With a solo exhibition this past winter at Galerie René Blouin and a major museum survey show at Casino Luxembourg until May 1, it’s already been a big year for Montreal artist Pascal Grandmaison. So it is perhaps not surprising to find that in his current exhibition at Jessica Bradley Art + Projects in Toronto, Grandmaison is thinking big too. Universal energy, the nature of light and the shifting balance of power between the natural and man-made world are thematic constants throughout this tight selection of new and recent photo works and videos.
In Moment of Reason, a telescopic view of the surface of the sun bursting with solar flares is inverted into black on a generic yellow ground. It’s an attempt to visually expose the arbitrary nature of universal power: after all, the life-giving energy of the sun can also be a disruptive force, with its blasts of electromagnetic activity unexpectedly blacking out earthbound electronics and communications. One of the photo’s four panels is flipped to further exaggerate this existential pause or “moment of reason” that comes, as Grandmaison puts it, as a “break in the sequence of time.” Ten works from the larger photo series If one travelled in a straight line put another positive/negative shift on elemental perspectives, this time addressing the dynamics of light. Here, Grandmaison fashioned sculptural shapes with a bendable toy that he then photographed and digitally inverted. The result is a suite of images that run counter to hard science’s linear paths, offering instead poetic expressions of twisted light, shadow and abstract form.
Pascal Grandmaison One Eye Open 2011 Video extract
Grandmaison is known for exacting photographic skills and a mechanical precision that often creates a palpable tension between measured execution and elegiac potential. It’s that fine balance between technical mastery and poetic sensibility that brings his works alive. Two video works in the exhibition play to these strengths by taking on the uneasy divide between nature and artifice. Soleil différé is a 15-minute sequence of lulling, black-and-white vignettes shot on location last October on Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame, both built from landfill for Montreal’s Expo 67. In the video we see the iconic futuristic architecture and sprawling landscape of the 1967 world’s fair returning to nature: an ode to Expo’s great (though artificially grounded) promise is captured, for instance, in crisp, contrasting impressions of the cobweb-draped joints of Buckminster Fuller’s tetrahedral dome and of windswept leaves or rushing water in a seemingly abandoned parkland. That troubled dichotomy of the natural and the artificial is reversed in One Eye Open. Working again in black and white, Grandmaison brings an arrangement of polyester flowers to life in a staccato sequence of silent close-up shots. Leaves, flowers and stems seem to pulse and grow in these sped-up images, asking us to reconsider our expectations of what is real, what is lasting and what it takes to achieve a moment of reason.