L'articles dans: Accompanying Texts


Childhood Scribbles are the Future Healers

An accompanying text by Sarah Blondin on Florence Yee’s exhibition But really, where are you from?

There are moments when entering a space curated by someone can feel like a revelation. In that instant, we have an idea of what their childhood was like. The way our eyes scan a room, we have a stereotypical mindset that brings us to pre-assuming their memories. For example, I was a young girl full of drama, trapped in the suburbs; therefore my walls were obviously covered in Backstreet Boys posters. Even now in my adult years, I find myself covering every inch of my walls, expressing my likes and dislikes in my bedroom.

After studying visual arts, I began to notice that artists are truly captivated by their childhood memories. There is forever a sense of looking back and turning their story into a current visual component to document and remember their formative years: I would often ask myself, why? Our childhood is full of embarrassing and traumatizing moments—some more than others. However, after spending many years thinking, and staring at my Backstreet Boys wall, I realized that our growth as human beings is the reason for our creativity. Art is shaped by our experiences and the place they subjectively hold in our personal narrative. So that time you thought that tripping down the stairs in high school was the worst, that time you’ll likely never forget about, will spark a future creative project that will heal something within you by expressing it through your own life.

Walking into the GNO for Florence Yee’s exhibition “But really, where are you from?”, I felt strings from my heart being pulled. The way the show was curated, I felt as if I was walking into someone’s life experiences, as if I was sitting in the artist’s home and experiencing the deeper inside the womb of the home; absorbing the joy, struggles and outcomes of this life. When I stepped into the gallery, Florence’s life story easily came through and was attached to me. Her work also serves as a powerful source that speaks to a large community: one that tends to be socially looked down on, but has and forever deserves its voice to be heard. There is a balance of innocence and maturity to her exhibition. We can see the child within Florence protecting and holding on to her traditions, yet we also understand the pressure of Western culture seeping in. She is an artist speaking from her child-self, creating in hopes of sparking human connection: something we all want and strive for. As people, we are all just searching for a sense of community, and Florence’s art truly encapsulates that ideal.

Something about Florence Yee that also completely struck me was her age. For someone this young to have such a strong connection and love for her community—and additionally for possessing the courage and bravery to express her memories in the public eye—is in itself a work of art to be remembered for. She ultimately speaks for the many youth today who are struggling with their own identities; a subject quite pertinent in our country and today’s society. Always remember your childhood, be close to your story and create from you.

____________________________________________

Sarah Blondin is a local mixed media artist who is still 16 at heart. Her inspiration comes from being a young woman and growing up in a smaller community where the internet was the way for over dramatic expression, a time when every MySpace page was a way too personal diary, however shared with many. Her work explores collage, illustration and sculpture. She hopes to bring joy, curiosity, humour and memories to her audience.


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.

*****

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.

*****

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.

____________________________________________

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.

____________________________________________

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.


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.

____________________________________________

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.


Return to the Enchanted World

Reflections: “le homecoming” by jenna dawn maclellan
an accompanying text by Guylaine Tousignant

“[i]f the writer cuts himself off from his childhood, his roots, his oneiric ancestral memory, he deprives himself of all his artistic means.”

Jacques Derrida

“I really wanted to go back to being playful, just having fun with the materials and not worrying about perfection.”

jenna dawn maclellan

The enchanted world was not invented by Walt Disney. It is a world as old as the world, a place of magic, where reality is lost in dream, and dream in reality. It is the land of childhood. It is a land that always lies within us, whether we want it to or not.

When we leave it, it calls us back. When we try to forget it, it calls us out. It wields a force over us that can attract or repel us, like a black bear in a garbage dump.

There is magic in this place where we first played, where we threw our first stones, where we imagined what life might be, where we built it for ourselves with the tools and materials at hand: a chainsaw, some wood, a shovel, some snow, scissors, some fabric, pencils, and a little cardboard.

This place is the cabin and the bonfire.

To remember it is to travel freely in a world of the imagination. During winter, we remember ourselves picnicking in our favourite summer dress, gathering snowballs; during summer, we take snowmobiles through trails coloured with crushed berries.

In the image, the cord of wood is always perfectly there.

Shooting stars fall from the sky in all seasons. Wishes will come true.

Life, as seen through memory, whether it’s our own or someone else’s, is like a dream that’s real. We know that life is not like that, but we don’t know that we know it, and it’s good that way.

This enchanted world is where we must go when we forget how we ever came to grow up, when we forget how to be children.

In that moment, it’s always good to go back home.

____________________________________________

Guylaine Tousignant is a writer and freelancer. She lives in Windsor, Ontario.


When The Centre Loses Hold

An accompanying text by Maty Ralph

How political is your lamp? And when it comes to philosophy, how profound is your desk? Does your kettle whistle, or scream about revolution? Is your chair a degenerate?

Hold on. Perhaps this line of questioning is premature. Maybe I started in the wrong place…

In the beginning there was conception. An idea was born. A design conceived. Materials were considered, chosen, manipulated. Eventually, a physical form manifested. The idea could now be used. But in order to be used it must be sold. Value was determined. Replicas were made. And if all went according to plan, profit was gained.

And so, a timeline is established. The idea, which began in the mind, was executed in the studio, produced in the factory, and sold in the store, finally becomes part of a functioning home, each day inching its way closer to the last stage of life: junk.

All junk began as an idea. But do all ideas turn to junk?

Out of This Light, Into This Shadow…

The Bauhaus was an idea -several ideas, in fact- that would illuminate the world of design forever. The school championed respect for materials, space, aesthetic and functionality. It was a place where art informed craft and where practicality was fused with beauty. This was the birthplace of the International Style.

But soon the shadow of Nazi Germany fell over Europe. To the Nationalists, the Bauhaus was a school of degenerates. The ideas they championed were a threat. And so, like many others, they were silenced.

Luckily, the principles and philosophies that thrived during the Bauhaus’ fifteen years emerged from the ashes of WWII, relatively unharmed. The ideas survived, and were utilized, exploited, edited, abridged, and manipulated over the years. What we are left with are designs standing on the shoulders of thoughts standing on the shoulders of the past.

And with all these changes, what of that past remains? Do our designs still challenge tyranny? Would the Nazis view IKEA as degenerate art? Would they consider your desk lamp a threat?

It’s obvious that the aesthetics of modern design echo the Bauhaus to this day, but Juan Ortiz-Apuey has shown us that when you peel away the facade, there is an emptiness at the core.

Design has gone the way of blockbuster movies and pop music. Formula without thought. Replicate the success of the past, but make it cheaper. And quicker. Trim the fat. Edit out the prophet in favour of the profit.

As an exploration of this inherent vapidity in consumer culture, Out of This Light, Into This Shadow could easily wag its finger at capitalism gone awry, but it doesn’t. If a villain is to be cast in this narrative, corporate greed is as worthy of candidacy as consumer complacency.

It’s not enough for us to conclude that we are being sold a hollow, flimsy version of the past. We already knew that much.

We must also wonder why we don’t expect more; Why we don’t demand a return to form. We grew to accept that the furnishings that surround us need not be innovative or profound or even ethical, as long as the aesthetics are enjoyable.

In our uncritical embrace of transient design we have lost sight of the fact that all junk started out as an idea. We now operate under the reverse pretext that all ideas are destined to become junk. And with that, we lost reverence for innovation and began to throw our ideas out with the rest of the trash.

____________________________________________

Maty Ralph loves talking to you about art and is always on the lookout for new adventures that challenge the heights of imagination.


Base Industries

Jon Sasaki at the GNO and AGS
An accompanying text by Kenneth Hayes

Jon Sasaki’s tandem exhibitions at Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario (GNO) (May 27 – June 30, 2016) and the Art Gallery of Sudbury (AGS) (July 7 – September 5, 2016) constitute an eloquent and unusually comprehensive investigation of cultural conditions in the place where they were presented, the city of Sudbury, Ontario. While each exhibition focuses on one of the base industries that have determined Sudbury’s historical development – mining at the GNO, forestry at the AGS – it is when they are examined together that they illuminate the origins of Sudbury’s hallmark ecological disaster, which continues to fascinate visiting artists.

Having these two opportunities to see Sasaki’s art reveals the depth of his commitment to reconceiving landscape art and the novel artistic strategies he brings to that project. Sasaki’s work differs from prior ambitious artistic representations of Sudbury by such artists as Louie Palu, Geoffrey James, Ed Burtynsky, Allan Sekula, and Mariana Lafrance, in that it does not primarily utilize photography. Photography, with its underpinnings of documentary realism, is the art form most commonly identified with the project of creating a cultural topography. Sasaki, however, engages with place through an agile combination of video, performance and installation. Sasaki also has an idiosyncratic approach to making objects; even when he makes something durable and permanent (or at least meant to be of long duration) it usually cannot plausibly be described as sculpture.

In fact, setting aside questions of artistic media makes it easier to identify gesture as Sasaki’s primary artistic mode. It is tempting to further characterize Sasaki’s work as comprised largely of futile or failed gestures; so many critics have done so that this description has become a trope in writing about the artist’s practice. Nevertheless, a proper understanding of gesture makes that characterization redundant – another keyword in writing about the artist. In an interview, Jacques Lacan queried, “What is a gesture? A threatening gesture, for example?” and answered, “It is not a blow that is interrupted. It is certainly something that is done in order to be arrested and suspended.” A gesture, Lacan contends, is intentionally incomplete; to feint is by no means to fail. He elaborated, “It is this very special temporality, which I have defined by the term arrest and which creates its signification behind it that makes the distinction between the gesture and the act.” Sasaki’s work often occupies this arrested condition; the distinction between gesture and act also explains why Sasaki’s art cannot be considered a form of activism. Rather than seek to change a condition or presume to move the viewer toward a particular course of action, Sasaki hopes to induce an intense, almost hallucinogenic, apperception of the arrested object, be it a familiar painting viewed in an entirely new manner, a particular tree plucked from a forest, or a letter opener comprising a piece of shrapnel.

Time, or rather temporality, which concerns modes of experiencing or dwelling within time, is the crux of Sasaki’s art, which often posits improbable periods, conjoins moments, and frequently produces effects of dilation. Surrealism thoroughly plumbed the temporal dimension of the encounter with a significant object, but Sasaki’s work is more closely related to later developments like Fluxus, and shares Conceptualism’s peculiar blend of axioms and tautologies and its fixation on duration. In line with Conceptualism’s mature development as institutional critique, Sasaki’s arrested moments are often designed to raise consciousness of the ways in which art and art-making is determined by its setting or context. Sasaki aspires to condense and communicate the totality of its productive conditions in his work, including both the condition of the viewer and the artist’s awareness of acting within an institutional system. Indeed, this is part of his larger project of promoting general historical consciousness. The title of his AGS exhibition, In the House Built by Those That Came before Me, signals this project by acknowledging the temerity of proposing to exhibit art about trees in a public gallery that was once the home of a lumber magnate.

AGS


Installation view, remnants in Gallery 2. « In The House Built By Those That Came Before Me », at the AGS.

Forestry no longer plays as large a part in Northern Ontario’s economy as it did when Sudbury was named Sainte-Anne-des-Pins in recognition of its magnificent pine forests. But well after the rapid ascent of mining in the region’s economy, the forests were still extensive enough to make William Bell one of the city’s most successful businessmen. He and his wife Katharine were also to become the city’s most generous cultural benefactors, donating land and money for parks and churches, and upon Katherine’s death in 1954, donating their home, named Bell Rock, which eventually became the Art Gallery of Sudbury.

Sasaki’s work for the Art Gallery of Sudbury consisted of selecting a single large pine tree, having it harvested, and, working with a crew of volunteers, maneuvering it into the gallery and hauling it to the second floor exhibition space where it was placed on display for the duration of the exhibition. At several stages along the way to the gallery the tree had to be further cut; a number of large branches had to be removed to pass through the gallery’s main door, where they remained in a pile, and a long section of the tree’s trunk was placed in the small glass conservatory after it was lopped off in order to hoist the tree up the nearby flight of stairs. The bulk of the tree occupied the gallery space in something like the manner that large boulders occupy rooms in Magritte’s paintings. Adjacent to the space where the tree lay, a 17 minute video projection presented the lengthy collaborative process of selecting, harvesting and transporting it.

The title of the exhibition, « In the House Built by Those That Came before Me », can be simultaneously understood in two registers. One is established by the history of the house as a luxurious and prominent dwelling built with the proceeds of forestry. This leads to questions of the relationship between the exploitation of natural resources, the representation of landscapes, and patterns of cultural benefaction, both in a local context and nationally, as a general matter of Canada’s neo-colonial culture. The other has to do with a specific convention of Canadian landscape art, the symbolic representation of a single, iconic tree[i]. Sasaki has had a long-standing and explicit engagement with the legacy of the Group of Seven painters who were active at precisely the same time and often in the same forests as lumber barons like Bell.

The tree Sasaki chose, however, was nothing like the noble, gnarled wrecks favoured by the Group of Seven artists; it is instead readily recognizable as one deliberately planted in order to be harvested as lumber. Uniform and quite free of incident that might be interpreted as character, it is part of a second or even third generation of trees to grow since the old, natural growth was cut a century ago. Sasaki’s choice of this particular tree may have been expedient, but it also serves to foreground the question of the availability of resources and the arbitrary, invariably elevating, character of an act of artistic selection. Sasaki’s work both acknowledges and attempts to neutralize the iconicity of the tree by making it real, not represented. He knows, however, that representation is stubbornly persistent, and that the real is not easily grasped[ii]. Here too, his work can be understood as a gesture, and the significance behind it is the ambivalence between the identification with the iconic tree and weariness with its dominance in Canadian landscape art, which Sasaki demonstrated through selecting four paintings of trees from the Gallery’s collection and hanging them in an arrangement that he refers to as a ‘grove.’

Though he probably would not express it in the same terms, Sasaki might sympathize with the sentiment famously professed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari at the beginning of A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, (1980): “We’re tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They’ve made us suffer too much. All of arborescent culture is founded on them, from biology to linguistics.” Sasaki, however, seems unlikely to make a break as definitive as Deleuze and Guattari when they proclaimed, “Nothing is beautiful or loving or political aside from underground stems and aerial root, adventitious growths and rhizomes.” Critical of the limiting terms of the Canadian landscape tradition but unwilling to abandon it entirely, Sasaki renders the iconic solitary tree as a sort of familiar spectre, laying, and dying, on the gallery floor.

GNO


From The Ground To The Sky And Back Again (Part One), 250′ inflatable, two blower fans, controller

Sasaki has recently developed his practice through undertaking artist’s residencies of varying duration in a variety of places. It has made him something of a reconnaissance agent, adept at rapidly apprising cultural situations. Sasaki’s initial exhibition in Sudbury From the Ground To The Sky And Back Again at the GNO resulted in part from a brief residency; upon arrival, the artist’s attention was drawn to the city’s most prominent landmark, the INCO Superstack. Of course, it is not unusual for visitors to the city to marvel at a landmark that seems easier to see from a distance than in close proximity (its base is located deep within a restricted industrial area), but Sasaki’s interest was predetermined, since smokestacks have an established place in his practice. In 2010, the artist used one of the inflated tubular fabric figures, of the sort installed along commercial strips in North America in order to draw attention to carwashes or fast food restaurants, to make a work titled Flyguy Triggering His Own Motion Sensor. Five years later, Sasaki modified this device to make an installation of nineteen 25-foot tall ‘smokestacks’ of nylon fabric printed with brick patterns. Exhibited during the 2015 Nuit Blanche at the PowerPlant on Toronto’s harbourfront, the work was designed to evoke the ambivalent feelings roused by the rapid disappearance of smokestacks from North American cities. For his exhibition in Sudbury, Sasaki sewed ten of the nylon tubes end-to-end to fabricate his own extra-tall stack. Then, rather than install this structure outdoors in direct competition with the Superstack, he inserted it into the former commercial storefront that houses Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario. Inflated at each end by a pair of large fans, the improbably long fabric tube doubled back several times over, became tangled on the gallery floor, and tossed about as if in agony.

The obvious significance behind Sasaki’s gesture is the loss of iconic industrial structures. Due to the need to disperse the sulfur dioxide released by smelting nickel sulphide ore, Sudbury has been the site of many smokestacks, several of which were the tallest of their time in Canada. Each has vanished in turn without a trace. It is worth noting that even the future of the Superstack, once the world’s tallest freestanding structure, is now in doubt, and it may be demolished. But Sasaki is not interested in industrial archeology as such. He described his own work as an image of ‘a giant writhing snake or a heaving intestinal tract.’ The latter description might suffice (at least for those of a certain generation) to evoke André Masson’s iconic representation of the base materialism theorized by Georges Bataille, which featured a headless figure with a coil of intestines that were imagined as a materialist labyrinth roiling secretly away in the revolutionary modern worker. Indeed, visitors to the gallery faced a labyrinth of sorts as they attempted to traverse the gallery space without treading on the artwork.

Given Sasaki’s penchant for associations, he might also welcome the comparison that came to mind for me: Dan Graham’s conceptual piece Detumescence (1966-1969). Graham’s work consisted of placing an advertisement soliciting a clinical description of ‘the typical post-sexual emotional and physiological aspects of post-climax in the sexual experience of the human male.’ Graham’s observation of the absence of such a description – he called it a ‘structural “hole” in the psycho-sexual conditioning of behaviour’ and suggested that it may be culturally suppressed – was affirmed by the failure of his search to elicit a response. The work is a classic example of conceptual art because its ambition is to articulate a conventional, culturally determined limit on everyday experience.

Like Graham, Sasaki seeks to elicit complex feelings that are repressed or generally resist expression. With this installation, he continues to reflect on the general cultural investment in a symbol of industry, the value of which is ambivalent to say the least, and the feelings of loss and estrangement that are nevertheless aroused by the prospect of its loss. As an artist, and thus as a primary form of producer, Sasaki takes it upon himself to express for us the complex sentiments aroused by the loss of an entire order of industrial production. He has made a monument to an industrial extinction event, if you will. Oscillating between the sublime and the comical his work rouses powerful and quite specific feelings the presence of which we were hardly aware.

The second component of the GNO installation rendered these sentiments even more intense, nuanced and personal. Sasaki made a video with archival footage documenting the use of nickel in fabricating munitions for the First World War and the carnage caused. These historical facts gained a shockingly contemporary and concrete focus when Sasaki discovered for sale on e-bay a letter opener fashioned from a piece of shrapnel from the War. Sasaki purchased the letter opener, and in an eloquent, silent, and solitary gesture, brought it to Sudbury and buried it in an area of tailings that are slated to be re-processed. The artefact may remain buried for years, or it may soon be incorporated in another form, like a jet engine or a piece of medical equipment. The exhibition’s title refers to trajectories that span extraordinary moments in time. Sasaki’s work exposes the uncomfortable fact that, historically, Sudbury has flourished as a direct result of its provision of a material strategic to modern mass warfare. As a guest to the city, he dutifully brings a gift, but given his commitment to historical truth, it is one that pointedly recalls his host’s material complicity in the history of mass slaughter. Nevertheless, his gesture holds such grace that it is clear that his intentions are not defamatory or accusative, but rather elegiac and even cathartic.

The ability to discover the pathos in seemingly trivial or debased objects is probably Sasaki’s greatest artistic skill. Behind the humor so often evident in his work lays a powerful sense of suffering and unfreedom. The presentation of the parings from the pine tree, for example, bears a strange resemblance to the Christian icon of the Stations of the Cross; admit that, and his performance/installation begins to take on even stranger allegorical dimensions. In this light, it appears that Sasaki’s work on Sudbury’s primary or extractive industries contains another significance that can probably be decoded as a meditation on Sudbury’s devastated and revenant landscape. The ecological disaster that has indelibly defined Sudbury’s image and made it a watchword for the cost of modern industry was not only the product of nickel mining and sulphur dioxide emissions, as is widely assumed, but of the interaction of forestry and mining. Sasaki’s two Sudbury exhibitions utilize artistic gestures to conduct a compelling dialogue on the landscape created by resource extraction economies. Doing so frees his work from the conventional limits of historical Canadian landscape art; indeed it places it at the forefront of ecological thought in contemporary art.

_____________________________________________

[i] See Wall, Jeff. “Into the Forest.” Rodney Graham: Works from 1976 to 1994. Eds. È. Van Balberghe and Y. Gevaert. Toronto: Art Gallery of York University, 1994. 11-25. Wall has also contributed to the genre, especially his picture The Pine on the Corner (1990).

[ii] For a detailed analysis of this problem, see Joseph Leo Koerner, Caspar David Freidrich and the Subject of Landscape.

In The House Built By Those That Came Before Me from Jon Sasaki on Vimeo.

From The Ground To The Sky And Back Again from Jon Sasaki on Vimeo.


Not quite what it seems

« Se faire avoir comme un bleu / Hook, Line and Sinker »
Sasha Phipps’ exhibition at La Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario, October 2016
An accompanying text by Normand Renaud

The camouflage, the lure and the catch: in this exhibition, three realities familiar to fishers and hunters are both expressed and transformed.

My first comments are on the component of the exhibition that gave me a true jolt of excitement. In a corner of the gallery near the entrance is a square, stainless steel basin, filled with dark tinted water, standing on four metal legs which raise the small pool of water to waist level. Perfectly still in the middle of this little square pool rests a conical orange-white-blue floater, like those that fishers use to know when a fish is taking the bait. A soundtrack of drops of water completes the scene’s peaceful ambiance. Like a close-up photo in a metallic frame, this pretty picture captures the essence of the art of still fishing. The image is zen, pure, stripped down to the bare minimum. You contemplate it, drawn into the same peaceful absent-mindedness that you feel when you’re out fishing. Then, all of a sudden…

For a brief moment, the still image comes alive. Something is biting! The floater trembles, producing a little circular wave that expands centrifugally, simultaneously producing in the viewer a surprisingly intense shock wave. The moment delivers with stunning accuracy the sensation felt by a fisher whose reverie is brusquely interrupted by the sign of an imminent catch. Even though you have no rod, bait, boat, lake or stream, you feel as if you’re right there, at the crucial moment of capture. But the moment is so brief that you instantly doubt your senses. Did I just imagine that? Now, the scene is nothing but pure stillness. The faux fisher is confused, having no rod in hand to tease the prey. The only thing you can do is examine the installation more closely.

The secret of the illusion is not immediately obvious, but it isn’t hidden. A length of fishing line emerges discretely from the back side of the basin. As you follow where it leads, you see that it extends downward behind the basin to a small electric motor attached to the floor, which activates a little arm. Sasha tells us later that it’s a small programmable motor like you might find in a printer or a scanner. So, there is no fish in these few centimetres of water. However, there is a catch: the spectator, excited by an insignificant stimulus, is just as much a victim of their neural programming as a cat that behaves like a hunter because of a bit of dangling yarn.

Another theme of this exhibition is camouflage. The gallery’s two side walls display creations that appear at first glance to be straightforward hunter’s camouflage, yet they are somehow different. The purpose of camouflage is to hide the fact that you’re hiding. But here, it becomes a way to reveal a landscape or to express awareness of our surroundings.

Hanging from the wall and rolling onto the floor, there is a wide length of canvas with a camouflage pattern extending several metres. There are metal grommets, so it might be used as a tarp. But it’s rather as if this rolling fabric is inviting us to drape the whole gallery space and superimpose nature over structure. You notice brown oak leaves, pine cones, branches of red pine, trunks of young birch, and blueberries. It’s a pattern designed by Sasha Phipps, which he calls ‘Rocky Oak and Blueberries’, a name he chose because it sounds a bit like ‘Mossy Oak’, a well-known commercially available camouflage pattern.

The other length of canvas is draped over a square structure on the floor near the facing wall and tied to rocks as if to keep the wind from blowing it away. The title of this pattern is ‘Slag and Cattails’. It features cattails, green oak leaves, wild grasses that resemble wheat, and bits of dark rock that Sudburians instantly recognize as smelter residue, or slag. All these visual elements are extracted from photos that Sasha Phipps took in the Sudbury area.

If you’re not a hunter, you might not know that you can find in stores a number of ‘classic’ camouflage patterns with names like Mossy Oak, Real Tree, God’s Country, etc. The artist used them as inspiration to create something similar. However, because he’s using images extracted from the natural environment of Sudbury, his camouflage pattern serves to express a sense of local identity, or simply to design a popular style, like the camouflage patterns that are sometimes used in everyday clothing. Here, camouflage acquires a new function, somewhat removed from its original function of creating an illusion of absence in the midst of a landscape. Now, it serves to make the landscape appear present in a new way, by expressing our recognition of the landscape in an esthetically pleasing assemblage of emblematic elements of our mixed boreal forest. Sudbury can now boast having its very own camouflage patterns, unique and representative of the region.

Nearby, hanging on wooden pegs attached to the wall, there are three baseball caps that also have camouflage patterns. One of them is intended for fishers. A novel thought: who would have thought that they might need to try and hide from the fish? It’s an amusing idea with a dash of humour thrown in for good measure: on the underside of one of the brims, there’s the infamous ‘blue pickerel’ that is part of the next component of the exhibition. The fisher simply has to glance upward to spot it. “Well in sight, well in mind.”

Sasha Phipps explains that the idea of exploring the possibilities of camouflage came to him during his mini-residency in Sudbury as part of the GNO’s ‘Allez-retour’ program. At first, he didn’t know of a company that could manufacture a small number of caps with a custom-made camouflage pattern. He discovered one in England. (But be warned: judging from these caps, Britons have small heads!) As for the camouflage tarps, they were printed at the University of Ottawa, where the artist works: they have a large printer that can print on wide fabrics.

The final component of the exhibition brings us back to the ‘Hook, Line and Sinker’ theme of the exhibition’s title. One again, there’s a catch, but you’re left wondering what it could possibly be.

Attached to the end wall of the gallery is a life-sized fish with two oversized triple hooks. (Sasha says they’re the kind used for shark fishing!) This perfectly reproduced plastic fish looks exactly like a pickerel, and its belly is a golden color (perhaps not too surprising for a fish whose name in French is doré – golden). But its back is blue. So, there you have un doré bleu, a blue-gold pickerel: it’s a rare catch, a worthy trophy. However, it’s only the prelude to an even more impressive catch; because of its triple hooks, this is obviously not a fish, but a lure designed to capture something much bigger.

The blue pickerel is attached to the wall very firmly, because from its mouth extends a white rope that crosses the gallery space to reach a fishing rod attached to the other perpendicular wall. The rod is bent into a curve due to the tautness of the rope. A few cattails, all white, trying to blend in with the white walls of the gallery, complete the scene. So, here nature is using camouflage, as if striving to remain unseen against white walls, while attached to the nearby wall, a lure-fish ― of a kind which nobody has ever seen in the wild ― seems to be telling us to expect the unexpected.

You try to imagine the predator that would strike at that prey. Proportionally, it would have to be about as big as an adult human being, at least. Did a clumsy cast snag that lure in the shoreline vegetation? Or was the intended catch in fact the gallery wall, as if to capture the gallery space and all its visitors? In any case, the scene is dynamic, rich with tension and energy, like a quest whose source and goal are wrapped in mystery or… camouflaged.

There you have a glimpse of an exhibition that displaces the vernacular of hunting and fishing to bring a new perception to familiar realities. The object or the situation undergoes a slight dislocation which doesn’t seem to alter its purpose or function profoundly, but which nonetheless rejuvenates quite profoundly the way we perceive it. Drawing from the common and the everyday, the artist crafts intriguing new realities in a realm of concrete imagination. These objects would not seem out of place in an everyday context, in the landscape, away from the gallery space, and this speaks to the respectful consideration given to these borrowed and transformed realities. There’s the glint of a smile in these playful hoaxes. You don’t mind getting caught “hook, line and sinker”, like a mythical blue pickerel. In fact, it’s good fun.


Subterranean Paper and Light

An accompanying text by Maty Ralph

Stories of the secret underground have always intrigued us. From Indiana Jones to BBC’s Planet Earth, our hunger for sub-surface mystery is constantly being reflected in art and entertainment. In Nouveaux Troglodytes, Philippe Blanchard manages to take us a step further by providing us with a narrative-free setting in which we are encouraged to play out our own fantasies of darkness and depth.

It starts with the shapes. Stalactites and stalagmites are commonplace for any spelunker, but for your average urbanites these forms are a gateway into a world that beckons forth our primal urge to explore. Blanchard knows how to play with this urge; he gives us form, light and sound in just the right dose. If he were to offer too much detail, the world he created might have become too vivid and, by consequence, too small. Instead, he uses the principles of minimalism to gift his audience with the tools they need to create their own story.

Mysteries in the modern world are getting harder and harder to find. With satellites, we discovered a way to map out the topography of Jupiter’s third moon and suddenly the surface of our own world seemed rather bush-league in comparison. And so we find ourselves venturing beneath the surface where the ancient unknown can still hide, unthreatened, for now, by the prying eyes of the digital age.

And it is in the relationship between the arcane and digital where Blanchard uses contrast most brilliantly. He has built a world of stone and moss and darkness out of pixels and paper and light. As the animated conical forms blink and buzz and the electronic soundscapes resonate and reverberate, the space becomes shrouded in the delightful haze of contradiction. A future-history hybrid is formed where nothing is what it seems and the only certainty is that this place is definitely far beneath the surface.

And that’s where we secretly want to be: where mysteries still have power because they remain unsolved.

The cave, after all, is where we think art was born. In subterranean earth lay the first ever galleries, where the images on the walls strove to understand the world above, a world where the mechanics of virtually every phenomenon were still awesomely enigmatic.

Now, in the age of information, the gallery must play host to the cave. Nouveaux Troglodytes is an enthusiastic return to a space where we may once again explore the last great, untold secrets of the modern world.

____________________________________________

Maty Ralph loves talking to you about art and is always on the lookout for new adventures that challenge the heights of imagination.