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Reviews

Métamorphosis

Métamorphosis, Spring 2009, pp 91-92

Istanbul has undergone enormous socio-political and demographic change in recent years, which makes “Métamorphosis” a fitting theme for an exhibition there. The nine Canadian artists assembled by the Montreal curator Louise Déry around this fertile word shed light on these extraordinary shifts via two specific axes: the transformation of nature and landscape and the mutation of the human figure.

Michael Snow, Jérôme Fortin, Isabelle Hayeur, Jocelyn Robert, Raphaëlle de Groot, Glenn Gould, Rober Racine, David Altmejd and Mark Lewis are artists, Déry writes in the exhibition catalogue, whose works “transfigure the visible, whose resistance to inertia and necrosis, whose will to conjure the anxiety of a world in the throes of the abyss, compels them to transform matter and form.” For the curator, the exhibition is not merely a matter of adjusting to a foreign city’s expanding curves or taking stock of its evolution; it is a meeting with, even an introduction to, the other. “Métamorphosis” speaks through the agents of wind, sound, music, subjective experience and time—the powerful transforming energies that shape our environment and identity.

In this exhibition, artworks do not just happily coexist but produce new meanings as they overlap. Snow’s Solar Breath (Northern Caryatids) (2002) is the show’s linchpin. In it, a window is filmed by a stationary camera as the wind blows a curtain back and forth, exposing a solar panel that generates the electricity to power the camera. The window fills the frame with its breathing. Windows, which are at once transparent spaces and flat, impenetrable surfaces, are a recurrent feature in Snow’s work. Parked (1992) is a photograph of a car window with the artist’s face pressed against the glass, distorted by pressure. Mounted on a light box that illuminates the image, the work blurs the logic of photographic space. It is at once internal and external, ambiguous and literal. This metamorphosis is key to the work’s operation and evocative power.

Three sculptures by David Altmejd parody the portrait bust by showing us figures in the process of mutating into fantastical creatures, unsettlingly suggesting the gap between the idea of the transformation of the human or animal form and its representation. In their play between the fantastic and the conceptual, the works maintain a strong semantic similarity with Snow’s. Windfarm (2001) by Mark Lewis, a group of digital prints by Isabelle Hayeur in which the landscape hides more than it reveals, the experiments and studies of Raphaëlle de Groot and a discreet piece by Jocelyn Robert, Politique d’intérieur (2002), in which light and shadows are projected into a cardboard box, all function in counterpoint, as Déry states in her conclusion.

Jérôme Fortin’s Silence, a screen made of hundreds of delicately folded pieces of sheet music arranged end to end, suggests sound, but exists to be seen, not heard. Silence is also crucial in a contribution from the pianist Glenn Gould, a narrated radio work from 1967 called The Idea of North. It weaves a subjective framework around the idea of the representation of the world based on Gould’s experience of the Canadian North. To complement these works, which suggest music but give us only silence, four sound pieces are presented at listening stations. They offer a communion of the visible and the audible and include Rober Racine’s La musique des mots (1998), Jocelyn Robert’s Piano flou and W in the D (1975), whistled by Michael Snow.

Snow, a pillar of contemporary Canadian art, is also featured in a documentary film as well as a video program. At Déry’s invitation, the independent curator Peggy Gale created a second, complementary video program that included artists such as Diane Landry, Rebecca Belmore, John Massey, Vera Frenkel and Jean-Pierre Aubé. Déry has also added her Projet derviche en 360°, “a highly personal, open-ended and intentionally subjective” listing of 360 musical, dramatic, literary and artistic works that constitutes a wider library of cultural references and provides, like the exhibition itself, both an introduction to Canadian art and an alternative framing of the other, and does so by embracing but also looking beyond the language of images and sound.