Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/7/2015 (714 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As someone who grew up in America, there are really only two fundamental rights I cherish: the right to buy whatever I want and the right to go wherever I want, whenever I want and cheaply.
Sure, one country's basic conveniences are the rest of the world's unsustainable fantasy ("short-sighted global death wish," whatever), but even here, where shopping sucks and travel is expensive, these expectations form part of the cultural fabric.
Both closing at the end of the month, two exhibitions in St. Boniface examine enduring -- if by now somewhat tarnished and mundane -- dreams of modernity: mass-production and air travel.
Quebec City-based musician and artist Guillaume Tardif's industrial design training left him with both a keen appreciation for everyday consumer goods and an engineer's sense for structure and precision. ATTENTAT, his installation at the Maison des Artistes, is a well-executed and playfully ambivalent look at the profusion of mass-produced junk that virtually all of us take for granted.
The show is a literal explosion of stuff. Ladders and fishing poles, shoeboxes, cellphones, toilet brushes and kitchen appliances burst from both sides of a central wall, peppering the rest of the gallery with AA batteries, tennis balls and keyboard keys half-embedded in the drywall.
The Matrix-like freeze-frame effect invites us to poke around, seeking out subtle and often humorous details -- the coffee cup resting in the open tray of a DVD player, the blue extension cord shooting out of a toothpaste tube, etc. There's a giddiness to the spectacle but also a sense of danger.
Beyond its violent overtones, Tardif's work is also pointedly wasteful, and the very familiarity of the objects he uses points back to the wastefulness of our own lifestyles. Understood as commentary, the show suggests we're not just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic but actively setting off fireworks. Whatever your take, it's an enjoyable contribution to an established subgenre of installation art (fake explosions are a reliable crowd-pleaser, and this one's no different).
Just up Provencher at the Centre culturel franco-manitobain (CCFM), we move from the assembly line to that other great marvel of human ingenuity (and contributor to global carbon emissions), powered flight.
In Divergences, Winnipeg's Roger LaFrenière glides between figuration and abstraction. His placid, powder-blue sky scenes criss-crossed with vapour trails split the difference between atmospheric 19th-century landscapes and Barnett Newman's reductive colour field explorations -- Newman's insistent vertical stripes or "zips" find direct echo in LaFrenière's wispy contrails. Both references point to a romantic view of both flight and painting, though conspiracy-minded viewers may catch wind of something more nefarious (chemtrails LOL).
The mixed-media drawings of Douglas Smith, also of Winnipeg, are, by contrast, dizzyingly intricate and notably darker, referencing more hard-edged forms of abstraction as well as the complex navigational and human systems required to keep some eight million bodies in the air each day.
Abundantly layered and textured, with a vaguely Soviet-style redolent of Gen-X anomie, the drawings touch on the technical accomplishment, faded cosmopolitan allure and dehumanizing logistics of air travel. His triptych Vol de nuit, with its lonesome, minuscule cutout planes making their way across drippy circular grids recalling radar screens, particularly captures both the humbling sense of smallness and intoxicating detachment of nighttime flight.
The show could hang handsomely in an airport terminal (indeed, the CCFM's oddly laid-out gallery space already suggests one), and it does seems as though Divergences has wings: future displays are already planned in Toronto, Moncton and Germany.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.