From Dada to LOL
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/11/2015 (2505 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
FOR contemporary artists, the “masters” of Western art history (your Rembrandts, Van Goghs, and Ninja Turtle namesakes) are reliable punching bags, always down for reappraisal or parody. So when UQAM master’s candidate Louis Bouvier cold-clocks Michelangelo’s David (albeit using a rubber fist and a replica bust, part of a cheeky sculpture called
Veni, vidi, vici), the impact barely registers. It’s a satisfying gesture, but it’s only “subversive” in the most academic sense.
Riffing on the 1986 Challenger disaster, which Bouvier also does, is “edgier,” I guess, but it’s also not as funny.
In Les toasts sont cuites, his exhibition at La Maison des Artistes closing Dec. 5, Bouvier orchestrates collisions between “significant” cultural touchstones and the plainly stupid artifacts and attitudes of daily life.
His irreverent pileups are a throwback to that time, 96 years ago, when Marcel Duchamp drew that moustache on a postcard of the Mona Lisa, but his blasé demeanor, his “informal” but highly deliberate installation style and even the work’s content lean just as hard on recent trends in online culture, with all the hazards that entails. (The half-lives of Internet jokes are measured in minutes, and the show manages to look strangely dated, like a Tumblr blog someone stopped updating in 2010).
An abundance of light from open blinds and drop-ceiling fluorescents contribute to a breezy ambience. Parts of the installation casually incorporate the gallery’s own chairs and coffee table. The subtext, however, is decidedly less chill. The exhibition title (“His toast is cooked,” in English) comes from one of former Canadiens coach Jean Perron’s distinctive malapropisms (“Perronismes” in Quebec), but you get the idea: our goose is cooked, we’re toast, we’re screwed.
Bouvier takes a dim view of the future and of human achievement: when he’s not manhandling Renaissance sculpture, he’s jokily invoking man-made catastrophe.
He reproduces an iconic photograph of the Challenger explosion as a largish, reasonably photorealistic and rather beautiful charcoal drawing — an intestinal knot of smoke and trailing vapour set against a near-black sky. (The essay for the show suggests viewers might not know the image. Having grown up in Florida in the ’80s and ’90s, I can’t unrecognize it). It hangs behind a shelf supporting three pairs of cast hands, which bisect one another in a kind of repeated chopping motion — ambiguous gestures despite the admonitory tone.
Pursuing the theme of destruction elsewhere, Bouvier applies little decals showing nuclear bomb tests to a roughly cast ceramic vessel, suggesting both a post-apocalyptic artifact and temporary tattoos.
The show’s flippant nihilism comes into full view in another drawing, this one of a pretty sunset: light streams through the clouds above a thin line of treetops, behind a band of text like skywriting or an image macro: “BEEN THERE DONE THAT.”
Another vase bears the equal-sign-eyed smiley face most recognizable, these days, from the “shrug” emoticon. The shuttle disaster wouldn’t be my go-to image for “technological hubris,” if that’s what Bouvier’s going for, but I get it. The work is well made and cleverly installed. The ideas are interesting, but in the end I’m just like ¯ _______ ¯
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator