How might an archeologist reconstruct our lives from the piecemeal documentation we'll leave behind? Given only an album of uncaptioned photographs, some handwritten to-do lists, and an embarrassing cache of unanswered text messages, what "stories" and what "characters" would emerge? Would we recognize ourselves in them at all?
Most of our notes and snapshots are mnemonic devices, personal shorthand, a skeletal framework meant to be fleshed out with living memory. What do these artifacts say about us once the attending memories have faded and the all-important backstories are forgotten?
Katia Gosselin and Éric Lesage, collaborating for the first time in their joint exhibition, Entre soi et l'oubli at La Maison des artistes, share an interest in how things (words, images, objects, gestures) acquire meaning: Gosselin's recent photographs have recorded the dynamic complexity of sign language, while Lesage has spent years meticulously weaving together strips of paper cut from the pages of old dictionaries, crafting dense tapestries of garbled text. As it happens, both artists also collect the ephemera left behind by others. Over the years, Gosselin has amassed a heartbreaking library of weather-beaten "lost" and "found" pet posters, and Lesage, who previously worked as a second-hand goods dealer, has built up a collection of anonymous personal snapshots in the form of cast-off Kodachrome slides.
Entre soi et l'oubli, which translates as "Between oneself and" either "forgetting" or "oblivion," depending on your outlook, draws from both collections, joining them lightly, with minimal editing, to sketch out a subtle, melancholy (but also hopeful and even intermittently funny) investigation of memory, history, meaning, and loss.
Gosselin's posters fill one of the dimly lit gallery rooms in a floor-to-ceiling grid (likened in the accompanying text to a columbarium for storing funerary urns because these people apparently want to make me cry). The disintegrating Xeroxes overflow with detailed descriptions, last-known whereabouts, and pleas for the safe return of dozens of missing dogs, cats and birds. Apart from some whited-out contact information, though, we learn little about the writers themselves or whether their searches were successful. In the other room, transparent enlargements of Lesage's enigmatic found photos hang in the windows three layers deep, creating richly hued, ghostly montages of overlapping imagery -- newly created pictures of events that never took place, acted out by people whose names we don't know.
The collections merge on a pair of gauzy, hanging screens. At one end of the gallery, a slide projector clacks through a carousel of additional photographs -- anonymous family get-togethers and domestic scenes, landscapes and vacation pictures. From the other direction, a second, digital projector superimposes fragments of text taken from the posters--"fell from the balcony," "timid but affectionate," "we miss him very much." Cycling at different rates, the text and image pairings are incidental, but we struggle to make them "fit," with results that range from simply odd (a picture of flowers captioned, "has a distinctif [sic.] bump on her nose") to the oddly affecting.
We can only speculate at the untold stories incessantly hinted at in the exhibition, which provides a great deal to consider whether you find that prospect enticing or daunting. If the thought of a room full of missing-pet posters is itself too much to possibly "consider" because THE BABY ANIMALS ARE LOST FIND THEM THIS INSTANT (ahem), you might want to take a pass.
(Judging from one pair of "lost" and "found" posters, Bucket the cat presumably made it home safely).
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator
Katia Gosselin and Éric Lesage: Entre soi et l'oubli
La Maison des artistes visuels francophones
To April 25