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Javier Téllez/François Lacasse: Biennials and Blindness

In his review of the 2008 Whitney Biennial, Guardian art critic Adrian Searle commented that New York–based Venezuelan artist Javier Téllez’s film installation Letter on the Blind, For the Use of Those Who See stood out as “a great corrective to a depleted world.” Considering more recent global economic declines, Searle’s was an apt choice of words: ours is indeed a depleted world, a fact that perhaps lends an even more powerful resonance to an exhibition of Téllez’s film—which is all about vision, or lack thereof—at the Musée d’art de Joliette.

For the film, Téllez enlisted six blind New Yorkers to relate their sensory impressions of a live elephant. One at a time, these individuals “encounter” different parts of the elephant by touch, smell and sound and describe their unique perceptions of the massive animal, which range from wonder to incredulity to revulsion. It’s a loaded set-up to be sure: an elephant standing in a New York park surrounded by six blind people carries obvious overtones of displacement, alienation and marginalization—all themes that Téllez has covered in earlier works, including La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Rozelle Hospital) which showed in Toronto in 2005. Letter on the Blind, For the Use of Those Who See is shot by Téllez in a cinéma vérité style that resists overwrought artistic interpretation or sentiment; instead, the universal truths of these fleeting sensory encounters register as matter-of-fact.

Tactile sensibilities and visual perceptions are also central to the work of Montreal painter François Lacasse, whose survey show “The Outpouring” is featured concurrently at the museum. The exhibition brings together a selection of 30 works arranged, as curator Marie-Eve Beaupré explains, to make a study of the ongoing development of Lacasse’s abstract technique. From the figurative-abstract tensions of his large-scale canvases in the early 1990s to the exploration of transparency and movement in his series of tilted and poured paintings later that decade, one can see Lacasse’s work gradually transitioning from a determined, academic formalism to a less structured material- and process-oriented practice.

The most recent paintings in the exhibition deal with light and the contrasts between colour and luminosity. Over the course of a day, Lacasse builds each canvas with gestural sweeps of near-monochromatic colour applied by the spoonful. It signals another technical departure for Lacasse, one that Beaupré notes is as much performative as it is painterly. (145 rue du Père-Wilfrid-Corbeil, Joliette QC)

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