L'articles dans: Accompanying Texts


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.

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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.

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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.

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[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.

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


Church of the Selfie

Reflections on Geneviève Thauvette’s LA FUGUE
An accompanying text by Lara Bradley

A tomb. A tunnel. A womb.

A blond-haired boy running hard slides through it on his socked feet. Squealing. Giggling. Whipping past the grown-ups, past the memorabilia outside the white oblong structure –framed school photo, fake flowers, crutch, cross, candle, bear mask, disco ball, stuffed animal, and trophy—back into its shimmery walls, lit by strands of lights traveling in one direction and then the other. He is fast and unafraid of this art.

Grown-ups, we hesitate at the opening of the installation. Fixated on that feeling of being a kid late for church (but, oh, what a church!), not wanting to leave the darkness of the vestibule before going in. We’re unsure about walking on its mirrored surface –being at the centre of all that light and attention.

For a split second, I’m back in high school chemistry class, playing with toxic beads of mercury on the black wooden desk, pushing them together into bigger blobs, then poking it and watching it skitter apart. Wondering about the ones that slide into the cracks. Could this be a pool of all that escaped mercury? No, it’s the mylar walls of a grow operation visited in my 20s. Feeling the heat from the lights reflected back on its silvery walls, inhaling the skunk of the pot plants, and listening to my friend’s grandiose plans before it all ends badly.

There is a smell to this installation – not of pot but the similar musky dankness of tomato leaves, mixed in with beetroot, pollen, honeysuckle, mushroom, incense, and that churchy wood smell. It’s a scent that the artist, Geneviève Thauvette, sprays into the air throughout the night. It’s her own Tom Robbins inspired Jitterbug Perfume — one trying to pin down that feeling of decay and decadence, mortality and transcendence.

The blond-haired boy makes another pass.

Adults, we go slower. First ducking our heads through the entrance (if we are tall) –below the skull affixed amid the flowers—and then reluctantly dropping to our knees, crawling forward. Awkward in our adult skin.

At the opening, it’s too loud to hear the recorded laughter and applause tinkling through the tunnel. But a low thrum can be felt in our bones and Mozart’s “Amen Fugue” is rising and falling, playing forwards and backwards. Some of us lie back and look-up at our fragmented image, lost among the flashes of coloured light. Leaving the tunnel, we catch a glimpse of ourselves –just barely a piece of you, yourself in motion– a delayed projection on the wall framed by a game show worthy curtain of tinsel.

Hey, you. You are the centre of it all in Thauvette’s Church of the Self; a joyous takedown of our selfie-absorbed modern souls. (There are Greek myths in the mix too, which I’ll get into later, like Narcissus and Echo.) It’s a “pop-rocks for the pineal gland” kind of experience– electrifying, sugary, and fleeting. The same secret thrill that comes from Googling your own name, catching sight of yourself in the grocery store TV, or getting all the “likes” after posting a new profile pic.

Me. Here I am having fun. (Even though we fought on the way here and didn’t say anything to each other at dinner, so busy on our phones.) But look at us eating our Instagram meal. See. Me. You. Happy! Not only happy, happy-face happy!

At the opening, Thauvette flits from person to person, camera around her neck. She is striking and beautiful, an embodiment of her creation.

Her legs look like those on a Rococo chair – slender and shapely in white stockings that end in the same coloured shoes –hooves, really– elegant and ornate. (I later learn that she’s all about the Rococo.)

I don’t notice the blue tips of her hair until the next day when we are outside in the sun looking for coffee. She orders three shots of espresso with steamed chocolate milk. Three shots. This scares me, as already she appears to be vibrating on a higher plane of energy, words and ideas circling her head like bees, her hands snatching them fearlessly from the air.

Although young, teetering on 30, she is not new to art or its worlds. Creating installations is part of her art but photography came first. Her photographs have been shown around the world including at Japan’s Media Arts Festival, the Perth International Arts Festival in Australia, and the Vie Jeux de la Francophonie in Beirut where she won the gold medal for Canada. You can also find Thauvette’s series, Les quintuplées Dionne, at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Past installations by Thauvette have been featured at Ottawa’s Nuit Blanche. Similar to La Fugue, they have also played with ideas of death, pop-culture, celebrity, and self.

There was the white blimp anchored to a building with billowing smoke below it and the words “The World is Yours” which was inspired by the movie Scarface. In it, there’s a scene where Al Pacino watches a black zeppelin with those words float by and then everything goes to shit.

Technical Difficulties: On Air and Other Disasters was an installation set up to look like the inside of an airplane. With that one, you had the dichotomy of movie plane crashes being screened silently, while real black box recordings of the last minutes of pilots played out loud.

Then there was the time in Cake is Freedom when Thauvette dressed-up as a blindfolded Marie Antoinette in full Rococo splendour and stood in a birthday cake while singing the French National Anthem. That one played with a bunch of themes, including conquering a fear of public singing. The performance piece also became the subject of a Radio-Canada documentary.

“My friend laughs at me and says I’m Rococo. … It’s my favourite period of time. The painting of the girl on a swing and someone looking up her skirt. I like detail and I like symbolic meaning.”

The idea for La Fugue began with Thauvette’s love of churches and memorial sites – those found on roadsides after accidents and outside famous people’s mansions after overdoses.

“I like that spontaneous expression of sympathy and empathy that is displayed in public so openly. That is something very deep and primal and subconscious,” she explained. “Sometimes it’s for a person that they do not know, like a celebrity … They are saying to the world that they hurt. That they feel something. It’s not about the person dying.”

Right now we are living in a time that is all about the self and “the cult of self,” she said. The oxygen fanning these flames of self-promotion has come from social media. At the same time, for many, religion has become obsolete. With God declared “dead,” we are rushing to fill this emptiness with … ourselves?

“The self and the cult of the self that we are currently experiencing, is a very interesting time in society. How do we relate and what is community? Man cannot exist without religion but with the state of religion we are currently experiencing, where is our outlet? We have turned inwards to, I guess, find meaning,” she said.

We as a society are both channelling our vanity and mixing it with our need for something greater. So a new religion is being born and we are at the centre of it, she said.

“All that deep energy to the divine to the unknown is being poured into selfies and hashtags,” Thauvette said. “I see the importance of it but there is no depth to it.”

La Fugue is a tunnel yes, but it can also be a pathway to an altar. The entrance is shaped kind of like a gothic knave, she said. But there also is a tomb like quality to it, as well. The tunnel “shrinks,” bigger at one end and gradually becoming smaller at the other, forcing people to get down on their knees to leave.

“There is that forced piousness. They are looking at themselves like Narcissus — falling in love with himself,” she said.

Echo also comes into play through Mozart’s “Amen Fugue.” While there are many variations of the myth, in one, the nymph Echo falls for a young man named Narcissus, who loves no one but himself (he eventually ends up pining away, staring at his own reflection in a pool). Besides loving Narcissus, her other fatal flaw was her love of hearing her own voice and talking. So after crossing the God Juno, Echo is cursed, only able to repeat what others say.

“A fugue is musical composition where voices are repeated, which relates to the myth of Echo. She’s punished to never have a voice, just to repeat. So it’s vacuous and empty. It’s essentially the retweet of mythology,” Thauvette added.

Mozart considered the Fugue to be his funeral song and had a feeling that it would be the last thing he would create, she said. In the installation, it plays to the end and then plays backwards. So that the audio is mirrored to reflect the visual aspects of the piece as well.

Besides the fugue, there is the sound of laughter and applause heard in the tunnel, which speaks to our craving for praise and being liked, and a heavy bass reverb, “an audio presence” weighing down the entire room. Thauvette wanted people to feel the vibrations at a “deeper level,” in their knees and hands, as they crawl to the exit.

The final element is her perfume, fashioned to evoke feelings of decay and decadence, as well as memories of church.

“We’ve replaced God with this foolish self-obsession. I see the irony in talking to you about it right now. It’s all about myself and this piece. Just being an artist alone … it’s a very self-involved thing to do,” Thauvette said. “My mom has given her professional life to children who can’t thank her. I’m here making fanciful tunnels that speak to this nebulous idea … She’s trying to make society better in a tangible way.”

For her, the sense of the tangible comes from seeing people interact with her art and take something away. The little blond haired boy’s reaction made all the difference.

“I blew his little mind. That’s why you make art. You can make art to be serious and sober but that is not where my heart is. I want something that is a bit of a feast,” Thauvette said.

I come back later without the crowds. People have left more memorabilia and written on the tomb with markers. It now looks a little like a giant arm cast.

Rémi has been here. So has Kanye West. Cool.

Lying down inside the light show, I think about finding the cross from my stepfather’s funeral in a box at my mother’s house. How we wondered what to do with it. Where should such crosses go, other than in boxes that must-be-kept-forever, when you no longer feel right about hanging them on walls? Should it be tucked alongside this tomb with all the other pieces of memory and belongings?

As I hear the sound of recorded applause, I also think about how easy it is to force people to clap. Most of the time we clap out of a combination of peer pressure and politeness.

I feel a pressure weighing down my chest. It started this morning and hasn’t eased up; imagining the worst, I think of having a heart attack right here, right now. How wonderfully poetic would that be. And how narcissistic of me to imagine dying in this mini-pop cathedral, this disco-decked-out church of the self.

___________________________

This accompanying text is sponsored by Laurentian University.

universite laurentienne


Blueberry Infinity

An accompanying text by Normand Renaud about “Mines de rien pas pour cinq cennes[1]
An installation by Guillaume Boudrias-Plouffe
at the Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario, January-February 2016

 

On veut… du bleu plein les yeux
Du bleu… pour les amoureux
Du bleu… dans les ananas
Du bleu, du bleu où il n’y en a pas

(lyrics to a song by Ginette Reno)[2]

A well supported review of the exhibition Mines de rien pas pour cinq cennes might have used an epigraph from the semiology of tropes or figurative meanings. Such a learned reference might shed light on an important aspect of this collection of eloquent objects made from jaunty junctures of meaning. I hope that a specialist will someday study them; it would make for a interesting analysis.

But on second thought, the insights of a pop song are more appropriate. As an authoritative source, a pop song better reflects one of the foundations of Guillaume Boudrias-Plouffe’s artistic approach as a self-styled ravaudeux d’histoires[3] or ‘story-mender’. It is based on his appreciation for the genius of the people on display in commonplace cultural manifestations and its undervalued potential which he celebrates in his work. Ginette Reno’s joyful ditty actually puts a finger on a basic process at play in this installation, and perhaps even one of its meanings.

Éluard’s orange[4] has had its day. Henceforth, Earth is blue as a blueberry.

That is the poetic intuition of cosmic proportions that we are led to embrace in this exhibition, which is the… yes, the fruit of an act of engaged presence in a particular physical and human environment, namely Greater Sudbury. Basking in the warmth of an observer’s interested gaze, the humble berry has swelled with pride, so much so that it blueness has spread to everything, especially those who rub against it.

Upon entering the gallery, the visitor first sees large formless masses of Styrofoam that are meant to resemble the area’s rocky hills, which in summer are dotted with blueberries. But here, the ‘rock’ doesn’t have its usual charred black colour – a result of the mining industry’s acidic emissions – which used to be Sudbury’s dubious distinction. Here, it has acquired a purplish blue tint that one soon recognizes as blueberry blue. So, a tiny bit of the landscape has expanded to become its entirety; the small part is now the large whole; the component is now the context; the effect is now the cause; the place of origin is now the product. Metaphor? Metonymy? Synecdoche? Like I said, a bit of trope analysis might help.

A few steps away, the visitor notices two blue-tinged feet, perfectly molded in beeswax which gives them a slight whiff of honey. Did those blue feet trod on that blue rock for so long that they have acquired its colour? Is that how you find your feet, get a foothold, have both feet on the ground, on this ‘blue as a blueberry’ earth? Holy waxfeet[5]! – a yet-unknown oath – one might exclaim as a sort of eureka upon arriving at this sudden illumination.

But the humble blueberry can also expand its influence without extending its colour. This exhibition shows how, through a motley assortment of creations of popular ingenuity which flaunt blueberry panache. These artifacts are due to anonymous artisans in fields such as cooking, trinkets, oral tradition, community life, even popular mythology. But ultimately they are due to the approach used by our ‘story-mender’. He pulls them together and gives them new life by combining them in unexpected amalgams that bring forth novel thoughts.

For example, you can admire the geometric patterns of various pie crust motifs. But here, they are all the more admirable because they have been expertly cut out of a wide piece of wood, then perched like Christmas tree stars atop four slender pyramids. The pyramids are covered with countless little torn-up pieces of pictures of blueberries which have been painstakingly glued onto their sides, one by one. Quite the opposite of the harvester’s work, these berries weren’t picked up, but put back. Some of the pyramids are only half-covered in blueberries and the rest of their surface has a metallic finish. Mineral and vegetal have joined forces to compose the structure. These assemblages struck me as an inspiring representation of the power of bighearted devotion that turns toil into treats.

Other pie crust motifs appear in framed photos hung on the gallery wall. At first glance, they seem to be real pies placed on the ground upon the infamous Sudbury black-rock. But look carefully and you’ll see that they are in fact ceramic pies crafted with stunning illusionist realism. Here, we’re in the neighbourhood of Magritte’s treachery of things – “this is not a pie” – or perhaps of a surrealist “chance meeting” of a blueberry pie in a blueberry patch. We need only complete the scene with an astounded picker’s amazement upon discovering one, and the boasting that would ensue. “My blueberry patch is so incredibly good that I actually found a complete pie!”

Another incredible tale awaits the visitor who descends into the gallery’s basement and, with some amazement, encounters this scene: a bear is holding a post in one strong arm to prevent the earth from collapsing. The bear in question is in fact the costume worn by the person who plays the mascot for Sudbury’s annual Blueberry Festival: Sud-berry Bear. It was borrowed from the festival, while various other objects throughout the installation were borrowed from the personal trove of the festival’s stalwart organizer, Jeannine Larcher-Lalande. Her commitment to this long-standing community event was warmly acknowledged by the artist at the exhibition’s opening event.

But here, the blueberry festival’s mascot assumes the role of a heroic miner as he plays the title character in Réal Giguère’s 1960’s novelty song Gros Jambon[6]. This song tells the tale of a strong man who perished in a mining accident while saving his co-workers by propping up the crumbling drift with a post. As the blue bear holds his post in his outstretched palm, the ‘story-mender’ sings his modified version of the song a cappella in an audio recording: Gros Ours bleu… Gros Ours bleu… eu[7]. Our semiologist might call that a hypertext. In any case, it surely is a comical convergence of blueberry and mining mythologies. You can’t get much more oddly Sudburian than that.

Along with berries and ore, the ‘story-mender’ includes the third element of a local holy trinity: white pine. Back in 1883, Sainte-Anne-des-Pins (Ste. Anne of the Pines) was the unmistakably French-Canadian name of the village founded at ‘Sudbury Junction’ and the first natural resource to be ravaged in the area was its big white pines (long since gone from the landscape). Their contribution to the installation might seem a bit discrete at first glance. Nonetheless, it’s quite the achievement.

Leaning against two of the gallery’s walls, near the blue rocks, there are a dozen wooden poles, cylindrical, unpainted and unusually long, about ten feet if not more. No label indicates the type of wood, but the gallery’s personnel will tell you that they are made of white pine. You’ll find no such pieces of lumber in your usual lumberyards. That’s because they were fabricated by the artist himself, with help from local accomplices.

To fully appreciate these objects, one should know that the artist went to a local sawmill, Portelance Lumber, and located a rare beam of massive white pine, which the mill’s owner identified thanks to his knowledge of the subtle characteristics of various types of wood. Then, the artist enlisted the help of a technologist at the Laurentian School of Architecture, Francis Thorpe, who gave him access to a wood shop with the tools required to transform this squared beam into a dozen long stems. Does their shape evoke the core samples extracted by prospectors’ diamond drills, or the long drill bits used by miners to pierce the holes into which explosives are loaded?

Such attempts at interpretation are of a lesser interest compared to the appreciation of the process itself, the course of action which produced these objects. All that effort and trouble was motivated by the will to go out and explore a human and natural environment in order to extract its potential. That is the significance of these strange long poles. When the ‘story-mender’ explains that his encounters with people in his adopted setting are at the centre not only of his process, but of the artwork itself, we need only see these poles to realize what he’s saying. A French expression that means ‘to reach out to someone’ or ‘to offer help’ is tendre la perche: to extend a pole. The artist has literally extended several of them in this installation. To my mind, that is the significance we should grasp.

Local oral tradition, in the form of folk tales, also contributes to the installation. Just outside the gallery’s entrance, an audio recording plays in a loop a tale that itself forms a loop. In this recording, the artist delivers a folk tale drawn from the repertoire of Mon oncle Émile (Uncle Émile), a local storyteller who regrettably has passed away. It’s the story of a berry picker who is confronted by a bear, and again, and again, because the final words of the tale are the same as the first ones. There’s no escape from the blueberry’s infiniteness. Upon arriving or leaving the gallery, the visitor passes through a portal of perpetuity.

At the exhibition’s opening event, the ‘story-mender’ added an element of performance to his installation. Wearing a hard hat on which he fastened a candle as early miners did, he went among the spectators to provide each person with a share of ‘blueberry flour’. (I’m told it was really corn starch paste dyed blue, then dried and ground into powder.) After that, he invited everyone to come forward and deposit his or her little handful on the floor, forming six small piles. This gesture, he explained, recalls a local flour mill of bygone times that left six silos standing in a Sudbury neighbourhood, which today is still known as The Flour Mill / Le Moulin à fleur. Our semiologist might see a ‘triple isotopy’ here: a single thing is simultaneously farinaceous, mineralized and baccate[8]. In any case, handfuls of ‘blueberry flour’ symbolize the small contributions that all can make to the vitality of a cultural habitat by perpetuating its history and amplifying its imagination.

So, that’s how one goes about the trade of ravaudeux d’histoires, or story-mender. Take neighbouring realities and marry them together. A brick and a lantern[9], a mystery and a gumball[10]… from conjunction springs forth revelation. All things speak to each other, complete one another, expand into each other, mutually intensifying and enriching one another. It takes all things to make a world[11], a world to encompass all things, and world of people to make it all happen. Well, we happen to have a world, right outside our door and too often neglected. To better appreciate its worth, we need only explore it, choose a few of its ingredients and mix gently. And lo and behold, we’ll see a world with eyes of blue.

Normand Renaud, Sudbury, February 2016

___________________________________
[1]
A number of expressions and notions throughout the original French version of this article are practically untranslatable, so expect a number of magnificent footnotes, beginning with the title of the exhibition. Mine de rien (literally, ‘having the appearance/demeanor of nothing’) can mean ‘nonchalantly, innocently, discretely’. But the artist is playing on the meaning of mine as ‘where minerals are extracted’; so he’s saying ‘a mine of nothing’. The expression pas pour cinq cennes is literally ‘not even a nickel’s worth’ and its meaning is ‘not in the least’. So here’s my attempt at a somewhat similar English play on words: ‘Ore-dinary? Not on my nickel’. Groan if you need to; that’s what puns are for.

[2] Before you read my translation of the lyrics, take into account that you can’t get the blues in French. In French imagery, blue is not the colour of gloom and melancholy; it’s the colour of blue-sky joyful feelings. (They didn’t call it ‘two solitudes’ for nothing.) So, it’s with hopeful generosity that Ginette Reno sings: “We want eyes full of blue / Blue for lovers / Blue in pineapples / Blue, blue, where there is none.” (Canadian Francophones can get the blues, avoir les bleus, due to neighbourly linguistic influence. You can see why that phenomenon can be worrisome. But in France, voir tout en bleu, ‘to see everything in blue’, means you’re feeling optimistic.)

[3] Ravaudeux d’histoires is the term the artist uses to name his artistic trade or profession. The invented word ravaudeux uses popular word morphology to create a noun based on the verb ravauder, which can mean to stitch, mend or repair somewhat imperfectly, to search or rummage around, or to string different things together. So, the artist presents himself as a stitcher, patcher or rearranger of stories… a ‘story-mender’.

[4] Paul Éluard famously wrote la terre est bleue comme une orange, “Earth is blue as an orange”. This line is often referenced as a classic example of surrealism in poetry.

[5] Here my French text invents the oath Pieds de ciarge!, literally ‘church-candle feet!’Trust me, it almost sounds normal in Canadian French. That’s because it is similar to other expletives in a rich lexicon that stems from a unique appreciation for liturgical paraphernalia.

[6] Gros jambon is literally ‘big ham’, but is understood as a nickname for a large and strong man. The song Gros Jambon is a French-Canadian version of a song that scored a hit for Jimmy Dean in 1961: Big Bad John. Note the assonance: Gros Jambon / Big Bad John. It’s bilingual ear-candy.

[7] ‘Big Blue Bear, Big Blue Bear… err’

[8] Farinaceous means ‘made of flour or meal’, while baccate means ‘berry-like’. Sometimes English words need footnotes too.

[9] This expression, and the one commented in the next footnote, are meant to be examples of unusual pairings. Une brique et un fanal is literally ‘a brick and a lantern’. The complete expression is j’attends avec une brique et un fanal: ‘I’m waiting with a brick and a lantern’. Nowadays, what is meant is an unfriendly welcome. Ironically, the origins of the expression, though uncertain, are thought to be the exact opposite. A heated brick and a lantern were needed for sleighs or buggies that were leaving to travel through a cold, dark night and the person providing them was waiting to deliver a much appreciated service.

[10] Mystère et boule de gomme is literally ‘a mystery and a gumball’. This expression is commonly used when one wants to say ‘it’s a real mystery’ in a more amusing way. Its origins are unknown. It is speculated that the ‘gumball’ might originally have meant that a fortune-teller using a cloudy crystal ball (made of something other than glass or crystal) would have a hard time revealing mysteries.

[11] The French expression is il faut de tout pour faire un monde, whereas the similar English expression says ‘it takes all kinds/sorts to make a world’. This seems to limit the notion to persons, whereas the French expression says that it takes ‘some of everything’.


The Translucent Poetry of the Blobettes

Ron Loranger, visual artist
an accompanying text by Pierre Raphaël Pelletier

Like all artists, we are born
on a raging sea,
inevitably engaged.

Alain Deneault, La Médiocratie[1]


[note : indented citations and images are comments or reactions from the artist, Ron Loranger]

Ron has been beating his own path as a professional artist since 1981.

Free of all conventions, traditions, protocols or trendy recipes. Straightforwardly, this artist has a way of creating a visual language that responds to no concerns but its own as it unfurls with winks of watercolors in the unfathomable whiteness of space.

In any case, empathy for a work is the only way one can approach it and slip into its intimacy (see Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet).

“Well… writing isn’t my thing.”

[1] Here and throughout this article, the quotes from French sources are our translations.

Cautionary note

All art criticism, no matter how enlightened, is always subsequent to the work, because interpretation is left exposed by what the work leaves unexpressed. (See the author’s La beauté exulte d’être si rebelle, published by Éditions David.)

“Greatness finds its signature.”

Blobettes, Ron Loranger

This goes back a while… Ron is looking for a word that could give meaning to his amoeba-like colours.

Blub, blubber, ball of fat, spot of mud… they all seem too ordinary. Then, his friend says: “Ron, it’s all so fucking serious, blob, blob, blob, blood… Oh, I got it! Call it Blobettes. It’s funny, yet it says exactly what your art is about.”

“Drawings aren’t very good for telling lies.”

Hence, the so-called Blobettes!
Which become
erotico-festive caresses
trances twixt two worlds
rainbows of alien silences
forlorn nymphs
dancing medusas
wandering eyes
ephemeral voyagers
fireflies
like inquisitive butterflies
transgendered tourniqueted molecules
soft matter trimmed with lace

Skin-tone blobettes in a sleepless sacramental night. Of this and much more beyond speaks the translucent poetry of the Blobettes. Happy as feisty freedom, the freedom of everlasting revolutions (see Jean Dubuffet).

Hello, here I come!

Coucou! Scene 1 in the world of Ronald Raymond Loranger. A tiny human being blindly arrives at 1:45 in the morning on February 18th, _____, at the Sensenbrenner Hospital during a raging snow storm.

“1964 :

  • That year, Fusion des arts, the first French-Canadian artist-run exhibition centre, opens its doors in Montreal;
  • Giorgo Morandi, the Italian painter, dies;
  • Andy Warhol creates his film Empire;
  • Joseph Beuys sculpts his Fat Chair;
  • Marshall McLuhan writes Understanding Media:The Extensions of Man.”

Mark of life

Making one’s mark on the world, in modest surroundings where money is scarce, is an act of courage and constant staunchness.

Fortunately, the Loranger family belongs to that breed of Northern Ontario pioneers who never give up. Happiness is easygoing in the Loranger home. His is a pleasant childhood with his mother and two big brothers by his side. From a very early age, Ron is always drawing and painting. A few years later come his oil paintings of landscapes, pretty and well liked.

In Kapuskasing, during his second year in elementary school, the mother superior who saw him drawing as she walked by said kindly: “You’ll be an artist when you grow up.” Ron’s immediate reply: “I know,” certain of his destiny. As I said to begin with, that’s what is meant by “creating one’s life as a work of art” (La couronne d’herbes, Étienne Souriau).

“Art, I believe, is biological. Created in us by the workings of evolution.”

Breaking point

Having grown more than weary of well-crafted artworks, artist Ron Loranger rebels against what he calls easy art, the art of floral bouquets, etc., the art of all his paintings that sell well in galleries. His compass swings wildly and at last the artist sets out towards wider horizons.

“I don’t want to make pretty paintings.”

Toronto

He leaves Kapuskasing at age 17. Arrives in the big city where he has more freedom to live his sexuality on his own terms. To survive, Ron does all sorts of bread and butter work, a variety of odd jobs that never pay much.

Nonetheless, despite all this daily turbulence, in the city of Toronto, he finds the means to study art and graphic design at the Ontario College of Art (today called the OCAD University).

At age 24, he leaves Toronto for London, where he resides for exactly one year and one day. A close friend takes him under his wing.

More odd jobs of all sorts, including shoe salesman for a bizarre urban fauna that includes bikers and skinheads. Because luck always seems to smile upon his chaotic life, his protector happens to be the head of general management for the Royal Opera House. Ron attends many concerts. He crosses paths with stars of the stage, powerful London personalities, Hollywood actors and historically significant figures as well, like Princess Diana and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s all good fun for him. In London, Ron doesn’t shy away from partaking in all forms of excess and transgressing conservative lifestyles. He pushes it to the limit, to the point where you fall into the abyss. He teeters mockingly on the border between life and death. All in all, let’s just say that our artist takes a voracious bite out of Adam’s apple.

“You’re made out of stars!”

During this time, Ron Loranger travels across Europe, including Austria, Spain and France, residing in Paris for a while. When he returns to London, Ron has a close brush with death and sees the Dark Angel’s abyssal glare. Allow me to relate his tragic experience one evening on the Thames, where 141 people are living it up on a tourist boat. With no warning and unexplainably, something sinks the boat. All the beautiful people are thrown into the icy waters of the Thames, shrouded in total darkness. Screams, cries of distress, general panic, desperate calls for help, people drowning left and right… Ron, a strong swimmer, can’t see a thing to get his bearings, so he starts swimming in the direction of the river’s swift current. Behind him, the cries of desperation go silent. Courageously, Ron keeps swimming, mostly on his back. He hears two persons who are struggling on their last breath to survive. Ron manages to go to their aid and he drags them along with him until they reach the substructure of a bridge. He sheds his clothes and continues to swim blindly. Finally, a rescue boat pulls the survivors from the water. More than forty people perish in that accident, including four of his friends. After Ron is pulled out of the water, he stands stark naked on the bridge, much to the displeasure of the officers. He’s scandalizing the good citizens of London, who aren’t accustomed to scenes of the sort. Ron tells me this story, still moved by this tragic accident that marked him for life.

“As a survivor, you’re screwed up.”

ron image 1

Living in Toronto

Ron owns a small house in the suburbs that is open to all friends (more or less a hostel, in keeping with the artist’s ways), in which he has a studio where he does work on a daily basis, surrounded by absolute silence. He provides for his necessities. Ron says to me: “I walk the dogs.” By day, he wanders in all corners of the city, looking for images to nourish his work. He collects all sorts of images: posters on poles, billboards, graffiti, drawings on sidewalks. A visual bazaar for his eye.

“Is that why Ron is part of ToRonTo?”

“I take other images from the Web, or from my everyday surroundings. I take everything I see. In my studio, sometimes I paint until dawn, depending on how I feel. The important thing for me is to create my art and evolve in my art. And to make a living with my art. I think it’s important for an artist to earn a living at it.”

“During the day, I walk all over the city.”

ron image 2

Our philosopher Alain Deneault has some thoughts that corroborate Ron Loranger’s comments. “Some artists deplore (…) the institutionalization of art. Their works [are] standardized to meet the expectations of ministries of culture, museums and academies.” (La Médiocratie)

So, standardization of works that sell for high prices on national and international art markets, with the blessing of venerable institutions of learning, funded by taxpayers.

Galerie du Nouvel Ontario

Ron Loranger is invited as an artist in residence for one week and produces within the gallery a large scale work, 30 feet by 3 ½ feet of thick Arches paper attached to the gallery’s wall. First, the paper is spread out on the floor and the artist saturates it with water. Drying time required. If need be, he wets the paper again. Sponges away any excess. At this point in the creation process, Ron literally injects drops of generously pigmented water, forming ovoid shapes. Time and again, the artist must wet the paper, playing with the tendencies which expand into the space of the work. In all this toil that gives rise to the work, the artist can spend hours elaborating a single blobette, once everything is dry, with a single continuous line that allows no opportunity for corrections, then adding words and drawings of all sorts of things, freely dispersed on the paper. Sometimes merging with the blobettes.

Curiously, almost magically, the space of the work attached to the wall becomes fused with the space of the gallery, creating a three-dimensional work in which blobettes circulate and spectators themselves become blobettes.

“While I was working in the gallery that evening, there were a bunch of cowboy hats passing by in the front window. It was a gathering of cowboys in Sudbury. Cowboys without a horse.”

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It should be mentioned that artist Ron Loranger has in the past exhibited his large scale works in Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere. These days, his work is evolving rapidly, including more and more new forms, bursted blobettes, often traversed by laconic statements, lines, symbols, signs, here and there on the support he’s using, which can vary.

Ron would like to repeat the experience of the in-situ work he produced at the Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario in Western Canada, on the Pacific coast, in the United States, in Mexico, and possibly in Europe.

“I like to share with the public.”

Words

Through his interaction, in the form of comments integrated into this article, Ron Loranger freely offers himself up to words, thus putting himself in writing, and we write the article together.

Pierre Raphaël Pelletier

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This accompanying text is sponsored by Laurentian University.

universite laurentienne


Jennifer Lefort – Chromadose

an accompanying text by Cheryl Rondeau

We cross a threshold from streetscape into La Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario (GNO), moving from the bland quotidian sights and sounds of everyday into an imaginary universe. This is an environment electric with bright colours that dance across the walls and floor. For one week the gallery’s exhibition space became the temporary studio of Gatineau-based artist Jennifer Lefort. This is her life-sized canvas upon which she creates a site-specific installation, titled Chromadose. Lefort intoxicates the space with bursts of acidic colour that give way to abstract forms, which then morph in and out of shape.

Lefort is a master of colouration, it is in fact the point of departure for her abstract paintings – a practice that is some fifteen years in the making. Having been recipient of prestigious honours like the Joseph Plaskett Award, Lefort has gained an enviable reputation for her painting not only in Canada, but on the international stage. Even more recent evidence suggests Lefort’s gravitas continues to grow – her work garnered global attention this year at the prominent art fair Volta 11 (Basel, Switzerland).

Over the years Lefort’s paintings have grown large and her interests have moved beyond confinement of the canvas to include sculpture and temporary installations. This was inspired by her collaboration with Dominique Pétrin on a site-specific installation at Optica Gallery (Montréal) in 2014, where the duo of artists transformed the exhibition space by a process of “creative exchange”. It was at this point that she realized she could “virtually paint in space”. At GNO Lefort advances this exploration by not only painting directly onto the walls of the gallery but by also introducing three-dimensional elements that push further her transformation of the white cube.

As we enter the gallery our eyes, and body, are immediately over-powered by a massive, hard edge polygonal shape on the gallery’s west wall. This shape stretches up to the ceiling and grows wide as it spills onto the floor in lakes of blue, black and magenta Mactak – so much so, that the viewer risks stepping into these pools of colour . Within this shape Lefort starts with a black base that she quickly brightens by vigourously applying lines of yellow and red that shoot out and around. Like road dividers, these pull our eyes from the shape’s lower right side to its left, and finally shoot out the upper right edge where the wall is left white, only briefly.

A luscious bubblegum pink blob pierces forth out of the wall, spurting out black dots. A series of ocean blue lines project out and over it ending in drips near the base of the wall. Pink tentacles grow from its right toward another polygonal shape that almost frames this blob with its ‘head’ leaning left in an embrace. Interestingly lines of the same bubblegum pink dominate this dark hued form of blacks and blues, its base spilling onto the floor in pools of yellow and white. Its right side pushes out and up against the north wall of the gallery where a spattering of bright pink dots frolic along the wall toward a hard-edged, cone-like shape sprouting up from the floor. This form is infused with splotches of black, blue, red and yellow with two antennae reaching out of its top left side sucking up the pink dots.

As we move to the east wall of the gallery, high above our head is a larger polygonal shape that drips down from the ceiling toward the floor in a series of vibrantly coloured stalactite-like shapes. It’s as if we have vertiginously parachuted from the cosmos and landed in a grotto. Bright yellow dots move out from these stalactites toward one last hard-edged form that extends up from the floor in a somewhat phallic shape. Of diminutive scale – it is slightly shorter than me as I look down on it – this form is filled with a more subdued colour scheme. Only from the tips of its few antennae, do we get a glimmer of bright yellow and red. This form swells onto the floor in a long, thin rectangular pool of black mactak that extends out into the centre of the space like an elongated shadow whose light source is beyond comprehension. Its’ tip points toward a little island made out of bright pink mactak onto which stands a column of brightly coloured bricks. There are two bricks set haphazardly aside the column as though someone, or something, was in the middle of either building it up or taking it down.

As with her works on canvas, we witness a familiar palette of playful colour and forms that float, sprout and ooze into, across and over each other. Through her skillful use of layering and repetition, Lefort has an adept way of creating ‘unsettled’ scenarios that feel as though they are in constant movement, within liminal spaces on the brink of transformation.

« Une forme en appellee une autre jusqu’au sentiment de l’unité, ou de l’impossibilité d’aller plus loin sans destruction. En cours d’exécution aucune attention n’est apportée au contenu. » Paul-Émile Borduas – Refus Global

[A form conjures up another until a feeling of unity is achieved, or the impossibility of going any further without destruction. During the execution there is no thought to content.]

Bringing only a few materials from her studio, Lefort arrived at GNO on a Monday morning and was confronted by a blank white cube. She came with no preconceived ideas or preliminary sketches. The creative process was to be driven by her immediate surroundings – its shapes, sounds, light, shadows, cracks, bulges and imperfections. She is seemingly guided by the spirit of Paul-Émile Borduas –one of her Québécois abstract painting predecessors. His pen inked the controversial manifesto Refus Global and he was the main instigator of what became known as the Automatistes movement of 1940/50s Québec. Fascinated by the authenticity and spontaneity of children’s drawings, he pioneered a creative process influenced by the surrealist theory of automatism. This is a method where one paints with no predetermined ideas, letting immediate sensations and surroundings inspire and guide the development of a work of art. The idea is not to think but to play and experiment – and in Lefort’s case, she afforded herself plenty of possibilities with the array of materials from spray paint to Mactak and building blocks culled from her studio.

Spray paint being very unpredictable it inevitably lead Lefort to a number of discoveries. As it dries quickly Lefort had to work quickly and this sense of urgency and excitement flows through the work. The rush the artist had working within a new space, under a tight timeline and, experimenting with new materials is palpable. Walking within the installation one is taken by a strong feeling of exuberance and excitement for the unknown.

As she started working directly on the walls forms started to evolve, letting the walls, ceiling and floor speak to her through their various imperfections, a narrative began to develop and her gestures of paint sprays and smears flip-flopped between contained and uncontained spaces. As with her octagonal shapes, Lefort chose to contain her gestures within a precise area by masking out a space via painters tape. With her cunning play of colour, light and shadow along with the hard edges these octagonal shapes seem to jump out from the wall, standing out like monoliths hovering over the viewer. Then we have the bubblegum pink blob that feels as though it is piercing through the wall and into the space, exploding out toward the viewer. She has a unique ability to use her painting and sculptural components to subtly reconfigure and reorient the space in which it inhabits.

There is a performative sensibility to Lefort’s intervention that makes it feel still in-process. That possibly at any moment the artist will walk in and pick up one of those bricks and place it on the top of the column or, possibly to continue its dismantling. We are made aware that what we are witnessing is not fixed, in a constant state of flux. Evoking a fearsome ephemerality especially given the eventual destruction of the work. This installation will inevitably be dismantled and painted over once the exhibition has run its course.

Lefort has truly taken possession of the gallery’s exhibition space and temporarily transformed the white cube into another world. With this installation we are given a universe where she is truly mistress, here within la GNO we are immersed within an imaginary world of Lefort’s making. Giving the viewer over to a liminal, hyperactive, convulsive abstract dreamscape. Her process conveys a deep curiosity and playfulness that motivates a constant experimentation with form, colour and space. An artist who, combining solid swaths of colour and extravagant splashes, toys with perception and depth, constantly questioning how much visual activity the eye can register while remaining within its comfort zone, an ongoing play between chaos and order.


L’art de s’envoler / A Flyer for Flight

An accompanying text by Normand Renaud

 

Imagine that one day in all public parks, we’ll see people performing a variety of elegant movements in order to develop the capacity to fly using nothing more than the will to fly, with no apparatus whatsoever. L’art de s’envoler / A Flyer for Flight by Maryse Arseneault, an installation exhibited in Sudbury at the Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario in June 2015, was made up of several components, but that scene best struck my imagination, even though I didn’t witness it. (However, such a moment did take place during the artist’s stay.) All of the work’s components stem from the same intention: to make aspiring to a superhuman capability a familiar, popular and commonplace goal and to incite us to undertake a patient and determined effort to achieve it.

The title of the work includes a pertinent play on words: the “flyer” in question is in fact a little leaflet which extends an invitation to practice l’art de s’envoler, the art of flight. The work’s other components provide glimpses of such practices. Technology and science have nothing to do with the artist’s proposition; rather, it is through meditative exploration nourished by firm belief that the impossible will be achieved. Nowadays, aeronautics is highly evolved and daredevils wearing nothing more than wingsuits accomplish hair-raising feats of flight. However, Maryse Arseneault champions other means: we could one day learn to fly without the use of prosthetics, by using the mind to penetrate the mysteries of our relationship with matter.

“To fathom something is to be ready to perceive it.” That sentence is another detail in the work that struck a chord for me. It is heard in what appears to be the main component of the work upon entering the gallery. Two videos are projected on facing walls. On one side, an instructor performs a series of movements while explaining their meaning. On the other side, a small group of people follow her instructions. One notices a slightly unusual detail: the participants wear aprons, perhaps to convey the skills and professional attitude the practice requires. The spectator stands between both video images and would simply need to perform the movements to be engaged in the process. The invitation is discrete, yet clearly felt.

At first glance, this “art of flight” seems somewhat similar to tai chi. Simple instructions describe a sequence of movements to be executed while absorbing their significance for the quest of flight. Each movement is associated with an element: earth, air, water, wood, fire and metal. For example: “The next element is water. Arms aligned with ears like whiskers. This will be useful for listening. (…) After a few rounds, you will feel a tingling sensation at your fingertips. That is the world outside of yourself that you are waking up to.” Similarly, each of the six elements is associated with a meditative posture and its relationship with flight is briefly explained.

The narration of the lesson begins with a personal confession. Here is an excerpt. “Later in my youth, I learned to control my dreams, especially those where I was learning to fly. To battle my weightlessness, I had to understand how to place the weight of my body with fuller awareness. That way, I could avoid flying away into empty space.” The process of this art of flight is therefore rooted in the intimacy of the artist’s childhood fears and it shares the sense of reality inherent in dreams.

Another of the work’s components consists of a series of drawings of flying and diving figures – aquatic birds, marine mammals, human swimmers –, each of which is also associated to the various elements. These drawings are executed with painstaking precision and realism. One senses the tension of attention, the artist’s careful observation of minute details in these true incarnations of the will to fly.

A final component of the work is especially interactive. It invites the spectator to experience, perhaps as a moment of illumination, the object of the meditative process. A small trampoline is connected by wires to an obsolete piece of equipment: a videocassette player connected to a cathode ray television set. By bouncing on the trampoline, the spectator sometimes manages to activate a function such as fast forward, rewind or play, but with limited precision. The rudimentary quality of this apparatus elicits a smile in our era where virtual reality equipment can provide the sensation of interacting with an imaginary 3-D environment. Nonetheless, the experience produced here is that of a body clumsily, yet successfully, transforming its immediate environment simply through it conscious and active presence.

L’art de s’envoler / A Flyer for Flight presents itself as an act of faith in the possibility of transforming humankind’s relationship with matter and thereby breaking through the limits of what is possible. In the times of mythic Icarus or the drawings of Da Vinci, the dream of flight seemed chimerical, but the will to fly ultimately triumphed. We acquired the capacity to fly by harnessing the forces of physics through technological progress. Where would we be today if the same determined force of will had been devoted just as resolutely to exploring the powers of art and mind? Would humankind have harnessed other more obscure, yet no less real forces? This art of flight aims to open the way for the emergence of a fuller awareness of the human presence in the vast web of ecological and cosmic forces, as represented in the work by the six elements and their effects on mind and spirit. Throughout the centuries, abundant and powerful energies have been invested in the expansion of spiritual consciousness, not without effect. The new and seductive horizon in this artist’s proposition is its suggestion to concentrate these energies on a more narrowly defined goal: flight.

Such is the avenue of reflection pursued in Maryse Arseneault’s installation. Its aim is to awaken an intuition similar to what might have driven the first marine creatures that dragged themselves onto land and learned to drawn in oxygen from air instead of water. We are meant to realize that evolution is preceded and prepared by desire, and to act accordingly. “To fathom something is to be ready to perceive it.” In this vision of our species’ evolution, humans no longer invest in their ability to control matter. Rather, the aim is to become aware of unknown relations between matter and our bodies and minds. We should cease to objectify matter, in order to become aware of our intimate attachment and equality with matter. Thereby, we would be more totally human. And we could fly.

For the time being in our evolution, the prophetic desire for free flight takes form in a kinetic sculpture made of human bodies in a public park. It’s a scene that makes you smile. Then, it makes you dream.