I've always said, it's amazing how a little wallpaper -- a tasteful accent wall, say, or an elegant border -- can transform a room's entire look and feel. (I have never in my life actually said this, FYI). In the case of Hotline, Montreal-based printmaker Dominique P©trin's current exhibition at Martha Street Studio, that transformation is certainly... pronounced. Plastering every available inch of wall and floor space with a literally dizzying assortment of retina-searing silk-screened patterns and poppy, cut-and-paste graphics, the gallery becomes something like the imagined interior of a teenager's smartphone.
The broad outlines of P©trin's approach will be familiar to those who remember last summer's exhibition at the Maison des Artistes by Seripop, a collaborative duo who similarly use reams upon reams of brightly coloured screen prints to transform the gallery environment. (Both P©trin and the members of Seripop also played in noted, noisy, now-defunct Montreal rock bands, the former in Les Georges Leningrad, the latter in AIDS Wolf.) But where Seripop crumple and sculpt their prints into entropic sculptural installations layered with references to modernist architecture and political philosophy, P©trin is in every sense and almost exclusively interested in surface. And parrots. And a lecherous cheeseburger.
One experiences Hotline first and foremost as a visual assault. Interpretation comes later, if at all. Tightly spaced black and white stripes cover the entire floor, with an effect so destabilizing that it might make some viewers actually, physically ill (given that P©trin currently studies cognitive science at the Universit© de Montr©al, it's probably safe to assume this was anticipated and intended). The walls are only marginally less woozy-making, splashed over with rainbow stripes and doorways, stylized brickwork, checkerboards, mandalas, Greek key motifs, choppy, freeform brushstrokes, marble textures, herringbone and other textile patterns, all in the loudest colour palette imaginable.
Assorted characters and figures crop up here and there, among them palm trees, tropical birds, an ornamental soup terrine, Emoji smiley-faces and aliens, and the aforementioned cheeseburger, who crudely comes on to a cartoon octopus via iPhone text bubble. (The octopus replies in consent, "but no ruff stuff k?").
The aggressive hipness of P©trin's esthetic is, admittedly, a touch exhausting. Her references to youth-driven Internet culture, lo-fi computer graphics, indeterminately "Indigenous" textile design, and early '80s "postmodern" d©cor, specifically the Memphis-Milano design group (you'd know the stuff to see it, all black and white stripes, primary colours, simple geometry and squiggle motifs), if anything, manage to be too current. Or maybe that's only a concern if you spend half your waking hours on Tumblr, and maybe I'm a ancient, joyless he-crone, but once Hotline's shock began to wear off, it began to feel a bit like a game of hipster bingo.
There's certainly no arguing against the work's ambition and execution, and, in any case, immediacy is a key feature of P©trin's practice: she commits to her of-the-moment esthetic completely and realizes it flawlessly. She's taken a buzzy virtual landscape of two-second animated GIF loops and nostalgic non-sequiturs and brought it blaringly to life.
It's not work designed to age well, but it doesn't have to -- you'd be challenged to spend more than five minutes inside without getting a nasty headache, anyway.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.