series of advantageous new building projects. It seems like for the first time in many decades communities are coming together to (hopefully) support something new and positive for the downtown core and to revitalize the city.

The broader message of this exhibition intersects with the story that Sudbury is currently living in right now. As a community, we need to move forward with these projects collectively, and we need to make sure that voices are heard. And while there are differences in our community, there are opportunities for these differences to intersect and create something beautiful. In Caroline Monnet’s work you can see crossing lines in the Modern Tipi Series, you can see lines in the wallpaper and the wooden panels, and you can see the intersecting line evident in the bridge crossing over the Kitigan Zibi. As a viewer, the lines can be interpreted as maps that have been sewn together from multiple perspectives and media.

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The artist, who is of Algonquin and French ancestry, is thinking about intersections of her two cultures and how this forms her work and ideas. The eloquent and beautiful Caroline Monnet has a way of bringing audiences together to meet and discuss perspectives. It’s interesting to hear her talk about her work, primarily how it is conceptualized, how it’s made, who is involved, and who installs it. Each step of the way, the artist seems profoundly grateful.

At her artist talk, Caroline talked about the influence of the geometric shapes and patterns in her work. What I find most important was Caroline’s description of how she came across the use of the square and the use of sacred symbols. It was while she was sitting with the matriarchs of her family that she began to learn these ancient ways. And it was her education and the people around her that allowed her to use this knowledge and carry it out in a 21st century way using graphic design programs and modern printing techniques. 

I asked her what shape she starts with when she works. And rather than answering with a circle (my automatic assumption) she said she starts with a cube or a square. So from this cube or square, you can make endless patterns and endless possibilities. And it is true, through the maze you can see the square throughout. It is a balanced and robust shape and can work in any circumstance.

So the maze that you see running through the gallery, and the maze that is running through your mind is deliberate, and it’s structured.

Presenting an abstract exhibition in the first place can be a challenge. Especially when audiences are used to traditional forms of art. Abstract art, in my opinion, takes a while to ingest. You have to be comfortable enough to enter the space, and you have to be confident enough to open your mind a little bit wider to take in the information. It took me about four visits to go back and realize that the Modern Tipi series is a form of an installation in itself. The carefully folded linen over the stretcher reminds me that it is careful and deliberate work when building a structure or working on a project.

During my last visit to the gallery, before writing this paper, I took a closer look at the plywood works that I’ve been ignoring this whole time. Although I know there is an essential element hidden in the works through secret messaging, I had a hard time with the medium. It is seven-ply plywood that has been burnt using an electric system that I am not familiar with. The intensely crisp lines were burnt out, and the lasers left a negative black space. I took a photograph of this, and to my surprise, I was able to identify what looked like the bark on a tree. And it got me thinking that yes, at the base of all these projects and the base of all these ideas there is the natural raw ingredient. And these are the natural elements that we use to build these projects. So as we go forward in our little northern mining town with big plans, keep in mind that the natural elements, the guidance of the people that came before us, and the intersecting of our cultures is what makes everything great. By not forgetting who we are, how we’ve used land in the downtown core, and how we hope the people will use it; we can move forward and build these great projects using strategy, a bird’s-eye view, and collaboration and communication.

Caroline Monnet
June (detail)
2018
Laser etching on wood
24 x 24”

Deanna Nebenionquit is an emerging Indigenous curator from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, formerly known as Whitefish Lake First Nation. Since 2014, she has curated a number of exhibitions for the Art Gallery of Sudbury | Galerie d’art de Sudbury, including Darlene Naponse’s bi mooskeg | surfacing, which was named the 2016 Exhibition of the Year (Under $10,000) by the Ontario Association of Art Galleries, and Mariana Lafrance’s to not be so lonely | pour ne pas être si seule.

Deanna would like to thank la Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario for agreeing to pay for translation services by Ms. Tenascon who is an Algonquin Speaker from Kitigan Zibi. She would also like to thank Danielle Printup (Ottawa, Ontario) and Ella Jane Myers (Sudbury, Ontario) for taking the time to edit this text.


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.