While French artist Aude Moreau’s sprawling Tapis de sucre #3 is made from more than two tonnes of refined white sugar, there’s nothing sweet about the troubled colonial histories and post-industrial issues it implies. The work is deceptively inviting from a distance. Covering the floor of a former ironworks’ main space, this precisely rendered carpet of sugar, bounded by delicate floral prints, smacks of establishment grandeur and opulence. Even on closer inspection, its flawless surface of millions of granules and meticulously constructed filigree display a workmanship that is nothing short of amazing. But step back again and consider the work in contrast to the frame of its rough, 19th-century industrial surroundings. Comfortable illusion and difficult reality begin to separate.
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In a fascinating essay that accompanies the exhibition, the writer Scott Toguri McFarland identifies Tapis de sucre #3 as a complex conceptual take on global histories, national memory and the contemporary expanse of capitalism. “Sweetness is a social issue,” he writes, tracking the narrative root of Moreau’s installation back to the role of sugar as a prime commodity in colonial conquest and trade that profoundly affected patterns of immigration and nation building. Ironically, this socio-economic model remains essentially the same today. He also reads Moreau’s use of material and location as a pointed critique of failing collective memory in a society busily at work refashioning its industrial past as a culturally sanitized present. It’s an observation easy to relate to as destitute former factory zones in cities across Canada—including the Darling Foundry’s neighbourhood—are steadily rebuilt and rebranded as high-end cultural destinations. In all, Moreau leaves us with much to consider.
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Also not to be missed at the Darling Foundry is Montreal artist Charles Stankievech’s multimedia installation Constellations. In it, a night-sky canopy of 100 micro-speakers suspended in a darkened end of the gallery transmits an ambient audio feed produced by a set of turntables stuck in the endless loop of a record’s empty last groove. As dust gathers and friction wears on the stylus, the soundscape produced shifts and evolves. It’s a clever play on silence and entropy that, in its repeatedly collapsing and expanding parts, fills the gallery space with a convincing impression of the universal soundtrack. (745 rue Ottawa, Montreal PQ)