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Use of multitude of techniques and concepts almost too smart

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/8/2013 (1475 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Artists thrive on contradiction. A sculptor might try to convey a sense of weightlessness and movement in solid stone; a painter might lay down clashing hues to create tension or depth; and artists of all persuasions throw together unexpected images, themes and ideas just to see how they react.

Chambre Matricielle ("Matrix Chamber"), Montreal-based printmaker Andrée-Anne Dupuis Bourret's installation at La Maison des artistes, reflects a multitude of contrasting techniques and concepts, but it's unclear whether the work manages to exceed the sum of its opposing parts.

The installation consists of countless individual screen prints (literally thousands), each coloured red and shaded with frenetic black hatch-marks to create a range of semi-solid tones. Dupuis Bourret methodically folds the prints into origami "fortune tellers" (I grew up calling them "cootie catchers" for some reason), arranging them like pixels or mosaic tiles to create patterns that spread across the gallery walls and spill out onto the floor. For this piece, she's chosen a motif of irregular spots -- black on red -- that might bring to mind cooling magma, the skin of an poison dart frog or a Gila monster's "beaded" hide.

By folding them, she gives the two-dimensional prints three-dimensional form -- the first "contradiction." By letting them accumulate and overtake the architecture of the gallery, she blurs the lines between printmaking, sculpture and installation. Screen-printing is a decidedly analogue technology, but the "pixelated" arrangements directly reference digital imagery. By creatively re-adapting a commercial process, (one that's increasingly become a rarefied art form and a hip niche medium) Dupuis Bourret highlights contrasts between "high" and "low art," reproduction and original object, mechanical and handmade, and so on. The eight-bit leopard print juxtaposes the natural and the artificial.

Each of these contrasts is compelling in its own right. Entire art movements have grown up around some of them, and Chambre Matricielle certainly combines them in novel ways. It's attractive, well thought out, impeccably made and represents a phenomenal amount of effort. In the end, however, the work might be more compelling on paper than it is in practice. In spite of the many ideas it touches on, the installation still ends up seeming less like critically-engaged art than an example of avant-garde interior decorating.

The exhibition reflects a trend, centred in Montreal, of artists using reams of printed pages to create immersive environments (a number have shown in Winnipeg recently, including the collaborative duo Seripop at the Maison last year, Dominique Pétrin at Martha Street Studio last month and Dupuis Bourret herself in 2011, also at Martha Street).

Dupuis Bourret is pursuing a doctorate at Université du Québec Montréal on the topic of "modular print installation," and if the work falls somewhat flat it might be because she understands her own process too well. Its contradictions might be too carefully matched to create meaningful tension.

At the very least, Chambre Matricielle is a flawlessly-executed proof of concept, a clear demonstration of a strategy that Dupuis Bourret has considered from every possible angle. Even if that strategy doesn't have its greatest impact here, it's clear -- with or without a paper fortune teller -- that all the crucial groundwork has been laid.


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


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