Michael Snow
Clothed Woman (In Memory of my Father) 1963
oil and lucite on canvas
152 x 386.2 cm
Purchased 1966
National Gallery of Canada

De-con-structions: A meeting with unpredictable twists and turns

Ottawa - April 19, 2007

The National Gallery of Canada puts De-con-structions on display from 14 April to 3 September 2007, as a part of the third biennial Quebec Scene festival, presented by the National Arts Centre from 20 April to 5 May 2007. This intriguing exhibition sheds light on the works of five Quebec artists; Michel de Broin, Karilee Fuglem, Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Tricia Middleton, and Annie Thibault. Each in their own way, the artists take over the gallery’s space, convert it, disrupt it, and turn it into a laboratory and an experimental space all at once.

“We are proud to open our doors to an exciting project like De-con-structions, where a blank slate is given to Quebec artists, who in turn allow us to see our institution from a new perspective,” says Pierre Théberge, Director of the National Gallery of Canada. “This exhibition questions our definition of art objects and influences our experience of art.”

Many artists created site-specific works responsive to the contemporary galleries or altered existing pieces to respond to the context of the exhibition. “These fascinating experiments transform the spaces into a hybrid of the artist’s studio and the laboratory,” says Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Acting Curator of Contemporary Art and curator of the show.

Montreal-born artist Michel de Broin, whose work Reparations: A Voluntary Action in the Revalorization of Waste (2004) was purchased by the Gallery in 2006, will present his work Stick to Resist – Autonomous Version (2004), adapted for De-con-structions as a metaphor of physical resistance in the context of social unrest and the threat of international terrorism. Equipped with a battery, memory, timer, and a high-capacity (300 kg) electromagnet, it functions as a kind of semi-autonomous robot that can be attached to metal surfaces. An electronic keypad enables its user to activate and deactivate the magnet by programming a six-digit secret code. The LED countdown display suggests a time bomb, but when it reaches zero, the robot, initially designed to fall harmlessly to the ground, simply goes back to zero.

Karilee Fuglem, who has lived in Montreal since 1992, explores her interest in non-visible phenomena that occupy what we perceive as “empty” space. For more than a decade, her semi-visible, ephemeral constructions such as Continuous Thread (2005), with its fine monofilament looped continually in and out of itself, have drawn attention to what lies beyond our concrete perception. For De-con-structions, Fuglem’s objective is to make us more conscious of that space, of our bodily relationship to it, and how we move through it. Imaginary Range, made from 18 km of invisible nylon thread, mimics the unmappable path one’s thoughts might take through space and helps “visualize where the mind goes,” says Fuglem. “Now incorporated into this place, my imaginary travels are invisible, but the evidence is there.”

Jean-Pierre Gauthier, born in Matane, Quebec, and winner of the 2004 Sobey Art Prize, works with ordinary objects to create mechanically improbable kinetic sculptures that unabashedly lack control. Common technologies are pushed to their extremes and rendered absurd with their newfound applications and chaotic noises. For example, Le grand ménage [The Big Clean-up] (1998) features a janitor’s closet filled with ludicrous mechanical parts meant for cleaning. For De-con-structions, Gauthier created Crashes (Identified Flying Objects), a kinetic sculpture consisting of ten plastic lids from garbage pails, suspended from the ceiling on wires. Motors cause the lids to rise and fall like UFOs, and wires resonate in response to the lids’ movements, which at times are triggered by the presence of the viewer. Each crash scatters the Styrofoam chips covering the floor, creating ever-changing patterns of landing marks, and making both the space and the viewer become part of an unpredictable artistic process. Gauthier lets his piece react to various influences and adapt to its environment, the museum space, in his intention to construct an installation that, he says, “organizes itself and transforms itself.”

Vancouver-born Tricia Middleton, who has been based in Montreal since 2002, created Portal to future contemporary art wing featuring view of as of yet uncollected artworks for the exhibition, to effectively open a simultaneously physical and imaginary space beyond the museum walls. This work consists of unconventional materials with fragments recycled from her past artworks. Through a process of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction, Middleton created a sizeable hole in one Gallery wall as a portal to an imaginary gallery located within the wall’s interior. This demolition site is both believable and fantastical, filled with considerable debris, glitter, and unexpected materials. A rear-projected video, visible through the hole, features a hypnotic series of cuts and pans of the exhibition space superimposed with brief images of fictional works of art that “exist,” she says, “outside our current notions about what is and is not possible for an artwork or gallery space.”

Since 1995, Gatineau artist Annie Thibault, who studied both fine arts and pure sciences, melds art and the natural world by creating installations that use living matter as artistic expression. Fruitfulness and Multiplication, Thibault’s installation for De-con-structions, uses cultures isolated from plants, soil, and air in the Ottawa area and inoculated in the laboratories of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Thibault intermixes the fields of art, science, and museology by relocating these organisms from their natural environment to the gallery space. The artist explores the myths surrounding the origins of life, as well as the means used by scientists to communicate their research, and therefore uses a microbiology lab instead of a traditional studio. This installation is a site-specific work that will evolve over the period of six months as the cultures grow, die, and are periodically replaced.

Quebec Scene
For the third presentation of this event dedicated to the culture of a Canadian province, the National Arts Centre is turning to Quebec. From 20 April to 5 May 2007, 700 artists from Quebec will take over the arts and culture scene in the Ottawa/Gatineau region in a 16-day festival featuring over 100 different events.

National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada’s mandate is to develop, maintain, and make known, throughout Canada and internationally, a collection of works of art, both historic and contemporary, and to further knowledge, understanding, and enjoyment of art in general among Canadians. The Gallery is a member of the Canadian Heritage Portfolio.

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