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Reviews / February 4, 2010

Gabriel Coutu-Dumont: Sketches of Synchronicity

Gabriel Coutu-Dumont “Sketches Of Synchronicity” 2010 Installation view / photo April Dean, Latitude 53

Initially trained as a photographer at Cégep du Vieux Montréal, Montreal/Berlin-based artist Gabriel Coutu-Dumont has created “Sketches of Synchronicity,” a conceptually driven exhibition exploring the materiality of the photograph. Currently showing at Latitude 53 in Edmonton, the show was originally presented at Espace F in Matane and will open at Centre Clark in Montreal in May 2010.

Based on thousands of casual, and at times surprisingly exceptional, photographs taken during his overseas videography tours with electronic musicians in Asia, South America and Europe, Coutu-Dumont’s show combines jaded curiosity with heavy hearted idealism.

One one side of the gallery hangs a wooden frame, perceptibly off centre, framing a lone, pencil-thin tree foregrounding a bleak and deserted urban street. It is quickly evident in Équerre that the tree has been broken at its base and fallen sideways against the sidewalk. Still covered in green leaves, the tree is the focal point, with Coutu-Dumont hanging the entire composition on its side and askew to reflect the 80-degree angle of the broken tree trunk.

A vague commentary on wasted trees continues across the gallery with Recifits, three 14 x 14 photographs of trees printed onto malleable aluminum. Polyhedronic in shape and placed on an elevated surface, they resemble enlarged pieces of waste paper that have been crumpled and discarded.

Although the connection between Recifits and Équerre is only suggested, the exhibition as a whole consistently engages in a detached manner that points to a potential story, but then abandons viewers to discover their own narrative—for better or for worse.

For instance, Folded Times is a rectangular work consisting of 12 square photographs. All are taken overhead of the same surface—one, sometimes two, manholes—over an elapsed time period. Each image is composed in a grid, with each square distinguished from the overall compositional plane by folds on all sides. Treating photographs as physical objects rather than pristine, flat images on the wall, Coutu-Dumont creates an illusion for the eye and calls into question the individual significance of any single moment. The issues of how and why, however, are never asked, so in following the photographs I am left wondering why this patterning should hold any meaning at all.

The same questioning of significance recurs in Coutu-Dumont’s collage presentation of party photographs, where indulgence in excess and sentiment is mostly juvenile and alienating.

“Sketches of Synchronicity” evolved over a period of three years, filtering thousands of seemingly random photographs down to a final 275. The show’s shining achievement is that while its individual images are often fleeting and forgettable, they collectively produce a significance that is otherwise invisible—indeed, that happenstance better known in Jungian philosophy as synchronicity. Emerging now and then across the wall are similarities in poses and compositions, from embraces to awkward falls, black eyes to inner lip tattoos, skies to bathroom walls.

Still, the wall as a whole is vacuous, and the repetition of the same moment across time and space is sentimental at best. Reading more as a remembrance of random times past, Coutu-Dumont’s show is best when it demonstrates his skills as a photographer more so than as a curator of his own works.

Amy Fung

Amy Fung is a writer and organizer working across intersections of histories and identities. Her first book, Before I Was a Critic, I Was a Human Being (Artspeak and Book*hug 2019) addresses Canada’s mythologies of multiculturalism and settler colonialism through the lens of a national art critic .