Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Take this job and... puppets?

Artist shows the job hunt for the zany farce it can be

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Finding work sucks. The process is awkward and demoralizing, often fruitless and sometimes patently absurd. For those stuck piecing together a precarious hodgepodge of part-time jobs, freelance gigs, contract positions and temp work, the "hunt" is anything but thrilling. It's endless, endlessly frustrating and mind-numbingly routine.

After however many dead-end interviews and declined callbacks, sometimes the best you can do is to try to find humour in the situation.

In Chasser l'Ordinaire ("Chasing normal"), her current exhibition at the Maison des Artistes, Montreal-based artist Julie Lequin looks to her own misadventures in the labour market for inspiration. Employing a slapstick sensibility and a range of media, she zeroes in on bewildering episodes from her own job search in order to craft a goofy, surreal and painfully apt caricature of thwarted professional life.

The show revolves around a pair of French-language videos, both based loosely on her experiences applying to teach art in Quebec's CEGEP system. With the aid of whimsical handmade props and costumes, Lequin restages a disastrous job interview and the subsequent, inevitable rejection. She plays every role herself, including members of the hiring committee, the secretary tasked with phoning in the bad news, and "Julie Lequin," the hapless applicant.

In the interview portion, a visibly flummoxed Lequin goes up against a panel comprising two sneering, buffoonish art teachers and a hideous puppet made out of neckties. Despite ostensibly being colleagues in the same field, the committee members misunderstand and mock her qualifications, question everything from her personal interests to her francophone credentials, and generally project an air of bored hostility familiar to anyone who's spent time among career bureaucrats.

In the second video, Lequin is working in her studio when she gets the call from the CEGEP secretary, whom we see via split-screen locked into a fantastical, wallpaper-patterned pillory. Though things start off promisingly enough, Lequin-the-secretary quickly informs Lequin-the-applicant that she's been passed over before going on to detail her many professional and personal failings.

Even without subtitles, the broad outlines and comedic thrust of the fictionalized autobiography are clear, made all the more engaging by the videos' delightfully expressive performances, charmingly low-budget production values and creative staging. Costumes and set-pieces from the interview are scattered about Lequin's studio when she gets the fateful phone call, and several of the papier-maché objects (along with the necktie puppet) are present in the gallery as well.

In a further twist, all of the characters that Lequin performs are voiced by friends and family members. Like the cartoonish props that resurface periodically, the clunky overdubbing underscores the ridiculousness and artifice of her situation -- one bound to resonate with job-seekers past and present.

Applying for any job involves a strange renegotiation and negation of the self. We shoehorn our disparate experiences and dubious qualifications into one- to two-page "self-portraits" in the form of resumés, contort ourselves on paper and in interviews to fit the perceived expectations of our would-be employers. It's easy to lose yourself in the process of crafting a version of "you" that you can sell, and we watch with a mixture of delight and wincing recognition as Lequin blunders through the motions.

It's enough to drive you crazy or, as Chasser l'Ordinaire affably suggests, you can just try to laugh it off.


Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2014 C14

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